Saturday, July 09, 2011

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 10

I don’t want nobody to give me nothin’.
Open up the door, I’ll get it myself!

I love James Brown. Jon supplied most of our music from his player on this trip and there was a good bit of James in the mix. Good Gawd! Today we would embody the message of this song. With no openings available with any of the dive operators, we’d simply hafta take care of diving on our own. We don’t need anybody to hold our hands, just rent us some gear and we’ll take ourselves diving.

Yeeee-oooowww! Take me to the bridge!

Or the dive site. Whichever.

The three of us discussed our desires for our last two dives of the trip and consulted the dive guide for possibilities. The one that floated to the top for me was Carval Rock. This is an exposed seamount which breaks the surface as a small islet between Ginger and Cooper islands. It is on the Caribbean Sea side of the islands and is deep and exposed. Perfect for visiting pelagics which makes it a good possibility for us. Unfortunately, the SDC folks informed us that the dive balls had gone missing and had not been replaced. Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

There’s one dive site called Vanishing Rock. The author of the dive guide we’re using personally calls it Vanishing Boat because on one dive there he came up to find his boat a good way off. He swam hurriedly to the boat and when he reached it he discovered that the entire mooring system was still attached to the boat, having come free from the seabed.

Cross off Carval Rock.

We eventually settle on a site called Ginger Steps. This is a site on the Caribbean Sea side of Ginger Island. It’s a series of rock ledges and sand canyons starting at about 35’, where the mooring ball is, and descending to 100’ at the bottom of the last wall (“step”) whose top is at about 65’. It’s deep and it’s exposed. The potential for pelagic visitors is pretty good. We untie from our mooring and power up Kokomo’s mighty twin diesels, heading for exciting, new adventures. Alone.

It takes some careful looking but we eventually spot the ball for Ginger Steps and tie up. Yep. This site is definitely exposed. Even on our big, stable, wide-body catamaran, we are doing some rocking and rolling. We gear up and I take my role as Divemaster seriously for this experience. These are my wonderful friends whom I love. I do NOT want to lead them into trouble or danger or allow them to fall into danger because of my inattention or incompetence. This will be our deepest dive and we are responsible for our own dive plan and navigation. Safety and responsibility are my bywords for the day. Well, and fun. Fun is ALWAYS a consideration.

We tie a float to the end of a long dockline and stream it from the stern of the dink, which we allow to float at the end of its line from the stern of Kokomo. Now we have a nice, long connection downcurrent. If things get dicey and somebody gets caught downcurrent from the boat, too tired to make the swim on his own all the way back to Kokomo, he can grab the float line or the dink line and pull himself to Kokomo’s sugarscoop. Or in the case of extreme exhaustion, he can just hang on while we pull him in.

The navigation and dive plan are fairly straightforward. We drop down the mooring line and head West down the ledges/steps. When we hit the bottom of the last one at 100’ we turn South and follow the wall until we reach our limit on time or air, whichever comes first. Then we turn East and ascend back up the ledges/steps until we hit the ledge at the 35-40’ mark. Turn North and follow this one back to the mooring. A nice, simple rectangle.

Before the advent of dive computers, divers used “the tables.” These were originally bottom-time tables developed by the Navy which were later converted to something a bit simpler for sport divers. The PADI tables allow a total bottom time of 25 minutes for a 100’ dive. Take an extra 5 minutes and you must do a decompression stop of 3 minutes at 10’. The old-time tables are more merciless than modern dive computers. When you use the tables, you calculate your time for the absolute deepest you’ve been, even if you were only there for a brief moment and the rest of your dive was much shallower. For example, the tables allow 100 minutes at 50’ but if your dive is a mix of 100’ and 50’, you must calculate it as a 100’ dive. For the purposes of simplicity and safety, we were doing a table-style 100’ dive.

Gearing up in the chop required some care and effort but we helped each other and ultimately did giant stride entries from Kokomo’s sugarscoop transom. No backrolls today, folks. At the mooring ball we all agreed that we were ready so I started timing and we descended Ginger Steps. At the bottom of the mooring line, I switched my watch to compass mode and headed West down the steps. We crossed the first sand gully at 60ish’ and saw ray track but no rays. Dropped over the final wall and found the sandy seafloor at 100’. Time to turn South.

(Jon photo)

We cruised along the wall, enjoying the usual reef life but searching and hoping for some big pelagics to cruise by. There. Who’s that? A large, beautiful Queen triggerfish. Ahhhh, lovely. That’s a treat. Now what other unusual sightings will we have?

(Jon photo)

One unusual experience here is the random swirling cold current which occasionally flows over us. As we’ve coasted along this wall we’ve been hit several times with a chilly burst, varying significantly from the basic 85ish-degree embrace we’re used to. Felt like it was in the mid-70s. Brrrr! I looked especially carefully for pelagics when we were in the chillier flow but no luck.

Checking my watch for time and compass heading I discover that it has died. Well, shit. I catch up to Ben who’s near me and ask him to check his watch, indicating that mine is dead and he’s now our official timekeeper. I check air status on all three of us and figure it’s about time to turn East up the steps, now just an approximation because of my dead compass.

Ginger Steps decides to grace us with a fond farewell. A large spotted eagle ray comes cruising from the distance and flows up the wall not far from us. Magnificent. My breath catches in my throat.

(Jon photo)

Now we’re climbing the steps back to the 35’ level. When my depth gauge tells me we’re there, I turn us (approximately) North toward the mooring. As we cruise along this reef, I again check with Ben for time and both guys for air levels. Jon looks at me and cups his hands together which is SCUBA sign-language for “Where’s the boat, dude?” I shrug and indicate that my watch/compass died. We contour along the 35’ reef in a generally Northward direction. Eventually, we do come back to the boat and board successfully despite the chop.

(Jon photo)

We strip out of our gear and have a freshwater rinse. Phew. Time for some hydration and a nice surface interval rest before our second dive. The chop and surge here is not conducive to a pleasant experience, so we free ourselves from the mooring and head for a more-protected spot.

There’s a dive site called Alice’s Wonderland which is not very far from us and it looks calmer there. We motor on over in that direction. There are a coupla dive balls in the approximate area. We tie to the one in shallower, more-protected water and settle down to relax and enjoy our required surface interval.

While we rest, I’ll tell you about Alice’s Wonderland. At one time it was arguably the loveliest reef in the BVI. Sadly, the coral bleaching in recent years has turned this reef into a skeleton of its past glory. Word is that it’s still worth seeing and we’re here so this will be our second dive.

The depth sounder indicates only 25’ and the shallowest parts of Alice’s are listed at 35-40 so maybe we’re way off the tail end of Alice’s or on a different site altogether. Formulating a rigorous dive plan is impractical. We agree to just drop down and look around, staying together and monitoring our air and bottom time. Gearing up is easier in the calmer water and we’re soon all assembled at the mooring line. Down we go for our last SCUBA adventure of the trip.

We soon discover that this is a shallow reef and it’s clearly in sad decline. There are some clusters of living coral and their associated ecosystems but there are lots of dead areas. We peek and poke around, seeing the usual suspects. Then, a pleasant surprise. A large hogfish is cruising for snacks and he doesn’t mind if we tag along.

(Jon photo)

Jon and I swim with him for quite a while before I get tired of the pace. Sad, sad, injured ass. I call my gargantuan fins “turtle-catchers” but in this reduced state I can barely keep up with a grazing hogfish. Oh well, it is what it is and he was very sweet. Finally, it’s time to call it a dive and a day. We return to Kokomo, tired but satisfied.

Now it’s time to head back to the mooring field at Cooper Island to return all this rented dive gear and prepare ourselves for the following morning when we must return Kokomo to the good folks at Conch Charters and depart this island paradise. Thanks, SDC, you’ve provided us with a memorable final day of diving.

The Hesperides come softly, summoning their parents, Erebus and Nyx. With them comes Hypnos and, under his care, we float away on the river Lethe.

1 comment:

  1. And that evening, as the boats from Sail Caribbean offer their Disney-inspired musical drivel and we enjoyed our final night, Frank thought we'd impress with our friend Adam Samberg's classic "I'm on a Boat". And Jon obliged by tuning his iPod to the song, which we listened too fairly loudly.

    The pirate flag danced in the wind.

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