Mar

9

My type of “spring cleaning” is a mess of sheephead on the fish-cleaning table.  The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock.  For many, their first excursion in 2013 is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

 sheephead

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2, and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating, or the spring break charter trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers like we do now.  Many fishermen believe they are too hard to clean because of their large rib cage. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all your sheephead, is very familiar with the mild flavor and white, flaky meat.

Many underwater hunters think of early spring as the tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season, spearfisherman need to inspect their rigging and practice loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is, spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  The only way to practice is to get out and dive…thus the big attraction of sheephead in March.  April usually hosts the first wave of migrating cobia.  As soon as the gulf waters reach the magic 68F, we start seeing cobia on the inshore sites.  Early spring divers are always scanning into the distance, hoping to see a curious cobia head your way.

 Cobia

The smaller size and liberal creel limits on sheephead make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the large fish isn’t an issue with the smaller fish.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Nov

12

If you don’t dive yet, some of what you “know” about diving might actually be wrong. A lot of these “myths’ are perpetuated in the media and movies, and you might be surprised at what is right and what myths are “busted!” Which one of these myths have you been believing all along?

MYTH: You have to be in top physical condition to dive.

TRUTH: Like any active sport, diving is more enjoyable if you’re physically fit. And you do need some basic swimming skills in order to learn. But it’s nothing extreme; if you’re comfortable in the deep end of a pool, can swim, and you can walk for several minutes without getting winded, you can learn to dive.

MYTH: Becoming a certified diver takes too long.

TRUTH: You can become a certified diver in a very short period of time, or you can take your time and learn at your own pace. Gulf Coast Diver’s VIP-PACE training program can accomodate anyone’s schedule, or you can sign up for private sessions. Our Variable Investment Program-Paced According to Capability and Enjoyment says it all.  You’ll be diving in less time than you think!

MYTH: Diving is complicated and difficult to learn.

TRUTH:  Learning to dive is easy. Our professional diving instructors use all the learning materials and proven strategies to make it simple and fun to learn. Before you know it you’ll be breathing underwater and using all the cool “toys” that make diving easier than ever.

MYTH: I’m too old to learn.

TRUTH:  We regularly hear about people diving, and learning to dive, well into their eighties. In fact one of the most active “groups” of divers is in the age range from 38 to 53. On the whole, this group dives more regularly, travels more to dive, and even takes more classes than most other “groups.”  Our own repair technician, Capt. Bill, is 77 years old and usually logs around 40 dives a year!

MYTH: I have no one to dive with.

TRUTH:  Diving is an exciting and unique experience that many people take up while on vacation or as a life-long activity. Finding buddies with which to dive is as easy as participating in one of our group dives and showing up for the regular Gulf Coast Diving Society social events. You’ll probably have ready-to-dive buddies that you’ll meet during your scuba certification course. Chances are you’ll find that you have lots in common with these other divers, usually more than the diving experience itself!  Plus, you probably have friends now that are certified divers, you just didn’t know they dove. Join Gulf Coast Dive Society on facebook and you will have dozens of dive and snorkel buddies.

MYTH: When you dive you breathe differently than you do on land.

TRUTH: Breathing naturally while underwater is one of the most terrific sensations you’ll ever experience, and one of the first things you’ll learn in your certification course. You will find that about the only difference between breathing air on land and underwater is that you must breathe through the regulator in your mouth – and since today’s regulators are so well made that breathing is made very simple and natural, even this part is easy.  You will be breathing underwater in your very first session, for only $24.

MYTH: It’s dark and murky underwater and difficult to see.

TRUTH: Most dives do not require a light since sunlight penetrates far deeper than the depth to which most divers go. Even when diving in very deep water, beyond 100 feet, divers can see quite well without any artificial light. Interestingly, colors are absorbed by the water, so while it may be very easy to see, most of the color begins to be absorbed beyond 30 to 50 feet of depth, rendering most everything blue.

Most divers do not dive in water with limited visibility unless they are looking for something special, like a lost wedding ring or an outboard motor from a neighbor’s boat. Some of these locations can give the diver the opportunity to see wrecks or find treasures, and with the proper training, limited visibility is not a significant diving obstacle. When diving from the beach the visibility will vary with the tides, but just a few miles from Mobile Bay, the clearer gulf waters will surprise you.  Or maybe, you are only interested in travel diving on vacation, each can provide their own brand of fun!

Whatever your reasons for not learning to dive, rethink them and consider giving it a try.  You can experience the thrill of being underwater for only $24, then decide whether you really want to miss out on the wonders of our oceans.

 

Mar

5

Dive Problem Anticipation, Avoidance and Management training is one of the most important continuing education classes for developing self-reliance and good diving skills.  All divers can benefit from the skills learned in this class, especially divers diving from their own boat.  If you are diving without professional diver supervision (ie. from your own boat) then you are responsible for making all the decisions and need to recognize an accident or stress scenario before it happens and intervene with positive results.  Early recognition is what our divemasters and instructors are trained for and you should be too.

Some of the topics we cover in this essential class are:

  1. self-reliance and self rescue
  2. environmental awareness
  3. physical, mental and equipment preparation
  4. Pre-dive planning and complete buddy check
  5. dealing with pre-dive anxiety
  6. recognizing stress in yourself and others
  7. assisting a stressed or panicky diver
  8. accident prevention
  9. rescue scenarios and dive emergency
  10. oxygen administration
  11. dive physiology and recompression therapy
  12. “What to do if…” scenarios

As the name of the course states, problem anticipation, avoidance and management are vital skills to insure a safe, fun, stress free day on the water.  Many instructors teach a “Rescue” course, but nobody else teaches D.P.A.A. M.  This program covers rescue scenarios, but the most observant divers will address an issue before it ever escalates to a rescue situation.

For information on the next D.P.A.A.M. course call (251) 342-2970.

Jan

25

New divers are surprised to learn that diving along the gulf coast takes place year round, not just during the heat of the summer. Believe it or not, the beaches don’t close in the winter, the Gulf of Mexico still has water in it when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and there are a lot of dedicated divers getting wet all winter.

If you want to keep diving in the winter months, but are not one of the fortunate few who can slip off to some warm and exotic location while the rest of us sit around watching our breath freeze in the air, read on and learn the basics of winter diving on the gulf coast.

So just what are the alternatives for winter diving and what can you expect for conditions? Obviously colder temperatures, both in the water and out, but not so cold that you can’t go diving. That doesn’t mean you have to gear up for an arctic expedition. Back in December we published a blog article about the importance of staying warm which provided many suggestions for dealing with winter temperatures.

Water temperatures in the gulf are a little cooler than what you are used to in the summer months. You can expect water in the low-mid 60’s at times.  Also, most of the high tides during winter months, fall at night. This is great news for the spearos that target flounder.

These tidal differences are not as much  a consideration offshore but they will affect beach dives like Perdido Pass, Fort Pickens, Destin Jetties and St. Andrews Park.  We have some of the lowest tides of the year during winter months and the strong north winds can make for especially low tides.

The local springs are virtually unaffected by winter temperatures. In other words springs water temperatures stay the same year round. The same 68 degrees that seemed cold and maybe a little forbidding in the summer is now warm and toasty.

One big consideration, just as important as staying warm during the dive, is keeping warm before the dive and getting warm between dives.  Bundle up and stay warm before you get in the water and certainly bundle up between dives. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee to warm you from the inside and stay out of the wind.  A misconception with inexperienced winter divers, is they will stay warm if they keep their wetsuit on between dives.  You will only make this mistake once!  The water evaporating off the suit is taking heat with it, chilling you very fast.  You will stay much warmer by getting out of your suit and dressing in warm clothes.  The more common method is to peel your wetsuit top off, dry off, and put on a jacket. Many divers exit the water, quickly peel their wetsuit off and climb back in their vehicle for a toasty, warm surface interval.

Recently my phoned chimed, announcing a text message from a dive buddy headed to the Pass for a night dive. Sorry I couldn’t make it Joe, too many work and family commitments, but it reminded me, many people are getting wet this winter and you should too.  Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 to learn more about winter diving.

Nov

29

All are invited to join the Gulf Coast Diving Society for dinner at Ed’s Seafood Shack, 3382 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort on Monday, December 5th, 2011 @ 6:30 pm. Monday nights are all-you can-eat mullet so come and enjoy. This is a great way to meet new dive buddies, reaquaint with old buddies, introduce someone to the social aspect of being a diver on the beautiful gulf coast. Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out. Bring your laptop and share some of your pics and videos. This event is FREE, just pay for whatever you eat and drink. Most folks will be bringing the whole family and ordering dinner. For more info. call (251) 342-2970. Please rsvp to the same number, we need to let the restaurant know how many hungry divers to expect.

Oct

26

What is a Local Explorer?  Well, we are the lucky ones who don’t need to wait for our next vacation to blow bubbles. We don’t worry about packing our gear into the smallest bag possible.  And even then, checking and organizing to stay under the constantly changing and progressively more restrictive baggage weight limits. The bed of our truck has become our gear bag.

Those divers who are lucky enough to have boats (or diving friends with boats) have an advantage to be able to access hundreds of neat, interesting sites to explore.  There are dozens of dive charter boats on the gulf coast and many shore access sites.  The shore sites are the most economical dive sites to explore.  Some have small park entrance fees but most in our area are FREE.

Conditions vary with weather and tides so local knowledge and an orientation are advised.  The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a great source for this knowledge and a fun way to meet new dive buddies that are familiar with close, accessible sites.  The fresh water springs are a great destination for almost any day.  Because you don’t have to dive during a short tidal window, springs are popular places to meet for all day events.

So what if you’ve walked in off the same beach three weekends in a row; You are still diving and there are thousands of divers that would change places in a second.  Last month I meet a couple in the shop from Indiana that were in town to hop on the cruise ship bound for Cozumel. The ship would be in port only long enough for them to do 2 dives.  They were thrilled, because at home they drove 6 hours every other weekend to dive in a 25′ deep, mud bottom lake where visibility averaged 2 feet.  They mostly looked at rocks, and a fish sighting was an event to talk about.  Oh yea, they also regularly stayed overnight in a motel to do it again the next day!

So appreciate having such close proximity and easy access to a variety of local dive sites. We are in it for the adventure and we know something great is just around the corner.  See y’all next weekend. For information on local sites and condition reports call Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Jul

1

The Gulf Coast Diving Society will be diving St Andrews Park in Panama City, Sunday July 17th.  Make your plans now to bring your dive gear, friends, family and anything else you think you need to enjoy a day at the St. Andrews jetties. Plan on finding some new dive buddies or getting reacquainted with some old ones.

The park opens at 8:00 am and high tide is around 11:00 am, according to saltwatertides.com. We plan to get there sometime in the morning, before the high tide, and will start diving as soon as the conditions permit. Gulf Coast Divers will be concluding some open water training and introducing new divers to the underwater realm. This event is open to divers of all experience levels so come on down and join the fun. Remember, Florida prohibits alcohol and spearfishing at the jetties and we will be doing a site briefing for those new to the area.

We will try to get there early and claim a couple picnic tables under the pavilions at the north end of the parking lot.  The park gets very busy on the weekends and arriving late can mean a long walk with your gear.  Look for the GCDS sign or your friends.  We will have a grill with hot dogs going. For more info. and rsvp call (251) 342-2970. Please let us know if you plan on attending so we have some idea how many to expect. Hope to see you there.

Here is a link to the park brochure [link] where you can find a simple map of the park