Ah Winter

It is freezing cold outside, I mean really freezing, not the, I live in Florida and am used to sweltering hot so anything below 25 degrees Celsius is cold, I mean it is well below zero Celsius, there is snow and ice, and staying inside seems like the best plan for the day.

Normally I am fortunate enough to be able to take some time to head south and get out of the cold, and get some diving in, but not this year. Well wait, I did just return from Cuba so that is a break from the cold, but there was no diving involved, but still it was warm and sunny and there was a beach and palm trees.

My plan for this winter was to head to Key Largo to complete my Open Water Instructor training, but I have traded the salt and sand of Key Largo, for the warmth and beauty of Syracuse NY. Anyone that knows Syracuse likely would not describe it as warm and beautiful in the middle of the winter, but I have chosen it as the local for my instructor program none the less.

I had been set on the one week program in Key Largo, but things change, and in many ways I think my choice has been for the best. Instead of pushing through a course in a matter of 12-14 days, I will take a few months to complete the course, but the program will be a mentor-ship. In hand with the class sessions there are several pool sessions, shadowing an instructor and assisting with the teaching to give me hands on experience and understanding of how an open water class operates. I will have much more time to study the materials, more time to absorb what is discussed and taught in the classroom, and I will have more time to properly prep for the classes I will be required to teach as part of the training. In all I feel that it will be a much more rounded experience, making me better prepared to go out on my own and teach others the sport I am passionate about.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there is anything wrong with the one week programs, I was going to do that, and what stopped me initially was the cost given the Canadian dollar right now. I believe the one week programs that are out there are good, and have a real place for experienced divers that are looking to get their instructor certification. But having looked closely at the one week program, and now experiencing the mentoring approach, I can see the real benefit in taking the longer path.

So I am a couple of weeks into the program now, I am plugging away at the online portion of the learning, and in class every couple of weeks, and doing pool sessions every week. There are challenges, the biggest so far has been weather that allows me to make the drive to Syracuse, and the past couple of days I have been bogged down on the physics of diving lessons. Never was my strong subject.

When it comes to diving winter also provides an opportunity to go through my gear, clean it up, make sure it is all maintained and in order and set for the new season coming up. I have a challenge for myself to get better about keeping better records of my dive gear and maintenance logs. I think this is an important factor in diving, good records of maintenance, cycling batteries, keeping track of when items might need to be replaced or upgraded, and doing the aspects of maintenance that we can do at home. Waxing zippers, inspecting harnesses for wear and tear, making sure seals are in good shape. I have to be honest I can be bad about these things, and need to be better. In hand with that I am setting to the task of better organizing my gear and doing some building in my basement to have better storage and drying space for my gear. To often it just gets piled in a corner or left in the gear bag in the back of my truck awaiting the next days trip. It’s a bad practice and I need to break that.

That is my winter in a nutshell, if I get really brave and may put on my dry-suit to participate in an ice diving class, but I may also just watch from the warmth of my car with a hot chocolate.

Safe diving!

 

 

 

 

 

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My Full and Stage Cave Training

Recently I returned from a couple of weeks in Florida. Besides just enjoying being away from work for a couples of week, and missing out on some of the beginnings of the Canadian winter, I completed training in Full Cave and Stage Cave.

I started my cave training 4 years ago, with the cavern course, then gradually progressed through Intro Cave and to my completion last week.  Although there are instructors that will take you from Cavern to Full in the course of 10 days or so, I felt this was not the best path for me. Not living in an area with easy access to cave diving, my process was to take a course, spend a year with that cert giving me time to make another trip to Florida to build more dives at that level. I feel now that I have completed my full and stage, this has been beneficial in I have gained and used skills prior to moving to the next level, which has reduced the stress of learning and built a better foundation for progressing.

Over the course of the week of training, I completed in the area of 700 minutes in the water, which seems like a lot, and on a few days, it certainly felt like it. Having not been cave diving in a year, and not in the water at all in a couple of months, my first couple of days were frustrating, to the point that on day two I came close to throwing in the towel. Training can have an intensity to it and there is no doubt there is a level of stress that goes with cave training, and cave diving.

The stress of training, can be greatly affected by your instructor, and I have been more than fortunate with the instructors that I have had over the course of my training. I cannot speak the praises of my instructor on this trip enough. Ken Sallot creates a relaxed and fun environment, where I felt that I was just out for a week of diving with a buddy, but I was still learning. Ken pushed me just enough that I truly felt as though I was dealing with situations, and learning skills, rather than just going through the motions. Backed up by Jon and Lauren Kieren assisting with the instructing, along with my co-trainee Eric, I was surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and skill, and just good people to be around.

 

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Although there are many skills you go through with the full cave training, I was very please with one skill in particular, lost like drill. It is the one skill that has caused me stress all the way from my cavern training onward. I passed on to the instructing team my stress of this skill, because well, I have never found the line when conducting the lost line drill. I have never had the satisfaction of finding the line and the confidence of, “yes this can be accomplished”, I have always been left with the impression, you will never find it and you are in essence screwed. There seemed to be some surprise that I had not found it in previous training, and I was informed that this drill would carry on until I found the line, or I was getting down to critical air where it was time to go. A meme I recently saw kind of reminded me of the philosophy of the lost line drill. It’s morbid, but the meme was “Lost line, you have the rest of your life to find it”, which is dark but true. I did my drill, and spent some time finding it, swimming around in the dark with my spool trying to find the main line, at times hearing the chuckles and sounds of “ uggg he almost had it” coming from the instructors watching me, and then a collaborated  “hurray” when I clearly swam under the main line and snagged it on my fin by sheer fluke. I had done it, I had found the line.

Despite chuckling at the sight of me trying to find a line in the dark, and me laughing at myself over how I ultimately found it, the lost line drill kind of brings home the seriousness of this sport.  Swimming into an underground world, moving through passages that at time make you feel like a square peg in a round hole, and then into huge cavernous areas where you may not be able to see wall to wall, and ultimately, there is only one way out, there is no going to the surface in this sport. To many of my friends it seems down right crazy, and to me at times it seems the same, but I think that is what I love about it. There is a real challenge to cave diving, that requires, skill, planning, and a good amount of training to be able to complete it safely, and the more training I have done the more I have understood the adage, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Cave training has provided me a lot of skills, and has made me a better diver in many ways. The skills you learn in caves, are in my opinion, good skills for all divers. The big one is gas management, something that I have found is somewhat glossed over in open water. In cave diving gas management is crucially important, and although it may not have the same level of importance in open water, it should still be something that is well taught. Running reels, redundancy in equipment, taking the time to check equipment, and truly plan a dive and dive that plan these are all things that span all aspects of diving.

The other aspect that I really have enjoyed about cave diving is the community, and the more mature approach to diving. What I mean by that is as cave divers and tech divers there seems to be more of a universal understanding of the risks involved, and therefore more respect for safety standards, training, and best practices.  In this sport, there is an adage, anyone, can turn any dive, for any reason, with no repercussions.  That is if I get spoked and turn a dive no one on my team is going to give me flak for doing so. In fact, I saw that in my buddy who came down from Washington to dive with me for the two days of stage training, and to dive for another few days after training was completed. The day after training, we headed to Madison Blue to dive. Little things were going wrong, there were some gear issue for him, I did not have my head in the game, I was tired from already 7 days of diving, so I called the dive before we even go to doing an S drill. We then headed to Jackson Blue for the last few days. We did a day of diving, and were looking forward to the next couple. The morning of day two, tore my drysuit, which put and end to diving.  My buddy did not even blink, these things happen. So, a good dinner of BBQ and some beers and we headed home early. Not a word of frustration or irritation spoken by him.

I have experienced irritation and comments directed at me form open water divers, mainly ones I was buddied up with on boats. Pissed of that I used my air to fast, they wanted to stay down longer, or that I start my accents with 1000PSI in my tank rather than running it down to 700-500PSI. Being irritated that someone adds in safety is a rather poor approach, the ocean will be there tomorrow. This is what I like about the technically and cave diving world, you don’t seem to get that as much, and I have yet to experience it.

Where do I go from here? As for cave diving I have trained to the level I want for now. Stage cave gives me lots of gas and time to explore, and there is tons of cave to be explored at this level. I feel the same about my Deco/Helitrox training, there is lots to be don at that level. For me now, the focus is on becoming an Open Water Instructor. That is my venture for the winter, so come the new season I will have the ability to teach. Of course, I will also be back on the dive boats on the river, and continuing to work towards my captain’s license.

Photo is of me having exited the Jackson Blue system and reeling in our primary reel.

Photo Taken by Frank Stopa at Jackson Blue – Marianna Florida November 2016

 

The Wrecks of Bell Island Newfoundland

“Ladies and gentleman we are going to need to circle for a few minutes until we can get clearance to land.” For many, this announcement would be a frustration, a sign you’d be late. For me on this day, it was a chance to get a bird’s eye view of the waters I’d be submerging in the next morning. Looking down, I saw Bell Island and Little Bell Island. In the waters that surround these islands lie four wrecks steeped in history.

After finally landing, I find my way to the baggage carousel and see a man wearing an Ocean Quest shirt, and his signature hat. With a firm hand shake, and a “G’day b’y, how ya been”, I had met Rick Stanley owner of Ocean Quest, and if I hadn’t been sure already, that accent confirmed I was in St. John’s Newfoundland.

Newfoundland isn’t the first place that would come to mind for many divers. It’s rather remote; far away from everywhere. And let’s be honest, there’s no way the waters of the North Atlantic are warm, not even remotely warm; but here I was, setting out on what would be my greatest dive adventure to date.

Arriving at the guesthouse, it was apparent this was no regular dive bunkhouse. This is Rick’s, and his wife Debbie’s, home. The main level and basement had been remodelled into a warm and comfortable place for divers to stay, a kitchen like you’d find in any nice home, a living room and deck with views out across the Atlantic. No, this was not a bunkhouse; this was my home for the next week.

In 1942, the world was consumed by war in Europe and the Pacific. Britain had become heavily dependent on the supply convoys crossing the Atlantic bringing much needed supplies to the allied war effort. And because of this, German U-Boats strategically targeted the convoys. The sinking merchant ships laden with war materiel occurred regularly as these ships attempted the trans-Atlantic voyage.

In the late summer of 1942, German U-Boat attacks on the supply chains came to the shores of Newfoundland. In September, U-513, under the command of Rolf Ruggerberg, crept into Conception Bay under cover of darkness. The Lord Strathcona and the Saganaga where anchored and loaded with iron ore. On the morning of September 5, 1942, the U-513 rose to periscope depth and quickly torpedoed both ships killing twenty-nine crew. The U-513 then turned towards the open Atlantic and slipped away.

Two months later, the U-518, sister to the U-513, slipped into Conception Bay and on November 2nd sunk two more ships, the Rose Castle and PLM 27. Between the two ships, 30 lives were lost. Like the U-513, the U-518 slipped out of the bay despite the search efforts of a patrolling Canadian Navy Corvette.

On our first morning of diving, as would be the case every morning, the Ocean Quest van was waiting to give us a lift to the boat. With tanks analysed and gear packed and loaded, we were off to the boat, which was a one-minute drive down the hill to the dock.

The Mermaid, Ocean Quest’s dive boat, is a comfortable boat with in an indoor cabin and outdoor dive deck. The first thing I noticed was the elevator to lift divers out of the water, no climbing ladders while the boat is pitching to and fro loaded with dive gear. Fortunately, a pitching boat would not be an issue on this day. Skies were sunny and clear, with a cool ocean breeze. The ocean was flat and calm. Crewed by Captain Bill and deckhand Jack, the Mermaid set out from dock, our destination, the PLM-27. The journey was about 40 minutes, and by the time we arrived, we divers were geared up. I’m feeling a bit anxious as I often do on my first dive in a new location, but there’s also excitement. Plunging into the water, the frigid waters of the North Atlantic hit hard. It’s cold! I’m thankful for having brought a good warm under layer for my drysuit. I am also struck by the beauty of the very clear and very blue water. If it wasn’t for the cold, you might believe you were in the Caribbean. The water is SO blue!

Four wrecks awaited us off Bell Island; the PLM-27 would be our first of the day. The Saganaga was our second dive. These two wrecks are the shallowest of the four we’d dive that week. The PLM-27 sitting in 100 feet of water offered a beauty and plenty to explore, with lots of ambient light. Much of the wreck sits at the 50-70 foot depth range, allowing for a longer bottom times and lots of opportunity to explore. The massive anchors that would have held the 400-foot PLM-27 in place, still hang from the sides, appearing to hold the wreck in time. The majority of the wreck, like all of the Bell Island wrecks, is still intact, allowing you to see the rooms and hallways where the crew once worked. The jewel of the PML-27 is its massive propeller, still in shape, the only one accessible of the four wrecks. It’s a must see, and provides for stunning pictures.

At 110 feet, the Saganaga is the second shallowest of the wrecks, and like the others, provides an intact structure that gives divers a lot to explore. With plenty of rigging still in place, a stern gun, and complete super structure, the Saganaga served to increase our appetite to dive more of the wrecks, and take in everything there is to see. Well within recreational limits, the PLM-27 and the Saganaga are advanced dives. Still, divers can take in what are some of the nicest wrecks in the world.

Getting deeper, and certainly appealing to the technical diver, the Lord Strathcona and the Rose Castle are the deepest of the Bell Island Wrecks. Lying at 122 feet, the Lord Strathcona amazes divers with its super structure, guns, and passageways. The Marconi room is a must see. With its communications wires still hanging within the room, one can imagine the radio operator at his post, sending and receiving messages. As with the other wrecks the gaping torpedo holes provide access to lower parts of the wreck, for those with the experience and ability to penetrate into the holds.

Considered the gem of the Bell Island wrecks, the Rose Castle is the deepest, sitting at 160 feet. At this depth, the 455’ freighter has been spared much of the damage suffered by shallower wrecks from storms, currents, and icebergs that travel through the area. It boasts an intact super structure and holds that draw you in as you glide along its length. The stern gun still stands poised for action, and like the Lord Strathcona, the Marconi room is a must see. For divers certified to go a bit deeper, the Rose Castle holds another wonderful surprise. Sitting at 165 feet, not far from the wreck is a torpedo sitting in the sand!

The wrecks of Bell Island can be described as some of the best in the world. The clear water and beautifully intact structures provide much to see and explore. With all but the Rose Castle well within the reach of recreational limits, these wrecks also provide outstanding diving for many experience levels. Even the Rose Castle, provides recreational divers the opportunity to visit her deck.

And after a dive in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic, what could be better than some hot fare? And that’s just what the crew of the Mermaid has waiting once you’re back onboard, Captain Bill’s tasty homemade soup! Rumour has it you have to complete both the daily dives dives to have the honour of enjoying his soup, but I’m sure that’s a flexible rule.

There’s no doubt that the Bell Islands, Newfoundland and Ocean Quest offer world-class wrecks, outstanding hospitality and a top-notch operation that should be at the top of your dive vacation list. Once you dive there, you’ll certainly be drawn back, as I have.

Hollis M1 Mask

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A few months back I got a Hollis M1 mask from Jason at Deep Stop Scuba, and since then I have admired it daily, sitting in its container amongst my dive gear. I have been itching to get in the water again, so I could give it a try.

Well finally my dive season got rolling a few weeks ago, and since my first splash of the season I have been wearing the M1. My dives have a whole new vision now, literally. This masks frameless design provides a very large viewing area. I was worried at first, compared to my other frameless masks that the Hollis looked really big, and I was concerned that it would feel really big on. But it doesn’t, it feels compact and light while still giving great field of vision.

The silicone skirt is soft and sits nicely on my face, and I have found the fit is such that there is no need for synching up the straps, a common habit when a mask takes on water as a result of poor fit. I have a big head, and a big face, but this mask fits like a glove with no synching.

This mask does not seem fog up easily either  This could easily be a product of my imagination, or maybe my previous masks have not been as good quality, but either way I have found in the sometimes rush to get off the boat and into the water, forgetting to use defog has not created an issue. A quick rinse of the mask I am ready to go.

Thus far I have been very impressed with this mask. It seems a simple piece of gear, but as divers we know that a leaky mask or one that is fogging up, to tight, or lacks a good field of vision, can really put a damper on an otherwise great dive.

The Hollis M1 has quickly become my go to mask for diving, and it, along with some other Hollis gear I have, has reinforced for me that Hollis is making quality gear.

If you’re in the market for a new mask and even if you’re not, I would definitely consider trying out the Hollis M1. If your in the Syracuse area, stop in and see the folks at Deep Stop Scuba that carry the M1 and other Hollis gear, along with a wide range of quality gear from top-notch brands.

100% Oxygen

I’m sitting here looking at regulators online, thinking to myself ” do I need to buy another one”. Here is why; pure O2. Last season I completed my Advanced Nitrox/Helitrox/Deco procedures course. This season I am trying to get out and use it as I continue with training and gaining experience in the field of technical diving. With only three deco dives outside of training, I am very new to this still.

When taking an advanced nitrox course you learn about PPO2, and oxygen toxicity if PPO2’s get to high, or over cumulative dives gradually builds up in your system, and the risk this can cause a diver. I am no science guy, so I cannot get into the theory or physiology of oxygen in the body, but here is what is causing me pause. Below 20 feet, pure oxygen becomes toxic; quickly! Any other nitrox also has its MOD ( Maximum Operating Depth), but for 100% oxygen, it is very shallow.

Diving with just oxygen, or diving with any other single deco mix does not give me great concern, you know what you have and where you need to be to use it safely. Where I am stuck is diving with two deco mixes, commonly my 50% and my 100%. What if I mix them up? Grabbing 50% at 20 feet when it has an MOD of 70 feet is no issue, but grabbing 100% at 70 feet when it has an MOD of 20 feet, is a problem. Not a, “oops I dropped my reel” problem, more a oops, I just drown problem. I have taken the training, I have practiced gas switching, from confirming the mix and depth with myself and my buddy before breathing it. I analyse and mark my bottles appropriately, if I am not sure I analyse again, I have selected a regulator of my sets that I have designated my O2 regulator. I have a green adjustment knob on the second stage of that reg, I have put 2 zip ties on the hose of that reg so in blind conditions I can identify it,  I have even gone so far as to put Hello Kitty tape on the hose right next to the second stage to identify it. If nothing else works, at least Hello Kitty will save me. But here I am, contemplating spending X dollars on a brand new reg, that I don’t NEED, but its all green, with a green hose and a green mouthpiece and green green green, and despite that green everything I would still add Hello Kitty.

I have no real solution here, this is a matter of confidence and practice and experience. As I gain more in all of them, I will be more comfortable. I guess the real take away from this thought process, for me at least, is that it is good to have a healthy respect for diving, and the risk that is involved, at all levels. I believe that if we do not stop and have these questions and conversations with ourselves from time to time, then we have possibly become complacent. It’s not that every single time you dawn dive gear you need to have a deep conversation with yourself, if you did you might find yourself short on dive buddies; but it is important that when those concerns, or voices pop into your head, that you take stock in them and work through them, seek advice, maybe get some extra training, whatever it takes to be confident and safe.

Thoughts on Health & Diving

I’m no doctor, so this is in no way medical advice, just simply some thoughts about our health as divers.Diving is a relaxing, calm sport, or is it? It truly depends on what type of diving you are doing and what the conditions are like. If it is a nice calm day in the Caribbean in warm clear water, the diving is, in my experience truly relaxing. I’m speaking for myself of course, I recognize for divers of various skill and experience this may not be the case.

The majority of my diving is done in cold water, with current, sometimes strong current. I lug a set of double 130’s, and now with my foray into tec, I may be including deco bottles, toss in some more weight in various gear required for tec diving, and your humping a good amount, and that means your body is working hard. By the time I haul my loaded down arse to the point where I am going to hit the water,  I’m already sucking air. I am a bigger guy, I need to lose a good 50lbs, and I could bump up my cardio, I could make better choices in what I eat, and well that is what I am doing.

Since moving into the tec diving world I have become more aware of the stress that this sport has on your body. I have also been made aware  of health factors affecting my diving through the death of a friend, and through having to deal with a death of a diver on a boat that I was on. As I said I have no medical background, but I know that I could be in better shape. Having done some reading into diver deaths, I have found there is a significant number that do not die from a fault of the dive, or the equipment, but from general health or lack there of, heart attack being the common denominator. Divers of all levels should be cognisant of their health, and be truly self aware or self critical. I have started to do this more and more, and in turn have began more of a fitness regime and starting to be better about what I consume. My goal is to lose some weight, improve my cardio performance and be an all around healthier person, and therefore, safer diver.

I am guilty as I am sure many others are from not recognizing to the extent we are exerting ourselves when we dive, after all its not like I am running a marathon. Maybe not, but I am working harder than I may realize at times, and at times I absolutely realize I am working hard, watch your SPG in a strong current that you working against, and compare SAC rates.

We dive, as we often do in life, thinking of the best case scenario, rather than the worse. I am not saying live in fear, but what if you had to make a long swim, or got stuck in a current that you had to really work to get out of, could you handle that, could your body handle that?  We assume, yes, but we do not know until we get there, and maybe we should do more during our time out of that water to prepare for occurrences in the water.

There is another factor here that more and more I have started to consider, we are not diving alone. My health may be my business, we can take the approach if I do not take care of myself, then really it is my fault if it happens to me. But that is not the reality, we dive with buddies, and if we suddenly experience a medical situation at depth we have now, unintentionally of course, thrust those we are diving with into a situation that is now going to put their dive, and ultimately there well being in potential peril as well.

We all want to return from every dive we do, and we want everyone we are diving with to return in good order as well. I can tell you from experience, a boat ride back to dock down a diver is a voyage no one wants to take, unfortunately many have, and many will in the future. I want to do everything that I can in my power to make sure no one has to take that ride without me.

Its not that hard, we know that, but we still don’t do it, and I am guilty, but as I have said, that is changing for me. I am getting back to the gym, some weights, some cardio, and being more aware of what I eat, making healthy choices more often. Am I going to still have a beer and pizza, or course, what diver doesn’t enjoy a slice or a burger, a beer and some tall tales after a day of diving, but add in that 30 minute evening walk a few nights a week, just that little bit may mean several more years of tall tales.

 

 

 

So I’m starting a diving blog

This is me, Matthew Lerp, I have decided to start my own blog chronicling my diving career, which is still in the early days. I began diving in  2011 completing my open water training in Loreto MX diving in the Sea of Cortez. Since then I have completed open water training to Divemaster and logged over 300 dives.

More recently I have moved into the tec diving world. I became interested in caves after taking a trip to Cozumel and being taken into a cenote.  After that trip I completed a cavern course in Florida, and last year completed the Intro to Cave course in the same area. Adding to my technical training I have also completed Advanced Nitrox, Deco procedures, and Helitrox training.

I live in Kingston Ontario Canada at the gateway to the Thousand Islands region, and am fortunate to have the St Lawrence river and Lake Ontario in my “backyard” which is where I can been found diving the majority of the time.

When I am not working at my “real job” or diving myself,  I can be found working on a dive boat out on the St Lawrence river helping others enjoy a day of diving. Working on a dive boat you learn a lot about diving, from those with experience giving you advice, to simply watching what other divers. Seeing both good and bad practices I have learned a lot from this experience, and hope to continue to.

My hope for this blog is to provide information to other divers through my experiences and my travels in relation to diving. Its new so it will take shape as it goes, and I am sure it will change often, but I hope that is becomes some form of a resource for information and learning through my experiences as I expand in the field of diving.