September 29, 2011

Happy freezing

It happened on a January morning. I checked my equipment and waited for my very first dive in the Red Sea. I wasn't a total beginner and I felt I'm experienced enough for a few dives in Sharm El-Sheikh. I knew I couldn't enjoy my dive if I was too nervous. And I wasn't. I asked a local dive center about the conditions, I read a lot about the animals, I was really excited when I thought about seeing my first clownfish or lionfish. I saw them so everything was there to make me happy. But I wasn't...

The reason is simple: the water was cold. When I asked a dive center before the trip they said the Red Sea is soooo warm all year the farmer john of my two pieces wetsuit would be more than enough. I believed them. It was my fault definitely. Whatever the local dive center says you need to check the conditions on your own. If I had read some detailed reports before I traveled I had known the water temperature is only 20 degrees in the winter in the northern Red Sea. I know it can't be compared to the frozen lakes of the Hungarian winter but it's far from shorty season. When you feel the cold water in your skin and in the first moment it takes your breath away you know it was a mistake again to trust someone but yourself. I was freezing during all the dive and it reduced a bit of my happiness what I felt after submerging the wonderful Red Sea.

So I rented an overall for the next dives. I didn't complain as I chose another dive center when I arrived to Sharm not the one which suggested me the single farmer john- they simple didn't seem reliable. And it made me really happy to dive with a company who had care much more about my comfort and in the rented wetsuit I had awesome dives in the Sharm area. As many other divers I fell in love with the Red Sea and I learnt the difference between warm and relatively warm...

September 27, 2011

A diver out of water

Even a liveaboard trip doesn't mean you spend 18 hours under water. And the usual diving holidays' two tank daytrips last only for a few hours. When you prepare to spend your free time on a dive trip you have some easy choices. If there is WiFi, you can surf the internet, but who's interested in the politics and economics when think about the next dive? Anyway, don't forget your computer as you can check your photos, you can ask expert advise why it's overexposed or blurry. A dive trip is a perfect place to practice and you'll learn a lot during a week if there are some more experienced photographers around. Surprisingly an expert is able to show the right way with a few words. I know sometimes we are too shy to show our photos but that is the way of mastering your skills. Everybody was a beginner...

Sometimes I'm surprised when someone complaining about the lack of the TV in the room or cabin. Scary but true: we can live without the loud, flashing box. (OK, I'd miss the really entertaining Arabic music channels in an Egyptian hotel, but that's only an exception.) If there is a DVD, you can watch movies. Or probably only one single movie for several times? I've been to trips where I became crazy after the replays. One of the memorable movies was The Guardian with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher: they always had to stop because of the next dive and started from the beginning again 2 hours later. On my last liveaboard trip the hit was the Kill Bill. When I heard 'What should we watch? Kill Bill again?' for the third time I went to the upper deck. But in the upper deck we had to be careful because in July in Egypt was extremely hot for sunbathing...

So I spent many hours in my cabin with reading. I confess e-books changed my life. I used to read a lot in the past but since I have my small netbook I read even more. Later I bought a real e-book reader and I'm happy with it: it's lightweight, on its memory there is space for dozens of books and it works for weeks without charging. I love it!

Before you remind me I write a few words about the other people on the boat. Yes, you don't need any books, DVD-s, gadgets if you travel with friends. You hang in the bars in the evening or drink in the saloon of the boat. You discuss the dives and you hear nice, frightening or unbelievable stories from past trips. You make new friends, some of them you'll meet on future trips where you can share the same old stories. And there are the local dive masters who can tell you about the local conditions, myths and one in a lifetime encounters. The dives AND the people who you travel with can make your trip unforgettable so be open-minded and don't worry if there isn't a TV around- the real life is way more interesting than the reality shows.

September 25, 2011

A legend amongst us

A man from Austria who was the pioneer of skin diving and underwater exploring although he was born far from the oceans in 1919 in Vienna. Professor Hans Hass, a scientist, a filmmaker, an adventurer, one of the people who changed the way as we think about the sea, the sharks, the conservation. Maybe nowadays he is not a popular icon like Jacques-Yves Cousteau but he had as important role as the french explorer in the very first years.

The young Hans Hass started skin diving in 1937 in France, close to the place where Cousteau made his first dives. Hass knew he found what he was looking for and a year later he spent some weeks with freediving in the Adriatic. Based on his experiences he organized a trip to the Netherlands Antilles in 1939. This legendary skin diving expedition was one of the first occasions where the divers made scientific explorations and shot a lot of underwater movies and photos. Hass designed his underwater photography kit: "I needed to make photos because nobody believed what did I see". Practically he had to found out the best practices of research on location. Later he published an exciting book of this expedition. In 1940 his first movie was released. His movie from the Caribbean introduced the nearly unknown world of coral reefs. He made the first experiments to learn more about sharks' behavior and started to use Drager rebreathers under water.

After the WW II he had the chance to continue his underwater explorations on the board of a new research ship, the Xarifa. Hans Hass and his crew (which consisted the brave and pretty Lotte, his second wife, the first famous scuba diving lady) had exciting trips to the Red Sea, he was the first who dived the Sudanese waters. The Adventure in Red Sea won the grand prize in Venice in 1951. He made movies for TV about many of his trips like Diving to Adventure. Hans Hass was one of the first men who declared how vulnerable is the ecosystem of the world oceans, so he became a conservationist. Later he was worked in the field of economics and became a professor in Vienna. Dr Hans Hass still lives in the city. A few years ago I wanted to organize an interview but because of his health problems we couldn't met. Anyway, I'm still proud when I think about our short phone calls- I talked to a real pioneer of scuba diving...

Abenteuer im Rotten Meer (1) by ArcheoFilms

September 24, 2011

Moving pictures: September destinations

Well, I collected a few nice videos to show how many interesting destinations wait the divers in the early autumn in Europe...

One of the great movies from Rafa Herrero who is inspired by the wonderful underwater world of the Canary Islands- I know, geographically it doesn't belong to Europe but as a region of Spain I can travel there easily.

The exciting dive spot of Crete is a WWII wreck of a Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter plane.

Highlights of the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey.

One of the well kept secrets in the Mediterranean is the Medes Islands. This protected area in Southern Spain has abundant flora and fauna.

In my opinion the Black Sea has more undiscovered wrecks than the other European seas. There were less divers so they found less ships under water, that is reason why we hear regularly about exciting findings from Ukraine, Romania or Bulgaria. This video shows an UB I-type submarine near Varna, Bulgaria which was discovered by BSTD.

A very nice movie about the best dives spots of Gozo island (this tiny island belongs to Malta).

September 23, 2011

Autumn, dive season

As I live in Europe, September seems the best season for diving. The families and holidaymakers rule the summer and let us conquering the seas in the early Autumn. The water is still warm but the air isn't that hot, it's much more comfortable to wear our wetsuits during boat rides. The accommodations' and sometimes the dives' prices are more attracting, so September is the perfect month for a budget dive trip.

Where to go? I always start browsing last minute offers in August if I want to book a trip to September. Greece was very cheap this year (isn't surprising if you think about their economical problems), and there are Bulgaria, Turkey, Tunisia, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Malta as well. A week long trip to a 3-4 stars hotel can be as cheap as 300 euros with airfare. Egypt is inviting too. The temperature of the Red Sea is 27-28 degrees, and there are plenty of great liveaboard offers. If I want to do a shorter trip September is great in Croatia and it's perfect for a long weekend to the nearby Austrian freshwater lakes.

This year Croatia was the chosen destination for us but I'm still hesitating if it was a good choice or not because there were so much another possibilities. We had a great time at the Adriatic so I'm not unhappy at all but I'd like to see new places. There are some interesting dive spots in Tunisia which I want to dive someday. I've already heard a lot about the new artificial reefs of Bodrum in Turkey (one of them is a C47 plane), and I have nice memories from my latest trip. Or there is the Black Sea: the visibility is worse, but it'd be something new and different for me at the Bulgarian shoreline. I could mention my old favorite, the Canary Islands with its huge rays, angel sharks, groupers or morays which I haven't met since 2009... And what about a second liveaboard trip this year to Egypt but maybe to the wrecks in the north?

So many choices, so many dreams, so many plans- and only one or two destinations. The ideal season isn't that long because from October the water temperature decreases fast in the Northern Mediterranean and you can expect cold rains as well. In a few days I can forget all my September plans but until then I enjoy planning and virtual diving- maybe it will be useful next autumn...

September 22, 2011

The Molnar Janos cave

A video which was taken in the famous warm water cave located in Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

September 21, 2011

Thoughts about a tragedy

A 37 years old man died today in a famous underwater cave in Hungary. The Molnar Janos cave is uniqe in many ways: it's in the heart of Hungary's lively capital Budapest. The total length of the system is more than 6 kilometers and they still don't know where is the end of it. There is warm water in the cave which is the source of the healing water of a famous thermal bath.

In Hungary we don't have too much interesting dive spots. This cave with its crystal water was an attraction and if I want to be honest I confess in the past many people participated in guided dives there although they didn't have any cave diver certification. But it's a real cave with real dangers. I've been there once so I know what I'm talking about. It wasn't my favorite diving experience, I learned a life saving lesson: do dives only what you qualified to. I wasn't but I survived. But I know many other divers didn't have the same dangerous experience so they went to guided trips often. They changed the rules only a few years ago and since then cave divers allowed to enter the Molnar Janos cave. But the dive leader decides who is qualified and fit for a dive. The only one thing which didn't change the guest paid a lot for a dive there. (I need to mention the professionals who led dives there: they are extremely skilled and experienced cave divers so they were able to organize dives in caves safely.)

We heard stories about incidents and accidents but there weren't any names or official, detailed reports. Now, after the tragic death of a young man everybody starts to discuss safety concerns again. It seems the diver had problems after surfacing and he collapsed there but technically it's a diving accident. (Update: after the autopsy it seems the cause was gas embolism, so it was a real diving accident.) And in the same brief article they mention another accident which happened a few months ago. They needed a death to start an investigation about the diving practice in the cave. Maybe it wasn't perfect but only this tragedy made the authority to do something: they forbid all the dives in the cave. This is the simplest way to 'solve' a problem: no dive, no cry. Hopefully someday we will know from an official report what and how happened...

It's an accident we should learn from. But only tomorrow: today I feel sorry for a young man, a diver. I'm really sad and express condolences to his family and friends...

September 18, 2011

NFL time

Ok, the football isn't connected to the diving at all (although I'm sure there must be scuba diving NFL stars) but I have to share I'm happy to watch the new season's games. (Go Patriots!) It seems everyone changes, a few years ago I didn't care too much about American football but since I can watch the games in the TV here in Hungary I started to learn and love it. Life is not only about diving and it's good to know there are many other things which make the boring days better. Thanks NFL!

And now I'm going back to the TV and open another beer...

September 17, 2011

Oldies but goldies

I was certified in 1999 so I bought some items of my diving kit a decade ago. Surprisingly I still use them regularly because they do their job. Let's make it clear: there are new inventions and ideas but the basic scuba gear 10-15 years ago was as good as the newest ones. I own a pair of Mares Quattro Avanti fins which is the favourite amongst professional divers although the original Avantis were invented in the eighties. The tech divers adore the Jet Fin- it was designed in 1962 by Georges Beuchat! You'll see many new fins tested by the dive magazines from year to year but in my opinion only the best split fins can be compared to the good old ones. (And many divers simply don't like the way of swimming in split fins, they have to choose one of those decent classic designs.) Some new fins has awfully weak buckles which break easily, the new, super slim mask frames anything but sturdy.

I still have my first regulator set too. It's an AquaLung Titan LX Supreme. It works fine in depth or in cold waters (I even dived under ice with it), easy to find an AquaLung service center who will make the regular checks (not repairs, my one works flawlessly since I bought). Sturdy, reliable in every conditions, not too expensive- there aren't any better model for an ordinary diver despite its age. There are old-school unbalanced piston type regulators like the Scubapro Mk2-R190 which widely used in dive centers all around the world for decades. The simple BCD-s are nearly the same for many years, the weight integration doesn't change the basic set-up- the difference is the comfort. One of the few real innovations in scuba while the new, stylish design of the second stages or new colors of wetsuits doesn't mean an evolution.

Or there are the dive computers. I bought a Suunto Favor ten years ago and it still works. It knows everything what a recreational diver needs except nitrox capability- that's the only reason I bought a new one. The wonderful new computer lasted for 1,5 years so I started using the old Favor again. Some people mention its algorithm doesn't manage safety stop but for god's sake, I can add 3 minutes to the bottom time I see in the display when I ascend to 5 meters! I become crazy when I hear about 'firmware updates'. I want a dive computer which works perfectly from the day of purchasing. The sophisticated new algorithms don't make a dive safer but a more conservative way of diving does, regardless of the instrument you wear. An extra 500 USD you spend on an expensive dive computer won't make you invulnerable.

I think I shouldn't write more about this, hopefully you understand what I mean. I'm not against the new designs, materials, ideas but I'd like to see more reliable, affordable, proven equipments in the shops. Luckily most manufacturers offer the classic models as well and I suggest to every newcomer in the world of scuba diving to choose those ones which the experienced divers recommend and use. Anyway, if you try and like a cool new stuff let me know- whatever I said I'm interested in everything related to diving. Who knows when will I have to renew my kit...

September 16, 2011

Top 5 Red Sea liveaboard tips

The Egyptian Red Sea liveaboard trips are really special. The value for the money is incredible, you can join an all inclusive week long trip with 20-22 dives even for 600-700 euros (800-900 USD). The boats are huge (28-40 meters long) and the typical safari boats offer twin or double cabins with en-suite bath, toilet and A/C. Maybe you think a diver can't make a bad decision with prices like this so nearly doesn't matter which trip he chooses. But as a seasoned Red Sea traveler I can make this picture a bit more detailed so here come my advices. Maybe the first questions are: when, where, who?

1. Many people use to say the Red Sea is an all year destination so doesn't matter when do you arrive. Well, the water isn't cold in any season but there are differences. In February in the north you can expect only 20-21 Celsius degrees which isn't comfortable in a 2 mm wetsuit if you plan 4 about hour long dives per day. The winds are stronger so taking on the wet diving suits isn't much fun. In August the water can be 29-30 degrees hot, some divers just pick up their tanks and submerge. If you prefer the lazy warm water dives, travel between June and October.

The article continued here.

September 14, 2011

Recent encounters

The octopus is a typical animal of the Adriatic, I see them often. Usually they're hiding in a hole but sometimes they're moving. When I'm lucky enough to bring my camera I can make a video like this...

It was much more surprising to see sea hares during shore dive. But they were there and one of them swam, just before the lens of my camera. Who said Adriatic diving is boring?

September 13, 2011

Razanj trip diary

There are 3 cans of Karlovacko in my fridge. Karlovacko is one of the classic beer brands of Croatia and I usually buy some bottles or cans during my trips to the Adriatic. I spent the last 5 days there and I brought some souvenirs until the next spring when I surely will go again. A few days ago I wrote about my really nice summer diving experiences in Croatia and these days proved the trip in August was not one of a kind. Very nice weather, warm water, good visibility- this is what I need in the sea.

We arranged our trip with a local dive center in the Rogoznica area. My friends in the Adriadive center have a base in the quiet village of Razanj and they promised me an appartment close to the sea and the dive center with sea view. Our huge balcony was the place of our first tasting of Karlovacko, after 8 hours long drive we simply needed a cold beer in the September summer.

Our group consisted of 3 advanced divers and a beginner who started her dive course in the Adriatic as many other Hungarian divers. She was excited and keen on scuba diving. With her newly bought white dive mask and snorkel and ultra stylish black-white-pink wetsuit she looked really neat. The instructor, Istvan gave her the first briefing and after some basic surface training she was ready to do her first dive. All of us heard when she made the back roll as she screamed a bit while we were preparing for our shore dive. I didn't want to disturb the course, I simply celebrated my 444th dive with an easy and lazy plan. Just before the dive center in the shallow I counted 11 sea hares and one of them even swam before the lens of my camera- such a wonderful attraction! An octopus, some smaller and bigger fish for a first dive, I was quite satisfied.

We had 6 more boat dives. There was a really special one, we joined the underwater cleanup of the harbor of Rogoznica. I was sure there were some trash but when I filled the third big sack with bottles, shoes, medicines, plastic garbage I felt it was a mission impossible. More than a dozen Hungarian divers worked there and I can proudly say we really did a nice job though we left just enough trash for the next year's cleanup. The organizers gave a shirt and a good lunch for us but sadly we couldn't taste the good local wine because we planned a dive in the afternoon.

The typical dive spots of this area are walls. One of them is famous of the cat shark eggs between 30-40 meters, another one has place covered with purple gorgonians. We started in the deep and spent the last 10-15 minutes in the shallow where the water was 22-24 degrees. There wasn't any really special encounter but many small wonders which make a dive nice. We visited the so-called 'small wreck' to cheer up the wreck enthusiasts.

But a good trip is not only about diving. Yes, I have to mention again the Karlovacko and its 'friends' who joined the discussions every evening. We had two barbecue nights with awesome fish and local meat food. We talked about our future plans and recent dive adventures. And the new diver was able to feel the difference of a dive trip, when we didn't finish the dive after surfacing. We showed the photos, we heard the stories about the incredible sightings of sharks or mola mola from the local dive masters. On a morning we saw some dolphins as they swam into the bay. And we knew this is the place where we should come back again.

Photo gallery from the trip. 
Videos of the sea hare and the octopus.

September 6, 2011

A perfect travel companion

When I'm on holiday I can spend a week on a liveaboard boat without internet connection easily. I leave all my problems behind- sleeping, eating, diving is the schedule. Nowadays more and more accommodations and boats offer free WiFi internet and certainly I regularly use it. (If there isn't I don't miss but when I can connect I do...) Usually only check my mails and have a glance on our website but anyway, I need something to browse the net. I found the smart phones too small, and I like keyboard so prefer notebooks instead of tablets.

Notebook? I should say netbook. The trends change too fast, the netbook ruled the world two years ago but now everybody wants an iPad- except me. About a year ago I bought an extremely cheap netbook, an Asus Eee PC 700. The 7" display is small, the internal memory and the SSD drive is small and the whole netbook is small too. Some friends use to laugh on my tiny and slow computer but when I say I spent less than 200 USD on it they say it's a reasonable price. For me it gives the chance to connect to the net and check the usual websites in a few minutes. I can make some basic modifications on my photos before I post them on the Facebook. I would be able to post an entry to this blog. Do I need more? If I'm on holiday it's definitely enough.

I can recommend the older and newer low end Eee PC-s to anyone who want a cheap but working solution. And I have another idea: download the freeware operating system, the Pupeee Linux which has an internet browser and every other important tools. It's small and fast enough even on weak hardware. I'm really satisfied with the Puppeee and I donated some money to the creators. Now I have a complete system. And even better, it's Linux-based which means I'm not afraid of viruses written to Windows when I connect to exotic WiFi services of the world.

September 4, 2011

Just between friends

I was invited to the underwater cleanup of a nearby lake. It was the opening event of an old-new diving center which is run by my friends. They were quite proud of the new location and I saw how much work they did. There are underwater platforms and sights, everything the divers need and most important, a lake. So on this day everybody has the chance to look around and dive. Certainly they were able to see only in the first moments- as they picked up the trash from the mud the visibility became even worse than it was.

But it didn't matter at all. When I arrived to the lake I greeted my friends, I was to happy to see at least a dozen people who I traveled and dived with in the past somewhere and met many new faces. Today I didn't dive just enjoyed the September sunshine and chatting with people who have the same passion as me. By the way, the divers worked hard and made the lake much cleaner. What a great day for us and the nature!

September 2, 2011

A horse under water

Sometimes it seems there are only pygmy seahorses. If you browse the recent underwater photo competitions' gallery you see a lot of pgymy portraits, mainly from Indonesia. But those who don't travel regularly to Asia can see the big brother of the tiny seahorse much closer. Believe it or not, sometimes a good photographer can make an even more dramatic photo of the "full size" seahorses- I recommend to check out the great photos of my friend, Csaba Tökölyi. (Here and there.)

The article continued here.

September 1, 2011

Flyin' high and low

Nowadays not the decompression limits or the sharks are the most frightening things for the divers but the baggage allowance. Those lucky guys who lives near a tropical seashore now finish the reading and I envy them. Most of us regularly fight at the check-in desks and try to negotiate with the ruler of the bags. As I usually fly by cheap charter airlines I learnt many tricks and I share some of them.

First of all: measure your bags at home. Sometimes you'll be really surprised to see the weight. Yes, we often pack a lot of useless items. You won't need that fancy leisure suit on a liveaboard trip. A spare BCD's extra weight would cost more than rent one in your destination. Maybe you love your plastic coated pink weight blocks but for a trip you can try simple and similarly heavy local ones. After a few dive trips packing will be much easier as you bring only what you really need. Certainly a beginner don't have the experience but ask your friends, maybe they'll share their checklist of the most important items.

When you buy your first set of diving equipment always check the weight. Most of the manufacturers have lighter BCD-s for the traveling diver (that was the reason I chose the Cressi Light Jac). The full rubber fins are always heavier than the plastic ones. In a tropical sea a cheap 2-3 mm thick overall will be enough and it weighs much less. Choose a soft bag- some people say the hard and heavy plastic suitcases protect your equipment but if you spend a huge amount of the price of a new equipment on the extra weight it protects the income of the airlines not your valuable pieces.

Pack smarter, put the expensive smaller pieces in your carry on bag, a regulator set and your computer will be within the limits. You can make a small extra bag for the photo equipment. Some people buy a vest with many pockets where they put small items. Nobody will measure the weight of your clothes. Anyway, always read carefully the terms and conditions of the airlines, maybe you should print if they offer extra allowance for divers, etc- when you travel back it helps you if the check-in crew in an exotic county say they haven't even heard about them. Sometimes you don't book a direct fly. Maybe the different airlines allow different allowances so check all of their conditions.

Maybe the most important thing is the preparing for the worst case scenario. Don't travel without cash and credit card. Sometimes you need to pay some extra money but if you compare it the priceless moments of your dive trip it isn't worth too much debating. In a few days you'll remember only your underwater memories...