High season on Pico

It has already been over two weeks since my last post and these weeks have been crazy! Loads and loads of people were coming over to dive with us – which is a good thing of course! Days from 08:00 until 21:00 are normal and being out on the ocean for 6 hours a day as well. Becoming the manager of the center was a great choice, but not for my free time… Since I’m here, I’ve only had four days off. For sure I’ll compensate this once September comes ūüôā

So far, I haven’t had any second of regret about leaving my ‘normal’ life as Process Engineer in Amsterdam behind me – even with these long days and almost no spare time, it has been a fantastic experience and I want more of it! Doing what you love, not wasting time on doing something that isn’t your passion, is the most important thing I’ve discovered. I had it all, a beautiful house, a good job, lots of nice things to do, but something was missing. And even though it can be tough at times, I wouldn’t change back!

Tanks, tanks, tanks…

At the peak, we were using over 60(!!) tanks a day, and it’s a whole lot of work to get that ready for the next day! Luckily the compressor we have does 1000 litres per minute, making it take about 20 minutes to take 9 tanks back to 220 bar.

In the beginning of the season, we were having about 40 steel tanks, but then delivery of brand new 80 cuft aluminum tanks arrived – in Horta. Taking Reefcat, our Powercatamaran, we went to pick them up. 95 tanks in total, some double-12’s, SPG’s, wings and other small stuff. 2 huge boxes on a pallet and a small one. Loading this on the boat was the first challenge, as the seat on the back of the boat was exactly big enough not to allow the pallets on the boat. We moved the seat and managed to fit the pallets – but then Duarte, the most talkative skipper of Pico, wanted to have it arranged differently. Having moved it around 3 times he was satisfied and we could head back to Madalena.

And then came the people

From half July, it’s time for the big group bookings. On one side this makes everything quite easy, especially when the whole group has the same package, but it makes for a hell of a load of planning work with all the separate booked divers and walk-ins around. This year, we’ve been very low on staff ever since the beginning and that doesn’t make it easier in these weeks. I can tell you, managing the centre and doing two dives in the morning and two in the afternoon don’t go hand-in-hand. Luckily the first group, 18 Danish, were very lucky with the weather which allowed us to plan however we wanted everything.

Just when we were almost finishing the first group, my staff planning became a hell of a lot more difficult with me spraining my ankle badly, taking me out of the diving roster even until now. I was forced to stay home for two days and still I’m walking like an old man. Slowly it’s getting better, but pff, I can’t wait to get back in the water. The good thing is I can fully focus on planning and managing, but I want to meet my great love again – the sharks. The coming week I’ll try getting in the water again because I cannot take it any longer!!

Festa time!

High season also means there are party’s all around. Truly work hard, play hard. A couple of days here, a couple of days there… And not the party you’d expect on such a remote location as the Azores. It’s huge! People seem to appear out of nowhere as all the parkings, campgrounds and B&B’s are full. Food, beers, cocktails, DJ’s, live music, you name it, it’s there. In June there’s a couple of small local one or two day festa’s, but July is something else. The one in Madalena goes on for 5 days, then it moves to Sao Roque a week later and in the beginning of August everybody goes towards Horta to enjoy the festa.

It’s incredible, the amount of partying these Portugese can have – I have the feeling they’re saving themselves the whole year for these couple of weeks. In Madalena I ended up going twice, both making starting the next day at 08:00 a huge challenge. This week, Frank was kind to have Reefcat going to Horta at 21:00 and coming back at 03:00 – making it a doable endeavour. Some of my coworkers were brave enough to go two days earlier and take the first ferry in the morning. I wouldn’t have survived this at the moment. It seems that passing the 30 makes your party-going and no-sleep skills to dissipate into thin air. Nevertheless, it was great fun! If you’re planning to come to Pico or Faial in the next years, make sure you don’t miss out on the Festa season!

Writing this story, I just realised I still haven’t told anything about our liveaboard boat Narobla, Princess Alice and my future plans… As it’s already getting late, I’ll keep that for the next post. What would you like to hear about first? ūüôā

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The blue sharks of Pico

Finally, the blue sharks have appeared at the boats of Pico Sport! After days and days of chumming, some weeks ago I had my first encounter with a blue shark. For 90 minutes I was in the water with him – a large 3 meter male blue shark. Together with six customers, I got to experience the shark’s curiosity firsthand. Since that first encounter, we’ve had many successful shark dives and the shark season is far from being over!

Chum, chum, chum…

Chum Recipe
The recipe for success

I call it the dark side of shark diving. Making the chum is a task which is at the least to be¬†called interesting. You get a couple of fishes, mostly bonito’s, chop them into pieces and make the three ingredients for a successful shark dive: chum, pieces and heads&tails. It’s a messy job, but without the chum, the sharks wouldn’t find their way to our boat in the blue desert.

Once we get out there with a boat, we hang the bait basket with heads and tails in it to keep the sharks interested when they arrive. They love to bump it and even testing if they can get a bite of what’s inside. Then starts the job that requires the most patience – the chumming itself. The pieces, blood and guts put in this ‘fish soup’ is mashed up and diluted a bit with water to make it somewhat uniform. This is what we call the chum and put in the water bit by bit to create a trail that the shark can find and follow it’s way to our boat. While chumming the best situation is to have a slight current one way, and wind making the boat drift in the other direction – this makes the trail very long. And one note: try to use chum that’s fresh – it doesn’t stink as badly! ūüėČ

Hours and hours out on the Atlantic Ocean

For the first weeks we tried to get the sharks to come to our boats, we didn’t have any luck. The places we do this is always a seamount. These are places where sharks tend to linger in the deeper part of the mount, on the lookout for food. Currently, not a lot is known about the population around the Azores yet – it’s a topic the university in Faial is actively researching. At first we went to our regular spot just off the Faial/Pico channel and a couple of times. Three times we tried, three times no luck. So we decided to try the Azores Bank as there were reports of sharks being spotted by fishermen over there. On the way back from Princess Alice on our liveaboard Narobla we tried it for four hours and again, nothing.

Chummin
Waiting, waiting and waiting… Patience is a key ingredient of shark diving.

This was getting us worried, only the ‘classic’ spot remained: condor banks. Condor is a big seamount southwest from Faial, at about an hour-and-half from Madalena. Reaching depths of 2300m on the outer edges and having the ‘summit’ at around 180m it’s the perfect place for sharks. Six consecutive hours we were chumming on this ‘shark hotspot’. But again, we were let down. Were the sharks even still around?! Has there been too much shark fishing? We heard some reports of Spanish fishing boats being around specifically fishing for sharks. Was the blue shark population th√°t low now that we weren’t able to find them anymore?

Shark!

Almost two weeks went by without any successful shark dive. Luckily the University sent us a photograph from one of their camera’s mounted on buoys along the channel. This gave us some hope – they were still around! On the 12th of July, one of our boats finally got lucky and had a big male blue shark around, after almost 5 hours of chumming! Two days later I was the lucky staff member to do the shark dive and we also got a shark – this time handed over from a boat of CW, our neighbouring company. I got in the water quickly after the CW divers were getting out of the water but I saw the shark disappearing in the blue. The clients were all on the lines, but no shark around. Duarte, our skipper, decided it was time to chum big and that worked – he came back!

This blue shark was extremely relaxed and curious – with his pectoral fins in an ‘open’ airplane-like position. This big boy came to check out every single diver in the water at centimeters distance. He wasn’t shy to make contact, bumping his pectoral fins into me at least five times and almost bumping the cameras and strobes in the water. He seemed to love having his picture taken, as he swam by gently and elegantly, almost as if he was posing! For a full 90 minutes we got to enjoy his presence – I could’ve gone on for hours, but my air was already getting seriously low (Just a little under 50bar, really! ūüėČ

Words cannot express the joy and excitement of having such an incredibly beautiful, elegant and powerful creature around you. I could clearly see his eye checking me out, top to bottom, as he swam by just centimeters in front of me, circling me, and coming back for another go. Just wow. For this, I think pictures do more than words:

Sharks and the future

The future for sharks does not look to bright at the moment. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shark fishing still going on, from commercial fishing for fins and shark meat to shark fishing tournaments. Sharks mature quite late and have few pups. This makes it hard for the population to stay healthy when they are being fished. In the Azores it is still unknown what the population is, but what we do know is that there is intensive fishing on blue sharks and mako sharks as there are no official fishing limits even though these species are listed as vulnerable.

Shark Trust is actively campaigning to get science-based catch limits as these pelagic species are essential for our oceans. Without catching limits, there is simply no future for any species with the efficiency at which we humans are able to fish. Please support this campaign by at the least signing the petition! Let’s join forces and prevent that in the near future, sharks will only exist in pictures and let’s bring awareness about these beautiful creatures into the world! As Jaques Cousteau said¬†“People protect what they love” so let’s make sure people love sharks!

One month in!

First of all, my apologies for being absent for such a long while. It’s been quite hectic in this first month. Today it’s been one month since I’ve arrived on this fantastic island and that’s reason enough to make time to write something!

My first dives this year on Pico were quite interesting ones. The day of my arrival Pico Sport was called by a Dutch sailing vessel, the Chronos, that was cruising around the central islands of the Azores. The day before, they had lost one of their anchors and we were asked if we could help them out with this. They had GPS co√∂rdinates for us and they said it’d be somewhere around 30-40 metres. We went out on the Maisha, one of the RHIB’s and on the way to the site we crossed paths with the Chronos and we told them we were going for their anchor. Since they had additional diving gear on board and could tell us more exactly than their shared GPS location where it’d be, they joined for the search. As we were approaching the GPS co√∂rdinates, they seemed to be dropping anchor hundreds of metres from us! We went over and asked what co√∂rdinates were right, but apparently we’d been given wrong ones – we didn’t stand a chance with the ones we had…

Pascal, Luke and I got ready for the dive and followed their anchor line to the bottom. Luckily for our search efforts the depth was only 25m, which gave us a lot more time to check the surroundings. Within minutes we located the anchor and attached a buoy to it. After a short dive while they were preparing a proper lifting line topside, we came up and were given the lifting line. Descending into the Atlantic Ocean once again, we followed the line that we attached. But we ended up at 35m with a loose end and the ocean floor was nowhere to be seen yet! The wind had picked up quite a bit and we had been drifting, causing this thin line to break due to the forces. We decided to give it another go, but then letting the Chronos drop anchor again. This time, they were right on target, with their lost anchor just several metres away and we could directly attach the lifting line. Success!

In the following days more staff arrived and we got news that one instructor couple had cancelled less than a week before arriving. As they were candidates to take over the dive center manager’s position, this position now had no-one that was in for it. This was a huge opportunity for me, perfectly timed with my career change! I had some talks with different people around and spoke with Frank, the owner of Pico Sport. We agreed that I’d show him what I was capable of and then we’d make it official. As dive center manager, I would be responsible for hiring staff, managing them and making sure all the dives are scheduled, the equipment stays in working order, some backoffice work is done and everyone is happy. ¬†Because of the cancellation of the instructors, I started immediately looking for extra staff for the season, as we only had a couple of weeks left to sort this out. And of course making sure everyone in the staff gets to know all the goings at Pico Sport and all is ready for the high season. The first customers already started coming in and the operation was starting to run, showing where it still needs some optimisation.

IMG_0478
Welcome to the dive center!

Besides being promoted to manager, June also held another challenge for me. This whole month I’m safety diver for a underwater film crew for a documentary – sorry, I can’t tell anymore details yet to prevent scooping! – which takes up a l√≥t of my time. Everyday that the weather allows, we leave port between 05:30 and 06:30, come back for a short lunchbreak around 13:00 and go out again from 17:00 until 21:00. It’s a really great experience I’m getting with this, as I’m getting to see all that is involved in underwater cinematography and I am really learning from the pro’s this way, which is awesome! The long days are easily worth it. On the afternoon breaks and bad weather days I try to get in some extra sleep and work on managing the divecenter. The latter is quite challenging as I’m away most of the time so I don’t get to talk with the staff a lot. With regards to this, I can’t wait to be back in the normal job again, but still, I love getting this opportunity.

The diving here is amazing. Even the ‘easy’ dive sites are wonderful. Having done several shore and boat dives and also two night dives, I can say it’s full of life and the scenery is amazingly diverse. I’ll write some more about this later but now already make you want more with these photos! We did try getting the sharks in with chum for the first shark dive of the season, but unfortunately they didn’t bite (hah!) yet. It was just staring in the blue…

My first month on the island, I have been able to go out and explore the surroundings of Madalena by bike twice. In short: it’s fascinatingly beautiful. The scenery changes every kilometer, the clouds around the mountain look entirely different when you away for a minute and the roads are quite good quality for being such a remote place. There’s one big challenge in cycling here though. With my 53/39 chainrings and 11-28 cogs the steep slopes can be quite painful at times! Well, for the cyclists, it’s rule #5: Harden the f*ck up!

As this safety diver job is nearing the end, I hope I’ll be able to free up some more time to write stories and keep this blog active and actual!

Hello Pico!

Two days ago I arrived on the beautiful island of Pico in the Azores! After first having explored Lisbon for two and a half days (it’s short, but doable) I have finally arrived! So far, so good – it’s great here!¬†(except for the weather today…)

On Thursday afternoon I left Amsterdam, not knowing when I’ll get back there or even The Netherlands for that matter. Quite a strange feeling, to leave all that¬†you know as home behind. But the adventure was here – I was really doing it. After quitting my job it was all getting quite real, but it was still far away. After checking all my bags and going through security, the time had really come. At first it seemed so far away, but the last two weeks passed as if it were a couple of days.

My last days in The Netherlands, my last days working at ICL and almost my last days on the Mainland of Europe for quite some time.

I left on adventure. I left to follow my heart, to follow my dream.

New_adventures_hereIcome
My plane was at the best possible gate

The flight to Lisbon went by quickly. Since I had to transfer with a layover of at least half a day for these dates, I decided to stay in Lisbon for a few days when booking the tickets. This way I could also discover this beautiful city, but more on that in another post! In short, Lisbon is amazing,¬†it’s beautiful, cheap and has great food and wine – what else would anybody need on¬†a citytrip?!

After the days in Lisbon, I got back to the airport and got the first challenge – getting all my stuff checked for the flight. I already expected some challenges in this, as I had quite some stuff to take:

  • Bike bag: 23kg
  • Diving bag: 25kg
  • Backpack: 23kg
  • Carry-on¬†bag: 15kg
  • Carry-on backpack: 10kg
Bags_Lisbon
The bags waiting in Lisbon

Resulting in an excess weight¬†(thank you lady at the desk for not weighting my carry-on!) of 21kg. Since this time I already expected this, it was easy – I just had to pay this. Making a thing out of it (the bike bag was only allowed to be 10kg, how unrealistic?) would probably have taken me half an hour extra and perhaps my carry-on would’ve also been weighted as Transavia did in Amsterdam… Luckily they were helpful with the carry-on and I could convince them that someone of Transavia told me that with the photo gear I could take 2 pieces of carry-on if necessary. Again, thanks lady at the desk! ūüôā

There I went, leaving the mainland! Portugese style of course, leaving half an hour late. Out to the middle of the Atlantic, flying to Horta and then taking the ferry to Pico. This half an hour delay gave me the opportunity to explore Horta a bit as I missed the ferry by 5 minutes and had to wait 2,5 hours for the next one… But well, I had the time!

Getting on the ferry to the other side, the weather started to turn for the worse. Pico had disappeared in the clouds and fog and Horta was also getting out of sight. And more and more rain was coming down from the clouds. After half an hour, I arrived in Madalena on Pico. Luckily, Pico Sport is just in front of the ferry terminal, making it easy¬†to get¬†all my stuff there. I met Frank and Pascal who were waiting for me and was brought to my temporary room. Getting to meet all the staff that’s already here brings a new challenge – remembering all the names… It’s not really my strong suit!

I’m already starting to feel more and more at home in this place. It’s still very¬†quiet with no diving guests yet, but that gives me the time to get to know all the dive spots around the island and the goings at Pico Sport. And of course, getting everything in organised for the season that is to come. Stay tuned for more!

Pico Sport
The new office – Pico Sport!

Macro & Manta’s: A throwback to Bali’s underwater world

It’s Thursday so it’s time for another throwback! This post will take us all the way back to September/October 2013 when I traveled to Indonesia with Sandra. We first went on a ‘dry’ tour across Java to try and see most of the highlights of that part of the country before going on to Bali. Here we first stayed at Pemuteran on the North before going to Nusa Lembongan in the South.

This was going to be my first experience diving, and traveling, in Asia so I was stoked to finally visit and dive at such beautiful places!

Menjangan РPristine coral reefs

Menjangan Island is a small island on the Northeast side of Bali. Being located in the Bali Barat National park it has a protected status allowing it to remain in pristine condition. Pulau Menjangan is home to many species and if you want to immerse yourself in an abundance of marine life this is the place to go!

Pulau Menjangan
Menjangan dive sites

We visited four different dive sites, Eel Garden, POS, Temple point and Anchor wreck. Each had its own uniqueness and luckily they were all far away from the snorkeling crowd and glass bottomed boats which stayed closer to the shore. We had arranged our diving via our homestay (Double U Homestay in Pemuteran – highly recommended!) so we didn’t have anything to worry about except for getting breakfast on time and heading to the¬†car that picked us up.¬†We got on a small wooden boat,¬†of which there were plenty. It was quite a streamlined operation for many operators using similar boats.

Now it was time to get in the water. We started of at POS II, where we would be doing a sort-of wall dive. I had been diving in the Mediterranean sea before, but this really was something completely different. Sure, the¬†climate and water temperature is a huge difference, but the abundance of life¬†-Wow! I had never seen this before except for on TV. Talking about the guide’s knowledge of the location: just a few minutes after submerging he went to some coral and pointed out a Pygmee seahorse! I did my best capturing it, you’ll see below… I really need a macro lens and I also didn’t have a strobe back then.¬†After the first dive we had a lunch on the boat before going into the water before, this time at Temple Point. As the name suggests, it’s in front of the temple on the eastern part of the island. Again we followed the reef on the wall and came across enormous corals and countless¬†fish. This was the dream!

The second day we went diving on Eel Garden and Anchor wreck. First came Eel Garden. There was a slight current making the dive very enjoyable and easy, until we got to a point where we had to fight the current to get somewhat shallower.¬†A group in front of us had seen a couple of reef sharks, but we weren’t as fortunate as¬†them. Seeing a shark was my dream, I hadn’t before and knowing they were there made me even more excited! Eel Garden, as the name suggests, had one fantastic trait – the ‘garden’ with eels. A large number of eels rising up from the sea floor. It was amazing, how they moved, how they just made the whole scene out of this world. I had never seen something like this. Here we could also hide a bit from the current as it was on a sandy plain between the reefs, making it easier to make some good shots.

Before the¬†dive in the afternoon at Anchor Wreck the guide told us that he knew a frogfish’s location. These fish normally don’t move around a lot as they don’t really have a good¬†capability to swim. Having found a good spot, it’ll stay there for a couple of days before walking along the sea floor or drifting in the current to a new spot. So chances were good on seeing it! Having never seen one, again the excitement rose and we entered the water. Submerging ourselves in the tropical waters just wearing a shorty (that was a big change from the drysuit) we found ourselves following the guide, leading us exactly to where the frogfish was. Such an incredibly strange fish.

Conclusion of these two days: diving in these waters is amazing!

Nusa Lembongan – Wild and adventurous

After some traveling across Bali, going into the mountainous central area and climbing the second largest peak of the island, the Batukaru, we ended up at Two Fish divers on Nusa Lembongan. A lovely resort with a pool, bar and dining table surrounded by the apartments. Immediately after arriving it felt like home thanks to the great ambiance and the people like our guide Theresia taking good care of us.

NusaLembongan
Nusa Lembongan dive sites

Nusa Lembongan, Cenigan and Penida were going to give us a whole new diving experience in Asia as the islands are in de middle of the strait between Bali and Lombok which makes for colder water and more currents. It had even happened that people diving at the Gili’s drifted away all the way to Nusa Lembongan overnight after losing sight of their boat. Colder water also has one major advantage – it is richer in nutrients, making for a higher chance of encountering big marine life like manta rays and sharks and we were in the right season to have a chance to meet Mola Mola, better known as the ocean sunfish!

Since the water was a lot colder (around 20 degrees instead of 30), we had to get¬†into 5mm full wetsuits. As the dives were more advanced, there also were more experienced divers here than beginners which was great for the true diving experience. Nusa Lembongan features many sites, under which the infamous Blue Corner. Conditions have to align to be able to dive there and usually it’s an ‘all or nothing’-site. You can have sharks, Mola Mola, turtles and¬†stingrays all at the same time, or see nothing. Besides this unique spot, on the south of Penida there’s Manta point where the manta’s come to feed and visit the cleaning station and on the north there are many dive sites which are usually a bit more forgiving regarding currents and visibility.

The first days we were diving at the sites on the northern shore, SD, PED, Topakayeh, and we also visited Crystal bay. During one dive a group in front of us started moving frantically, they were seeing something special! I raced with all my power, but was too late. Being at about 25 meters, I got to experience a CO2-induced feeling of panic. Quite scary to feel, but I knew it was because of my exertion and the pressure so I managed to stay calm and let it settle by just breathing slowly. At least it’s something I can always tell my students what it’s like now. After coming back on the boat, it appeared they had seen a Mola Mola. And I just missed it. Another day, diving at¬†the northern sites we experienced quite a strong downcurrent. Theresia had warned us this might happen as the currents on Nusa are quite unpredictable. Being under the surface it was something you could sort of see coming – there was a sudden change of ‘atmosphere’ in how the fish behaved. Then came cold water from the surface, moving down on us and we all moved close to the reef looking for a stone to grab hold of or putting a pointer in the sand. It’s quite something different to experience from just drifting! And after the downcurrent had come and gone, the intensity and direction of the current that was before it was totally different! This place is amazing!

The thing I was most excited about was the chance to finally get to see sharks and manta’s! We went to both Manta Point’s on the south of Penida where the visibility was a bit less, but nothing we weren’t used to.¬†I always find it so funny that the guides apologize for the ‘bad visibility’ when it’s less than 20 meters as in The Netherlands I start saying to my students ‘It’s amazing down there now with up to 5 meters of vis!’. So well, this was great visibility for me!¬†I was so excited to get in the water and have a chance to see these majestic manta’s just cruising around. The first site we visited was a cleaning station. There’s a route the manta’s take to get to the station, so we were just waiting along the route when the first manta I’ve ever seen came flying by. Words cannot describe, it’s just pure beauty. So graceful, so elegant, so gentle though so large. There were about 5 manta’s on this site at the moment we were under. It was amazing being there with them.¬†A bit sad to leave the beauty of the underwater world and return to the surface to have some lunch and change the tanks, we were told that we were going to a small bay where the manta’s usually come to feed and that we could have an opportunity to get in the water snorkeling with them. There were three of them, circling us and making us swim quite hard to keep up with them and intercept their paths. But it was definitely worth it!

Two days later¬†we were asked ‘where do you want to go diving?’. Well that’s easy, Manta Point! The weather wasn’t as friendly as the other day and snorkeling during lunch would certainly not belong to the options. The wind had picked up and caused big waves, reaching higher than our small boat. And underwater, the waves were causing a powerful¬†surge, throwing us forward a couple of meters, before taking it all back in a strong pull again. A couple of times I was almost crashed into the rocks that were on the bottom, so fumbling around with the camera¬†and making photo’s was getting me challenged.

On our last day we had some easier dives on the North shore before going home, back to the cold Dutch weather and¬†saying goodbye to the wonderful marine life around Bali.¬†I’m definitely coming back to Asia for some more diving!

Have you already been diving in Asia? If the answer is no, go and book your tickets! If yes, where do I have to go?

Getting ready for Pico

In two weeks I will have left¬†Amsterdam and be on my way to Pico – wow, it’s getting close now! In my current job I’m starting to transfer all my tasks and¬†next to this preparing for my departure. The packing list is almost finished (probably I’ll still forget something…), the medical checkup has been done and my diving gear is again ready to be used intensively in the coming year!

The body

Last week I visited De Sportartsen Groep for an extensive medical examination.¬†Getting yourself¬†checked and tested once in a while can’t hurt, especially¬†in view of the coming intensive¬†year. Of course it all started with the huge ‘Yes/No’¬†questionnaire on paper followed by a comprehensive questioning of the doctor. Following this the measuring started. Weight, height, fat percentage, flexibility, eyesight, hearing, listening to the heart and lungs, blood pressure, blood values and the electrocardiogram.

Now the passive part was over and I had to perform. First I had to do the pulmonary function tests, testing my full lung capacity or the forced vital capacity and then trying to exhale as much as possible and as powerful as possible to measure the forced expiratory volume in one second. All was good, but next time I’ll¬†make sure to train for this as well! Now the fun really started, as I was put on the ergometer to perform my maximum cardio test. Trying to get my heart racing at it’s maximum beats per minute. Since I’m an avid cyclist I was quite motivated for the test and as far as I knew 198 bpm would be my maximum. Starting at 35 watts it was extremely easy but every minute 35W was added gradually. Slowly the drops of sweat started running of my head and I had set myself the goal to at least pass the 400W mark. Peaking on the screen next to me, I could see my heart rate¬†climbing to over 190 bpm. 191, 192, 194, 198… Wow, I still felt I could continue! At 402W though I reached the 202 bpm and my legs filled quickly with massive amounts of lactic acid and I couldn’t keep it up. The resistance was lowered and I got a couple of minutes of recovery. My legs started feeling like they belonged to my body again. At least this result was satisfactory, both for the doctor as for myself,and now I’m sure I can keep pushing myself the coming year!

The gear

However good the body is, without some properly serviced diving gear it would still become quite challenging! And especially my regulators really needed some¬†care as they hadn’t been serviced in the past two years – oops! As my quality for sure is not rinsing and drying everything after a dive (except for my camera – that’s my baby ;-)), the necessity was even greater! Two weeks ago I went to Sander of Dive Solutions¬†to¬†take good care of them. The¬†tools were laid out, the ultrasonic cleaner¬†heated and filled with some Blue Gold so we were of to a good start. First things first, so we removed all the hoses and plugs from the first stages and subsequently removed all the O-rings and Sander started to disassemble them, each one into it’s own tray.

With the help of the ultrasonic cleaner the first stages started looking as if they were hardly used in a matter of minutes. The time the cleaner was working on then was the time for us to disassemble the second stages. Again, each of them disassembled into a separate tray to keep all the bits and pieces together where they belong. I’ve seen the insides of regulators quite some times before, but I keep being amazed by the beautiful simplicity of the system. Being this simple and still¬†such a technical feat gets my engineering heart running (not to the 202 bpm though!). After everything had been through the¬†cleaner and thoroughly dried, it was time to assemble everything again. Starting by¬†looking for the right O-rings, putting some grease on them and installing them on the right location before putting all the parts together to form a functioning regulator. It’s always quite a hassle with all the small bits and pieces, but thanks to Sander’s experience doing this it was all done with great ease.¬†Once everything was assembled Sander started to calibrate the regulators – although he almost put them at the perfect position already while assembling, making it more fine-tuning than calibration.

After this hard work we had some time to take a well-deserved beer and talk about the
future plans. Thanks a lot for your help Sander – besides the body the equipment is also ready for the coming year!

Bier

A dive into the unknown

Who would’ve thought¬†that when I did my discover scuba dive myself, about 10 years later I would be throwing my life around to try and make it my full-time profession?! It truly was a dive into the unknown!

It all started out quite ‘innocent’¬†– Why wouldn’t I try diving during the introduction period at the University of Twente? Of course, that was awesome. Even just in the swimming pool. Experiencing the weightlessness and ability to breathe underwater – wow! A whole new world opened to me – literally. I immediately registered for the first open water course that was on the list, fortunately the first one was starting in just a couple of weeks. I really never was very fond of swimming, but this experience of being underwater, moving in¬†3D was something else.

My open water course started September 2007 with Xavier as instructor and Tobias, Jenny and Saskia as my fellow divers-to-be. Xavier thought he was quite lucky, getting 3 girls and one guy – though you should’ve seen the disappointment on his face when I walked in and he discovered Kim could also be a man! After five sessions of theory and pool training, we finally went into the lakes around Enschede. It was awesome! Even though I didn’t see more life than a couple of crayfish and some small fish. Besides myself, Saskia was also caught on the diving virus and we decided we’d go along with the club’s trip to Zeeland, 4 days after getting certified. Just having seven dives under our belts, we were totally hooked.

I still remember my first dive in Zeeland – I was mesmerised by the beauty of the underwater world here. Thrilled when I saw my first big lobster, and second, and the third… Oh there are so many of them, and they were BIG! Lobsters, crabs, fish, mussels and more. Unfortunately I don’t have any UW photos from that time, but I’ve got some more recent ones.

As you can see – it’s beautiful. And addictive. In my first year as a diver I did 100 dives. Most of them in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. My first blue water diving experience was in Gozo, Malta, after being diving for just over half a year. The experience of putting my head in clear water with visibilities over 30 meters was incredible. But in a way this also lacks some ‘adventurous’ atmosphere that you get of diving in less visibilities and in more difficult conditions. For everyone who has only been diving in crystal clear blue warm water, consider diving in The Netherlands – you won’t be disappointed!

At the end of 2008 I got to go on a liveaboard to Egypt. We were with a huge group of 35 people from Piranha and had two full boats for ourselves. I must say, this was the most successful diving year of the club! And this holiday was truly awesome. We took the South & St. John’s route. The corals, the abundance of fish and even snorkelling with wild dolphins for hours. Just amazing. You might’ve seen my post on diving in Egypt in 2015 and how fantastic that was.¬†Well, Egypt has¬†kept¬†its promise of being one of the most beautiful destinations for being in the underwater world.

When did I think of becoming an instructor myself? That was really fast. Seeing Xavier being the instructor as a side-job next to his studies, I thought ‘That’s the best side-job ever – I got to get that!’. And I did. Less than a year after getting my OW I got my Divemaster certification and just over 1,5 years and 120 dives after getting my OW I was certified as Open Water instructor for SSI. ‘Dive now, study later’ as the club slogan said… There sure was some truth in that for me.

Diving¬†has opened doors to me that I was unaware of until quite recently. Now I will really get to dive into the unknown adventure of quitting the job and going for my dream, thanks to this simple discover scuba dive in September 2007 and the enthusiasm of the people around me when I started! Diving into the unknown… Who knows what it will bring me?

Azores: What else?!

Less than four weeks from now I’ll already have had my last working day at ICL – the time is now really flying and there’s so much left to do… What do I have to buy, what do I have to service/check before I go and of course, the most difficult one, what do I take with me. It’s going to be almost five months on the island, so I’d better think very well of what to take especially since the weather can go everywhere being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Diving gear is easy – just take it all – but clothing? I would want t-shirts, flip-flops and shorts, but also sweaters and hiking shoes. And I’m crazy enough to want to take my road bike, so that’ll introduce quite some extra stuff to take with me.¬†Will be a fun day to have to transport everything to the airport by myself. I guess I’ll take an extra hour for it ūüėČ At least I’ve got enough¬†on my hands to keep myself busy until I leave.

A hidden paradise

“So why The Azores” is a question I get asked a lot. It’s not really the typical place to go when you’d want to pick up a career in the diving industry. Everybody thinks of Asia, Australia or The Caribbean. How did I figure to go to a small group of islands in the middle the Atlantic Ocean?!

After reading some articles of Duiken Magazine and doing some research with Sandra last year,¬†we had decided this was going to be a good destination for a holiday. So, last year in June we went to discover Pico, above and below the surface. Coming in by plane I realized immediately that this island was something special. First of all, you’re flying over the ocean for a couple of hours and all of a sudden there’s this group of islands appearing, seemingly out of nowhere! Descending into Pico, you could see this is not your standard holiday destination. No palm trees and white sandy beaches but rugged terrain with the volcano peak of Pico, at 2351 meters the highest mountain of Portugal, rising from the sea and surrounded by green and blue. A lot of blue. I realized immediately, a week wouldn’t be enough here. Hiking, diving, whale watching, mountain-biking, kayaking, enjoying the view at¬†Portugal’s highest peak and tasting the local wines… The island had¬†it all, and I just had a week.

Last February when I started figuring out where I would want to work as an instructor, I started asking around. When I called Sander Evering of Dive Solutions and told about what I was looking for and if he would have any tips on where to look, he came up with Pico Sport. He sent an e-mail to Frank Wirth referring to me and I put in my application letter and they contacted me that they wanted me for their team this year! The thing that really appealed to me was the fact that it wasn’t going to be just teaching open water classes in the sand and on shallow reefs, but their clients were mostly more advanced divers just wanting to make awesome dives. This was a huge difference with the options in Asia. Another great benefit of Pico Sport was the fact that they were very keen on ocean awareness and marine conservation and this is something I want to devote my life to.

Last year I only made 5 dives on Pico, but they were great already, even just being ‚Äėsimple‚Äô dive sites ‚Äď because it wasn‚Äôt the season yet, there were no Mobula rays at Princess Alice bank yet and also the sharks didn‚Äôt show themselves very frequently. This still promises a lot for the coming months as I didn‚Äôt see the more special things, though I have to say the shore dives from Pico are also fantastic. With the colourful fish and the rocky layout and caverns, it was perfect for Moray eels, octopuses and lobsters. I cannot wait!

Next to being on the dive guide list and doing some teaching, since I have my skippers license I’ll probably also be on the roll for driving the boat to the whale watching and swimming with dolphins, creating quite a diverse job for me. Besides these tasks, I want to put my extra time into setting up the technical diving centre at Pico Sport to be able to discover new dive sites, introducing projects such as Ghostfishing and develop myself as an underwater photographer.

The passion, the dream

Diving really is my passion, though as I discovered in December 2015, diving in Egypt, (see this post!) my biggest love of my life are sharks. And the fact that the Azores is home to many Blue and Mako sharks this makes it even better than I could‚Äôve dreamt. I am now following my passion, but my heart lies with the sharks and I will do everything to ensure I get to the point of really contributing to shark conservation. By showing people their kindness and beauty in real life and in photo and video. I want to change how people see these magnificent animals. They sure are not mindless, dangerous man-eaters. No‚Ķ As I‚Äôve experienced myself they are very curious, kind animals. Of course, they want to check you out, but you should think of it as that you‚Äôre entering in their homes and they just want to see what you are! I can keep talking for hours on these incredibly beautiful and lovely animals but I‚Äôll stop for now! ūüėČ

All in all, I’m very happy with my choice for the Azores and I really cannot wait to be there. In less than a month I’ll be arriving on Pico.

Oh, and what’s your take on sharks? Have you been in the water with them before or don’t you dare? And why is that? I’d love to hear from you guys!

Catalan diving

I still promised you a piece about diving in Catalunya, so here it is!

About six weeks ago I found myself in Tossa de Mar. At first, the purpose of this trip was to do a GUE DPV1 course with Sander Evering. Unfortunately I wasn’t able anymore to do this so I would just make a couple of fun dives and enjoy being there¬†and finally really putting my Nauticam housing for my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 to the test!

We were going to be diving with Krakendive, a small local diveshop. It wasn’t really big though you could really feel the owners Ra√ļl and Marta were really devoted to provide good quality diving. And there was one huge asset – the dog, called GUE. Ra√ļl told me it was a touch-contact dog and yes, it couldn’t do without (and I couldn’t…). At least Ra√ļl and Marta taught the dog not to be PADI they said ūüėČ

GUE-dog

Before the dive, us Dutchies (Sander, Jitse and me) got a thorough treatment of the Catalan ways. I arrived in the afternoon when they finished the theory on the DPV course and were having lunch at proper Catalan times as the sandwiches arrived at 15:00. Sander was already growing a little bit impatient as he knew it would take some time to really get into the water and the sun would be setting around 18:30. The question came if we wanted coffee… “Nah, let’s go diving…” was the reply, but still some espresso’s arrived. Arriving back at the diveshop, we came to the conclusion not all tanks were filled – that took another 40 minutes or so, making us enter the water at something like 17:00 in the end!

I did two dives while I was here. On the first I did not have my camera and was observing Sander and his three DPV students. Even though for me the dive was just laying still and observing, I had great fun for the entire hour. They had several drills to do with a stowed DPV and also some scootering around. It was quite enjoyable just looking at the struggles they were having! After an hour of laying still, perfectioning my positioning kicks and clearing my mask several times because of the incompatibility of laughing & diving masks, I did get quite cold. The water was still getting warmer, but that meant it was now about 14 degrees Celsius.

The diveshop is well equipped with enough space for several Tec-divers and all their gear and they’re also able to fill your tanks with Nitrox and Trimix. Another great feature: the benches have water hoses above them! That way you can easily and quickly rinse the salt water of your equipment – making even the laziest of divers rinse their set after the dive!

The next morning Joaqin, Marta, Marc and me were at Krakendive at 08:00 to pack everything in the car Рwe were going diving on the Boreas wreck off the coast of Palamós. The wreck lies at a depth of about 30 meters on the sandy bottom since 1986. The boat had laid in the Palamós port for two years after the Spanish customs had seized it after suspecting the boat being used for trafficking drugs.

Boreas
An artist impression of the Boreas wreck, just one mile from the coast at Palamós

Of course this day turned out to be very Catalan too. We got all the stuff in the cars, drove to the diving shop in Palam√≥s and waited for the boat crew to arrive. Half an hour passed, an hour passed… There they¬†were!¬†We went to the port, got all the stuff on the boat and set off to leave. But there still was time for an espresso and sandwich as we had to refuel! Finally we left the harbor at 10:30 and it wasn’t too far to the wreck. We got the buoy line attached and prepared to enter the water. A very gentle current was taking us to the end of the line behind the boat and when we were all in the water and ready we submerged towards the wreck, following the buoy line. Visibility was good and we found ourselves on the wreck within minutes. Being¬†on the seabed for over 30 years the wreck has gotten a lot of life on it! It’s truly beautiful! We went around the wreck and along the gangways and had a nice look in the engine room. They say¬†a picture is worth a thousand words, so the following gallery saves me a lot of writing….

After the dive we returned to port and drove back to Tossa de Mar, where I had a great lunch with Joaquin before returning to Krakendive, cleaning my diving gear, hanging around and packing everything again.¬†On the next day, there was a powerful storm that made it impossible to dive – quite a coincidence I figured I wouldn’t be diving that day! Sander’s¬†photo’s below say it all, but I’ll be back for sure to dive here again!

 

Pico, here I come!

So today I finally did it, I booked the tickets to Pico! Ok, the flight is to Faial, the neighboring island, but¬†that’s just a short distance from Pico! I’ll be arriving in The Azores on May 21, just 41 days from now. It’s really becoming more and more real! I love it! In this post I’ll try to explain what got me to the point of making this huge change of course in my life.

Life changing moments

“Live! The best thing in life is to go ahead with all your plans and your dreams, to embrace life and to live everyday with passion, to lose and still keep the faith and to win while being grateful. All of this because the world belongs to those who dare to go after what they want. And because life is really too short to be insignificant.” – Charlie Chaplin

You all know Spotify’s Discover Weekly? It features some great undiscovered treasures but I would’ve never expected this song to arrive in it, especially at this timing… The lyrics of Burgs by Mt. Wolf really struck me when I listened closely:

“It doesn’t actually take very much to make the deepest part of us incredibly happy.

Just to be here, just to appreciate being here,
to feel that you’re alive
and to be in touch with your heart.

That’s it.

The invitation is not to show how inventive and imaginative you are,
but how much you can notice what you’re already part of.”

Riding into the clouds

When my life really struck a crossroads with my long-term relationship ending, I quickly realized I should do something to really be in touch with my heart. To really do what I want and follow my dream. Do what makes me happy.

I quickly realized that the one place I feel really disconnected from everything, really enjoying life at the fullest, is in diving. The calm and weightlessness of being underwater, the beauty of nature, really being ín it. Not as an observer from a distance, but up close and personal. Feeling that some animals seek interaction, look at you with a sense of wonder.

Especially after the first time I had been in the water with a shark in Egypt I felt this. I fell in love. In love with the underwater world, in love with the unknown nature of it. I never could have even imagined how special that moment would be. How it would change how I feel. I could’ve stayed down there with her forever. Thinking back, that¬†was the moment that really changed it all. I wanted to do something for sharks, to show people they are not just¬†mindless killers but wonderful animals. Realizing that we are decimating the shark population breaks my heart. I want to make a difference.

But not only sharks made me make this choice…¬†Every time I was on a diving holiday, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to live that life. But I ‘couldn’t’. I had my normal life to head back to, to go back to make money to pay for these kind of holidays. Right after finishing my studies I got a job straight away, so there wasn’t, at least at that time in my mind, no space for following the dream yet. That will come later, when I have some more money and can really do it properly. But isn’t NOW¬†the moment to do it? Because you never know what will happen tomorrow.

So there I go, off to adventure. Following my dream, my one true passion. Hoping I will be able to make an impact not only on my own life, but also on the lives of others. I want to share my passion and show people the beauty of the underwater world.

What is your passion and dream and when are you going to follow it?