Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dive #6: D'Lagoon, Perhentian Kecil

Date: 9 September 2006 (Saturday)
Location: Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
Time (GMT+8): 3:30pm
Duration: 0:44 (C.T.: 4:09)
Max Depth (m): 12.0
Sky: Slight cloudy
Waters: Calm
Visibility (m): 10.0
Bottom Temp (ºC): 29.0 (est)
Air (bar): 200/100
Surface Interval: N/A
Start P/G: N/A
End P/G: J
Dive Buddy: Tsurumi-san (DM) a.k.a. Tsunami
Divemaster: Mikiko Ando a.k.a. Miki (Nihonjin) - Scubaholics

It was great to get back below the surface of the water. 7 snorkeling trips in 24 hours was getting a little boring.

The site wasn't so deep. Max depth of 12m, we actually used less than half our tanks. I hate to think that the dive centre picked that spot because they had a newbie (me) in the group, but I somehow suspect so. It was either me, or the other Caucasian couple who looked like it was their first time. Well, I'm glad I didn't have to struggle with any of it... my ego just wouldn't allow it. :o)

Perhentian is a place where divers go out on small motorized sampan-like boats. There's no shade so it's a good thing the dive sites are near. There's also no boat ladder, so we use the back roll entry, and then unload our weights, BC and tank in the water before climbing back aboard.

I'm not familiar enough with the names of the marine life that surrounded me, so nothing to report. Oh, except the six banded angel fish Miki kept getting so excited about. And also I now know what trigger fish look like.

My first dive out with no one I know, but being me, I made friends. Some local, some not. But I'm kicking myself for not getting their emails.

Scubaholics charges RM55 per boat dive if you have your own equipment... RM80 and they provide you with everything you need. They offer bulk packages too, which makes it really worth it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dive #5: Tanjung Tokong

Date: 26 August 2006 (Saturday)
Location: Redang Island Malaysia
Time (GMT+8): 10:30
Duration: 0:45 (C.T.: 3:25)
Max Depth (m): 18.0
Sky: Cloudy
Waters: Calm
Visibility (m): 12.0
Bottom Temp (ºC): 27.0
Air (psi): 3,000/300
Surface Interval: N/A
Start P/G: N/A
End P/G: R
Dive Buddy: Soon Yean
Divemaster: John & Koh (Coral Redang)

Tanjung Tokong, located a the north end of Redang Island is right next to the turtle bay. Sadly, I didn't encounter any turtles this time.

We were mostly following John through and over hill like reefs to avoid mild currents. I quite enjoyed the experience because it meant we had to stay close to the ocean floor. The view of aquatic life is much better when you do a close-up. More over, I enjoyed the challenge of making sure I had enough buoyancy to stay off the corals.

This time around, we had an u/w camera rented from Redang Pelangi Resort (RM40/day). Here are some of the pictures as captured by SY & Chewy.

Just a bunch of snorkellers

I need super-strong water-proof hair gel, or simply a different hairstyle

Another addition to SY's collection of Superman poses

Crown of Thorns Starfish

The pictures that came out weren't that great because we have literally no experience with underwater photography. And it was even tougher that the lighting at 10m and deeper is distorted. The red in light is all filtered out by the time you get to that depth. Wish we had a strobe light attached to the camera.

The photography ended when SY ran out of air and Chewy took him to the surface. As I still had enough to last another 10 minutes or so, Chewy signaled me to keep with the group, and so I did. It just didn't cross my mind to get the camera from SY before rejoining the group.

But then again, I don't think I saw anything that interesting that I wanted a picture of. I was just enjoying the dive. Enjoying so much that I didn't realize I had already passed the minimum air level. We're supposed to signal low-on-air at 700psi. I was at 500psi by the time I noticed. And by the time I found Koh to go up with me, with the 5m 3min safety stop, I was really low by the time I got out of the water. I really have to pay more attention next time. "Gauges & computers only work if you check them".

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dive #4: Mak Cantik (Mini Sea Mount)

Date: 25 August 2006
Day: Friday
Location: Redang Island Malaysia
Time: 17:20 (GMT +8:00)
Duration: 0:28
Cumulative Time: 2:40
Max Depth: 18.0 meters
Sky: Clear
Waters: Choppy
Visibility: 4 meters
Bottom Temp: 27 ºC
Starting Air: 3,100psi
Ending Air: 1,500psi
Surface Interval: 1:51
Starting Pressure Group: B
Ending Pressure Group: O
Dive Buddy: Soon Yean
Divemaster: John & Koh (Coral Redang)

Back-roll off the boat's railing, approximately 1 meter above the surface - that's got to give you an adrenalin rush. I somehow managed to screw it up - *idiot*! Upon rolling backwards, I didn't lift my crossed legs high enough so my left leg slammed the railing. It almost felt like I was dangling off the boat upside-down. The pain in the leg muscle caused a reflex movement which let me drop nicely into the water, nicely... just not gracefully. :Þ

Fortunately the incident didn't affect my ability to dive or fin. The sore was only intense after I got out of the water. Although it wasn't a good experience, and I probably won't get to back-roll off a boat again in local waters (giant stride is a more common entry style), I still appreciate the practice. Lesson learnt - tighten up the ball-like figure when doing the back-roll.

On descent with Chewy and the others, we had our first experience of a thermocline. Sometimes due to weather, the water forms two layers of different temperatures. The upper layer being warmer, the lower cooler. What felt like a sudden drop of 5-10ºC, in fact was only a variation of 2ºC. I guess the human anatomy just wasn't built for sudden changes in environment.

Aquatic life was as usual, corals, spawning sea cucumbers, a black tip reef shark, etc. Nothing we hadn't already seen. But it was still beautiful scenery. I appreciate every moment of it.

Dive ended prematurely because one of us ran out of air. The 45-minute dive was cut short to an embarassing half hour. I still had half a tank of air... what a waste! And the 15-minute wait for the other divers was torturous because the boat was swaying back and forth with the waves. We noobs were all getting seasick and there wasn't enough of my preserved fruit to go around. *LOL*!

Note to all new divers: bring your own sea-sickness countermeasures! *Bleah*!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dive #3: Southern Tip, Lima

Date: 25 August 2006
Day: Friday
Time: 14:46 (GMT +8:00)
Location: Redang Island Malaysia
Duration: 0:43
Cumulative Time: 2:12
Max Depth: 13.4 meters
Sky: Clear
Waters: Slightly Choppy
Visibility: 6-7 meters
Bottom Temp: 30 ºC
Starting Air: 3,000psi
Ending Air: 750psi
Surface Interval: 3:08
Starting Pressure Group: A
Ending Pressure Group: O
Dive Buddy: Soon Yean
Divemaster: John Oh (Coral Redang)

My first boat dive. It was a short 10 minute boat ride from Pasir Panjang to Southern Tip of Lima. Lima being the name because of the cluster of 5 small islands in the area, clearly visible from Pasir Panjang.

Water entry style was the giant stride, basically standing upright at the edge of the boat and taking a huge step forward, dropping legs-first into the water. It was slightly awkward because while some used the back edge of the boat, my closest exit was the side. I clumsily stepped up onto the edge with my fins on. I had to keep my body slightly bent forward to avoid having my head or tank bump against the ceiling as I move forward.

Concentrating on making sure I don't snag my gear on any part of the boat, while trying my best to maintain balance, I forgot my training on the actual giant stride. The drop from the boat was natural, but the screw-up was in the positioning of my hands. One hand should have been flat against my face to prevent the mask and regulator from coming out, while the other hand should have been on my weight belt to avoid accidental release upon water entry. Instead I was so focused on clinging to the rails to balance myself.

It's a good thing I didn't lose any gear upon entry. Having the mask and regulator come off would mean that I'd end up breathing water instead of air, a definite bad! And if the weight belt accidentally released itself, it would have sank straight to the bottom and I'd have no way of descending. I've seen it happen to one of my classmates during a pool session and I sure as hell wouldn't want it to happen to me.

We got to do a bit of navigation swimming with a compass, both at the surface and below. Can't say I really caught it, but I guess I'll get better as I progress to become an Advanced Open Water Diver.

This dive was deeper, and aquatic life abundant. Apart from the usual encounters, we also had a green turtle swimming around down there. Size was about 2.5 feet or so. I'm still not very good at judging size, length, distance & depth yet. Everything below the surface seems so distorted. But trust me, it doesn't spoil the experience one bit!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dive #2: Pasir Panjang House Reef

Date: 25 August 2006
Day: Friday
Time: 10:55 (GMT +8:00)
Location: Redang Island Malaysia
Duration: 0:43
Cumulative Time: 1:29
Max Depth: 11.2 meters
Sky: Clear
Waters: Calm
Visibility: 10 meters
Bottom Temp: 29 ºC
Starting Air: 3,000psi
Ending Air: 1,250psi
Surface Interval: N/A
Starting Pressure Group: N/A
Ending Pressure Group: J
Dive Buddy: Soon Yean
Dive Master: None

Another shore dive so again we had to go through the tiresome hike down the beach to point of entry. Once again struggled to get into my fins without falling over while fully geared. This dive also required us to finish up with some of the basic safety skills as per PADI syllabus. Fortunately we covered most of it during the first dive.

At a depth of about 7 meters, we took turns to exercise CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent) to the surface. The concept is simple - in the unlikely event that we find ourselves out of air at a depth no deeper than 18 meters, and our buddy is not near enough for us to use his/her alternate air source, we basically just take one last deep breath from our regulator and start a slow swim up to the surface.

Yes, 18 meters is quite deep, so how do you get to the surface on just one breath of air? The science behind it is that the air in the lungs under pressure will slowly expand again when the pressure drops as we ascend. So as we swim up, more air in our lungs becomes available. And the end result it that we quite possibly still have a full breath once we reach the surface even though we release a stream of air bubbles as we ascend. This is good to know so that we don't panic if we run out of air.

Our neutral buoyancy skills were also tested here. This is a slightly tougher exercise because we have to 'hover' in mid water by keeping our body and gear neutrally buoyant. That means that you don't float up to the surface, nor sink to the bottom unless you choose to. Once you have just enough air in your BC, you can actually control your ascend/descend motions by simply breathing in and out. Take a deep breath and you float up; release all the air in your lungs and you sink. A slower, shallower breathing rate keeps you hovering.

Buoyancy control is especially important because when reef diving, you want to be able to hover a few feet above marine life to avoid damaging the reef. Sometimes there just isn't any room for you to place your hands/feet. The other reason for having good hovering skills is whenever we dive at a depth greater than 10 meters, we're encouraged to do a 3 minute safety stop once we ascend to a depth of 5 meters. This is to release excess nitrogen from our blood (it gets in our blood when we breath compressed air while the body is under pressure). So you can imagine that it's not easy to keep your body at a depth of 5 meters for 3 whole minutes.

The usual marine life was there to keep us company. Chewy picked up a cushion star and a species of sea cucumber for us to have a closer look. Both harmless of course... and yes, we left them as they were before moving on. Also seen in the distance was a giant grouper, approximately 1.5-2ft in size. We couldn't really make out what species because visibility was less than optimal, and lighting was quite poor too. It was more of a dark grey shadow than anything else. Quite slow-moving swimmer in my opinion, but it peacefully glided by without taking much notice of our presence.

After our second tour of the reef, we surfaced. Just before swimming back to shore, we had to do 2 last exercises for the books. The first was to remove and replace the weights while at the surface. No issue there. The last skill was much tougher, but less likely to be used - BC removal & replacement at surface. Removing the BC is a no-brainer... but it really takes some brains as well as finese to get it back on because it's the only thing keeping you afloat (your weights are still strapped around your waist, so you'll sink like a rock if you let go).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dive #1: Pasir Panjang House Reef

Date: 24 August 2006
Day: Thursday
Time: 16:27 (GMT +8:00)
Location: Redang Island Malaysia
Duration: 0:46
Cumulative Time: 0:46
Max Depth: 9.1 meters
Sky: Clear
Waters: Calm
Visibility: 6-9 meters
Bottom Temp: 30 ºC
Starting Air: 3,000psi
Ending Air: 1,000psi
Surface Interval: N/A
Starting Pressure Group: N/A
Ending Pressure Group: I
Dive Buddy: Soon Yean
Divemaster: None

My first open water dive, of course under the supervision and direction of my instructor Chewy. We geared up as we had been thought during the confined water sessions in the pool, but the scene was going to be quite different now that we were at sea.

I estimate that my total gear weight (which includes trunks, wetsuit, mask, snorkel, booties, fins, weights, BC, tank, regulator & gauges) to be around 15-20kgs. With all that gear on, it was hard enough to maintain balance while standing, but we were made to walk 300-400 meters to get from the dive centre to the point-of-entry. 'Shore dive' makes it sound pretty easy, but the hike along the beach, and really soft fine sand was almost like slavery - the kind where you carry huge bags of coal on your back out of mines.

Once in waist deep water, it was time to don the fins so that we could swim the rest of the way out to point-of-descent. I looked forward to getting the fins on because my shoulders & back were getting tired, but even that was a chore. Even with the support of my dive buddy SY, it was still extremely hard to maintain balance on one leg as the waves rushed by one after the other. Fortunately I accomplished that without falling, as it would have been even harder to get to my feet again with the weights and tank strapped to me.

The weight completely disappeared as the gear began to submerge and air filled my BC. It was the gear's turn to carry my weight at the surface. With the mask, snorkel & fins on, the swim out to point-of-descent was almost effortless. And here's where the skills began.

Some of the basic skills we covered in the swimming pool were tested again here at a depth of 6-7 meters. This included mask clearing, replacing the mask (salt water stings the eyes really bad!!!), regulator recovery, buddy breathing, cramp removal & the tired diver tow. No one had any major problems and it wasn't long before Chewy took us for a short tour of the house reef.

My first visit to a reef wasn't anything to shout about. Aquatic life at this reef would be considered low as there wasn't really that much to see. It was almost the same stuff you get to see from the surface while snorkelling at other places. However, it was good fortune that a black tipped reef shark, just over a meter long, swam by a few meters away from us. I only got a quick glimpse before it faded into the shadows of distant waters, but it was more than enough to get me excited. It was thrilling, not fear.

The excitement was shortlived because nothing else extraordinary found its way into the view of my lenses. The dive ended with a long surface swim back to shore, and another long hike back to the dive centre. Nonetheless, I was not disappointed at all.