Wrapping Up the Dive Show…..

When you attend a large tradeshow, one of the points is to not only catch up with old friends, but it’s to meet new people as well. We’ve certainly done both on this trip. (Oh, dinner last night was at a near-by Italian restaurant. Ciao Italia was a good place, and the excellent part was they had wild boar which my husband loves.)

Anyway, back to the show. For me, seeing the number of women, especially when they are engaged in the type of scuba many of them are, is terrific. I finally had the chance to meet Jill Heinerth (http://www.intotheplanet.com) who does amazing diving in a highly technical capacity. I also met Evelyn Dudas, who was the first woman to dive the Andrea Doria. (http://www.dudasdiving.com/about-us) Until technical diving advanced in the 2000s, that was considered the “Mount Everest of Diving” and is still quite challenging. The array of women here range from slender, lithe twenty-somethings to pioneers in the sport who are most assuredly past that age.

On the business side, pre-sales for Mystery of the Last Olympian (http://MysteryoftheLastOlympian.com) have been brisk and I allowed myself to be talked into something I said I wouldn’t do. I guess I’ll be going to the big dive show in Chicago in February. I mean, really – Chicago in February? I do hope it will be worth it.

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

It’s Official………

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

Mystery of the Last Olympian is scheduled for a Feb 2016 release.

I can finally give details about the non-fiction book I’ve been working with. Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic can be seen at the dedicated website, http://www.mysteryofthelastolympian.com

The book is scheduled to be released in February, but we have started pre-publication sales because the huge, international scuba tradeshow is in Orlando next week. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me and when Richie Kohler (from the book, Shadow Divers and the TV show, Deep Sea Detectives) asked me to co-author, I was thrilled. We’ve been on an ambitious timeline because 2016 is the centennial year of Britannic’s sinking. In a nutshell, everyone knows Titanic. There were actually three Olympic Class Ocean Liners built – Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic. They were the largest ships ever built (at the time), but two of the three met tragic fates. Britannic, the final Olympian, was nearing completion when WW I erupted. She was converted to a hospital ship and on her fifth voyage, an explosion ripped into her and she sank in less than an hour. This was twice as rapidly as Titanic and after a number of modifications had been put into place to strengthen her. Fortunately, they were inbound for the 3,000 ill and wounded passengers that would have otherwise been aboard. As it turned out, only 30 men were killed and among the many ironies of the ship, Violet Jessop, a young stewardess, had also been aboard Olympic and Titanic. She survived both disasters.

The ship sank to a depth of 400 feet in the Aegean Sea and her location was entered incorrectly into the official record. As underwater exploration advanced, it was Jacques Cousteau who found her again. He and his team made some daring dives, but it was another twenty years before scuba and submersible technology made further exploration possible. Beginning with the famous Dr. Bob Ballard (the man who located Titanic), there have been a series of expeditions by teams; many of the members pioneers in scuba. Each team uncovered different clues and in 2003, they thought they understood what caused the rapid sinking, but they didn’t have quite enough proof. In 2006 they came very close, but the expedition was shut down due to a major misunderstanding. In 2009, Richie Kohler and Richie Stevenson succeeded, but a tragic accident halted the expedition and the film they’d taken didn’t turn out. This past summer, Richie Kohler and three other individuals were finally able to go back and achieve what had eluded them for so long.

The three-part book takes you through this entire journey. The California, UK, and MA trips I blogged about were all for research for the book. Meeting people I had seen in documentaries and knew by reputation has been great. I can now answer any questions you might have, so fire away if you wish.

Three Generations of Divers…..

Juvenile Spotted Drum

Juvenile Spotted Drum

There are certain experiences that I don’t get to enjoy personally, but I do so through my hubby. Yesterday was one of them – well, technically it was Monday when it started. He went to the dive shop expecting to work with a certain individual and they had to do a schedule shuffle as sometimes happens. In this particular case, there was a family where the father was taking one type of training, his son was taking another course, and his parents – as in the father’s parents and the son’s grandparents, were actually taking the basic scuba course. I didn’t get all the details as to why, so my assumption here is going to be that the father became a diver and that interested the son and at some point the parents. This is not the first time that my husband had trained grandparent/grandchild combinations, although it is more common for grandparents to already be the divers and they bring along the second, and more often now, the third generation.

Scuba is a great family sport and when you step back and watch it is fun to see the interaction between the generations as they share their perceptions of the dive they have just completed. Here they are, decades apart in age and yet all a part of the joy of slipping underwater to see the marine world close-up. Technically speaking, since scuba became sort of mainstream in the early 1970s, and there are divers in their 80s and 90s that are still active, I suppose you could have four generations worth in the water, but I haven’t personally see that. It has no doubt happened somewhere and of course, is likely in the not too distant future now that diving has been embraced as a family sport.

Fun in St Croix…..

Having now missed going to St Croix for two years in a row, we are somewhat keeping up with things through one of the dive shops we use when we are on-island. The real reason that we prefer St Croix over the more well-known St Thomas is that aside from the great diving, the feel of the island is more relaxed and you don’t have the mass of cruise ship passengers to jostle through. Granted, those same passengers are why St Thomas has the high-end brand stores and the more exclusive resorts. That’s okay, they’re welcome to them.

St Croix is not the place to go if you need that sort of thing, lots of casinos, or clubs that stay open until the wee hours of the morning. It is the place to go if you love to dive, snorkel and enjoy the beauty of a tropical island for the sake of it’s beauty. We also love the restaurants and some of our favorite beach bars that are genuine beach bars are on St Croix. The food is somewhat expensive, as it is on most of the islands where so much has to be imported. The portions tend to be large though and when we spend a whole week by Night Three we usually pick up a salad and then eat restaurant leftovers for a meal that is every bit as good the second time as the first. We did stop going to a number of the many artists galleries simply because we have so much art that we can’t buy any more and I sometimes lose my resolve and squeeze in another piece.

I think the only thing missing from St Croix is that there aren’t any spectacular waterfalls. The driving on the “wrong” side of the road is a bit tricky, but a lot of the Caribbean islands share that trait and you just have to be extra careful.

And About Lobster Mini-Season……

Spiny Lobsters caught during 2012 Mini-Season

Spiny Lobsters caught during Mini-Season

Okay, a moderately embarrassing admission. Despite having lived here since late 2004, this is the first year I obtained a lobster license. Actually, I don’t ever think I can be successful at “bug hunting”, but I can spot and who knows, perhaps there will be a few really slow ones out there. Anyway, my point is that this was my first year to go into the water for lobster during mini-season. For those not familiar with it, in Florida a 2-day mini-season precedes the opening of the 8 month regular season.  Mini- season is always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July and in the Keys, that includes a restriction of stopping one hour after sunset if you are physically in the water catching (or attempting to catch) lobster. Make it easy and say 9:00 p.m. each of those days.

Thousands of additional people flock to the Keys for these two days and that includes people who don’t dive at other times of the year, or perhaps who have not been diving for a while, but decide this will be it for them. Each dive shop has its own policy for how to handle mini-season, and some choose to not participate at all. The fact is that people can also exercise really poor judgment during mini-season or ignore the rules, and there is almost always one or more deaths that occur during the two-day period. Like most people, I heard the reports in the past about a death or injury and wondered, “How could someone get so intent on catching a lobster that he or she ignored warning signs of problems underwater?”. You see, the death or injury is often linked directly to violating one or more basic safety rules in diving.

So, as hubby and I were in pursuit of this one particular lobster, it was determined not to be caught. Having passed on some that were “short” and therefore not legal to take, hubby was equally determined to capture this one. We had plenty of air and were shallow, but as the “bug” shot from rock pile to rock pile, I realized how someone could become fixated to the point of either not watching their air or depth, or over-exerting, and getting into a dire situation that then spun out of control. It was not an issue for us and the lobster did wind up on the grill the next evening. I do, however, now grasp the concept of how someone could lose sight of safety precautions. It’s one of those “sad, but true” things.

We Do Love Turtles……

Turtle in Key Largo. Photo by hubby, of course.

Turtle in Key Largo. Photo by hubby, of course.

Part of the fascination with scuba is the ability to temporarily exist within the marine world that is filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes. Everyone has their favorites and despite the allure of the “big stuff”, you also learn to appreciate the tiny fish and other marine life that you find on the reefs and in the sand. With that said though, turtles are among the ones that divers keep an eye out for and always enjoy. The green sea turtle is the most common in this area along with the hawksbill and you can see loggerheads and leatherbacks. There is a species called the Kemp’s Ridley, but it is really rare and I don’t personally know of anyone who has ever seen one in the wild.

The trick to diving with turtles is to try and curb your excitement when you see one. If it has plenty of air and doesn’t perceive you as a threat, it will often swim slowly, allowing you to keep pace. There is something special about being able to do that and yes, you do occasionally lose sight of where the boat is if you’re following a turtle. It’s worth having an extra distance to swim back. Turtles can be easily impacted by trash though and monofilament line, straws, plastic bags and plastic rings like that hold a six pack of beverages together are among some of the worst common items that people carelessly toss into the water. The fishing line and plastic rings can snare a turtle’s flippers, literally trapping it underwater or tightening into the skin enough to cut it. Turtles eat jellyfish among other things and plastic bags or straws can look like food. Once ingested, plastics can’t be digested and that causes all sorts of problems. So please, if you are on or around the water, be extra careful with your trash and make sure it’s placed in a secure bin. We love our turtles and want to do everything we can to keep them safe.

A different turtle pose.

A different turtle pose.

Australia, Day 6……..

A big day in several ways. The staff did swap out my tank and it made a world of difference. There are still some awkward aspects with having equipment that’s different from my own, but I’m managing. I won’t be doing all the dives, although if I don’t dive, then my husband has to be buddies with someone else. Since we are usually with some friends on dive boats, that isn’t an issue. In this case, it was important to get to know some of the other divers and as it turns out, there are three guys who take this dive trip together every two years and so they are really familiar with the sites and it’s a great match all around.

The first morning dive was good with what are supposed to be the best conditions of the week. It was my intention to miss the Shark Feed (2d dive of the morning), although I discovered afterward that their technique is different and the sharks don’t come is as close as the one that I participated in. That’s okay, I didn’t mind missing it. I did, however, see half-a-dozen sharks come over to the big boat just in case someone might have extra food.

Now, the dive after lunch was what called a “tender dive” where they took us off the large boat in the inflatables, dropped us at a point and we drifted/swam back in. Since it was in the same general vicinity as where they did the shark feed, there were several sharks cruising around. In fact, there was a moment of amusement when I realized that my husband had so many shark photos from the day that he wasn’t interested in taking any more. The truly big thing though – the biggest event so far of the dive – was that we were on the wall and I looked over to see a shark moving pretty fast. Okay, then I recognized it was a hammerhead. Not a big one – maybe eight feet, but my first hammerhead, nonetheless. I barely managed to get hubby’s attention so that he only glimpsed it and couldn’t get a photo. Now, in the diving world, if you see something unusual and don’t get a photo, there is always a fair amount of teasing from other divers questioning if you really saw what you thought you did. As soon as we got back on board though, the question was pinging around – “Did you see the hammerhead?” About a third of us did and that’s all the validation required. It really was one of those exciting moments for any diver. Naturally, those who didn’t get to see it were disappointed, but happy for those of us who did.

Meals continue to be quite good, but something different with this boat is that they have a very light continental breakfast with only fruit, cereal, and yogurt before the first morning dive, then they do a large, hot breakfast between the first and second morning dive. Most dive vessels have a continental laid out very early, then a hot breakfast about 30 minutes later before the first morning dive. I’m not sure of why this one is set up the way it is, but it works, too. Dinner was a lovely fish with risotto primevera. There was also a night dive that we passed on.

At this point, we have met and spoken with almost everyone on board, learning bits and pieces. As always, there is a mix of where divers have been and lots of stories to be swapped. I’ve chatted a bit with several of the crew – one American, by the way, and all are quite professional and have the type of personality that one usually finds in this business. It’s a formula that works and you really can’t deviate much from it. The quarters are too close to have a staff member who needs to “escape” from the guests. The constant interaction and serious lack of privacy is part of why there is a large turnover in the liveaboard business. On a dive vessel like this, you are out for a solid week and you’re “on” for 24 hours a day even if you aren’t technically on duty. A guest needs something or something happens on the boat and you have to respond immediately. Plus, you have some guests that are night owls and others that are sunrise people and they all have to be accommodated.

Part of Our Marine World……

As I have posted in the past, I am cautious of many environmental groups/causes due to the tendency to take unyielding positions that are often not rooted in either practicality or an understanding of the “big picture” of how working with business can often lead to genuinely sustainable solutions. And please do not misinterpret that statement – I fully agree that there are numerous areas in which we need to improve when it comes to taking care of Mother Earth and Mother Ocean. With that said, while we were in Orlando at the big dive trade show (DEMA), I had the chance to go by the Reef Ball (http://www.reefball.org) booth although I did not get by the Coral Restoration Foundation one. (http://www.coralrestoration.org/)  These are two organizations that are doing extraordinary work in helping to protect and/or restore reef systems in South Florida and around the globe. They take two very different approaches; the details of which can be seen at their respective web sites.

What makes these organizations even more remarkable than the success of their projects is that neither was founded by some well-known, highly credentialed group. In the case of Reef Ball, it was an avid diver and his father who had seen severe reef damage in the Cayman Islands after a hurricane and began to think of a way in which easily manageable modules could be manufactured to serve as artificial reefs. The concept was to have something with a relatively low-cost that could be installed with only a few “experts” and other team members could be volunteers. Twenty years later, more than 4,000 projects impacting 70+ countries have benefitted from this technology.

The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) had an even more modest beginning of being a 4-H daughter-father project. As with Reef Ball, CRF has now gained international attention and they are continuing to expand their capabilities. Volunteer divers from around the world join into projects along with notable colleges, universities, and other organizations. If you have some time, do visit their web sites and prepare to be amazed at what you see.

 

Oh Sure, There Will Be Sharks…..

Okay, it was the second day of the dive show and my husband attended two very technical seminars and we attended one semi-technical session together. That had to do with physiology and I could follow about 70% of the discussion. We then went in search of the dive travel people and the Australian lady who is part of the staff for the dive trip that we will be going on. We managed to find both and during the course of the conversation with the Australian lady (mild accent), she was giving us extra details about the dive sites we would visit and one area in particular that is well known for all the sharks we are likely to see. Oh goody, just what I like. My husband was naturally thrilled to hear this as he genuinely is disappointed on these trips if he doesn’t get sharks. Allegedly, they’ll be mostly grays which are “normal size” – not more than 6-8 feet long. It isn’t that I mind diving with sharks; it’s more than I don’t mind not seeing them.

Restaurant-wise, we wound up eating at Copper Canyon Wed and the Funky Monkey Wine Restaurant and Bistro last night. The only problem when we travel and can’t do leftovers is we then either have to leave food, find things we can share or I do all appetizers/small plates. That part is something I do fairly often though. I have found that at times, 2-3 appetizers, or splitting a salad with my husband and then me having two appetizers is the perfect amount. There was an intriguing salad of mixed greens, grilled pineapple chunks, prosciutto, and a light rum-based dressing. We shared that and then I had the shrimp risotto and lump crab cake small plates which worked well for me.

 

Day One at DEMA…….

Okay, for those who dive, you may already know about the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), that’s the over-arching industry group that covers every aspect of scuba. There are a lot of great dive shows that are held throughout the year, but this is the one that is not open to the general public. It is Business-to-Business stuff so you have a chance to see the latest and greatest in technology, innovation, and products or services that you don’t always associate with scuba. In some cases, it’s scuba-related only because scuba is an outdoor sport that includes physical activity. For example, cool cameras are cool cameras no matter what you do, but if you go underwater, you need a special housing. So, while the housing is unique to that, the camera itself is the same they would have at any other type of show. It’s the same with much of the travel. A dive resort is set up to cater to divers, yet most have activities for non-divers and they would market those at other venues. Anyway, the point is that even if you don’t understand the hardcore technical parts of diving, there’s a lot to see and during the next couple of days, I’ll be sure and include plenty of that.

The show is at the Convention Center in Orlando and we’re staying at the Rosen which is in easy walking distance of Pointe Orlando, a dining/shopping/entertainment complex. Last time we were here, we discovered the Funky Monkey Wine Company and that could well be where we go tonight. On the other hand, there is a Copper Canyon that we really like, and a place called The Tavern that we haven’t tried. If I remember correctly, there’s an Italian place as well (wouldn’t there be?), and maybe three or four others that we either don’t know about or haven’t gotten to. Oh, and the Rosen has added a 98FortyTapas and Tequila that sounds intriguing. I will keep you posted as to what we decide.