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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day 11: January 3rd, 2008

The divers got up bright and early and had quick sandwiches and spread or oatmeal before heading over to Dive BVI's Seacat to join the crew. When we got there they were still loading up the boat, but after a 5 minute wait we were asked to board and away we went! The boat was staffed by Andy Sutherland, Sadie Phy, and Johan Kloppers, and the quality of the staff was immediately evident by the boat briefing that Sadie provided --- short, thorough, and to the point. She also informed us that Casey was mistaken and that there were no afternoon dives for us after all.

Heather was worried because she hadn't dived for several years, and remembered having trouble equalizing her ears when she last dived. Johan immediately took her aside and basically gave her an on-the-boat refresher of what she needed to do. As the boat made its way over to Marina Cay at top speed, I realized that my assessment the night before was correct --- we would have had to sail at 6:00am to have any hope of reaching Marina Cay by 8:30am. The Seacat docked for a short moment at Marina Cay to pick up more dive gear, and had us sign our waivers and do other dive related paperwork. Then we were once more on board the Seacat and on our way to Cooper Island, where we picked up yet a father/son team who were doing their certifications before ending up at the Salt Island Rhone dive buoys.

A quick look around at the site indicated that this was definitely a busy site. Dive boats were tied up at nearly every mooring buoy, and there was always a school of divers in the water. Andy gave us a great dive briefing, helped us get our gear on, and even more importantly sequenced our entries so that Heather, who would likely have the most trouble equalizing, would start her descent first. I was very impressed by the gear Dive BVI had --- it looked shiny and new, and for the first time, I could not see any leaks at all. Andy not only would help us suit up, he would also douse our diving masks in no-fog before giving it to us to put on.

Once in the water, I found myself with no trouble whatsoever equalizing, unlike my dive on New Year's day. Andy assessed everyone's status and immediately led us to the largely intact bow section of the RMS Rhone. The visibility was amazing --- the BVIs are a dive destination because of the incredibly clear waters, and today did not disappoint. As we crossed under the bow spit, Andy signaled, asking if we were ready to do the swim through. We all assented and the swim through began. This section was great, and really gave you the impression that we were exploring. The quarters were tight, however, so it took a while for all of us to work around it. I can't say much about it, and the pictures probably do a much better job depicting our journey than words can.

Upon exiting the hull, Andy showed us one of the intact signal canons, and then it was time to ascend and make our safety stop. Once on the surface, we were given snacks, water, and Andy proceeded to tell us about the Rhone during the surface interval, which was hailed the "Titanic" of her day, with all of 400 horsepower powering a ship with 300 souls on board. We were to find out later that Seacat had 500 horse power all by herself. Technology had improved quite a bit in 160 years.

The second dive proceeded in similar fashion, and we really got a chance to see first hand how clear the water was and how nicely preserved this wreck was. In at least one place, the hatch of a cabin was perfectly preserved, and since everyone was supposed to rub the hinge of the hatch cover for luck, the hatch was shiny. Andy made great use of an underwater slate to tell us what to look at, and what we were seeing, and despite his assurances that lobsters were plentiful, we did not see any lobsters. With the depth being shallower, we had more air and could spend more time shooting pictures while exploring.

When we surfaced, however, I took out my log book and started tallying up the numbers. We were off the PADI charts! This was when I realized that dive guides tend to be a self-selected group of gung ho divers who trusted dive computers a little too much for my taste. While I understood that our dive profile was such that the dive computer probably gave us plenty of margin, I now see how it's possible to quickly get in trouble under-water. It is very easy to accidentally end up deeper than you originally wanted to go (nobody checks their depth gauges all the time), and no matter how carefully you stick to the dive tables, they are only theoretical models that tell nothing about what you as an individual might have as limits. I think before I do any more serious diving (with or without a guide) I'll have to acquire a dive computer.

Returning to Marina Cay, we had lunch at Pusser's, a chain outfit with branches seemingly everywhere in the BVI. The beach was warm and quite pretty, but as we walked around near mid-day, the temperature was such that I did not fancy sitting around. I asked Sadie if there were any dive spots available due to cancellations and indeed there was! Lisa and Heather had had enough diving for the day, but Przemek and I were not done, so at 3:00pm we saddled up again with a class full of British school kids and did our dive off at Diamond Reef. Diamond Reef earned its name because a honeymooning couple at Marina Cay dropped an engagement ring there, and it has apparently not been recovered yet. In any case, this dive was full of wildlife, but unfortunately the water had turned murky in the afternoon, giving us only 25 feet of visibility. Nevertheless, Andy managed to show me and Przemek a good time.

With 3 dives under our belt, by the time we returned to Marina Cay at 5:00pm it was quite cool and I was worn out. The ride back to Spanish Town gave us a gorgeous sunset. Upon returning, we got back to the boat and got reports from Lea and Hector --- they had rented motor-scooters and had gotten a nice tour of the island, including visiting what Hector said was the prettiest beach of the trip. We had dinner at the bar, and discussed our plans for tomorrow, the last full day of the trip. My EEE PC came out as folks checked their e-mail and Przemek finished up some work-related stuff that he hadn't gotten around to doing before arriving in St. Thomas. The food was passable but the service was atrocious, as was the norm for the islands. The marina had a air conditioned toilet but the showers were not hot. I thought we had free water at this marina, but apparently the line we were using the night before belonged to someone else and we had no access to water until the next morning, so it was another lukewarm shower to end the day. Lea also reported that she couldn't find anyone to work on our traveler. An early start therefore, was out of the question for the 4th, since I wanted full water tanks on the boat before departing. I wasn't worried about the traveler, though, since it seemed easy to fix, and it's possible to sail without it.

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