Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dive Eat Sleep Repeat

     For the past two months I've been crossing my fingers, hoping the weather in the Bahamas and Miami area would improve for good diving. That area has had its fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms lately. When I flew out of Houston early one morning about two weeks ago, a cold front was headed the same way -- toward Miami. 

     I had signed-up for ten days of SCUBA diving on the Juliet which docks at Miami. 


     Juliet has more charm than most dive boats. Click here for the post I wrote when I did my first dive on Juliet two years ago.
     You won't see many three-masted schooners at Miami; and yes, we truly did sail out of Miami. That's Bre in photo below, a diver who volunteered to hoist one of the sails. She's a state trooper from Maine by the way. 

     There were ten divers and oddly five were solo women which includes me. And there were five crew members; my favorite from two years ago, Nate, is now Captain. He recently wrote a book, Bahamas Bucket List for Divers.

Nate let me sit on his captain's chair. I'm resting my foot on the wheel.

     Juliet in my opinion is the perfect dive boat because there's plenty of space and lots of pretty interior woodwork.

     Below from left to right are Billie and her husband Gary (both are retired NIH scientists from Louisiana, she's a veterinarian too). Far right with coffee mug is Ed who was my dive buddy for the week and whose pilot skills (water current speed, compass readings, etc.) were much appreciated.

     Compass readings aren't normally necessary because visibility is usually great. But during our eight days of diving, visibility was poor half the time (below is Bea's photo of me which shows poor visibility).

     Sometimes visibility was so poor I couldn't even see the boat above me. See the rough sea at sunset?

     It's tricky to safely exit the water with 60 pounds of SCUBA gear on a boat ladder that's rocking up/down six feet with the swells. Below is Bea, my roommate who's a German permanent resident of Vancouver, Canada. See the flags waving behind her? Jumping off the boat was much easier!

     Meals were scrumptious!

Amanda the cook has the hardest job in my opinion. She's also a diver.

     Max (below) was our dive master. Before every dive, he explains reef profiles, currents, depths, things to be on the lookout for.

     Most dive masters remind me of clucking mother hens who constantly chastise their flock of divers for scattering too far away from Mama; it's annoying to me. Max gave us all the details of each dive and then let us explore without him, which is perfect! We were on our own. He did however, accompany divers during a drift dive. We also were briefed on what to look for by our boat's marine biologist Liz.

     Below is a photo of us divers getting suited-up and ready to jump in. See how much space we have? A dive-boat doesn't usually have this much space.

     The owner of the boat, Liza (photo below), is feeding lion fish to sharks. Throughout the days of diving, several divers took a spear and container to kill and bag this invasive slightly toxic but pretty fish. I helped scout for lion fish.

Everyone dived (except me) in this very same spot after the sharks were fed!

The boat's cat Pearl was fed lion fish eggs.

We got buzzed by a float plane.

     Below is an $8.5 million neighbor "Missing Link". We were anchored with this boat for several evenings on a protective cove.

     This boat (below) with all its powerful motors and four youthful and nearly naked ladies is aptly named "Lucky Dick." That wreck behind it by the way is Sapona, a concrete ship.

     Before a liveaboard adventure, I download a couple sea-related books to read onboard. I favor nonfiction books that capture the human spirit. Highly recommend Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.

For photos contributed by divers who had underwater cameras, click here.

Hope y'all have a Happy Thanksgiving :)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Returning Home to East Texas

     An IRS tax due notice was waiting for me in East Texas with a reply due date of last week! Good reason to hurry through New Mexico and Texas' Guadalupe Mountains National Park on my way home. Took this photo while driving . . . . see how clean my window looks? Hold that thought.

     Enroute home I took a short cut on a 10-mile gravel road, driving less than 15 mph, headed toward East Texas. A nearby farmer on a tractor gave me a huge smile and wave. Probably hadn't seen a visitor on his road (below photo) for a long while. Even the cows stopped eating grass and stared at me. Overheard one cow say to the others "Mable, Bessie, looky here! a visitor!"

     Closer to the southeast corridor of Texas, I realized the semi-annual "lovebug fest" was in full force. This is one reason I rarely return to East Texas before October 1 each year (below photo is interior shot of windshield).

     An hour later, my windshield was really ugly (below photo is exterior shot). Stopped at a gas station to wash the window but if you're familiar with lovebugs, you know a mere wash won't work. A solvent foam (let it soak overnight) and a pressure washer are the only things that will work.

     Had to drive the last 20 miles home with my face six inches away from the least obscured part of the windshield.

     My neighbor Chef Jim welcomed me home with a fantastic steak and shrimp dinner. And my sister reminded me to check for snakes which are displaced and seem to move near homes following a major rain storm (my place is near a ravine, had more than 12" of rain from Hurricane Harvey). I made this sign a couple decades ago to warn visitors to keep a watchful eye on my undesirable neighbors.

     Yes I kill snakes, mostly copperheads, that slither onto my property. In the woods, I leave them be. So I dusted off my BB gun which I keep handy inside the front door and did a practice shot. I used it just last April when there was a long patterned snake on my front doorstep (blurry photo below of that snake). I shot it a bit later as it quickly escaped along my concrete foundation under the leaves. I always laugh when folks tell me I should first check the snake's head to figure out whether it's diamond shaped, has pits under its nostrils or has a forked tongue to determine whether it's poisonous or not. Yeah, right, I've never met a snake that looks directly at me in open territory so I can figure out whether or not to shoot. Those folks don't live in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

     See my first practice BB shot from 40 feet away (photo below)? An inch away from the bulls-eye.

     By the way, I never owned a gun until I moved to Texas. When I noticed there's lots of snakes in East Texas that slither onto my property, I went to Walmart about 25 years ago and asked the gun clerk to show me one of their BB guns. She asked me, "How old is the child you're buying the gun for?" And I nonchalantly replied, "Forty-one".
     So far, no snakes. But there are critters that have taken over my place. A few friendly mud-daubbers built their pretty tubal nests on a bird-box at my front door (had stuffed the hole with paper to deter nasty red wasps a few years ago).

And this critter has been waddling under my deck daily.

     Below is a better look at the armored beauty (but with few brains and poor eyesight). Marty Stauffer once said on his TV show Wild America, "If ignorance is bliss, then the armadillo is in ecstasy." 

     It was also good to see good friends Sally and Boyce again. They take care of Topaz for me. Sally was anxious to ride Boyce's new horse in a more challenging environment so she loaded my horse Topaz (white Arabian on left) and Reba (chestnut Missouri Fox Trotter on right) and trailered them near my place. Sally is trying something new, a red bug-collar, works similar to bug-collars for cats and dogs.

     The reason she wanted to ride Reba was to "test" whether Reba would take advantage of Boyce's good nature. Hubby Boyce is a major softy and some horses (and people) take advantage of his loving good nature.

     Topy was in good form and we had an enjoyable ride. See her ears in photo below? She's paying attention; that's what I love about her, despite being 26 years old, she's always alert, eager and willing to go and explore. 

     Although it was a good ride, it was too hot! Almost 90 degrees when we quit with 90 percent humidity. The sweat on Topy made her white hair look gray!

      Sally finished her ride with a couple little scratches on her cheek. There's a pretty curvy woodsy single-file path that begs for a fast-paced trot. I don't even have to encourage Topy, she trots fast on her own. And if you don't duck low or fast enough on a horse that's zig-zagging on that pretty woodsy path, tree twigs hit your face, arms, legs, etc.

Whew-hoo!! Love it! I've had my share of scratches too :)

     And waiting for me at home was a USPS priority box from mon ami Chef Renauld de Montana, a huckleberry cheesecake made with Montana wild huckleberries, peaches and Amaretto! He makes his wonderfully unique cheesecakes with very little sugar so there's zero-guilt on my part :)

Yes, good to be home despite the bad (IRS) and the ugly (lovebugs).

PS: Update October 31, the IRS reviewed my submitted info and agree I owe no additional taxes, yeehaw! :)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mexico's Inside Passage

     Two weeks ago I drove to Phoenix and met up with 17 SCUBA divers (total strangers) to dive the Sea of Cortez for one week in a liveaboard boat.  All my previous dives were in Caribbean waters, so this dive in Pacific waters was a new experience for me. Two vans/trailers hauled us and our gear to Puerto PeƱasco, Mexico to board our boat

Tropical Storm Lidia was exiting the area, so we had to postpone our departure time for 12 hours.

     I've titled this post "Mexico's Inside Passage" because the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) is as scenic but in a different way as Alaska's Inside Passage. Take a look at the terrain near two of our dives.

     We cruised the mountainous upper portion of the Gulf of California, but the lower portion is just as mountainous.

This area is sparsely populated and very rocky.

In the middle of nowhere, a rocky monolith! Suspect it's about 400 feet high.

Always a surprising view.

We dived at the base of this rocky island (below photo).

Sunrise on the rocks is spectacular.

Waited a few minutes for this fleeting shot . . .

Very rocky and very mountainous . . .

Not much vegetation; succulents and cacti.

Sunsets were spectacular.

Couldn't decide which sunset to share, so will share them all.

This cloud at sunset looks like a UFO, eh?

This is a western sky at sunset . . . 

But the eastern sky at sunset was sometimes just as beautiful.

Looks like a distant rain shower, but it didn't rain on us.

Another sunrise . . .

The regular morning shows never got boring. 

Evening shows didn't get boring either.

     Now y'all understand the title of this post, eh? Oops, forgot to mention our friends the brown boobies which accompanied us.

     My roommate Brandee (below photo) is a Californian; most of the group lives in California. She brought a DVD of "Sea Hunt" episodes for us to watch since many of us were highly influenced by this 1950s syndicated TV show.

     Four times each day (beginning at 7 AM), we boarded a raft in three groups spaced 15 minutes apart to go diving for an hour. 

I was in good company!

      Judy and Mac (photo below) got together about 15 years ago online; each was looking for a dive partner and they got lucky.

     Connie (below right) and her Mom, Edie, have been diving and training together since Edie became certified at age 58 (she's 74 now).

The grandest lady is Eva, who will be 79 on October 3 next month.

And the baby of our group? Marco (on right) is 47 years old. Blaine (on left) is 60 years old.

Saw two Orca Whales!

I switched to video mode on my camera . . . the tail slapping orca whale was about 50 yards away from our boat.

     Besides diving, we all got a chance to snorkel with a whale shark (click here for Marco's wonderful video). I swam/snorkeled for about 80 yards a few feet above a whale shark that was probably at least 25 feet long. They are amazing gentle giants.

     And diving with sea lions was a first time for me (click here for Marco's video of sea lions). They are similar to playful puppies, always doing something cute. Big ones, medium ones, and little ones diving all around us human divers. One nipped and tugged a diver's fin to get a reaction. Right in front of me, two seals did a 69-position by grabbing each other's tail (there's a tiny tail between the back fins) and played "ring around the rosy", swimming fast circles while still holding onto each others' tails! They'd zoom around like torpedoes sometimes (twisting, turning their bodies, very acrobatic), and several zoomed within inches of my mask to see who would flinch first, me or them; one showed his teeth, laughing at me I hope! I'd laugh at them often but with a regulator in my mouth, had to stifle my laugh!

     Watched an octopus re-arrange shells at the opening of his/her lair. Didn't see the entire octopus; they're very elusive in their hide-outs. Saw a couple of turtles too (click here for Marco's video of turtle). Saw a couple of green moray eels at the openings of their lairs, too. 

     Marco graciously agreed to share his Instagram underwater photos since I don't want to bother with an underwater camera (click here).

     And last but not the least of all the exciting moments, a full moon!

Another shot a bit later with a glass of wine.