Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lanterns and Loykratong Festival

Life goes on after finishing my DM course, and it's still pretty fun :)

We had a big celebration at the end of the course, and everyone in my class (John, Rhys, George, and I) hung out with the new class of divemaster trainees and some of the instructors. It was so fun! We had a "snorkel test" before going out, where we had to correctly fix a weight belt with a blindfold and pretend to teach everyone how to ride a surfboard. People at the restaurant next door ended up walking over to watch, and some of the people doing Open Water courses at shop also stopped by. It was silly, but funny - and obviously very relevant given our new teaching skills. 

Hanging out at monkey bar after the snorkel test
Sending off a lantern on the beach. Apparently it was a green day?

Last night was the Loykratong festival, which occurs every November. It's an apology to Mother Earth for all the harm we've caused her, and we float these beautiful tea leaf offerings down the rivers with a lit candle. We can also make a wish for the next year. There were hundreds of people, a big show on stage, and a competition to see who could make the best float, so it was a fun night all around. And of course lots of food!

Ploy and I sent off this float with our wish

Watching it sail away

MmMmMmMm squid on a stick
Ladyboy show at the festival - they weren't very coordinated, but they had a lot of spirit.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Victory Dives

I did it! I just finished my SSI Dive Control Specialist (basically an assistant Instructor & divemaster combined), and am just waiting to receive my confirmation email and certification number so that I can start my career as a professional athlete. Because diving is a sport, duh!

While I'm waiting, the dive shop let me go on a few fun dives for $2-3 per tank of air + free lunch. Life is pretty good :D we saw lots of beautiful stuff and I'm still improving my navigation, so it's nice to practice!

Cute porcupinefish :D
Breaktime, enjoying some music and food!

Lionfish! So cute

enormous scary lobster

blowing bubbles... I'm still perfecting this, bu Max was really good at it!

Cuttlefish was not so happy at a little fish swimming by...

baracuda EVERYWHERE nom

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Last Liveaboard as a DM

Just got back from the last liveaboard trip as a Divemaster Trainee. IT WAS AWESOME!! We did 3 dives at Richelieu, and I led some fun dives with awesome divers (and sometimes a lot of current... yay swimming in place!). Two of the people in my group were from Tuckee, CA, in their late 50s-mid 60s. Gene is on the Snow Patrol at Alpine, and he works on avalanche control. We talked a lot about Howitzers and other heavy artillery (dynamite, etc) that he gets to throw at mountains to create avalanches. SO COOL! His wife Susie is a botanist for the Forest Service and it was great talking to her too. The third person in my group was Dmitri from Estonia, and he was a fun diver who also likes skydiving.  I really like the people who come to Thailand to dive :)

On the ride out to the Surin Islands, there was a truly massive thunderstorm ahead of us. We stayed nice and dry and got to watch the show! This picture is from George (one of 200+ photos, most of which were all black...)
Thunderstorm ahead of the boat

Since I was leading dives, I couldn't take photos myself. The underwater ones are from Dmitri - enjoy!
Bearded scorpionfish

The staff decided that all the Divemaster trainees should try diving with a pony tank. These are often 6L tanks that technical divers use when they go to depths greater than 40 meters.  In our case, the tank was full of normal air and it was just a good exercise in buoyancy and gear management - we breathed from it during the safety stop and just had to manage it during the rest of the dive.  Of course, it turns out Rhys and John didn't have metal D-rings on their BCDs so they didn't have to carry it - but I got to practice, and it was pretty funny.  Good experience!
Carrying the pony tank
Gearing up on the dive deck with one of Wicked's divemasters, Chok
Breakfast on the boat - photo courtesy of George, another DMT
As another part of the course, the instructors wanted to see us assemble an oxygen kit blindfolded. This is NOT a requirement for O2 training or for the actual certification, but it's a funny activity and it was good to know how to put it together if the lights ever went out. Mostly, it was hilarious watching people try to assemble the bull-nose first stage (much harder to attach than a pin first stage) and we all had a good laugh. Then we had beers.
Blindly trying to save lives
I'm 2 classroom presentations away from being an official Dive Control Specialist and Divemaster! I have to teach open water students about masks and another (as yet undetermined) topic, and then I'll have completed everything. YAY! Time has flown by and I'm SO glad I did this course.

I'm planning to stick around for awhile so let me know if you're in the area - in 2 days I'll be able to guide certified divers, and help with SSI Open Water courses if you're interested in learning how to dive!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eco Project: The Installation

Wicked Diving now has the best waste disposal system of any of Khao Lak's dive shops - we have an underwater toilet at Boonsung Wreck :)

To be accurate, the site is about 20 meters away from the wreck. We placed the toilet next to the installation from divemasters two years ago. We managed to get the toilet on the van, on and off the boat, and to its home near the first piece of artificial reef from several years ago.
We had to do some rearranging to get everything in the van... including the 7 of us!
Jade, me, Ash, Diego (center), Rhys, George, and John (from left to right)
Easing the toilet onto the boat 
Guiding the toilet to its new home
Two bannerfish claimed the new real estate as soon we got to the bottom!
On the second dive, we tried to install the backboard and create a throne. We managed to bring it down to the toilet by weighing it down with ~3 kilos and some muscle, but it wasn't stable enough to withstand the currents and storms that hit Khao Lak in the summer. Actually, we underestimated George's muscles when he was tightening the backboard to the toilet, and the bamboo snapped! We decided to leave the toilet as a central feature and forget about its accessories. It'll be very interesting to see what grows over the rest of the season. All in all, a great day!
Bringing down the backboard
Attempting to install the backboard...

After we gave up on the backboard, I had a beer to relax and celebrate getting the reef in place. Of course I had a bit too much and got ill. Luckily I had a toilet nearby... :)

The team that made it happen <3
Our majestic toilet

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eco Project: The build

As a capstone of the first DMT course of the year, the four of us are responsible for designing, creating, and installing a piece of artificial reef near one of the wrecks in Khao Lak.  Last year, the first DMT class dropped a giant concrete pyramid that could act as a fish nursery.  This year, they're trying to have each DMT class install their own piece to create an artificial reef habitat, since most of the area around Khao Lak is sandy and inhospitable for fish aggregations.

We spent all morning studying the different materials used in reef construction. Porcelain, untreated wood, untreated metal, and some concretes are very good for artificial reefs since they don't leach many chemicals and can last a long time. Painted and treated materials are often toxic, and shouldn't be used.

We found an abandoned toilet bowl near the storeroom and some old concrete blocks, so we created our own version of the Wicked Throne (to the porcelain gods).  We're going to sink it tomorrow and tie it off to the original concrete structure, fashioning the backboard to create a comfy seating area for fish who need to take a rest. We're hoping a moray eel lives in the toilet bowl :)

While we were trying to tie the toilet bowl to cement blocks, two Thai men stopped cleaning their yard and came over to help us. They basically took the rope out of our hands and showed us how competent people tie down toilets... it was hilarious because they didn't ask why we were trying to tie down a toilet bowl, they just helped us do it better. Amazing. This country is full of the most remarkable, friendly, and helpful people!
Getting taught about knots
This is how a professional ties knots! 
Making a Wicked symbol to tie to our toilet installation
Check back later for photos of the underwater installation! We're taking it out on a longtail boat, which tends to tip when even I walk from side to side, so it'll be very interesting to see how we manage to get it in the water without tipping the boat. WOO ENGINEERING!
Creating the headboard for the toilet throne
We did it. Wicked.
Finishing tying off the toilet after the Thai men left us to our own devices. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Still Alive, almost a Divemaster

Life has been flying by in Thailand. I'm almost falling asleep as I write this post because I just got off another 3-day liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands.

Before the liveaboard, we spent 4 days going over dive physics to make sure we understand the importance and justification for using dive tables and dive theory. It's pretty simple - for every 10 meters, the weight of water is equal to an additional atmosphere (atm) of pressure on our bodies. That changes how we process gases, because they are pushed from our bloodstrem into our tissues as we dive deeper, and then reform bubbles as we go to the surface. Big bubbles = bad news, since it can stop circulation! The basic rule of thumb is the air pressure we feel at sea level is doubled when we go just 10 meters down, as pressure goes from 1 to 2 atmospheres. At 20 meters, we are at 3 atmospheres, and so on.

Our bodies absorb and release gases differently at pressure, and the two main components of gas (oxygen and nitrogen) can both have negative impacts when we reach physiological thresholds. For example, nitrogen levels around 30 meters (4 atmospheres of pressure) can be so high that we get nitrogen narcosis, or "narked." I haven't had this experience yet, but I've heard it's pretty wild.  And dangerous, because it makes it difficult to focus on your dive computer (to check your depth or dive time) and it can make you want to give fish your regulator.  Not good. Oxygen also increases its potency at depth and can cause oxygen toxicity, which leads to a number of unpleasant things like twitches, visual disturbances, and possibly seizures.

And that's why we get certified and take lots of precautions! I consider myself well warned. All in all, it was surprisingly interesting and a nice refresher on basic diving physics.

We then hopped on our 3rd liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands. I actually led 2 dives of paying guests - egads! It was great! An instructor was always shadowing to make sure we didn't do anything horrendous, but it was great to be able to give a dive briefing and then lead people around a new site. I saw turtles, lots of octopus, a Napoleon wrasse, and lots more. I could only take my photo on the night dive, so here are the few decent photos from the dive and some from the boat too. One of the guests, Gian, took all the non-underwater photos.

Ghost shrimp! SO COOL
Koh Bon, one of the great dive sites we visit!
Porcupinefish! I had to take this upside down...
Rainbow after an early morning shower. Gorgeous!
Sunset at Similan Island 8 
It's beautiful here and I only have one week left of the course. CRAZY! We're building an artificial reef over the next two days to sink near Khao Lak and hopefully help rebuild the reefs. I'm not convinced we're going to do a scientifically-advanced job, but we'll learn a lot and it's awesome to be part of the project. More later!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

18 dives in 6 days :)

I just got back from the second 3-day liveaboard to Richelieu Rock, one of the best dive sites in the world.  It is just as amazing as expected :) even though we didn't see a manta or whale shark (wrong season) we did see spirals of baracudas, cuttlefish mating, seahorses, and some of the healthiest corals in the world!

We also went to some amazing dive sites at the Surin Islands, which are still in the Similan National Park. We had 11 guests stay from the last liveaboard and 5 new guests arrive, so it was a very fun group that felt much more like a family than the first 3-day trip.

The lifestyle is pretty simple: Eat, dive, sleep. Repeat.

The dive schedule over the three days is 3-4-2.

  • The first day, we dive after breakfast, after lunch, and right before dinner (sunset dive).  
  • The second day, we dive before breakfast, after breakfast, after lunch, and late before dinner (night dive).
  • The third day, we dive before breakfast, and before lunch. Then we get back to port and unload the boat, checking that we have all the supplies for the next boat and doing inventory.
IT'S AMAZING!!! :D I could do this every day and I hope I will soon. However, I have an external ear infection - treatable and still safe for diving - which is making it a little painful to hang out, much less dive. I guess people aren't meant to be in the water every day (is that why we don't have gills?) but I was still able to equalize and enjoy every dive. What a wonderful trip!

Here are some highlights from different dives:

Richelieu Rock - Cuttlefish mating (this was seriously amazing)

Torinla Island, Surin 
Richelieu Rock = LOTS of fish

Night dive at Torinla - lionfish

Night dive at Torinla - rock lobster

Richeliu Rock

Skunk anemonefish

Soft corals at Surin Island

Oriental sweetlips at Torinla
And the people... I guess they're important too :)

This is the puppy next door, biting Steve's hand. Steve is one of the instructors. See - people pictures!