Duiken in het Nederland

…and I’m back! Apparently I like to plan all my major activities close together.

This weekend Shane and I drove to the village Scharendijke in Zeeland, which is a province in the south of the Netherlands. Here, we completed our PADI Advanced Open Water certification!

The drive down was only 3 hours and 15 min, or as a co-worker put it… “You’re driving ALL THE WAY there tonight?!” I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. So we hopped in our snazzy rental car and hit the road!

We stayed in a bed & breakfast that I found online which ended up being (as expected) an elderly couple who rent out three rooms in their house, I would assume, mainly to divers. They were actually completely full when we were there. We weren’t quite sure what to expect as neither one of us have every really stayed in a bed and breakfast type of place before, but after the initial awkward arrival (we couldn’t find the house) it couldn’t have been better. The house was only a 2 min. drive from the dive center, we had our own large room with a sink (shower and toilet were shared), cable/wifi, and breakfast included! The best part, only 80 euro for the whole weekend.

I did have to laugh though because breakfast was SO Dutch. I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned hagelslag before. Hagelslag = sprinkles. Like ice cream sprinkles. And a typical Dutch breakfast (usually for children) will consist of bread with hagelslag. Our breakfast options include 18 DIFFERENT KINDS of hagelslag! I was so impressed. So, naturally, I had to do as the Dutch do. Hagelslag for breakfast it is!

Really though, this place was fantastic and if we dive in Zeeland again we know where we’re staying.

Ok, Ok, enough with the sprinkles and on to the diving!

The course was 5 adventure dives over 2 days. We were required to complete a navigation dive and a deep dive (below 20m/65ft) and the other three are left up to you. We ended up doing peak performance buoyancy, wreck diving, and Nitrox (increased oxygen).

As you might imagine, diving in The Netherlands is much different than diving in Egypt.

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First, visibility was, at best, 3-4 meters versus the 7-10 meters in Egypt. Honestly, visibility, especially when we were above 10 meters (33 feet), was a lot better than I anticipated. A lot of people warned us about low visibility, and I think because of that I was expecting a lot worse.

Second, you had to walk a lot further to the dive site! You have to go up and over the current dyke to get to the dock so you can dive over the old dyke, at this particular location at least. There were also way more divers than I ever anticipated! The whole parking lot was full of people diving, or hanging out and watching their friends and family dive. Diving also seems to be one of those activities where everyone is instantly friends with everyone. It was a really fun to be in the middle of it.

The first two dives of the day were the peak buoyancy, which I was happy to have since I felt like I struggled with that before, and navigation. Aka: using a compass underwater. Aka: teach Whitney how to use a damn compass. I mean for real DAD (I blame you!) where was this life lesson when I was little?! Ok, so in all reality he probably did teach me how to use a compass but I forgot. After a 15 min explanation about getting my “boat back into the harbor then swim straight” (the simplest way Shane and the instructor could explain it) I did manage to successfully swim a straight line navigating on my own, and Shane and I together managed to navigate a full square! My friends, I call that a win!

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Shane being a good little navigator!

I must say though, Shane and I have very different natural instincts. We had to do an initial navigation test where we had to attempt to swim a straight line underwater without a compass. I veered us towards land. Shane went towards the sea. Here I am trying to get us to land…to AIR!… and Shane is trying to go swim with the big fish. In the future, if we are compass-less, we’re going with my instincts.

The afternoon dive on day 1 was our deep dive. For this to count we had to go below 20 meters, and we made it to 23 (75ft)! Really there wasn’t much point in going deeper. After about 10 meters you couldn’t see anything unless your flashlight was pointing directly at it. It was definitely an eerie experience, and not one I wanted to repeat this weekend. I will definitely do it again, but hopefully somewhere with better visibility. Our instructor did get a few pictures on the way down. I think these only amplified Shane’s lust for a GoPro.

The deep dive was the last of the day, so Shane and I had a little time to explore Scharendijke.

The view from the dyke
The view from the dyke.

Day 2 was our wreck dive and our Nitrox dive. All the “hard” stuff was over so these two dives were basically just guided fun dives. Our wreck dive ended up being kind of a bust. We went to the Scharendijke port where there are two man-made wrecks at about 10 meters, plus some man-made reef balls. These are actually pretty cool. They are large, half sphere balls with large holes in them. They were placed all around and then just let nature take over! They now house lobsters & crabs and sea squirts and other fun things. I digress. The wreck dive was a bust because the visibility was so bad you could barely see your hand stretched out in front of you. Shane took this picture as an example.

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Needless to say, we didn’t stay at this particular site long. We ended up moving closer to to the reef balls where it was shallower & we could see more cool things… like starfish! They were everywhere!

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The last dive of the day was actually on our own. This dive we planned together with our instructor, and he sent his baby fish on their way into the water to dive alone! We were back at the original dive site from day 1, so we were diving over the old dyke. We learned that in 1953 this dyke broke, Zeeland flooded, and thousands of people died. You can dive over the old dyke which is now home to a ton of sea creatures. Shane and I spent this dive just creepin over the dyke (and some more reef balls). It’s really amazing the things you see when you go slowly and just watch.

So! Long story short we are now certified advanced divers! A big thank you to our main instructor Teun, and to Wil who took us on our deep dive and sent the pictures.

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Tot Ziens,

Whitney

The Shwits Go to Egypt: Part 2

That’s right! As Whitney alluded to in Part 1, we are officially scuba certified! This is basically the whole reason we went to Egypt in the first place. And to make it even better, this was technically for the sake of my work and future career. A slight deviation to explain: As I have mentioned in a number of previous posts, I study fish. In fact, I have now worked in fish-related research for about 6 years.  For those of you not so familiar with fish – they live in water.  We as humans are not so good in water, especially when trying to stay under it for long periods of time.  Therefore, not being scuba certified has always been a bit of a hold up in my research (especially when working on Lake Victoria). So, following my field work last year, I decided that it was time for me to certify.  Of course when I informed Whitney, she decided that she would not be left out and would join in the fun.  Thus, we went to Egypt! Now I know what most of you are probably thinking: why go all the way to Egypt to do the open water certification course? Isn’t it much easier/safer/cheaper to do it locally? To this I simply say: Yes, you are right. But where is the fun in that? Practicing diving in a swimming pool is useful, but it’s nothing like this:

Or this:

So I think it’s safe to see why we went all the way to Egypt.

For those of you not so familiar with the PADI Open Water course, allow me to briefly explain.  The course consists of both knowledge and skill based instruction that takes you from (in our case) having never dove before to competent and able to dive freely without the aid of an instructor.  This comes in the way of video and text study, combined with quizzes and a final written exam, while also completing a series of confined and open water dives with your instructor. We completed this over the course of 4 days (would have been 3 had Whitney not gotten a little too carried away with the “all-you-can-eat” portion of the stay). Day one was pretty laid back with some videos, text study, and swim tests. Day two, however, had us literally in over our heads: we quickly went from trying out breathing with the regulator underwater to diving at depths of 8-10m (sorry, we are officially on the metric system. I’ll try to convert for those of you not as versed in metric: ~30 feet). While in hindsight, it makes sense that the course should move this quickly, it was definitely a surprise for us at the time. Nonetheless, we survived!

From here, things progressed in both complexity and duration.  I had heard about all the various skills and tests of the open water course before the trip, but I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that I would actually be doing them. The idea of removing my mask (I wear contact lens and am blind without them) or taking off my entire scuba kit at depth seems ridiculous, but there we were doing them. While there were certainly some moments of hilarity for both of us, we passed all them with relative ease. So, that was it. We had officially passed. And with that, we were set free to dive alone. Before moving on to our diving adventures, I have to first mention our instructor: Mahdi.  He was fantastic! We couldn’t have asked for a better instructor. Not only was he extremely patient in letting us figure things out, but his overall excitement and enthusiasm was unbelievable.  And he was extremely smart.  From talking with him, we learned that he is actually a lawyer and spent time as a professor of law at an Egyptian university (in his early 20’s!). He had been diving since he was a teenager and worked as an instructor for the past eight years.  You could tell he just really loved what he did. I’m sure a majority of the instructors are just a good but Mahdi definitely made it an enjoyable experience. Thanks again Mahdi! So that was it, we were free to dive.  And dive we did! Aside from the guided dives that we did as part of the course, we were able to do 3 dives on our last day (we had to stop diving on Monday since we flew on Tuesday – pressure differences between diving and flying are not kind to the body, you have to give it time).

The resort that we were at was not like your typical tropical vacation spots.  It wasn’t a place you go to lounge on the beach with a drink in your hand or party the night away at a local club or bar.  It was a diving resort and that is what everyone was there to do.  Of course you were free to drink as much as you would like or sleep the day away in the sun, but no one did that.  Everyone was there for the diving and the desert sun is really hot….

The picture above is from the ‘diving shade’ – essentially the staging area for all diving activity.  From this point, everyone prepared for their upcoming dives. Diving options consisted of the North or South Reef and you could choose whether you entered/returned from shore or by boat (as can be see below).  You would simply write your name on a whiteboard, check where you wanted to go, and then go.  If you chose to go by boat, there was always one available at anytime of day.  It was an extremely simple, yet extremely efficient system. 

Being that Whitney and I were very new to diving, we stuck to shore entry and exit. To give you a bit of an idea of what this looked like, the following series of pictures tracks one of our dives from beginning to end.  You will see that we began at a rope that leads out past the dock for boat loading. From here, you chose either the North or South side of the reef (this dive is the North), swam out until you hit your desired time/air usage, and then swam back to same rope leading back to shore. The scenery along the way requires no explanation, the pictures speak for themselves.

I wish I could say that this was one of our better dives, that it wasn’t always this breathtakingly beautiful but I can’t.  Whether we went North or South on the reef, this is what we got.  As Whitney says: “it was real-life National Geographic; real life Finding Nemo”. As she’s right.  It was truly amazing.  I think it’s safe to say that we have found ourselves a new hobby. Future trips and adventures will most certainly be planned as diving excursions. Why did we wait so long to try this?! By the way, for those of you interested: all of these pictures, both above and below water, were taken with a Nikon Coolpix AW120. I highly recommended this camera if you are in the market for an easy to use, durable camera. We took this camera down to 18m (60ft) and it worked perfectly!

Until next time,

Shane