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Liveaboard Diving and the Art of Speed Socializing

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Liveaboard Diving

I have to admit, even though I ignore it, the liveaboard is a potential backdrop for huge drama.  It is several days out to sea, so the first challenge is to arrive on time for the departure and with your gear.  The second challenge is that you have to like what you see in the first few minutes, because once the voyage begins, you will not be getting off.  I try to avoid the first problem by arriving to the departure point at least one day in advance, and the second problem, by using a dive travel agent who has been on the liveaboard he/she is selling.

I have seen drama unfold first hand; amazingly – a fire (on a rocky open sea crossing), a firing (as in losing a job), and clandestine meetings.  And one trip that I had reserved a year in advance, was cancelled not because of one boat accident, but because of two.  I had to seriously consider whether or not it was a safe way to experience diving with any dive company.

Janice 2The boat can be built in a traditional style, which conjures up adventurous storylines, ones that might even involve pirates.  Or romantic ones like Mutiny on the Bounty – which is a bit of both – because of the beautiful dark crew members. The social aspect is the one topic that non-diving friends are most curious about; what could be considered one of the best reasons for choosing a liveaboard may also be considered to be the worse part of being on a liveaboard – that you are forced to share a limited space and to be social.  Occasionally though, the boat will not be full, and you might get to have a great cabin all to yourself.

As a single traveler, it might actually appeal to you to have so many people around because ultimately you may feel as if you really are not traveling alone.  There is always something to talk about at the end of a dive day, as well as someone to talk to, and conversation including anything ending in ‘shark’ or ‘ray’ never becomes dull.  It is rather like a ‘speed socializing’ event where in 12 days, you can meet interesting crew and guests (about 30 people) from different countries, learn about the local culture, and maybe even pick up a few words of the local language or get your feet massaged by the crew member who is also the cook.  You have time to do this, and crew members are exceptionally gracious as well as usually eager to try to speak English.  I learned that “matahari” (I only knew it as the name of a famous spy) in Indonesian is the word for the sun.  The funny thing is that even though it seems like a lot of people in a small space, in the middle of the day after lunch, it is amazingly deserted.

I really have had only a couple of occasions out of over 600 dives to ever want to try to avoid any other person while diving. There is enough space in the ocean to do this. More often though, I have met people whom I plan new adventures with. But for the most part, the diving diverts all of your attention, or at least uses all of your energy, so that by the end of the day nothing will bother you except that you have to keep your head up until dinner is over.

Although the purpose of the liveaboard is to dive (…eat and sleep), it is also a cruise.  For this reason, I think some liveaboards are just as interesting for non-divers as well.  On a boat, you might be taken out to completely open water where there are only pristine reefs and no other boats or you can be cruising around diverse smaller islands, volcanic or otherwise, which makes for spectacular viewing whether you are above or below the water.  Pink and black sand beaches for sunset or maybe a game of volleyball on a palm tree covered island or even an island cave full of bats (really).  I am especially partial to any liveaboard where volcanoes are on the route.   The scenery is ethereal whatever your viewing perspective is, and scientific phenomena are happening both above and below the water.   Furthermore, the black sand makes it easy to spot virtually any kind of nudibranch, which are usually brightly colored, even without your guide.

A good liveaboard will have efficient boat tenders (or at least duckies with fast engines) so that not so much time is spent going to the dive sites from the main boat.  It is important, otherwise there is little time in between dives (and an earlier first dive) to eat and prepare for the next dive.  However, you do not have to do all of the dives.  I tend to forget this…

Janice 4It took a lot of courage for me to take my first liveaboard; Palau, which is better by boat than from land because of the distance to the dive sites.  After the first experience though, it was a bit like getting onto a diving circuit because from there I automatically planned the second one and the whole thing then has its own momentum.  I had never really considered that I might feel trapped on a liveaboard with strangers, but I did think a lot about whether my skill level would be appropriate for the cruise that I chose.  The diving can be at times more challenging, but the best boats really know their territory and the tides, and adjust the schedule based on the abilities/desires of the guests.

There have been a couple of times when I struggled (and I thought my heart was going to burst in my chest), but I did not panic.  I either successfully completed the dive or wisely chose to abort it because I could not swim into the current.  The best boats will have tenders that just know where you are so you will not be lost.

Janice 1One of the unexpected pluses of the liveaboard is the quality of the food.  It is hard to imagine that gourmet meals would be prepared in the middle of nowhere, but they manage and it seems like a major miracle that on top of everything else, the food takes a priority as well.  There is way too much of it, first of all, and if you ever thought it might be a unique 12-day strategy for losing a few pounds quickly, forget it.  Breakfasts, desserts, and some in between snacks kill that possibility even though each dive burns around 500 calories.  And you must try everything so as not to insult the chef, of course.  If you are lucky, the crew will sometimes even purchase a fresh fish (ok maybe this is a conflict of interest, but wahoo is my favorite), and sushi/sashimi will never taste quite that good again.

The crew in general is super-talented.  In fact, without you knowing it, mini-crises may be taking place, but they manage to fix everything and can even sing and play music.  I would never be hired for a job on a liveaboard.

Finally, you can even take courses on board: upgrade your skills with photography or nitrox, or even start at the beginning with open water diving!

It is an expensive adventure (make a lot of lunches yourself), but I always think more about choosing the right boat for me because I may only ever get to go once.  At the same time, it is a fun exercise to consider how the crew would evaluate you: would they even allow you to come back?

Janice Nigro is an avid scuba diver with a PhD in biology.  She is a scientist who has studied the development of human cancer at universities in the USA and Norway, and has discovered the benefits of artistic expression through underwater photography and story writing of her travel adventures.

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New academic study to confirm rehabilitative benefits of Scuba Diving

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A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise.

IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore.

The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).

Richard Cullen, Chairman of Deptherapy commented: “This evidence-based study demonstrates yet again the value of scuba diving and, in particular, the support provided by Deptherapy to severely traumatised people within the Armed Forces community. We await the publication of the detailed findings which we anticipate will be of considerable interest to all organisations who seek to assist in the rehabilitation of veterans through sporting activity, as well as the Scuba Diving world.”

Team Deptherapy returned to the UK last week from their first training expedition since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A small group of six veterans travelled with the Deptherapy Instructor Team to the charity’s international base at Roots Red Sea to undertake practical Scuba Diving training in the clear, warm waters of the Red Sea.

Joining Team Deptherapy for the first time was 20 year old paraplegic Corey Goodson who had this to say: “I have been made aware of a new academic study about the benefits of Deptherapy. Last week I learned to scuba dive properly with Deptherapy, a huge achievement for someone with paraplegia. Deptherapy doesn’t judge your injury, whether that be physical or psychological; it looks beyond, and it sees the person inside. That person is who they work with, and the Deptherapy programme encourages you to see your fellow beneficiaries in the same light. More important than the sense of achievement during the training, was the support, care, encouragement and love the team showed me. I have found a new family in Deptherapy. I am home now but the support, friendship and banter continue; it is motivating and empowering, it gives me a deep sense of wellness and worth. I look forward to continuing my rehabilitative journey with Deptherapy.”

For more information about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education visit www.deptherapy.co.uk.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 6

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 6 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Thursday has dawned and it is down to the House Reef with an outgoing tide that is approaching slack so we can get in the water straight away.   Lots of chat about last night’s RAID O2 Provider session with Moudi.  Oatsie is talking about sidemounts and marine biology, Swars is looking forward to his first sidemount session this afternoon.

Moudi is supported by Oatsie this morning and doing some more skill work with Keiron.

Moudi running the guys through the RAID O2 Administrator Course

Corey was asking last night about what it is like at 30 metres, so I have decided that with Michael and Swars we will take him to 30 metres.  We are going to run a narcosis exercise so out comes the slate with the numbers 1 – 25 randomly placed in squares.  Corey’s task, in the dive centre, is as quickly as possible to touch each number in sequence.  He does it pretty quickly and Michael briefs him that he will need to do the same exercise at 30 metres.

Michael briefs the dive and we set off down the beach.  Corey has improved beyond measure and he is becoming a pleasure to dive with.  So we are off to follow the South reef to 30 metres where we will complete the second part of the exercise.

At 30 metres Michael hands Corey the slate; there is a considerable difference in the time to complete the exercise at the surface and at 30 metres.  There are lots of mitigating factors in how quickly you can identify the numbers and explaining a slower time at 30 metres than at the surface does not mean an individual is suffering from narcosis.  Identifying random numbers, if you run the exercise at the surface, several times with an individual over a number of hours can result in wide variations in the time taken to complete the exercise.

We finish the dive with Corey smiling from ear to ear and we have a discussion about depth and air consumption.  The second dive of the morning is a fun dive, then it is lunch in the beach restaurant.  After the burgers I am sure we will need to look at our weighting before the afternoon’s dive.

We will need to look at weighting after this lunch!

Corey and Keiron have got into the habit of recording their dives online using the RAID online log book which is a tremendous facility and as the instructor I can access that data.

Moudi and Keiron are going for a fun dive as are Corey, Oatsie, Michael and myself. Swars is getting kitted up for the first experience of sidemount with Guy Henderson.

Swars getting to grips with his sidemount cylinders

People often look at the relationships that exist between the dive team and our beneficiaries and try to extrapolate a similar relationship to disabled students they might have.  Our relationships are built up over a period of time, in some cases over many years.  We also provide 24/7 support and have chat groups etc on social media; we also meet up socially when we can.  It is somewhat different than a individual coming in to a dive centre and saying ‘I want to dive’. Your relationship is likely to be the same as any other student, you will teach them, they might stay with the dive centre or like many that will go on holiday to do some diving, you might never see them again.

Our main aim is to create a family atmosphere for our programme members, one where they feel secure and they are able to discuss freely with the team and fellow beneficiaries their feelings and needs.

Few dive centres are charities, and owners might want to consider costs of running a course for someone with a disability that might take more than the standard four pool sessions etc.  You may find the number of sessions and the staffing levels have to increase.  Many dive centres, because of their size and turnover are exempt from providing accessibility.  How will this affect someone who is a wheelchair user?  Can they gain access to the dive centre, the classroom, the toilet?  What are the changing facilities, can they get wheelchair access to the pool?

Lots of things to think about.

Roots’ beautiful reef

The reef is beautiful, so much aquatic life and the corals look splendid, especially the pinnacles.

A good day’s diving, Swars has really enjoyed his sidemount.

Lovely way to relax in the evening with the Roots BBQ, a fitting end to a great day.

Last day tomorrow and our final blog!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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