Beneath the Surface…

Every year we travel to Roatan for a week of SCUBA diving at CoCoView Diving Resort.  Rustic and simple, you couldn’t ask for a better dive setup.  The dive boat captains are on top of your every need, and the resort is mapped out for simplicity.  Accessed only by boat, it is also a quiet place to hang out.  There are no phones, and no television.  All the entertainment is beneath the surface of the ocean that is right at your doorstep.

I became SCUBA certified in 1992 when we lived in New Orleans.  We went to Mexico where I did my certification dive, and I had the opportunity to marvel at the amazing coral and sea life that was Palancar Reef.  Six months later, my husband and I obtained our advanced SCUBA certification where the check out dives were done off the coast of Florida.  This was my first experience with sea sickness, as well as the night dive that not only heralded SCUBA divers, but spear fishing participants.  Following a day of semi unconsciousness from the effects of dramamine, there was a dip in a naturally fed spring where the temperature was 53 degrees and we were required to stay down for 45 minutes.  So far, my perceived value of obtaining an advanced certification was roughly nil.

Shortly after, we moved to Virginia where I promptly gave birth to three adorable little boys in eleven months, and the wonderful memories of Palancar reef and the amazing sea life were relegated to the distant past.  Then in 2001 my husband was introduced to a gentleman that taught SCUBA diving as well as organized SCUBA trips, and suddenly life beneath the surface became forefront for us again.  It was another two years before we took another trip to SCUBA dive, this time to Roatan to dive with the group from Holladay SCUBA.

It wasn’t love at first sight with me.  My biggest complaint then is still my biggest complaint now.  The water around Roatan, and CoCoView Resort are fairly rough, and it’s a struggle for me to enjoy getting on a boat because of this.  I’ve tried every seasick remedy known to man, finally settling on Scope Patches.  They aren’t perfect, but the best resource for me.  This first trip after a hiatus of roughly 10 years was like starting all over, and I didn’t enjoy it.  For some reason, we saw little sea life, I was uncomfortable, and I left not only wondering what I had ever enjoyed about it to begin with, but also thinking it wasn’t something I wanted to do again.

Then a curious thing happened.  Our oldest, when he was 14, expressed an interested in SCUBA diving.  He took lessons, and my husband took him to Roatan.  I secretly thought is would be a disaster, because of my recollection that there just wasn’t a lot to see there.  But when they returned, they had pictures from a simple point and shoot underwater camera that my husband had invested in that showed a variety of sea life I simply couldn’t believe.  Eventually, his twin brothers became certified, and we’ve taken all of them to Bonaire and to Roatan.  The oldest accompanied my husband to Indonesia for ten days on a live aboard (seeing that I don’t do boats very well), which turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

I enjoyed Bonaire the most, simply because of the water factor.  Smooth and easy, I did every dive and never got sick.  The downside is, it’s fairly expensive, whereas Roatan is more reasonable.  There is one dive site in Roatan that provides a fairly smooth ride and that is French Cay Cut.  Located  between the reef and shore, this is a muck dive; the boat drops divers in a sandy muck bottom–teeming with micro life, but little else.  You can make your way however, through the cut and along the wall of the reef for an excellent exploration of larger sea life–even a turtle or two, but be prepared for fairly large surge on top of the coral.

So I made my return to SCUBA diving in 2010.  Only this time my hobby of photography coalesced with SCUBA diving, and an entirely new horizon opened up before me.  A horizon of maddening moments, sheer frustration, and epic failure that only hardened my resolve to prove to myself that I wasn’t really as stupid as I felt with a camera in my hand below the surface.  In my extremely humble opinion, underwater photography is not only the most difficult photography to practice, but it seems to contradict so many rules of land based photography.  It is it’s own world.

So without going on too much longer, here are the first of three years of underwater photos that I’ve felt halfway decent about.  If you would like to see some of the top photographers in this realm, check out these links:  Todd Winner or Scott Geitler.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Bonaire

Bonaire is a small Dutch Island 55 miles off the coast of Venezuela.  The Leeward Islands, or the ABC Islands are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.  Bonaire is a desert Island, so the climate is dry and hot.  Salt mines are plentiful there, and you can see huge mountains of the white crystals from the airport when you fly in.

The first inhabitants were the Caiquetios, a group of Arawak Indians from Venezuela who inhabited the island from about 1000 B.C.  In 1499, Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda arrived from Spain, and they took the Island for themselves.  The Dutch took control in the late 17th century, during which time they brought slaves from Africa to work the Island.  Then from 1799-1816 politics in Europe caused ownership of the Island to be passed back and forth between various countries until it finally arrived back in the hands of the Dutch.

The Island itself is 24 miles long, and between 3-7 miles wide with an average year round temperature of 82 degrees and an average water temperature of 80 degrees.

The language spoken is Papiamento, of which there are two dialects.  Papiamento spoken on Aruba and Papiamentu spoken on Bonaire and Curacao.  It is a creole language that is derived from African and either Portuguese or Spanish with Amerindian, English and Dutch influences.  It was amazing to see them switch from Dutch to English to Papiamento with such ease.

We stayed at the Divi Dive resort in Kralendijk.  The room was meant for six, but with five of us, it was a bit cramped.  With so much dive gear, and only one tiny bathroom, it was rather a tight squeeze, and a challenge to the olfactory system once the wetsuits started to smell.

The town is very quaint and charming.  We walked in from our hotel one evening and ate dinner at an open air restaurant across the street from the ocean.  It was beautiful and relaxing.

Food however is incredibly expensive on the island.  No surprise since everything has to be brought in from other places.  The supermarkets were an interesting challenge, as most labels were in Dutch.  We had thought we would buy groceries since the room has a small stove and sink with refrigerator.  We ended up buying a loaf of bread and some peanut butter along with some snacks that we recognized.

At the end of the day, everyone would gather to eat at the outdoor dining facilities with a beautiful view of the ocean.  Not a bad way to top off the day.

Fascinations of the Deep

Yesterday I talked about White Balancing photography in the shallows, with full sunlight while Scuba Diving.  Once you get below 30 feet or so, the white balance doesn’t work quite as well, and you really need to switch to flash.  This proved to be more difficult than it seemed if only because my aging eyes couldn’t judge distance very well underwater.  And if you are too far away, the flash is ineffective, whereas if you are too close, the image is lit up, but blurry.  The following is coral that I was 3-4 feet from.  But being as large as it was, the flash only lit up the bottom and side portion to a pale green.

I swam in to get closer, and this was what happened on my second attempt:

And my third, that shows it’s true color, and the fact that I probably was not 3-4 feet from it like I thought, judging from the size…

This guy was just hanging out at about 70 feet, just watching us swim by…

As was this guy…

DH found this guy (he does have bifocals in his mask), who was about 1-1/2 inches long, and not happy that we were flashing lights at him.  Out for a nice walk at the end of the coral, he scurried back the other way towards the reef when we started taking pictures.  I am to understand he is some type of shrimp, I think.

And of course, this beautiful Butterfly-fish…

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The first day and a half didn’t go so well, but a fresh nights sleep, a great breakfast and I was ready to go again, although with some trepidation.  Some of the others in our group were having sea sick issues as well, so I didn’t feel quite so alone.  I tried a neoprene hat to combat the hair issue.  But that didn’t prove to be quite the fix.  What I ended up with was one of the cotton head covers that my husband wears, goofy as it looks on me.  It’s completely practical and does the job quite nicely.  One problem solved.

The next problem was my mask.  New masks need to be treated to remove the factory coating that causes fogging.  We’d treated it before we came, but it needed another treatment.  A couple of drops of anti fog, and some quick pulls to tighten it, along with the new head cover, and another problem solved.  I just don’t know how women keep masks on with their hair in a cute pony tail.  Wish I did.

The next dive was a major improvement even if I was diving with intensely colored chili peppers on my head.  But I was still having trouble with buoyancy control, and my regulator adjustment never seemed to be right.  Air wouldn’t come out easily or it was free flowing, but there seemed to be no in-between.  We finished the dive, but not before we saw a few creatures.

This little guy came swimming up over the wreck of the Prince Albert and met me head on.  Was nice of him to smile for the camera, don’t you think?

The flounder was hidden in the sand right below the fish on the left.

Beautiful Corals were everywhere.  Tank low, time to come up.  Next stop, Buoyancy class, and after that, photography class.  Tim Blanton does underwater photography at Coco View, and also does scuba diving. He has amazing skill, and is a really great guy.  I highly recommend his photography class to learn how to get those really great photos underwater.  And on that note, I’ll leave you with one last photo taken by my husband.  Underwater he is a much better photographer than I am.

SCUBA Anyone?

The week of February 25th finds me in Honduras on a week long SCUBA diving trip with DH.  After the rather hellish fall season of 2011, I’m ready for something fun that will serve as an antidepressant.  A week of sun and surf, and exploring new creatures under the sea was just the medicine I needed, although the sixteen year old didn’t share this view.

“Why don’t I get to go?”  He asked.  A fair question, considering he’s the one that’s been accompanying DH for the last two years, rather than me.

I shrugged, unapologetically, but not without some sympathy.  “You have school, and you just spent twelve days in Indonesia on an amazing diving trip!  It’s my turn.”

He’s hooked, and I can’t blame him.  But darling that he is he smiled, hugged me and wished me an excellent time.

As with all trips that I undertake, there have been challenges.  Schleprock peeked his head out on the evening of the 24th with a phone call from the airline.  It was one of those automated things that said, “We are calling in regards to your cancelled flight…”  I waited with mounting fear, then there was a dial tone. The nerve!  More information please!

I tossed the message to DH with a look of confusion.  “What cancelled flight?”  He didn’t seem surprised.  Living in the small town that we do, planes sometimes get diverted to other cities, or just never make it here, and the flights are cancelled.  No bother (wait, did I just say NO BOTHER?), he dials the number to the airline and has them book us on another flight leaving an hour later than the original, but from another airport a little over an hour away.  This makes our wake up time 3:45 AM.  Grrrr.

So the next morning off we go.  It wasn’t until we were walking into the airport when DH turns to look at me with a horrified look on his face.  “What?” I ask feeling alarm bells go off.

“How are we going to get home?  Our return flight wasn’t changed–we are still flying into the other airport!”

I shrugged, determined to not let this be a big deal.  “We’ll have to get a cab home, then drive back and pick up the car.”

That problem solved, we face the next issue–15 minutes in Atlanta to change planes.  The lady at the check-in counter is confident we’ll make it.  I’m thinking she must have come to work after a bender without sobering up.

Miraculously, we come in only four gates away.  Even so, we were still the LAST people on the plane.  But I’m thinking it’s a bit like hand grenades.  It doesn’t matter how close it was, just that you made it.

Three and a half hours later we are touching down at 12:30 in Roatan, Honduras, where it is a balmy 82 degrees.  I can feel my heart lighten as I step off the plane into the warm air.

Nora, from Coco View Resort where we stayed greets us with a friendly smile and a handshake.  We run our carry-ons through the x-ray machine, then wait for the luggage.  Once we identify the luggage, we wait outside for a bus while the Coco View staff brings up the rear with luggage in tow.  The bus arrives, and the group boards.  We are at Coco View water taxi’s in about 15 minutes, and at the resort itself in another 5.

We have lunch in the dining room–cafeteria style.  Don’t let this put you off.  The food is rather amazing, especially for the large quantities they make. We have joined a larger group that has been here a week already, and catch up with everything that has been going on.  It was then we learn that some of the other people on the cancelled flight didn’t make it.  I’m feeling the winds of good fortune blowing that caribbean air around.  After lunch, we opt for a shore dive instead of going out on the boat.  That way the late comers can join us after they arrive.

Now, it has been in fact, 9 years since I’ve been SCUBA diving.  Kids, illness, sports and life in general have kept me from something I learned to do when I was in my mid twenties.  I’m now 48.  Yikes!  I have new gear (let’s face it, there have been some improvements since the early 90’s), and a new wetsuit.  Let me just say, I was an entertaining spectacle for the guests of Coco View on the first day.

The great thing about this resort is it’s layout.  It is made for divers–divers heaven really.  Everybody gets a cubby to store their gear.  The air tanks are here and the wash tanks are here, so that when you come back you can just dunk everything in the freshwater tanks to clean them.  There is a separate tank for photo equipment as well.

Wetsuit, check.  BC, check.  Regulator, check.  Mask, fins, hair tie and weights, check.  We waddle to the shore and start walking out to sea.  DH is ahead of me.  He looks back occasionally to see that I’m still behind him.  When we get to the dock, the water is chest high.  We put our fins on, bring out masks down, and he takes off.  I submerge, and my mask floods.  I stand up to adjust it, but it slips on my hair.  I submerge again and try to swim and roll over on my back.  I try to right myself, but my tank hits me in the rear end because it has slipped out of the strap holding it to my BC.  I stand up and look around, DH nowhere to be seen.  I submerge and look underwater, and am looking at nothing but ocean life.  My dive buddy has left me.  I try yelling for him, attracting the attention of everyone around, including the dive master of the group we are with who is standing on shore.  I bang on my tank, which might have been effective had I something other than my knuckles to rap on it with.  I surface again.  I am completely alone.  I stand there waiting.  I say a few untoward things I’m sure no one else can hear about desertion and the point of a dive buddy.  I didn’t think it was that loud, but sound apparently carries very well over the water.

I try to take off my BC, but I can’t.  So I just stand there and wait.  Finally, DH comes swimming back and says, “What happened to you?”

GRRRRRR!!!!!

We fix my tank, and proceed to about 30 feet.  I have trouble equalizing.  I have trouble staying in any position.  My regulator  won’t let me draw air in without great difficulty.  I roll all over the place, and finally give up, working so hard to get back to shallow ground that I’m breathing like I just sprinted 5 miles, and all I can think is, “Wow, I don’t remember it being this hard the last time, even if it was nine years ago.”

I come in thoroughly depressed.  DH takes a lot of ribbing for leaving his dive buddy in such a suffering state.  The dive master comes up to me and tells me we’ll get it right the next day, and I go to bed thinking, “What have I got myself in to?”  Surely the next day has to be better.

The next morning is a boat dive.  I look out over the expanse of water, and see a lot of white caps.  Hmmmm….white caps are usually not an indication of a smooth ride.  I get into my bathing suit and wet suit, and we walk to the boat where our gear has already been loaded on for us.  We have the pre-dive meeting of what reef we’ll be going to and the general plan of descent and then take off.

It’s a short ride out, maybe 7 minutes.  I sit down to my tank and get into my BC, put my fins on and stand up, lurching like a drunken sailor.  The swells are maybe 4-5 feet and all I can think is, Hurry, HURRY, HURRY!!  Into the water before I puke!  I jump in, and have trouble getting below the surface, where I’m tossed about in the surge.  I turn head over heels and swim down to calmer waters where I then try to deal with the buoyancy issues I seem to be having.  It was a shallow dive, maybe 40 feet and I never really got comfortable.  And, I felt slightly sick which is very unsettling under water.  When the dive was over (and I can’t tell you what we saw, because I was too preoccupied with equipment issues) I swam to the bottom of the boat and climbed in from the center well.  I knew it was bad before I even got off the steps.  I had the same feeling when I did my Advanced certification–a feeling like I couldn’t get my gear off and get to the back of the boat quick enough.  I plopped down on the back and thought maybe I had averted it.  But no, up my breakfast came, not once, not twice, but four times.  I didn’t think I’d eaten that much.

So far, not a great start.  I took the boat back in and skipped the drop off at the wall that allows you to swim from the coral reef in front of the hotel to the beach.  After the boat docked, I took care of my gear, and took a half a dramamine.  The reason of which is, the last time I got sea sick and took a whole one, I was unconscious for like, 24 hours.  It doesn’t really stop you being sea sick, it just knocks you out so you don’t KNOW you’re sea sick.  As it was, the 1/2 put me out for the rest of the afternoon.  I awoke to a beautiful sky.  DH came in and we talked.

“Feel better?”

“Yes.  But my ears and sinuses are stopped up.”

“We have meds for that.”

“Thank God,” I said, unhappy about the results of my peaceful getaway thus far.

“There is a buoyancy clinic on Monday.  I think you should go.”

“So do I,” I said, not at all offended.  I knew he really wanted me to have a good time, and he was great at problem solving, which was a lucky thing because there were lots of little problems to be solved.  We ate dinner and talked with the rest of the group for some time, some of whom were also seasick.  I could only hope that it would get better with the passing days.  And with that thought we went to bed with the sound of the ocean gently washing up under our floor.