Archive for June, 2008

Dive report: the Black Bart wreck in Panama City

June 28th, 2008 | Category: scuba

My scubaboard buddy “Trucker Girl” and myself had planned a dive in Panama City. She was there on vacation, myself on business. We busily chattered electronically, getting excited about what a cool 3-tank dive we’d have, but thunderstorms changed our plans. Our carefully assembled dive charter dissolved before our eyes early that Sunday. Still, frantic planning along with some first-class work by Trucker Girl saved the day, and a night dive was shoehorned in at the end of the week. TG is a gem; she found a dive and rounded up equipment for me, all while I was busy working and out of cell phone range. She even returned my equipment the next day – I am truly fortunate to have had such a great dive buddy! I rented my gear from Diver’s Den, which is a great shop and I’ll use them next time I’m in PC.

We ended up with Captain Rod of wreck raiders. The charter was great – Rod was very relaxed, easy to work with, and friendly. The pals he rounded up to fill the boat were great too. Unfortunately, the water was a little rough. Not as bad as some trips I’ve been on, but enough to make some of us a little ill. I was surprised that I managed to make it through without too much trouble – usually I am the canary in the coal mine, but I only felt a little queasy. The trip out was great, I loved the warm air and the exhilirating run out to the wreck. The bart is only 15 minutes away from Panama City Beach, where most dive operations have their boats.

Now a lot of people have waxed poetic about how much life is on this wreck. Many others have complained that this site is over-visited. Both are probably correct, but I experienced nether of these things. When we arrived at 8pm or so, we were the only boat there. Our first dive was at dusk; ambient light was minimal. A thermocline at 38 feet was rather startling; the balmy air and surface temperatures had made me complacent and my 3mm suit was barely sufficient. The main deck of the bart sits at about 80 feet, which was a little deeper than I’d planned to go that day. Worst of all, there wasn’t much life there. A few sluggish fish hovered laconically about the wreck, but not much to write home about. Worried about the unplanned depth (I was using tables that day) and the cold, combined with the low light conditions, I was too preoccupied to fully enjoy myself. I took a few crappy pictures and thought, “well, the second tank will be better.”

Returning to the surface was the best part. Hovering on the line at 20 feet in complete darkness, we basked in the warm water above the thermocline and enjoyed the phosphorescent animals floating in the water column. Agitating the water with our hands or fins, we’d see what looked like grains of glowing sand briefly flare up and then disappear. Hydroids, jellyfish, other invertebrates and lots of eggs encased in strips of clear mucus drifted by. At the outer limit of our flashlights, a good-sized barracuda hovered threateningly, like a shady character in a bad neighborhood. I wanted to take some pictures but was feeling a little seasick; hanging on the line, we felt all the motion of the boat on the surface. The darkness can be disorienting, as with no point of reference, you lose track of up/down/size/place.  Not good for the queasy.  I kept TG and the surface line in view, which helped to calm my uneasy limbic system.  Note to self for the future: plan a night dive with the goal of hanging on a line just to take pictures of the “night life.”

The 55 minute surface interval was a trial because of the swells. Eager to get back in the water, where I knew I’d feel better, I splashed without my weight belt. I didn’t figure this out until I’d struggled down to the wreck, desperately trying to understand why my legs kept floating over my head. Eventually, upside down, floating upwards like a cork and not having much fun, I felt at my waist… and found nothing. Idiot! I called the dive. TG, cold and miserable – although unlike me, properly weighted – eagerly agreed. Up we went. Another couple of minutes on the line, and then the struggle to get on the pitching boat. I was glad it was over, but also glad for the experience. I clearly need more practice, but will use this experience to improve future dives. Do a checklist in your head, or have your buddy check you out! On the crowded and busy dive boat, with everyone struggling to gear up and get out, it’s easy to overlook something like this. Having unfamiliar rental gear also makes this more likely.

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Restaurants in Panama City

June 28th, 2008 | Category: Travel

I like to keep track of food options where I’ve traveled. I’m going to start doing that here, so I can look it up if I come back.

Prior to coming to Panama City, I’d heard that it was a food wasteland. I can certainly understand how that reputation came to be, but of course there are some good places here. There’s a lot of good seafood.

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Field tests are fun

June 25th, 2008 | Category: Travel

My colleague Keith & myself, being gainfully employed, were obligated to undertake this assignment.  We toughed it out on the beach, watching the F-15s, 16s, and F-22s fly in and out of Tyndall, giving us fantastic low-altitude views.  Long periods of quiet were broken only by bird sounds and the sound of the waves and occasional communications with the test crews out on boats.  When not too busy, we mucked around in the water, which was almost uncomfortably warm.

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OK, we really did work hard, and for much of the week we were shuttling back and forth in traffic and working in buildings.  But I’ve got to say, I prefer it to the home office!

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St. Andrews Park Jetty dive report

June 22nd, 2008 | Category: scuba

St. Andrews Park is a state park planted on the west side of the narrow mouth of St. Andrew’s bay in Panama City, Florida. The dive site is at a beach protected by a crescent-shaped jetty of boulders that reduce sand erosion. The jetty creates a shallow bowl of beautiful, warm water. A low spot guarded by a floating barrier (visible in the picture) creates a perfect spot for divers to swim over the jetty in order to get to the good places. The shore facilities are ideal, with several roofed picnic pavilions and even a convenience store. Large crowds can be found here, specially on weekends. Most divers staggered their entry in order avoid crowding on the bottom.

The channel side of the jetty forms a wall a couple hundred yards long with depths ranging from 10 to 60 feet. The jumbled rocks are a perfect natural reef with tons of hiding places for the animals. Although there is plenty to see even if just snorkeling on the beach side, the real action is on the channel side.

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Local law mandates the use of diver flags, so if you come here, make sure you have a floating “diver down” flag and plenty of line. The bottom temperature was 79 degrees, and the best time to dive is an hour or two before high tide, when the water coming in from the ocean creates better visibility, and the slackening current makes for easy swimming. You can certainly dive during the ebb, as I did during my second dive, but the visibility and current will make the dive much less fun. On the first dive, visibility was about 20 feet, but on the second, it was often less than 10.

I was in Panama City on business, and didn’t have a dive buddy, so I rented what needed and just showed up, hoping to find an insta-buddy. I ended up running into the aqua-nuts dive club, who were the nicest bunch of folks! Not only did they provide a dive buddy (Mike) but they even gave me lunch. Mike went above and beyond the call of duty, being patient enough to wait for me – a total stranger – while I got my gear together. He even waited for me to drive to the dive shop to grab a second tank from Diver’s Den, right up the road from the park (round trip: 25 minutes). Now that’s hospitality. Thanks to Mike, and to all of the gracious people in the club!

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Local color

June 20th, 2008 | Category: Travel

I’m in Panama City, Florida, on a business trip. I love going to different places and looking at the mundane local businesses – they tell you a lot about how people think. One thing that delights me is the way that people use chickens in advertising.

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I had time to take a nice walk on the beach and see the sunset.

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The chick has fledged!

June 20th, 2008 | Category: animals

Yesterday I thought “boy that chick is getting big, I should take another photo before it’s gone.” So I grabbed the camera and went outside… and the nest was empty! Too late. No signs of predation, I can only assume it used the impressive new wing primaries and that stubby little tail to fly away.

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The growing chick

June 14th, 2008 | Category: animals

The remaining chick is getting pretty big. It has feathers and its beak has changed from a tiny little chick beak into a real finch grosbeak, although it still has the yellow trim of a young bird. I never see the mother anymore, but she must be around, becuse this chick is thriving. I do hear her distinctive call in the yard, but once it got hot outside and/or the chick got big enough, she stopped spending time on the nest.

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All is not well in the nest

June 04th, 2008 | Category: animals

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There used to be three; now there is only one. Where did they go? I don’t see any corpses around… A few weeks ago an egg was thrown over the side; now another has been tossed. Only the hen knows why. The remaining chick is much larger than it was before; maybe it will make it.

We’ve been having high winds here lately so we’ve reinforced the nest fixture with duct tape and hooks so that it won’t get blown away.

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