March 2017 - The Missing Blogs

March was a much quieter month than the previous two, but the start of 2017’s scuba season. One of my annual goals was to gradually purchase all of my equipment for a Liveaboard diving trip to Egypt in September; I had before now been reluctant to buy too much to avoid getting things too quickly and then wishing I had purchased the more expensive or better equivalent the first-time around. The first thing this year was my diving computer, a very crucial piece of safety equipment this allows me to see my depth, dive time, gas mix and uses an algorithm to calculate how long and how deep I need to perform a safety stop. The watch I bought was the Sunnto Zoop Novo, only an entry-level computer (some cost more than a thousand pounds!) but perfectly adequate for the diving that I will be doing and can serve as a backup if I buy another in the future.

My Zoop Novo Diving Computer

My Zoop Novo Diving Computer

With my shiny new computer, it was time for the first dive of the year! I took a day trip with Southern Scuba to Vobster Quay in Somerset. Vobster is a disused stone quarry, now filled with freshwater and serves as an outdoor activity park for scuba divers, free divers and swimmers. It’s one of my favourite in-land diving spots, for £30 or so, you can have a good day out diving with almost no hassle getting in and out of the water, great for training and practice. Vobster has some very cool underwater attractions too, with planes, boats and even a set of 3-meter high fibreglass clowns!

Vobster Quay, Diving Centre

Vobster Quay, Diving Centre

Another one of 2017’s goals was to achieve my Prince2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications, work was very supportive of this and funded the course in London for a week. The course was run by QA and has to be one of the best training courses I had been on; the trainer knew the course back to front, was incredibly knowledgeable and was very easy to follow. Prince2 is a project management framework and while I’m no project manager having an understanding of the practices has already proven very valuable to progressing projects and working closely with project managers who follow the framework well. I would certainly recommend the course for anyone involved in projects within a technology team.

Towards the end of the month, we took a trip back to Cornwall (a somewhat popular destination this year!). Spending time with family, we visited the Annual Beer and Mussel Festival hosted at Rick Stein’s Cornish Arms pub. The festival was a lot of fun, we had some interesting live music and plenty of never-before-tasted beers! One beer I particularly liked (according to untapped) was White Cross IPA from Black Flag Brewery, who also produce Fang, which is an incredible beer..

Cornwall Beer and Mussel Festival

Cornwall Beer and Mussel Festival

Before heading home, we had some food in Mevagissey, only a short drive from home Mevagissey is picturesque working fishing port, it has some great pubs and restaurants too, but gets rather busy in the summer months. It also happens to be the place where last year I crossed Number 13 - Catch a fish off of The Bucket List (which I don’t seem to have blogged about), the catching a fish affair was all much simpler than I had anticipated. Just off of the harbour wall, there were swarms of Mackerel, who all seemed to want to jump on the hook, one chap was literally filling a bin bag full of the fish he was catching. We took the Mackerel home and cooked it on the BBQ – it was pretty good!

Mevagissey Harbour, Cornwall

Mevagissey Harbour, Cornwall

Sidemount Diving

My dive count is currently at forty-six, I’m certainly still a beginner when it comes to diving and I feel the need to constantly remind myself of that. The feeling when on a dive is like nothing else I’ve experienced; for the duration of a dive you’re immersed in something immensely dangerous, with equipment that requires a great deal of skill to operate safely. What’s strange, is that the sensation on a dive is completely unique- it pulls friends and dive buddies together with a common sense of care, concern and thought. There’s a deep level of camaraderie that runs, even with complete strangers throughout everyone involved. This has taught me a lot about myself, about the way I need to operate, remaining calm, watching out for others and pulling a group together to make sure we complete the goal in hand. Diving is an addiction, but one I don’t intend to give up!

Sidemount cylinders

One type of diving in particular has always interested me: sidemount. This style of diving is where instead of having the scuba unit on your back, you place it (or them) on your side. The unit is usually a little different, instead of the typical single cylinder, two cylinders are placed with one to the left and one to the right of the diver. This brings multiple different issues, such as managing multiple cylinders, multiple regulators and controlling differentiating buoyancy. However, sidemount does have some great benefits: it’s much more comfortable(!)- no more heavy cylinder strapped as you waddle around, it gives a much more natural profile in the water making diving and swimming much easier and you have increased redundancy with multiple cylinders.

Buckland Lake

My first attempt at sidemount was in a swimming pool (a not very deep, pool!). It was immediately obvious how much more comfortable the dive was – I couldn’t wait to try more and loved the experience. Fast forward and I get the opportunity at Buckland lake to complete my certification. The dives were very different in an open water environment, buoyancy is a very different experience with a sidemount harness on. When ascending I found myself needing to almost duck dive and dump from the rear valve, fine, but a little different. The comfort was great and the reassurance of having a second cylinder was fantastic. Of course, it looks very cool too – which has to count for something.

Sidemount Shore

I passed my certification that weekend and am looking forward to trying it out again soon. Undecided if it’s the way forward for my diving future, there’s a lot to think about and to buy too - but it’s certainly appealing. Perhaps I’ll wait a while and think about if it’s the correct path, that said, very glad I gave it a try and would recommend to any beginner divers to do the same and see if it’s for them. Of course, the experience wouldn’t have been possible without Tony and Janine Mansford at Southern Scuba who have been nothing but fantastic in allowing me the chance!

Scuba Diving - Vobster Quay

Janine and Tony from Southern Scuba offered me the opportunity to come along to Vobster Quay last weekend. Vobster is a fresh water inland limestone quarry in Somerset, about a three hour drive from home. A perfect chance to get into the water and start diving after the Christmas.

vobster

This was my first time I had been to Vobster and I was very impressed with their setup, a good flat area for kitting up and getting ready, with most spots under cover. They had a good sized shop, hot food/drinks and an attended fill station. The kitting up area is right next to the car park too, so no need to walk a long way or carry equipment very far. One of the coolest features is their wristband 'tab' system, which allows you to buy what you need, gas, food, drink, accessories and then simply pay when you're finished.

Vobster was the first chance I have had to try my new regulators and BCD out which I bought just before Christmas, they have been sitting patiently in the cupboard at home. The Regulators I had serviced by Kent Diving a few weeks back and was keen to make sure they worked as they should. Both BCD and regulators were fantastic, very happy with them and despite being second hand look and appear brand new. It really makes a huge difference using equipment that is mine to use and tweak to my preference.

Me with my new regulators and BCD

Me with my new regulators and BCD

Janine & Patrick at the car

Janine & Patrick at the car

We did two dives over the Sunday and saw some interesting underwater attractions, a very large boat, tunnel, toilet(!), commercial jet plane and a car. The dives wern't too deep, most of the time we were about 12 meters down. I managed to get quite cold in a leaky dry suit, but enjoyed all of the dives and can't wait to come back and do some more exploring.

This year is going to be a busy year for diving, aiming to get my PADI Sidemount, Rescue and Nitrox certifications in order to be ready for a liveaboard trip to Egypt in September. Once I have those certifications completed I should be in a good place to either move to Master Scuba Diver or progress into Divemaster.

The Land of Vikings - Iceland

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

It's become somewhat of a tradition to take a holiday in December. So far it's always somewhere noticeably warmer and where beer is considerably cheaper. This year we thought we would shake things up a little and do the polar opposite - go somewhere colder, where the beer is much more expensive. 

Iceland is an eminently fascinating place, full of history, strange quirks and oddities. Admittedly, it hasn't been on my list of places to visit for a particularly long time, although has certainly grown in interest as I've travelled more. It is by no means the cheapest place to fly or stay, a 5 night trip was rather pricey compared to other northern European countries, such a those in Scandinavia. 

Our trip started in Heathrow Terminal 5, @tigziefc's first visit to the home of British Airways, and the first real opportunity to put my new frequent flyer card to good use. The flight out was around 3 hours long, which was largely uneventful, except for the fantastic view of Iceland on our approach to Keflavík Airport. The Airport was built during WW2 by the Americans, evident in that it's 50km away from the largest city and is completely over-engineered. Prior to this the British also built and airport on the island, the first in fact, in 1940, this airport now handles only domestic flights and was at the time relatively close to Reykjavik. It is now essentially within Reykjavik proper - causing some dispute about it's longevity due to noise - however it's very close! 

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Transportation onwards from the Airport is by road only, we chose to rent a car for our trip on advice from various sources. Car hire, like most things we came to discover is very expensive, but absolutely worth it. This was also my first time ever hiring a car, which proved a little daunting to begin with.. We drove to our Airbnb rental in the city, the drive was our first real taste of Iceland, the landscape is like nothing I've ever seen before, comparable only to that of the moon. 

We had booked a rather special Airbnb, which had resident cats for company. They took some getting used to for people who aren't particularly familiar with cats but were really good fun and provided great entertainment. The apartment was located right in the centre of Reykjavik, which isn't actually very big and in hindsight, we had a car so we could have stayed somewhere a little further outside of the city. It was however certainly well suited for accessing everything. 

We tied up the day of travel with a visit to the Frederiksen Ale House, which was a total tourist joint but we were too tired to care. I enjoyed my second Icelandic beer in a boot glass, which is absolutely not a local tradition. 

Reykjavik Harbour

Reykjavik Harbour

Day 1

One thing we very quickly realised is that the daylight causes big problems when you need to wake up. There is only about four or five hours of sunlight in December which means there are very long dark mornings andvery long dark evenings. Since we were self catering we needed to go and find a supermarket to buy food and drink for the week. Early on in the planning for this trip we agreed that we'd do our best to offset the cost of travel against eating/drinking out much less than we would on a typical trip. We went on a drive to nowhere and found a 'Bonus' which is similar to Aldi/Lidl in Europe, what made Bonus funny is my new ethic to not eat pork products since it's logo is that of a giant porky pig. 

The landscape on our drive out of town continued to be as stunning as the journey from the airport, huge snow covered hills with very little man-made changes. We also walked down to the harbour in Reykjavik which was perfectly calm against a setting sun. I will always remember this as it's the first time I've ever seen frozen seawater which I still find very odd.  

Day 2 

Diver Crossing

Diver Crossing

The day of the dive! This was probably the highlight of the trip for me, everyone in the diving world has heard of Silfra, it's an absolute mecca for divers and on everyone's bucket list. The location is unique in that it's a rift or crack between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates - to be precise. The rift is underwater, fed by a natural spring of consistent temperature which means it has a very slight current. I managed to arrange a dive with a local guy via email, never much of a fan to go with a big tour group. Heddin was  great guide, picked me up from Reykjavik and gave the dive plan in the car on the way to the national park.

The dive was actually pretty thrilling, the temperature outside was around -12 Celsius before wind chill and is certainly one of the coldest I've ever been. The temperature was not conducive to wanting to go and get in the water, it was literally the opposite of what I wanted to do. Nether the less, I threw a dry suit on with an under layer and we went to get in. By this stage my hands and feet were seriously frozen, I couldn't do anything and it was borderline seriously painful - although once in the water everything began to warm up! The water temperature on the surface was around 2 Celsius, which was much better but still pretty mad. 

The Silfra Rift

The Silfra Rift

After dropping down into the rift everything changes, the cold isn't even an issue. The water, the colours and the rocks are just some of the most stunning things I've ever seen. It's blue, green and simply beautiful; the water is completely crystal clear giving perfect visibility for 100 meters or more. The dive isn't deep, I didn't go below 10 meters at any point, there was simply no need. 

After a 40 minute swim the hard part was getting out! One you walk out of the lake everything you wear freezes instantly, shoes, mask, hood, gloves, suit - it's ridiculous! I couldn't wait to get dry and to try and revive my fingers and toes. Heddin didn't experience any of this suffering, simply got in the truck and dealt with it! The person who was diving with me however was feeling it more than I, we had some coffee on the way back to try and fix frozen extremities! 

In the afternoon we walked around town and went to a great little 'Micro Bar' which specialised in craft beer and had plenty of Icelandic speciality beers too. We ended up spending a fair amount of time in this place over our stay and met some pretty interesting people from far and wide. 

Day 3 

My fingers are still numb. This is not good at all.... I decide to do the most manly thing possible and completely ignore the problem. 

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We visited the famous Iceland Blue Lagoon, which is supposedly a completely natural hot spring. It was a reasonable drive, around the same distance as that to the airport. The lagoon was actually pretty cool, it is essentially a big 'pond' with a sandy floor and smooth rock sides. It was a total tourist trap but it's kind of an Icelandic icon, so you can't really no go. The price wasn't terrible, but wasn't cheap - do expect to be bored within the hour. We had a great time and took some cool pictures while being incredibly careful with our mobile phones!

Lunch was pretty fun, we had Taco Bell at the only restaurant in the country, it wasn't great, but what did we expect? We closed out the day with a happy hour crawl to some of the bars we hadn't yet been to, the highlight was a local 12% stout which absolutely blew my head off. It was a good beer though, throughout the trip I had several beers from the same brewery, my particular favourite being number 3. 

The Micro Bar

The Micro Bar

Day 4 

Fingers still numb. Now getting a little worried, it was as if I had just made a snowball, except the sensation did not subside. Not painful, just annoying. 

The weather was getting a little worse outside, temperature still pretty cold for Iceland standards with plenty of snow on the streets and a little ice on the road. Despite this we wanted to see if it was possible to drive out to the Gullfoss Falls, it's a considerable drive and the roads didn't seem too bad, all the locals said we'd be fineWe actually made it most of the way, it wasn't at any point dangerous but we agreed that it wasn't worth the risk of the weather turning and not being able to get back. Bit of a shame but the landscape was plenty enough for us to take in! 

We pulled over at the Silfra dive site which was on the way to take a few pictures. It was much warmer than the other day, but the divers all still looked very cold! Glad we stopped here for a while as the landscape around the rift was just as interesting above water. Our final evening was spent in the Micro bar (where we had been about four times now), we drank all the beers we hadn't yet tried and called it a day. 

Day 5

The trip back home was fine, despite the lack of lounge at the airport. On our return home I called 111 for my fingers and at around 1 am the next day spoke with any army doctor on the phone who concluded that I had mild frostbite in my fingers - whoops! She said they would be fine in a week or so, which was good news.

Iceland was a fantastic place to visit. I'm really glad we went while it was cold, it made the experience much more interesting for a short break. Most recommend visiting April/May or September/October in order to get the best weather and for it to still be relatively quiet - this would definitely be advice we take on board if we visit again. All the things we did were great, but it is expensive, take a big wallet with you!