Sunday, April 27, 2008

GUE Dive Extravaganza, April 24-27, 2008

I just got back from another GUE trip on the Black Manta, organized by Living Seas. The whole Living Seas crew (Gideon, Leon, Matilda, Andrew, Thomas) was on board and as usual, they planned a good trip. We departed Singapore on Thursday night and got back on Sunday evening. Thursday night was spent traveling and we arrived at Pulau Aur in the morning.

Leon and I are going to be buddies on our Tech 2 class that starts in a weeks' time, so we spent the first day doing drills in preparation for the class. We spent most of the first day doing ascent and descent drills, including lots of gas switches and bottle movement. We did drills solely during the first two dives and got pretty fed up after more than 2 hours in the water. For the third dive, we did a relaxing dive at Raynor's Rock, with 3 bottles just for the ride. The fourth dive of the day was again spent doing drills. Somehow, we managed to squeeze a fifth dive in, a night dive a Turtle House. We had slight current on all the drills dives, meaning that we had to face into the current and maintain our position relative to the line.

Day 2 was at the Seven Skies. Recreational divers did 3 dives and the technical divers did 2. To conserve backgas and minimize gas filling, we dove stages for the day's dives. Backgas was 18/45 and we used 50% for deco. There was a mild current and vis was quite poor (maybe 10m) due to lots of white particles in the water. A 2-3m white manta was circling the wreck for most of our dive, and all the divers saw it at some point or other. It was even around when some people did their second dives. We did a tour of the wreck and found a big hole in the front area, where the wreck was cut off. We made a mental note to return there on the second dive. The dive ended up being shallower than planned, but we stuck to our original deco plan of about 25 minutes.

On the second dive, we made a beeline for the hole. I tied in a reel and went in to explore. The area was huge and full of pipes. It did not go very far horizontally, but went quite deep. We stopped around 53m and it looked like the bottom was close to 60m. By the time we turned around, the silt and rust dislodged by our bubbles had reduced visibility markedly. Yet, I found the darkness and stillness peaceful and relaxing. I miss cave diving. The profile below is that of our second dive on the Seven Skies. We spent slightly longer at depth and completed 30 min of deco.

Leon checking out a crack

Day 3 was at the Maritime Fidelity. It was my first trip to this wreck. We arrived early in the morning but it took a while to tie in to the wreck. The Quest was also present and they had the same issues tying in. Eventually we tied 2 lines into the middle of the wreck. Vis was quite poor (max 10m) and there was a decent current on the wreck. On our first dive, we went into current towards the bow. There wasn't a whole lot there, but we spotted a big hole on the way back, which we went in to explore. I am not sure what was in there, perhaps a boiler room, but there were lots of pipes and machinery. The dive was a lot shallower than planned so we cut the deco short and spent about 10 min breathing 50%.

On the second dive, we pulled the lines and went towards the stern. We entered a huge cargo hold and poked around for a while. The rest of the dive was spent looking around and staying out of the current. We shot a bag and drifted for the 10 min deco. On the way up, there were tons of schooling batfish and we had a close encounter with a school of barracuda. They circled us several times, getting closer with each pass and giving us the eye.

With that, the trip was over and we motored back to Singapore. It was a fun trip and great preparation for Tech 2.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

They Don't Call it Pulau Hantu for Nothing

I just got back from an eventful day of diving in Pulau Hantu. Because of my ridiculous work schedule of late, I missed 2 prior opportunities to do some training dives with my Tech 2 team. Today was a last ditch effort and our only chance to dive together before the actual class in May. Michael flew all the way from Korea just to do this morning's dives - kudos to him for taking one for the team and putting up with the crappy conditions.

The last time I dove Hantu, the vis was so bad I could barely see my gauges, much less my buddy, so I approached today with some apprehension.

The day started at the ass crack of dawn and I made my way down to Living Seas, where I met up with Leon and Michael. We loaded all our tanks (1 set of doubles, 1 stage and 2 deco bottles each) and gear into Leon's borrowed car. We drove over to the Singapore Yacht Club, where the boat was waiting. I've got to say, loading and unloading tanks and gear has to be the least fun part of technical diving. It took a while to get all of our stuff on the boat and soon we were underway. The sun was up and it was VERY warm and uncomfortable on the surface.

It took about 30 min to get to a nice and secluded spot in Hantu. On the way, we analyzed all the tanks and found them mostly safe for consumption, but 2 tanks had to be toppped off with air. We anchored in about 12m of water. Then we jumped in in full Tech 2 gear - doubles, 1 stage and 2 deco bottles. The tanks were borrowed from various people and some of them had less than optimal setups (like small bolt snaps, bad inner tube, or stage kits that were too long or short - this made bottle handling interesting).

Vis was pretty bad, probably around 2-3m. The green water gave me flashbacks of my quarry exploration days in the Northeast US. Hey, at least the water wasn't brown. There was also a slight current, which forced us to be in wing-on-wing formation throughout the dives. We shot a bag and used the line as a visual reference. We spent about 2 hours in the water, mostly doing valve drills, s-drills, gas switches, bottle rotation, and ascent and descent drills. My first attempt at bottle rotation turned out to be anticlimactic - moving the bottles wasn't difficult but highlighted the importance of trim, buoyancy, and situational awareness. We all got the drills done but our buoyancy could have been better. We were varying by about 2m, instead of the 1m that is the standard for Tech 2.

It was a day of failures. It started on the boat when one of the deco bottles had a faulty valve that wouldn't take a regulator, so we dove the bottle without a reg. Leon's primary light failed first, followed by Michael's. My E/O cord was playing up and my light would go off if I put too much pressure on the cord.

After about 2 hours in the water, it was time to go. We packed up our gear and got way too much sun on the way back. This was followed by my favorite part - unloading the boat and humping all the tanks and gear back to the car.

Let me see:
Bad vis - check
Green water - check
Manual labor - check
Current - check
Unpleasant surface conditions - check
Faulty gear - check

Another great day of technical diving!