Sunday, August 7, 2016

Live Aboard Scuba Diving Adventure

I became certified for scuba diving in April of this year. Last Monday, I went to class to receive my certification as an Enriched Air Diver (Nitrox Diver). This means I can use a special mixture of gases in my scuba tank to extend my dive time at depth longer than allowed by the no-decompression limits of air. My husband and I took the Nitrox class together so we could go on a live aboard scuba diving trip. My husband has been a scuba diver for over 20 years.

We booked our trip with The Fling Charters dive boat. You can see a couple of videos about the dive boat by clicking here. We drove to Freeport, Texas on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to board the boat Wednesday evening. The Fling is a 100 foot boat which held 26 divers and 6 crew members for this trip. The Fling takes you out to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located about 110 miles off the coast. That is a long way out.
I was really nervous about this trip. My husband asked me what my number one fear was for our trip. I told him I could not narrow it down to one thing. There are so many to choose from - lack of experience, diving so deep, getting the bends, being on a boat 110 miles away from help, seasickness, communal living, the tropical depression brewing in the Gulf (named Earl), getting lost, fighting the 4 to 5 foot waves to get back on the boat, running out of air, being attacked by a shark, messing up other people's vacation, and being left at sea (to name a few). He said his only fear was seasickness. I am an inexperienced diver with only 15 dives since I have been certified, with my deepest dive being less than 50 feet. The reefs at Flower Garden Banks start at 60 feet and go down past 100 feet. I do have an adventurous side, so I agreed to go.
The boat loading process started at 7:30 p.m. and was extremely well run. Everyone left their gear on the dock while they went below deck to grab a tag off of a bunk. Your bunk tag number became your number for the trip. You took the tag to the dive master, filled out some paperwork, then brought your gear aboard. Their was a briefing about rules, safety, and crew members before we headed out into open water.
My husband had #9 and I had #10. We only had to share the cabin with one other person. Yay!

My husband and I enjoyed sitting on the top deck to watch the sunset and the stars before heading to bed. The amount of stars you could see were amazing. I saw three shooting stars our first night on the boat. I had to take Dramamine for motion sickness for the 7 hour ride out to Flower Garden Banks. I liked that they planned the long trip out during sleeping hours. It really helped pass the time and cut down on motion sickness.

I woke up around 5 the next morning. The crew served a continental breakfast starting at 5:45 so divers could have a bite to eat before the 7 a.m. dive. Dive Master JT was extremely professional and safety conscious. I really appreciated his demeanor. JT's dive briefings were very clear. I loved his drawings on the whiteboard.
This is what the dive board looked like for the last two dives of the trip.
We lucked into some amazing weather. The tropical depression they were predicting did not cause any high waves in our area. The waves were only about two feet high on our first day of diving. That really helped calm some of my fears. My underwater camera only works to 55 feet, so I did not get the chance to take any underwater photos. My husband bought a GoPro and used it for the first time on this trip. The following pictures are a mix up of photos from all 7 dives we made on Thursday and Friday.
That first step off the boat seemed like a long way down. You plunged underwater, came back up to signal "ok", then you hung on to the yellow rope to follow it to the line attached to the ubolt. JT stressed that divers were to follow the rope and not drop off it before the anchor line because a current could push you way off course. He told us about a diver who dropped down, instead of using the line, and was pushed almost two miles away by a strong current. They had to deploy the dingy to retrieve him. JT does not like deploying that dingy. I used the yellow rope as my life line.

My husband and I did not have any problems while we were diving. I was very anxious during the dives. That caused me to run through my air very quickly. We averaged about 30 minutes a dive. I usually got back on the boat with 500 psi left in my tank. My husband usually came back with 1200 to 1500 psi. Poor him. I told him I could sit out some of the dives so he could go with more experienced divers who would have more bottom time. He said he wanted to dive with me and did not mind the shorter dives. Oh yeah, I did have one problem. My mask got knocked and slid off my head when I was trying to come up the ladder after the third dive. Fortunately, one of the crew members went down and got it for me. That would have really ruined the trip if my mask could not have been recovered.
My husband did not take the GoPro on all of the dives. He mostly shot video and we pulled some pictures off of it.
There were turtles, sand sharks, different kinds of coral & limestone, rays, and lots of different kinds of fish.
The schedule on the boat day 1: continental breakfast, 7am dive, breakfast, 10:00am dive, snack, move the boat, 1:15pm dive, lunch, move the boat, snack, 4pm dive, dinner, 9pm night dive, ice cream sundaes and brownies. We did five dives on Thursday. The weather was perfect for everyone of them.

I did not want to go on the night dive. Just thinking about it scared me. My husband talked me into it after he agreed that we could just go down the rope, touch the bottom, and come right back up. I told him I was not going to let go of the ubolt line at the bottom so I would not get lost in the dark.  I can't believe he puts up with me sometimes. We did go down to 78 feet. I went ahead and let go of the rope. We swam two circles about twenty feet away from the rope. We were able to see a few fish with our lights and then we came back up to the surface. Our night dive was only 24 minutes long, but I did it. After the night dive, we sat on the top deck stargazing in the beanbag chairs. It was really relaxing.
During the night they moved the boat to a different part of the reef. The weather started to turn a bit and the boat was really rocking. I am so glad I had a supply of Dramamine. I went up to the upper deck to watch the sunrise.

As they sun came up, I could see storm clouds off in the distance on three sides of the boat. The water looked pretty choppy.

I decided not to go on the Friday morning 7am dive. I was worried I would have too much trouble trying to get up the ladder back onto the boat at then end of the dive. I asked a group of three divers if my husband could tag along with them since I wasn't going. They were happy to buddy up with him. He was still able to go on the 7am dive and had a good time.

The weather cleared up a bit and the waves were back down to 2 - 3 feet so I went on the 10am dive. It was the last dive of the trip. I am glad I was brave enough to do six deep-water dives in two days.

It took about 5 hours to get back to the dock after the 10am dive. My husband and I found ways to keep busy. We had a message in a bottle kit that we received as a Christmas present. My husband came up with the message and then we tossed it overboard.
He ended up taking a three hour nap. I slept for about an hour, chatted with the other divers, and then read a book for a couple of hours.

It felt like we were gone from home for a really long time when it was only 2 1/2 days.
 I have to admit, I was happy to see the dock and get on solid ground for the ride home.
Thanks Sweetie for taking me on an adventure of a lifetime!!!

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