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Posted on: 07/30/2012 [11 year(s)11month(s) ago]
Posted by: South Florida Dive Journal

Diving the Ande…Scouting Trip for future PADI Tech Adventure Dives

The Ande sits in 195 feet of water. It is what I would call an adventure dive. It is a departure from the recreational world, a decision to experience MORE, and to risk more.

You might say that all divers are adventurers, but I am not writing about the normal adventures of divers. I am writing about the experiences of divers that are more like hunters, and by hunters I mean divers that are hunting for big marine life. Some are hunting to see the big game, some to shoot by video, some to shoot by speargun. These divers, like hunters 10,000 years ago, were the ones that were not happy with the small game that bordered their villages and familiar areas for all. Most of the people back then were content with the safe and easy small game that was found close to home. The hunters I am concentrating on, are after the Big Game, the Game that was and is remote, never seen, far bigger than the hunter, and where the hunter could often/ can often, find themselves becoming the hunted. It is the experiences of this kind of hunter/diver you will read about here.

This Dive was a scouting trip, to see how the wreck of the Ande had developed in the last decade. A Tech instructor from the Pura Vida Dive Shop and I, wanted to see how much growth was on it, what the volume of fish life was like on it, what types of fish were dominant. We wanted to experience the currents, to determine how challenging this dive would be for divers that were NEW to adventure dives at tech depths, and to see how hard this ship would be to hit on a hot drop.

There were 4 of us on this scouting trip. John Ozog, a PADI Tech instructor, Dave Finch, crew for Pura Vida and a Tech Student of John’s, Captain Van Blakeman of the dive boat Narcosis ( which we were out on this day), and myself, Dan Volker, long time DIR diver and now videographer. We were using 21 % oxygen and 30% helium, a really great mix for simplicity and ease in diving for sites under 200 feet deep.

We were to dive the Ande during the surface interval of a normal charter group, with 11 people in it. They did an hour long first dive in 80 feet, and within 5 minutes after they had all been picked up, we were over the top of the Ande.

The four of us stood on the rear of the boat, each wearing 50 to 80 pounds of gear we now felt with an increased heart and breathing rate. The day was becoming hot, and the coolness and weightlessness of the water was a voice in our heads, and it wanted into the water now. Finch let out line for the torpedo float, about 50 feet, and the group of us sucked the air out of our wings for the negative entry. The crew member running the boat would drop us 300 feet up current, and we would be swimming down fast, unsure if the midwater and bottom currents would be 1 knot or 3 knots. If we took too long, we would miss the ship, and the dive would be wasted, a failure. None of us would allow that, and each was planning a full speed descent. On the “Dive Dive Dive” command, the four of us were all underwater in less than 4 seconds, even me with my camera. Van was the fast one….geared with a “jacked up” single 120 and freedive fins, he had the least drag of the four of us, and Van is spearfishing, and swimming at spearfishing pace, straight down. About 4 seconds after hitting the water, I am 30 feet down. The rain from the last few days has the visibility way down from the norm. It is getting dark quickly, and as Van is about 30 feet below me, he is beginning to disappear into the murk. The water is shockingly cool today, and I am wondering how cold I will feel 30 minutes from now. In another 10 seconds we are at around 130 feet, and it feels like a night dive. I have plugged my video cave lights in, but something weird is going on with them, and I am still falling with an annoying lack of light. Somewhere between 30 feet down and 100 feet down, I had rid myself of the high heart rate and breathing rate from exertion at the back of the boat, all the weight I was carrying. Now, just falling with very easy frog kicks and big glides, my heart rate is near 70, and breathing is slow and relaxed.

We reach the bottom in less than a minute, Van had gotten there about 10 seconds ahead of me. I was about 10 feet ahead of John and Finch, and I slowed while they caught up, and we followed Van as a 3 man team. We stayed about 20 feet off of the bottom and drifted for over a minute, and watched sand below us finally change to some long concrete structure that must have fallen off the ship, and we knew we were close.

A big dark horizon suddenly loomed up out of the darkness. The line of the horizon was about 50 or 60 feet off of the bottom, and appeared as a dark wall falling we were drifting into. We slowed and let the current do the work on this final approach, and I dropped to the sand for the establishing shot I wanted for the video, while John and Finch headed to about 160 and the top of the horizon. Vis had improved dramatically to around 80 feet, but the murk on the top 100 feet of water was blocking out the ambient light you would expect to enjoy on this wreck. As I pointed the camera up toward the top of the ship and the surface almost 200 feet away, Van was a silent silhouette, drifting above the wreck with a spear already in a big Red Snapper, and the gun floating by itself as he began working his way to the fish. A few seconds was all I would have before I would need to head for the horizon line myself, as John and Finch were now at the horizon line, and our 3 man buddy team would be broken if I did not return to a close distance and line of sight.

Finch was on mermaid patrol, fascinated with the big life swimming overhead, and committed to missing nothing in the area of the ship. John was more interested in the penetration areas of the ship, the entanglement areas, lines stretched across a path you might swim through, and similar issues this scouting dive was set up for. I followed John, with Finch behind us about 15 feet, until we heard a scream through the regulator noise that could only come from Finch, and as I spun I saw Finch swimming away from the ship at full speed, bubbles exploding above him from the effort, and in the distance a large cloud of fish, multiple species, and then one huge fish in the center. John and I closed on the concentration of fish and on nearing them and Finch, it became apparent that this was a Mola Mola, or Ocean Sunfish. The fish surrounding it were crazed and frenetically rushing in an out all around the Mola, and this is a behavior I intend to go over with some marine biologists, and find out what this was about :-)

The Mola was not content with our attentions, and while a generally slow moving creature, found it had no difficulty leaving us as if we were stationary. I swung the camera back to the wreck, where we could see Van working on his second fish. This one was a fighter, and Van was doing one of those Tarzan routines with the rolling crocodile. I shot some footage, then as he finished, motioned for him to check his pressure gauge, as a workload at this depth can dump 1000 psi out of a tank in just a couple of minutes. We would still have over 45 minutes of decompression stops to do, before we could surface, and we were now 13 minutes into a 15 minute bottom time.

As a group we all collected closer to Van as he finished stringing the large red snapper he had been fighting with, and each of us now had an eye out for large bullsharks, which frequent this wreck, and would normally have experienced Van’s Tarzan routine as a Dinner Bell. As Van finished, I slowly drifted up on to the wheelhouse where I was hoping to have time to shoot some of the lush marine life covering it. Like a coral reef, this had become home to a teeming community of macro creatures, and the colors and activity level would draw anyone into a closer look. I managed about 4 seconds of video clip, before I could see the group out of the corner of my eye, already beginning to reform a tight group, and begin the ascent to the first safety stop at 100 feet deep. I would have preferred another 60 seconds here, but when the group forms up for the ascent, you drop what you are doing.

Our deco stops were uneventful, as they should be. No bullsharks came in to say hi, and no-one had any issues on our return to the surface. Finch did see a Marlin or Sailfish go by at the 30 foot stop, but he was unable to point it out fast enough for the rest of us to see. The remaining minutes were spent watching a remora attempt to bond with Finch, and of course he would have none of that. We were on the surface and then the boat, just as the recreational passengers on the diveboat were finishing the surface interval from their first dive, and as we climbed in to our respective bench seats on the boat, the recreational divers prepared for their next adventure.

I am writing this trip report/blog so that many others can get a feel for this particular adventure dive, and decide if this is a dive that they need. Pura Vida is the shop actually helping divers to fulfill this kind of need, with their PADI TECH courses, and their Trimix, and their association with the boat Narcosis, and their own boat, Sirena.

You can see short clip of the dive, which includes the Mola Mola, at .

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