CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Find Adventure at a Cenote Dive Site

cenote dive site
English: Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The SCUBA diving experts at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors have opened me up to the many adventures in their sport. Encountering underwater wildlife and examining shipwrecks could definitely lure someone into SCUBA diving.

But I started thinking about some of the reasons I like hiking; one of the main reasons I hike is to see cool geological sites. Volcanoes, towering cliffs, caves, that sort of thing. I asked my PADI friends what sort of geological oddities I could find underwater.

The PADI crew tells me the cenotes – or sinkholes – in Mexico might be the best bet. There are cenotes all around the world, from Australia to Canada to Zimbabwe. The famous The Great Blue Hole dive site in Belize is one example.

cenote dive site
Swimmers in cenote, Yucatan, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But let’s talk about the cenote dive sites in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They’re packed with stalagmites and stalactites, two of the features I like best in dry-land caves. These are some incredible caves. It sounds like you have thousands to pick from in the Yucatan thanks to a lot of limestone. You can narrow the search for a great cenote dive site by consulting a PADI dive centers near Playa del Carmen: Pro Dive Mexico, Scuba Playa and Dressel Divers can all help you find a great cenote dive site. If you really want a long-lasting adventure, find out which ones connect to larger, horizontal underwater cave systems (some cenotes are connected, and can extend 300 feet under the water table).

Cenote unterirdisch
Cenote underwater (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something else cool about cenotes in Mexico: They have their place in the mythology of indigenous people. In the Maya culture, some cenotes like the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza were considered a gateway to the afterlife. So you may catch a glimpse of artifacts or human remains!

I’m still on a quest for more interesting underwater geological sites. I imagine that any underwater volcanic activity is probably too deep and otherwise dangerous for SCUBA divers to approach (but correct me if I’m wrong). And I’d love to know of submerged meteor impact craters, fissures -- just about anything. Chime in with anything you know about, and I’ll collect your info for a future post! In the meantime, here’s a fun blog post about cenotes in the Yucatan. It also has some good photos.

Thanks as always to my friends at PADI for the great information.

 

CategoriesAdventures

12 Great Wreck Dives You Should Visit

wreck dives
The Maru-Chuuk

It seems my old friends from the Professional Association of Dive Instructors are at it again – trying to lure me into SCUBA diving. And they know the right way to do it -- show me a bunch of photos of sunken ships and sharks.

PADI has also compiled a list of its 12 favorite wreck dives in the United States. What I like about this list is that they’re relatively modern wrecks. Each will give you a glimpse of fairly recent history.

If you’re looking at this list and wondering how to get started, it’s pretty easy – get SCUBA certified. There are more than 6,200 dive shops worldwide where you can get a SCUBA certification. Not quite as numerous as Starbucks, but still easier to find than you might imagine.

wreck dives
The Carthaginian

Now, let’s check out the dive sites and see what PADI has to say about them! I added some of my own commentary in italics.

Maru-Chuuk (San Francisco) — This cargo vessel, sitting 200 feet below the water, had six 500-pound bombs rip it open and send it straight down, smashing to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Learn more here: trukodyssey.com

Carthaginian II (Maui) — This whaling-vessel replica rests at 95 feet and was sunk on Dec. 13, 2005, to serve as an artificial reef for marine life such as turtles and stingrays. Learn more here: mauiscuba.com

wreck dives
The Sea Tiger

Sea Tiger (Oahu) — This boat, which was originally apprehended carrying 93 illegal Chinese immigrants was sunk as an artificial reef in 1999 and is just a short boat ride off of Wakiki Beach. Learn more here: wakikidiving.com

YO-257 (Oahu) —This former World War II Oiler Boat sits 120 feet below water and is considered an advanced wreck dive. It is reported that it’s not uncommon to see reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles will often rest on the decks of the wreck. Learn more here: diveoahu.com

wreck dives
Yo-257

We can safely guess that PADI folks will use any excuse to get themselves to Hawaii. I’m not judging --

HMCS Yukon (California) —This ship is a 366-foot-long destroyer which lies 105 feet below water and is the crown jewel of Wreck Alley in San Diego. The best photo op for this wreck is the huge smokestack that is covered with bright-orange and pink corynactis anemones. Learn more here: loisann.com

Destroyer? More than 360 feet long? Wreck Alley? How can you NOT want to dive this?

wreck dives
The Yukon, which is in San Diego – nobody, not even Ron Burgundy, really knows what this means.

Oriskany (Florida) —The wreck titled the "Mighty O" is said to be the Super Bowl of wreck dives.  This 888 feet long ship is the world’s largest artificial reef. On this dive you’ll have the opportunity to see amberjack, grouper, red, snapper, butterflyfish and French Angels. Learn more here: floridapanhandledivetrail.com

Sounds like we have lots of fish – and lots of ship here. I’ll resist the temptation to take a poke at Florida and cite novels by Laurence Shames, Tom Dorsey and Dave Barry as evidence.

Manhattan (Great Lakes) — Lake Superior’s Alger Underwater Preserve contains several wrecks like the Manhattan, containing old nails, chains and pulleys and is a great representation of a 19th century steamer. Learn More here: Diversinc.com

wreck dives
The Manhattan

Well, not all wreck dives can be in warm tropical places. I suppose you could drop into  Chicago if you do this dive and have a nice bowl of ramen at the Slurping Turtle(keeping the aquatic theme) to warm you up.

LuLu (Alabama) — This vessel sank off the coast of Orange Beach, Alabama on May 26, 2013 making it the state’s first artificial reef. Now divers travel 90 minutes from shore to explore the boat 115 feet below the sea’s surface. Learn more here: downunderdiveshop.com

wreck dives
The Lulu

Papoose (North Carolina) — The Papoose was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1942 and below water is where it has remained ever since. On a daily basis, five to 10 sand tiger sharks can be seen hanging around the sunken ship. Learn more here: discoverydiving.com

If you like sea creatures as well as wreck dives, I say this is a winner.

USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg (Florida) — A decommissioned U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship, the Vandenberg lies upright in 130 feet of water and is a favorite with divers, due to its large size of 520 feet. Learn more here: divekeywest.com

wreck dives
The Papoose, and a shark!

This one also sounds like a winner – though 130 feet down doesn’t sounds very easy! SCUBA experts, feel free to correct me and tell me I’m just being a big baby!

Spiegel Grove (Florida) — This vessel served in the U.S. Navy and was nicknamed "Top Dog," as this massive warfare ship once carried 330 troops, 18 officers and eight helicopters. Divers have the opportunity to fin through the wheelhouse, find barracuda on the deck and swim through propellers at the stern.  Learn more here: horizondivers.com

I’d be all over a trip into the wheelhouse!

wreck dives
The Hoyt S. Vandenberg

U-352 (North Carolina) — This German submarine had a crew of 40 serving aboard the vessel. Of that 40, 15 remain inside as of May 9, 1942 when USCGC Icarus downed the ship. It now lies 115 feet and the must see for divers include the conning tower, gun mounts and torpedo-loading hatch. Olympusdiving.com

Oh, my! This sounds like a spooky, creepy winner. I have a soft spot for U boats since I visited the U-505 at the as a boy.

wreck dives
Call it the Top Dog …
wreck dives
I can’t resist a U-boat.
CategoriesAdventures

Silfra – One of the World’s Great Diving Sites

SCUBA Silfra, diving destinations
A view of Iceland’s Silfa Rift
Photos of one of the world’s coolest diving sites put SCUBA diving on my "to do" list. Yes, it even trumps my inner desert dweller’s disdain for water that’s 36 degrees F.

But it’s not the low temperatures that make Iceland’s Silfra Rift one of the world’s most unusual diving sites. It’s the scenery. This is where the American and Eurasian continents collide. Underwater cliffs mark the division. SCUBA divers can swim among cliffs that tower up to 65 feet over them on both sides.

And back to that cold water: The low temperatures give a clarity to the water that creates visibility of more than 300 feet. So why is the water so cold? It’s meltwater from a glacier -- chilly!

I’m kind of a big baby about water in general. Cold water makes things even worse for me. Plus, I wasn’t looking for diving sites during my visit to Iceland. I wanted to stay as dry as possible considering Iceland’s wild weather and often-cold (even in summer) temperatures. And now, that’s one of my regrets. Next time I go back, the Silfra Rift will be high on my list. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors dive center in Iceland is my go-to resource to find a way to check out the Silfra Rift.

I get excited about seeing the planet in action. And the collision between the plates is pretty dramatic … not as much ash and lava as other places around Iceland. Not even a monstrous pile of glacier – but still worth slipping into a dry suit to witness, if the pictures are any indication.

diving sites
A SCUBA diver at Silfra Rift. (Photo by Gunnar Powers via flickr.com)

Enjoy the photos -- you can see more from someone who chose to snorkel instead of SCUBA dive. And if you’re a SCUBA diver, I’d like to hear about other diving sites. What are some of your favorites?

Silfra is in Þingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just before 1000 AD, it’s where Iceland’s inhabitants formed its first parliament. It’s worth a stop to see a bit of Iceland’s history after you’ve seen tectonic plates collide at one of the most famous diving sites in the world.

Silfra Crack, diving sites
An out-of-the-water look at Þingvellir National Park, home of the Silfra Rift. (Photo by Jen via flickr.com)
Silfra,  diving sites
Heading into the water. (photo by Bernard McManus via flickr.com)
Silfra,  diving sites
You can see the clarity of the water. (Photo by Bernard McManus via flickr.com)
silfra 01,  diving sites, silfra
Jagged underwater rocks at Silfra diving site. (Photo by Gunna Powers via flickr.com)
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CategoriesAdventures

In Honor of April Fool’s Day – SCUBA Mythbusting

whale shark, SCUBA, PADI
Don’t let myths about SCUBA deprive you of the chance to swim with a whale shark. (Image courtesy of PADI)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t go much for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m a Halloween sort of guy -- and I dig April Fool’s Day. I have a friend whose mother can barely speak to me without snarling nearly 10 years after a prank I helped pull on her (let’s say it involves my best police sergeant phone voice and a story about him misbehaving in some very bad ways).

You can imagine that I spend most of my April Fool’s time trying to -- well, fool people. But this time, I’m on the side of good: I’m going to help my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors set the record straight about some misconceptions about SCUBA diving. Get ready for some surprises! My commentary on PADI’s info is in italics.

You know what's not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it's really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)
You know what’s not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it’s really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)

MYTH #1: I don’t live near the ocean, so I can’t dive.

Nope! With more than 6,100 PADI dive centers around the world, you can literally begin your diver’s certification anywhere. Diving courses can be found at your local sports and recreational center, or in less traditional locations like exotic hot springs and lakes. Visit PADI.com to locate the nearest dive center.

And be sure to check my Yahoo! story about beginner dive sites. It has some non-ocean locations like quarries and rivers.

MYTH #2: If I dive, I’ll likely run into a shark or other dangerous underwater creature!

Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean
Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean (Photo credit: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Maybe you’ve been watching too much Shark Week. In reality, the odds of having a deadly shark encounter is just 1 in 251,800,000, you’re actually 12 times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than shark! Many underwater animals that seem intimidating, such as the school bus-sized whale shark, are virtually harmless and enjoy human interaction.

Those are some low odds. People tend to worry too much – think of all those “afraid to fly” people you know, and how willing they are to drive at 85 mph in a school zone while texting and making themselves a cappuccino with their portable espresso machine. Makes fretting about SCUBA diving seem a bit silly, no? And watch out next time you go for a bottle of soda in the break room!

MYTH #3: Women with breast implants can’t scuba dive.

Never fear! If you’re worried that increased underwater pressure will cause damage to silicone- or saline-filled implants, you have nothing to worry about. A recent study found that diving caused an insignificant increase in bubbles ― nothing that will damage the implant or surround tissue.

Well, I guess that means most of the female population of the north half of my home city of Scottsdale is good to go. Um, what about collagen? (NOTE: PADI supplied the images for this story – none of which included breast implants.)

MYTH #4: Snorkeling is just as good as scuba diving.

Why stay on the surface when you can experience a whole new underwater world? Fully immersing yourself in scuba diving allows you to experience the wonder of breathing underwater, and explore amazing destinations such as reefs, underwater caves, shipwrecks, airplanes and more!

And let me say more about SCUBA versus snorkeling: Last time I snorkeled, I got bounced around in Belize by all the surface waves. Meanwhile, I watched as – 20 feet below me – SCUBA divers glided around unaffected. Soon, I was bobbing and barfing and getting laughed at while trying to escape a floating mound of my own chunder. So, I ask you: Would you rather be like the SCUBA divers or like me?

 

 

 

 

 

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CategoriesAdventuresfeatured

My First SCUBA Dive Experience (Guest Post)

first SCUBA dive
Want to learn how to SCUBA dive? Thailand might be your place. Photo credit.

SCUBA diving is an amazing sport and trying to explain the underwater experience to someone that has never dived before is hard – if not impossible.

My first SCUBA dive was in Koh Samui, Thailand. And from start to finish, the experience was amazing. I’ll do my best to explain to you what happened during my first dive. I hope it encourages you to get your mask and fins together and book a SCUBA vacation.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui is a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand that is perfect for beginners. There are dozens of dive schools on the island offering Professional Association of Dive Instructors and SSI courses to guide you in your first SCUBA dive. And you won’t struggle to find a school that can teach you to dive in your native language. I learnt to dive with a friend of mine who was working as an instructor on the island at the time. I was paired up with a Thai girl who was also undergoing her first dive experience. After studying the theory and taking part in an enclosed water session, we headed from Koh Samui to Koh Tao for our first open-water SCUBA dive.

first SCUBA dive
Who wouldn’t want to see a whale shark? Photo credit.

The Fear Sets In

Most of the dive companies in Koh Samui take their students to the nearby island of Koh Tao for their first SCUBA dive. This is because the visibility is much better, as are the reefs and the range of marine life. It took us about 40 minutes to get to Koh Tao; as my dive buddy and I got closer to the dive site, the nerves started to set in. Neither of us were willing to jump from the boat into the water. Both of us hung around until we were the last people on the boat. After another five minutes or so of deliberating, my dive buddy and I eased into the water to see how we felt. After all, we could always return to the boat if we didn’t enjoy the experience.

Descending

The dive site that we visited was called Aow Leuk. It lies in the middle of the protected marine park of Ko Tao, and it’s just eight to ten metres at its deepest point. Along with my instructor and dive buddy, I descended and practiced some of the skills we had learned on the bottom of the ocean floor. Once we had the OK from our instructor, it was time to swim to the nearby reefs and explore the site a little bit more.

Within minutes, neither myself nor my dive buddy felt an ounce of fear. Our first SCUBA dive experience was absolutely amazing.

It is really hard to describe just how awe-inspiring SCUBA diving is … the underwater world is just so unique. Shoals of fish swim past you whilst eels poke their heads out of small cracks in the rock. The more you look around, the more you see – blue spotted rays, clown fish and even turtles. Unfortunately we did not encounter any of the whale sharks that often swim in these waters

By the time we had returned to the boat, my dive buddy and I could not wait to re-enter the water for our second dive. Since then, we have been the best of friends. My dive buddy has just completed her PADI rescue course and I completed my Instructor course 3 years ago – both of us were hit by the SCUBA dive bug. If you ever get the chance, you will completely see why.

This guest post was written by Rutger Thole, a member of the BookYourDive.com team. Find out more about him and get great diving tips and ideas at his Google Plus profile. 

If you’re thinking about visiting Thailand to scuba dive, check out the divein.com guide to plan your trip.

CategoriesAdventuresfeaturedTravel

Scary SCUBA Advice – Truk Lagoon to Turtle Tomb

turtle tomb
Turtle skeletons lurk under the water (courtesy of PADI)

When I run the world, Halloween will be a quarterly holiday. I’ve been known to have multiple Halloween costumes each year. I use a Dremel tool to carve pumpkins.

But as much as I like Halloween, my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors have one-upped me. They take Halloween underneath the sea – and they’ve exposed us to a submerged world of turtle skeletons, the World War II-era wrecks at Truk Lagoon and even underwater pumpkin carving (I guess I can’t use my handy Dremel underwater …).

Here’s what PADI has to say about its top picks for Halloween-themed SCUBA dive destinations:

truk lagoon gas mask ghost fleet
Remnants of the Ghost Fleet wrecks. (courtesy of PADI)

Turtle Tomb: This creepy dive spot in Sipadan, Malaysia is covered with a thick layer of white sand and dust composed of numerous skeletons of turtles who were unable to escape the winding underwater passageways. I have a measure of sympathy for the dead turtles … but that might up the creep factor a bit.

Ghost Fleet wrecks: Dive into a graveyard of more than 50 Japanese vessels that found their final resting place at the bottom of Truk Lagoon in the Eastern Caroline Islands.

Night Diving: Scared of the dark? Face your fears with a night dive. Your flashlight will be the only thing keeping the dark at bay as you dive deeper.

 

Add a new challenge to carving pumpkins by doing it underwater. (courtesy of PADI)

Spooky Scuba: Check your local dive center this Halloween for spooky specials, like underwater Haunted Houses, SCUBA dive costume contests and underwater pumpkin carving!

I have to give props to PADI for some imagination in fusing Halloween and SCUBA diving. If you’re looking for the same sort of thrill you used to get out of Jason and Freddy Krueger, this might be your ticket. Now, I just might take up SCUBA just to see the Truk Lagoon wrecks!

 

 

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