Sunday, 18 November 2012

......... to another. St. Lucia.

The beautiful Marigot Bay
Warm seas

After coming back home from Skye with a husband whose grin was like the Cheshire cat's, we had a quick zoom to rinse and dry all our kit, then get the next load of bags ready for our proper summer holidays (even though it's October). We're off  to somewhere just as wet, but considerably warmer - St Lucia!
We were greeted at Pomme D'Amour with sunshine , warmth  and a delicious Rum Punch- ahhh bliss!
Whilst we were in St Lucia, we had decided to try to go for our PADI open water certificate. I've done plenty snorkeling before, but only once trying scuba, but I've always fancied doing more, this seemed the perfect location. We picked up our manuals and spent a couple of days pouring through wheens of information, breaking it up with swims down in the bay and more rum punches.
It wasn't as warm in Skye!
Wonderfully clear

On the Tuesday, we had our first dive, normally in the confines of a swimming pool, but here we were in a shallow bay.  After getting some basic instructions it was time to head back to the dive boat for lunch, then after lunch back in for a dive along the reef. It was wonderful managing to swim so deep in only a costume - unlike the week before, swimming in Kylerhea, thermals, drysuits, a hat!
One of the things I had to get used to was buoyancy and the weights I needed. I had a 16lb weight belt on (would have been more if I had a wetsuit on! , Hubby dear only had 12lb) I struggled to wobble around the deck, but underwater, it was as if it wasn't there. We had to do various exercises quite deep down and despite me dumping air from my BCD, I still floated to the surface, I even had Hubby dear dangling on my fins to pull me back down! This would give him the chance to go on about how I'm full of hot air! He about got a slap round the chops with a wet fish and what a selection of fish I had! We saw all sorts, all colours, Trumpet, Butterfly, Parrot, Trunk, Drumfish and a surprising amount of Moray eels. I felt quite a sense of achievement when our instructor Andre, pointed to the depth gauge and shook my hand, we'd made it down to 35'.  Next day we were down in the bay snorkeling, reading and generally taking it easy before making our daily jaunt down to a rather delumptious ice cream shop in Marigot Bay. You know sharks can sense blood from afar, I can sense icecream from a greater distance!
One of the many Morays
Cuttle Scuttle

 We should have had our second days dive on the Thursday, but the seas had picked up, stirring up the sand, meaning visibility wasn't great. We found out this was the start of a "tropical wave". The next few days were spent doing various "touristy" things. St Lucia is covered in rainforest, so naturally you would expect rain. When it rains, it really rains - but it's lovely and warm. We visited the botanical gardens and Diamond waterfalls in Soufriere where the rain came down in sheets, but once you are soaked to the skin, you can't get any wetter! We lunched at Ladera, between the Pitons, except we couldn't see the tops, but still a stunning setting. We went to Fish Fry day in Anse la Raye, where the locals come out and cook all sorts of fish, served up with extremely potent spiced rum all accompanied by music.
Slightly soaked
6" moth
The seas were settling again. The tropical wave had moved on, turning into Hurricane Raphael. There were still some weather systems to be watched further away which eventually turned into superstorm Sandy.
We had our next dive booked for the Tuesday. Off we went for more instructions in the shallows, removing masks, sharing air, rescues, back to the boat for lunch before diving along another ledge. At this point, I'm still struggling to get my breathing right before going deep, but I know once I'm down the breathing is so much easier, which is just as well as we managed down to 60'. The visibility was amazing. I only wish we had a camera that could go that deep, the pressure would kill our cameras. All our underwater photos are from our snorkeling trips. Andre put a little sea slug on my hand which almost turned over to get it's tummy tickled - fantastic!
That evening, after our dive, we had our written part of our certificate to complete, all our reading had paid off well.


Me under Latille  Falls
Piton Falls
Our next dive was arranged for Thursday. We met up with everyone again. Hubbydear and I still had a bit of underwater navigation to finish off which didn't take long to do. We then joined the other qualified divers  to finish the morning dive reaching 70' this time. After lunch was our last dive. I managed down quite quickly this time. The first fish we spotted on our descent was a well camouflaged scorpion fish, not the prettiest fish in the sea! Our next fish was a black lion fish, another fish to be very wary of! After that, I managed to dump air successfully staying on the bottom instead of  shooting out of the water like a jet propelled rocket, I feel as though I'm really getting the hang of this.The one fish the other divers were really keen to see was a seahorse. I'm pleased at seeing anything and was delighted to see a tiny pipefish, a member of the seahorse family. Our other sightings were more Moray eels, Damsels, spiney lobsters, flounders, soldierfish along with masses of Sergeant Majors, colourful anenomes and corals of all sorts of shapes and colours.
A successfull ascent with emergency stop finished off a fabulous last dive of our holidays.
Hubby dear working hard at chilling
Our last day was spent snorkelling, eating ice cream and gazing up at the coconut palms for the last time.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

5* sea mock student. From 1 extreme ...........

Setting off for the skerries
We were recently off for a third attempt at Hubby dear sitting his 5* sea assessment. The previous 2 were called off due to our Scottish weather, the weather was wonderful, the conditions weren't! The weather had been flat, calm, sunny, normally perfect paddling conditions, just not 5* conditions. I was heading along as a mock student.
We arrived up in Skye earlyish evening. As we were passing through Broadford, we passed a very familiar sight - Young Trevor, up for a family holiday. After settling into our B&B, we headed down to the Hebridean Hotel (which was conveniently situated at the bottom of the B&B garden) for tea. Hubby dear was then having to head off for Skyak Adventures to start the assessment. I stayed put in the bar and waited for Kevin (fellow club member and mock student) to join me along with my German buddy Wolfgang, also a mock student.
Next morning, Hubby dear was off bright and early to complete more of the paperwork side of the assessment, whilst I had a leisurely start.
Kevin towing Kate and me
Kate and Bonnie
Mark and Rowland

The other group towing
The assessees (?) were Hubby dear, Chris(Cumbria) and Ole (Greenland) in one group with Bonnie (priest from Chicago) and Mark (Ioan Gruffudd - actor, lookalike). Kevin, Wolfgang, Kate (Chris's partner) and I were with Bonnie and Mark. Kate and I being kept separated from Hubby dear and Chris! Finding out that Bonnie was a priest made me think I would have to behave myself and not swear!
Rowland came down to sort the students out and give us all ailments which would eventually cause a problem or two (or in this case 8). They included an inhaler missing asthmatic, dislocated shoulders, blood pressure problems, epilepsy, generally not listening to any instructions and mine. I was to be 2 month pregnant!!! very funny Rowland-not!!
We piled into various cars and made our way down to Armadale in time for the heavens to open and dump on us (didn't think that would happen, what with having Bonnie with us). Split into our groups, our leaders had to quickly heat up a cold group. The 3 "girls" were in 1 group shelter with Bonnie dressing Kate and myself in umpteen layers of everything-don't think we were going to start a fashion trend! On the water, we paddled down to the skerries where the water was suitably 5* conditions. The leaders were taking turns leading their groups round the rocks before turning and heading back up the sound with the waves behind us. At this point, my boat was feeling a bit funny, I've been out in bumpy waters plenty of times, it just didn't feel right. It wasn't long before events started happening, so I put it to the back of my mind. Kate "dislocated" her shoulder when she fell in, so Bonnie had to rescue her with me being in a supported tow with her. This gave Kate and myself a fine chance to have a great chinwag as Kevin had to tow both of us through the waves to a small bay where an otter put in a welcome appearance.
My good buddy Wolfgang
Bonnie rescuing me
Rowland. Kevin happy to be towed and not towing
Mark was taking over the leading for the next section. It wasn't long before I fell in needing rescued and because of my "condition!" needed a supported tow with my good buddy Wolfgang, giving me another fine chinwag time whilst  Kevin improved his towing skills wonderfully. After a bit I made a miraculous recovery and on we went again. It wasn't too long before Wolfgang went off on a tangent with poor Bonnie yelling after him whilst he carried on doing his own thing which inevitably led to him capsizing and needing rescuing. Quite why I worried about behaving myself and not swearing in front of Bonnie is by now way beyond me! The other group had caught up with us by now when I fell in again, next to the rocks which seemed to get closer mighty quickly. This time as Bonnie was rescuing me, Wolfgang did a marvellous job of "getting in the way". It was getting cold and dull by now, but nearing the lighthouse Kevin had another wee episode, another rescue only to go over again, resulting in another supported tow, another quick natter opportunity for me whilst Wolfgang towed us. Unfortunately getting towed so much meant I was genuinely getting cold. A quick fast paddle to the pub (where else?) where we were getting out, heated me up a bit. This is where Kevin, Wolfgang, Bonnie and I, still in our paddling gear, had the best pint and a half of Red Cuillins, which went down a treat at great speed!
The best Red Cuillins around!

Rowland thinking of seal launching?
Next day, the assessors were swapping groups. We were going in at Kylerhea, where the water was quite fast and bumpy. I was looking forward to this bit where hopefully we'd get a bit of a play. I was absolutely gutted when what seemed like 2 mins after getting into my boat I was over and swimming. Bonnie got me back in, made our way back into the waves when the same happened again. Nobody heard me swear as I was still upside down!! Back in the eddie Gordon got me set up for a roll which I failed miserably in, I think my confidence had just taken a huge hammering, even the fish were giving me a shoulder to cry on - still upside down! I can't remember the last time I had failed a set up roll. Heading further down, Gordon was saying it was good practise for the leaders and wouldn't it be good if I did it in the middle of the bumpy stuff, with my skeg down, boat up and give it a hard shove! So after a while, Gordon seemed to have managed to split the group a bit, asked Bonnie to go over and do a self rescue. At that point whilst Bonnie was upside down, Gordon said Now, so over I went. Poor Bonnie, came back up from her self rescue to find chaos with me and my boat well separated! Whilst bobbing around in these large waves a porpoise swam past, does this mean I can claim to have swum with a porpoise?
Despite having had a terrible start to my second day, I still had a great time and learnt alot. Giving my unplanned swims in Kylerhea a bit of thought, I reckoned my boat was too light. Despite my love of chocolate, ice cream and beer (probably in that order!) I have lost a bit of weight over the last few months, that and the fact Hubby dear had all the safety kit, my boat was mega light. I literally bobbed around like a wee cork. I should have chucked a couple of water containers in the hatches. I did have another go at a roll and thankfully came back up. I guess I also learnt that you can never practise rescues/rolling enough!  Also, if your going for assessment, keep between your assessor and your students otherwise chaos is guaranteed to ensue!
Heading back, Hubby dear's group were already there turning their kayaks into S.U.P's.
Back at the Kylerhea jetty, both groups got the news we were all hoping they'd get - the candidates had all past. They all put such a lot into it and I wouldn't have blamed them for refusing to take out such a dodgy, decrepit bunch of paddlers! I was so chuffed for them all, especially Hubby dear because well, he's my hubby!
Glen Garry on our way home