Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I think I'm in love

And I don't even know her name yet...

My neighbor got a new dog.

A GIANT St. Bernard puppy.

Yeah. I almost went over the fence when I saw her.

She is beautiful.

As of this morning she did not have a name.

He said he wanted a name that was fit for a girl, but also for a dog of that size.

A name like Bear, he said, but more feminine.

Which prompted me to go dog stalker.

I looked up St. Bernards on Google.

They are from Switzerland.

OK. In Switzerland they speak German and French.

Bear in German is Bar. Hmm. Not pretty.

Bear in French is Ours. Yeah, not digging it.

Then I thought of Latin. Ursa.

Like the constellations Ursa major and Ursa minor. Big bear and little bear.


Me, I love it.

But I am too embarrassed to actually tell him that I researched names for his dog.

Too embarrassed to tell a man I hardly know that I have decided to name his dog for him.

He got her yesterday.

I saw her out there in the yard again today.

She is so beautiful.

Again. Over the fence. Almost.

He heard me talking to her and stuck his head out the window.

Was she loud? Was she bothering me?

Not at all.

In truth, I was probably bothering her.

So cute.

He then mentioned that he did not want her to get lonely.

So he was getting her a playmate.

An Alaskan Malamute puppy.

Holy crap.

That is a lot of dog. Two huge, HUGE dogs next door.

Now I have to think of cute Eskimo dog names that I am too embarrassed to tell him.

Seriously. I may hurt myself climbing over that wall.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sunburned, seasick and certified

OK. I think I will do this post in three parts, by day, since I have not updated the diving status since Thursday.

I was just so busy and then so wiped out by it all that I wanted to take some time to get back to normal before posting all this.
Here goes... (I warn you, it will be a long one.) If you can make it to the part about Sunday, there are photos. Or you can just skip ahead to that part. Whatever.
I called the wetsuit place before I left the house that morning. I figured if the suit was not ready, there was no point driving all the way over there to find that out and then driving all the way back to the beach (totally opposite direction) to get the rental.
But it was ready. Yay!
So I stopped by there on my way to work.
After struggling and wrestling and fighting with the rental suits earlier in the week, I was not looking forward to doing that again in the middle of a parking lot the next morning.
Turns out I did not have to.
The suit, since it was made for my exact measurements, pretty much just slid right on.
It seemed to fit OK, maybe a little big in places.
They told me to go ahead and try it out in the water and see how it was.
Sounded like a plan to me.
If it needed to be altered, they said I could bring it back in for fixes later.
After that I headed to work.

I got out of the office around 8 p.m. and went home to start getting things ready for Saturday morning.

Manfriend and I had a quick dinner then I set about getting my gear in order so I could get to sleep at a reasonable hour. It was about 11, I think, by the time I was done triple checking the dive bag for all the equipment.
Finally, sleep.

I got up at 6:45 a.m.

I wanted to have time to have a little breakfast (a bowl of cereal) even though I don't normally eat anything in the morning.
After that I got dressed for the beach, loaded up my car and was off by 7:30.

I was supposed to be at Veteran's Park in Redondo Beach by 8 a.m. It is not far, but I did not want to risk being late.
I needed all my gear and a bunch of quarters for the parking meter.

I had rounded up about $5 in quarters the day before and put them in a baggie.
Of course on the way there I panicked thinking I had left the quarters at home.
So I stopped at a laundry place and changed some bills for more quarters.

Then when I got there I found the baggie in my bag.
Oh well, better safe than sorry.
Once I got to the beach I discovered that even though I was 8 minutes early, I was the last one there.
The instructor set us to putting together our weight belts.
Since I tended to float in the pool, I already knew I would have a lot of weight on me.

I also had the brand new wetsuit, which is pretty buoyant. So that meant more weight.
Plus more weight was needed for the ocean and for going deeper than for the 9-feet of the pool.

All in all, I started with 32 pounds on the weight belt.
That is 32 pounds worn around the waist.
That was one heavy weight belt.
After that we were told what we would be doing once we got in the water. We also watched some of the regulars make their way down the stairs in full gear.
One of the guys I saw go down the stairs is a friend of the manfriend who is a fairly active diver with his own dive-log blog.
Finally, after the talk we were off to put on our wetsuits and gear up.

We walked out onto the sand. One of the instructors, Carlos, was already in the water. He had set up a float that we would use as a sort of in-water home base.

The other instructor, Ron, sent us out one at a time. He advised us to take the waves at a sideways angle and to try to sort of jump over them as they crashed toward us. Once we were past the surfline, we were to swim out and wait at the float.
I was the second one in the water and I had no trouble getting out to the float.

The water was not even as cold as I thought it would be.

One by one my class swam out, followed by Ron.

At the float we were told to go down the line one at a time and wait at the bottom.
I was the third one down the line.

I had no trouble clearing my ears and despite the fact that it looked like there was no visibility from the top of the water, I could actually make out the other people pretty well.
Carlos and Ron later said it was about 8-foot visibility.

Under the water we had some things we had to do.
We had to let water into the mask and then clear it.
We had to achieve what is called a fin pivot, which basically means your body is just floating and your fin tips are barely touching bottom.
We had to do a controlled breathing ascent, which means surfacing without taking a breath from the regulator, but exhaling the whole way up. Basically it is a drill for what happens if you run out of air and are alone. Of course, one hopes to never have to really do this.
Finally, we had to do the out-of-air drill with a buddy.

This time I was the one who was out of air. Of course I was not really out of air. But we had to practice what to do if i was.

So I told my buddy I was out of air. He gave me his alternate air source, basically a second regulator or mouthpiece attached to his gear.
We hold onto each other by the vest and ascend at a normal rate. Once we get to the top, I have to inflate my vest orally and my buddy has to hang on to me and keep me afloat while I do that.
That was pretty much the end of the first dive.

It was time to get out of the water.

Which was no easy feat.
I was doing great.
I was upright, prepared to walk out proudly.
Then I was body checked by a wave and down I went.
Me, the tank and all 36 extra pounds of weight. Because it turns out 32 was not enough.
So they put 4 more pounds on my tank.
So I instead crawled out somewhat proudly but mostly pissed that I got knocked down.

I made it to the beach and a diver from another group was kind enough to help me back to my feet.

After that we took a break, caught our breath, swapped tanks and went over the plan for the second beach dive.
This time we had to navigate using the compass. So Ron went over how that worked and then we were back in the water.
Getting back in was easy enough even though the water had gotten choppier.
This time we got to the float and had some skills to go over at the surface.
We had to remove our vest/tank combination and then get it back on.
This had given me some problem in the pool and I was really not keen on trying it in the ocean.
Getting it off was easy enough. Getting it back on had been tricky for me. I expected to have to attempt this at least a few times.

But wait... I got it right. Just like that. Awesome!
Next it was time to remove that 32-pound weight belt and get that back on.
This had literally kept me awake the night before.
I really had some issue with this in the pool. At that was only with 10 pounds.
I now had 32 pounds, colder water, a tight wetsuit and a choppy ocean.
The trick they showed us was to take the belt off and hold it in the right hand. Then you lean back and roll yourself into the belt. You need to have the mask on and the regulator in since you end up with your face in the water for a bit as you find the other end of the belt and get it buckled.
Seriously. Thinking about doing this with 32 pounds was freaking me out.
Again, perfect and easy the first time. Beautiful.

Then we had to set our compass for a fixed object in the distance, put on the mask and snorkel, and, at the surface, swim out toward that object 20 kicks. Then, without picking our head up out of the water, turn around and swim back 20 kicks.

I did OK. I ended up close to where I started.

Finally we got to go to the bottom. In pairs we set our compass in the direction Ron pointed, synchronized them and swam out 10 kicks, turned and swam back. My buddy, Lee, and I did a fine job of this. We also had the benefit of knowing that if things did not go well, Carlos was swimming above of to make sure we did not head out to sea.

Finally, all these things were done and we got to swim around with Ron leading us.
Unfortunately, by this point the visibility was total crap. There was not much to see there anyway. Just a lot of sand. I did see a couple sand dabs and some sand dollars.

I was at the end of the pack, following the red fins in front of me. The owner of the red fins was following the fins in front of her.

Suddenly, there was nothing. Nothing in front of me but water.
I saw another group down there. Not my group though.

Crap. I was lost.

I remembered what the book said: Look around for one minute to see if you find your buddy or anyone else. If you do not, surface normally.
So I did that. Turns out a few other people got lost, too.
But we weren't really all that lost. We all surfaced pretty close to each other and pretty close to the float.
And that was the end of that dive.

We all started swimming back to shore. It was part swimming, part letting the waves push us in.
As I got closer to shore I was determined that I would not fall this time.
I got to a place where I could stand and took off a fin. Then I moved a little closer and took off the other fin.

Then I began walking to shore, being mindful of the waves at my back.
I did somewhat of a sideways walk going out, like the sideways walk going in.

This time I got to the place where I had fallen before and paused a second. I watched the next little swell come in and I let the momentum from that move me forward but not knock me down.
And then I walked out like a badass. THAT felt great.

This was the end of the diving for Saturday. I walked out of the water and just kept going, right back across the sand and up the stairs to the parking lot.
I knew that if I stopped, it would be hard to get moving again with all that gear on me. And the best was to carry it up the stairs was to just leave it on me.

Back at the car I shed weights, vest/tank, hood, gloves, boots, wetsuit.
I slipped some workout pants and a T-shirt on over my bathing suit and headed back to the dive shop.

There was a little more paper work to fill out. Plus we had to get one of our tanks refilled for Sunday's boat trip. I also wanted to see about some soft weights for the tank. I needed more than the 32 pounds they had given me to start and I did not want more on my hips.

I opted for a couple of 3-pound pellet-filled weights. They can go on the tank or the ankles.
After that I went to get some sushi from my uncle's shop in Gardena to take on the boat the next day.
Then home to rinse the gear and hang my wetsuit so that it could be as dry as possible for Sunday's trip.

I was pretty tired. And I had gotten a fairly ugly sunburn on my face. Yes, I used sunblock. But in the water so long, at the surface so long with the sun's reflection bouncing off the water and onto my face... yeah. I burned.
The good thing is that in a normal dive situation I won't spnd that much time on the surface.

After cleaning up I just vegged on the couch for a while.

That night was a light dinner out of soup and salad. Then back home to pack all the stuff up all over again for Sunday.
I had to be at the boat in San Pedro by 6 a.m. It's not far, but I was paranoid about missing the boat and also about getting there too late to get a bunk.
I got everything packed up and in my car except my cooler.

So I was asleep by 11, with my alarm set for 5.
Woke up at 4:55. Five minutes before my alarm.
I got dressed. Bathing suit, workout pants, T-shirt, sweatshirt, Ugg slippers. I knew it would be cold on the water that early.
I grabbed the cold stuff from the fridge and put it in my cooler with some ice: bottles of water, sushi, orange, nectarine, a couple of those little wax-covered cheeses, some bread slices.
They sell food on the boat, but pretty much just burgers and chicken sandwiches that they cook on a grill off the back of the boat.
I figured I could have that if I wanted or be covered with what I brought. My plan, since I bought 40 pieces of sushi, was to share with anyone who wanted it.

I wanted to be out the door by 5:30 tops.
It was 5:20 and I was ready, so I decided to go ahead and go. They said to be there at 6. I knew it was not take me 40 minutes to get to San Pedro from Torrance, but better early.
I was there by 5:45 and a few people were already loading their gear onto the boat.

Cool. I grabbed some stuff and quickly claimed a bunk down below.
I went back to the car for the rest of the stuff and got my tank and dive bag situated on the deck.
After checking in with the divemasters and my instructor, I went below to try and get in a little more sleep. We were still docked and had probably another 45 minutes before we cast off for Catalina Island.
I was glad I got there early. Bunks were already starting to get scarce. It was nice not only to have a place to crash, but a dry place to store my extra clothes and my cooler.

We left the dock at 7:05. I did not get much rest in the meantime since people were coming and going. So I got up and watched as we left L.A. Harbor. It would take a couple hours to get to our first dive location.
There was a crew member still making breakfast in the galley, so I got a couple eggs and some toast. I figured it would be good to have some breakfast.

We were supposed to be on deck at 9 to start getting into wetsuits and gearing up. By the time I finished my food I still had a little over an hour. I decided to go below again and try for more rest.
And that is where it all started to go bad.
I did manage to get some sleep. But when I woke up my stomach was queasy.
Bad, bad queasy.

I have been on boats several times. I used to go sailing off Newport on a fairly regular basis and never really had a problem with seasickness.
But this time I had it bad.

I knew what it was. I never should have gone below. The boat was rocking pretty good. I should have stayed up top and rolled with it, keeping my eyes on the horizon.
But it was way too late for that.

As others were getting into their wetsuits I was wondering if I was going to be able to get ready, to get in the water.
I went to the front of the boat, out of sight of the other divers.

I puked.

Ahhh. Eggs.
But that felt better to a large degree.
I went back and started getting into my wetsuit.
With the suit half way on, I went back to the front and puked again.

Yes. That should do it.
Back to the back. I finished getting into wetsuit, boots, hood. The sun had come out. I was getting really warm.

The boat was very full. It was crowded and hard to get to my stuff with all the other people in the same space.

I was really hot at this point.

Carlos asked me if I was OK.
"Puketastic!" I replied.

He said they would get me in the water fast to cool me down and help with the queasiness.

I finally was able to get into the vest/tank. I grabbed my mask and put it around my neck.
I put on my gloves and grabbed my fins. I headed to the side to get into the water.
Stopping at the side, I put on the fins and the mask. I put the regulator in my mouth.

I was ready.

The water was so much prettier than it had been at Redondo.

One giant stride and in I went. Ahhhh. Yes. That water was not warm. But the suit did its job.
I managed to cool off but was not cold.

We all got in and swam out to a float Carlos had set up. We descended.
The visibility was a nice 40-feet.
At this point there was not much to see but sand.

We got to the bottom and had to do some skill tests. Take out the regulator and then recover it. Let water in the mask and clear it. That was about it.

Then Ron motioned for us to follow him and we started to swim.
We swam through some kelp and saw a few lobster. We went in deeper and there were some bright orange garibaldi.

Then I saw it. A bat ray! Awesome!
At the aquarium the rays are really my favorites. They are just so interesting looking and so fluid and they feel like wet velvet.
I did not even think about touching this one. But watching it was amazing. Only a couple of us saw it, it was gone so fast.
Too soon we were heading for the surface.
A swim back to the boat and then the task of hauling my gear-laden bum up the little ladder. It was not as tough as I feared.

A look at probably a fourth of the bags that were
on board. The boat was pretty crowded.

We had some more time to rest as they were going to move to another site. I decided I was feeling decent enough to eat some carrots and cucumbers Lee had brought.

I was wrong. As they were dropping anchor at the next place, I was back at the front of the boat, tossing my carrots.

But I knew I had to do this dive. I only needed to complete this one to finish the course.

Back into the gear. Back to overheating. Back into the water.
It was colder here. It still felt good.

This time we went down the anchor line.
At the bottom we had to remove the mask completely and put it back on.

This is something I hope I won't have to actually do in a real situation. But it is good to know that doing it, while not fun, is not as bad as it seems.
After that, we followed Carlos on a tour of another kelp bed.
We saw more garibaldi and more lobster. There were some other fish and Carlos pointed out a sea slug of some type.

I need to get more familiar with the sea life since I think Catalina will be the easiest place to dive where there is stuff to see.
Just the kelp forest itself is really pretty.

After about 30 minutes we surfaced.

Dang! I had lost my snorkel.
Oh well.

We started swimming back to the boat and could see a big kelp bed. Trying to kick my way around it I lost a fin.

Ron, after a little ribbing, dove back down to find it. My decision to get bright yellow fins was a good one. He was able to spot it easily.

But while I was waiting for him, I drifted into the kelp bed. My tank valve got tangled in it.
Man. Just NOT my day.

Carlos came to my aid and untangled it.

I could see Ron's bubbles moving toward the boat, so with my one fin, I kicked my way there.

He surfaced, with my fin. Thank goodness. Those things are not cheap and they do not sell them one at a time.
Next time I will make sure it is tighter, though I thought it was secure when I entered the water.
Another trip up the little ladder.

The third dive site was Big Geiger Cove.

There was one more dive. This one was optional. This one would just be fun with Ron and Carlos giving us a tour of the third site.

Another view of Big Geiger.

But I was exhausted. And the book had stressed knowing your limits.
I think I had hit mine.

My gear, sitting forlorn on the deck after most
everyone else had gone in for the third dive.

I figured the best thing would be to give myself some time, while the boat was anchored and somewhat more steady, to get myself anchored and somewhat more steady.

So I sat it out. A couple other people did, too. Not for sickness, just because they were tired.

Lee, from my class, also sat out the third dive. She did do some
snorkeling near the boat. She said she saw a bat ray. Cool.

It was a lot. Two dives Saturday, two dives Sunday, the adrenaline, the sickness, the anxiety.

Yeah, I was done.

The time onboard was nice. I was able to get some bread down, then some of the California roll. I had a soda to get some sugar back in my body.
I was feeling pretty good by the time everyone came back from the dive.

The last test was to fill out the dive profile and use the dive tables to calculate our pressure group. After a false start, I got it right.

It was still choppy on the way back and bags that were tethered
to the storage area were bounced onto the deck.

Ron signed off on my book and I was done.

All that was left was the ride home. This time I stayed up top, in the shade and watched the horizon.

Coming back into Los Angeles Harbor.

Coming back into the harbor, this sailboat was catching some good wind
as it headed toward my favorite bridge, the Vincent Thomas.

It was after 5 p.m. when we docked. I got all the gear from the boat back to my car and headed home.

The Disney Magic, headed out to sea.

I was completely wiped out. The sun and the sea had taken a real toll.
I napped for a bit on and off.

Manfriend came over and brought me food. It actually helped perk me up.
But I did not really get my land legs back until Monday.

It was quite a long weekend that left me drained in so many ways.
But at the same time, I loved the part where we got to be under water.
I loved that bat ray.

Manfriend said he hoped I would not let this trip discourage me from diving.
I told him no way.

I just need to make sure to get some seasickness pills next time.