Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

A NAS Jax Skin and Scuba Dive Club member friend of ours told me he won’t dive with Stuart Cove’s anymore. He said boat dive trip experiences are like eating at a restaurant. We might go to the same restaurant, we might even get the same waiter. The waiter might spill water on me, but not you. And so, he says dives with the same operator may be a completely different experience.

Well, we’ve dove with Stuart Cove’s twice, and both times had the same experience times four with empty tanks, half-filled tanks, and O-ring failures. A lot of the dive experience centers around those simple items.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

First Dive With Stuart Cove’s

The first time we dove with Stuart Cove’s, last year, conditions were fairly choppy. The ride out to the dive site takes about five minutes. So, I had my gear set up and air turned on right as we anchored. We were a party of eight, and there were nine divers on the boat.

No air. Drat.

As the first divers were splashing, I dealt with switching tanks.

Second tank. Again, no air. More people in the water hanging on the line. I have Suunto gauges, and there had been a recall. Quickly, I mentioned this – because at this point, with two tanks down, I thought it could not possibly be the tanks, but my gear. The recall was not for my model, however, I had both called and emailed to verify this, and received responses from Suunto that I definitely was not part of the recall, verified by the model number.

Back on board – more divers splash, more divers hanging on the line in some rough chop; I’m getting frustrated and anxious. The third tank registered 1,000 pounds and had a bad O-ring. It was the first dive of the day – how did a used tank get mixed in with the fresh ones? At least I knew my gauges were working.

Fourth tank strapped on, I was the last one in the water and even though we dive a lot; that took a toll. The anxiety, the stress. All of that was completely avoidable, too.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Second Dive of the Day

At this point, there weren’t enough tanks for everyone. I don’t know if anyone on the other side of the boat had any bad O-rings or empty tanks because I was scrambling myself.

We had to get a tank from another boat. I’m a boat captain with over 30 years of experience, and this made me cringe. It involved bringing two boat close together in rough seas. I’m pretty sure these boats perform this maneuver more often that I realize. However, passing a heavy tank boat to boat requires two people to put their hands and toes in precarious positions. I didn’t like that one bit. Not at all.

I don’t remember the second dive, I think the tank was fine. I don’t remember any other incidents except our dive club president remarking on the tank holders being either too tight to escape, or worn out and sprung and unable to contain a tank.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Chalking It Up

Always, we are looking to promote, to experience the positive, be easy-going and amenable. We never mentioned that experience to Stuart Cove’s. I now realize I should have – management probably does not really know what all goes on out there on the boats.

We decided that was a one-time highly unusual series of events and moved on.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Again Empty Tanks and Bad O-Rings

This time, we were a party of four, with ten divers total headed for a Leap Day Dive with Stuart Cove’s – what better way to spend the extra day this year, we thought.

There were several inexperienced divers on board. When we see that, we are very aware that we are relying on our dive partner to keep us safe. Also, we realize the dive masters will have their hands full, so we are just a bit more aware. Underwater, we pay closer attention to everyone.

Our shuttle ride to Stuart Cove’s was insane. Our driver alternately swore at traffic or praised the Lord for getting us around slower-moving vehicles. I might add – I’m a bit used to New Providence traffic. It seems chaotic, fast-moving, and a bit uncoordinated.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Stacking the Deck Against One

However, for one of our dear diving friends, the cards were beginning to stack up against her. Instead of emailing the forms to fill out to us in advance, the driver handed us pieces of cardboard and pens. We were to fill the papers out while bobbing and weaving through traffic.

We did not know our newest dive partner does not do well unless she’s in the front seat, and definitely not while reading or writing. While she could have spoken up and asked to sit in the front passenger seat, I think she didn’t want to seem difficult.

So, she said nothing and suffered a bit of nausea in return. We had warned it would be at least a 45 minute drive across the island. I now realize I need to pay even move attention to these small details.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Paying Attention to Your Detractors

Every dive, we learn something – this trip taught me that everyone must advocate for themself if there is a situation like that which might lessen their tolerance for a wide range of experience they will undergo on a dive.

I think there are a number of what I will call detractors – circumstances, habits, actions, that stack the deck against a successful dive. What you eat and drink the previous day, and how well you sleep the night before can affect your dive. Wearing clothing appropriate to the activity and the weather also can present a detrimental factor. Both overheating before a dive and coming to a dive already chilled can have negative results.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Arrival and Departure

Arriving after a tornadic shuttle ride, then hustling straightaway through the sign-in and rental process and the subsequent scurrying onto the boat probably did not help our newest diver. Some of the counter ladies were quite friendly and welcoming, others not so much. We experienced this last time, too.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

The Mental Game

I didn’t know that a needle of suspicion had entered her brain as she put on her wetsuit, I heard the dive master ask if she would be warm enough. She donned a shorty. We had plenty of discussion about the water temperature being 72°, just like the Florida springs.

My dive partner and I put on our 3mm suits – we are chilly Floridians, after all. When I dive the springs, I wear that or my 5mm and always a hood too. I thought she knew her tolerances from past diving experiences. Others on the boat were diving with rash guards only, or 1mm suits, or shortys as well.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

The Final Blows

The ride out to the dive site was about five to 10 minutes. Once on site, our newest diver thought she detected a sound of air escaping from her tank. She was right. Her dive partner verified it, and the race was on to get her switched out quickly. Two divers already were in the water.

The second tank had the same problem. Again, the third tank leaked, so her dive partner dug out the O-ring and she installed a new one that took a bit of time to locate.

At this point, we were the last five of ten still on the boat. I told our newest dive to take a few breaths. I could see that she was unnerved. With all the nerve-wracking events, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she called the dive right then.

And Then

The O-ring of the single diver to my left, further from the swim platform, blew with a great shrieking sound. The noise was so shrill and intense that he covered his ears. The dive master turned off his air. I watched our new diver. I’m not sure if they tried to reseat the O-ring, or if they switched out his tank. I think they swapped tanks.

What I know for sure is that a couple minutes later, the shrill intense screech of a blown O-ring was back, and he had his hands over his ears again. I watched our new diver to see how she handled that – something that definitely could increase the heart rate for a newer diver.

At this point, I asked her if she was ready, told her to take a few deep breaths, she did, and toward the stern we went. My partner was in the water, the captain helped us both toward the stern, and down we went.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

To Or Not To Dive With Sharks?

Although we do not condone feeding sharks; we’ve read everything we can get our hands on and are still not sure about that. We’ve read that the benefits of publicity for the plight of sharks outweighs the drawbacks of feeding them. Until we feel that feeding sharks does not increase their dependence on humans, encourage them to depart from their normal lifestyle, entice them to areas they don’t normally habit – we will abstain.

However, we did see dozens of large sharks. I think either the shark-feeding dive was held near us, or we were diving in the shark-feeding location, because they were all around. Earlier, I had let our newest diver know that sharks possibly would be all around us. The last thing we wanted was to discover that someone has an enormous fear and resulting panic underwater.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

The First Dive! Sharks!

Our first dive took us to a large sandy spot in about 40 feet of water where we all gathered, looked for shark teeth, and watched the sharks circle us. A large grouper held court, staying a couple inches off the sand and observing us closely.

From there, we headed over some coral areas to a gradual wall. We settled at about 60 feet and cruised along. Here we saw small fish, a couple lobster, a couple lion fish, and some soft corals. Colors were not spectacular, fish were not abundant, but it was a dive in the Bahamas, so we were pleased.

The dive ended earlier than we expected. We didn’t piece that together until later.

Getting back on the boat was a bit sporty as the waves continued to pitch and roll the boat. As always, watching for “pinch points” was crucial, as was timing the waves. One complete surprise was the top step of the ladder. It was badly twisted, angling downward. Unfortunately, the angle served to throw you back in the ocean more than keep you on the boat.

The captain grabbed our tanks and assisted. We had been given the option of removing our weights and handing up our gear. That seemed almost more work than just climbing up the ladder.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Second Dive – Three Wrecks

Our newest diver chose to sit out the second dive. I’ll get back to that. After getting her settled, her dive partner geared up. The only remaining tank on the boat had about 1,650 pounds, so he planned a short dive. Down and back.

The dive profile included a quick description of what we would see. I am not sure anyone realized we had three major points to see, and would complete a triangle. Compass bearings would have been useful to have.

We dropped very close to the southernmost section of the Ray of Hope wreck. It was a bit more broken up than a year ago. This was the bow section, and it has more and more growth on it.

Right after we dropped, I heard a furious banging. That confused us. We had been told that the boat needed to be back on time, and if they started banging the ladder, that meant we needed to head back. We had just descended, so I didn’t think that was our signal to return.

The northernmost section of the wreck is the stern. The huge prop sits there, stuck on a coral rock. Not too many large fish were around, however, there were smaller fish and load of interesting small colorful coral growths.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Speed Diving

Rather than linger here, we sped across the sand to another wreck. As I reached the tug wreck, I saw someone go into the wreck. From the dive briefing, I’m pretty sure they said no penetration, and beware of fire coral. I had enough time to take a picture of the bow of the wreck with the tug’s name, then it was time to go. Probably less than three minutes on the second wreck.

Then we sped back across the sand toward our dive boat. Everyone arranged themselves at or near 15 feet for the safety stop.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

What to Do About Dropped Weights

Near the end of the stop, someone noticed a dive belt 25 feet below us. He swam down and tried to lift it, bringing it up a bit. The dive master swam down and grabbed it, attempting to use his bc to lift it.

This would have been the time to have his eyes on the divers getting back o the boat. There was one woman with a bc far too large for her; it fell off her shoulders and reached her legs. Her wetsuit bunched at her ankles, with extra folds everywhere. She had a hard time getting off the boat; I imagined getting back onboard would be even more difficult for her.

Topsides, my dive partner did mention to the dive master that using a bc as a lift bag might not be a great idea. Instead of agreeing, he said he dives this spot all the time, and shrugged it off. Sometimes the divers have more experience than the dive masters.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Back on Board

Once we got back on board, we worked on warming up and breaking down our gear. Another short ride, and we were back on land.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Return Ride Much Milder

Our return shuttle trip with Vernon was much smoother. In his airline pilot voice, he narrated the areas we passed through and gave us history and background information.

His driving was smooth and calm. He even offered to drop us at Fish Fry for some conch salad and cracked conch. We were ready for some hot tub time, showers, and dinner.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Back to Our Newest Diver After Dive One

So, back to post-dive one. The newest member of our dive group looked chilly to me. I touched her arm to gauge her temperature and see if she was shaking – she shivered visibly, with goosebumps, and looking very pale.

Quickly, I got a beach towel to wrap her legs in, a fleece jacket over her core, and a rain parka over that to cut the wind. I got several cups of water for her, anticipating some upcoming “dehydration event” and grabbed the highest calorie protein bar I had. She ate about half.

The I made sure she rested on the fulcrum of the boat. That is because the midline fore and aft moves the least. She was in the sun and in a safe position to empty her stomach if needed. In my captain work, I’ve seen a lot of seasicknesses and I know what to do. I encouraged her to get out of her wetsuit as soon as she could and stay in the sun and out of the wind.

We headed for our second dive. Her dive partner had only a little over a half tank. So, he surfaced after about six minutes of diving and took care of her from there. She did get out of her wetsuit, and she did throw up a couple times, and reported feeling slightly better afterward. She was still pale when we surfaced, but no longer shaking. I encouraged her to drink more water.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

That 20/20 Hindsight

Why did our newest dive friend get sick? We can’t learn how to prevent unpleasant experiences unless we think over what went wrong so we can avoid those situations in the future.

Several factors probably added up to form the perfect situation. First of all, we were on a cruise. That means more caffeine, more salt, more sugar intake than normal. Also, richer foods, less sleep, and already tired from traveling the day before and staying up later than usual.

Next factors were the car sickness from filling out forms from a rear seat while bracing for erratic driving. Then nervousness about unfamiliar gear. We did hold a briefing of hand signals to give her some feeling of control. Also, she’d been given the idea that her shortie wetsuit was insufficient, so that was on her mind.

On the Boat

Going through four tanks certainly did her in, with the added stress of the noise of the two O-rings failing. Having her dive partner also go through a tank or two before the dive probably added to her stress.

The dive itself might have provided a bit of nerves. She reported breathing heavily at first, then settling down. Also, she said seeing the sharks was a small bit concerning. I noticed her flailing about a bit while swimming; later she said she thought she was overweighted. That’s definitely possible. She might have used up a great deal of body heat with heightened breathing and movement.

I think if the erratic driving, and writing while driving had been eliminated and she was put in the front seat, she would have arrived to the dive shop in better shape. The scuffle to find tanks for her and her partner definitely did her in. Had she not dealt with that, I think she could have overcome.

O-rings and empty tanks should not have even been a factor on this dive. With ten divers, there was enough room for six tanks per person.

The day was chilly at the outset. However, she had dressed in a fleece jacket and leggings, so she didn’t pre-chill before the dive, which is a good thing.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Training for Life’s Experiences

Bill and I are both thankful we took the Crisis Medicine Tactical Casualty Care Course with code “DeepWH” you save 20% on the TC2 course, which I highly recommend.

You need more than basic First Aid when you are far from help, as you are when Scuba diving or even working in your yard with a chainsaw. A human can bleed out within four minutes; faster than rescue can reach you. Learn how to use a tourniquet. Get training. Someone’s life might depend on it.

Purchase tourniquets from reputable companies, like North American Rescue. Right now, you can get the CAT tourniquets we keep close-by in the Bleeding Control Kits we carry. Use code “MAY25” for 20% off all community preparedness products through midnight on 5/31/20. This is a huge savings; so take advantage!

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Bleeding Control Kits

MyMedic also features Individual Bleeding Control Kits, this link and my code “KimW” will save you 10% on your purchase. You should bring one everywhere! We do… It’s better to be prepared than to be unprepared. You can spot our kits sometimes in our videos and photos – either strapped to a vehicle headrest, or lying close by within arm’s reach.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen!

All products that touch your body work their way into our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. Many vacation destinations will not allow toxic sunscreens; use the only one tested and proven reef safe.

Use my code “DeepWH” for 10% off at Stream2Sea on SPF 20 or 30 mineral, regular or tinted sunscreen, mask defog, shampoo, conditioner, rash guards and more reef-safe supplies. This season, they have added hand sanitizer (no discount – it’s paying the bills) to their line! Order fast! • AD: affiliate links used.

Disclosure – I did email this entire article to Stuart Cove’s a couple months ago. This was because I felt if I was a small business owner or manager, and something didn’t go well for a customer, I would want to know. If I didn’t know; I would not have the opportunity to correct the problem. So, I told them this as well. As of May, I haven’t heard back from them. Of course, this could be due to the Covid-19 disruption in business too.

Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove's, Scuba Diving With Stuart Cove’s // Second Time Around // Lessons Learned // Dive Operator Review

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