The critter hunter is often asked after a dive “how did you see that?” and the most common answer is “it moved”. Now while it “moved” is the most common answer there is a bit more to finding these amazing little critters than just movement. So let us look at a few tips from successful critter hunters.
First a good critter hunter goes very slowly over the reef. Often times they are the last in the line of divers following the dive leader and looking under ledges and in side of cracks and even taking a long look at say a sea anemone. The reason for the slow movement along the reef is yes we can pick up subtle movement, but it also allows us to look very closely for the little critters.
The other thing a good critter hunter understands is the habitat of the sea life one is looking for. Using our friend the anemone for example we can find different life in and around them and we are not just talking about Nemo. We can find different types of little shrimp and crabs making their home in and under the anemone.
Just last week in Cozumel we saw lots of beautiful anemones and in just about half of them I found this guy and in a few others hiding below and deep we found some little furry crabs. Then there is the “cork screw anemone” that well it looks like a cork screw. In there you can find different types of shrimp, mostly the Peterson Cleaner Shrimp and sometimes the Red Snapping shrimp with its big red claw that loves to pinch at our little pointers that you can place next to them.
Try these two little tips on your next dive and you will be the one saying, “well, it moved”
Some of our divers keep telling me that it is time for me to embrace technology and go with an electronic dive log. It is so simple they say (I know it is), all you do is just plug the cable into your dive computer and download your log. The electronic dive log will even show you your dive profile and all sorts of cool stuff. There is even an app that you can load your stuff into and it will save the GPS locations and you can upload pictures and all this cool stuff.
While it is true that the electronic dive log can and does give you all this neat stuff, but it only does it if you actually input the data. Your dive computer doesn’t know what you saw or what funny thing your buddy did. It doesn’t know how much weight you used or what wetsuit or if you got cold. The electronic dive log is only as good as you are about entering data.
Another issue with an electronic dive log, at least for me, is how dives are recorded. As an example, when we are conducting a pool session either a Discover Scuba or an Open Water class, our computers register that as a dive. So when you download the data into your electronic dive log it adds that pool session as a dive and inflates your dive numbers.
Another advantage my old school paper dive log has is that it has the stamps and other fun stuff from the dive operator and resort that we dove with and other fun trivial things. Plus I don’t have to worry about the battery going poof on my paper log book.
As I say to every group on new divers. The log book is your personal diary of your diving. Paper log books still come in the student kit, but you can go with an app or when you buy your first dive computer, you can chose to start and electronic dive log. The choice is yours and there is no wrong decision.
As for me, well I will stick with my old school paper dive log.
Of course we all try to be and think we are a safe diver, but are we? After all we all listened to the dive leaders briefing and talked to our buddy about the dive or did we? Well, just what is a safe diver?
Do you dive within your limits and your training? Just because we have a dive computer doesn’t mean we are staying within our limits. Your dive computer is just like the GPS on your car, you can follow it or not it is up to you. But what about your training? Are you trained in wreck penetration or cave exploration? Does your dive buddy have the same training and experiences that you have? To be a safe diver we should take into consideration both or training and comfort level and that of our buddy or buddies.
Speaking of buddies, how close are you to your buddy while diving? Same ocean, same day? Or maybe just a few feet or fin kicks away? Safe divers are great dive buddies. They are close by and they have wonderful communication skills underwater. They also, make sure that you do your pre dive safety check and are familiar with your gear so they can lend you a helping hand if one is ever needed.
One of the most important things about being a safe diver is being mentally and physically ready and able to dive. I don’t mean that you have to be in awesome condition with 0% body fat, but are you physically capable of diving? Being sick is no fun at any time, but attempting to dive while you are sick can be a very dangerous situation and it isn’t just being sick, having an injury can lead to unsafe situations.
And finally all safe divers have the proper gear for the dives they are doing. Weather it is a safety sausage or some other signaling device or the proper exposure suit, having the right gear can help you be a safe diver.
Are you a dive boat hog? Do you know a dive boat hog? Well if you have been scuba diving for more than one trip to the islands then you probably have seen a dive boat hog. You know that person that has all their gear everywhere on the boat and is always in your way.
So how do we avoid becoming a dive boat hog? Well, with a little planning and for thought it is easy to be the best boat dive buddy around. The first thing one needs to do is know exactly what gear they will need and what they might need and pack it approximately it the way they will need it on the boat. So let us take a look at what is in my gear bag as I get ready for a normal day of boat diving.
The first thing is to lay it all out on the table so I can pack it as needed. First is the save a dive kit and any spare parts that we might need. This goes in the bag first so it sits on the bottom and it also helps the bag to stay flat so I can reach into easier. The next thing that goes in is my small dry bag as it is the last thing I will need or want on the boat and my wetsuit follows that. As you can see the things I hope I don’t need and the things I will need last are the first to go in the bag. This allows me to have what I need to get my tank ready at the top of the bag and allows me to get it together and stowed so I can get out of the way.
Next is my BCD which has my regulator and mask wrapped up in it and my fins on top. Why the fins on top, they are so easy to move and place under the seat where I will be setting up my tank. After the tank is ready the wet suit is folded and placed on my seat and the gear bag is stowed either up front or under the seat. The location depends on the boat and the preference of the crew.
I am now ready to sit out of the way, chat with the crew or just sip on a cold soda and relax and think about the exciting day ahead.
A group scuba trip can be a lot like the guilty pleasure show “Survivor”. Both happen in a warm awesome tropical paradise and both can feature crazy people you probably have never met before that first moment on the boat. Both do offer you stunning vistas and amazing blue water to play in and around and you can build some really great “alliances” better known as friendships on both. But group scuba trips are so the anti-survivor.
On a group scuba trip our “tribal council” is different. We generally sit around the pool and laugh and review the day, not some crazy fire pit area where you will plead and lie and try and worm your way back on the boat for the next day’s amazing dives. All divers are welcome, after all isn’t that what we traveled all that way for was and is to go diving and exploring and discovering all the amazing little and big critters?
Sorry guys at the end of a group scuba trip there is no final vote to see who wins a million bucks. The simple truth is we are all winners on a trip. Just look at the things we see and do and the crazy people we have met along the way. Some of the crazy people even join us on our next adventure and some haven’t missed an adventure in years. Some come and go and some stop in every so often, sort of like the merging the tribes on survivor.
Ok, one last little difference between a group scuba trip and the show “Survivor”. Everyone wins in our challenges. We are divers, we all win when we go diving. Oh and I can promise you this, that after all of our challenges we have way more food and drink for everyone that they do on that show.
Meet new people
New divers are always asking us what our favorite dive sites are or where the best scuba diving location is. My standard answer is where ever I am going next, but that doesn’t really answer the question now does it. So in a feeble attempt to actually answer the question without writing 10,000 words
Little Cayman and Little Cayman Beach Resort. I just adore this resort, the staff and of course Blood Bay Wall. If you can’t unplug and relax here, well then you just can’t. Wall diving and little creatures and turtles and sharks, they are all here and with over 100 foot visibility.
Cozumel. There are many reasons to love this island. It is affordable and easy to get to. The diving is easy, just fall off the boat and make sure you have your buoyancy and drift along. San Miguel has lots of things for your non diving friends and we enjoyed Scuba Club for their nice resort, but also for the proximity to town.
Fiji. The soft corals and Nemo is everywhere. And then you have such a different variety of fish. For example the Angel fish look the same body wise, but their markings are so different. Add in that the people of Fiji are just about the friendliest and happiest people we have ever had the opportunity to be around make this one of the must dives.
Turks and Caicos. The best way to dive this island chain is to dive one of the liveaboards. We have had pods of dolphins and a few pilot whales on our adventures here along with sharks and turtles.
I could keep going on about my favorite dive sites and you could probably guess. But to quickly round out the list of my favorite dive sites one would have to add St Lucia, the East End of Grand Cayman and Kauai.
So what are your favorite dive sites?
Our scuba adventures are as unique and varied as we are. Some like the baby turtles in this picture are just starting their scuba adventure while some been on the trip for a long time and yet some even wind up writing post like this one. But the point is it is your adventure and we hope you are making it your best adventure ever.
Some of us are content on our scuba adventure with just our basic open water card and some are happy to have the advanced open water card so they can “go deeper”. There are others that reach for the brass ring and want it all. The island life style and working and living in paradise. And there is the beauty of scuba; it can be anything you want.
Regardless of where you are on your scuba adventure as we begin 2016, take a moment to reflect and to think of all the awesome things you have seen. Dolphins playing in the wake of the boat, sharks, even the small things like the anemone shrimp and crabs. The wonder and amazement of it all. Now, let us take another moment and reflect on something, anything that might increase our enjoyment of this crazy adventure. Maybe, it is something as simple as joining a group trip to meet and dive with new buddies or it might be you want to learn more about the coral reef itself.
Maybe you are at the point in your adventure that you are now ready to show your kids the underwater world from a different point of view. You might want to add rescue diver to your adventure. Or even take classes with them and share the same adventure.
It is your scuba adventure and it can be whatever you want it to be and more. Let’s go diving!
Do you ever see an underwater photo in a magazine or one the web and say, “Dang, wish I could take pictures like that”. Well, my friend you can and you don’t need to invest a small fortune in your underwater photo set up.
First, get low and shoot up. Use the natural light of the sun and get some contrast in your images. Remember from your open water class that water absorbs colors starting with red in rather a swallow amount of water. Use the wall and the reef along with the surface to add depth to your underwater photos.
Second, focus on the eyes. Try and center your underwater photo with the subject eye in the center. Now, that is sometimes impossible especially with small creatures such as the Juvenile Drum as they are constantly swimming in a figure 8 patterns. But if you know the creatures’ behavior you can time the image and create some very pleasing shots. Plus, some fish such as the Lizard fish and Scorpion fish have really cool jaw lines and teeth.
Move slowly, you have been hearing this since basic open water. The trick to really cool underwater photos is to not scare the subject away. Turtles and seals will actually approach you if you can be still long enough. And those little shrimp that I love, well if you move to fast they will just disappear on you. Also, sometimes if you see the object of your desire like a turtle, if you look ahead you just might see an opening that the animal is heading for and you might be able to cut it off and get a really cool shot.
Tip number four; use one strobe. By using one strobe and turning it and the camera you can create shadows that will give your underwater photos some different looks and contrast.
And finally, practice and practice and practice. Find say a nice grouper at a cleaning station and practice. Turn the camera one way and the strobe a different way. Move slowly and try and get below your subject. That isn’t always possible on say nudibranchs, but look for different sight lines to give your underwater photos a different feel. But, what ever you do take the pictures that please you and enjoy them.
Just last week I got to watch one of our divers work on her dive log book while on the boat. She would draw the dive site map that the guides drew on the white board and then after the dive she would record her info that was important to her. I never did ask what she recorded as it is her dive log book, but she is approaching her 200th dive and still recording them. Also, on this boat were many different levels of experience of divers and watching this one so diligently work on her dive log book got me to thinking if any of the others are keeping a dive log book; and if they are, what type of information do they record?
But what are the benefits of keeping a dive log book?
Dive sites and maps of the site: I know another lady that has an app to keep her dive log book and this app allows her to upload photos and even if on line the GPS location of the site.
How about conditions such as the temperature of the water? Water temperature changes all throughout the year, if you travel to the same location every year at the same time the water temperature will be within a degree or two and this will be helpful in remember what exposure suit to bring. For example in 2007 we dove with the Turks and Cacios Explorer and as we were preparing to return to visit them again the water temperature was being reported as in the low 80’s. But when I went back into my dive log book and checked what the water temp was the last time it was actually in the mid 70’s. This information changed my mind as to what suit I took and I was very happy and warm thanks to my dive log book.
Some other useful things to keep in your dive log book are things like how much weight did you use or for the new diver how much air and how long did the dive last. Did you use a steel tank or a smaller aluminum tank? Did you see anything different? Maybe you are starting to notice different creatures and are learning how to spot some of them based on the habitat that they keep. All of these are fun and useful bits of information.
Oh, one last benefit of keeping a dive log book is that you can prove your dive experience and training. This can be helpful if you want to do some of the “advanced” dives that often available to those with at least an Advanced Open Water rating.
So if you do keep a dive log book a hearty well done to you, and yes we keep ours and record all the dives; even the ones at the crater.
Buddy Team, you hear about it from the second you open your open water diver book and begin your adventure into the undersea world. In the newest open water book from PADI some of the knowledge review questions even expand the buddy team to be 3 people. But what are some of the best practices for being a good buddy team? Let us take a look at a few things that all good buddy teams do and sometimes they don’t even know they are doing them.
Is your buddy team ready to go diving? Have you done your pre-dive safety check? If you watch my buddy and I you will not see us doing the formal BWRAF that you learned in your open water diver class, but you will see us do it as we are sitting next to each other going over our dive plan. Which leads me to the second thing every buddy team should be doing and that is after the briefing if you are listening to one you should be finalizing your final thoughts and dive plan.
Is everyone in your buddy team easy to recognize underwater? Many divers have BCD’s or fins that look familiar or are even identical to others on the dive boat. Sometimes our buddies might even look like someone else on the boat; after all it isn’t easy to recognize everyone under the water in all that gear with just a quick glance. So are you staying close to your buddy team? Have you as a buddy team talked about what an acceptable distance is away from each other? Does that distance change with conditions such as heavy current or night?
Has your buddy team ever practiced or even talked about emergency procedures? Are you familiar with your buddies gear? Are your skills compatible in your buddy team? Even a dry run on the boat before the dive could prove to be beneficial in case something where to go wrong.
And finally does your buddy team have the same goals for your diving? Critter finder or just cruising and exploring what do you and your buddies enjoy most in your diving?
See you under the boat