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WHALE SHARK!!!!

When a Great Dive Becomes AMAZING!!

For me every dive is good, some are great and then there are the amazing dives. It doesn’t have to be that the visibility is astounding, or we see something huge, some of my amazing dives involve seeing my favorite nudibranch or a small octopus. But, if truth be told, there is at least one creature in the oceans that guarantees me a truly incredible and amazing dive, and that is a Whale Shark, the largest fish in the sea.

Sometimes however, it is not easy to get a guest as excited as we are at the prospect of seeing one, seeing their faces turn to utter horror at the words “shark” and “largest”. In fact some instructors have begun altering it to Whale Fish in order to calm the nerves of those who do not know what to expect. But one thing is for sure, no matter who you are, no matter where you are from or how many dives you have had or even how many times you might have seen one of these incredible creatures…. you will be wow’ed!

There are truly no words to explain it when you first see this behemoth of a fish glide right past you. Sometimes it can be mere inches away but you are completely unawares, only to turn and gasp at it’s sheer presence.

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Past Experiences

I have had the opportunity to dive with whale sharks on multiple occasions thanks to my time diving here in Thailand. But there are 2 occasions that truly stand out.

#1 During my time training as a divemaster I had to return with one guest who had sucked his air faster than his companion, so while the instructor continued with her I began the ascent with him. It was a rare occasion where the visibility meant you could barely see 1meter / 3feet. I gingerly followed along Sail Rock knowing that the boats were “parked” above the chimney which started at 6m/18ft, so I followed the rock at this level keeping the guest close at hand. Suddenly a vertical thermocline created a 2m/6ft, swathe of crystal clear water, rather disorientating to enter after concentrating so hard on finding the chimney. At the precise time I entered from my side, a ginormous, vacuum cleaner type mouth, emerged from the other side. It took me a few milli-seconds to realise it was a whale shark and not something out of a sci-fi horror flick, and quickly hugged the rock in order not to touch it, indicating the guest should do the same. I swear we had to suck in our guts in order for it to get passed, it was that close. At the end of the dive we were the only ones to have seen it, a truly unbelievable experience… it’s not everyday you very nearly french kiss a whale shark.

silhouettes...

silhouettes…

#2 This was the dive that made me realise I might want to pursue becoming an instructor. It was my final dive after completing my Divemaster before leaving the island. We had a group of 6 Spanish and one of them was terribly nervous having quit barely 10min into the first dive. We decided on the 2nd dive that I would remain with her at a shallow depth while the instructor would take the other 5. We remained at barely 6m/18ft for the beginning of the dive until I heard the tell tale banging of tanks indicating something cool, another diver gave the “whale shark” signal and pointed the direction. It was the 4m/12ft, juvenile that had been around the boats for a week or so. Somehow, I just knew where it was heading and began slowly manoeuvring my diver closer and a little deeper till we got to a small pinnacle about 9m/27ft deep. Within seconds of us getting into position the whale shark changed direction and swam directly over us, enjoying the feel of our bubbles on it’s belly. It was so close we could have touched it (which of course we were careful not). After that I could not get her out of the water, she wanted to see everything, experience everything, and near the end even attempted to chase down the whale shark to get closer. She was so happy and excited at the end of the dive attributing the entire phenomenal experience to me… it made me feel fantastic and realise that showing people the undersea world might just be something I wanted to do permanently…

This wasn't our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

This wasn’t our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

Most Recent Encounter

It was nearing the end of September and whale sharks had only been sighted once or twice near Sail Rock, but we knew they were in the area. Most of dives up until this day had been Discover Scubas or courses, not giving me the luxury of diving for fun and being able to look around or carry my gopro. On this day I had an advanced fun diver, so not only was it going to be a fun dive but she did not require tons of attention but instead preferred just a guide.

News of the whale shark quickly spread and we all got in the water excited at the prospect of seeing it. It lived upto it’s reputation and swam above us for half of the first dive at about 14m/ 45ft.

On the second dive we descended over East Pinnacle, a pinnacle that sits just a few kicks from Sail Rock at approximately 17m/55ft below the surface. We dropped down and started exploring, the only divers at the time. Glancing at something over my shoulder I saw the whale shark suddenly emerge from behind us, he swam around us and descended. We were so excited and when other divers approached I was thrilled to give them the whale shark symbol and, as if on cue, he appeared again circling us and in general making our day.

Selfie with a whale shark.

Selfie with a whale shark.

They are truly phenomenal creatures, the largest I have ever had the honor of swimming near was a juvenile of maybe 5m/16ft, I can’t even begin to imagine an adult of 10m/32ft….

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Diving into Open Water

The PADI Open Water Course

For most people delving into the world of diving, doing the PADI Open Water course is the first step. For those with less time or more nerves there is also the Scuba Diver course, shorter and certifies to a shallower depth with more restrictions.

The Open Water course takes 3-4 days and will ultimately certify you to dive to 18m / 60ft with a buddy/fellow diver. It is a great course that introduces the students to all the basic skills in an easy succession to ensure the students comfort.

Playing Favorites

I must admit, so far I do have a couple of favorites and it just so happens they were 2 Open Water students. Shon and Mike are a pair of friends from completely different backgrounds and yet most likely brothers in a previous life. Shon, from Israel, met Mike, an engineer at a diamond mine in Arctic Canada, yup you heard right… while traveling in Japan and planned to meet up again in Thailand and do their dive course.

Shon contacted me through couchsurfing and asked many questions concerning class size, cost, where to stay etc.. he was considering Koh Tao as it was cheaper but ultimately liked the idea of having a small private class with me. So it was decided I would host and teach them, great fun would ensue. Shon arrived the day of the Full Moon party and was a hoot, ensuring he not only bought a couple of rolls of toilet paper (amazing how expensive that can get with couchsurfers) but also winning my heart with a reeses peanut butter cup! He headed off to the party and arrived back to pass out in the morning. Meanwhile Mike (who I had assumed was Japanese as all I knew was that they had met in Japan) was flying in from Arctic Canada, after numerous flights and a ferry to the island most people would be exhausted, Mike on the other hand walked from Tong Sala to Chaloklum!!! I repeat walked!!!! Probably a good hour or more with a number of hills. Shon met him and brought him over and let’s just say he wasn’t Japanese, too funny, what a pair.

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Nerves

Probably the one thing that can ruin a course is when the student’s nerves get the better of them, when the “what ifs!!” emerge. While Mike was completely chilled (at least he appeared to be) and taking all the videos in stride with a few questions, Shon’s nerves began to show. Completely understandable considering he was learning in his second language and needed certain words translated. But the moment he said “I have one problem, I can’t breathe through my mouth”…. the headmistress in me came out, the only way to stop the nerves was to make it clear that he had nothing to fear and if he still had these fears after the pool session, then we could discuss them… especially since the whole premise of scuba is to breathe through your mouth. That calmed his nerves dramatically.

This is an important skill to learn as an instructor, some students will need hand holding and tender words, others need a good stern demeanor and an aura of confidence. You just have to know which one and how much to dial it up or down.

Pool Sessions

For the PADI Open Water course there is a required set of 5 sessions in the pool, these can be done all together or over two days. We started in the morning and ended up finishing 5 hours later, very prune like, but happy to have completed all of them.

Once I had them prepare their equipment enough times they could do it blindfolded, it was time to breathe underwater. I knew both of them were nervous so we first just breathed through the regulator above the water, then just the face in the water and finally down on our knees. For me being on my knees in the shallow end gave me a good 5 inches of water above, for them they had to bend over and hunch up… the joys of being tall. As soon as we went under I could see the light bulbs begin to glow and the excitement begin to grow. We whizzed through the skills and the boys were amazing!! A lot of laughs were had.

Wolverine??

Now while Shon was the charismatic, fun loving socialite, Mike was.. well from Arctic Canada with a certain Wolverine quality about him. During one session of diving Shon and I surfaced after completing a skill, to see Mike at the steps, chin on hand… I nearly passed both of them right there and then, they just looked like scuba divers!

At the pier

At the pier

Open Water

Finally completing copious videos and quizzes and finals, it came time to take them into the deep and so we headed off to Sail Rock. Once again they amazed me, even with their nerves they kept calm and completed all the skills with flying colors. All the time they called me Master Sensei, awesome guys to hang out with.

Ready to go!!

Ready to go!!

Dive 1 was the hardest, nerves and distracting fish proved hurdles they luckily got over.

Dive 2 was much better, they flowed through the skills and seemed more confident.

Dive buds!

Dive buds!

Dive 3 on the second day, proved a slight hitch with full mask removal, but once again they overcame their nerves and carried on, even with a bit of a current.

Dive 4 proved to be the one where the veil lifted, the nerves dropped away and much fun was had. Most of the other dive boats had left and it felt like it was just us at Sail Rock, the boys conserved their air well, we got down to 18m with no problems equalising like the first 3 dives. Truly spectacular.

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Neil of Scuba Futures with Shon, Mike and 2 other students

So Proud!!

I felt very proud to announce that they had successfully passed their course and were now PADI divers. I hope to meet up with them again in the future and just head out for a fun dive, no skills or tests required!!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0971.

Thanks boys for being such amazing students!

Great Students

Great Students

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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1st Course: Scuba Diver

After assisting other instructors or completing a final dive of a course, I was finally given the opportunity to teach a course from the start, on my own!!! I was to teach 2 students the Scuba Diver course.

What is Scuba Diver

Scuba Diver is the first level of certification, it is usually for those on limited time, only takes two days, or funds, or who feel too nervous to complete the full four day Open Water course. Essentially a fantastic beginner introductory course which gives the student a certification and allows them to continue diving without having to pay for a Discover Scuba Class, something that could become expensive over time. While Open Water allows divers to dive to 18meters/ 60feet, with a buddy, Scuba Diver allows students a more conservative depth of 12meters/ 40feet and always under the supervision of a professional be it a Divemaster or an Instructor.

However, it is important to note that many divers complete Scuba Diver and love it so much that they decide to immediately upgrade to Open Water.

Like Susanna and Filippo, on the right, who upgraded soon after taking their Scuba Diver

Go With the Flow

The night before I reread my literature, compared my slates, made notes and consulted my Course Director for advice on the best flow of the class. Since you only have 2 days and the second day is filled with dives in the ocean, you need to be able to complete all of the 3 pool sessions and at least the first knowledge review. Technically you can complete the last 2 knowledge reviews on the boat, but its always better to have that day dedicated to fun in the ocean.

After contemplating the meaning of life and the wise words of my Course Director I decided on the following:

DAY 1
~Complete videos 1-3
~Encourage students to do the knowledge reviews during the videos
~Discuss chapter 1 and correct it’s knowledge review
~Complete quiz 1

Break

~Pool session 1-3

Break

~If time allows complete last 2 knowledge reviews and quizzes

DAY 2
~Ocean Dives!!!!
~Final Paperwork

My Students

Of course all the planning in the world is at the complete mercy of your students, if they understand the concepts, if they exhibit fear of getting water in their mask, if they discover breathing through their mouth vs nose just impossible… so many things could effect the flow…

Luckily, Murphy was on my side of the law for once. My 2 students were from Germany, 14 and 15yrs old (Therefore a Junior Certification), but their English was perfect, they were enthusiastic and we just flew through the material. They showed no fear in the skills completing them on the first try (the joy of being young, still fearless). They showed initiative and questioned possible issues with equipment, be it the snorkel that wouldn’t stay or a hose that leaked a little.

We breezed through the 3 pool sessions and even had time to finish all the knowledge reviews and quizzes with the kids scoring 85-100% on them. Love it when they get the info!!!

Open Water

The day before the ocean had been quite lake like in it’s behaviour, flat and gorgeous!!! Today however, the wind had started up and turned the water surrounding the rock into the Sail Rock Rollercoaster. The kids showed no fear, as usual, and were super psyched to get in. We giant strided, which they did perfectly, and made our way to await our turn for one of the descent lines, riding each roller of a wave. Eventually it was time and we started down the line. At about 2.7meters, the lad showed the symbol for a problem and pointed to the nose piece of his mask, possibly an equalization issue. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with his mask but made sure to proceed slowly until he felt comfortable.

We had to do the skills at 6meters and the line did not go quite deep enough, so we shifted against the current to another line, again the kids did great. We managed all the skills with no problem, however, the problem with the mask did not go away. We kept shifting up the ladder to see if whatever was bothering him abated, we proceeded like this: up a meter, all good, down a meter, problem, up a meter, all good, down half a meter, problem. Eventually I decided to just let them get the feel and stay on the line, the lass was loving every minute of it and pointing everything out. The final skill was to release the SMB (Surface Marker Buoy). First the lad, retrieved it, then the lass. At the surface he explained that he had pain in his jaw. I realised he most likely had a cavity, usually a rare occurrence to get a “squeeze” from a cavity, but here we were. We decided on the second dive to take it extra slowly and if necessary swim at a shallower depth.

Getting back on the boat turned out to be quite the amusing mission, hanging onto a line, collecting their fins then having them board one at a time as the boat bounced and bobbed in the waves. Just as I climbed aboard the latest swell abated and was “almost” calm. Murphy at it again.

The second dive was much more successful, we got down to depth slowly and no cavity squeeze, completed outr skills which involved an out of air, alternate air, skill to the surface. He was so chuffed that he hadn’t had a problem so we excitedly headed down nice and slowly. At 2.7meters, PAIN! Bummer! We hung out and waited with him going up and down the line trying to work the squeeze out. Eventually we were able to swim around a bit and the kids did great, great positioning and buoyancy, all an instructor could dream of.

Back on dry land we completed the paperwork and I handed them their log books with their first dives! They were thrilled and will most likely move up in the ranks of scuba diving in the future!

20150820_150459
Congrats to my two amazing Junior Scuba Diver students

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Dom Dom Dom…… DAY 1 of THE INSTRUCTOR EXAM!!!! (read in voice of Darthvader)

Off To Koh Tao

Our valiant course directors, Neil and Dave, had hoped that with 3 enthusiastic Instructor Candidates we would have enough for the PADI examiners to come to Koh Phangan… However with Koh Tao leading the pack with lofty 37 candidates we all met up at the pier and headed off for some rather nerve racking adventures…

Waiting for the Ferry

Waiting for the Ferry

Turned out to be a wonderful day to relax on the one and a half hour ferry ride, with our fearless Course Directors hobnobbing with the PADI examiners in the air conditioned section of the boat. Jet, Drey and I tried to make conversation without unintentionally leaking in course material… which was rather difficult as it pretty much consumed most of our minds.

As we neared Koh Tao we were greeted by a rather ominous looking cloud.. could this be a sign of what was to come??

Heading to Buddha View

It always seems to be that no matter which side of the ferry you sit on they always seem to unload on the opposite side and you have to squeeze through the aisles, other tourists and locals trying to push in front, until you eventually emerge at a slightly unsteady looking gangplank that leads to the outside. However, we made it out, made it to the taxi and were off to the resort we were booked into, Buddha View. With 4 boys and me, it meant they shared 2 rooms.. and the cost… while the little princess got her own room (YAY!) and the full cost (Bugger!!). Ultimately I was thankful for my own room though so it all worked out.

We got settled in, grabbed some lunch, apparently when you order a sandwich of any variety at the resort restaurant you get precisely 7 fries… we tested this theory over the next few days and it came to 7 fries every time… I ordered my own plate of fries and got 14… there must be a trend. That evening was just time for dinner with copious amounts of Thai food all shared and, at least for me, an early night!

THEORY AND STANDARDS… be afraid be very afraid

The next morning dawned with me awake at 5.45am…again! I wondered around, grabbed a coffee at 7-11 and waited for the others to arise. Today was the dreaded theory and standards exams, approximately 3 hours of brain numbing physics, math, physiology and PADI standards (luckily that section was open book).

We arrived at the center, just a short walk from the resort and got settled into our seats. There were 3 PADI examiners and they gave us a brief intro, all the while with slide in the background reading:

WELCOME TO YOUR EXAM…RELAX!! A bit of an oxymoron if you tell me.

During the whole intro they would randomly as k questions like “who loves to dive?” “who wants to be an instructor?” “Who is awake?”.. most of us were too nervous to even blink let alone answer enthusiastically so we just sat wide eyed in the horror that awaited us. Eventually with a bit more joking and teasing more and more began to participate and on the question “who knows how to clean a mask?”, I finally tentatively put up my hand….

“You there what’s your name?” I think my eyes glazed over and I stopped breathing….
“Umm Kathy”
“Correct, now show us how”
I proceeded to do a half decent explanation of mask clearing with hands shaking, my tongue numb and my brain short circuiting…
“Excellent, moving on”

I believe I heard a little yelp of “YES!” from behind me in the form of Neil, who I believe nearly wet himself when the examiner pointed at me.

And then it was time to start…

I had Theory first, and it took me about 45 minutes to complete it, nervously I got up and realised I was the first one to finish, I handed in my exam and the Examiner asked “Are you finished?”, my reply was along the lines of “I think so” as I glanced around at everyone else still feverishly working through it… After a 5 minute break I dove back in, this time the open book Standards Exam. You would think open book would make it easier, but no it just seemed more confusing. After about an hour or so I finally completed it and walked to the front for my scores…

Examiner Colin: Well on your theory you got 96%, you missed one question in every one of your sections.
Examiner Rob: In your Standards you got 98%, you also missed one question.
We all looked at each other and they said together: At least you are consistent!

Woohoo passed!!!! Feeling light headed, slightly nauseous and giddy at the same time I exited the classroom. Neil was nervously waiting at the resort and met me half way like a proud parent!

Calling a good friend to tell her the results

Calling a good friend to tell her the results

Jet and Drey followed shortly afterwards but not before giving their Course Director Dave a few more grey hairs!!! They too had passed with little trouble.

Confined Water Session

The next hurdle to jump was the confined water session at one of the local pools. We each had a skill to teach and 5 skills to show. I had Mask Removal, replace and clear. One of the easier ones in theory. As a dive instructor when teaching courses there is always at least a day or 2 in the pool teaching the students the basics, you have to be able to be clear and concise, praising the student for something they did right (this can be difficult to think of sometimes) and reminding them of things to improve on. You also have to be a very very careful to follow the standards exactly, such as skills that have to be in shallow water, my skill being one of them.

With 3 groups of 6 candidates all squeezed into the pool it was very easy to think that we would just stick to our one spot and ignore the depth, thank heavens for one of the guys in our group who mentioned his having to be in shallow water, as it had not even crossed my mind, being so focused on the skill itself.

When my turn came about I moved the “students” into shallow water and had my back to the deep water, I went over the briefing stating the skill, the importance of the skill, signals and then a review of the skill. I just bought a new slap strap (the comfortable cover that goes over the plastic mask strap) and as I showed the removal aspect the mask slipped off with my movement, not what I intended. I am pretty certain my heart stopped or at least missed a few beats, but I just kept going. During the actual underwater part where I demonstrate and then have the students copy, the examiner is behind me telling the students to do a problem. I caught both problems all though was a little slow on one of them. At the surface I congratulated them stated what a good job they did, “I like the way you both looked up when clearing”, reminded them of issues, “but I did notice that one of your had your mask upside down, remember to always find the nose piece with your thumb so you have it the right way, great job guys excellent!”.

SCORE TIME: Fearing my mishap with the mask coming off during the briefing might effect my score, I moved nervously over to Colin the Examiner. A score of 3.4 is required with top marks being a 5.

Colin: Great job Kathy, nice briefing, clear and concise, excellent you scored a 5!!!!
Me: really???? I mean thank you

Glancing over to Neil who looked like he was trying to send me mental instructions and seemingly leaning as far forward as he could, I tried to casually hold up 5 fingers, he returned the sign with the expression of “really 5????”, “yup 5!!”. Now all I had to do was survive the 5 skills in a row.

Skill Circuit

There are around 27 skills every Divemaster and Instructor should know, from skin diving to mask clearing to hovering, and of those we get 5 picked at random that are done at the instructor exam. Our 5 included:
CESA (nemesis #1)
Mask Remove Replace and Clear
Hover (nemesis #2 – I checked if I turned upside down it was fine as long as I hovered)
Regulator Recovery
Alternate Air Stationary

The first one was the CESA, when you are low or out of air it is an option for surfacing when you are less than 9meters/29 feet from the surface and your buddy is too far away. You need to swim, elevating your arms and inflator hose while emitting a continuous “ahhhhhhhh” sound. It is one I have had problems with because I always forget to become neutrally buoyant before beginning the swim. This time round, I did great, only problem was that, at the start, Colin (floating at the surface in water that was fairly murky), pointed at Jet and I and then pointed to the other side of the pool. I thought this meant move to that side, so I merrily started swimming. I can only imagine what Colin thought, he got my attention and motioned the CESA signal, I swam back very quickly mumbling sorry into my regulator only to see Jet in the midst of preparing his CESA. OOPS!!!

Everything else went fine and I completed all the skills. Then came the scores…. unbelievably I got all 5’s!!!! Maybe Neil did get it all through to me afterall… There was hope for me yet!

 A great team to work with!!

A great team to work with!!

Tomorrow loomed with a classroom presentation and 3 skills in open water…. so close and yet so far!!!

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Week 2 of Instructor Training

Pool Sessions

View from one of the pools

View from one of the pools

The copious amounts of book work continued however this time it was intermingled with pool sessions. Over and over again I practiced teaching students a certain skill and perfecting my own technique. Again because of shortness it meant creating techniques that would work for me and also work for students.

"teaching" Lulu and Neil.

“teaching” Lulu and Neil.

These included weight belt removal:
Normal: unclip weight belt and pass behind your back to the right side, clutch to chest then pass it back and reclip.
Problem: with my gear on my arms are too short to reach behind my back!
Alternative 1: kneel on left knee and pull weight belt over right knee, then return and reclip.
Problem: I have floaty feet and my right knee did not want to stay down and stable….
Alternative 2: lean forward, unclip and pull belt to right side and lean back, then nudge belt over right hip and sort of roll it on, clipping it as you lean forward again.
Problem: solved

Weight belt removal

Weight belt removal

Hover:
Normal: become neutrally buoyant and hover in a stationary position using your breath to control your level, you can hold your fins and look zen like or simply hang midwater.
Problem: my floaty feet mean I am unstable with each ankle attempting to go in a different direction.
Alternative 1: hold knees
Problem: upside down
Alternative 2: hold fins and attempt zen like position
Problem: upside down
Alternative 3: leave legs straight
Problem: legs start going in different directions again
Alternative 4: F*&k it, hold fins and just hover upside down and continue teaching
Problem: we all start laughing….

and so it continued with Neil realising with every skill that adaptions were needed, the good thing that I will know how to help divers with similar issues.

Regulator Recovery Skill

We had numerous other folks from divers to divemasters to other instructors all helping with the training. Really a great crew from Haad Yao divers and super supportive.

I was pretty saturated every day from hours in the pool followed by classroom and homework, but it seemed to all be getting through to me… slowly but surely.

Pool Session Brain Fart

It happens to all of us, the nerves just take over. On one pool session I was briefing how to hover with oral BCD inflation (using your breath to fill the bcd rather than pressing the button to automatically inflate). I briefed it all correctly, positioned everyone and prepared to give the demo. Hovers made me so nervous (see above) that I demo’d the auto inflate vs the oral inflate and didn’t realise it until Neil (my student) came and promptly began the skill with oral inflate. I believe i cursed in multiple languages through my regulator but continued seemingly unphased. At the debrief this would have been a 1 and therefore a fail, Neil said the only thing that may have saved me was the fact that I didn’t freak out when I realised my idiotic mistake… oops, at least now I am super aware when it comes to which version of the hover I am doing.

Being Scored.

Being Scored.

Working Together

Being the only student was great for personal tutoring, although I think I drove Neil back to drink! But it was also hard because you had no one to compare your level with, no matter how often Neil said I was doing great, I never felt good enough and was very hard on myself. as it so happened, there were 2 other instructor candidates doing their course with Dave at Sail Rock Divers, so we joined forces for an ocean dive and then a final mock exam pool session. A great way to meet others and see where your level truly was.

Instructor Candidates Jet, Kathy and Drey

Instructor Candidates Jet, Kathy and Drey

Final Ocean Dive

Neil decided to squeeze in one more dive at Chaloklum bay, Lulu a Divemaster candidate had to practice a lift bag and I needed to review a few more skills. However that day was one of THOSE days, where everything seems to go wrong.
– Our plan to dive right from Haad Yao, therefore requiring no driving, was thwarted by the weather.
– We called close to 7 people hoping someone was near Chaloklum bay to check the conditions there, finally someone could tell us it looked ok.
– I was exhausted and just couldn’t seem to get it together with my preparations, not to mention I had navigation, another arch enemy along with the hover.
– The visibility was almost non existent and we lost the line in an attempt to do the compass work
– Neil got a sinus squeeze during an attempt to find the weight belt and lift it for Lulu

The only victory was our search for the weight belt which had almost got lost in about a foot of muck at the bottom, I just saw a piece of the belt sticking out and we were able to bring it to the surface…. What a day!

And So The End is Near….

All too soon the teaching and studying came to an end as the Instructor Exam suddenly appeared and it was time to head off to Koh Tao for the 2 day long exam….. just breathe in and out in and out!!!!

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Week 1 of Instructor Training

Prep Work

My second day on the island Neil got me sorted with a moped, possibly grew a few more grey hairs as we watched my little legs stick out as stabilizers every time I turned a corner, am much better at it now. Then he sat me down and gave me a test and some knowledge reviews… ahhhhhh the physics, the math, the physiology, the dreaded RDP table (used to figure out Nitrogen concentration and surface intervals between dives)…. The next 5 days involved around 2 practice tests every day, review and teaching on the balcony in the morning, one day we spent almost 5 hours just going through all the sections and this was just the prep work.
balcony study

The Interview:

(Dramatic Theme Music) Let the PADI Instructor Training Begin

July 1st 2015 Neil I drove down to the main shop of Haad Yao Divers, to officially begin my course. We started off with an exam to see my progress and I pretty much aced it!!! Yeah Baby!!!! There was hope for me yet. The next week consisted of early morning breakfast and coffee sessions followed by hours in the classroom, pool sessions and open water. Due to a storm system approaching we decided to do the ocean dives the first week.
**

Very 1st Dive

One bright morning Neil decided it was time to do my first ocean dive in close to a year and a half, perhaps even practice some rescue skills. We drove to Haad Yao beach unloaded the kit, got sorted and started walking to the water line…just shy of the water I suddenly realised I had my watch on:

Me: oh shite I still have my watch on!
Neil: is it waterproof?
Me: it’s $20 from Walmart
Neil: that would be a no! Let’s leave it at reception

walk back up the beach, give my watch to reception and walk back down, at about waist deep I suddenly realise why I feel so comfortable:

Me: oh shite I am still wearing my pants!
Neil: oh good lord!!!

(he may have considered dropping his gear and running for the hills at that point… either way I will never live it down, but it was a way more comfortable dive than usual – the next morning I bought some swim shorts)

Also on this dive we realised that I have floaty ankles, a common occurrence with women… I also think we realised that this was not going to be a normal Instructor Course for Neil but rather along the lines of Adaptive teaching…. what had he got himself into???

Classroom Sessions

We spent hours in the classroom going over the standards and the theory and doing classroom presentations. Around 2.30pm we started a new tradition, Ice Cream Break!
icecream break
In fact we were spending so much time together we started to look alike.

Gimme a Break, Gimme a Break, Break me off a piece of that kitkat bar!!!

Gimme a Break, Gimme a Break, Break me off a piece of that kitkat bar!!!

Approximately 20 minutes of concentration later the giggles would start. This is where the classroom session turned into a minion video:

Although, in his defense, Neil never farted his revenge (at least not that I knew of), he did however have a series of goofy hats.

Neil's Revenge.

Neil’s Revenge.

Ocean Dives

Due to a storm system threatening the peace of the island the next week, Neil decided to do my ocean dives in the first week. We chose Chaloklum beach as there was no coral to walk across just a short surface swim…. of 1km / 0.62miles, there may have been a lot of swearing during the swim out. At least my ankle injury was getting strengthened.

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Chaloklum Dive Site.

Chaloklum Dive Site.

A few different people came out to help:

.Lulu and Thomas (Divemaster Trainees)

.Lulu and Thomas (Divemaster Trainees)

Dave (Course Director) Jet and Drey (Fellow IDC students).

Dave (Course Director) Jet and Drey (Fellow IDC students).

Emergency First Responder INSTRUCTOR Course

At the end of the first week, Alan from Dive Inn joined us for the EFR Instructor course. Shits and giggles can not explain how much fun and silliness we had…

Poor Neil has a BooBoo

Poor Neil has a BooBoo

The Whole Family

The Whole Family

Alan getting way into the course

Alan getting way into the course

Icecream Break

Icecream Break

And everyday we went to a great restaurant called Big Mountain for lunch

Lunch Time

Lunch Time

Week 1 ended and a pile of laundry awaited me for the day off, not to mention homework….

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2015 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Why Not Become a Scuba Instructor….

Cruise Ship vs Dive Instructor

about 6 months ago, Monique, a good friend and dive instructor tossed a thought out to me, why not return to Koh Phangan Island, where I did my Divemaster, and become a dive instructor… Her husband, another good friend, was studying to be a course director and would be my instructor….

The conversation in my head went something like this:
Me – Cruise Ship hostess vs Scuba Dive Instructor…. mmmm
Rational Side – WTF you are 37, you have a good gig with the cruise ship, save and then settle at home with a real job!
ADHD Side – been there done that with the cruise ship, onto the next adventure
Rational Side – what are you thinking
ADHD Side – something new something exciting …. D I V I N G T H A I L A N D
Rational Side – well it is always good to have multiple skills, and the cruise ship is a good backup
ADHD Side – come on Rational you know what you want
Rational Side – ok the deal is we pretend to consider this for at least a month, don’t want people thinking we just jump into decisions at a moment’s notice! Also we work as a Divemaster first for a month or two before taking the Instructor Development Course (IDC) need to get your skills sharpened!
ADHD Side – Deal sold, we are off see the wizard the wonderful wizard of Thailand!!!

So there it was, I had convinced myself, at age 37, to fly to Thailand and pursue a dream I had never even let myself consider – To become a PADI Scuba Instructor
For months on the ship I dreamed of Koh Phangan and diving, it had been almost 2 years since any serious diving which made me nervous. My time there before was amazing doing my PADI divemaster, the food, the friends, the freedom of riding a motorbike/vespa and of course living in a tropical paradise.
WHAT AM I THINKING!!!!

Adventure is Out There

Finally end of contract arrived, my month and a half vacation at home ended, all packed and ready to go I set off on a jet plane. In the initial planning stages I had decided to visit my friend in Slovenia and then a couple of nights in Venice… of course this meant literally nearly flying all the way around the world just to get to Koh Phangan… but it was worth it. While in Slovenia I got a message from Neil, my soon to be amazing patient, very very patient instructor from Scuba Futures and Haad Yao Divers, informed that an IDC course would be starting on July 1st (about 5 days after my arrival). I think I nearly choked on my coffee. The email back and forth went something like this:

Me – but but but
Neil – you will do fine
Me – but but the math, the physics, the the the
Neil – you will be fine
Me – but I need to get my skills up to par I need time to remember the dive sites…
Neil – you will be fine
Me – BUT THE PHYSICS AND MATH!!!!
Neil – you will be fine, the theory can be taught, the diving will be remembered, being an instructor is about personality and, well, you have plenty of that…
Me – but will I really be fine??
Neil – yes you will be fine

Thank heavens Neil is supremely calm and patient because this course was going to be a mental and emotional roller coaster for me, with numerous giggle fits!

Island Welcome

The heat and humidity of Bangkok nearly took my breath away, I had forgotten what it was like. Of course I got the taxi that had no idea where the hostel was and then I left my favorite light jacket in the taxi and then discovered my room was on the 3rd floor and no elevator. Always a good start. But got myself sorted, lugged my bag upstairs, stood under a cold shower for about 20 minutes, found a sim card and texted Neil with my arrival. I took the 6am bus, which worked out perfectly because I couldn’t sleep and was awake by 4am, giving me time for another cold shower and final sorting then a long 8 hour bus trip and 2 hour ferry ride. The weather had been perfect and just as the ferry pulled into Koh Phangan the heavens opened and welcomed me back with a good solid drenching. Neil was their with his side car to pick me up, we briefly considered I take a taxi but finally said “screw it” I was wet already, the ride home just meant I didn’t need a shower anytime soon. We pulled up to my little bungalow and it felt like home almost immediately.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

We popped into the Crow Bar just down the road and said hi to a few old friends then Monique helped me stumble to a little place to grab some food. I took it home managed maybe 2 bites and passed out. What a welcome back!!! Tomorrow the studying would begin, bring on the physics!!!!

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Why Don’t You Get a Corporate Job???

The other night, chatting with some of my favorite guests, who just happened to be South Africans, and after a couple of drinks, the Aunt of one decided to give me some advice…

It started off simply with some questions:
Aunt – So are you going to make this your career?
Me – No, I don’t want to work on ships forever
Aunt – But why not move up in the company get a corporate job in the main office, like Miami?
Me (trying not to laugh) – hahahah I really don’t want a corporate job
Aunt – Well what is your plan then?
Me – I want to think about doing my Scuba Instructor License in Thailand maybe next year
Aunt – But don’t you want to get married and have a family?
Me – Yes of course, hopefully someday
Aunt – Well you may as well get a corporate job and security, because when that happens all this… travel stuff, won’t matter!
Me – I don’t want a corporate job, and who knows maybe I will meet the man of my dreams in Thailand or somewhere else.
Aunt – No you won’t you are 37, you need to think about who will look after you when you are old and you should get a corporate job…

This went on for about 30 minutes and it really started to bother me, might have been the influence of the Turkish Raiki drink I had tried, but it seriously made me upset and frustrated.

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in South Africa I was brought up on good old traditional ways of thinking. In other words: School, job, marriage, house, kids…. along those lines. Luckily my parents also instilled in me the sense of adventure, whether it was doing a 5 day hike in the Umfolozi Game Reserve through the bush, or encouraging me to take a teaching position in South Korea after finding work proved difficult. They have always supported me, although I am pretty certain secretly (for the most part) wished I would settle and get a job. My mom always stresses that as long as I am happy, and can fend for myself then she is happy. I don’t think they ever realised their encouragement would lead me into the life of a gypsy!

But with this upbringing it is always in the back of my mind, what society expects, how life should be etc… I call it the logical side of my Schmidt brain, and it has taken me many years to understand and accept that this side of my brain just prevents me from going beach bum and that I do not necessarily have to follow it to the letter. So when the Aunt brought all these things up it was difficult to fight this side of my brain and I found myself trying to rationalize and convince her that my life choices are just that MINE and that all the curves in the road have led me into fantastic adventures and have shaped me into who I am today.

Luckily for me, a good friend who is very similar to me as far as the gypsy lifestyle goes, was online and gave me his usual sage advice (he is always there when the Schmidt brain tries to rationalise all my crazy adventures). He asked whether or not I agreed with the advice the Aunt had given me, I said NO! Then he reminded me that normal life advice does not necessarily work on people like us, as we are kind of outside of the bubble, we live life instead of survive it. Once thing is for sure, trying to convince her how much Thailand may turn into a great opportunity and what living a simple life there was like a couple of years ago, made me realise just how much I hoped for this next adventure!!!

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Cruise, Thailand, Travel

 

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Island Life in Photos

Before I start with photos of Island Life I wish to expand on my final dives. I forgot to mention a very important piece of equipment that I grew to love and also provided many giggles for guests and fellow divers alike.
MY SOCKS!! On my first dive since I was wearing closed heel fins, my instructor suggested I wear a pair of socks to prevent chaffing on my ankles. The first pair I grabbed just happened to be Christmas socks, and I ended up wearing them through over 50 dives. They served me well.
IMG_6514IMG_6515

Island Life Pics

Here are some photos of day to day life on Koh Phangan Island. They are in no particular order, hope you enjoy a glimpse of what it was like.

IMG_6537

Thai Fishing Boat in Chaloklum Bay

Thai Fishing Boat in Chaloklum Bay

Full Moon as Seen From my Hammock

Full Moon as Seen From my Hammock

Creative Coconut Palm

Creative Coconut Palm

Sunset Near my Bungalow

Sunset Near my Bungalow

Boat near Thong Sala Beach

Boat near Thong Sala Beach

Local fishing at Chaloklum Beach

Local fishing at Chaloklum Beach

Crab!

Crab!

My breakfast spot on non diving days

My breakfast spot on non diving days

Lotus Dive Center Kitties

Lotus Dive Center Kitties

Island Life is Tough!!!

Island Life is Tough!!!

Our little kitties almost all grown up!

Our little kitties almost all grown up!

Lotus Dive Center

Lotus Dive Center

Chaloklum Hyena dog (1)
I nicknamed this local stray, Hyena Dog, due to his scraggly looks and general mannerisms. He was known to be quite the contortionist when wanting to get into something, he was a constant threat when driving as he refused to give way…and yet I kind of admired his spirit.

You can understand my fear of falling coconuts!!

You can understand my fear of falling coconuts!!

One of the roads after heavy rain

One of the roads after heavy rain

Sunset over Koh Mah beach from viewpoint

Sunset over Koh Mah beach from viewpoint

Keeping a look out

Keeping a look out

Glorious Icecream Selection
I discovered too late the amazing Icecream place near the main town of Thong Sala. All icecream is made from natural ingredients and it tastes divine!! There were so many choices you don’t know where to begin.

Phaeng Noi Waterfall

Phaeng Noi Waterfall

Roots

Roots

Elephant feed delivery

Elephant feed delivery

IMG_6543
On the way to the gas station just out of town I had to pass the Phangan Safari and see the elephants every day. A highlight every time.

Great spot to learn archery and have a beer...

Great spot to learn archery and have a beer…

The owners and cooks of my favorite dinner spot

The owners and cooks of my favorite dinner spot

Good friends who came to say farewell, will miss them and can't wait to see them again.

Good friends who came to say farewell, will miss them and can’t wait to see them again.

Panorama from the pier

Panorama from the pier

And Finally my favorite kitty from the dive shop, Momma Cat!
chaloklum - cat (s)

A Big Thank You

A big thank you to everyone I met on the island, to my Instructor Ricardo, to the staff at the dive shop, John, Marc, Gem, Andy, to their better halves, Thong, Linda and Steffi. To Monique and Neil and the rest of the Sail Rock crew, great fun was had by all.

See you all again in January 2014!!!

 
 

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Island Life… visa runs and final scuba days

Koh Samui Visa Run

Thailand visas are not as easy to get as other countries. Most places I have visited give you a 90 day visa upon entry. Thailand, however will only give you 30 days, unless you apply for a 60 day tourist visa at an embassy out of the country. I had got mine in Seoul, Korea, originally applying for a 90 day education visa. Unfortunately, the letter from the dive school was from my email and it needed to be an original, so I got a 60 day one instead. This meant that I would be 10 days overdue when I flew out, the fine is around 500 baht a day. In comparison I could spend about 2000 baht to get a 1 month extension at the immigration office one island away on Koh Samui. Or take the overnight bus to the border of Malaysia and get a 15 day extension with a possibility of a month. Both cost about the same, but Koh Samui took about half the time.

Taking the 7am ferry meant I was awake before 6am on the road. It was barely light and I arrived to fill up just as the gas station opened. There was little hassle getting on the ferry and it turned out I met 2 of my French neighbors also going for a visa extension.

Early Morning Ferry Ride

Early Morning Ferry Ride

A bunch of us shared a taxi and joined the large group already waiting at the office, which hadn’t even opened yet.
Koh Samui visa run (5)

As soon as the doors barely cracked and the forms were handed out a mad rush ensued. Everyone desperately trying to fill out the forms and give the cash and hand it in hoping they would be done before the last ferry. The estimated pick up time was 20min after the ferry left… this did not look good. Luckily one of the ladies told me to come back in an hour and see if things were ready.
Koh Samui visa run (4)

I popped over to a cafe and ordered some breakfast, another visa runner asked to join me and we ended up chatting about her yoga training and how we both got here. Then we explored the area a little and finally returned. We were in luck and our passports had just been put in the pile. Woohoo! Then it was a mad dash to return to the port as the ferry was due to leave in 30min.

All in all another crazy travel experience. Something I will get lots of practice with when I return.

I am not sure what this means, but I know where to go if I am ever involved in transitional crime...

I am not sure what this means, but I know where to go if I am ever involved in transitional crime…

Final Days of Diving

They say “all good things must end”, and unfortunately my time diving in the tropical waters of Thailand were rapidly coming to the end. I got to assist all the instructors and divemasters at the shop and a number of the freelance guys as well. Marc, Divemaster from Belgium, required someone to play a guest in a video a friend was shooting as a Christmas message to family back home and I got the supreme honor. It was quite awesome as I got a copy and could show it off to my friends and family. It also meant I sat and criticised my swimming techniques, but at least I know what I need to work on now.

On one dive Instructor Ricardo had me brief and lead the dive. The visibility was beyond crap, barely able to see our hands. As we swam along I would stop periodically and have to wait until all 4 divers were almost right on top of me to be sure I hadn’t lost anyone. I had been a little under the weather before the dive and had felt a bit of vertigo so only hoped I wouldn’t get turned around in the muck. As we circled one pinnacle I turned to count and as I turned back and continued round the rock, I just hoped the vertigo hadn’t thrown me off track and leading us in endless circles around the pinnacle instead of the main rock… let’s just say we can laugh about it now… oops! When low visibility and vertigo let you down! On the second dive we had a diver with issues so I ended up taking him back to the ship and Ricardo led the dive through what can only be called pea soup.

All too soon my last dive day arrived. I most likely could have dove the following day as well but after 6 days straight of diving and still packing to go I knew this would be my last, I only hoped it would be good. Boy was I not let down!! The 3 whale sharks, who had been there for 3 days were still in the area. The smallest one continued to loop from the rock to the boats and back, seemingly fascinated by all these strange sea creatures. Ricardo had a group of 6 Spaniards and our new instructor from Holland had an open water. It was decided that I would swim in the water column between the two groups and therefore be ready if anyone needed me. As it turned out one of Ricardo’s found she had issues with breathing and became a little panicked. I took her back and she seemed very upset, luckily a snorkel session with the inquisitive what shark perked her up and I suggested the she swim with me, we would take our time and only go as deep as she was comfortable.

We descended very slowly to about 6m, she held onto my arm as we swam along and I would give her the “ok” sign every so often and wait for her response of “ok” in return. After about 10min we heard the signal from Marc and he indicated that a whale shark was in the area. I realised it was the smaller one and for some reason I just knew where he was going to head towards. I slowly manuevered her towards a smaller pinnacle a little away from the main rock and we reached 9m. As we got in position the whale shark did exactly what I hoped for, he turned and swam right for us passing above our heads with just inches to spare. We could have put our hands up and touched him (but this is strictly forbidden). It was dream like and I still get chills when I think about that encounter. Afterwards it became apparent that my diver was thoroughly enjoying herself and there was no way she wanted to get out of the water. We reached the point on the rock that would be our spot to surface and spent a good 15min just looking at what we could find on the rock. I showed her fish, and anemones, and chrsitmas tree worms (her favorite). After the dive and on the way home all I heard was a torrent of Spanish interspersed with “KATHY” and “Whale Shark”… It made my day if not my entire time on the island to have a diver enjoy a dive so much. It also made me realise how much I enjoy this job and maybe just maybe this is something I could see myself doing in the future….

This wasn't our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

This wasn’t our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

 
 

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