Resolved to do anything that sparks enthusiasm in my heart

Scuba Diving

Facing My Fears: Salt Pier Night Dive in Bonaire

Sea horse seen on night dive at Bonaire salt pier

The thought of night diving terrifies me.  Scuba diving during the daytime terrified me, until about my twelfth dive. The pestering instinct to swim to the surface and breathe a big gulp of air took a long time to overcome. It’s just not natural to be underwater for an hour. Add to that knowing that you are at a depth where you can’t immediately surface safely.  Those afraid of heights don’t look down. Well, with diving, I didn’t look UP.

Why continue? For one thing, the underwater world is absolutely incredible, with diversity and abundance only matched in the rainforest. It’s worth the nerves to observe the ecosystem.  Also, I continued diving because I don’t like having something that scares me in the back pocket.  And to be honest, I really didn’t think it would take a dozen dives to feel comfortable and really enjoy myself!

After getting certified, I swore I would never night dive. Turn out the lights? Forget it. However, during a recent trip to Bonaire, I decided I needed to find some courage and face my fear.  The salt pier was lauded as a phenomenal dive, due to the intriguing coral formations growing on the pillars as well as the high probability of seeing squids, eagle rays, and other creatures.  But there was a catch; since it is an active pier, you could only dive the site at night with a guide. To do this you needed night dive experience (re: night dive more than 1x).  We signed up, but only after a New Year’s Eve night dive at Buddy Reef and some light ‘pier pressure’ by our friends (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

Needless to say, this dive was approached from a survival standpoint. I didn’t need to love it, I just had to face fear and make it through.  The dive could be summed up in three words: fascinating, disorienting, and nauseating.  The coral popped with color in the glow of our flashlights and grew in unique, twisted formations. Life flourished on the angled pillars between 3-18m, requiring one to frequently vary depths to take in (re: lots of equalizing and BCD adjustments).  Although beautiful, it was difficult to appreciate due to the strong currents under the pier (even at 18m!), which threatened to slam me into a coral-laden pillar at any given time. It felt like I had been put in a washing machine.

I lasted for 40 minutes, and returned to the car feeling both triumphant for surviving and guilty for cutting the dive short for the group. Regardless, it was a great way to start 2012! It may just take me another dozen dives before I love it…

Awesome footage of salt pier dives, check it out!

Daytime (we were told this wasn’t allow, oh well):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPGX3m9jkIQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1C3P_Ce6aU

Nighttime:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH7fNtMiPPY

When have you faced a fear? How did you feel after? Do you love/hate night diving? Comment below!

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Surface Interval Fun: Above Water Adventures in Bonaire

View of Washington Slagbaai National Park in Bonaire

Although it’s difficult to imagine doing anything in Bonaire except diving, you inevitably have to entertain yourself above water. We had a blast exploring the surprisingly diverse landscape of the island, primarily by rental car. Here’s what we found:

North

After a particularly draining morning dive at Klein Bonaire, we explored Washington Slagbaai National Park, situated at the most northern point of the island. We blocked off a full afternoon, as it took about an hour to reach from Buddy Dive and well over an hour to drive the rugged dirt roads.  Juxtapositions abounded at Slagbaai; brilliantly colored parrots perched on cacti, iguanas scurried across the cracked arid soil, and flamingos foraged in saline pools with a mountainous backdrop. Within 100 yards, we saw donkeys, wild goats, and flamingoes. It was quite the unique place!

West

After a full day of diving, we never missed stopping for gelato in Kralendijk on our way back to Buddy Dive. We frequented both Gio’s and Lilly’s, both of which are exceptional and reasonably priced ($1.75/scoop).

Between dives we searched for sea creatures in the tidal pools on the southwest side of the island (Alice in Wonderland in particular). No shortage of life there! We found large slugs, urchins, eels, hermit crabs, snails, and an octopus!

South

The southern end of the island starkly contrasted the north, trading cacti for trash and goats for iron windmills. The flamingoes were still there though! Although barren of residents, south Bonaire is home to the Cargill salt pier, a lighthouse, and various abandoned structures. The wind and surf pick up significantly around the tip of the island, where trash, likely washed up from countries along the Gulf, abounds. Kite surfers use the strong winds to their advantage, rocketing across the ocean.

East

Most of the east consists of harsh lava rock, extremely high winds, and strong surf.  However, an eastern oasis exists at the mangroves of Lac Bay. Guarded by reef, Lac Bay has shallow and consequently bright turquoise waters that extend hundreds of yards out to sea.  Although we didn’t take advantage of any of these services, wind surfing lessons, paddle board rentals, kayak mangrove tours, and snorkeling are all available.  These amenities drastically alter the vibe of the island from laid-back and diving-focused to Hawaiian party cliché.

Bonaire, Above Water Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157628913483471/

What do you do on diving surface intervals? What are your favorite aspects of Bonaire above water? Comment below! 


GoPro Hero2 Digital Camera Underwater Testing in Bonaire: Pictures and Video

Shooting with the GoPro Hero2 in Bonaire

It was a heated debate deciding on a camera system for a recent dive trip to Bonaire. Underwater housing? Video capabilities? Weight? Cost? Depth? The arguments boiled down to two basic facts: underwater housings are expensive ($200-$400) and point-and-shoot cameras change continuously.  Purchasing housing for my current point-and-shoot seemed futile, as I will likely update my camera before my next major dive trip. The GoPro Hero2 ($299), however, includes underwater housing with purchase that is rated to 60m/197ft. Other attractive features include:

– HD Video Resolution

– 11 megapixel resolution

– Small Size/Lightweight: No need to lug a bulky camera in a bulky case. I mounted the GoPro on my wrist for easy underwater video and picture taking.

– 10 pictures/second capability

Beyond diving, I imagine using the GoPro to shoot skiing, kayaking, and cycling videos. The GoPro Hero2 won the debate.

Major Downsides:

Well, I can’t say they didn’t warn me, but the GoPro performed as expected diving in Bonaire. Was it lightweight and easy to use underwater? Absolutely. Did it take high quality underwater pictures/video? Absolutely not.  The resolution suffered tremendously underwater for the exact reason that it does so well above water, that being the fish-eye lens that captures the 170⁰ wide angle images. Video slightly trumped picture quality, therefore more video was shot as the trip progressed. The camera setup best suits sports needing water protection (surfing, kayaking) but not full underwater use (scuba diving).

We eventually caved and rented a Canon 1400ELPH with underwater housing to snap better images.

Solutions:

To adapt to the unique optic requirements that underwater photography presents, cameras must be equipped with a flat glass port to capture high quality images. Mounted at a set distance from the camera lens, the flat glass port corrects for focus concerns of the GoPro Hero2.  Unfortunately, GoPro has not released a flat port product. Aftermarket options now exist on Ebay or EyeofMine(but unfortunately not during my original purchase!). For reasons I will not disclose at this time, I do not think that any of the current choices are optimal. My husband and I are working on our own design. Please send me an email at travelingchicha@gmail.com if you would like to know when we release the system!

** Update 8/6/12 GoPro has released an underwater housing unit: http://gopro.com/hd-hero-accessories/dive-housing/?gclid=CL–_PyZ07ECFYio4AodcVwADw **

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:

Make no mistake, the GoPro Hero2 is a fantastic camera. However, it should not be used underwater without a corrective lens.

Pictures

Taken with GoPro Hero2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157628734135121/

Taken with Canon 1400ELPH: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157628735069699/

Videos:

Taken with GoPro Hero2 (unedited): http://vimeo.com/34621374

Related Articles:

10 Tips for Use of GoPro Hero2 Underwater: http://damiensiviero.com/gopro-tips/

Matador Tests the GoPro by Kayak: http://matadornetwork.com/goods/testing-the-gopro-hero-2/

Underwater footage starts at 1:20: http://wetpixel.com/i.php/full/gopro-hero2-underwater-tests-from-tahiti/

 


Bonaire: Where Drive-Thrus Aren’t Just for Burgers

Image courtesy of gocarribean.about.com

There are two types of people in this world: those who have heard of Bonaire and those who haven’t. If you are in the latter category, you likely aren’t a scuba diver. Bonaire, ‘the diver’s paradise’, is located 50 miles off of the coast of Venezuela, 30 miles from Curacao, and 86 miles from Aruba. Bonaire puts the ‘B’ in ABC Islands (along with Aruba and Curacao) and is an official public body of the Netherlands.

With over 80 dive sites, the sheer variety of locations will entertain any diver. Add to this that 60 of these sites are shore accessible. As in, no boat, crew, or dive class needed. Diving can be done on your time, where you want, and at your desired frequency (according to your safety profile).  The reef-lined coast has been protected and actively managed for over 30 years as a national park. Truly a diver’s playground, Bonaire’s arid climate maintains calm waters with an average temperature between 78-84F and visibility between 100-150 feet.

When/Where Are We Going

We leave tomorrow (December 28) for Bonaire and will return on January 4th .  Mainly operating from a ‘Use it or Lose it’ standpoint, we booked a dive trip to ensure that the PADI Open Water skillset we gained two years ago in Belize would not be just a distant trip memory.

Buddy Dive, a full-service dive center, will become our home base.   By booking with Buddy Dive, we have access to their home reef, a rental truck (to go to other dive sites), unlimited tank refills (including Nitrox) and the two-lane Drive-Thru tank refill station. What more could a diver ask for?

What We Did to Prepare

We obtained our Enriched Air Certification from Down Under Surf and Scuba. Breathing ‘nitrox’ on our dives will enable us to dive for longer and more frequently due to the lower nitrogen content (oxygen percentage >21%).  Optimally used at depths shallower than 50 feet, nitrox is ideal for reef dives in Bonaire.

Although not entirely necessary, we took the plunge and purchased all of our own gear. This was a ‘long-term’ decision, as we are the type of people that will engage in an activity more frequently if we have our own equipment (re: dive more often). Also, everything fits the way it should! Comfort in either fit or familiarity encourages sustained involvement in any sport.

Get ready for future posts, pictures, and videos of the trip! I can’t wait to use my GoPro Hero 2!

Have you been to Bonaire? What else should we know before we go? Was this your first-time hearing of Bonaire? Comment below!      


Crisis Averted

Dive boat in Southampton, Bermuda

I floundered badly. David and I were scuba diving for the first time in two years and in brand new gear. Before diving 80 feet to the Hermes wreck in Bermuda, we decided to test run in the cove.  I felt like I was suffocating, all I wanted was to take big gulps of air. I desperately tried to calm myself and feign comfort. But I couldn’t. I tried to sit on the sand, but was so buoyant my feet kicked at the surface as I tried to sink. I couldn’t get enough air. Doing basic motions of clearing my mask and my regulator were an immense struggle. As a further irritation, David seemed to be doing just fine. I tried clearing my ears, nothing. The buoyancy really created an issue, despite the 16 pounds of extra weight I was carrying. I felt embarrassed as the rest of the team waited on board the boat, watching my pathetic attempts. Finally, I admitted to David that I was uncomfortable diving to 80 feet without getting used to my equipment and refamiliarizing myself with diving. I felt horrible, because I didn’t want to hold David back. And because we had just purchased all new diving gear; and booked a trip to Bonaire; and here I couldn’t even clear my mask. He went on board to inform the dive masters that I would be sitting it out.

Kevin, the soon-to-be canonized divemaster, jumped in with 8 pounds of extra weight which he clipped to the D-rings of my buoyancy control device (BCD).  He quickly adjusted the alignment of my BCD to allow me to breathe more easily. I have the Zeagle Zena BCD for women, which puts more weight on the narrowest part of the waist. However, between the weight distribution of BCD and the thickness of the 7mm suit, I felt very restricted in my chest, making it difficult to breathe. Turns out, my regulator also wasn’t adjusted appropriately, as Kevin quickly noted. The air pressure was entirely too high. He then informed me that I needed to wash out the silicon layer inside my brand new mask- which was causing it to fog. What a novice! Finally, my BCD was adjusted, I had enough weight to allow me to sink, my regulator was giving me a good air flow, and I could see out my mask. WHEW!

Kevin then dove with me in the cove and we spent 5-10 minutes making sure everything was working properly, including calming my nerves! He was so patient. We swam slowly along the floor, picking up handfuls of pink sand and looking at shells. Every 30 seconds or so he would sign ‘OK’ to make sure I was doing alright. I finally felt at ease! The relief was tremendous.

We boarded the boat and drove out to the wreck site. Some of the crew was feeling seasick, but I felt fine, much to my relief.  Kevin decided that David and I should stay near the surface to gain additional comfort with our entirely new ‘kit’ (setup) of ‘toys’ (scuba gear), while the rest of the team dove to the Hermes. I couldn’t have agreed more.  Surprisingly, we still had a fantastic view of the wreck, which was completely intact. Amidst the barracuda, we noted anemones living on the ship’s mast. We intermittently were enveloped in swarms of mini transparent jellyfish and the bubbles emitted from our team swimming below.  Forty-five minutes passed effortlessly, and I finally felt comfortable with my gear and the standard scuba tasks.

Back on the boat we headed inland to dive Virginia’s merchant. Kevin again perceived before I could what would make me feel most comfortable. He took David and me in before the rest of the team to ‘play around’ for 10 minutes. I now had close to 20 pounds of weight added to let me sink in the extremely salty water. We quickly descended the 30 feet to the reef and hung out in the sand on the ocean floor, making fine adjustments to gear and running through several drills to achieve neutral buoyancy. Feeling assured that we were alright (we were), he gathered the rest of the team and we began the dive.  I followed directly behind Kevin as we swam through the coral caverns.  We maneuvered through darkened caves and crevices, over brain and fan coral, and through schools of fish. It was incredible! During previous dives in Belize, very mild panic waves would wash over me and meditative strategies were needed to calm myself and my breathing.  This dive, I was completely collected. Breathing came easily. It felt natural to be underwater for over an hour and I wish we could’ve stayed longer.  It was quite the transformation in only one morning! Back on the boat, the boat captain Heinz delivered a stern but compassionate warning to not let so much time pass until my next dive. It won’t be. In one month David and I will be in Bonaire, the diver’s paradise, and I’m ready.