Sustainable Dining in Grand Cayman

Published October 2016

For Cayman Airways magazine – Skies www.caymanairwaysmagazine.com

Thanks to www.thefreerlancer.com for copyediting

Images by Jim Catlin http://www.jimcatlinphotography.com/

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The Six P’s & Your IDC

Guest blog for PADI Course Director Camille Lemmens

http://www.pa-divingidc.com

When I was young, my dad used to bang on about the six P’s: Preparation and Planning Prevents a P*** Poor Performance. The meaning is simple to understand, if you want to get a good result from something then you need to put the work in beforehand. Looking back, I guess when I was young I never listened to dad much which must have been pretty frustrating for him. In my school years, my time was generally spent staring out of the window and getting in to trouble as opposed to preparing for classes. This lack of preparation on my part resulted in various fates like having to do P.E. in my underwear and turning up for a very important exam in the afternoon when it was clearly advertised as being in the morning. It should come as no surprise that I left school without much in the way of impressive pieces of paper, it turned out that dad had a point.

As adults, the majority of us now know that if we want to get the most out of an experience then we need to put effort in to it, your Instructor Development course (IDC) is a great example of this. For many, one of the biggest considerations when deciding whether or not to become a scuba instructor is the initial cost. Making the financial commitment is a big deal but doing so does not guarantee success. It should be taken for granted that anyone who goes in to the Instructor Exam (IE) should do so with a view to pass but to what extent? Would you be happy to scrape through or would you want to ace it? Forget about the IE for a minute and consider the IDC as a standalone educational experience designed to prepare you for the big scary world as a scuba instructor, how much do you want to get out of it? Just enough to get by or enough to really empower you to be the best and most employable instructor you can be?

For most people there is a period of time between deciding that they want to become an instructor and the date their IDC starts. If you truly want to get the most out of the program and want to succeed as a scuba professional then this is a valuable period that should not be wasted. Whether you are a seasoned diver of many years or relatively new there are things that you can do in preparation for your IDC that will help build strong foundations for your course director to work with. And just to be clear, building up your alcohol tolerance before starting your gap year off does not constitute preparation! Here are some ideas for areas to focus on:

Prerequisites

As much as dive crew members like to joke around and act the fool (something that comes a lot more naturally to some than others) there are strict standards throughout the instructor training process which have to be met. These start with prerequisites, in other words, what you need to have achieved prior to starting your IDC. Before starting instructor training there are some things that you have to have squared away. Depending on where you go to do your course you may well be able to fill in any missing gaps prior to the start date, if that’s the case then make sure your course director is aware of what you need before you arrive. Prior to starting the IDC (assuming you have to do the entire course – AI as well as OWSI) you’ll need the following:

• To be a divemaster (DM). If your DM cert is not from PADI then you’ll need to complete the rescue exercise from the PADI DM course. If you completed any course from entry level up to pro with a different agency (not PADI) then you need to make sure you bring your certification cards along with you.

• To be at least 18 years old.

• To have been a certified diver for at least six months.

• To have logged at least 60 dives (100 upon completion) and documented experience in night, deep and underwater navigation.

• To have a medical approval signed by a physician within the last 12 months stating you are fit to dive.

• To have completed EFR training within the last 24 months.

Before you can get signed off as an OWSI, you will need to be an Emergency First Response Instructor (EFRI). This is quite often built in to the IDC but does not have to be. As far as prerequisites go, if you do not have them already, including the EFRI, then make sure you are clear of their costs as they will no doubt be on top of the standard fee for the IDC.

Get Your Skills up to Scratch

In the IDC, you should be using your time learning how to teach, not learning how to do. I have seen many instructor candidates that turn up still having trouble with basics like hovering etc. If your demonstration of hovering looks scrappy then how does that help instill confidence in your students? Think about it from a 360 approach, if you turned up to your IDC and you noticed your course director couldn’t put his gear together very well then what would go through your mind? IDC candidates will always have development areas but time spent during the IDC learning how to hover properly as opposed to developing something like student control techniques is a waste of your time and money.

Its worth getting as much pool time as you can to work on your own skills as well as running through skill sets from the DM course. You can try listing skills that you did in your OW, AOW, Rescue & DM courses and then run through them. You may want to try to find recordings of other people demonstrating their skills on the internet, these help you visualize what it is you are trying to achieve. If you find an area you are not so strong in then that’s where you need to invest your efforts to practice.

Time spent assisting instructors teaching courses is exceptionally worthwhile. There are so many advantages in this, for example:

• You get to build familiarity with the syllabus.

• You get to see real life issues that students have and then how the instructor helps overcome them.

• You may well get time with students helping them practice.

• Your comfort level with the skills increases.

• You start getting used to being on the instructor side of the course as opposed to the student side.

In your IDC you will have to do a rescue scenario – Unresponsive dive at the surface. You will have done this already in your rescue course as well as your DM but now you need to learn how to do it to demonstration standard. If you can, it will help you immensely if you can assist other instructors in delivering a rescue course. The skills in this course can be pretty complex and managing them effectively requires quite a bit of thought from the instructor. Instructors always appreciate extra bodies on rescue courses to be victims, role play actors, equipment handlers etc so your involvement should be gratefully accepted.

Further to the above, there are other skills that may well feature in your IDC which are not so obvious like compass skills, knots and lift bag use. Re-visit your AOW course and make sure you are absolutely comfortable in how to take a bearing with a compass, navigate a reciprocal and a square. You do not even need to be in water to practice these. Also from the AOW course, take time to get up to speed with your three knots – the bowline, sheet bend & round turn and two half hitches.

When people make a mess of deploying lift bags & SMB’s things go south fast. It is hard to try to maintain a professional image while looking like a kitten tangled up in a ball of string being carried fins first to the surface by a lift bag you inflated, your “students” in front of you try to keep a straight face as they watch your demonstration wondering what is going to happen next. End every dive by deploying your SMB, even when not required so that when you get in to your IDC it is second nature.

Beyond all that, just get out there and dive. The more experience you can get, the better. It really does not matter if it is in your local quagmire or out on a stunning reef, try to get as much experience as a diver as you can.

Know Your Theory

Unsurprisingly (I hope), to be an instructor you need to have a good understanding of dive theory. As well as the theory exams you are going to have to sit, you will be expected to give knowledge development presentations on various subjects. Beyond all this, you need to be thinking of life after the IDC, when you are out there in a classroom full of open water students and someone asks you a question, trust me, you do feel like a bit of a tit when you don’t have the answer.

Go through your knowledge developments, quizzes and exams from your OW, AOW, Rescue, EFR & DM theory as well as at least nitrox & deep from your specialties. Try to avoid just remembering the answers and really make sure you understand the content of the subject. This helps you answer questions when they are presented in different contexts to how you have found them so far. You can find some really useful pieces on the internet but be careful, it turns out that some online content is not entirely accurate!

In your DM crew pack you should have had some reference materials which will help. The Encyclopedia of Recreation Diving is an amazing resource. Its big and has lots of words but is well worth the read. In addition to this you should have a copy of the instructor manual. Take time to get comfortable with how to navigate your way through it and understand where you need to look to find a general standard versus a standard for a particular course.

As I have already mentioned, I didn’t do very well at school so did not really have a strong educational background to help me through the theory work. I personally found the Diving Knowledge Workbook a world of use.

Equipment

To be an instructor you will need your own gear. It is fairly common for instructors to use a little shop gear here and there but the expectation when hiring a PADI professional is that they have good working, well maintained equipment of their own. Make sure you know what regulator fittings they have where you are going, so if you have DIN regs you may well need to buy a DIN-Yoke converter. Also consider the changes in global units of measurement, if you are used to one but the place you are going to do your IDC uses the other then you will need to be aware of the conversions, things to consider are feet vs meters, pounds vs kg’s, Fahrenheit vs Celcius, Bar v PSI.

It is best to have fairly standard gear to use when instructing. For example, there is nothing in the standards that prevents you from having a backplate/wing configuration as opposed to a BCD but it is most likely your students will be learning in a standard jacket style BCD so think about how relevant your demonstration will be when you use kit that is different to what your students have.

When you get in to the IDC, it is worth looking at everyone else’s gear to ensure you understand its use if different from yours. If you are used to a standard pressure gauge but some candidates have their pressure displayed digitally on their computer then ask for a run through as to how it works, its best to find this kind of stuff out early on as opposed to when you are giving a demonstration on how to teach an out of air exercise.

My recommendation is to get your kit as soon as you can so you can build familiarity with it in the run up to your IDC. Requirements for the IE are:

• Fins, mask & snorkel

• Buoyancy control device with low pressure inflator.

• Regulator with alternate air source and SPG

• Wetsuit

• Timing device, depth gauge & compass

• Knife or cutting tool

• Blank slate

• Two surface signaling devices – one audible like a whistle and one visual like an SMB

• Weight Belt

• Pocket mask

Get Fit

This is not a deal breaker but it does help during your IDC and then getting a job if you are kinda in shape. Your IDC is tiring, you will be working lots of hours and will likely end the days physically and mentally exhausted. If you spend some time before your IDC developing your fitness then it will help you manage those long days.

Beyond the IDC, getting a job may be a little easier if you are in shape for two main reasons. Firstly, from a safety and practical point of view, if you find yourself in a position where you have to assist someone by pulling them in to the boat but you generally struggle to get yourself in the boat in normal conditions then you are not off to a good start. Depending on where you work you may have to get involved with physically demanding roles like changing over the tanks on the boats. Hauling 80 empty tanks off a boat and replacing them with 80 full ones in the midday heat is hard work.

Secondly, image is important for a dive centre. Some potential employers may not want to offer a job to someone who they feel does not have the right image. This could mean someone who smokes, has heavy tattoos or piercings or who is noticeably physically unfit. Rightly or wrongly, most dive centres like to promote an image of being healthy and active, their staff are instrumental in maintaining this image.

Start Thinking About the World of Work

Getting your instructor certificate is a big deal but in truth, it’s just the beginning. What you are going to find is that there is quite a bit of competition out there for jobs for freshly certified instructors. You need to start thinking about how to stand out from the crowd in order to get started. You may have something lined up already but if not I strongly advise that you start thinking about how you are going to make it happen, check out my posts on the “Being an Instructor” tab on my blog page for some ideas.

During my IDC I recall other certified instructors who were around at the time telling me that they had a great time during their IE. I personally had such a sense of impending doom that it seemed impossible that the IE could be anything like fun. When I got there, I was surprised to find that there were no nasty PADI dragons waiting to tear me apart and after passing the written exams I actually did enjoy the whole experience just like others had told me I would. This time, I had prepared, very thoroughly indeed and it was this preparation that enabled the experience to be fun. No one wants to have to write that Facebook status telling the world that they failed and there is no reason why they should have to as long as they put the required effort in. In summary, my advice to you is get the basics nailed, prepare well, learn lots in the IDC and then have fun blitzing the IE. Good luck!

10 Awesome Things About Night Diving in Grand Cayman

Guest blog for http://www.idivecayman.com

If I was given a dollar every time a diver asked me the question, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen underwater?” I’d probably still be broke, but I’d have lots more stories to tell!

It’s a fair question though, I’ve done a lot of dives and who knows what I might have seen down there; mermaids, treasure chests, guys dressed up as unicorns…… the possibilities are endless. For me, it’s a tough question to answer because I’ve seen tons of cool stuff underwater, from sunken ships to caves to sharks to trains to, believe it or not, a man dressed up as a unicorn. What was the best? I couldn’t judge, they’re all just different kinds of awesome.

Having said that, if you want to ramp up the chances of seeing something truly mind blowing, you have to try diving at night. The excitement of putting on the gear and getting into a moonlit ocean still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. In addition to the thrill of the activity itself, you never know what you might find, as all kinds of beasties come out to play at night.

Ten things I love about night diving in Grand Cayman are:

1) Bioluminescence

How does being inside a cosmic, underwater snow globe sound? The trick with this stuff is for everybody to turn their lights off (no, I’m not joking) and wave their arms around like crazy. The effect of the electrically-coloured pixie dust that darts around is bioluminescence; a kind of plankton that when disturbed, lights up like a firefly. Try it for a while then turn your light back on, hopefully there are still as many people in the group as when you turned it off!

2) Sleeping Turtles

What’s more cool than finding a turtle? Finding a sleeping turtle! Turtles work on the principle that if they can’t see you, then you can’t see them. So when it’s time to hit the hay, turtles take a big breath of air before swimming down to a ledge or rock to wedge their head under. Typically when you find one sleeping at night, the first thing you’ll see is their big turtle butt hanging out in the water. In order to make their breath last longer, turtles drop their heart rate down as low as one beat every nine minutes.

3) Basket Stars

By day, these guys wrap themselves up into a tight ball and attach themselves to coral. After sunset, they open up and spread out in the water column to feed. When fully open they can look like the skeleton of a big satellite dish, as their arms reach into the ocean. They eat by catching waterborne food such as algae or plankton then recoil their arms in order to bring the catch to their mouth.

4) Lobsters

I have a vivid imagination, but even so I am sure that spiny lobsters are in some way related to the face huggers from the Aliens movies. At night, it is far more common to see lobsters scampering around looking for food. This means you get to see the whole creature, you’ll be surprised as to how much bigger they look than when hiding under a rock in the day. A real treat which is more likely under the cover of darkness, is to find a slipper lobster. These guys look like they just crawled out of a 50’s B movie and can often be found wandering around in the shallows.

5) Brain coral

Before I started diving, I thought that hard coral was a kind of pretty rock, apparently they are classed as animals, who knew huh? Coral has mobility, but you won’t catch a piece going for a pleasant stroll across the reef. In fact you won’t see much movement out of brain coral at all, until night that is. At night, the coral catches food from the surrounding water by firing their tentacles with surprising speed. When they catch something like a blood worm, they pull the struggling victim in and suck the insides of the worm out leaving just its sizzling empty carcass, it’s an impressive sight indeed!

6) Tarpon

Depending on where you dive, you could find yourself being surrounded by a school of tarpon. Creatures of habit, it only takes a little local knowledge to find a dive site where these night time feeders hang out. Some shore dive sites attract tarpon, as they like to use nearby lights from the land to find their food. And what’s the big attraction? Well, they grow up to lengths of four feet, have a mouth that makes them look impossibly down in the dumps and have silvery, armour like skin that reflects the light. It’s a really cool feeling to be in the water surrounded by 15 or so big, shiny, depressed fish munching on whatever gets caught in the flash-light.

7) Hunting

One of the reasons why things can look so different at night, apart from the lack of light of course, is that the marine life behaves differently. Many species that hide throughout the day, come out at night, often to hunt. Schoolmaster snappers have managed to catch on to the fact that divers at night have lights with them and that if they hang around just behind the diver then they can use the light to their advantage when hunting. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been swimming along and noticed something like an angel fish, before I’d even had a chance to fully focus on it, a snapper has appeared from nowhere and gobbled it up. It always makes me a little paranoid as to what I shine my light on “Wow, cool, it’s a…… oops, oh dear.”

8) Octopus

As far as I’m concerned, the absolute highlight of a night dive is the chance to find an octopus. If you ever needed proof that aliens exist and are living amongst us then come find an octopus at night and you’ll never have a doubt in your mind again. Octopus change colour right in front of your eyes. Often when you first find them, they are a kind of blue/green colour which is good for camouflage against the reef. When they realise they have been spotted they seemingly flick through an entire spectrum of colour in an attempt to communicate. I don’t speak octopus, but I guess they’re saying something along the lines of “get that damn light out of my eyes!” Our 8 legged buddies are curious creatures, so may well hang out for a while or even extend a tentacle in order to investigate a diver. If one does that and you stretch a finger out to have a kind of ET moment then believe me, if it makes contact with you, the feeling will make you jump out of your skin.

9)Critters

I love the little dudes! At night, like many other things, tiny shrimp and crabs venture out to see what they can find, banded coral shrimp are a great example. My little tip for finding these guys is to watch where you shine your light and look for small reflections. Shrimps’ eyes are like the reflectors in the road that help guide cars in the fog. If you see a little dot winking back at you, go check it out, you could be in for a nice surprise.

10) The Kittiwake

Even Caymans wrecks take on a new persona by night. Swimming through the Kittiwake in the dark can give a more eerie feel to it as you move from room to room with no ambient light breaking through. Exploring the corridors of this sunken vessel with just your flash-light to show you the way is one of the most exciting ways to dive this wreck. At night, the floors of this ex USS navy ship become covered in peppermint shrimp. If you have doubts about whether you will be comfortable diving at night then my suggestion is to avoid this dive until you have built a little confidence. It can be pretty spooky, especially when you turn a corner into a room only to come face to face with a huge grouper, they aren’t too pretty at the best of times!

Some of the most fun I’ve ever had has been at night, trust me, the stories are endless! But this is a dive blog, so all that rock n roll stuff is gonna get parked for now, those stories are best told over a beer anyway. If you’re coming to dive in Grand Cayman then you need to check out a night dive. Either talk to your dive operator for a boat dive or take a look on Idive for some options from the shore. You don’t need extra training but if you want to be taught about diving at night, most dive centres will offer a course in it. Any extra equipment that is required (lights) should be provided by the facility you get your tanks from.

Grand Cayman has some of the most convenient diving in the world, heading out at night is no exception. Whether you’re a seasoned night diver or trying it for the first time, you’re gonna love discovering its hidden treasures in the dark.

Dive safe and have fun out there!

Grand Cayman, From the Bottom to the Top

Guest blog for Idive – www.idivecayman.com

I’ve had a startling revelation that I want to share with the dive community, just promise me one thing in return – remember you heard it here first!

OK, strap yourself in, here goes….. Grand Cayman has some phenomenal diving!

Did that send a shock wave of surprise around the world and blow you off your chair? Well, probably not. It’s no secret that the Cayman Islands have some awesome diving on offer. There have been libraries of words written and a gazillion photos proving this, so creating another account of this underwater paradise seems a tad redundant. Instead, I am going to try to paint a little picture of the island as it looks below sea level, metaphorically of course. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be entertained by watching me fumbling with watercolours and brushes to create a mess that not even my mum would want to put up on the fridge door!

But why would you be interested in such a blog? Well, start by thinking of the dive sites around Grand Cayman as being pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. With a bit of time on the island you can become familiar with the detail on some of the pieces , but the complete image remains a mystery. The more pieces you are able to become familiar with, the greater your vision of the wider picture becomes. Hopefully, this account will help you save some time by filling in the blanks.

So where does the island come from…. Sorry, was that a silly question? Let me explain! Imagine an ocean a mile deep (more or less). Now make a mountain with sharp cliffs that rise straight out of the ocean floor. The mountain climbs all the way up to the surface with just the very tip poking out to make dry land. All around the mountain is the deep blue Caribbean sea.

The tip at its highest point is only 60′ above sea level meaning Grand Cayman has very little altitude. Deep down where the krakens lurk, east of the island, the Cayman Trench cuts into the ocean floor reaching depths of over 25,000 feet (there aren’t any recorded dive sites down there by the way, but if you manage to check the place out please do let me know what it looks like!)

OK, good to know, but what does this mean for us divers? Well, firstly the very low altitude of the island means no rivers and very little run off. This lack of detritus being washed in to the ocean helps the island’s dive sites maintain fantastic visibility all year round. Next up, the plummet to the abyss that is right on our doorstep means that we are close to all kinds of oceanic beasties . Appearances from hammerheads, tuna, marlin and even the odd tiger shark have been made in the short time that I have been here.

Beyond all that, the drop itself is an awesome sight to behold. In some places, diving on the wall around Grand Cayman is like taking a running jump off a cliff so high that it’s impossible to see the floor below. Just as gravity is about to pull you to your demise, time somehow stops leaving you just hanging there to take it all in.

My passion is tech diving so having this drop so close to the shore makes this island about the best kind of playground I can imagine. Fortunately, the conditions are such that the wall and its scenery can be enjoyed by recreational divers just as easily.

Oops, there I go waffling on about how phenomenal it is here again, lets get back on track. So as I mentioned, we have these sharp cliffs that rise from the ocean floor towards the surface, but that’s not how they emerge from the water. The steep mountain walls stop around 40′-80′ short of the surface and upon the top, surrounding the island, sits a crown of coral reef.

Fixed boat moorings have been built into the reef at the top of the main wall, often only tens of feet away from the edge . To give you a point of reference, some of these deep wall dive sites are so close to the shore that a 5 minute surface swim is all it takes to get there. From such sites, divers can find swim-throughs, pinnacles, overhangs, ledges, grottos and all kinds of cool things living in the nooks and crannies.

But we’re still not up to the surface yet…

Swim towards land a little, just a short way from the big drop and you’ll notice that the coral crown nestles into a sandy bottom at around 50′-90′. This sand belt is like a shelf ranging in width from 40′-300′ and also orbits the island, dividing the coral reefs of the main wall from those of the mini wall.

How impressive does a sandy shelf sound? Well, not very I guess but actually there is a ton of cool stuff to find there. The little coral heads that pop up intermittently have marine life just exploding out of them making you feel like you are in an aquarium. Garden eels live in the sand and to me it looks like they are having a big party, all dancing to the same beat. Cool as they are, the garden eels attract spotted eagle rays who come in close enough to suck them right out of the sand. Southern stingrays patrol the flats searching for their next bite and dotted around all over, it’s easy to find conch laboriously dragging themselves through life.

So, we have deep blue, then the wall, then the sand flat and then what?

Another coral belt runs around the island which I briefly mentioned earlier. This stretch however is not as black and white as the other perimeters. The mini wall looks different depending on where you are on the island. In places it can be like a definite, visible step that drops from 35′(ish) down to the sand at around 60′ more or less. It is common to find fingers of coral that jut out of the mini wall clawing their way in to the sand channel, and coral heads that exist in between these fingers make for some really cool routes to swim through. In other parts of the island, the depth range of the mini wall is not anywhere near as noticeable without looking at your gauge. An example of this could be the shallow sites off seven mile beach which are typically more like sprawling fields of coral heads than a neat step.

The top of the mini wall brings us up to 20′-40′ and following this contour is another dot-to-dot outline made up of mooring buoys that mark the islands shallow dive sites. The final stretch between this and the waterline is either sand, hardpan or ironshore depending on where you are. These shallow spots are often dismissed by divers but are in fact goldmines for macro photographers who may find sailfin blennies, fingerprint cythomas, gaudy clown crabs and bristled fireworms to name a few. It’s not all small stuff either, flying gurnard, peacock flounders, tarpon and giant barracuda are amongst the bigger boys that can be found lurking in the shallows.

To get a better visual representation of this, why not check out the “idive maps” tab on the website, zoom in a little you’ll kinda see the 2 surrounding bands of dive sites from shallow to deep. Click on the thumb-tack and you’ll get your own virtual tour of the site, pretty cool huh?

So there you have it – from the ocean floor to the shoreline of Grand Cayman in just a few paragraphs! Of course there is an absolute bucket-load of (not so fine) detail that I have missed out and my crude descriptions far from cover every inch, but you get the idea. The best way to see the underwater world here is to get on a plane and come see for yourself. That said, I like to read up as much on a dive location as I can before I go there in order to get the most out of the experience. If that sounds like something you like to do too then I hope this account has helped a little.

Safe diving!

How Not to Rock the Boat

Published in Diver Magazine (North America) September 2015

Photos by Jim Catlin

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What is wrong with people today? It might just be me, but as the human race charges deeper into the digital age, it seems that common sense and good social skills are plummeting in to extinction. With the earth’s population hurtling towards critical mass, we should be more concerned about those that share the ever decreasing space around us. But as we communicate more and more virtually through digital channels, so we seem to lose the ability to maintain harmony with those in our close proximity. The problem with common sense, like good social skills, is that they are becoming less and less common.

Being on a dive boat can put this idea under a magnifying glass. As a general statement, divers are a pretty good bunch, normally friendly, welcoming and up for a laugh. But from time to time they fall out and when that happens, the first thing I notice is that the dive boat suddenly becomes a really small and uncomfortable place to be.

Getting along shouldn’t be difficult, but having seen dive trips go sour in the past, I feel the need to spell a few things out.

An Example of Bad Behavior – Decorum

I was once doing a two tank trip on a 26’ RIB, space was a premium. At any point during the time spent topside, I could have reached out and touched five different people. After the last dive a guy stood up, took his wet suit off leaving him totally naked and stood very precariously on the rocking boat. As he bent over and rummaged through his bag looking for his underwear there was a stunned silence throughout the boat, the diver that was sitting behind him almost lost his breakfast over the side. No one, captain included, could believe what was happening.

Some Tips to Avoid Bad Decorum:

  • Don’t be that naked guy! Not everyone is as liberal as you may be, most would prefer not to see what lurks in the depths of your wetsuit. If you need to totally change your clothes then go somewhere private or cover up with a towel. An appropriately-sized towel.
  • Watch your bad habits – Most boats will not allow smoking on them nowadays, remember it’s a small space and many people do not want to even smell smoke let alone have to inhale other peoples’ exhalations. If you pee in your suit then flush it before getting on the boat – it stinks.
  • Nose full of jellyfish? Think about where you are expelling those critters, if you are doing it when on the ladder getting back in then chances are someone is behind you who may well catch them.
  • Swearing or even talking loudly about something inappropriate can also bother people – save that for the bar later just in case of sensitive souls.
  • Don’t take up more than your fair share of space. Think about where you are putting your gear as you take it out of your bag as well as where you put your non dive bag. It may help to pack things you need last so they are at the top of your bag.
  • Don’t talk over the briefings. Whoever is giving them should have lots of useful information that will make your trip either safer, more enjoyable, or simply run smoother, even if you are not interested, other people on the boat should be.

Another Example of Bad Behavior – Time Management

I used to dive with a couple that had an incredible ability to annoy everyone else around them. That included the captain, crew, fellow passengers and even me. The main issue was that they were always the last people to do anything. They would wait until the rest of the group had finished an activity before starting it themselves. When everyone else was on the boat waiting to take off, they were on the dock rummaging through bags. When everyone had their kit on sweating in their heavy wetsuits, they were assembling their gear and fiddling with lanyards. When everyone else was bobbing around on the surface in the swells wrestling with nausea, they were putting their gear on, laughing and joking without a care in the world. The only time they managed to demonstrate good time management it seemed, was either when hitting the showers (there was only a finite amount of hot water) and hitting the bar!

Some Tips to Avoid Causing Delays

  • If it takes you longer to set up your gear than everybody else, start earlier.
  • If you don’t like being the first in the water then position yourself on the boat furthest from the part where people jump in the water (usually the back).
  • If you like to do a long healthy buddy check then get it started before people are jumping in.
  • If your computer needs programming or gear needs tweaking, do it before you get on the boat.
  • Once your equipment is ready, ensure the following before getting into your BCD: that your gear works properly; nothing is leaking; your tank is full and disconnected from the bungee; your weights are attached; that you have everything you need like fins, mask and computer at hand. In short, have everything ready so that when the time comes to splash you don’t find something that will need five minutes of playing around with before being able to get in the water.

A Further Example of Bad Behavior – Underwater Conduct

There have been times watching scenes unfold underwater when I have been left truly astonished, it amazes me how some people can be so stupid with only one head. Once, I had the…… ahem…. pleasure of diving with a group of ten who would come to be known as “the underwater rugby team”. If you have not watched a game of rugby, imagine American Football but without the padding and helmets. Now picture this underwater but with scuba gear on. I am not exaggerating, the only thing missing were the cheerleaders! Descents were carried out bottom first, coming to a stop as they crash landed on the coral or in the sand nearby. As soon as the divers had managed to wrestle themselves right side up, they scattered in every direction ricocheting off each other like sub aquatic fireworks. As soon as someone found something of interest he banged his tank like crazy until the rest of the pack all charged at him descending on him and ending up in a big mess of sand, fins, coral and bubbles. I never did find out what he had seen. The dive lasted around 25 minutes, miraculously everyone made it back on board.

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Some Tips to Avoid Bad Underwater Conduct

  • Poor spatial awareness can lead to kicking people in the face, smashing them on the head with your tank and crashing in to coral. Try to be aware of how far away things around you are. You can check by reaching out with your hand to make sure you are arms distance away from something.
  • Avoid unnecessary movements like sculling with your hands as this can lead to pawing at peoples mask or regulator.
  • When diving with a group, keep a good distance away from others except, of course, your buddy. Think about the visibility on the dive, i.e. do not be so far away from the rest of the group and the guide that you can’t see them. In clear water, you can easily be 20 – 40 feet away from others, stay in visual contact and avoid physical contact.
  • Buoyancy is the square root of so many things in diving. To name a few, good buoyancy means good control, better air consumption, safer profiles, less damage to the environment, seeing more, looking cooler and just generally having more fun. Thinking your buoyancy is good is sometimes different to having good buoyancy. If you are unsure then just stop, don’t move your arms or legs and watch what happens. Are you ascending, descending or hanging in the water column? Adjust accordingly.
  • Look with your eyes and not your hands. Don’t poke, prod, touch, stroke, lift, shake or pocket marinelife.
  • Noise annoys! Clickers, quackers, bangers and rattles are great for those times when you see something really cool that is only going to be around for a short time. They are also great when you really need to get people’s attention. They are annoying as hell when the whole group wants to use them constantly on the dive creating a cacophonic orchestra.
  • At the end of the dive, if the boat you are diving from has a ladder then this will become a bottleneck as people surface around the same time. Try to avoid hanging out on the ladder talking to people about the dive etc while there are others behind you wanting to get on the boat

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Final example of Bad Behavior – Cameras

Recently I watched a young healthy guy using a 100cf tank in tropical water burn through his air in 26 minutes. He spent the dive with his eyes glued to the screen of his camera which I estimate would be valued at around $5,000. This guy’s buoyancy was so out of control that at 80 feet he was pretty much upright having to fin like crazy in order to maintain his depth. Upon finding something to take a picture of he would stop kicking which gave him enough time to get one shot at the subject before he dive bombed in to it. Following a brief period rolling around in the fire coral he’d pick himself up and do the exact same thing again and again not touching his LPI once.

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Some Tips to Avoid Being a Nuisance Photographer

  • Become proficient in the basics of diving before bringing a camera in to the mix. Don’t let the camera become a higher priority than buoyancy, gas consumption, no deco limits, buddy skills, location and spatial awareness.
  • Avoid chasing off marine life by trying to outswim it to get a photo. Camera stretched out in front and blowing through your air in minutes, you’ll always end up with bad pictures and short dives.
  • Don’t move or break things, lie on the reef or other fragile marine-life so you can get what you want in the picture. The camera is also not an excuse to pick things up so you can position them how you like them to be photographed.
  • Don’t hog the front row seats. If somebody finds something cool (even you), don’t spend more than a few minutes in the only point it is visible from, it’s just not fair.
  • Owning a camera does not make you more entitled to be near the action. If you push past other divers so you can get right up close to something it’s going to aggravate other divers.
  • If you have one of those little cameras on a long pole then don’t just shove it in front of someone as they are looking at something.

Maybe the problem is that I am too set in my ways. Am I missing out on a world of fun that is detached from boring rules and etiquette? Perhaps next time I go for a dive I should pack lots of useless stuff to take to the boat and get in everyones way. I could heckle the guide during the brief and when other divers start to frown at me I could just take my clothes off and light up a cigarette. If the mood took me, I might try spending the dive decorating myself with coral. I could play hilarious games like swimming over to other divers, attach myself to them and see how long I can hold on for as they flail manically trying to shake me off. As I write this, of course jokingly, I do start to see a certain attraction. I might just give it a go, afterall, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em!

Diving in the Land of The Morning Calm

Published in UK Diver magazine May 2015

“You can dive in Korea…?” This is the response I usually get from people when I tell them about my three and a half years spent instructing scuba there. Often this will be accompanied by a puzzled expression as they dig deep in to their memory for anything they may have heard in the past about diving in that part of Asia.

To start with, yes, you can dive in Korea. The country is surrounded by water, with the exception of the heavily armed border that divides the north and south. Due to North Korea being totally off limits to the south, it is much like being on an island. Referred to as “the hermit nation”, their dive scene, like many aspects of their culture, is little known about outside of the country.

Historically, South Korea has maintained a strong relationship with the ocean, however this bond is based largely on (ab)using the sea as a food source. As well as the extensive industrial fishing that takes place, Koreans also have a traditional technique for harvesting their seas. For centuries “Haenyeo,” who are essentially free divers, have braved the frigid temperatures of their surrounding waters. Equipped with a mask, fins, a basic spear or knife, a net bag attached to a float and a rope to assist descents and ascents, these sturdy individuals spend the day duck-diving for anything from clams to octopus. Their catch is then sold to the scores of seafood restaurants or fish markets that are found in abundance up and down the country.

So there is water and you can dive there, but what is it like? In truth, even if it were possible, I feel it would be unfair to classify Korean diving as either good or bad. A variety of elements can present challenging conditions for people who are more accustomed to fairer waters. It can be hard work diving in Korea but on a good day, that hard work really pays off.

It transpired that my UK dive training and experience prepared me well for what Korea had to offer. I was based in Busan, a city on the south coast with a population of around 3.5million people. In general, diving for much of the year was not for the faint hearted. Perilously rocky beach entrances lead to dark murky water where much of the year fins are not visible. At best, divers in Taejongdae beach get to enjoy 10 meters of clarity.

Elsewhere, visibility stretches from nonexistent up to 30 meters. Depending on whether you are east, south or west and what time of year you are in the water, temperatures range from 3 degrees up to a high of 25. Bracing thermoclines and ripping currents are common. My years were typically spent trying to dive around typhoons, monsoons, rainy seasons, yellow dust (a visible pollution that drifts over from China) and snowy winters.

I found it interesting to note that in spite of the challenging elements, Korea has a strong dive scene. It is a rapidly growing market for certification agencies, dominated by PADI and SSI, I even encountered a cluster of BSAC clubs. The cultural norm is to do things as a group, for this reason dive clubs and the excursions they offer are very successful. It is in this fashion that divers living in the colossal, built up cities make their trips to lesser populated, rural areas to enjoy far better conditions.

Many Koreans are drawn to the ocean by their love of fresh seafood. Due to excessive overfishing, there is limited opportunity to spear anything sizeable. As such, it is common for divers to take nets and tools for removing anything that still clings to the rocky surface.

sea squirt

Embracing a “Look don’t touch” approach made our international dive club stand out from the others who could not see the point in entering the water if not to hunt. When teaching courses, I would need an interpreter to describe to the boat captain exactly what we needed in terms of depths and other requirements. We would then cram ourselves in to a boat, packed with underwater hunters and start our journey to the site. Along the way, at seemingly random intervals, hunters would roll backwards over the inflatable sides, the outboard motor only slowing down momentarily to lessen the impact. The solo divers would then be picked up an hour later, one by one as the boat made its way back to the harbour having collected us from our predetermined exit point. I will always remember one particularly angry “undersea hunter” who had made such an entrance, unfortunately without his weight belt. The diver’s cries to get the attention of the boat captain went unheard resulting in him floating around on the surface for over an hour in his dry suit before being picked up again.

Unfortunately, the ensuing disharmony between traditional Haenyeo and scuba divers has a tendency to manifest itself, sometimes to the point of physical force. While out on a dive, a buddy of mine had a Haenyeo, angered by the extent at which the ocean is ravaged by scuba divers, sneak up to him and pull his mask off and reg out. I personally am only too aware of how fishermen view scuba divers having had one deliberately drop an anchor on me while I was guiding a dive around a pretty island called Goeje Do. Miraculously, the anchor missed us by a couple of feet.

sea hare

Divers encounter a variety of attractions in amongst the rocky underwater terrain. Artificial reefs have been created using giant concrete cubes. These underwater climbing frames resemble playgrounds, which are enjoyed by groups of giant octopus. On the south west corner of the coastline, dive clubs frequently visit small fishing villages on the outskirts of Pohang. Here they find underwater statues like a Buddah set in a cave, a Virgin Mary and, oddly enough, a 6 foot tall concrete penis. Upon investigating the latter, I learned that the concrete penis was an offering to the angry spirit of a lady who was swept out to sea on her wedding day. Her screams can apparently be heard in the storms that, as legend has it, she creates in her frustrated state. Such phallic statues can also be found on dry land. Nearby, giant octopus starfish slowly crawl around two nameless wrecked fishing boats. Heading further north to Uljin, divers will be rewarded with a section of coastline littered with wrecks. On the other end of the scale, macro lovers can find an astonishing array of colourful nudibranches.

buddah  octopus starfish

The national gemstone is Jeju island. Situated approximately 100 miles from the mainland, the journey is just a 45 minute hop away by plane. This honeymoon destination is southerly enough to be home to tropical fish as well as their cold water relatives. Jeju has an abundance of colourful soft coral and kelp gardens. Operations here offer the chance for people without certification to try diving as it is sufficiently distanced from the harsher conditions of the mainland. Beginners are sometimes taken in to the water without fins in order to make them easier for an instructor to tow them around. Just when I thought I could no longer be surprised, while diving around Jeju one day, I encountered a group of four people without fins, tied together being dragged around by a guide.

Scuba enthusiasts in Korea can take advantage of their location in order to explore the surrounding countries. From Seoul it is easy to fly to an abundance of world class dive destinations including Palau, the Philippines, Thailand and Guam. As diving increases in popularity, more Korean owned dive centres are opening up in these locations to keep up with the trend.

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to live somewhere truly off the beaten path of dive tourism. In South Korea, I experienced a completely different way of living and diving. Some marine life I found to be most fascinating include Nomura’s jellyfish, the world’s largest cnidarian weighing up to 220kgs; the giant octopus; sea hares that follow the cold water; and the flying gurnard that swim/fly/run throughout the sand flats. Korea is unlike anywhere else, however, as the newer generations continue to embrace western culture, their identity will change. A different attitude to the ocean and its inhabitants will undoubtedly be a good thing but having said that I know I am lucky to have seen the country above and below water in its present form. I became a diver and a traveler in response to my passion for adventure. Living and diving in Korea met my needs for fresh excitement. Diving in these unknown waters, in a manner so abstract from anywhere else, reminded me of the thrill I enjoyed on my first ever dives.