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 🙂

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? 🙂


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 coördinates 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 coördinates, they seemed to be dropping anchor hundreds of metres from us! We went over and asked what coördinates 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.

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 lót 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.

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
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! 🙂

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!

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 😉 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 ‘simple’ dive sites – because it wasn’t the season yet, there were no Mobula rays at Princess Alice bank yet and also the sharks didn’t show themselves very frequently. This still promises a lot for the coming months as I didn’t 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’ve 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… As I’ve 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’re 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’ll stop for now! 😉

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!

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?

The lifechanger

So, where do I start… It has been a while since the last post and a lot of things in my life have changed. As a consequence, this blog also changed. No longer are we (Sandra & me) in this together and this blog will now follow me on following my dream – starting now!

Riding into the clouds

I found myself in a crossroads in life these past few months and I found myself in a position that I got to think ‘What do I really want in this life?’. And the things that was always at the top of my mind, was how much I loved diving and sharks. Ever since I started diving in 2007 I was hooked but the past few years I didn’t make as much time for it as I wish I would have. The busy life… you know it. Work, sports, household, friends, living in Amsterdam, etc…

This is always an ‘easy’ excuse. Busy. With what?
Does it really make me happy? Wouldn’t I be better of on some sort of paradise where I could just walk into the water, enjoy the weightlessness and the beauty of the underwater world? Where I could just be there, with nature in its purest form? Sure, life was pretty great for me. A nice place to live, lots of things to do, many great friends in the area…

But life just showed me I should rethink where I was headed.

The only thing that still kept me from really doing it and leaving this life was my job. I must say I really do like my job as a process engineer at ICL as it gives me lots of challenges and great career perspective. At first I tried to arrange some sort of  6 months sabbatical but this was not possible. So I had a choice to make… Quit my job and all the certainty that it brings but being able to follow my dream, or just stay in this safe place.

Sure, not having a safe return option is scary, but it´s even more scary to pass on this beautiful dream. So there I go, I quit my job in the last hours of March and open this door! Not as an April fools day joke – I did publish it April 1st – but for real.

Of course it was not without any preparation on making the adventure real; I’ve been contacting quite some people I know in the diving branch and thanks to Sander Evering I contacted Pico Sport on the Azores. I sent my sort-of job application and they got back to me with an offer to come and work from May until at least September. I visited Pico on the Azores once before in 2016, so I already had seen a bit of the island and figured I could very well be living there… Especially since my most favorite animals, sharks, are also in these waters and there’s whales, dolphins and also colorful underwater life!

And the good thing – I don’t just get to be teaching open water classes in the sand and on the shallow reefs but will really be having a far more diverse job! Nice dive sites with colorful fishes, sharks, mobulas, whales, dolphins and as far as I’ve heard and experienced so far there’s a great team of superenthousiastic people. And ocean awareness and shark conservation is high on their priorities so that’s something I want to dive into!

I’ll be back soon with the next post but for now: from May 21st I’ll be on this beautiful island I’ll call home from then! Follow me on my preparations and adventure by following this blog, the Instagram and my personal Instagram!