Travel -

Thoughts and shots from the road.

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Ramon and I headed back to the 356 a couple hours later, this time sans tour guide and WITH mp3 player. I still say its the single biggest improvement to my diving experience since I began, and it’s good to have Tom around to share the enthusiasm (otherwise I’d be the only one).

It was a little more fun to explore the wreck without someone guiding us, though without Graham we lost the nerve to dive headlong into dark and rusted corridors. We took some pictures of the impressive aft guns and little nooks and crannies throughout the frigate’s exterior, including a humorous movie in which I get “electrocuted.”

The curse seems to have subsided a bit lately, though that could just be a result of my running out of electronics to break! Pray for my iPod, who is with us still. I also have this small gash on my left hand middle finger, next to the nail, that seems unable to heal thanks to its five-times-a-day saltwater dunking. I keep it clean and it doesn’t look poorly… but whenever I put on or take off my gear it hurts like hell.

It’s a little depressing to know that we just have a couple more days left to the trip. Despite my technological hiccups, I’ll try to post some more pictures from the past few days later tonight.

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Our night dive at the Three Fathom Wall was just as creepy and unnerving as the first. This time, accompanied by music, Ramon and I were explorers on a distant world, rather than lost, marooned scouts in a doomed space mission. Okay, so maybe I let my imagination run away from me a little on these dives. But I can’t properly express how different it feels to dive at night. Most of the colorful fish present in daytime hours are gone, replaced by slow-moving, cautious fish not used to having bright lights shined in their faces. This time, we also encountered several tiny, translucent squids. They were unusually friendly, and Ramon captured a few photographs of one just three inches from my mask. Bathed in the impressive glow of the Light Cannons, these little creatures would light up and shimmer like magical pixies, whose brilliance my words can’t do justice.

So THAT was fun.

This morning we had arrived near Cayman Brac and one of the trip’s highlights, the wreck of the Russian frigate #356. Left in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ship was purchased by the Cayman Islands to be sunk here (and renamed the Keith Tibbets… don’t ask me why…). In the decade since it was lowered to the watery depths, parts of it have fallen in on themselves and the entire ship has split in two. This worked to undermine the efforts of the original architects of this dive site, who welded all doors and windows shut to keep curious divers from venturing to a premature grave. Needless to say, in we went!

Actually for this first dive, Ramon and I were led on a little tour by Graham, one of the crew who knew the place. Now Graham, a Brit, and I are developing a bit of a history (all in good fun), so I was a little worried he might be taking me down into the ship to kill me. It began when I made a terrible mistake on our first day of diving… I was descending the ladder to the dive platform with full gear on (tank, wetsuit, BCD, etc.). As I was going, Graham had moved into the path of where I was headed to hand someone their underwater camera, leaving me to bring my tank down squarely on the back of his neck. Judging by his cry of pain, I’m guess it hurt. He did his best to shrug it off and I felt terribly, but right afterwards I did catch a look from him that looked an awful lot like, “I am going to kill you on this voyage.

Since then, we have disagreed on the merits of underwater music, and I made the unfortunate decision to wear a t-shirt on deck by “Manchester Ltd. Co.”, which I suppose sounds a little too much like “Manchester United” for his British sensibilities. *shrug*

We have one more dive at the #356 before lunch and moving on, so I am going to prepare the mp3 player with the appropriate accompaniment and will report on that and any other gear of mine that stops working later. Oh, in other news, the soda machine works again (so the curse is limited just to me).

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On the first dive in the afternoon, I wondered if maybe my poor luck above water might extend below… Ramon and I took off together along the shoreline from the boat to a sandy area dotted with caves and swim-throughs (something I enjoy, if you can’t tell). The sandy area began at about 40 feet and dumped us out along a 6000 foot drop at about 95 feet. Needless to say, we didn’t go any further down. After circling around again and through another passage back to the sand, we went over the top of the caverns to make our way back. As we traveled, I saw another swim-through with an open roof and decided to check it out from above. Swimming down, my back and tank were struck by something, initially leading me to think I had accidentally run into something (it was a rather narrow opening I was entering face-first). The banging continued and I realized as I tried to turn around that a rock larger than my head had dislodged from the wall and was crashing down on me. I got it past me and it fell to the floor of the swim-through, tumbling down the inclined hill and kicking up a mess of sand and dust. I felt lucky to have made it out so unscathed, so maybe my bad karma above water gets counteracted when I go under. I’ll trade a laptop and hard drive for that.

Our second dive to Three Fathom Wall, however, was a completely different experience! Tom, one of the kind crew on our boat, lent me the use of his H2O-Audio underwater mp3 player. I had considered buying something similar before coming, but it didn’t pan out ($$$). Boy, was that a mistake! I loaded a couple random, new-age-y songs on and in I went. It was easily the best dive I have ever had, and best of all, Tom graciously said I could use on any further dives I might want to.

Speaking of which, it’s about time for our night dive! The music is loaded, so I’m off!

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I am really starting to feel like there is a curse on this boat, at least as far as myself and my technology go. First my dive light floods, then the hard drive with my pictures. Ramon dropped his dive knife but at least he got it back. But my troubles continue…

Now my laptop will not turn on! It’s not the battery, it’s not the power cable, it’s just dead. Fortunately there wasn’t anything critical on it, but it makes for a hassle doing just about anything now. But at least I know the curse is not limited ENTIRELY to me: their soda fountain broke. Yep, no more Diet Coke. Actually, they radioed to shore and had a variety of sodas (including DC) sent out, but that limited quantity is the whole boat’s for the rest of the trip.

I’ll tell you about my two dives into the Three Fathom Wall (the one I took an hour ago, and the one I’m about to take) when I resurface!

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Oh, Jamie, you would be so jealous of this latest dive. We went back down to the admittedly drab sea floor of Lea Lea’s Lookout, trying (and failing) to find some of the structures discussed in the dive briefing. What we DID find were sea turtles. LOTS and lots of sea turtles! I captured some great video of them tumbling and turning and of me scratching one’s back, and would have tried riding one if not for the other people around. Ramon commented after that he was just waiting for one to take a hunk out of me, with how close I was coming to them.

Well, the mantra of the live-aboard dive ships holds true: Eat, Sleep, Dive. Having just finished the last one, I do believe it’s time to start over again (maybe with a little more diving mixed in).

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My general enthusiasm for posting took a hit with the loss of most of my pictures on the hard drive, but there are still interesting things to talk about.

Ramon didn’t make it to breakfast, which is just as well since the first dive wasn’t much to write home about anyway (despite the irony of that statement). The sands from yesterday had given way to some kind of kelpy, harder ground and acres of sealife all at about 15-20 feet deep. The problem was, either it was darker than usual this morning, or the life in this area is unusually colorless. Regardless, the pictures from this dive didn’t turn out fabulously I don’t think.

We are about halfway through the voyage, and it’s a captivating experience. The desire to make every single dive on the trip (I haven’t missed one yet!) makes for constant mini-adventures while still managing to tire me out enough that I can barely get out of bed the next morning. After the sun goes down and the dives are done, the night sky unobstructed by metropolitan light pollution is a sight like none other. According to Scott, one of the more experienced divers on the trip, this week should see several days of meteor showers, which I can attest to being true.

Life here is simple, relaxing, and a growing part of me wishes it never had to end…

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Tragedy strikes yet again on the Cayman Aggressor IV!

This time, the victim appears to unfortunately be my portable USB hard drive, used to store, among other things, all my photos from the trip to date! Perhaps it will revive long enough for me to rescue the pictures, but I’m not holding out hope.

For this most recent dive, Ramon and I alone jumped in and headed the opposite way from our first dive. We found a lot of sand wasteland, turtles, and a few expansive caves that make me want to do cave diving more and more. It was fun just the two of us diving, since everywhere we went and everything we did was entirely at our discretion. Ramon still has far more experience than me, though, and I ran low on air and had to resurface more than 25% faster than him. Part of that is also his size, however. And his being a woman.

But then again, he has to stand on the bench on the dive deck to remove and hang his wetsuit on its hanger, so being bigger does have its advantages.

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Last dive, at Randy’s Gazebo, I tried going down without my wetsuit – just board shorts, my BCD and other life-preserving gear. Owing to the insanely warm water I hardly noticed a difference in temperature, even at 96 degrees. And for what little insulation I lost, I gained a lot less hassle before and after the dive, as well as a little more mobility during. For this latest dive, I switched to full gear, though I think for the next I’ll go back again (or “go redneck” as Ramon terms it). I just know as soon as I start getting used to going without the wetsuit I’ll make intimate friends with some fire coral…

This dive was an explorer’s paradise! Large pocketed coral formations were broken up by large sandy patches, showing for adventurous divers the entrances to dozens of little caves and swim-throughs. I snapped pictures and movies, and had a moderate close encounter with an eagle ray, though he made a swift exit when the crowds arrived. It was not a very deep dive – which is funny considering that before yesterday it would have by far been my deepest – but it broke up what was verging on the monotony of tiny fish and endless floors of sealife. I’m sure I’ll get more chances to check out small caves as well as other kinds of specialty diving (I’m very psyched about the Russian destroyer we’ll be descending upon come Wednesday), but I really loved these little quasi-caves.

Tonight is also our first night dive which, despite the swift demise of my main light, should still be exciting. Hey, it’ll just be a little darker, right? Maybe they’ll begin our dive briefing (which, incidentally, occur just prior to almost every dive and give some highlights and special instructions for each new site) with a ghost story!

Gah, lame… 😐

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You wouldn’t think you’d find a small black and blue dive knife amidst tons of coral and sealife.

But somebody did! And they returned it to our boat just before Ramon and I were hopping in to begin our search. Rejoined with his knife, Ramon was content and the two of us were free to explore further up the Bloody Bay wall. This time we actually made it to the gazebo, which was a pretty tight swim-through cave with an opening in the roof. I snagged a movie on my second time through, and away we went.

We’re beginning to find a routine here onboard, I think. The Diet Coke is plentiful, muffins and snacks arrive eerily at the same time as divers are surfacing, and it’s overall a pretty low-pressure way to live. They did mount me with a dive computer, however, to record my maximum depth and dive time, which I wouldn’t mind so much except that it sets off an incessant, beeping alarm every time I even THINK about ascending or descending. Apparently it is supposed to warn a diver that they are going one direction or another too quickly, but in my case it is tempting me to put my own dive knife to a new use…

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