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Dominica’s Dive Fest

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stu 8The Dominica Dive Fest has been steadily growing in size and stature since its humble beginnings back in 1984. I heard rumblings that this year’s event would be bigger and better than ever with street parties, lionfish cook outs, live bands, canoe races and other waterside activities. In my mind this had all the makings of a perfect holiday combination. Diving all day and partying all night! A 7-day break meant that I would miss the start of the 9-day event but still be around for the fish fry finale at Soufriere.

My overall plan was to check out the hotels and dive centres located along the south west (Caribbean) coast. This was also where most of the dive fest activities were being held. There are no direct flights to Dominica so I went as far as Antigua with BA and then used the local LIAT service. I found Oris, my taxi driver, waiting for me outside Melville Hall Airport situated at the north east end of the island. The transfer took about 1.5 hours door to door. As we drove along the winding roads I realised this was definitely one of the greenest Caribbean islands I had ever visited. Reading between the lines this probably meant there would be a patch of rain or two heading my way. Just to confirm my thoughts Oris told me there were more than three hundred rivers and streams (I was worried that run-off might affect the underwater visibility but it didn’t make any difference). Trafalgar falls is well worth a visit on a non-diving day. Further downstream the water has been re-routed into a hydro electric station. This supplies a reasonable percentage of the islands power requirements.

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The 3.5-star Anchorage Hotel was my first port of call. This is pretty much an out an out divers’ resort. There are thirty two rooms in all. Most of the rooms are a nice size with separate bathrooms and balconies overlooking the sea. The full breakfast was called an ‘English Air Tank’ which made me feel right at home. The skeletal remains of a juvenile sperm whale are on display inside the hotel. Yvonne Armour, the managing director, said that it was used for whale educational trips. Whale watching was a popular tourist attraction. During peak season (November to April) they run two or three trips a week. Andrew Armour, also known as the ‘whale whisperer’, said there was an 85% chance of actually sighting whales, dolphins and orcas. For the past 12 years Andrew has encountered the same sperm whale, named Scar. This particular whale allows him to come within touching distance.

stu 6The on-site dive centre managed by Michael Henry is open all year round. Michael said he regularly dives sixteen sites inside the Scott’s Head marine reserve. He offers a two tank morning dive from 9am until around 1pm followed by a single tank afternoon dive (only for groups). Boat journey times are no more than 20 minutes each way. Shore diving is free of charge for anyone that books a dive package. The house reef is teaming with marine life. There are a number of old engine blocks sitting amongst the boulders on the shallow reef at 6-10m, then a field of dense sea grass followed by a deeper reef loaded with barrel sponges at 20-30m. I spent more than two hours exploring the site and found the best macro subject, a long nosed puffer fish, right next to the jetty steps where I jumped in.

Although July is known as the low season there seemed to be plenty of dive groups about. I managed to choose two of the quieter days with Anchorage dive centre. Michael’s favourite site is called swiss cheese. He said “you have everything in one dive. Pinnacles, drop offs and a big variety of animal life”. Michael had made arrangements for us to go out with Divemaster Alicia Stevens and Flibert the boat skipper. The site is located where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. Michael had already warned me about strong currents so when I clocked sight of the mooring buoy being sucked underwater I had a fair idea what to expect. We were ducking behind rocks for cover and then finning like crazy across the more exposed areas. The swim throughs were crowded with black bar soldier fish and cave sweepers. I watched two scorpion fish chasing after each other then four slipper lobsters shuffled out into the open. We drifted back along a sheer wall bursting with purple gorgonians. A shoal of one hundred plus rainbow runners rounded off the spectacular show as we made our way back to the mooring line. This had turned out to be a real adrenalin dive. Michael said “I wouldn’t normally take anybody here in these conditions. This is for experienced divers only”. Andrew Armour said “this really is a wow dive. Every diver says wow afterwards”.

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At nearly every dive site I saw turtles either at the surface or underwater. My only ‘intimate’ encounter happened at a site called dangle bends. A small hawksbill was flying towards Alicia but just as I put my finger on the shutter release button twenty divers appeared. I was just as startled as the turtle. The hawksbill bolted into the blue and I lucked out on a perfect photo opportunity. Dangle bends is littered with barrel sponges of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes I found a grouper or puffer fish hiding inside. On rare occasions there would be a lionfish lurking but Dominica has an extremely proactive ‘shoot to kill’ policy. The dive guides were even spearing them in front of the guests and cutting off the poisonous spines with scissors.

stu 5By now the Dive Fest evening activities were in full swing. The Anchorage Hotel hosted Dominica’s first ever ‘Iron Chef’ cooking competition hotly contested by five prominent chefs from different hotels and restaurants. The event was basically a Caribbean version of the popular masterchef television series. All the participants were given a stove, a bag of ingredients and 30 minutes of cooking time. They had to prepare a lionfish starter followed by a fish entree. A panel of judges tasted the food and selected a winner. Jessica Pinard-Byrne Yard won the coveted title with two delicious lionfish dishes. I tried lionfish fried in coconut batter and it tasted pretty good. Just to round off the evening Simon Walsh, the MD of Images Dominica, gave a talk about lionfish explaining the reasons behind the mass culling.

Dive Dominica happened to be right next door to the Anchorage Hotel. I spoke with Daniel Perryman, the dive centre manager. Daniel said Dive Dominica is the biggest dive centre on the island. His father Derek started diving in 1983 and opened the dive centre in 1988. The 3-star Castle Comfort Lodge is also part of the complex. There are fourteen rooms available, seven have ocean views. The whole set up is basically the same as the Anchorage Hotel with a house reef, two morning boat dives and one afternoon dive. Daniel said “Dominica is like an aquarium, it’s good for beginners”. Daniel’s favourite site is dangle bends. He said “there are colours, pinnacles and lots of life”. For the more experienced divers he recommended diving on the Atlantic side where there was a better chance of seeing bigger animals. Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to see for myself as the dive boats stayed inside the marine reserve.

I joined a group of divers from REEF field surveys and set off for Champagne Reef. This is probably Dominica’s most talked about site due to the hot sulphur beds creating streams of bubbles. In places the seabed is too hot to touch. This didn’t seem to affect the marine life as close by I found eagle rays, sting rays and even seahorses. Sea urchins were thriving. I even managed to spear myself. At least I managed to pull out the spines in one piece so there was no infection. The next dive at coral garden was just as relaxing with plenty of tube sponges and soft corals on display.

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At the half way stage I transferred over to the upmarket 4-star Fort Young Hotel located in the capital, Roseau. The seventy one room hotel had been built within the walls of an old colonial fort. Two of the old cannons sit outside the main entrance. I was given a huge room with sea view and balcony. To be honest the hotel was far too classy for the typical eat, sleep, dive brigade. The resident dive centre is run by Dive Dominica. This was mainly used as a booking office. Divers were picked up at the jetty and brought back to the main centre.

stu 4As part of dive fest week Fort Young laid on a special ‘happy hour’ session followed by live music and a DJ. The local beer is called Kubuli and costs approx 6 Eastern Caribbean dollars a bottle (current rates are 2.6 EC to the US dollar). I really do recommend trying out the local specialty, chicken roti. They make perfect après dive snacks.

Just to round off my trip I popped into Aldive owned by Billy Lawrence. In all there are seven dive centres dotted around the island. Three of which are located along a 1km stretch of beachfront. Billy had previously worked for Dive Dominica before opening his own centre in 2006. Aldive was a cosy set up with 5 staff and 2 boats. Billy showed me around the complex and introduced me to Cedric the lionfish looking all forlorn in a giant gold fish bowl. Cedric had survived the past few days but would probably end up in the frying pan sometime soon. While Billy was entertaining his Barbadian guests I snuck off for a night dive on the house reef. Less than one hundred metres from the jetty there is a line of boulders covered in soft corals and sponges at a depth of 6-8m. I found yellow tailed snapper, grouper, boxfish, puffers, crabs, trumpets and jacks all within a 100m area.

stu 7The Dive Fest celebrations came to a boozy climax at the Soufriere fish fry. Locals and tourists mingled together for a day and night of eating, drinking and partying. Somewhere along the way there was a canoe race across the bay and back. This was won by Dominica Coconut Products.

I only got to dive in the Scott’s Head Marine Reserve during my 7-day stay. I didn’t see any wrecks but there were plenty of walls and reefs to explore. Photographers are guaranteed plenty of macro critters with sporadic big fish encounters. Swiss cheese was definitely my favourite dive site. Michael from Anchorage dive centre said there was another full-on site called west wall (which is basically a continuation of swiss cheese) but the site has no permanent mooring buoy so he rarely took divers there. The Dive fest definitely spiced up my evening entertainment and judging by the turnout it was a resounding success. Next year’s event can only get better. On my last day I toured around the island checking out the botanical gardens (where a very civilised game of cricket was in full swing) followed by a trip to the sulphur spa. But with a name like Screw’s I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

Dominica Dive Fest 2015 will be running from the 10th – 19th July. Keep up-to-date with the event by liking the Facebook page here.

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…

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WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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