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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

First dive of 2017

 

“Oh god I needed that, I was starting to think I was drying out”

 

Those were the words that ran through my mind as I broke the surface of the warm water on one of the first days of 2017.

Ascending from one of the 2 shallow photography dives planned for the day into the bright warm sunshine of Bawley Point NSW, I knew that it was going to be a good day.

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Planned over a Christmas BBQ a few weeks earlier, the double shore photography dive was chosen as when you are the buddy with the camera, you often are the slowest one of the pair. This can lead to your non camera toting buddy already looking at the next aquatic marvel while you are still taking your 900th photo of the tiny Nudibranch you spotted, trying to get the light just right.

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The day had no particular aim other than to increase comfort and practice skills. It so happened to be one of the warmest dives I had done at Bawley Point - 21degrees.  In August during my rescue course the temp did not get about 13 degrees. The warm bath-water like temp made for an even more enjoyable dive.

Amongst the small group we were able to practice our photography and camera handling while snapping pictures of one of the countless octopus who live in the rock crevices, or the bottom sleeping Port Jackson sharks soaking up a few zzzzz. The regular appearance now of a large cuttlefish is also a highlight.  To round out the cephalopod team, a school of small squid remained in the warm current for both dives. 

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All in all it was a perfect day and was much needed to get the 'gills' wet again.

In the below video you will also see the preparation that goes into getting ready for a dive when you have to travel 1.5 hours to a dive site.

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

Gear Review: Knog Qudos GoPro Companion Action Light

 

No longer is the capture of your action adventures dependant on the sun being your only light source.

Encapsulated in a unit smaller than your GoPro, the Knog Qudos is the perfect companion to keep your action being recorded long after the sun goes down.  The added bonus of being waterproof to 40m makes it perfect for projects like my DIY Scuba GoPro Tray. The aluminium exterior acts like a large heat sink keeping everything cool and happy.

The Qudos has multiple modes to adjust brightness and light speed, allowing you to control your shots in any scene or location – whether deep underwater, high in the sky, or anywhere in between.

  • Output : 70 - 400 lumens
  • Dimensions : 31 x 70 x 40mm.
  • Weight : 150g
  • Materials : Die Cast + CNC Machined Aluminium heat sink and optical grade lens.
  • Battery : USB Rechargeable Lithium Polymer
  • Burn Time : Up to 4 hours.
  • Waterproof : The [qudos] action is IP68 tested and waterproof up to 40m.
  • Compatibility : For use with GoPro Hero 2, 3, 3+, 4 and action cameras with a GoPro conversion mounts.

 

 

Gear: Scuba - Second Hand BCD Self inflating

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I have just finished washing and putting my dive gear away following another day of double fun dives on the South Coast of NSW. For me this was dive 18 & 19.

Fresh from my tropical dives of Phi Phi Island in Thailand (and admittedly filled with false bravado), I kitted up just before the first dive as I have always done.

As with most of our club fun dives, today we were entering from the rocks so I added air to my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) and entered the water with the rest of the group. After the usual awkward aqua-aerobics that is putting on your fins in a slightly surging wave group we pushed away from the rocks to the decent point. My BCD was making a funny sound and I thought “hmm maybe I have an air leak from an air hose”, I had my buddy check and she confirmed there was no visible air leak.

As we descended, my buddies started slowly sinking as they should but I could not go below one metre. I was weighted the same as other successful dives but was unsure why I could not drop down to the bottom at 7m. Luckily one of the Dive Masters (DMs) for the club dive was on hand and clipped an extra weight to me.

After getting down with my buddy we set off on exploring the underwater landscape - my video from Australia Day 2015 is shot at the same spot


I noticed my buoyancy was not very stable - all in one direction - UP. It was at that point I realised what the funny sound was on the surface - the safety valve on my BCD letting air out as it had over inflated. I know I only put a squirt or two in prior to entry and now the BDC was continuing to self inflate while diving - slowly but still inflating. to top this off my DIY Dive Tray was beginning to loosen and the camera and light set up was wobbling. I could not let go of it for fear of losing both GoPro and my brand new Knog Qudos Dive light. Review coming soon.

 

This dive was rapidly turning into a cluster. I was not in any immediate danger due to the relatively shallow depths - however I did need to continuously dump air from my slowly inflating BCD.

At the 35 minute mark I pulled the pin. I was not enjoying myself, so knew it was time to end the dive. I indicated my intentions to my buddy and the DM and up I went - metres from the accent point - perfect.

I still managed to record a great clip of a sleepy Port Jackson Shark snoozing on the sandy bottom.


The second dive was much easier as the issue was known, after the dives I discussed the issue with the DMs and they indicated that one solution would have been to disconnect the low pressure inflator hose and manually inflate the BCD with my mouth - all stuff every PADI diver is trained to do - I didn’t know I could disconnect it underwater - I know now for next time!

I will however be taking my BCD in for a service soon to fix the problem.

 

Thailand: Scuba Diving Koh Phi Phi from 3 angles

During our recent visit to Thailand I was fortunate enough to dive some of the most amazing places. Funnily enough they all centred around Koh Phi Phi Don in the middle of the Andaman Sea

I did not know this at the time, but the dives from Phuket and Ao Naung both required 2 hours of travel each way by boat. Not as horrible as it sounds as both trips were fully catered!

Having learnt to dive in the cooler waters off South East NSW, the 30 degree tropical waters were a real shock. All the dive guides could not believe ever diving in the cold temps of 18-24 that I dove here.

I will let the images speak for themselves. I will however add - I did not take them. The local dive guides thankfully have far better skills than I and provided them either for free or at a small cost.

The dive shops I dived with, I could not recommend highly enough. There were some shocking reviews on trip advisor about some shonky operators, particularly on Phi Phi Island.

I dove with:

The Dive, Ao Naung

Phi Phi Diving, Koh Phi Phi AKA Phi Phi Island

 

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Gear update - Scuba Diving February 2015

Recently I was offered the opportunity to purchase some very good quality second hand Scuba Diving equipment. I managed to snap up a family new Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), first and second stage regulator (the hoses you breath through) along with a dive knife, a surface marker (an orange sausage that you inflate to get noticed on the surface) along with a really good quality mesh bag.

Some new kit include a Suunto Zoop Dive watch and a DIY GoPro Dive Tray that will hopefully stabilise some more of my dive videos

Here is a short video using all of the gear above along in addition to the standard here included in my “learning to dive” pack mentioned here

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