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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Are you going to Scarborough fair?

We took some time off to go and visit Jills parents and it wouldn't be a visit to North Yorkshire without a day trip out to Scarborough and we certainly had the sun for it!
Waterfront attractions. Sadly not running just now
The harbour stands quiet today
Still early on the year for tourists but the place was still jumping with a ton of traffic and plenty of people on the beaches.
Panoramic from the spa all the way down the South Sands
With plenty of donkey rides on the go (weight restricted unfortunately) and ice creams being eaten, we wandered down the South Sands and then walked up the path to the Grand Hotel  and Spa Bridge. The Grand Hotel was built on the site of Woods Lodgings where Anne Bronte used to stay when on annual holidays and eventually died of consumption.
The Scarborough Grand hotel
Whilst we were at the top, we took the opportunity to visit Wackers, the best place in the country to get fish and chips. When you ask for a large haddock, you get a large haddock!
And don't forget the mushy peas....
Outside the Grand Hotel
With food polished off we headed back under the spa bridge and walked along to the spa wells for a seat in the sun and an ice cream before strolling back along the beachfront back to the car.
A contemplative walk on the beach
As Wallace and Gromit would say, a grand day out.
"Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away....."

Like a fart in the fog

Well the weekend proved to be challenging, terrifying and rewarding all at the same time. We were down to complete our advanced powerboat course with the night passage on Saturday night and a little brush up on the Sunday morning. Little did we suspect what would take place.

As it happened, Saturday was a glorious sunny day. Unless you were on the Forth. In which case it turned out to be foggier than a foggy thing. Visability was down to less than 50 metres and noise carried like a duck farting in the fog. Not a pleasant day.
You can almost make out the bridge in the fog. It gets worse....
Before we were let loose, we did a ton of work in the classroom, plotting our course on the charts, right of way, bouyage, etc. before making our way down to the pontoon to prep the RIB. 

We had a very good teacher in Olly who had taken us through our VHF/DSC course the month before and was a salty old sea dog. He said he had never seen fog as bad as this in 30 years. Filled us right up with confidence that did!

We planned to recap some basic skills in the water and navigate to the terminal and over to Rosyth. As it turns out once we got out on the open water, visability got even worse. Being nearly taken out twice by silly b*stards in yachts with no running lights made it clear that water work and the night passage wasnt going to happen today so it was back to the classroom for more hard graft. 
More classroom work and study....
Sunday proved to be more favourable with sun and fog patches. More classroom work followed by some time in the boat shed looking at basic maintainance and repair of powerboats before getting back on the water to perfect our existing skills and doing more pilotage.
Finalising the afternoons course
The afternoon proved to exceptional with flat waters and clear blue skies. Olly wasnt totally happy as there was little current running and no waves so we weren't pushed to our limits. But we had made up for it the previous day though with our nerves being pushed to our limits as well as our clean underpants!
Bridges! Sunshine! We can see!
Side bearings, time over distance and transits were order of the afternoon, with course corrections, a recap on anchoring and towing thrown in for good measure. We also noticed that they had decided to destroy Beemer Rock to make way for the propsed new Forth Road bridge. That's one less landmark to use for navigation!
I never get bored looking at this feat of engineering..
From Rosyth to Granton to Dalgety Bay to harbour, we had a good run in the afternoon with plenty to keep us on our toes and plenty to think about with the night passage coming up later on. Still had time to do a little 360 video of us passing Inch Garvie island and under the rail bridge.

Back in the classroom we were starting to flag a little with the constant pressure of being on the ball and having lots of things to think about. We then had the task of plotting a course from the harbour to Inverkeithing, round Inchcolm, Car Craig, Oxcars, Inchmickery, past the terminal and then back to harbour for our night passage which took a while given distances, boat traffic, hazards and loads of other considerations to take into account. Challenging stuff.

This is as good as it gets at night
With pitch black upon us, we were solely working on our pilotage, time on distance, side bearings, natural navigation, instrumentation and adrenaline. It certainly focuses the mind and then some. Sometimes all you have is the flashing light of a buoy to take a bearing off and when you have a lot of different flashing lights, you need to make sure you get the right one!

I'm proud to say that (without being a big headed twat) between myself and Jill, we were the best boat on the night, which was pleasantly surprising. The other RIB had three experienced sailors that had their own boats or had spent a lot of hours on boats so we expected them to know everything and to have the best course plotted.

As it turns out we had the upperhand in most respects and had the most effective, efficient and accurate course plotted, so kudos to us. Still a bit unnerving driving in the dark though as you really can't afford to switch off and you have to rely on other people feeding you the correct nav info as you go as well as being an extra set of eyes when you need them.
Difficult to see but there are seals asleep on there. I didn't want to use the flash to disturb them.
The icing on the cake was when we stopped at the No.16 channel marker to wait for the other RIB which gave us opportunity to watch all the sleeping seals. Nice.   

When we got back to harour and classroom is was 12:15 am and the course had gone on for 8 hours more than it should but I think we got our moneys worth and for the experience and learning standpoint it was an excellent course to complete.

Once we get some more hours logged, we'll be heading for our Day Skipper course and look to get commercially endorsed but that's a ways down the road yet.......

Here's a couple more from the Sunday day time.
Inchgarvie seagull attack
More power!!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

In too deep

Well that was a shock to the system!! It was just the other week we were diving in 28 degree waters now it's back to throwing ourselves off a boat into 6 degrees. 

Warm water diving is great, but diving in the Scotland is far more challenging and for me more rewarding as you have to work hard to find the good stuff and the conditions are harsher. Call me a masochist if you must.....
Winter repairs for the boats
It's still a while before the season officially starts but as we dive all year round, we jump off a boat whenever we can and luckily the conditions were good for Saturday. Not too many boats where on the go and the numbers aboard were low. Peter still has some work to do on Selkie, Paul had nearly a full compliment on Tiger Lily and Billy was going mad in his new Wavedancer powered by ridiculously large engines! I'm sure you could feel the wake hitting the shores of Norway....

We were jumping of Pathfinder with Captain O, and the fact there was only five of us made the deck management even better.

I elected not to take my camera rig with me due to some changes I had made to my cylinder configurations and I want to do some shut down drills without faffing with taking photos.

The set up worked perfectly but I am kicking myself a bit for not taking the camera. First dive was on Black Carr (never a bad dive on Black Carr) where the wolfies were being difficult little buggers, but right above the anchor on the wall, Elaine spotted a nice big lumpsucker gliding along which is unusual to see them out and about as opposed to hiding amongst the kelp.
Not many boats out today
We hid Ebb Carr for a second splash and and again found another big lumpsucker cruising along in the open. Never a camera in your hand when you need one.....

With a vis of about five metres and quite a surge underneath and some chop above, it was typical for this time of the year on the East coast but I wouldn't have missed the chance to get into the cold waters again. 

Two weeks time, we'll jump back in weather permitting but next weekend we have our final powerboat course which will be a long weekend with most of it done at night time. Challenging!

Friday, 16 March 2012

End of days

Well the last couple of days in the Keys were nice apart from the torrential rain! Every other time we've been there it's been glorious sunshine but I think we lucked out this visit.
Not quite singing in the rain
The stores make an absolute fortune selling rain capes to the tourists. I'm obviously in the wrong line of work. We didn't decide to do any diving whilst we were at the Keys but it's probably just as well as we got two days free diving just walking around!
Mallory Square. No sunset here today.
And this also meant that the ritual of watching the sunset in Mallory Square didn't happen which was a shame but at least we did the usual tourist type things which we always do when we come here. Like go to the Southernmost point.
The girls head South
And enjoy the sights of the Southern most chickens. Which is fitting as chickens have played a consistently key role during the entire holiday!
Not Kentucky Fried, just Southern Wet Chicken
Also on this visit we went and had a look at the Mel Fisher museum which is always worth a visit, especially if you've been brought up on stories of high adventure on the seven seas and watched Errol Flynn buckle his swash.
Getting very wet and not happy by this time
Another place we definitely had to visit whilst we were here was Blue Heaven to try the Key Lime pie. We've pie before down here, but several people recommended Blue Heaven.
Blue sign for Blue Heaven, with strange women hanging around on street corners.....
The pie was excellent, the girls thought there was too much meringue on the pie, but I thought it was just right with a nice base and sharp lime filling. Service was utter pants though, so best just to get in there, eat the pie and go.
Some great pie
We kick started breakfast the following day with a visit to Dennys. I know its hardly adventurous, but the choice is good and the food is good.
Why cant we get food that looks and tastes this good back home???
Some last minute t-shirt shopping and a hunt for some knick-knacks, reluctantly loaded up the car and headed back up US 1 to Miami and the homeward flight. Excellent diving, superb sights and lots of fun. One day soon we'll be back to do it all again......
On the road again.....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Back to the past.....or is it the future?

Caymans was a great experience and a grand time was had by all, so it was sad to leave it all behind. On the plus side we had a night in Miami and a couple of days in the Keys, so it wasn't all bad. One thing I really wanted to do on the drive to the Keys was stop off at the Diving Museum in Islamorada. I never managed to get there on previous visits to the Keys, but this time it was happening.
Old, older, oldest.....
Its a great way to spend an hour or two if you're down in the Keys and if you have any sort of interest in diving at all, it should definitely be on the list of things to do. Even non divers would find it interesting as they make reference to lots of things even non-divers would have heard of; Verne's 20,000 leagues under the sea, Seahunt, etc., stuff that people would have grown up hearing about.
Where it all began
And there's plenty of interactive activities to keep people occupied as well, such as the "How long you can hold your breath" test. I'll admit that I gave up at 1m 22s.
Mabs puts in a time of 43 seconds, the quietest she's been the whole holiday!
They also boast one of the largest collections of antique diving helmets in the world and you get a full voice guided tour through the history of them and key events involving them.
So many helmets to choose from
They also had an excellent section on underwater photography and filming over the years with the pioneers who have brought the underwater world to dry land prominently displayed like Lottie and Hans Hass, Roy Miner and Wes Skiles to name a few.
Always one of the most interesting exhibits for me
They also had a great selection of homemade diving helmets made by people over the years, some showing great ingenuity and most being downright scary! And they show the pressure damage to prove it too. Nutters.
Mabs does her best to steal the 32kg ingot. Typical Dalkeith lass......
They also had a good history of conventional dive equipment over the years with display charting the evolution of rebreathers and open circuit. The principals have always remained the same but the technology has come a long, long way. It's scary to think what it may be like 20 years from now.
Some early rebreathers....
.....and some early regulators
There was a scary moment during the visit though with an unusual sighting of a pair of marine creatures seldom seen, luckily I was quick enough to document it on camera. These pair make the yeti and the Loch Ness monster pale in comparison!
The creatures from the black lagoon! Run! Flee!
As you come to the end of the tour, there are some fine examples of atmospheric suits which look so heavy and cumbersome on land but can move so gracefully in the depths, demonstrating mans ability to continuously push the envelope and explore the oceans which we haven't even began to fully understand yet.
The girls take a new friend home with them
The museum is well worth your time, effort and support to keep it going and to help educate others about how man has strived to explore the unknown over the centuries. Hopefully it will still be around to witness the underwater technological breakthroughs over the years to come. And don't forget to buy a t-shirt!
This one fits!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The girls from Hell

The last day on the Island and we decided to get some sight seeing in which meant an obligatory visit to the tourist trap that is Hell. Literally, it is Hell.
Hell is........Hell
It's probably the most interesting three minutes of your life then there's nothing else to do. At least you can say you've been to Hell and back. Which is nice that Hell exists as there is certainly an over abundance of churches on the island. Nearly as many as there is chickens and that's saying something!
Lounging around in Hell
The scenery is made of short black limestone formations and speculation on how the place got it's name is a bit mixed but common consensus is that a local remarked that "This is what hell must look like". 

You can get all the t-shirts, nick-nacks and send postcards from Hell and all the other touristy stuff. When the cruise ships come in with the tourists then it gets pretty mobbed pretty quick.
Tourist cruise liners ready to spew their load on the quiet George Town waterfront
Thankfully the liners don't come in every day but when they do, George Town is mobbed and there is barely room to swing a chicken, I have no idea how the locals cope with it. Best to avoid the place like the plague on those days. 
The best place to be
As always when escaping the maddening crowds and you're looking for some solitude, the beach front with a white russian (the drink, not a woman!) is the best place to be. 

Drink in the scenery, drink up the alcohol and contemplate your navel. Bliss!