Conquering the Mask Monster

Day one, eyes open

Conquering the Mask Monster

As far back as my PADI Open Water I “struggled” with my mask skills. I simply couldn’t handle the water touching my nose - more correctly I couldn’t handle the water touching my nose with my eyes closed or covered. Whether it was the partial flood, the full flood or the full mask off. I hated it until as little as a month ago - even then hated is not quite showing just how much I was petrified off the mask skills.

 

Fast forward to day one, week 1, of my DiveMaster training, I rolled into our training pool here at the training school to observe a Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) Program. I was offered by one of our instructors to give the demonstration of ‘masking clearing’, the simple every dive requirement of divers to remove water from their mask. It isn’t the clearing that had me white with fear, it was the letting a small amount of water in the mask (thereby touching my face) for the demonstration.

Mask off, 21m, Scared

What did I do on the spot? I did what all great cowards do - I faked a reason for why I couldn’t. The good ol’ “I have a stomach ache” - believable in rural Asia - no mean feat to explain underwater using hand signs, but it worked. 

Here I was, on the cusp of being welcomed into the professional ranks of the Scuba Diving family and I can’t get past skill one of Open Water 1 confined dive.

For a number of weeks, I fumbled along, either not having to do the skill or doing just enough to get by, all the while the clock was ticking until reaching the DiveMaster Skill Circuit assessment task that requires demonstration quality skills including mask clearing, mask removal and a no mask swim.

 

During the assessments I BARELY passed scoring a 3 (of 5) for each of the mask skills, sure I passed my dive master and was welcomed into the ranks of professional divers, but I felt bothered by the fact I was so weak in the skill.

It was not until I read a few professional articles and blogs that outline the dangers of having mask fear. I knew I could overcome this. Logically of the two breathing holes’ in my face, one would be covered in water and one would be have a fully functional air supply, Ijust needed to get in control of choosing which one to use.  How, I hear you say.. by making the ‘scary’ every day.

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On every single safety stop after reading these articles, I was determined to take my mask off. It started off just being off then back on, then off, two breaths, back on then longer etc. The big breakthrough game came when I could open my eyes in the ocean. Sure I don’t have much vision underwater - no one does - but by seeing the body shape of my buddy or my relation to the bottom etc really helps. If I feel the tingle in my nose telling me it feels like breathing in the water - I simply hold my nose for a few seconds.

What’s next? Before I leave Indonesia in a month, I am determined to obtain my PADI Self Relient Diver rating that equips me with skills to dive solo, without a buddy. The main assessable skill of this course is 2min with my mask off, swimming a distance of 18m simulating, I believe, a mask failure (including the spare you carry) and the need for you to return directly to the surface slowly.

The deep dive that killed my Suunto Zoop Dive computer

As a newly qualified 40m deep diver, the itch to get deep and explore as yet unseen sites needed to be scratched. 

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So here is what happened:

The dive shop I am diving with is one of the few that visit the deep part of a particular dive site - Turtle Heave - or Deep Turtle Heaven as we call it.

My buddy on the day was an Instructor as well as a Self Reliant Diver - Adrien. As a matter of course Adrien carries 2 dive computers, this is relevant as you will soon see.

We entered the ocean to commence a deep dive (35m). During the dive at 35m depth, just after spotting 2 small reef sharks and 3(!) eagle rays (a first for both of us!!!)

 

As time was running out before we hit 'the nonstop required time' (aka 'no deco stop time') neared zero, Adrienand I started a normal rate of ascent, to a shallower depth. As we were ascending, Adrien indicated a ‘deep stop’ was requested by one of his computers at 18m (approx 1/2 of the max depth), I checked the ‘Zoop’, it indicated we were at a depth that would be inconsistent with a 'deep stop'  (26m). Thinking he was just indicating ahead of time I maintained his level. This is the first thought I had that the ‘Zoop’ might be indicating different depths than what we actually were at.

As we continued our ascent, the ‘Zoop’ read 18m and had not reduced the 'no deco stop time' by enough to keep me out of ‘deco’. This concerned me and I indicated to my Adrien, he returned a quizzical look as his computers were reading 10m, shallow enough to clearly see the boat above including the sign writing on the side! This is the second indication that the ‘Zoop’ was not reading correctly. Upon surfacing after clearing all stop time on Adrien's computers, my ‘Zoop’ was still indicating 8m while at the surface and did not readjust to ‘end the dive’ at the surface.
It continued to count the dive even as we were on the surface. Back at the dive shop I showed a number of other professional divers and they indicated it might be a simple low battery issue. However the battery indicator remained near full. After washing the computer in freshwater, reading a depth of approx. 8m.

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It has remained in dive mode ever since even after a battery replacement from a kit I had with me.

I will keep providing updates on the progress of the 'case' of my discussions with Suunto to have the computer repaired.

NB - its a dive computer not a watch, it does sooo much more than tell the time.

UPDATE_1 10-Sept-2017:

As the Zoop left warranty in early 2017, initially Suunto rejected any attempts to have the computer examined and ultimately repaired by them, however after some 'frank discussions' via Facebook messenger with their customer service team in Norway, the computer is on its way to HongKong for investigation, as it appears the depth sensor failed.

UPDATE_2 8-Sept-2017:

To continue diving professionally while the Zoop is being evaluated, I needed a new computer. The Zoop is no longer the current model being replaced by the Zoop Novo, which like the Zoop is a perfectly acceptable dive computer. I like the conservatism of the Suunto decompression table so wanted to stay with their stable of computers. I ended up getting a Suunto D4i - a smaller form factor, watch sized computer which has an easier to navigate menu structure. If/when the Zoop makes it way back to me in fit and working condition, it will move to second fiddle in my collection - which will be vital if I do move on to the 'self reliant' qualification, allowing me to dive alone.

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Update _3 10 October 2017

A package has just arrived from Suunto, guess what was inside... a brand new Zoop Novo, an updated model of the Zoop to replace my dead Zoop. Thanks for coming to the party Suunto.

DiveMaster life - post graduation

My first decent underwater selfie

 

It has now been a couple weeks since I graduated as a DiveMaster here on Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.

Another Amazing Island Sunset

I was able to spend a week in Bali last week at Mum & Dad’s house using all of their WIFI and hot water - things that are sorely lacking on Gili Air.

My feet! After the shoeless life on Gili Air they needed work!

 

Now I am back on the Island, my days have been filled with helping out in the shop as well as tagging along as qualified DM to assist Instructors with students who require assistance as well as taking photos and videos to share with you!

Ornate Ghost Pipe Fish

I will be posting a series of blog posts in the coming weeks about Island Life and things that people should be aware of when traveling / living long term on Gili Air, Indonesia.

Dive Master Week 3 - Gili Air - Indonesia

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To recap week 2 my physical learning pack arrives, I made a start on a few of my assignments - site mapping and emergency procedures, as well as some pool time working on my demonstration skills for underwater teaching.  

 

This week I have been able to assist our two in house instructors on their courses. In particular my role is starting to form on Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) programs. A DSD is not an actual course more a program that give a first time diver enough skills in the pool to be taken out under guidance onto a 12m deep reef and, as the name suggests, discover scuba diving. Many go on to undertake the PADI Open Water qualification - the first of many steps on the diving ladder.  My role is the provision of an overwatch / safety role to assist the instructor in keeping the group safe while exploring the site

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Also during week 3 I undertook 3 of my assessment tasks:

  1. Timed 800m Snorkel swim (no hands used, head not leaving the water)  in the picture below that equates to 8 laps with a slight current one way: 3/5
  2. 15 minute tread / float in water too deep to stand, with hands out of the water in the last 2 minutes 5/5
  3. Perform the role of dive master on our dive boat during a fun dive - provide the boat briefing, outlining the safety and comfort features, introduce the crew and dive professional staff as well as monitor the air and time both prior and post for each diver. 5/5

 

Also this week I was able to accompany qualified divers on ‘fun dives’ with some of our local guides to see often overlooked areas of local sites. It is from these local guides I can learn to hone the craft of fish and marine life spotting, group management and guiding around under water sites including the wreck of the tugboat Nusa Glenn seen in the pictures here (my new fav site)

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Dive Master Week 2 - Gili Air - Indonesia

 I took this picture showing the joy after almost an hour underwater on a discover scuba

I took this picture showing the joy after almost an hour underwater on a discover scuba

 

Bit of a recap of week one - house sorted, transport sorted, dive site orientations, shop orientation and the discovery of my inability to take my mask off underwater.

 

During week 2, I started settling into the rhythm of Gili Air and diving operations. 

 

After my attempt in week 1 of the first of a number of timed activities being a timed 400m ocean swim (week 1 attempt resulted in DID NOT COMPLETE due to current). I re-attempted in week 2 and received a mark sufficient to gain a pass.

 

Clocking up almost 15 dives since day one, tagging along on "fun dives" with qualified divers and guides as well as observing a variety of courses from Discover Scuba (base program) through to Advanced Adventure Dives including Deep Adventure dives to 30m.

Also this week I dug deeper in the "PADI Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving" - key text for any diver looking to gain a deeper understanding of many aspects of diving and the diving environment.

 

 

 

This week also saw the first of a series of pool sessions with instructors to work on my underwater demonstration skills.

 Me floating in the pool observing skills

Me floating in the pool observing skills

 

My day off during week two was spent in the large regional city of Mataram on Lombok getting a bit of a look at regional Lombok life and shopping.

Dive Master Week 1 - Gili Air - Indonesia

I have not been online much this week - as you will see I have been too busy!

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I arrived after a boat delay, late on Monday afternoon. After making my way to the dive center by horse cart I met the staff and crew. 

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Later that night I viewed a number of available homestay type rooms. Bedroom with bathroom and outdoor shared kitchen. 

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I have also purchased a bicycle - the main form of transport on the island. For the cost of 6 weeks rental I purchased one - a massive investment of $70AUD. 

Oh. And I think my bed has bed bugs. So next task is destroying them- all 

This week I have also done 10+ dives, following dive groups, observed regulator servicing, learnt how to use the refrigerated (air dryer) compressor to fill tanks and been working on my underwater marker deployment (DSMB). 

  

The journey begins!

It has been months in the planning, with daily countdowns starting well into the 80s.

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With my dive gear is packed, my drone and filmmaking gear and clothes tapped out my 20kg baggage allowance to jamming all my stuff in my bag has been a challenge in itself. 

Just to remind you about the purpose of this trip - After 10 years with my employer, i am now eligible for 3 months paid leave, with the option of taking that at 1/2 pay.  I am using my allowance in one whack and heading to the Island of Gili Air, Indonesia to "study" for my PADI DiveMaster qualification. This can be done in as short at 6-12 weeks.  Obviously I am in no rush to get the qualification, so will work with my instructor. There is a possibility of also moving on to do my Instructor qualification. 

 

For those that don't know, Gili Air is a tiny island off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. The island is so small there is no motorised land transport, instead of get around on foot, bicycle or small horse drawn carts. 

 

 

 

 

Ep01. Starting the journey to PADI DiveMaster in Indonesia

 A view from my classroom

A view from my classroom

As a first in the of a new YouTube series I am hoping to share the process and excitement of not only moving and living on Gili Air as well as becoming a PADI DiveMaster.  

The count down is on for May 2017.

Subscribe to keep up to date with the process! 

 In coming weeks there will be episodes covering what I am packing, where I am staying (and living) as well as the study side of a Dive Master course 

 

TRAVEL: Labuan Bajo, Indonesia

 

Flying east from Bali, Indonesia across tiny islands ringed in gold and turquoise, over fishing villages and mountains you come in to land over yet another cluster of islands into Labuan Bajo airport, new, white and shiny. Soak it in. It's the newest building in 'Bajo! 

 

Straight away I noticed the striking difference in the faces of the Flores people compared to the Balinese and Javanese. They look almost exactly like the Timorese - Big wide smiles. Slightly curly hair. It felt so comforting. Reminding me of my time in East Timor in 2008. 

'Bajo is a growing port town and also the gateway to the Komodo National Park. The national park is a magnet for divers and adventurers alike. 

We specifically went to Bajo to do two things. See the famed Komodo dragons and to dive. We spent 7 days in Bajo, diving almost every second day.  A boat trip to most dive sites is around 1-2 hours. Our longest day included a guided walk within the National Park on the island of Rinka, a neighbour to Komodo. On the small island is a ranger station where the rangers live and base from - they have two main roles. Act as walking guides and to show the dragons The Rinka dragons are about 1/3 smaller than Komodo's due to evolution. Rinka's giant lizards are still 2-3m long. Our guide cheerfully informed us that they climb trees until they are too big then just hunt on the ground for small deer, birds and other Frankie sized prey. 

A day trip to Rinka can still fit in two dives later in the day however a trip to Komodo is about 5 hours one way from 'Bajo. With time not on our side as well as a hunger to dive in one of Asia's greatest sites - Rinka it was. 

Diving:

I can't talk about 'Bajo without talking about the diving. The best way I can describe the life around the national park - Prolific and Jurassic Park-like. Every fish, every Turtle, every Nudi was bigger, brighter and totally amazing.

We stayed with Blue Marlin in Komodo - can not recommend them as a dive company and lodging more highly. Loved it. 5 stars for me.

Check out my other travel posts : Here

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Getting there 

 

The Perhentian Islands are approx 25km off the north east coast of Malaysia, just south of the Thai border.

Flights are multiple times per day from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Biru, the nearest mainland airport. Then it is a 60km drive to the coast with any one of the friendly local taxi drivers. Before you depart KL, it is advisable to call your accomodation on Perhentian and confirm boats are operating to the island that day, particularly early in the season. We were caught out a bad weather front swept through as we arrived and no boats were operating.

Boats are either booked by your accomodation or tickets purchased at one of the local Kuala Besut ticket agents.

The boat ride from Kuala Besut to Perhentian is approx and hour. If the sea is rough be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Where to stay

We stayed on the ‘big Island’ Perhantian Besar at Abdul’s Chalets. Abdul’s afforded the best mix of location, privacy and quality.

Abdul’s has its own ‘home reef’ located within a roped section for snorkelling away from boats. Many other shallow reefs are within a 15 min walk of your front door.

Large parts of the big island are accessible only by boat and the hotel is more than happy to organise for you.

What to do

Anything in the water!

Perhentian is set up for watersports, be it scuba diving, snorkelling, turtle spotting, or relaxing on a beach.

Highlights

Calm water frontage

Lowlights

Not being told by our hotel that there was no boats operating, leaving us stranded in Kuala Besut - check with your hotel (particularly in shoulder season) about access.

Don’t forget to bring

Sunscreen and a towel

Indonesia: Bali – Not just an Island full of drunken teenaged Aussies

A large example of the Silversmithing

 




Background

My first visit to the Indonesian Island of Bali was with my parents as part of a family holiday.
My parents had never been overseas before my work trip to Timor-Leste. In fact I think my Mum’s passport didn’t arrive in the mail until only a week before they departed Australia. East Timor was a turning point in my life, both personally and professional. I will cover more of that over in the Timor Category as I update more info. You can follow those posts here.

Getting there

Most cities have direct flights from Australia to Denpasar by either Virgin Australia or Qantas / JetStar.  My first trip was actually Canberra to Brisbane, meeting my parents who were living in the Northern NSW regional city of Coffs Harbour in Brisbane.

The next day flying Brisbane (BNE) to Denpasar (DPS)  on Virgin Australia.  It was my parents first decent length flight. Say what you will about low cost carriers, and semi-low cost carriers, but I actually prefer them over the full service.

Why I went

Our first goal was a family holiday. My family is not a family that requires gold plated, 5 star resorts – not least because we can’t afford it.  The accommodation and activities I mention are not 5 star, nor are they backpacker / a few dollars a day type. They are your typical family type places.

As I said in previous posts, my parents had not travelled internationally prior to coming to visit me in East Timor in 2008. Almost a year after the visit to East Timor, my parents had saved enough for a modest holiday to Bali

After planning and bookings were well processed my sister announced she was getting married, also in Bali, during our holiday.

Where we stayed.

The decision was made very early that we didn’t want to stay in downtown Kuta. The sight of drunk and drugged Aussies peeing in the street at 10am is not a sight that is conducive to enjoying another country’s culture and sights.

We stayed at the  Puri Dewa Bharata Hotel just off the main road near Seminyak. In fact since 2009 to today my parents have stayed there every year. They are offered discounts as repeat customers.

 

Favourite Memories

Middle sister:

Getting married in Bali during my first trip, returning later to take my children to Bali and the zoo.

 

Favourite place to eat:

Middle sister:

Any restaurant along the beach along with Marlo’s

 

Hot tip: Over 22? Don’t want to be another ‘aussie drunk in bali? Stay out of Kuta after sundown.

 

Have you been to Bali? What was your highlight?

 

 

Don’t forget to check out the map page to see posts about other destinations