JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diver dies during visit to wreck of German U-boat

An 'inspirational' veteran diver has died after getting into difficulty during a deep dive near the wreck of a World War Two German U-boat, reports the Daily Mail.

Roger Dadds had completed more than 4,000 dives at home and abroad but disaster struck off the coast of South Devon on Saturday.

Coastguards were told that Mr Dadds had 'shot back up like cork' and had reached the surface 'feet first' and unconscious.

The 66-year-old, from Plymouth, was among five others taking part in a trip with the British Sub-Aqua Club to dive near wreck of U-boat U1063, which was sunk six miles south of Salcombe in April 1945.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Diving with a twinset: first thoughts

Just back from the pool and my first play with the new twinset and I wanted to share my first thoughts about the experience.

Firstly, big thanks go to Mark Dean and Vinni Howlett at Aquasport International for their help in correctly setting up the unit so I could correctly route the hoses and get everything balanced, and for recommending heavy-duty the Scubapro gauge and a Miflex drysuit hose to finish off the system.

Now what I have learned.

i/ I couldn't drop as much weight off the belt as I thought. I guessed that the weight of the extra cylinder would more than replace the lead around my waist, but it was suggested that I drop a few kilos and work my way from there. While carrying no extra weight is a possibility, it makes things difficult doing skills such as kit replacement.

ii/ With a dual bladder, don't forget to empty them both after first setting them up. While only one is used during the di (the other is for redundancy) make sure it is empty before jumping in the water. I forgot and, rather embarrassingly, couldn't leave the surface at first and ended up with my ass in the air.

iii/With single tank diving, we typically use our drysuit for buoyancy underwater, but with twins it is the wing that is the buoyancy compensator. It actually made diving a little more like warm water wetsuit diving and feels easier.

iv/ With single tank diving I find tilting my shoulders helps me glide around the water like an aeroplane. With twins, tilting shifted the weight too much and had the tendency to throw me off balance. Helicopter turns are the only way to go.

v/I'm going to have backache tomorrow - not from carrying the twins around but from having to reach behind to isolate the valves as part of a shutdown drill. More stretching needed. Getting to them wasn't as difficult at first but it does require the flexibility of someone who can stuff themselves into an empty jar for a party trick.

vi/ Remember which way is off for the isolator valve. I forgot and couldn't remember whether i had turned it off or on.

I just need to fiddle with the straps to get it to sit a little All in all, it was good fun. Now for open water practice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Algae bloom discovered in English Channel

LOOKS like the viz is going to be shot on the south coast for the time being after Plymouth Marine Laboratory scientists have detected two large algal blooms; one off the coast of Ireland and the other closer to home covering an area from the Lizard, in Cornwall, to Salcombe, in Devon.

The unusual bloom, which is likely to discolour the sea, consists of vast numbers of a harmless microscopic plant called Skeletonema, that all but disappeared from Plymouth Sound for many years and poses no threat.

Skeletonema is a beautiful microscopic plant that given the right conditions reproduces rapidly to cover large areas of coastal seas”, says PML’s Earth Observation scientist, Dr Peter Miller.

“Over the winter nutrients have built up in the sea and the windy weather we have experienced recently has stirred them up to the surface. Combined with the now calmer conditions and bright sunny days everything slotted into place to enable this plant to reproduce and form a large bloom.”

Claire Widdicombe, a plankton ecologist also at PML added: “What is interesting is the timing of the bloom,we would normally expect the spring bloom to be a few weeks later than this, although there is some variation and it all depends on being in the right place at the right time. A further point of interest is that this species all but disappeared from Plymouth Sound for many years and its early appearance this year is all the more unusual."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Twinset technical diving

The twins are here!

No, not those kind (Ben, you know who you are and I refuse to follow your sleazy lead).

I meant this kind. Twin cylinders for deeper and longer - technical - diving.

After three months of planning, saving and negotiating, I saw the final piece of the jigsaw, the cylinders, arrive at the weekend.

Smiling like a kid at Christmas, I spent all Sunday putting the unit together.

Okay, its together of a fashion and Aquasport technical diving guru Mark Dean Will have to give it the once over to make sure it is shipshape, but I am so excited.

So what do we have?

Starting with the cylinders, they are twin Faber 12lt banded together with an MDE manifold. The wing is a Hollis dual bladder bungeed air cell (okay some techie divers will no doubt be rolling their eyes at both the brand and the bungee but they are pros and cons to both), with a Hollis steel backplate and Hollis switchback harness. Both sets of regs are Poseidon Xstream Deep first and second stages.

Well, the system needs a few tweaks to the its assembly to stop one of the bolts digging into my back. And I need a long hose for one of the regs and an SPG. I'm still debating whether to get a backplate pad for comfort despite the suggestion it was a bit girlie.

Now all I need to do is add water.

So to the pool this Wednesday it is to get comfortable and tweak the straps for comfort. Then it is to Dosthill at the weekend with two techie regulars for a proper blast.

And why a twinset. Having certed as an instructor last year, and working throughout the summer and winter (yes, I was teaching in January in 5C of water!) I decided that I needed to keep a slice of UK diving for myself and this is it.

There is also the small trip to Scapa Flow later this summer. More on that later.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Divers try to save rare Vietnam sea turtle

Veterinary experts in Vietnam are trying to save a sick giant turtle widely regarded as a national treasure, the BBC reports.

The giant reptile, considered a symbol of the country's struggle for independence, has recently been spotted with open sores on its legs and neck.

The attempt to treat the animal is made more urgent as it is one of the world's most endangered turtle species. It is thought to be one of only four left in the world. One inhabits another Vietnamese lake and two others are in a Chinese zoo.

The revered status of the turtles dates back to the mid-15th century and the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To (King Le Loi) who defeated an invading Chinese army with a magical sword reputedly given to him by the gods.

The day after his victory legend has it that at a lake in Hanoi he came upon a giant golden turtle swimming on the surface while boating on its waters. The creature snatched the sword and swam off into the depths, restoring it to its divine owners.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sharks have inbuilt mental sat navs

Some shark species have inbuilt sat nav systems and make "mental maps" of their home ranges, allowing them to pin-point destinations up to 50km (30 miles) away, research suggests.

BBC environment correspondent Richard Black writes that data from tagged tiger sharksfound they took directed paths from place to place while other species such as blacktip reef sharks did not.

Researchers suggest this shows a capacity to store maps of key sites. It is further evidence that the great fish can navigate, possibly using the Earth's magnetic field.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Divers raise cannons belonging to pirate Henry Morgan

DIVERS have revealed they have recovered six historic cannons thought to have belonged to bloodthirsty pirate Henry Morgan.

The cannons were found in shallow waters surrounding Lajas Reef at the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama, where infamous privateer Captain Henry Morgan’s ships wrecked in 1671 while carrying Morgan and his men to raid Panama City.

The discovery provides the first tangible archaeological link to the activities of Morgan in Panama, whose raid led to the destruction of Panama City.

Amazingly, archaeologists have yet to find any direct evidence of Morgan’s men at the ruins of Panama Viejo, the city destroyed during Morgan’s raid, and have only uncovered one faint trace of the fire that devastated the old city in 1671.

The six iron cannons recovered from the reef are now undergoing study and preservation treatment by Panamanian researchers in cooperation with a team that has been studying the Chagres River with the permission of Panama’s Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC).

Raul Castro Zachrisson, Secretary General of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura said, “I am honored to be a part of this important historical find and look forward to a continuous working relationship with all the institutions and professionals involved in the conservation of our sub aquatic cultural and natural resources.”

Since 2008, an underwater archaeology team led by archaeologists James Delgado, Frederick Hanselmann, and Dominique Rissolo has surveyed, mapped, and documented submerged sites, shipwrecks, and the 500-years of maritime history that rests along the banks of the Rio Chagres.

The team announced the recovery of the cannons from a shallow reef damaged by treasure hunters, whose blasting and dredging had exposed the fragile iron cannons to possible damage and loss.

The size and shape of the cannons appear to be a close match with the characteristics of small iron cannon of the Seventeenth Century; a more definitive identification of the cannons will take place after they are treated and years of encrustation and corrosion are removed in the laboratory.

Frederick Hanselmann, Research Professor with the River Systems Institute and Center for Archaeological Studies atTexas State University said: “Very little is known archaeologically about English privateers, especially in regards to their activity in Panama. This represents a unique opportunity to fill in a gap in our knowledge of some very exciting and controversial human activity of that time period.”

Prior to plundering and burning the original site of Panama City in 1671, Morgan sent an advance party of 470 men in three ships with the task of storming the Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the Castillo de San Lorenzo el Real de Chagres.

Five days after the capture, Morgan in his flagship Satisfaction and the rest of his privateer fleet arrived at the fort to find the British flag flying. The cheers from those on the cliff and those on board the ships soon turned to horror as Satisfaction ran head on into Lajas Reef, which lay in the path of the river covered by a mere few feet of water.

Three to four more ships followed the Morgan onto the reef. The ships were shattered and none was recovered. Morgan and his men paddled upriver and walked overland and finally sacked Panama City, returning to the Caribbean from the same route, abandoning the shipwrecks in their wake.

Coordinated by the Waitt Institute, a non-profit research organization based in La Jolla, California, which supports exploration, and in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC), the results from the first-ever archaeological survey of the submerged cultural resources at the mouth of the Chagres River in 2008 yielded a vast array of archaeological artifacts from more than 500 years of maritime activity at the mouth of the river, including the cannons.

“The Rio Chagres was in many ways the original Panama Canal,” said Dr. James Delgado, past president of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and now the Director of Maritime Heritage for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"For five centuries, following in the wake of Panama’s indigenous peoples, Spanish explorers, English freebooters, traders, gold seeking Yankees enroute to California, soldiers and citizens have used the river as a highway that nearly crosses the isthmus. As these cannons demonstrate, those centuries of human activity have left a tangible trace in the archaeological record which is an important part of Panama’s cultural patrimony as being of international significance and interest.”

Dr. Dominique Rissolo, Executive Director of the Waitt Institute, which supported the project, added: "Panama’s maritime heritage is among the richest and most fascinating in all of the Americas, yet it has long been threatened by ‘modern-day Morgans’ in search of sunken treasures and trinkets."