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Friday, January 11, 2008

Day 9: New Year's Day, January 1st, 2008

I woke up at 6:30 and heated up some water to make a breakfast out of oatmeal. I then lifted out the bilge to make sure we weren't sinking, and checked the engine's transmission belt, as told to do every day during the checkout. Lea was kind enough to shuttle us to the dinghy dock, where we were to rendevous with Miss Lavelle, the boat we chartered to go diving.

At the dinghy dock we met Brian, who was to be our boat driver and guide for the day. Perhaps one look at the equipment that Miss Lavelle came with, however, should have put me off. The equipment looked worn --- the BCD units were obviously sun-faded. Brian suggested that he take us out to the Rhone, but no, we told him that we were scheduled to do the Rhone on Thursday, and that we wanted to dive the Indians, which were really close.

As a first dive, then, Brian proposed Spyglass Wall. This was an easy dive, that should give us good access to wildlife, with a fine sand bottom at 60'. It should have been a bad sign that Brian motored around the north shore of Norman Island, and then suddenly made a U turn before spotting the mooring buoy. I grabbed the boat hook, went up onto the bow and tied us onto the mooring buoy. Brian shouted directions at me, but I had already cleated both ends of the boat to it, so when he got up to the front he stared and did a double take and said, "Wow, a real skipper-quality job --- you've already got everything done right."

So we dived Spyglass wall. Unfortunately, I felt stuffed up in my nose, and had a very hard time equalizing all the way down. This was pretty strange as the day before I had no problems whatsoever equalizing while diving. I have no idea what changed, but after what seemed like ages (but was really only about 10 minutes), my nose cleared up and I could equalize once more, with the familiar squeak in my ears whenever I pinched my nose and blew. Spyglass wall had a nice sandy bottom, and some pretty sights, but it was definitely an easy dive --- we swirled around lazily. But it irritated me that Brian was just swimming strongly ahead of us, and did not make much effort into pointing out interesting locations --- it was as though he just wanted to make time rather than diving.

When we emerged from the water, it was 30 minutes later, and we had gone to 75', right at the ragged edge of the PADI dive table. This was when I realized that most guides in the BVI relied not on dive tables, but on dive computers. While a dive computer can be accurate and good, my acquaintance Philip Greenspun had gotten decompression illness relying on a dive computer. The PADI dive tables are a lot more conservative than the dive computers (especially on multi-level dive profiles and multiple dive per day scenarios), and are less likely to lead to problems. It was at this point that I realized how rare it was to find a dive operator like Dive Experience which at no point during our 5 dives with them exceeded what the tables told us was allowable. When I blew my nose after getting back on board, blood and mucus flowed out of my nose, but since I was prone to a bloody nose anyway, I didn't think it a big deal (and apparently it isn't).

Motoring over to the Indians was no effort, as was tying up. I was getting good at this mooring thing now. We waited for an hour for the required service interval, and did the dive down to about 50 feet of water. Now this was the dive that convinced me that Brian didn't know what he was doing. The book specified a dive through, and exploration of the wall and low depth. We ended up at 60', and I saw Brian surface several times because he was lost! This was ridiculous. Not only was this a bad use of time, but because he was tied to a dive computer and we weren't, we were effectively getting different numbers out of our dive than he was. Fortunately, it just wasn't that big a deal for this shallow a dive. I should have said something to him, because it was a waste of our precious dive time. I should have just followed the book I had and read it instead of having him as a dive guide. C'est la Vie.

Upon returning to Norman Island we found that the rest of the Rya Jen crew had slept till around 11:00, gotten out the kayaks, and then kayaked to shore for lunch. We joined them for lunch, and then tried to figure out what to do. I wanted to go out to Water Point to do some more snorkeling, though I wouldn't have been averse to seeing the caves again either. It didn't take much to persuade everyone else, so Lea kayaked back to Rya Jen to pick up the dinghy and motor back for us.

Once back onto Rya Jen, we discovered that we had left Przemek's snorkel on Miss Lavelle, so he couldn't go with us. No problem, he decided he'd try the kayak and join us at Water Point. On the way to Water Point we saw the Megayacht Olga dropping its big huge anchor right outside Pirate's Bight. Water Point itself was a rocky beach where we could bury the dinghy's anchor amongst rock. As we approached the beach, however, I heard a thud and the outboard shut off. The outboard had hit a rock! Fortunately, there was no damage as I could tell (or so I thought at that time), so I lifted the outboard out of the water and we started our snorkeling. It didn't take 3 minutes before I spotted a huge sea turtle! I called everyone over, and we watched as it started swimming into the open water. Lisa and I followed it along, its flippers moving gracefully, nonchalantly, with not a care in its world.

As it swam off, we explored the area, seeing lots of beautiful wildlife, though perhaps not in as much abundance as what we had seen the day before. After a good hour or so, Przemek showed up in his kayak! At this point, everyone was pretty done with snorkeling (really, what could you see to beat seeing a sea turtle up close and personal?), and a hike was proposed. Przemek didn't enjoy kayaking, so I switched with him and kayaked back to the Rya Jen while he joined the others in the dinghy. It actually didn't take me that much longer to get to the boat than the dinghy, despite the headwind on the return, but I was pretty tired when I got back. Nevertheless, I was greedy for more adventure and decided to join everyone else on the hike.

The hike up to Spyglass hill and around the western end of Norman Island was beautiful, with a surprising number of hermit crabs, and strangely enough, a helipad on top of the ridge. Well, perhaps not so strange, given what we were to see later in the week.

Back on the boat, I dug up the BBQ and assembled it over the transom. Hector had the most experience with BBQ, and after struggling a bit to light it in the increasing wind, actually got it lit, and started preparing to BBQ some tilapia he had bought earlier. The boat was starting to fill up with garbage, so I hailed Deliverance over the VHF to get them to come and take some of it away. Since it was quite dark, they actually had a very difficult time finding us, so they had to hail us and get us to flash our steaming lights a few times until they had visual contact. Upon their second visit, we bought again some expensive groceries, and asked them if they owned this business --- it turned out that the two women were employed by some grumpy old man, they said, but they were having fun and it did seem at least an entertaining job.

After dinner, we noticed a clanking sound coming from the front of the boat. Upon examination, it was the mooring line lifting the anchor up every once in a while and then letting it down with a kathunk. Our solution was to get out an extra line and wrap it under the anchor so it wouldn't move as much With that, we retired early, for the next day was going to be a day of beating against the wind.

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