Becoming a Handicapped Rescue Diver

(click the bottom right arrow on the video to enlarge it) In every person’s life there comes a tim

Shark Diving in Palm Beach, FL

Location: Palm Beach, FL Time of Year: May 2013 Temperature: 80 Above Water, 75 Below Water Depth 15

Beneath The Sea recap

What better way to spend a non-diving Sunday than with a bunch of SCUBA obsessed folks? As such, I v


Becoming a Handicapped Rescue Diver

October 8, 2013 in Certification, Pennsylvania, Top4

(click the bottom right arrow on the video to enlarge it)

In every person’s life there comes a time that we face the “…but”. The word, stuck in the middle of a sentence which was started with positivity, usually concludes with negativity. “I am sure you can do it, but…”. “I have no doubt that you think you can, but…”. It’s that moment when the belief of others doesn’t align with your beliefs. Getting my Rescue Diver was one of those buts.

If this site hasn’t made it obvious, I am a Quadriplegic. A Quad Diver. I have full use of my arms, limited finger functionality and no leg function. I have passed my Open Water, Nitrox, CPR/1st Aid, and Advanced Open Water (Ultimately, my end goal Master Diver). I have read every book about diving (medical, fiction and non-fiction). And others would consider my state of mind as borderline diving-obsessive.

There were two reasons I wanted my Rescue Diver during this scuba-obsessed journey: 1) it is a major step to becoming a Master Diver. Without RD, I could never be a MD 2) I believe that, even if I physically can’t do something, at least knowing makes me one step closer to preparedness. As I have said in this blog before, if I can’t be the strongest, I want to be the smartest.

So I started asking some dive shops if they would certify me as a Rescue Diver. Over and over it was a no. “HSA divers can’t get their RD”. huh? Where is that a rule? I understand that Quadriplegic Rescue Divers don’t exist much (at all), but such a quick dismissal without thought wasn’t ok. Why not let me try and fail? Try and fail like many-a-“pedestrians” (yes that’s what I call you functioning legged folk). If I (or they) am capable, then I/they will pass. If I fail, at least I will be mentally prepared in an emergency. Again, make me strong mentally or physically or both. But saying no right away isn’t smart.

What these nay-sayers get caught up on are the tasks. They were taught to complete a task a specific way. What they aren’t thinking about is that the method is irrelevant. The outcome is. Being creative to figure out new ways of accomplishing said outcome, and then perfecting that way, is the important part.

Larry Mack, the Instructor who has been with me since day one of my diving life, was the only person to say yes to my request for Rescue Diver. Under one condition: I must complete everything without exception (not even being “creative” with the 900 yard swim – read: doing 450 yards!). He would only certify me if he would feel comfortable diving with me as competent Rescue Diver. If I can’t fulfill the tasks, then he won’t pass me. But to be clear, his reply had nothing to do with my chair.

Below I describe the tasks Larry and I did, and modified, based on my capabilities. This should demonstrate that this IS possible with some modifications (and a Dive Master who has patience!) When appropriate there is a video time mark corresponding to the video above.

  • Surface Swim w/ mask, fins & snorkel (900 yards) – holy pain in the arms. After this 900 yard swim (mind you no legs to help here) I figured that would be the hardest part of the day. Ha. Nope.
  • Tired Diver Tows: Do-Si-Do, Octopus Pull, Fin Push & Tank Strap Pull – We got creative here. The only objective here: tow someone to safety on the surface. Towing a person to safety is easier with functional legs for power while you use your hands to hold a person. I physically can not do that. So, the three methods we found worked best:
    • One arm tow – I wrapped my left hand (which has less function than my right hand) in the BCD strap above his tank. With my right, I did a back stroke. (11 seconds)
    • Octo in Mouth – I took his Octopus hose and put it in my mouth. That freed up both hands to do a normal back stroke. Because Larry’s BCD keeps him buoyant, pulling him is simple. Thus, this one seemed fastest and easiest. (18 seconds)
    • Fin Push – In an alternate way of doing the standard fin push (having the fatigued diver’s fins against your shoulders while doing a front kick) I placed the diver’s fin/leg across my shoulders while I swam backwards.
    • Strap – If you know you need to go for a while, remove one of the BCD Velcro straps (the Cressi Travel Light has one for packing purposes), tie it around a strap on their BCD and to your chest strap. Again, this leaves your hands free to stroke. Make sure you do this only when the rescued diver is calm as you two are now attached.
  • Panicky Diver on Surface – A panicky diver, above or below, will usually do what they can to save themselves. This means jeopardizing your safety for their own. Thus, it is the rescuers job to calm them down by talking to them (lucky for me I have a Barry White-like voice), stay far enough away until you know you can help them without compromising your own safety and, when in position, shock them out of their panicked state. As one approaches, tell them to calm down. Abled-bodied divers will then swim under the diver out of the panicked grasp and surface behind them to take control. In my case, I needed to swim around them. Once I had their tank, I could briefly pull down to dunk their head under water which gave Larry a quick shock (29 seconds). Think of this as a slap in the face when you want someone to get their wits about them without causing harm. See here. It works.
  • Panicky Diver Underwater – This was a fun exercise. Again, a panicked diver will do what it takes to save themselves. This means ripping your mask off, wrestling with you and ultimately taking your regulator. Larry, without warning, pushed up his own mask (a common reaction when someone is scared) gave me the out-of-air sign and darted at me before I could give him my Octo. We tussled on the platform until I could get my Octo in his mouth, calm him down, and safely ascend with our right arms locked together (go to 1:55 in the video, two Dive Masters thought we were actually fighting and came to help!). There wasn’t much adaptation I needed to do here other than staying calm and making sure I am safe, then helping the distressed diver (biggest rule to remember which took me a moment to adhere to: save yourself first. If you aren’t safe, how can you save them?). As we ascended together, it satisfied the Octopus Sharing (stationary & ascent to surface, 30 feet) drill. (See here a clear example)
  • Rescue Unconscious Diver Underwater – This task requires the RD to assess the situation, act and ascend. In this case, Larry laid face down on the platform. I approached, tapped him on the back (you never know if someone is inspecting a coral or something small), noticed he wasn’t responding and turned him over. The next step was getting him safely (read: not just inflating his BCD and watching him rocket up) to the surface. I released his weights, shot two puffs of air into his BCD via his inflator and maneuvered his body into a headlock position. By having one arm under his chin I naturally opened his windpipe allowing air to push out of his lung as we ascend (without this he could get a ruptured lung). This also frees up my other arm to stroke upward. As you stroke upward, the air in his BCD increases making it easier to push. (Note, it’s easier to deal with venting one BCD, so if you can, remove the air from your BCD and use the rescued BCD to ascend). (2:44 in video)
  • Remove & Replace Weights Underwater – This one sucked for no other reason than: I didn’t know my needs and my equipment’s capabilities. First, I removed my weight and drop them on the platform. As you would assume, I started ascending (after all, weight is the reason you stay down). Without legs to kick, retrieving the weight was difficult (Difficult. NOT impossible. See minute 1:17). I then began to replace the integrated weight into the pocket. I tried sideways. Standing. On my back. Everyway. The problem: the weights need to lock into fastex clips inside the pockets. Long story short, this is not the BCD for someone with limited finger functionality as it is difficult to clip in inside of the weight pocket. Instead, I am purchasing a BCD that has easier integration systems (read: either external Fastex clips or Velcro). Either way, it worked. I just prefer it to be easier. To repeat, this is not a factor of if someone can do it, but rather what is the right equipment they need.
  • Remove & Replace Mask (switching equipment with buddy) & Remove & Replace Mask (swimming 10 yards w/o mask) – In this drill I had to remove my mask, drop it, swim, find it and replace it. The second task involved Larry giving me his mask (and he taking mine) and then clearing the mask of all the water. Nothing really different here as it pertains to HSA. With my limited finger functionality I use the palms of both hands to tip the mask while I exhale through my nose. If there is only a little water, I place my palm on the top of the mask and exhale (note: get a low volume mask. Makes clearing a hell of a lot easier) (43 seconds)
  • Remove & Replace BCD This one scared me. Larry motioned for me to doff all gear which included my weights. This means a very fast ascent to the surface (at 30 ft below).  It helped that Larry made me practice this three times on the surface as I now knew all the clips and the process in which they should be fastened (I was somewhat annoyed that he made me do it 3 times on the surface. It was during this that I knew why he made me). You’ll see (3:37) that I was in such a zone/concentration that I didn’t even see or feel Larry trying to help me. Had I “listened” to Larry I would have realized that flipping on my back to don my gear would have made life a lot easier. This exercise is important. Imagine you find yourself stuck in a wreck or somewhere tight, need to get through a doorway and don your equipment when you pass through. Again, nothing here different.  
  • Emergency Swimming Ascent – The last exercise was a fast ascent in case of emergency. The process is to dump your weights and sprint to the surface. However, as you ascend, let out a huge scream. This prevents you from holding your breath and getting lung expansion (a higher percentage of diving accidents stem from ruptured lungs than Decompression Sickness – aka The Bends). Again, nothing different for an HSAer here. Just the ability to dump weights and swim.(5:16)

Don’t take this entry as permission for anyone and everyone to get their Rescue Diver. It is not easy. The take away is that we should encourage everyone to be as safe as possible, learn as much as they can about SCUBA and above all, give them a chance.

(for more, read the post on 1st aid, CPR and AED to round out Rescue Diving mandatory requirements)

Shark Diving in Palm Beach, FL

May 9, 2013 in Drift Diving, Florida, Shark, Top4

Palm Beach, FL

Time of Year:
May 2013

80 Above Water, 75 Below Water

15 feet to 90 feet

The Dives:
After meeting Jim Abernethy of Scuba Adventures at Beneath the Sea and having great communication with Melissa (office), I decided to use them for my first Shark Diving trip. As it turns out, their live-a-board (M/V Shear Water) was in Palm Beach for the week instead of being out to see on its regular Bahamas excursion. Here are some highlights of the trip:


Octopus – Blue Heron Bridge

Before I flew down, the weather forecast was bleak, to say the l least. I arrived to torrential downpours which made the drive from the airport interesting. After dropping my clothes off at the Hilton Singer Island I went to the shop and then down to our first dive site: the Blue Heron Bridge (which hit slack tide at 2:55pm.) At 2:25pm, Conor (one of the dive guides) and a friend of his carried me from the stone path down to the edge of the water (aprox. 30 feet) where I geared up. Around 2:50pm we tried to descend our way the dive area only to surface quickly due to my underweighting (note to self: when asking for weight, consider tank size and depth since Aluminum 80’s are considerably lighter than Steel 100’s, let alone in shallow water). Once I added 4lbs, down we went. The Blue Heron Bridge, always featured as a top ranking US dive site, is micro- diving at its best. I will admit, it took me about 20 minutes to get accustomed to seeking out tiny animals. But once you get attuned to what you’re looking for, it’s amazing. Jim found an octopus which he carefully coaxed out of its hole and onto my hand. There were other breathtaking creatures, but my knowledge about them is limited, so check out the images below from Jim. 1:25 minutes under, we surfaced to more rain. Luckily, we were already wet.

Dive One:
“3-miles Off Jupiter”. 91’

Tiger Shark – Palm Beach 2013

We hopped on the Shear Water (JASA’s live-a-board) around 9am and headed to sea. Since it wasn’t a planned trip, we only had 4 divers and 4 crew; more space than you can imagine! At 3 miles off shore they started to bait the water to attract sharks (here’s an odd fact: if you want to dive with sharks after baiting the water, you need to be 3 miles off the coast. If you want to kill a shark, you can throw bait in the water anywhere. Please explain that logic). The dive was ok; good current, interesting critters (no sharks), and a good start to get into the swing of deep diving (90’). However, at our safety stop, a 10’+ Tiger Shark came for a visit. WOW!  I’m pretty sure you could hear my “holy sh*t” yell miles away. It was so stealth, majestic and curious. The answer before the questions: No, we were not in a cage. No, they are not dangerous if you act accordingly as they are more scared of us. It stuck around long enough for us to get pictures and end our safety stop. Getting on boat was easy as the Shear Water has a platform in the water: remove gear and swim onto the platform.

Dive 2:
Shark Canyon: 75’
The decent here was funny: I crashed down onto the floor as I didn’t calculate my speed with the Steel 100 tank. Not only did I slam onto the sand (luckily no reef!), but the heavy tank turtled me for a few seconds until I got my bearing. We then swam to amphitheater (or should I say …achem… amphibioustheater?… damn my jokes suck) found a nice seat where I pushed my legs under a naturally ledged reef (see picture on left) to watch the shark feeding (repeat: I held sand, not reef!). Before the shark show started, Jim found a Green turtle which he steered towards me and  “flew” 2 feet above my head. These turtles are amazingly calm and serene. You really feel like you’re back in prehistoric ages. Then the Reef Sharks started to swarm. 8 in total. Fast. Within inches. Very curious. A few times I put my hand up so as not to get hit. 10 minutes into the show, my divemaster Jason pulled out from under the reef. Unbeknownst to me, there was a 4’ Moray Eel who was not happy I was on his turf. Had it not been for Jason, I would have a huge bit out of my leg and more attraction for the sharks.

During this dive, Jim moved my ankle weights from my ankles to my BC in an attempt to get me more horizontal (didn’t work). As we ascended and hit the safety stop at 15’, I forgot that he moved them only to be hastily reminded as my legs popped up to the surface fast. Luckily (again, thanks to Jason) he grabs my chest strap and pulled me down. Lesson here: I need to be cognizant of feet-first ascents that has been an issue once before.

Dive One:
No Site Name: 90’
Day three wasn’t too adventurous given there was little to see here and only 40’ visibility due to the storm two days before. However, Jim let me try out one of his OTS Full Facemasks. All I can say is “Holy cow”. The diving experience is completely different with it on. I’ll write more in detail later, but the few benefits to mention: no fog, super simple one-handed clearing (although I figured out if you open your jaw a bit the nose plug makes it possible to clear), clearer vision and underwater communication! For someone without the added propulsion of their legs while clearing, this is a dream. Plus, I’m also a nose-exhaler (subconsciously), so my mask always has water in it. OTS’s purge below removes water with every breath.

Dive Two:
Deep Sea Drift: 600’ (stayed at 20’)
Due to the bad visibility on the first dive, we chose to do an open water drift dive and hoped that some sharks would smell the bait. Sadly, we only saw one curious remora and some dolphins (although they were very far away).

All in all a great trip. Thanks again to Jim Abernethy, Jay, Jason, George, Joe, Melissa and the full crew at Jim Abernethy Scuba Adventures.

Hilton Singer Island – 3700 N Ocean Dr, Riviera Beach, FL 33404

Surrounding description:
Palm Beach, and Singer Island, in general is fairly touristy and cliche. West Palm Beach is only minutes away though.

Dive shop:
Jim Abernethys Scuba Adventures – 216 Federal Hwy, Lake Park, FL 33403

Boat Description:
Shear Water: Two-tiered transom. Lower transom in the water. Dock very wide without steps.
Deep Obsession: Walk-through to a transom that is roughly 1 foot off the water with a ladder. Same dock.

Shore Diving:
Blue Heron Bridge .

Good For:
Photographers, Advanced and Nitrox due to the drift and the depth times.

Video of Blue Heron Bridge dive. Click arrows on bottom right to make bigger.

Beneath The Sea recap

March 26, 2013 in Florida, Gear, Long Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Scuba Diving, Training

What better way to spend a non-diving Sunday than with a bunch of SCUBA obsessed folks? As such, I visited Beneath The Sea this weekend, the largest consumer dive expo held at the Meadowlands Convention Center in New Jersey. The interesting thing about the expo, beyond the convenience of the setup, was how people spoke openly to me. Conversation in person allowed them to visually assess my capabilities and give honest feedback versus a phone, where they may conjure up Christopher Reeve-like imagery. Regardless of why, I am happy to say how excited (and honest) everyone was to have an HSA diver (or they realized how much of an influential powerhouse I am with this blog?). Here is my take on dive shops, locations and some products.

First, some organizations:

The first group I met was Diveheart. Diveheart is an organization that gives the disabled the chance to dive. Jim Elliott, the founder and CEO, and I chatted at length about their mission, vision et al. His passion came through as an obviously motivated and accomplished believer in his organization, especially after hearing the plans they have in store (unsure if I can say certain things. Let’s just say they’re “deeply” cool). One of the topics was DWOF’s and how to create a map of dive shops and their offerings for HSAers. For those not satisfied with (their lack of trips, reviews, website and inactivity in general), check out Diveheart. (Ill be writing more about them soon)

My next stop was Pristine Azul, the NJ Dive Club. Dennis, the founder, was there to chat about the organization. He mentioned getting his HSA Instructor Certification and was excited at the opportunity to dive together off the John Jack (so much so that he called the Captain on the spot), one of the better east coast boats. He also talked about (and had done) diving in the Baltimore Aquarium. How cool is that? Anyway, look for my posts about diving the John Jack in July.

Up next was the Operation Blue Pride booth. OBP was started to help the ailing shark population, but became much more: helping disabled vets. They stopped me to say hi (per-chance I was a vet seeing as I fit the bill – short hair and wheelchair!). Once I told them I was a “normal cripple and not a “hero”, a small part of me felt like I let them down. Anyway, Jim Abernethy of Scuba Adventures (who is a dive shop/live-a-board owner/photog/OBP founder), was at the booth so we started chatting about my trip coming up to West Palm Beach. Long story short (well, apparently still long), I’ll be diving with them (their boat Deep Obsession), including a trip to the Blue Heron Bridge in May. I am a bit conflicted going to WPB and not diving with Jupiter Dive Center. However, my goal is to review dive shops. Patronizing the same ones will make for a boring blog! As I left, Jim quickly ran after me to give me Sharks Up Close, a book he authored (which he inscribed for me. Very kind gesture).

Last but not least in this row was HSANJ – Handicapped Scuba Association of New Jersey.  I was expecting some lively conversation here as Stew seems to be the HSA authority in NJ, but it was quite the opposite. So, I will refrain from any commentary and would love to hear from y’all about your experiences with Stew.

As to dive shops and locations (other than the aforementioned Scuba Adventures and Blue Heron Bridge), here are some quick notes:

Sunset House – Grand Cayman – We all know Grand Cayman is the (or one of the) best dive locations. Sunset House has gotten some good reviews (although this may be me projecting after having seen them in every Scuba Mag). Turns out they have had HSAers there before and are prepared. They have one handicapped room which is very close to dock and the house reef. However, I was told that the bar and snack area and accessible, but, what she referred to as “where you get breakfast” is not (only a few steps). Now, I personally don’t mind getting help, but it could get annoying.

Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas – Bahamas – I had heard about Dive Bahamas’ Tiger and Lemon Shark dives as something not to be missed, so I stopped by the booth. Sadly the woman there wasn’t as familiar with the details of the operation and referred me to Pamela Christmas, the GM. What this woman did say, however, is that the main diving facility has had HSAers. The Tiger and Lemon Shark Dive (which leaves from a new facility I gather) has not and probably wouldn’t work given a very small boat.

Hotel Cozumel – Mexico – These guys seemed like a top resort and have said they have had HSAers there. Upon further inspection, I realized I only talked with the hotel staff, not the diving staff. With that said, here are some pics of the Handicapped rooms.  The impressive part is the fleet they have, so I am sure there will be an accessible boat in the mix. Check out their diver packages.

Mango Inn – Utila, Honduras – The rep for Mango Inn was very frank: they did not build the hotel with accessibility in mind, however when patrons in chairs stay there, they place down a ramp. They have never had HSAers, but he doesn’t see why he can’t make it work as the boats are platform boats. He also mentioned that it’s a divers hotel; nothing fancy shmancy, just diving. But that’s just fine by me. With that said, it did not seem like a perfect HSA dive spot.

Saba –  Me: “hey, anyone in a chair ever dive with you guys?” Him: slow point to an aerial image of the island: “The island is an airplane runway with a mountain.”  Me: “Got it. Thanks”.

Sea Turtle Charters – Montauk, NY – I talked with Charlie, the captain, who runs the STC boat. While answering questions about his operation, it was clear that he was assessing me and the situation. STC is a 10 hour voyage to cage-dive off the end of Long Island. They affix the cage to the end of the boat, you lower yourself inside, donning only a mask and wetsuit (the tank is affixed inside the cage) and then they chum the water. Each diver gets to go 2-5 times during the day. At the end of the conversation they said they would take HSAer.

Diving Planet – Cartagena, Colombia – This one surprised me. I never considered Cartagena as a dive destination given many factors (political unrest, safety, accessibility, and good diving??). During a 10 minute conversation, Andres Obregon, the  founder of Diving Planet, told me all about a group of vets in chairs that dove there. He said that the country itself isn’t too accessible and the bathroom of the room they have for chairs isn’t accessible. “But everything else is accessible” (take that how you will). I do think this program will help in any way they can, so I would trust him. I just don’t know much about Colombia diving. Anyone have any tales?

I didn’t dive into all the new products, seeing as I knew I would buy them all. However, there were two that I found interesting.

Wetwear - I have written about them before but finally got to see it in action. These highly customizable suites are made of  Nitrogen Compressed Neoprene, which does not compress the way other suites do at depth. As such, they advised me on getting a 5mm instead of a 7mm for Northeast diving. My though is a combination: 7mm bottom (for my legs and up to the belly as the lack of movement means more prone to cold) and a 5mm jacket. I will probably throw in the wet seals to make it a semi-dry. They have done a lot of wetsuits for HSAers, so they knew what we need (higher/longer zippers, etc).  I would check these guys out if you’re in the market. Also read here for more on wetsuits.

Octomask – Great idea here: a mask that has the GoPro clip integrated into the top of the mask. Need I say more? Brilliant. $80.

Stay tuned for my rescue diving certification training this month as well as review of Scuba Adventures when I return from West Palm Beach.

Perspectives from a HSA Buddy Diver

February 18, 2013 in Certification, Scuba Diving, Top4, Training

DWOFs is a collection of HSA SCUBA experiences from different people. I’m excited to post this, written by my wife, about becoming an HSA buddy.Maggie and Torsten, Curacao 2012

I was lucky enough to go to college where they offered a SCUBA class for credits, so I had a good amount of experience before met I Torsten, but had not done a lot since moving to the Northeast. Once Torsten started diving, it just made sense for me to get my HSA Buddy Certification. Even though I have a very personal reason to want to be able to dive with a person in a wheelchair, I can honestly tell you that the HSA training has made me a better and more confident diver too.

An HSA Buddy Diver Certification is the same as an assistant instructor certification, except that you concentrate more on the recreation vs the instruction. This means if you already have your Open Water or Advanced certification, getting your HSA Buddy is no big deal at all. HSA Buddy Certification gives you a chance to become a Rescue Diver, get back in the pool with an instructor and practice skills you mastered during your SCUBA class the first time (like navigation, mask swaps, etc.)

However, there are a few things that are new and different:

  1. Of course, you learn to be a buddy for a disabled diver. At its simplest, HSA makes you aware of a disabled buddy’s needs (like you would any other buddy); at its most complex (depending on the severity of their disability), you may essentially be “carrying” someone underwater throughout the dive – including inflating and deflating their BCD as needed, helping them clear their ears and/or mask, and learning how to help is difficult situations.
  2. You learn what it is like to be a disabled diver. I know this might seem a bit presumptuous, but you practice having someone else carry you underwater for an entire dive. You also practice closing your eyes to imagine the experience as a blind diver. It feels uncomfortable to put so much trust into someone else, giving you a lot of perspective for your responsibilities and the way it may feel for your disabled buddy.
  3. Learning to trust on a different level. I feel that the biggest thing you need to know to be a good buddy to a disabled diver is to trust that your buddy will ask for help if they need it. This is easier for me since my husband is disabled and I have no problem watching him do something on his own that might take me less time to do for him. That is hard for a lot of people as we instinctively want to help when we see people who are disabled, but the best thing you can do for your buddy is ask him or her how you can help and only help when asked (the caveat being training a brand new HSA diver of course).

In my experience, HSA certified divers are knowledgeable about diving and definitely know what they need and how they like to dive. Most of the time they will tell you their needs, and it’s up to you both to create the dive plan that takes everyone’s needs into account. With that said, never be scared to ask you buddy how they do different things. You will both count on each other. Waiting until you’re 60’ below to figure out different hand signals is too late.

The most complicated part of getting an HSA buddy diver certification is really just setting aside the time to dive (one weekend pool and one dive day for the test). For those of you like my husband (live and breathe and dream about diving), this is a fantastic excuse to give your friends and family for why you “have to” dive. And let’s be honest, no one is going to tell you NOT to try to help the disabled! Everything else is easy and really fun.

The best part of having an HSA buddy diver certification for me is that Torsten and I get to dive together everywhere we go. But another major perk is that I am now qualified to take any disabled diver down. This means we can volunteer to help adults and even kids who are wheelchair bound (or blind) learn to dive. This is our future goal. I’ll write again once we do it and let you know how it goes. Until then, ask at your local dive shop about the HSA buddy diver certification. Seriously, it is one of the best things you can do.

Criteria for Evaluating Dive Shops

December 29, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Scuba Diving

Our last trip to Curacao was amazing on a lot of levels – celebration of our marriage, great diving, hit my diving stride and learned new techniques. Now that I have had some time to reflect on the trip, as well as think about my conversation with Nick Jenny at PADI regarding HSA diving (how PADI labels/screens their dive locations) it’s time to put my thoughts down. This is my first take, so I would love feedback from anyone.

To recap: there are no standards or guidelines that qualify a dive shop as HSA capable or not. However, for those who are new to this site, I want to reiterate that although DWOF is HSA diving specific, my intentions always go above and beyond people in wheelchairs. The following suggestions are for people who may not be as dexterous (because of aging or disability), capable (because of diving level) or physical ability (for many reasons). (In a Utopian world) I see this as being a part of the review system, something I am trying to adopt here on Diving Without Fins.

So why is these standards necessary?

  • Allow divers to self-select the right dive shop for there ability (“ability” is not about wheelchair or not. Ability is about understanding comfort level in a given situation).
  • There are no standards for HSA capabilities, or reviews, for dive shops.
  • As populations get older and medicine allows for extended and better lives, needs of the divers will change.

Since PADI’s dive shops self-select their capabilities and offerings when listing themselves on locator, it is important to make it very simple. As such, there are a few important categories that have the most bearing on an HSA diver: boat, shore, staff and shop. Here are some thoughts on the standards PADI should collect:


To the boat

What is the width of ramp to dock/boat?
o Less than 26”
o 26”-36”
o More than 36”

Are there steps to get to the boat?
o Ramp
o None
o 1-3 steps
o more than 3

What are the models of the boats?

Entry and Exit into water

How do divers enter/exit the water?
o Walkthrough dive platform
o Step-over side to dive platform
o roll-over side

How high above sealevel is the platform to enter the water?
o Less than 1 ft
o 1-3 ft
o Over 3 feet
o No dive platform

Boat Interior
How much surface space is there on the boat?
o Side-seats only
o More than side-seats

Is there a bathroom onboard?
o Wheelchair accessible
o Not accessible

Is there A/C onboard?
o Yes
o No
Shore Diving
Is there shore diving:
o Yes
o No

What type of terrain is the shore?
o Beach
o Cliff
o Rocks
o Dock/Platform

What type of Entry/Exit conditions are they?
o Waves
o Tide
o Current
o Calm water

Is there safe storage near the dive site?
o Yes
o No

Are there steps to the water?
o None
o 1-5 steps
o more than 5
Staff and Dive shop

Are there steps to get into the dive shop
o None
o 1-3 steps
o more than 3

Are there steps to get to the bathroom in the Dive Shop?
o No steps
o 1-3 steps
o more than 3


Does one or more of the Dive Staff have an HSA certification?
o Yes
o No

Do you have any affiliation to HSA dive buddies?
o Yes
o No

It bears repeating that this is not to put dive shops into specific classifications and symbolically punish them. These criteria, like ski slope ratings for skiing, are to help divers self-select what is best for them.

I would love any and all feedback. So please drop me a note at torstenfgross at gmail if you have thoughts on how to improve this.

SCUBAmoon in Curacao, Netherland Antilles

November 3, 2012 in Curacao, Scuba Diving

Click arrows to enlarge

Curacao, Netherland Antilles
Stella Maris, Mushroom Forest, Daai Booi Bay, Beacon Point, Kathy’s Paradise, Divers Leap, Eel Canyon and Tugboat

Time of Year:
October 2012

90 Above Water, 83 Below Water

Between 15’-66’

The Dive:
Ocean Encounters, Lions Dive, CuracaoMaggie and I chose to do our honeymoon as a SCUBAmoon. We chose Curacao because we read it was the cultural hub of the Lesser Antilles (Aruba being the touristy hole, Bonaire diving only, and Curacao completing the C of the ABC Islands). A few months before we visited, I exchanged emails with Leoni from Ocean Encounters, the biggest dive shop (has 6 locations) on the island. Lions Dive and Beach Resort, one of the hotels where Ocean Encounters has a shop and was 3 minutes by car from Avila (our hotel), was where we dove. The dive shop was a bit confused at the beginning (which days we were diving and that we wanted Nitrox all days), but once things got rolling, all was good. After we got our gear (amazingly they have gauges as psi or bar for their European and US clientele) and set everything up, we had to go on a Welcome Dive. The welcome dive is required so you’re familiar with your gear (if you rent), the water and your buoyancy (I’m grateful for this. More shortly). It’s good to know that everyone is super nice but will not help unless asked. They even said “you tell us what you need. We like to give people their independence.” Personally, I think that’s awesome. And when asked, they are super helpful.

Day 1 (Dive 1)
Welcome Dive:
The Welcome Dive is off their beach with a 5 minute swim through the cove and onto Stella Maris Reef. We chose to dive off one of their docked boats because it was an easier entry than trekking through sand. It made for a longer (16 minute) swim (vs 5 minutes), but so is life. The water was super warm (83 degrees at depth) and clear, so I never used a wet suit.  Once you get out to the breakwater there is an immediate wall (15′ down to who knows). I had never dived a wall, so if I’m honest, it made me nervous. Never the less, onward and downward. I packed 12lbs in my BC (plus 2x1lbs weights on my ankles) thinking it would be enough. Well, after we passed the break wall, I tried to descend. Because I was under weighted, I had to “pull” myself down (not stellar). 3 attempts later I broke the surface and we descended to 15′. There was OK animal life, good coral and no current (again, since this was a WD we didn’t expect amazing things). After a few minutes we came to the wall. Now, descending is fun if you see the bottom. It’s even fun if you don’t see the bottom but know the depth. Seeing the reef floor to your right, and a 75% grade drop off to your left which turns deep blue is “exciting” (read: it brings reality in focus quickly). We continued to descend to 60′. As this was a test dive (Maggie and I had never dived together without a guide or some, even if just mental, safety person), I gave the surface signal. We slowly ascended to 20′ where I became uneasy. I knew I was under weighted and was concerned I couldn’t do my safety stop (a 3-5 minute stop which allows you to release excess nitrogen). Although we were in a no decompression limit, and 34% Nitrox, AND weren’t down that long, I still treated this dive as practice and with respect (after all, decompression sickness is still a scientific “art form”). Low and behold, I started rising fast. Maggie grabbed my inflator hose and, by accident, hit inflate shooting me up quicker. Mistakes happen and we learn. That’s why we do these tests, I mean, Welcome Dives. We were fine, and swam back to Ocean Encounters. Maggie unclipped my BC and handed it up onto the boat, followed by Jeremiah and Willem lifting me onto the transom then my chair (remember, normally people exit the beach. I’m glad we used the boat as it was lower to the water and practice for the next days dive).

Needless to say I wasn’t happy with my performance, mainly because I didn’t stop to say I needed more weight. Every dive book I read (and to Maggie’s chagrin there are allot) the authors talk about the need to know when to call off a dive. It will challenge your ego, manliness and pride, but if you’re dead, you can’t feel those anymore. I’m not saying I needed to call this dive off. Far from it. I just have to keep that in mind that my uneasiness was a sign.

Day 2 (Dives 2 and 3)
Our first boat dive was to Mushroom Forest and Daai Booi Bay. Because of the location, get ready for a long day. The rideDive Profile Curacao to Mushroom Forest is about 1+ hour, not counting 2 stops to get more divers. Our first dive is at 10:21 (left at 8:30am) into the famed Mushroom Forest after a very thorough briefing (I love their attention to detail: they even made me test/sign every Nitrox tank, something no other shops have done). MF has coral that was eaten away from the bottom up for some time, making the coral look like mushrooms (more like Christmas trees is you ask me). Opposed to the other dive sites, MF drops to 45’ and stays steady. I wouldn’t say Maggie and I were blown away by this location. For our surface interval the boat took us to the Blue Cave, a place you could snorkel into. I didn’t go, but Maggie said it was good, but not mind-blowing. The second dive was to Daai Booi Bay. Like almost all dives in Curacao (due to Curacao’s topography), it starts with a 15’ plateau and then plummets on a wall. We saw some great fish, lots of Eel and some Barracuda. Ingrid, our guide, was awesome to point them all out. We were put in a group of great divers who liked to take pictures (see Charlotte Farrs amazing photos below). This is key for HSAers; photogs like to dive slowly! I must say, this trip didn’t blow us away with respect to the extra cost. The boat was great (a Pro 48 with a high transom) without many divers (around 18 total). But for the same time and cost, do a 2-tank morning and 1 –tank afternoon trip.

Day 3 and 4 (Dives 4-8)
For day 3 (aka my Birthday Dives!!) we did a 2-tank which lasted from 8:30-1. We took the same boat but had two new dive-masters, Nora and Pol. The dive sites (Beacon Point, Kathy’s Paradise) were very similar, but never-the-less extraordinary.  The dives were plateau, wall, to plateau. What is nice is that your safety stop is not just 15’-20’ of floating, but you can off gas while you continue exploring. Beacon Point and Kathy’s Paradise had a current, letting me cruise most of the trip. At the end, Maggie and Nora helped tow me back. The walls, on all the reefs are spectacular, especially for HSAers. As I/we dive at an upright angle (although I think I found a solve for that!) walls allow me to get very close to the reef vertically. Among the fish: trumpet fish, blow fish, 4 awesome squid, sea snakes, eel, scorpion and lion fish among others. The coral, with amazing colors, consisted of birds nests, fans, brain and even rare Elk Horn coral. At the end of the dive, Pol, our divemaster offered another way out of the water: on his back! I unclipped my gear, held onto his shoulders (piggy-back style) and he walked up. Now, picture me: 6’5”, he, 5’8”. He held onto the rails as he walked and I held onto him. Once on board, he turned and I sat in my chair. If I had my option, I would do this every time (and we did for the rest of the trip. Yes, he got a nice tip).

On the last day (Day 4) we dove Divers Leap, Eel Canyon (2-tank AM dives) and Tugboat (1-tank PM dive). This trip we Ferry Marrtook the boat Curacao Star; smaller boat with an easier ladder to walk me up. Divers Leap and Eel Canyon were very similar (and spectacular) as the others, with the last dive being tugboat. We actually didn’t see the tugboat because it’s boring. Instead we dove under a 600 foot long ferry (in the same location) and its pilings. The water turned scary blue and dark because of the boats enormous hulls. Going through pilings, without using my arms (remember, a 6’5” arm span means I hit the barnacles) was tough. It was a precise exercise in controlled breathing instead of arms to ascend and descend and use small whips of the hand. Crazy and amazing experience.

Overall, we were lucky. October is the start of rainy season, meaning it rains at night (performing a stellar lightning show) and nice (80-90 degrees) during the day. We also had NO waves, something uncommon for Curacao during this time. One day it rained, but not until we were underwater (well, it’s already wet! ). Maggie and I learned to communicate better (what better for a honeymoon), I celebrated my birthday underwater, I hit my comfort zone because I was weighted correctly (although I could have dropped 2lbs) and I found my dump valve (what a difference. Be ready to inflate, but it makes a world of difference. Especially on ascent when it is crucial to level off. I’ll write more on that later). You will love Curacao Diving Without Fins!

(Thanks to Charlotte Farr for the pictures)

Avila - Avila, has its own beaches. If you stay in the Belle Alliance suites (room 176), you get you own beach and cove. This hotel has no diving, but is a 3 minute drive from OE.
Lions Dive & Beach Resort - We didn’t stay here, so it’s hard to review rooms. The beach is great with lots of private lounging, right next to the dive shop.

Surrounding description:
Get a car. We were told by many locals that it’s not THAT safe to wander. We were also told not to beach dive because my wheelchair could have gotten stolen.
Governors – A must-go for the banana soup. Make reservations to sit on the balcony. 3 sets of steep steps with ramps.
Pampus – Amazing, on water dining. Possibly one of the best meals we’ve had. No steps to get in.
Iguanas – Nice views of the harbor, but is cruise ship central when boat is docked.
Albert Heijin – Go to this grocery store day 1 to stock-up. All others are sketchy.

Dive shop:
Ocean Encounters - A+ for these folks.

Boat Description:
Princess – Pro 48 with a super high transom. 3’ step up onto side of boat, 3’ step down into boat.
Curacao – Smaller boat with lower transom. Ask to use this boat.

Shore Diving:
Yes. The island is known for shore diving. If you’re HSA I would think twice. They can be difficult to get to and I would be worried someone stealing my wheelchair.

Good For:
All. The profiles go from plateaus to walls.

Faith Restored In PADI Accessibility Award

October 13, 2012 in Certification, Scuba Diving, Training

My post on September 13th titled PADI Accessibility Award isn’t so Accessible covered an experience with PADI and my concern that, what they deemed accessible (let alone award worthy), was anything but. I had emailed Drew Richardson, their CEO about this and I am happy to say that PADI contacted me to discuss my concerns. Here are some of the highlights from the letter Nick Jenny (Executive PADI Retail and Resort Association) wrote, followed by a conference call I had with them. First, from his email:

  • PADI created the Accessibility Award designation over 10 years ago at the request of members who were actively engaged in providing adaptive scuba services and wanted to let potential customers know they embraced divers with physical challenges and foster an attitude of inclusion.
  • PADI Members apply for the Accessibility Award based on specific requirements and standards, as you can see in the attached application. (Click here to see application)
  • I regret that the PADI associate you spoke with led you to believe there were no criteria for the award. PADI takes pride in its level of service, and we take it quite seriously.  Based on your comments, we followed up immediately to avoid further such interactions.
  • At this point, PADI has not developed a system to tie interested divers with the PADI Members that have gained the award.  However, your idea to post these standards on is excellent and one on which we will definitely consider. It would certainly help divers with special needs identify what they should experience when booking with a PADI member who has received the award.

First let me say that I am happy to hear that there are standards. You have to start somewhere, and that makes me happy. Now, I will point out that the application thus far is still left in the hands of the operator in a subjective and assumptive manner. For example:

Confined water sites should be accessible by persons with limited mobility:

  • Students can negotiate a wheelchair to the waters edge.
  • Entries/exits accommodate student needs.

Bullet one – “negotiate to the water’s edge”. This makes sense to me, but is vague. Some folks in chairs can’t go on sand, something “pedestrians” forget. Thus, some “check-out” beach dives may be difficult. Bullet two allows for more vagaries in the definition of “accommodate needs”. I would propose that this is not even a wheelchair observation. There are so many factors that apply to anyone/everyone regarding entries/exits that this should be qualified a bit more (i.e. how high is the transom? Is it a walk-thru? Heck, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with knowing what is a reasonable accommodation for a blind diver. And having read a lot of dive reviews, I can tell you people want to know.)

Late September I had a great phone conversation with Nick and another person from PADI (I believe Julie Taylor Sanders). Super nice people and fully understood why I wrote my letter. They were even thankful as they had, admittedly  “Lets the accessibility award slip”.  They told me they have put together a committee and promised to address these awards, but warned “in reality, it takes time to turn around an organization of this size”. I totally get that. Starting somewhere is all I can ask.

What we discussed was how to add HSA thinking to PADI without making it impossible to execute. Among the topics: creating better functionality on the website which shows what the dive operator has to offer, their equipment and readiness for an HSA or otherwise limited person (read: Dive Masters who have the appropriate experience) and a way to connect PADI members and their services’ with the community at large. Great thoughts and the right start. In addition to them working on it, I will also be contributing to the Accessibility Award through Nick with my experiences and what I think is needed (good thing we’re going diving next week to Curacao!).

I think it’s important to reiterate that I have not always been in a wheelchair and thus would never expect “pedestrians” to know the in’s and out’s of what is needed for HSA (other than my wife, who is an honorary cripple… meant in the most loving way!). So it is worth repeating that these criteria will NEVER be perfect (even with a 4-wheeler’s guidance). These standards will be GUIDES for everyone to make their own decisions as we all need to be held accountable for our own well-being (above and below water). That is why I applaud you PADI. You’re making strides to get to a great place is in and of itself admirable of any company.

PADI Accessibility Award isn’t so accessible

September 13, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Scuba Diving

(This post  is about the PADI Accessibility Award. However, I would urge everyone (read: pedestrians) to be cognizant of this too. My concern is how PADI deals with their certifications and business as a whole.)

Last week I stumbled across the prestigious “PADI Accessibility Award”, something that caught my eye as I was searching (achem) for my next trip. I did a google search and only came up with two dive operations who tout this award, which led me to calling PADI to get a list of the operators they deemed worthy. After getting passed around from department to department, by folks who had never heard of the PADI AA, I got the answer: we don’t keep a list.

Huh, that’s odd. PADI hands out an award like this and no list? I kept digging to find out more. What I found out concerned me enough to write to Drew Richardson, the CEO (or President and COO, depending on what site you read). Here is some of my email (paraphrased and edited for this post) that I wrote to Drew. Still no response as of today.

The PADI Accessibility Award is an accolade which PADI gives to dive operators who (from a consumer perspective) have proven exemplary in disability diving. I found out this is far from the truth. When asked who deems these operations worthy of this “prestigious” award, it was explained to me that the dive operation only needed to fill out a form and get the award back. This concerned me.

It was then explained to me, by one of the head training specialists, that “We are not the HSA. We don’t PADI Logohave set criteria for someone to get that award”. My rebuttal was “then why give out the award?” When I see the PADI logo, I give the dive operation more merit than without. As a disabled diver, I would assume that there are criteria of excellence that need to be reached. The reply was “we are not a governing body and don’t deal with the disabled in that way”. Again, then why give out the award under false pretenses? I know [Drew] feels the same having said publically “The PADI organization provides professional scuba diving members with support, credibility and professional skills. It maintains high standards of integrity and ethics among PADI Members and provides professional level continuing education to keep them current.”

I brought this to Drew’s attention for a reason. If I show up at one of these operations, and it is not up to a certain standard, I will (unfortunately for them) hold PADI accountable because they blessed it, to which the training specialist replied “we can’t govern every dive shop. We wouldn’t go sue everyone who uses our brand. That’s impossible”. As someone who’s business it is to lead brand strategy for some of the biggest brands in the world (that part not for braggadocio, but validation that this is not empty commentary), I can tell you that my clients’ CEO’s would be alarmed. This isn’t about lawsuits across the board. This is about a stronger hold on the PADI brand, because now I question the brand on which the award is based. (and when I asked for the CEO’s name to bring this to his attention, the training specialist wouldn’t give it to me).

With all this said, I believe an Accessibility Award IS necessary, possible and simple.

  • Necessary because one in FIFTY people in this country lives with a spinal injury. That number is massive. And with an aging population, not to mention adding in other disabilities like the Blind, the category is massive. The HSA, albeit a great start, has not provided divers with a repository of dive operator reviews (something Diving Without Fins is humbly attempting).
  • Possible because PADI has a stellar network. I have dived with some of them and I can say they (rather put: most) pass what I would deem as PADI AA. An example of an easy qualification is the boat. A Pro 48 has a higher transom than a 42′ Burpee. This lets the diver chose how easy/hard it is for them.
  • Simple because PADI is its own governing body. There are very simple qualifications that should be met. I am NOT suggesting ADA type qualifications (which even I believe are over the top). Just listing them on the PADI website so each individual can make their own decisions about how the qualifications work for their needs and abilities is enough.

With all this said, I would love to help PADI (or similar organization like NAUI or SSI), design such a review/criterion system. It would be informed by my experiences, other HSA divers, and input from instructors and DM’s s who have had HSA experiences (of all types). This gives greater structure, clarify what the PADI (or the like) Accessibility Award means, and would open them to a world of divers that can expand the PADI brand and consumer relationship forward.

This is not an angry post. This is a post of opportunity (you can’t see it, but I’m smiling at the great opportunity). People shutter when they think of making something accessible because the ADA has made it so hard to comply. But Universal Design (a new trend due to an aging population and modern medicine giving life to those who would not be alive (people like me!)), is design that is for disabled and non-disabled alike. So when we look at the needs of a growing group (and I’m talking a US populace majority, not minority), we should react, not recoil.

In conclusion: The point is to be transparent about what different dive shops offer. NOT punish them for what they have. In the coming days I will put together my thoughts on what criteria could be and post them here on DivingWithoutFins.  It will be an iterative process and I would love your comments  (as I am sure I will get things wrong – and look forward to that!). But we have to start somewhere so everyone can go Diving Without Fins.

Drift Diving with Narcosis in West Palm Beach, FL

September 3, 2012 in Drift Diving, Florida, Scuba Diving

West Palm Beach, FL

Time of Year:
August 2012

90 Above Water, 81 Below Water

45 feet / 60 feet

The Dive:
My post on Jupiter Dive Center reviewed my trip to some West Palm Beach area dive sites. Due uncontrollable circumstances (read: I screwed up), I was not able to dive with JDC again. This review involves the same dive site but with Narcosis Dive Charters, a different dive charter (out of a skip way far back in a marina in Riviera Beach).

I arrived at the marina at 9:15am, followed closely by Nelson, a super nice deck hand. I still had to confirm with Van, the captain whom I had left a message for that morning, whether they would take me out (or had anyone who could dive with me). After a few calls, and assuring Van I could dive, he said come aboard (although no one asked for my C card or my Nitrox card!). Opposed to the JDC trip where Steve and I had talked, at length, about my diving needs, this venture into the blue was 100% foreign (and trial by fire…. or wave?) for everyone. Note, this trip, as I mentioned in my last post, was to build confidence learning to dive without anyone knowing my specific skills (spoiler alert: after this dive, I’m super confident).

Ramp to the Narcosis

Ramp to the Narcosis

We boarded the boat at 930ish. After a long ramp to the dock, the crew had to lift me up three steps (4′), over the lip of the boat, and back down on the other side into the boat (3′). Glad they were strong guys. The boat was big, holding about 14 divers plus 5 crew on the boat with some room to spare. The divers had very different skill levels which meant we couldn’t hit anything too deep (everyone had been chattering about how amazing Zion was the day before, giving me a smile that I experienced the same wonder).

We left the slip around 10 am and hit our first destination at 1030. It was sunny, but I noticed the waves starting to build (on entry they reached 3′+). I was the first to get in the water since I would be diving with Chris  (Dive Master) and Mandi (who led with the dive ball). They lifted me onto the transom, I dropped in and immediately started our decent to Rons Rock. The current was supposed to be going North to follow the reef. However, as we lowered to 45′ it became evident that this was not a float-and-coast dive, seeing as the current went south (DOH!). Chris, my dive buddy, had to hold the top of my BC and pull me along as I (tried with all my might) swam. Suffice it to say it was probably less than he would have liked. Even Mandi, who held the dive ball so the boat could follow us, was exhausted at the end of the dive. Had the current been pushing north, this would have been an easy drift dive.

The reef was very flat at 45′, with a quick drop at the end. We saw a loggerhead turtle which was

West Palm Beach - Rons Rock - Narcisis Dive Charter

West Palm Beach – Rons Rock – Narcisis Dive Charter

magnificent. He slowly drifted around and it was clear he was curious as he would swim closer to inspect us (who can blame him. I’m incredibly attractive with a mask on). The visibility was around 40′-50′ for most of the dive. At 52 minutes it became noticeably dark as we began our ascent. Chris was very safe and ascended very slowly. When we broke the surface we were greeted with pelting rain and a lightning storm. Now, lightning and water don’t mix, so my heart started to race. My nerves were calmed to find out lightning disperses in water, so we were safe (lucky for the fishies too). The swells picked up to 4+ with some 6′+ thrown in. Add that to a very high transom (without waves the transom is about 2′ off the waterline – the pictures are deceiving), making exit really tough. Two guys on the boat, plus Chris in the water using the stairs on step at a time, hoisted me back in.

During the surface interval, Captain Van did a solo dive to catch some lobster. The waves continued to grow so I, and one other diver, decided not to do the second dive. For stability, I retied myself to a metal bar in the front of the boat only to realize that, if the boat was hit by lightning, I would fry. So for the next two hours I held one of the seats tightly and hoped for the waves to lessen. Lucky for me I do not get seasick, or this would have been a hell ride.

This dive was ok. I learned how to communicate with people who had no idea how to handle an HSA (no pre-dive day discussions either), a very high transom and unfavorable currents. If I had my choice of dive shops in the area I would go back to Jupiter Dive Center.

Hyatt Place, Downtown – 295 Lakeview Avenue West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Surrounding description:
West Palm Beach has a great scene for all types. Due to the hurricane approaching, the weather kept me in the hotel.

Dive shop:
Narcosis Dive Charter – Riviera Beach Marina Slip #521 200 East 13th Street Riviera Beach, FL 33404

Boat Description:
Pro 48 Super high transom. Ramp from the dock is easy. 3’ step up onto side of boat, 3’ step down into boat.

Shore Diving:
I believe there is bridge diving.

Good For:
Advanced and Nitrox due to the drift and the depth times.

Here is a video I found of someone elses dive off of Rons Rock. Looks like they had the appropriate drift.

Drift and Wreck Diving in Jupiter, FL

August 30, 2012 in Drift Diving, Florida, Scuba Diving

See below for the full version of the video

Jupiter, FL
Wrecks: Zion Train Wreck and MG111

Time of Year:
August 2012

90 Above Water, 81 Below Water

91 feet / 60 feet

The Dive:
This dive trip to Jupiter, Florida (near West Palm Beach) was my first solo dive trip (read: I didn’t travel with Maggie or anyone who knew specifically the in’s and out’s of my dive style). Albeit a bit nervous of what’s to come, I arrived at Palm Beach airport with all my dive gear, rented a car and was on my way to the hotel. On top of this being my first dive trip alone, it would also be my first time diving with sharks, into a wreck, below 60’ and in a drift. Boy oh boy was I in for a treat (So much so that I just wrote boy oh boy).

At 8am I checked in with Steve Metcalf who is a dive master at Jupiter Dive Center. As part of the dive, Steve asked two Dive Masters in Training (Lauren and Daryl) to join us for the dive (from moment one I felt at ease. Super nice folks, just as excited about diving as I am). After signing the don’t-sue-us-if-you-die-because-you-did-something-wrong-you-moron paperwork and reciting my I’m-nervous-but-humor-will-mask-reality jokes, Lauren and crew moved my gear and tanks (Steel 100’s) to the boat. The dock, located behind JDC, has small 3 steps down to get to the boat. The guys lifted me down with no issue. Then Daryl and Clay (one of the great deckhands) backed me down a ramp which, during low-tide, deserves the double-black diamond rating (vs a green bunny slope when we returned with high tide). Once on the boat, I strapped myself to the ladder so that I wouldn’t be thrown around during our trip to the wreck. I must have gotten lucky, because we only had 10 divers on the boat, a luxury for any diver (and they were all great people. With that much luck I should’ve played the lottery!)

Jupiter Zion Dive Profile Handicapped Scuba

Jupiter Zion Dive Profile

Our first location was the Zion Train. Sandy, the dive guide, gave a great safety briefing and explained the plan. Zion Train is a make-up of 3 wrecks: the first is the Zion, a small tug listing on its side, the second is Miss Jenny, an upside down barge, and the third is the Esso Bonaire, a large, upright barge. All the divers dropped first. I rolled to the back of the boat, retied by chair to a rail (don’t want it going over with me), and was lifted down onto the transom. We snapped on my BC and I did a roll forward into the water. As this was my first deep dive (91′ down!), we descended slowly onto Zion. I don’t recall the Zion because I was concentrating more on the process than the view. After a few minutes we rose out of the shadow of the boat where I could feel the current. It wasn’t fast, but nice enough to know that I could drift alone without a problem. We drifted to the next wreck passing a large (30-40) group of Goliath Grouper (up to 400lbs). Peering into some of the openings you could see Groupers that (in my estimation) were so big they couldn’t get out of the wreck! As we approached the top of the wreck, covered by a beautiful green blanket, you could see straight into the hull. I had never breached a wreck, so this was an exiting moment. There wasn’t all that much to see inside the hull, but never the less a good practice run for what was to come.

We continued on and explored the Captains Bridge and the aft of the barge. I peered into one of the openings and felt the urge to go in. As it was a tiny opening, we entered through another entrance (something I rarely say: we “used the stairs”). Being 6’5″, broad shoulders with a tank attached to me and not being the most graciously nimble swimmer (but what the heck right?), heading into the opening was calculated (read: trying not to hit everything). I exhaled and descended down the steps into the passageway with Steve in front of me. We made our way to the back of the barge into the crewmans “lounge”. It’s really interesting to see something that has been suspended in time, sprinkled with ash and sea life. Entering a wreck, with such a small opening, was exhilarating.

At the end of the dive Steve pointed out a shark, sleeping under the cover of a sideways sheet of metal. During my first conversation with Steve I asked “what should one watch out for with Sharks?”. His reply “don’t wake them up. They don’t react kindly to that”. Now, I didn’t (and still don’t) know if he was kidding. All I could think, while looking at this shark, is Elmur Fudd tiptoeing whispering “Be Vewy Vewy Quiet. It’s human season”.

Jupiter MG-111 Dive Profile

Jupiter MG-111 Dive Profile

After 44 minutes we surfaced. Since we had one diver on Air, we had a longer surface interval (the rest of us were on Nitrox).

The second dive took us to MG-111. This dive was a bit less exciting. We dropped 60′ to see a huge cluster of Goliath Grouper around some steel posts. One of the highlights was watching Steve catch a lobster with his hands, something usually done with equipment which lure out the creatures. Sadly no sharks on this dive. I’m chalking this dive up to experience.

All in all this was an amazing day. The drift currents can be fantastic for HSA divers since you don’t need to exert that much energy to get around. With that said, if the current is not drifting in the right direction (even a little bit), it can be difficult (more on that in my next write-up of my dive on Rons Reef). My suggestion is to use a Steel 100 tank and get Nitrox certified (also known as EAN, a mixture of Nitrogen and Air) before you go. With so much beauty, and at that depth, you’ll want it to last as long as possible. Also, more to come on fire coral (yay, pain), sea lice (yay, I look like a leper) and lightning storms (yay being in the water with lightning).

Thanks again to Steve Metcalff, Lauren King, Darly McLaughlin and the Jupiter Dive Center folks for a stellar trip.

Both accessible. Best Western is the better of the two. Both cheap. You get what you pay for.
Best Western Intracoastal – 810 S US Highway 1, Jupiter, Florida, 33477
La Quinta Inn – 34 Fisherman’s Wharf  Jupiter, FL 33477

Surrounding description:
Jupiter has some laid back bars and reastaurants. Check out:
Dive Bar – Great views
Little Moirs Leftover Shack – Ate here post-dive. Refills on drinks (non-alcoholic sadly) and good burgers and seafood.

Dive shop:
Jupiter Dive Center 1001 North Hwy A1A Alternate Jupiter, FL 33477

Boat Description:
Low transom. With low tide it is a steep ramp to go down. Ramp is 25”-ish inches. 3 steps to get down to the dock.

Shore Diving:
I believe there is bridge diving.

Good For:
Advanced and Nitrox due to the drift and the depth times.

Full Version of the Zion Dive: