Thursday, May 19, 2011

Night diving: Scuba exploration in a whole new light

By Don Gardner
The ocean is much like New York City.
It never sleeps.
Sure, the sun may go down, the water’s surface may become dead calm, but that doesn’t mean everyone has packed it in for the night.
On the contrary. In fact, dusk literally brings on the second shift – ocean animals that are rarely, if ever, are seen during the day, go to work at night. That is the No. 1 reason to consider a night dive.
For five straight years, I’ve taken diving trips to the island of Cozumel, a diving mecca off the coast of Cancun on Mexico’s eastern boarder. For the first three years, I was intrigued by the prospect of night diving, but as a solo diver, I was a little nervous. Diving in pitch-black water, with a “buddy” I just met on the dive boat 10 minutes before? I wasn’t comfortable with that. Finally, two years ago, I took the plunge (pun intended). Now I wonder what took me so long.
Don’t get me wrong, night diving is a little spooky. And in a deep water column, it is possible to get a disoriented. But you can hit a dive site in the morning and do it again at night and see a COMPLETELY different set of animals. For me, the highlight of my three night dives has been seeing about a dozen octopi. Prior to night diving, I had never seen one in the wild. They are amazing to watch, as they move like a glass of water spilled over the craggy reefhead in search of a meal. Such mesmerizing elegance. I’ve also seen small schools of squid, watched a puffer fish blow up into a ball when startled by a diver’s light. I’ve seen fish sleeping so soundly that they don’t move even with a light shined in their face and a diver nearly making mouth-to-mask contact.
A Splendid Toadfish, shot by a friend during a night dive on Paradise Reef in Cozumel.
And a special treat in Cozumel is listening to the Splendid Toadfish, a beautifully ugly fish indigenious only to the island, croak to each other like bullfrogs, communicating in the darkness.
Night diving is a special treat not to be missed. Dave Leander, a dive instructor for Great Lakes Dive Center, 47450 Van Dyke in Shelby Township (586) 254-7670,, provides some great, helpful tips to become a confident night diver.
By Dave Leander
Do you remember when you were a kid, going out at night and playing flashlight tag? 
Scuba diving at night is a lot like that. Suddenly the dive site you thought you knew becomes a lot different when you can see a whole new cast of creatures revealed by your dive light.
While it may seem a little scary at first in spite of the familiar surroundings, night diving is also awesome and a great way to see the underwater world in a whole new light (no pun on words!).  These are a few tips about night diving you may choose while you get those first few night dives in your log book and see if your favorite times underwater don’t turn out to be the dives after dark.
  • Practice in a swimming pool. It's not as silly as it might sound, but if you have access to an indoor pool where you can turn off the lights, or an outdoor pool after dark, exploring it with your dive light will help prepare you for an open water night dive. Actually, you'll find it fun, even after you have a lot of experience with open water night dives.
  • Choose a dive site you’ve seen before in full light. When you know what it looked like in the daytime, you know what to expect after dark. Plus you'll appreciate how diving at night reveals a whole new world on even a familiar dive site.
  • Start at twilight. It's easier to get your scuba equipment on, plan your dive with your dive buddy and make your entry while you still have some daylight to work with. As night falls while you’re underwater, your sight gradually becomes acclimated to the darkness throughout the dive instead of plunging into the darkness from the start. You’ll notice many of your underwater friends exhibit unique behaviors at twilight, bedding down for the night or positioning themselves for successful nighttime feeding.
  • Plan a shorter, shallower scuba dive. Typically scuba divers experiencing night dives for the first few dives use more air, so a scuba tank will not last as long as it usually does. To enjoy your night dives, don't stray too far from the entry point or dive boat during the dive, go slow and cover a smaller area while investigating each new spot your dive light reveals. Take the time to look in every nook and cranny.
  • Don't forget to navigate. It should be easy when you don’t go too far, but many of the landmarks you’re used to seeing in full light, will be missing in the dark. Use lights on the shore, mark the boat’s anchor line and find or create other aids to keep your bearings.
  • Take the time to notice the little things, and watch for the big ones. Many tiny creatures you swim right over during the day stand out in the beam of your dive light.  Some underwater critters hide during the day and can only be seen at night so bring you camera and strobe to get those rare pictures.  Don’t just keep you light beam on the reef, be sure to shine your light out into the bigger water around you occasionally to catch a passing stingray, a curious grouper or even some reef squid that will follow you along on your dive just outside the beam.
  • Delve into your imagination and cover your dive light to find out how dark it really is underwater. Or more importantly, how dark it really isn’t. Most likely you’ll find you can still see plenty. If you’re diving with a group, the flicker from other scuba divers’ lights  and marker lights will indirectly light up the dive site. In some areas, phosphorescent plankton is common – just wave your arm through the water and you’ll see a trail of stars twinkling around you. In clear water the moon can be visible from underwater, so take a look upward and check it out. In clear water with a full moon, you could make most of the dive with your lights off, but you will always want to have a dive light and marker light on every night dive.
  • Carry two dive lights, a primary and a smaller backup. One of the sacred rules you’ll learn in the Night Diver specialty course is that every diver needs their own dive light. So if your only dive light goes out you can use your backup and save the dive. We also like to use a tank light that marks the diver while on the night dive.
  • For a really unique experience, consider a night dive just before dawn and watch the underwater world wake up. Early morning, your dive site can be just as fascinating as twilight and when you make your ascent while the sun is making one of its own, there’s just no better way to start the day!  We will be looking for you on our next night dive…….tag you’re it!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sea-Side Dive Shop hosts Tobermory trip over Memorial Day weekend

By Don Gardner

Sea-Side Dive Shop, located on Harper Ave. in St. Clair Shores, 586-772-7676,, will play host to a scuba diving weekend in Tobermory, Canada, Friday, May 27 through Sunday, May 29.
I've visited Tobermory a couple of times, once for diving. It is a beautiful area, not much for nightlife, but with plenty of natural scenery to enjoy. It takes about six hours to get there from the Detroit area, but the diving makes it worth the trip. The wrecks are in fantastic shape, and the water is crystal clear. Of course, this time of year, most, if not all, of the diving is done with drysuits.
Here is the information from Sea-Side:

On May 27 drive to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Canada, check into your cabin.  If you get there before dark, check out the area, spring time in Tobermory is beautiful.  On Saturday morning, after sleeping in, we will register with the Fathoms Five National Marine Park.  Then in the afternoon we will take a charter boat out to Forest City, a wreck that ranges in depth from 60 feet to 150 feet. 
After dusk, we will dive the Niagara II.  Sunday we will dive the Arabia (120 feet) and a yet to be determined wreck site.  We decided to reserve the cabins through Sunday night as Monday is a holiday.  Make a leisurely drive home on Monday or make a few shore dives before heading home.    
Trip cost is $320 which covers three nights accomodations (triple occupancy) at the Lands End Park Cabins, (bring your sleeping bag), 2 days boat diving (2 dives per day)   The trip fee does not include: diver registration fee, meals, scuba equipment, air fills or transportation (we will help organize travel buddies).   

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bruno's Dive Shop heading to Thunder Bay at the end of May

Bruno's Dive Shop, located in Clinton Township, (586) 792-2040, will be hauling its dive vessel, The Great Lakes Diver, up to Alpena and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary for a 4-day weekend of diving.
The diving will take place from noon on Friday, May 27 through Monday, May 30 at 4 p.m.
The dive shop has reserved most of the entire peninsula sand spit at Campers Cove, 15 minutes west of Alpena. The sites are large and an accomodate several people. At most, groups will be paying $25 per night.
Cost for diving is $250 for two, two-tank trips or $135 for one two-tank trip.
The shop says it will probably visit three wrecks on the trip, all TBC, although the third will be a shallow last dive/snorkel to suck the tanks dry. Deeper dives will most likely be on Sunday.
Bruno's asks that divers put down a 25 percent deposit or pay in full for the trip to confirm your spot.
The remaining balance will be due in the week prior to the trip. Payments can be made online, over the phone or at the shop.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is advanced open water training for you?

By Don Gardner
For many divers, the next logical step after earning open water diver certification is to continue their education and skills training with an advanced open water certification.
The best way to equate it is to compare an open water certificate to bachelor’s degree, and an advanced open water (which I will refer to as AOW) certificate to additional education, though something short of a master’s degree. Do you need an advanced certificate to scuba dive? No. But just like obtaining additional education, advanced certification shows that you have undergone additional training and shown capability in various diving specialties.
Carrying an AOW certification also helps dive masters gain a potential feel for a diver’s ability when they are setting up a dive shedule. Of course, carrying that advanced certification doesn’t always mean the diver carries an advanced skill set. I have been on several dive trips in which divers with AOW were among the least-skilled divers in the group.
Advanced certification requirements vary depending upon the training agency. SSI (Scuba Schools International), PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) are three of the best known training agencies and their requirements are slightly different.
In general, most AOW type courses offer speciality classes in these types of training: deep diving, drift diving, search and recovery, underwater navigation, enriched air diving, multilevel diving altitude diving, marine biology, night diving and buoyancy control.
Dave Leander, a dive instructor for Great Lakes Dive Center, 47450 Van Dyke in Shelby Township (586) 254-7670, is a member of PADI. He provides for us a breakdown of what divers have to do to earn a PADI AOW certification:
By Dave Leander
Looking for the ultimate adventure?  Well, you’ve found it! The PADI’s Advanced Open Water Diver program fine tunes your dive skills and allows you to explore some of diving's top adventures. It’s your dive – go for it!
The Advanced Open Water Diver program offers you a structured program where you gain additional experience and skills under the direct guidance of a PADI professional.
PADI’s Advanced Open Water Diver program has something for everyone. This in-water, performance based program includes a total of five dives from the following list: Altitude Diver, Boat Diver, Drift Diver, Deep Diver, Dry Suit Diver, Dive Propulsion Vehicle, Multilevel Diver, Night Diver, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Search and Recovery Diver, Underwater Naturalist, Underwater Videographer, Underwater Photographer, Underwater Navigator, AWARE Fish Identification, Wreck Diver.
Locally we compile a 5 dive weekend for you to complete you PADI’s Advanced Open Water Diver program by completing the following dives from the available list above: Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Navigation, Night, Deep and Search and Recovery.  What better way to spend a weekend than diving and meeting new divers and logging some bottom time.
If you’re 15 or older, and a PADI Open Water Diver or equivalent, then you’re ready for the Advanced Open Water Diver program. Or, if you’re between the ages of 10 and 14, there’s the PADI Junior Advanced Open Water Diver. The Junior program is available if you hold a PADI Junior Open Water Diver or equivalent certification.  Same dives and skills are required but a restricted certification because of age.
After successfully completing the course, you'll receive the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification. This allows you to participate in more advanced diving activities with a maximum recommended depth limit of 100 feet, in addition to the qualifications listed for PADI Open Water Divers.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Michigan photographers shoot photos underwater

Fremont, Mich. (AP) — For Jeff Blanzy, shooting the Fremont High School swim team picture underwater was a swim in the park compared to his previous career as a commercial diver pulling maintenance on nuclear power plants.
But after years as a commercial diver, and later dipping his toes into the corporate world, Blanzy, 53, decided to combine decades of diving experience with his love of photography into the Fremont photography studio Treasured Images by Jeffrey.
Fremont diver/photographer Jeff Blanzy photographs Fremont High School junior Logan Essebaggers, 16, underwater in his baseball uniform in the Fremont High School swimming pool in March.  Blanzy and his wife, Lisa, own and operate Treasured Images by Jeffrey and offer underwater portraiture as an option for customers.
From athletes and students to brides and models, the photography business owned by Blanzy and his wife, Lisa, captures moments in a unique way — underwater portraits.
"I used to be a commercial diver and I've been taking pictures all my life," Blanzy said. "Basically, we turned a hobby into a business when we started doing this about a year ago." The studio also does photos in traditional settings.
More than 20 years ago, Blanzy, a recreational diver, began diving commercially for an Ann Arbor-based company that specialized in nuclear diving.
Using commercial scuba equipment, Blanzy would perform mechanical inspections, repairs and fuel transfers on nuclear reactors diving in 95- to 120-degree radioactive water. The dives usually lasted about 20 to 30 minutes.
"We were wired from our toes all the way up to check for radiation levels and body temperature," Blanzy said. "We wore an ice vest under our suit. It was only 15 minutes sometimes, and that vest would be completely melted."
Diving in nuclear power plants is an exacting science. Equipment is carefully checked so nothing is left behind, which cause damage to the fuel rods.
"Everything is documented — down to a piece of tape — because everything has to be checked off when you leave. The equipment never leaves the site."
Blanzy said the commercial diving job was like "being a professional athlete" because of the traveling required.
"It gets old living out of a hotel all the time," Blanzy said. "I could be gone from home for six months easy, and you don't know your schedule ahead of time."
After 15 years as a commercial diver, he decided to take an office job as a marketing sales manager. But after six years in the corporate world, he decided it was time for another change.
"As a commercial diver, I picked up things like underwater photography, video and documentation. I wanted to do something that incorporated all my skills," Blanzy said. "I wanted to take the last part of my career to do something I really enjoy. I also wanted to do something different from what everybody else was doing."

Fremont diver/photographer Jeff Blanzy and his wife, Lisa Blanzy own and operate Treasured Images by Jeffrey. 
 Blanzy said he and his wife were at an art gallery in South Beach, Fla., which had a number of photos taken underwater on display. "They were just absolutely beautiful, and that kind of piqued our interest."
The husband and wife team work together to execute the underwater shoots, with Lisa Blanzy staying dry while her husband's in the pool.
"Lisa works on the surface, coordinating activities, because there is a lot of topside stuff, like changing backdrops, adjusting lighting, holding the train of a wedding dress and helping models," Blanzy said. "The water is not over their heads, so at any time they can stand up. When it's all said and done, we have a lot of fun, but they have to love the water."
Recently, this challenging twist on portraits was made even more difficult when the entire Fremont High School Men's Swim and Dive Team was photographed as a team and individually.
"I had never done a shoot with 24 people under water, and we didn't know what we were going to get ourselves into," Blanzy said. "But it was a lot of fun and everyone had a blast. The swim team was very polite and helpful. We're looking forward to doing it again."
The couple uses the Fremont High School pool for their underwater photo shoots because they need a controlled environment for lighting, weather and temperatures. However, they will travel anywhere in West Michigan that has a public pool available to rent.
"The pool becomes our studio," Lisa Blanzy said. "We've had brides underwater, a model. And maternity photos are very beautiful under water. This was our first team shot so it was a lot more difficult to organize."
The duo volunteered to photograph the swim team in order to help get the word out about the unique product they offer.
"As a swim team, we're always in the water, so it's what we do," said Mary Pekel, Fremont High School teacher and varsity swim coach. "I wasn't sure how (the photos) would turn out, but they are really interesting.
"We're going to show a DVD of the photos at our banquet. The guys loved it. They loved doing the pictures, and they really liked the end result," Pekel said.
Lisa Blanzy said the response has been phenomenal.
"The parents that I've personally talked to love the photos, and the boys had a blast," she said. "We didn't charge them. It was just for fun, and we put the photos up on the website for them to buy if they want. We're trying to offer something different and neat."