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August 21, 2006

Finding a new shop, equipment, and practicing

Well, my dive shop Alma Mater, the Hudson Family Dive Center in Rancho Cordova, CA, is gone for good. I stopped by and the shop is already cleaned out. Something bad happened here, and maybe I'll never know what. I really liked John Hudson, but if he knew trouble was brewing, selling me $2,500 of gear two days before he closed shop just wasn't right.

In the meantime I was supposed to discuss things with our dive instructor, but beyond an exchange of a few emails that hasn't happened yet, and so the Hudson story remains a mystery. I've been keeping our little graduating class informed via email, and at least one of them reciprocates. Apart from mourning the loss of my dive center and local shop, my biggest concern was getting our C-Cards. Chuck was going to let us know about that. Yesterday I got a note from Holly, my certification dive buddy, that hers had arrived. Yeah. I hope mine will shortly.

And I found a new local dive shop. I had called ScubaPro for their recommendation on service on my all-ScubaPro gear, and they had recommended Dolphin on Marconi, a ways away from me. Holly told me that whatever classes and commitments Hudson had left unfilled would be handled by ScubaWorld at http://www.scubaworldsacto.com/. Unfortunately, that's even farther from where I live. So I perused the web again and, low and behold, found a NAUI shop right here in Folsom. I stopped by and talked to owner Robert Flores. Five minutes into the conversation he let me read a two-page article of his where he, quite distinctly, explained why he switched allegiance from PADI to NAUI. Some rivalry there for sure.

So I looked around the shop, tried on some masks, asked a bunch of questions about classes (they do Nitrox), and inquired about tanks. Robert said a buddy of his had two used steel 95 cuft tanks that I might want. While I was somewhat tempted by one of those beautifully red or blue-anodyzed aluminum tanks, I knew that steel was better altogether, and expressed my interest. I did buy a mask with some sideview and a purge valve, just to learn how they feel and start building my own collection of scuba gear...

On Saturday I took my 10-year-old son up to Folsom Lake where we had done the certification dives. I hardly recognized the place! The water level had fallen a good five feet and the "parking lot" was now above water. The shore line, as a result, had changed dramatically. It was weird to see the parking lot that I had perused while diving now used by SUVs and trucks that launched their boats. My son and I walked along the scraggly shoreline of Folsom Lake for an hour or two. That was fun.

Then back to Divers Cove in Folsom where I closed the deal on the tanks. Once again I felt like a total noob. I had neither asked how old the tanks were, nor what make, nor what pressure rating. Carol had to point all of that out to me, and advised what I should offer. Well, I ended up buying both tanks for $360. They are Fabers, "low pressure," (i.e. nominally 2,400 psi, but usable up to 2,800 or so) and probably three years old, painted white. The 95s are quite hefty; not longer than the 80s I'd used during the C-dives, but thicker. I also got weights: four blue 4-lbs bags and two red 5-pounders. Carol later suggested I should have gotten smaller denominations instead, like a 2-lbs and a 3-lbs instead of one 5-lbs.

Yesterday I assembled all my gear and took it for a "maiden voyage" into ... my pool. Yes I know, it's just a pool, but it's still diving, looking up at the world above water, and breathing air from a tank. I familiarized myself with my ScubaPro Knighthawk BC, puzzled over how to attach the regulator properly and which hose went where, and wondered what my air-integrated, wireless Uwatec Smart-Z dive computer would do underwater. Well, the steel tank was a handful, and I am not sure yet I like the smallish plastic molding on the back of the Nighthawk as it seems to let the tank slip and slide too much no matter how tightly I set the clasping mechanism.

In the water, the steel tank seemed less buoyant than the aluminim tanks I'd been using, and I needed to inflate the BC to keep things afloat until I had it all on me. Then I went under and stayed there for 22 minutes. I found that the computer simply comes on and then displays a standard set of information: Oxygen percentage, current and maximum depth, dive time, remaining bottom time, remaining air pressure, and occasionally a couple of others. At one point a small icon appeared that I later identified as a pair of lungs, indicating "increased workload warning." I was pleased that I could see the large numbers well, and even the small ones, without optical adjustment. Of course, there was a lot of light.

I loved the freedom the Knighthawk BC provided. None of the bulk upfront, and unlike with a vest, you don't feel it when the air bladder inflates. I still need to find a good way to memorize whether it's the round or square button that inflates and deflates, but that'll become second nature soon enough. I really like the ScubaPro second stage and mouthpiece; very comfortable. And the Air2 BC-integrated secondary air supply also works well. So far so good. The "weightless" aspect of being underwater still presents problems. I often feel I am not in control of how and where my body moves, and I need to learn to control all that without flaying around.

Later I learned, much to my chagrin, that I had the first stage on wrong! I had the secondary chamber with the low pressure ports point up, where it could hit my head. It really should only go on one way, the right way! Considering that air is of vital importance, the fact that there aren't markings neither on the tank nor on the regulator as to what points where and what is up and down is sort of alarming! And as someone who works on tuned cars, the total absence of torque specs for all of those connections, nuts and bolts perhaps even more so. "Tighten lightly" seems awfully imprecise for something that provides life under water!

Posted by conradb212 at August 21, 2006 10:54 PM

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