Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mindoro & Luzon, Philippines, Oct-Nov 2003

¤ IANTD Normoxic Trimix Diver
¤ TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
¤ IANTD Trimix Diver

travel blog

Philippines - info sheet

VisumNo visum is required - unless you want to stay more than 3 weeks. In Copenhagen, a 59 days visum can be obtained from the Philippines consulate within two to four weeks. Besides your passport you must bring one picture, a copy of your travel documents, fill in an application, and pay 345 DKK.
TimeManila time = Copenhagen summer time + 6 hours
Manila time = Copenhagen winter time + 7 hours
WeatherAir temperature: about 30°C warm and humid. Partially cloudy, with an occasional shower now and then. Water temperature: 27°C.
Currency1 USD = 54 PHP
LanguageEnglish is spoken by most.
ElectricityElectrical plugs are USA style.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Seahorse parade

Armed with a Sea&Sea MotorMarine IIex underwater camera, it's a whole other game now. The hunt for subjects is open.

Asia Divers being rather busy, I've switched to Frontier Scuba. I already dived with them last year and know Rick (the owner) and Oying (the main guide). It's a smaller dive shop, offering a more personalized service, meaning you can have Rick or Oying as your private guide on most dives.


And they're a photographer's best friend! In stead of telling which dive sites I'd like to see, I ask them for a certain fish or marine creature. Then they just bring me to a site and find whatever I wanted to see. It's quite incredible. Today, Oying found three seahorses and a big orange frogfish on our first dive. And plenty of colourful nudibranchs on the second dive.


Not a day goes by without us seeing a new critter: pygmy seahorses, spotted and thorny seahorses, seamoths (aka dragonfish), slender pipefish, seagrass filefish, flying gurnard, dragonet, cockatoo waspfish, frogfish, lion-, scorpion- and stonefish, reef- and flamboyant cuttlefish, octopus, anemoneshrimps and -crabs, hermite- and boxcrabs, green and white mantis shrimp, blue and black ribbon eels, moray eels, flounders, various kinds of nudibranchs, seapens, etc. Besides of course all the other free moving reef fish (usually not inclined to be photographed) and the occasional turtle.

There was a problem with the camera's macro-frame, but several pictures did come out anyway, though not as many as hoped. Lesson learned: develop asap, so you can take corrective measures.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Recreational diving

Having finished all my technical courses, I can now enjoy the freedom of diving with just one tank again. All I have to do is rollover into the water, have a great time just looking around and surface when I'm done.


My recreational configuration is of course technically correct: meaning I'm still using a harness and backplate, but now with smaller, single tank wings. I can't get much more streamlined than that, except by becoming a freediver.

Friday, November 14, 2003

A typhoon passes by

It's been raining through the night and all of the day. The intensity varying from drizzle to tropical downpour, soaking everything and everybody venturing outside. A perfect day for watching movies, except there's no power and they won't start the generator until nightfall. So most tourists hang out in the bars, soaking there insides with San Miguel beer, thus restoring their humidity balance with the outside world.

Monday, November 10, 2003

IANTD Trimix Diver -upgrade-

InstructorsDave Ross (academics+skills)
Sam Collett (training dives)
Dive centerTech Asia, Small La Laguna, Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines
Duration4 days
Dives1 confined water session
3 trimix dives to max 80m
Price300 USD + about 240 USD for Helium (incl. the instructor's)
RequirementsIANTD
CommentsHaving done the normoxic trimix course only a few weeks ago with the same instructor team, this course was just an upgrade to full trimix.

In order to go yet a little deeper, there are some new skills to master and some additional risks to consider. The main one being the fact that the bottom mix is now hypoxic at the surface and shallow depths.

Actual bottom time gets even shorter and decompression time longer (e.g. about four times the bottom time for medium deep dives). As more Helium is needed in the mix in order to keep a clear head, the price tag per dive goes up accordingly too.

Dave and Sam are great dive professionals who take their job seriously and do it thoroughly, gladly sharing their knowledge and experience - they're truly an example to follow.

Remark that the full trimix course would normally take longer, require more dives and cost more.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Manila to Small LaLaguna

After a short overnight stay at Malate pension (550 PHP/night), I took an early morning taxi to the City State Tower Hotel (31 PHP) and bought a bus/ferry ticket to Sabang (400 PHP). The bus left a little after 8am, and we arrived in Batangas around 10:30, from where I took a big banca outrigger directly to Sabang beach. The crossing took an hour, and could potentially get wet depending on the wheather conditions.
My fully furnished studio at Sha Che (500 PHP/day) was waiting for me, and I made myself comfy straight away. Now I can truly relax, having worked my way through the two main dive courses I wanted to do here. The one left is just an upgrade of the first one, so I can take it easy from now on :o)

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Subic Bay to Manila

Not liking Subic too much, I left it as soon as the course was done. I could again share a chartered van (2700 PHP) back to Manila with Mark and Steve. With the same old driver, barely understanding a word of english, and always nodding yes to whatever we'd ask him. But he got us where we wanted. Through the endless traffic jams.

Monday, November 3, 2003

TDI Advanced Wreck Diver

InstructorJohn Bennett
AssistantMark Cox
BuddySteve Bates
Dive centerMasterDive (used as a base only), Subic Bay, Mindoro, Philippines
John Bennett and Mark Cox run the Tech Dive Academy in Port Douglas, Australia
Duration5 days
Dives1 confined water session
8 wreck dives on air or nitrox
Price750 USD
RequirementsTDI
CommentsMore than just an introduction to overhead environment diving. The skills are very much the same as for cave diving, but the environment and its hazards pose different challenges.

Again, buoyancy control is crucial to perform the line laying, following and retrieval skills, through narrow to tight horizontal, vertical or inclined restrictions. Propulsion technique is very important to avoid silting up. And of course one has to be very aware of one's air reserves.

Contrary to cave diving, we were never totally gone from daylight sources, except for a short shaft penetration. Gear configuration is very much an issue here, as anything dangling or sticking out could be a potential entanglement hazard. And believe me, things do get tight in there, I've never felt so big before.

Though the skills must be mastered, they're relatively easy to learn. The main challenge really is mental. To remain in control when things don't quite go as expected.

With six divers (one instructor, one assistant and four students) we got to practice no viz exits a lot. With that many divers working their way through narrow corridors, silting up is almost inevitable. Bubbles cause falldown, holding on to a coral encrusted corroded beam causes clouds of rust particles to swirl around, just looking at something intensively might cause it to crumble.

In these no viz situations, the guideline truly becomes a lifeline. My hands must have a hundred small cuts from feeling my way around and my fingertips are pretty much worn off. The equipment seriously gets roughed up too from all the bumping and scraping. My corrugated inflator hose didn't last very long before being punctured. My wetsuit still bears rust colored marks on the thighs, from when I clammed myself in doorways. And my fins have several new scars.

The visibility outside the wrecks varied from around 3-5m to an amazing 8m the last day. A pitty really because one can not get a sense of the size of these great wrecks. Nor that some of them are actually battleships. Visibility inside the wrecks was usually better than outside - that is, untill we messed up everything.

John Bennett, current world record holder of deep scuba diving on mixed gas (308m!), is a sympathetic man, who knows what he's doing. He's a good instructor, but being four students was a bit too much to my taste. We did get a lot of training dives, but not as much actual line laying/retrieval practice as necessary in my opinion. Especially if you've never done this before. The course itself wasn't somehow as structured as the cave course I did in Mexico. There wasn't e.g. as clear a progression in skill difficulty or general understanding. There's no exam by the way.

We only used MasterDive as a base, it being located conveniently close to the wrecks. Having our own equpment all they provided was doubles with air or nitrox. The doubles were in a rather sorry condition and they didn't have enough of them. They've got no gear storage space to speak of nor adequate rinsing facilities. But what can you expect from a dive center squeezed in a cargo container.

I can't honestly recommend them. They're not very well organised and the way the local shop assistants mistreated our precious life-support equipment was beyond stupid carelessness. I've actually never seen anything like it. I couldn't have subjected myself nor my gear to their care a day longer then required. My doubles were bubbling from the right tank valve in a rather noisy way (loosing 40bar overnight), but all one of the guys in charge could say was: "He'll survive". A pity really for I would have liked to do some non-training wreck dives after the course.
Training wrecksEl Capitan: Large freighter about 80m long lying on its port side between 6 and 21m. A nice wreck where we did our initial line laying, following and retrieval skills.
 
 USS New York: WWI battle cruiser about 100m long, sunk in 1941, lying between 18 and 21m. Ideal for wreck penetration training. Some passages have barely recognisable permanent line.
 LST: Land Support Transport vessel lying upright in 36m deep water. Allowing multi-cabin penetration, after getting through a short but narrow stairwell. We used a deco stage here, left outside the wreck during the actual penetration.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Subic Bay

We stay at the Mangrove mini-resort hotel/restaurant on Baloy beach near Olongapo city. For 1200 PHP/night you get a big but not very well designed aircon room with hot shower (but no direct light in the bathroom) and small TV (uselessly far away from the bed). There's a small closet, but no wardrobe, no table, no chair. All rooms overlook the bay, and there's a mini swimming pool. The restaurant serves decent food at reasonable prices (150-250 PHP).

The busy main street, a 10' walk away from the resort, is rather shabby and of course dusty, heavily polluted and noisy. In short, not a pleasant sight.

Mangrove is a 15' ride from the ex-military base and the MasterDive dive center we'll be diving from. They'll pick us up every morning and bring us back in the afternoon.

Subic is a strange place, with lots of British and Australian expats, all rather storyful characters. Everybody on the wreck course I'm following being British too, I feel very much an outsider, having no particular interest whatsoever in the rugby championship nor being much of a social small talk beer drinking mate.

It being the 1st of November, I witnessed quite a sight: the hillside cemetery crawling all over with people coming to spend the day and night with their ancestors. Having a family picnic around the graves, chatting away with relatives, the ghosts left pretty much speechless as far as I could tell. At night the whole hill was lit up by thousands of flickering candles.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Manila to Subic Bay

I shared a chartered van (2700 PHP) with John Bennett, Mark Cox and Steve Bates. The long ride through congested traffic took about 3½ hours, including a short lunch stop, at, of all places, a roadside McDonalds.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Manila

Manila is a huge sprawling city, with over 10 million people living in it. It's got a chaotic traffic situation resulting in pretty mad driving habits and the accompanying pollution problem. Most of the public transport still seems to be handled by the typical jeepneys, together with loads of taxis, motorized tricycles, pedicabs and even the odd horse cart.

It's not a nice city, and though actually surprisingly clean when you think about it, it doesn't look that way, giving a faded, drab, dusty impression, except for some of the towering glass buildings in the better districts. There's no real side walks to speak of, but then, anybody with some means wouldn't think about walking anywhere. Besides, it's just too hot to do that.

Manila is a city of great social contrasts. Shiny tall buildings look out over corroded metal shacks. A rich inner world of clean airconned malls versus the sweaty hot outer world of the poor. Where one person carelessly spends in one hour what another barely scrapes together in a month, or even a year.

Where on one side of a window a fat kid stuffs himself with a burger, while on the other side a starving kid is sifting through some garbage for a scrap of discarded food. It's a tough world we live in indeed. Armed guards are everywhere, some of them with heavy shotguns, to protect these fairy innerworlds from the harsh reality of the outside.

Ignorance is bliss. Better not to think about it too much. After all, I'm here on holidays, not to change the world. It's just that, well, I guess it bothers me when directly confronted with it like this...

I feel relatively safe walking around here, but I am cautious, trying not to display too much wealth. Most Philippinos strolling around in the mall are better dressed than me by the way. Nevertheless, with the amount of money I'm carrying, albeit in traveler cheques, the equivalent of several years salary for lots of people here, I feel like a walking talking winning lottery ticket.

The other day I'm pretty sure there was a guy following me through the department store. Maybe I'm being just a bit paranoid, but it would be quite a lot of coincidence that he happened to be interested in all the same random things as I was. As I slipped out, I saw him come out a couple of seconds later too, looking around, but by then I was already around the corner.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Small La Laguna to Manila

As I could get a private ride directly from Small La Laguna to Manila today, I got here a bit earlier than planned. I shared a big outrigger from Asia Divers with an american expat who'd chartered it, a 50' sail to some gravel beach near the Batangas harbour (1800 PHP for the boat, being only 2 that came to 900 PHP per person, but you could get a lot more people in that boat).

From there I got a free two hour ride to the Makati area of Manila in his chauffeured company car. From where I took a taxi to get to the Malate part of town (about 40' in the heavy city traffic, 90 PHP meter price).

Bug report

I've been indulgent with the mini-ants colony living in the kitchenette, thinking we had somekind of an understanding that they would restrict themselves to the garbage bag. Everything remotely looking like food being safely secured in the fridge, the only place out of their reach. However, I was barely gone for two days on a small exploration trip, and they already assumed they could just take over the place.

First I found a new nest in my logbook, which rather offended me, but still, I remained fairly polite, only shaking them into a frenzy and lecturing them about private property. Then I found another nest in a fold of my backpack, which quite annoyed me, but again I just sent them packing to a new location somewhere down the kitchen drain. And then my self-control just blew when I found a third nest in the lining of my jacket, which really pissed me off. No more mercy this time. The bug hunter in me took over and just wiped them all out.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Exploring the sunken past

Being a newly initiated normoxic trimix diver I got the chance to participate in a short two days exploration trip to Marinduque island to search for two Japanese WWII ship wrecks, estimated to be lying between 30 and 60m.

Trip organisers were Dave Ross, manager of Tech Asia, and Frank, a sympathetic ozzie owning "Rags", the very basic live-aboard for the weekend. Frank's also the manager of La Laguna Beach Club and Dive Center on Big La Laguna. They didn't need to ask me twice.

Friday around midnight we, four wannabe tekkies, Dave, Frank and three crew members boarded Rags. Rags is basically just a sturdy outrigger with a roof and four bunks, but you don't need more to go on a quest. Four tech divers means a lot of gear, each of us having a set of doubles and three stages (just in case), plus a compressor, and a couple of large oxygen and helium tanks.


The sea being a bit rough that night we only arrived at Marinduque the next morning around 9 am. We started by checking out the coastline, to compare the current shore's outline and background landscape with 60 year old aerial photographs from a battle report.

Dave and Frank kind of knew where to start looking, thanks to some written references in the report. A good thing cause I must say that every bay just looks the same to me. In the end however, it was an elderly local fisherman who helped us out, pinpointing the exact locations of both wrecks.


All excited we quickly geared up, eager to check out those forgotten wrecks. We jumped in as two buddy teams, and started our descend into the unknown and very murky waters. With a visibility of less than 2m, we had to stay close together indeed. The bottom appeared around 34m, a thick layer of very easily disturbed fine silt, full of worm holes. The anchor completely lost in it.

Slowly we started swimming around, not really knowing where exactly we were going. Being rather impatient I was already wondering whether to call the dive after 10', in order to avoid long decompression times, when Tex, my Korean buddy, suddenly signalled to me with his light. He'd found the first wreck.

At least what's left of it. It being a mine layer of some sort, it must have gone down with a nasty big bang. All what's left of it is some hull, strangely covered in what seems to be fist sized rocks. I picked one up, but gently put it back, just in case it was somekind of grenade...

Though there wasn't very much recognizable structure left, it's still quite fascinating to explore such a lost wreck. The other team, of older and more experienced tech divers, missed the wreck on their first dive, and tried very hard not to let their annoyance show. Even though we found it on our first dive, we almost missed it again on our second dive.


The next day we moved to the second wreck's location, hoping for better visibility, as we could see the anchor line going down a fair bit and the sun rays clearly visible in the dark water. Alas, 15m deep the visibility quickly dropped to about 1m.

Again we ventured out slowly in the misty green water, again I was wondering whether to call the dive, as suddenly a dark shape loomed up to my left, barely a meter away. If I'd looked to the other side at that moment, we would have missed it. This time there were some structural elements recognizable in the wreckage, making it a bit more interesting, but no artifacts. Either they've been taken away already or they've sunk in the silt.

This wreck had a bit more life on it too, coral bushes and a couple of fish seeking refuge in the many blast holes. Again the other team missed the wreck on the first dive, now seriously damaging their reputation. But they made up for it later on by drinking loads of beer. Sometimes blurred memories help soften reality I guess.

All in all a great trip, with Frank being an excellent host, cooking up great food for hungry divers. The return trip to Sabang only took six hours thanks to a gentler sea on the way back.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

A little beyond recreational depth

To go just a little bit deeper (in the 40 to 60m range), for a little bit longer comes at a high price. For a bottom time of about 20' we usually had twice as much decompression to do - and that on trimix with special deco-gasses, on air I don't even want to think about it. The decompression time would also increase dramatically if the bottom time was to be extended.

The actual price tag per trimix dive varies according to the amount of Helium in the bottom mix - which is in function of the target depth and the equivalent nitrogen depth - but averages at about 100 USD for shallow deep dives (in the above mentioned depth range), Helium not coming cheap (about 0.04 USD/liter) and having to pay for the instructor's or guide's as well!


As preparation to deeper dives, I did several dives with 3 stage tanks (one 10l bottom-gas and two 5.5l deco-gasses), all clipped to my left side, besides the twin set (2x12l) on my back. Quite a load on the surface and a bit of a hassle to get them all clipped onto the harness on a rocking boat, but surprisingly alright once in the water, except for some clanking tanks noise when frogkicking.

You need to be very careful when switching gasses. Breathing the wrong one at the wrong depth could be fatal. But so is crossing the street at the wrong moment. After those practice dives, having only one stage tank seems like a breeze.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

IANTD Normoxic Trimix Diver

InstructorsDave Ross (academics)
Sam Collett (skills + training dives)
Dive centerTech Asia, Small La Laguna, Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines
Duration5-7 days
Dives2 confined water sessions
2 training dives on air or nitrox
3-4 trimix dives to max 60m
Price675 USD + about 180 USD for Helium (incl. the instructor's)
RequirementsIANTD
CommentsI might not be diving like a duck yet, but I sure can talk like one now.

It took me a couple of dives to get used to diving with twin 12l tanks and two 5.5l deco-gas stages, while having to demonstrate all kinds of skills: total buoyancy control being the crucial one. But by the end of the course I kind of got most of it under control.

A great course indeed, where I gained a lot of insight in decompression theory, thanks to Dave's ability to explain complex theoretical models in a very clear and simple way. Sam then put all the theory in practice, showing me how to safely plan and execute deeper dives. His very detailed de-breefings always to the point and crucial in improving my performances. Thanks to his good advice, I have indeed become a safer and more knowledgeable diver.

I haven't been deep enough to notice that trimix breaths easier at depth than air, but then, I barely have any reference to compare with. Deep air diving definitely isn't my thing. Even with trimix I could still feel some narcosis, mainly because of the task loading I guess, and maybe also CO2 build-up, everything being new and me still having to actually think a lot instead of just doing it.

Small La Laguna

It's pretty quiet here at the moment in Small La Laguna. The atmosphere kind of subdued. Though there's a bit more people now compared to when I arrived. Sabang is a bit more busy.

Having a kitchenette in my studio, I'm able to have self-made breakfasts and lunches, as I can find most of what I need in the local supermarkets: instant coffee and milk, sugar, drinking water (I have to drink at least 3l of water a-day to keep hydrated at 70 PHP for a 20l jerrycan), softdrinks and juices (about 1l a-day at 15 PHP for a CocaCola can), Nestle cereals (80-135 PHP), peanut butter (95 PHP), canned tuna or sardines, tomatoes and cucumbers, etc. There's also a Swiss deli where you can get decent European style bread (80 PHP for a large one), some pastry, ham and Kraft processed cheese (95 PHP/8slices) - perfect for sandwishes (given the local conditions).

You can buy all kinds of exotic fruit from women strolling along the beach, e.g. small bananas, green oranges, mangos, mangosteen, papaya and some kind of lychees with a potato-skin. I usually buy it from an old woman who probably charges 3 or 4 times too much, but I just can't bring myself to haggle about a couple of cents, when paying big dollars a little later for my diving.

Just to give you an idea, a dive boat captain or dive shop assistant earns about 100 USD per month. And that's probably a well paid job here.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

At night they come out to feed

Another 6 recreational dives, this time with other tourists, just to attract some attention with all my tech gear. One of these dives was a night dive in Sabang bay. Except for the current being a bit too strong for a night dive it was pretty nice. My Green Force light was a pleasure and my 2 TekTite backup lights just great. I saw lots of small crabs and shrimps, beautiful anemones and a long slender pipefish.


During the day dives I swam around twice with a big green turtle; lay face to face with a white tip shark; admired some pretty fancy nudibranchs; a pair of anemone crabs; an egg cowry enveloped in its pitch black mantle; a couple of scorpion fish and a baby frogfish almost undistinguishable from the coral rubble it was lying upon.

I also did a short decompression dive, just for practice. According to Sam, my skill level is what he would expect from an advanced nitrox diver. And they can teach me a lot. Somehow I kind of slightly felt insulted by the way he said that. But then, I'm a sensitive person :o)

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

In a coral fan lives a happy pygmy seahorse family

I've done half a dozen recreational dives with twin tanks, just to get used to the feeling again. And except for my SuperWings being indeed a bit too much for this type of diving, it's going alright. I've been diving with a personal guide, Sam the first day, Alli the other two.

The water is a comfortable 28°C, so my 7mm wetsuit is more than enough, though not too much for me. Visibility could be better, I'd say about 10-15m.

I've used my Green Force Tristar Diamond primary light on 2 occasions now. Once in the shark cave, an overhang where whitetip reef sharks come to rest. And indeed, there was one, tucked away as deep as it could. I wasn't too impressed by my Green Force light though. Mainly due to the beam being too wide and diffuse under the circumstances, there being too much sunlight and too many small particles and fish in the water causing a lot of reflection. My TekTite Expedition Star backup light (at 1/5 the price) with its more focussed beam actually did a much better job. The second time I was a bit more satisfied, as I swam inside the Alma Jane wreck, where the Green Force's soft white light was quite pleasing, though lacking in power.

The coral reef itself is quite nice actually, and they've got plenty of critters in the shallower parts: praying mantis shrimp scurrying around or peeking out of their holes; cute little pygmy seahorses (smaller then my finger tip) holding on to their host fan by their tiny tails while looking at me with big round eyes; bully frogfish; shy electric blue ribbon eels; beautiful nudibranchs and amazing pin-cushion seaurchins. Even a sleeping extremely venomous seasnake lying motionless on the bottom. Untill I came too close and it lazyly took a peek at me through half-closed lids. After which I slowly backed away.

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Tech Asia

I've met Dave Ross and Sam Collett, the two technical diving instructors of Tech Asia. And I've set up my gear. Of course they had their own opinion about it. Which was, of course, different from the way the instructors wanted me to do things in Egypt.

I guess I'll just have to find out what works best for me depending on the local circumstances. For example, they don't like my double bladder SuperWings here. As these are not DIR. Tech Asia by the way regularly organises GUE courses, advocating the Doing It Right philosophy. In the Red Sea however they wouldn't dive without double bladder wings, but then, they also use heavy steel tanks there.

Tech Asia's dive shop is well equipped, and they've got lots of stuff from Halcyon for sale: wings, backplates, harnesses, cam bands & reels; APEKS regulators & hoses; really nice Oxycheck spools; SMBs, wetnotes, stainless steel and brass bolts, etc.

Asia Divers is the recreational branch, whereas Tech Asia takes care of people like me who need special attention.

Manila to Small La Laguna

I took a short taxi ride from the Malate pension to the Citystate Tower hotel for 30 PHP. I could have negotiated the price down to 25 PHP, but at 7:30am, I didn't really feel like bothering. The lite-AC bus departed at 8am sharp, and arrived in Batangas at 10:15. There we had to hurry to catch the next ferry, which left at 10:30, arriving in Puerto Galera at 11:40. I had to pay 10 PHP passenger tax to walk through the harbour building in Batangas. Stepping from the ferry in Puerto Galera I pretty much folded myself into a motorized tricycle, for a short bumpy ride to Sabang. Price for the 20' uneventful experience: 100 PHP. From there it took me just a slow 10' walk along the beach to Asia Divers. Which is just around the corner from Sabang beach, on Small La Laguna beach.

Dave Ross, the manager of Tech Asia, brought me to Sha Che inn, where I got a whole studio with fan, coldwater shower, toilet, kitchen sink, gas stove, fridge, TV and even a double bed for only 500 PHP per night. Because I'll be staying 3 weeks, I get a beter price, otherwise the price would be 700 PHP. That's a much better deal than I'd expected. Food though is a bit more expensive than in Manila, meals in the El Galleon tourist restaurant right next to Asia Divers cost from 150 to 250 PHP. A coke is 30 PHP, a shake 70 PHP. Right now I can access the internet for 1 PHP per minute. In the FrogFish cafe, they've got slightly faster internet, for 2 PHP per minute, and you get 30' free access if you order a sandwich (costing 100 PHP).

Saturday, October 4, 2003

Manila

Transfer from Manila airport to Malate pension, arranged by the hotel for 350 PHP. It took a while in the chaotic evening rushhour traffic, at least half an hour, but I don't quite remember.

Malate pension costs 550 PHP per night for a clean economy room with fan. Common shower and bathroom. Internet access from the pension at 60-90 PHP per hour depending on the time of day. The pension is about 5' walking from the Citystate Tower hotel and the Robinson shopping mall. From Manila to Puerto Galera by AC bus and ferry at 8am costs 400 PHP. Tickets and departure from the Citystate Tower hotel. ETA noon.

The Robinson shopping mall is the place to get stranded while in Manila. You can find almost everything there: fashion and sports clothes, all kinds of shoes, cool glasses, mobile phones, cameras and film, all kinds of electronical equipment, backpacks, toys, second-hand books (50-100 PHP), bric-a-brac, movie theaters, hardware shop, pharmacy, supermarket & department store and even a shop selling guns for "the good guys". I guess the bad guys have to go elsewhere? There's also an office from WGA super-ferries and a good internet cafe (1 PHP/minute) near the food mall and restaurants. I had lunch for 70 PHP in the food court. And dinner for 80 PHP in ChowKing - an asian fastfood chain.

Saturday, September 6, 2003

Green Force TriStar Diamond underwater light

Green Force has a whole selection of light heads (Halogen, LED, HID) and multiple battery packs of various sizes that can be put together as needed, either directly (for handheld torches) or via umbilical cable (for handsfree lighting, together with e.g. a Goodman handle).

This modularity and the promise of a virtually unbreakable LED light with decent output and long burn time, made me choose for the TriStar with Flexi II battery. Not to mention it's "Made in Belgium".

Modularity & expandability.

Power? I was told by Green Force that the TriStar Diamond's output would be at least equivalent to a 30W halogen bulb. Alas, that's not really the case, actual equivalent output being at most 20W. With a 20° beam, that means it's useless during daytime dives or when there are a lot of particles in the water.

Twice the power and focus would make it an acceptable light, but as it is, it's just too weak for technical diving.

For recreational night dives however, I found it to be quite decent, the soft white light (5800°K) rather pleasant.

Burn time: together with Green Force's Flexi II NiMh battery, the TriStar Diamond burns for at least 9 hours at near 100%!

Robustness. Besides their long burn time, LED lights also offer some other advantages: robustness, lifetime of the bulbs, no problems switching them on & off at will, and in the case of the TriStar Diamond, built-in redundancy due to the fact that there are, as the name implies, three LED bulbs. All this unlike the more expensive and delicate HID lights which have a warm-up & cool-down delay and a limited number of times they can be turned on & off.

Maximum depth rating of -140m.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Hurghada, Egypt, April 2003

¤ TDI Decompression Procedures
¤ TDI Semi-Closed-Circuit Rebreather Diver

trip blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

TDI Semi-Closed-Circuit Rebreather Diver

InstructorWessam El Sebai (academics, set-up, skills + training dives)
Dive centerDiver's Lodge, Hurghada, Egypt
Duration2-3 days
Dives4 training dives with a Dräger Dolphin
Price350 USD
RequirementsTDI
CommentsIt's fairly easy and straight-forward to put a Dräger Dolphin semi-closed-circuit rebreather together, but it does require attention to detail during assembly and safety checks. And compared to clamp-screw-plug open-circuit scuba, it is indeed a lot of hassle.

However, it might be well worth the extra effort in order to get that little bit closer to marine life, when not blowing out those rather noisy bubbles.

In my case, rebreather diving turned out to be much easier than anticipated. I had no buoyancy problems whatsoever and plenty of air even when finning hard over short distances. Actually, the only annoyance I had was too much saliva, the recycled air being pretty moist.

I could definitely get used to diving with a rebreather. And I'm looking forward to the day I can try it out in a school of elusive hammerheads...

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Practice dives

Just a couple of shallow deep air dives around Abu Ramada to practice my newly learned decompression procedures. The reef's not really worth it, but it doesn't really matter, as I'm still too busy anyway with the actual execution of my dive plans.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

TDI Decompression Procedures

InstructorWessam El Sebai (academics, skills + training dives)
Dive centerDiver's Lodge, Hurghada, Egypt
Duration3-4 days
Dives2 confined water sessions
2 training dives on air to max 45m with 50% nitrox as deco gas
Price270 USD
RequirementsTDI
CommentsMore than just some theory about decompression, the course also includes underwater skill sessions with doubles, emphasis being put on the handling of 1 or 2 deco bottles and the deploying of an SMB. For the latter, I can really recommend the use of a spool in stead of a jam-prone reel.

With actual bottom times of less than 15' during the decompression training dives, my focus was pretty much fixed on my computer most of the time in order to accurately follow the planning. Sight-seeing being reduced to the occasional glimpse around to make sure my buddy's still ok.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Diver's Lodge

Diver's Lodge is situated on the premises of the Intercontinental Resort, just south of Hurghada town. The dive center offers both recreational & technical diving courses at competitive prices and also has a limited stock of Dive Rite equipment for sale. Having enrolled for more than one course, and it being low season, I get 20% discount on the listed course prices and 10% on the gear.

Wessam El Sebai, TDI Instructor Trainer, is the very sympathetic & charismatic manager of the dive center. The crew is friendly enough, but without him the dive center wouldn't be worth mentioning.

One night at the Intercontinental Resort, including buffet breakfast & dinner, costs 32 USD/person, based on double occupancy. The rooms are very comfortable with full amenities, but rather expensive compared to 12 USD for a single room, including basic breakfast, at the Andreas Hotel in town, only a 10' minibus ride away from the dive center.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Dry & warm

For our second try, we drive up to Helsingør, in order to do some real shore diving. Today the sun's out, and out of the wind the air temperature is at least 10°C, which makes suiting & gearing up outside a whole lot more pleasant than 3 weeks ago. The water too is warmer, at least one early spring degree more than last time.

3°C warm water, 4 layers of thermal underwear, a 7mm drysuit that actually keeps me mostly dry... what else could I wish for? Even the visibility is an optimistic 5m. Wise with experience, I'm even able to remain horizontal. Something I can't really say from my first attempt, where my feet, due to trapped air, irritatingly kept floating up against my explicit orders.

Everybody being comfy, we can also perform the exercises as required, witnessed by a couple of humorless frozen soles/plaices and a little sculpin skulking among the mussel beds.

It's actually going so well, we decide to do a second 30' dive, to almost 7m. Because despite the cold, it's a pleasure just to be bubbling underwater!

Being a certified drysuit diver now, I can even start thinking about ice diving...

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Wet & cold

The seawater in some of the channels is frozen. March or not, it's still very much winter here. Luckily, the desolate harbour site for our first drysuit intro-dive is close enough to the open sea and there's not a single ice-cube to be seen.

Another plus, is that the air and water temperature are about the same, a good 2°C above zero, thus sparing us an unpleasant temperature shock when entering the water.

In order to avoid a frozen free-flowing regulator, we're not allowed to breathe from it until we've submerged. Which takes quite some time, thanks to a nervous and rather clumsy middle-aged student, unable to put his fins on by himself, then loosing his weight-belt, then incapable of getting down... All the while two other students and me wait coolly around, standing in waist-deep water. By the time we finally get going, wind chill and cold water have numbed my lips so much, that I'm no longer sure where exactly my mouth is, when head under water I'm trying to insert the mouthpiece, without the full cooperation of my lips*.

* With numb lips, my Danish is remarkably better, as I'm totally unable to articulate.

Once submerged, I must say that it all goes pretty well, considering the circumstances. There's nothing to be seen in the greenish water, allowing me to concentrate fully on the operation of my 7mm neoprene drysuit. Pushing in air as we slowly find our way to deeper water, where we try to perform some exercises, basically consisting of buoyancy control in case air gets trapped in the feet-ends of the suit or should a suit's inflator-valve decide to free-flow. About 20' later we ascend. The instructor not really impressed by our performances.

But, it's definitely possible to dive in cold water. And not as bad as I thought it would be. That is, with the appropriate exposure protection. Unfortunately, my drysuit wasn't really dry. Water kept seeping in through my wrist seals, every time I moved my arms. Resulting in my forearms cooling down fast and unable to provide any warmth for my already cold fingers, freezing in their almost useless wet gloves. Actually I think the cold must have killed quite a few cells in my right thumb. I wonder if that's what is called cold burn?

Without any feeling or strength left in my fingers, hands & forearms, I've got a hard time unbuckling my fins and BCD, but finally manage to pull them off. As I remove my drysuit, it appears that my whole upper body is actually pretty damp too, not to say wet. But I wasn't really aware of this during the dive. Except for once or twice when I could feel some cold around the zipper area, but I thought it was just the suit pressing in on me. So I guess the suit's back-zipper wasn't too watertight either, unless it's the neck-seal that let in water.

Having spent 50' in cold water (30' waiting in shallow standing water + 20' bottom time), I decide that's enough for me. At least for today. I'm just too wet and cold to consider a second dive. Badly needing some dry clothes and a hot drink. But I hope to give it a second try asap, preferably with a drysuit that lives up to its name!

PADI Dry Suit Diver

InstructorPatrick Magiera
Dive centerAqua Sport, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration1-2 days
Dives3 shallow training dives in 2°C seawater
Priceabout 95 USD (theory, equipment, transport, dives, certification)

Monday, February 3, 2003

Male, Felidu & Ari atoll, Maldives, January 2003

One week live-aboard cruise around several atolls south of Male.

trip report

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Asmas live-aboard

Upon arrival in Male's airport, we're picked up and transported straight to the Asmas, a tourist class live-aboard, co-owned by Christine, a German woman, and Abdull Rahmann, her Maldivian business partner.

Christine's often, but alas not always, on the boat to smoothen the communication between the passengers and Mr Rahmann, who also acts as the main dive master.

The seven double cabins are small but decent, with private head and rather cramped shower. The living room is spacious enough, and there are two outside partially shaded sitting & sunning areas. The food is no culinary treat but it's edible, now and then even good, especially when Indian inspired.


The Asmas has no dive deck, but in stead uses another boat, a dhoni, as dedicated dive platform and gear storage room. On a normal day, there are usually three dives, an early morning one before breakfast, a late morning one before lunch and an afternoon one.

Gearing up & down happens on the dhoni while being transported to & from the dive sites in the neighborhood of the Asmas. After each dive, the dhoni sails out while the tanks are being refilled, thus sparing us, the guests, from the compressor's noisy laboring.

What almost ruined the trip

The washing machine

Christine’s presence should not be underestimated, as Mr Rahmann has absolutely no tact with western tourists to whom he caters and doesn’t really seem to care about proper dive briefings and in-water dive-site pre-checks. With Christine around however, things are suddenly done much more professionally.

His usual information not being much more than the name of the site and "Viele schöne Fische", we get taken by total surprise by very strong currents on the 4th dive of the trip, at Guraidhoo corner, resulting in the group being split up, some divers hanging on to the reef as well as they can, others being washed away into the blue...

As I cling to the steep sloping reef, I can see one of the junior dive masters with a couple of German tourists a little above me, but he seems as much at a loss about what to do as they are. Waiting in vain for a signal and seeing my no-deco time ticking away, I eventually let go, the current immediately picking me up like a leaf in the wind and presenting me with a new problem.

After having blown me away from the reef, the current now pushes me downwards... Being in the blue without any visual reference can be disorienting, but seeing your depth slowly increase even though you're steadily finning up, while your bubbles are whirling all around you, the smaller ones actually going down, really can freak one out.

Stop-Breathe-Think-Act. Easier said than done, but it works. So I start to inflate my jacket, till I can see my depth stabilize then decrease. Only to start rising way too fast as soon as I get in another layer and another current, now having to dump air out in order to slow my ascend and quieten my alarmed dive computer.

When I finally surface, I'm lucky not to have drifted that far away, and am picked up pretty fast. Personally I've never experienced this kind of crazy shifting current zones before, a.k.a. washing machines. A real briefing would have mentioned their possible occurrence and at least we would have been mentally prepared.

Chasing shadows

For some reason, Mr Rahmann's idea of good diving is dropping down to at least -40m and cross some channel with strong currents, just to get a glimpse of a shark in the distance. His motto being something like "no current, no work, no action". Which may be true in some cases, but the reward has to match the effort. It took us quite a few dives and flaring arguments to make him understand we have a different opinion about fun diving.

Decompression alert

Repeated strenuous dives in, by recreational standards, deep waters. Middle-aged out-of-shape jet-lagged dehydrated tourists. Put both together. Shake well. And you most probably get... bubbles!

One diver got pretty close to decompression sickness I'd say, feeling totally exhausted and weak after a dive. Good thing we had oxygen and a doctor on board.

Though Mr Rahmann advocates PADI rules, he's the first one to wipe them off his slate once in the water, dropping below the maximum depth limit without a second thought and expecting everybody to just follow him. Not really a responsible attitude when you’ve got less experienced divers following you trustingly.

What made this a great trip

A short but memorable encounter with a gentle giant

At Maamigili Kandu, a rather poor reef with bad visibility, out of the dark blue, comes an impressive sight, a juvenile whale shark about 5m long, passing by right beneath us, but alas too shy to hang around for a friendly chat.

Special treatment at Dhon Kalo Thila

Lying on the sandy bottom at 20m, waiting, looking at the surrounding reef, I suddenly notice a manta gliding in and hovering above the corals. After a short while it slowly moves on and disappears, only to be followed by another and another and another!

All three hovering in line while being cleaned by small fish darting up from the reef for an easy meal of parasites. Once they're gone again, I too take off, slowly drifting away and almost bumping into a fifth manta, a pretty large one, that lets me admire its graceful movements for a while... before heading on for its visit with the cleaners.

That night two mantas perform feeding acrobatics besides the boat, taking advantage I guess from the boat's plankton attracting lights.

Reef patrol

During our trip we've seen jacks circling the Victory wreck, turtles, big napoleons, eagle rays hanging seemingly effortlessly in the currents, stingrays, all kinds of triggerfish and snappers, besides of course many other fish.

And our last dive, at Maaya Thila, is a splendid end to an all in all great trip. Grey reef sharks keep cruising around, checking us out real close, as within touching distance! Two white tip sharks passing by seem relatively small in comparison. Facing the moderate current, a big barracuda pretends not to notice us. And on the reef's top, a turtle grazes undisturbed by all the action.