Scuba Diving Holiday – Panama City Scuba Diving Trip Update

We’ve made it to Panama City Beach!!   After checking into the hotel, we hit the new oyster bar across the street for a great dinner of oysters, shrimp and the “cheapest beer on the beach”. All of us ate too much and complained that it seems we can’t seem to find fresh seafood like this on our side of the gulf.

This morning we’re off to the famous Vortex Spring for a shake down dive and a picnic. Everyone is excited to cheek out the springs gin clear water and freshwater eels. Well Elizabeth seems more excited about the clear water than the eels.

This afternoon we get to the main event, Viola’s first saltwater dive! Everyone else is also looking forward to great artificial reefs that Panama City Beach has to offer.

As the group’s only photographer, I’ve been charged with getting a new profile picture for everyone’s Facebook account. So hopefully we’ll have so cool pictures to share by the end of the day.

Happy Scuba Valentine’s Day!

EMAIL-VALENTINESToday is the day we think about the ones we love.  At Oceanic Ventures, we want to thank everyone who helps us introduce others to the exciting world underwater and to the world of adventure around us. 2014 will be an exciting year here at the dive store. We have some incredible trips planned for 2014 including Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Truk Lagoon, Kosrae and Fiji. We hope that everyone will make this their year of adventure! Come let us open up the door for you.

Experiencing the Solomon Islands a Scuba Diving Trip Aboard the Bilikiki

Diving in the Solomon Islands – Guadalcanal

Dive Manager - Csaba

Dive Manager – Csaba

 The morning finds is on our first diving location.  Diving off the Bilikiki is done primarily off the “tinies,” aluminum boats with cylinder holes and a small ladder. Csaba (pronounced Chaba) was in charge of the first dive and after the briefing it was – this way to the South Pacific and Tinie 1, Tinie 1 as the crew moved the diving equipment from the deck to the tinie.  The order was the same each day, diving equipment, cameras then divers.  All you as a diver needed to do was to let the crew members know that you were ready, move your name tag from “on-board” to “diving” and then step aboard your waiting diving chariot.

 The adventure continues…

Experiencing the Solomon Islands a Scuba Diving Trip Aboard the Bilikiki

Beginning in the Solomon’s



Photo by James Burton

Let’s just get this over with at the beginning.  The Bilikiki is an old vessel that is not as well appointed as many other modern live aboard diving and touring vessels.  The dining area has plastic lawn chairs and the tables are simple.  The main salon is not air conditioned and there is no wet head on the dive deck.  But, the crew on this vessel is second to none.  The newest member of the crew has only been on the vessel for two years but spent seven years on the Spirit of the Solomon’s, the sister ship to the Bilikiki.  Most of the remaining crew members have been with the vessel for more than seven to twenty-years.  The on-board diving managers have been here a year and come from extensive ship management in the Red Sea.  Needless to say, they all know how to make your life aboard special!

 Bilikiki CrewEvan, the shore based manager met us at the airport and like the crew on board the boat, Evan has been a part of the operation for a long time (I can attest that he was here in 2006 when we last visited the Bilikki.)  Amazingly, all of our luggage arrived with us and we were promptly taken to the Kitana Medano Hotel to wait for our time to board.  To capitalize on our available time, Ann had arranged for a tour of Honiara and some of the sights that made Guadalcanal such a memorable location in World War II.  There is a beautiful tribute to the men who died in the Pacific defending our freedom and bringing it to others.  This war memorial sits atop a hill above Henderson field and has multiple marble carvings highlighting the battles in this region of the Pacific.  So many men died here that the locals are still finding mess kits and other personal items scattered throughout the jungle.

20130906-_MG_0838The ships scattered on the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound even now contain the remains of American, Australian, British and Japanese sailors.  The majority of these wrecks lie well beyond the range of recreational scuba divers in over 240 feet of water.

Our tour also encompassed Henderson field (we landed here), the river near Red Beach, and a stop at the statue of  Sir Jacob Vouza, the Solomon Islander who alerted the allies to the advancing Japanese troops despite being tortured, stabbed and left for dead.  He survived, was Knighted by the Queen of England and even renamed his village to California so he could tell his friends in America that he was in California.

As our tour ended, our diving adventure was about to begin.  Csaba, on of the on-board boat managers met us at the hotel and transported us to the Honiara Yacht Club – a stuffy name for a simple location with small boats and a nice bar.  Here we joined our luggage which had already been loaded by the crew.  We were met by Daniela, the lively Venezuelan on-board manager.  She is also married to Csaba and no, he is not from Venezuela but rather hails from Hungry and Eastern Europe.


Photo by James Burton

The first day on a live aboard is always busy with everyone scurrying around trying to assemble their dive equipment which is scattered around various bags necessitated by the airline luggage rules.  Only after everything is reassembled, tested and stored is there time to relax.

It was soon after dinner that the boat set sail for the beginning of our ten-day cruise through the Solomon Islands.


The adventure continues…

ROV Follows an Elusive Oarfish in the Gulf of Mexico

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

Scientists accidentally took a video of the elusive oarfish. This video is the best quality and longest video that has ever been shot of an oarfish in its natural habitat. This video also appears to show a parasitic isopod attached to the fish’s dorsal fin. The mysterious oarfish lives about a mile deep in the ocean and it can grow to be 50ft long. Oarfish look like giant eels, with their head pointing towards the surface and the rest of their body hanging down below. The oarfish is also believed to be the largest bony fish in existence. The one in this video is only eight feet long. This video was shot while researchers were investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A camera was sent down to look at the oil pipes and figure out how to fix them. However, the camera stumbled upon this oarfish.

Scientists were surprised to see the oarfish since it has rarely been seen in its habitat. Another reason why oarfish are rarely seen is because they live far offshore. The video of the oarfish can be viewed below. The best pictures of the fish are about 6 minutes into the video.

Rebreather Scuba Diving – Not Just for Technical Divers

Parrot Fish in Cleaning Station by Robert Hew

Photograph (c) Robert Hew

Imagine just floating and watching a parrot fish or a grouper in a cleaning station. While you are there, you see the little fish swimming in and out of the gills while small shrimp crawl around on the fish; their claws snapping at unseen items and yet content to continue their work. At the same time, there are other fish swimming next to you apparently unaware of your presence or more like unconcerned – except of course for the Damsel fish that keeps swimming around eyeing you like an unwanted visitor to his neighborhood. This entire time, the grouper just sits there waiting for the cleaning process to be complete, never very concerned about your presence. As the grouper swims away you slide your hand into the cleaning station and the shrimp crawl onto your hand for a quick cleaning…

This is a scene experienced by rebreather divers on a regular basis. The fish are less concerned by your presence when the bubbles are eliminated. For underwater photographers, this means that you have new opportunities for exceptional photographs simply because there are more photographic opportunities available to you. Recently, I was talking with Chris Parsons from Nauticam and he was relating a story about one of his favorite local dive sites. He said he gets a lot of strange looks when he jumps in the water with his rebreather… the water depth is only about 20 fsw to 25 fsw. But he said that “I just love my rebreather – I can get much closer to the subject.”

One of the things I love to do is swim with a school of fish. Tarpon or snappers will often let me join the school and swim in circles with them. It simply amazes new rebreather divers when I am able to do this. On another dive in Grand Cayman, Dave and I watched mating squid up close and personal. It was a really fun experience (of course I didn’t have the camera then).

A rebreather offers photographers a number of advantages including:

  • ability to get closer to the subject matter,
  • Longer bottom times (i.e. more photographs),
  • Neutral buoyancy even while breathing, and
  • The Marine life behavior is not modified because of the bubbles.

And let’s not forget, you look cool in a rebreather!

So, what if you are not a photographer? Can a recreational diver benefit from a rebreather? Remember a rebreather is the great equalizer. A student of mine once commented that the reason he started rebreather diving was so he could stay in the water as long as the better divers. He was a big guy with large lungs. Instead of being the first one back on the boat, he wanted to be the last one on the boat. So, a rebreather enabled him to achieve his goal.

Rebreathers have allowed technical divers to make some incredible dives and to participate in some awesome adventures. However, they have also allowed for some not so technical divers to achieve their goals and open up new worlds. Some of the photographs taken by rebreather divers rival those made by seasoned professionals and new fish behaviors have been watched and documented.

Rebreathers are here to stay and units like the Pathfinder from Inner Space Systems are making it easier and more affordable for all divers. So what are you waiting for? Come join the revolution before you are left behind!

What Is Coral?

Coral Structures

Coral Structures
Copyright Eric V. Keibler

This morning I was reading the NOAA Educational Newsletter and Kelly Drinnen, the coordinator for the Flower Gardens National Marine Sactuary and she had an interesting article on just what is coral. In it she writes Steve Palumbi of Stanford University gives it his best shot with this great 3-minute Microdoc in which he explains that corals are, among other things, tiny animals that make skeletons big enough to be seen from outer space. We love this; it makes the underwater world a bit easier to understand, which we think is essential for conservation.” In the video, Dr. Palumbi explains coral and a coral reef using a coffee cup, a glass and a plumaria flower. He also cuts back to underwater scenes to demonstrate his points.  I have to admit is is a very effective way to explain the nature of this small animal. You should watch it…it is only about 3 minutes long.

At the Office – Diving the Pathfinder Rebreather

Eric Keibler on a Pathfinder Rebreather in Grand Cayman

Eric Keibler on a Pathfinder Rebreather in Grand Cayman

Just another day at the office. at least that is what I tried to convince Ann was happening the past five days in Grand Cayman. One of our friends, Pam, even said that maybe they needed to “meet in our conference room.”

But really, I was in Grand Cayman to complete a training program on the Megalodon and Pathfinder rebreathers. You can ask Emma or Nancy, I was in class each morning and diving in the afternoon…you know skills, drills and well ok, some fish, corals and steel; one dive was on the Kittywake.

While I have a lot of experience diving the Megalodon rebreather, the real treat of this trip was to dive the Pathfinder in something other than the pool. Not that I mind the pool, but there is something more interesting about a vertical wall with fish, colourful corals and vibrant sponges. Remember, part of my training was swimming in the unit.

Eric Keibler and Leon Scamahorn diving Pathfinder Rebreathers in Grand Cayman

Eric Keibler and Leon Scamahorn diving Pathfinder Rebreathers in Grand Cayman

The Pathfinder is designed with a more recreational diver in mind. Underwater photographers will love this unit because it is small, easy to use and prneudes the advantage of not scaring the fish away with every breath. One of the things that appeals to me is its size and weight. The complete unit will fit in a carry on suitcase and will not require help from three of your diving buddies to put it in the overhead. For divers with camera, the unit is robust enough to go as checked luggage as well.

The unit can be configured with a standard over the shoulder set of counterlungs or with the new top of the shoulder counter lungs. One of the other configuration options is the diliuent bottle. You can configure it like a standard rebreather with the diliuent and oxygen supplies mounted to the canister or, alternatively, you can utilize the bailout cylinder as the diliuent thereby reducing the weight and simplifying the rig for the diver.

Unlike some of the other rebreather designs for more recreational divers which try to minimize any diver thought or input into the system, the Pathfinder is designed for a thinking diver. Since you can never fully factor out the human interface, Leon Scamahorn, designer of the system, believes that the diver should be included and involved in the system. This does not mean that the system is complicated but rather it needs some input from the diver during the set-up and initialization phases of the dive. Further, it offers the diver more options in dive parameters and uses.

While a purely “recreational” diver will love this unit, the Pathfinder is capable of mneung beyond what we normally consider to be recreational diving. Leon designed the unit to have enough scrubber media and system capabilities for a diver to do a typical normoxic trimix dive (using helium in the breathing mix.)

So you are probably asking what did I think about it? It was a real treat to dive a lightweight but capable rebreather. The work-of-breathing, a performance measurement, is similar to that found in the Megalodon rebreather. What this means is that it is easy to breath in the horizontal position as well as upside down and while facing up at the surface. The electronics are straight forward and easy to understand both on the surface and underwater and they do a good job of controlling the oxygen set-point or level. I found the unit trimmed well so it was easy to swim with in the water and because of its size and weight it was easy to exit the water. The scrubber packs easily and the assembly is easy and straight forward. It flushes easily and takes minimal amount of time to correct the oxygen levels.

Eric Keibler and Leon Scamahorn after Eric’ s Final Check-Out Dive for his Instructor Certification

If you are interested in rebreahers, I think this unit is a good alternative for more capable and expensive rebreathers. It prneudes a lot punch and is ideal for a photographer or any typical “recreational” diver as well a diver wanting to venture beyond the recreational limits sometime in the future. The Pathfinder is a very capable unit and may be the only unit you will need for the style of diving you have in mind.

First Ever Sighting of the World’s Rarest Whale!

Copyright Yasine Mrabet, from Wikipedia

One of the world’s rarest animals, the spade-toothed whale, has now been seen for the first time in recorded history.  A mother and calf beached and died in New Zealand earlier this week. Previously the only evidence that this species exists has been three bones pieces that have been found from the 1800s through the present. The bones were difficult to identify because although they were similar to other beaked whales, they did not fit any bone structures of known species. Originally many of the bones were tentatively identified as Gray’s beaked whale, which is within the same family as the spade-toothed whale. Now, after using mitochondrial DNA sequencing to compare the spade-toothed whale bones to Gray’s beaked whales showed that the bones were from a separate, unknown species, then termed the spade-toothed whale.


Whales of the beaked whale family (Ziphiidae) are amongst the most rarely seen whales and are one of the least known families. This is due to beaked whale’s ability to dive to extreme depths to find deep-sea fish and squid to eat. Beaked whales can dive over 800 meters deep and stay submerged for nearly an hour and half. Many beaked whales are rarely seen and many species are difficult to differentiate without close examination. Therefore, it is very exciting for scientists to finally be able to look closely at a spade-toothed whale to be able to fully differentiate them from other species. It is really incredible that for the first time ever-recorded humans are laying eyes upon a new species of whale. This is the final evidence to prove the current existence of this whale species, and even though we know much about the ocean, it is obvious we still have so much to learn.

Local Texas Scuba Diving – Reveille Peak Ranch

Quarry at Reveille Peak Ranch

The Quarry

Off the beaten path is a little known dive site in Texas.  It is just four hours from Houston, in the Texas Hill Country.  This site, the former home to the Dixon/Southwestern Mining Company is an open seam graphite mine.  Once the site of large draglines and steam shovels, it is now a water filled oasis in the heart of the Llano geological uplift.  This crack in the earth is filled with rising ground water, a natural spring and rain water and prneudes a natural habitat for a small number of fish and turtles.  You will find most of the fish in the shallows among the hydrilla plants that occupy the first ten to fifteen feet of water.  Below that, there are relatively shear walls or granite, marble, limestone, sandstone infused with graphite.  It is this graphite which makes the deeper depths. Interesting.  The bottom is covered with black sand and sparkling graphite.  But, this dark bottom and the orientation of the body of water make the deep parts of the seam as dark as a cave dive – little to no natural light can be seen at the bottom.   And the bottom is relatively deep with depths ranging from seventy to one-hundred feet.

Aside from the opportunity to try out your new diving lights, the quarry prneudes you the opportunity to use your hoods, gloves, heavy wetsuits or a dry suit.  The water temperature in the quarry was a brisk 71 degrees at the surface to a much colder 56 degrees at the bottom.  But, with all of these variances, there comes a treat in Texas – visibility!  While the first twenty feet had a slight green algae induced hue, the visibility was a respectable fifteen to twenty feet but drop into the cold, dark part of the quarry and the visibility grows to 40 to 50 feet.  Of course, at this part of the quarry, your light is the limiting factor.

Pavilian at Reveille Peak Ranch

The Pavilian at Reveille Peak Ranch

This quarry sits in the middle of a outdoor enthusiasts dream location, the Reveille Peak Ranch.  Designed by owner Vol Montgomery, as a place where you can enjoy activities away from the hustle and bustle of the city but not give up all of the conveniences.  The central feature is a large pavilion with ponds, pools, a commercial kitchen and a bar, perfect for any company sponsored function.  It overlooks a manmade lake stocked with bass and pearch so the fishing is active and the fish are large.  The fact that the Ranch operates a hook and release program and also feeds the fish makes them larger than you might find in a natural lake – of course this is Texas and we only have one natural lake so who cares.  This is a mecca for mountain bikers with miles of trails with different skill level challenges.  There are walking and hiking trails with a new nature center under construction.  Kayakers and paddle boarders will also enjoy the small lake which has trees sticking up from the depths to add to the paddling practice.

Tent Campsite

Tent Campsite

The Ranch also has camp sites scattered around the pavilion area that prneude for tent camping or RV camping with electrical hook-ups for both 30 amp and 15 amp hook-ups.  There are warm and cold water showers for both and toilet facilities near the Pavilion so you don’t have to go too native.  The staff at the Ranch are on hand to help you find your way or to make suggestions.  Andrea is the diving coordinator for the Ranch with John, a former mountain biking circuit rider, is on hand to help coordinate things.  Vol is also on the property to make sure things run smoothly.

The Ranch staff can also host other activities for groups including skeet shooting, children’s activities and obstacle course events. 

While there are some motels and guest cabins nearby, our group of explorers, which dwindled from twelve to six, all stayed and camped at the Ranch.  Ann loves camping so this was just up her alley.  Of course I am not really a tent camper anymore so my solution was to rent a small teardrop camper from a local dealer here in Houston.  It turned out to be the perfect match for the weekend with a comfortable bed and a nice place to prepare food.  Remember our motto here at Oceanic Ventures – local diving is a Barbeque interrupted by diving and as David likes to say, it is all about the food.  Wade brought steaks, potatoes and fresh cord for Saturday’s post dive dinner and I brought two nice bottles of wine to go with it.  I also had a surprise – homemade ice cream, made on site.  Of course it was not the most appropriate dessert because the temperatures dropped to a brisk 48 degrees.  But in my mind, ice cream is perfect any time.  We built a nice fire and shared dive stories and adult beverages until one-by-one we began to fade and drift off to sleep.

The scenery of the Ranch make this a perfect escape for divers and non-divers alike.  The diving, while cold, was interesting and fun.  The geology underwater is interesting with the graphite seams in the formations sparkling in the light.  Navigation is easy since the quarry runs north to south and there are no known caves or major overhangs.  Surface intervals are relaxing with a deck near the campsite or on the floating dock.  There are also hiking trails around the quarry if you feel you need more exercise.

One note for divers – the quarry is not open to the public.  To dive here you must go with a dive store, like your friends at Oceanic Ventures. 

Dive Mom's Birthday BashHow did we enjoy the weekend?  Well, Oceanic Ventures has decided to throw Dive Mom and birthday bash up at Reveille Peak Ranch on 26-28 April 2013 (i.e. this coming April).  Everyone is invited to the party and if you are interested in renting a teardrop trailer contact Charlie at ahead of time and let him know you what one just like ours (we have already put in a reservation).  But don’t worry; Steve Soulen will be coordinating the tent campers and the ever present campfire! 

So, mark your calendars for April 26-28 and plan on joining us for a VERY fun weekend!

See More Photos from the weekend on our Facebook Fan Page or by clicking here.