Revillagigedo Archipelago Dive Log – Day 2

After our last dive on “The Canyon”, we began steaming to Socorro Island. I can’t say exactly when we arrived because I was sleeping, but I seem to remember that the journey took around ten hours. Our dive site for the day was called “Puntatosca“, which was basically a series underwater lava flows that took the shape of walls. All the small details of the site are too numerous to write about, but by clicking on the little image of the whiteboard to left, you can see Sten’s masterful rendition of the site’s topography.

Actually, while on the topic of Dive-master Sten, I should say that I have never in my life experienced such detailed and thorough dive briefings. A tall and very quick-witted Sweed, Sten’s briefings were hilarious and entertaining on top of being incredibly informative!

Our first dive involved tediously pulling ourselves down the shotline against a very strong and troublesome current. Normally this would make for a difficult and disappointing dive, but in this case an incredibly friendly dolphin decided to join us as we pulled ourselves against the current. Mockingly demonstrating how easy it was for him to swim against the strong current, the dolphin situated himself next to us on the line, blowing the occasional bubble from his blow-hole, and practically begging us to touch him.

Now, of course, finding such a friendly and interactive dolphin is somewhat of a dream come true for many divers, and as the dolphin flirted with us, the already crowded and chaotic shotline became a sort of underwater trainwreck with divers packed tightly against each other. Being the big baby that I am, I admit to having some concern that my rebreather would get scratched or dinged, but it escaped unscathed, and I was forever grateful to have had such a wonderful encounter with this amazing creature.

The dolphin followed us to the bottom where the lava flows provided some protection from the strong current, but the surge was still quite strong. Rich and I followed the wall out to a maximum depth of 100 feet, where we found the surge to have let up quite a lot. We did not stick with the larger group, but they reported that they saw a group of Hammerhead Sharks. The entire dive lasted 45 minuets.

The second dive of the day did not feature such a flourish of wildlife as the first, but at a maximum depth of 140 feet it was my deepest dive yet on the Meg. I decided to do this dive alone, and descended to the bottom of the wall with the hopes of finding some sharks. in the end, however, I only managed to find a large yellow Tuna, and a lobster. I enjoyed the dive greatly though, and spent an entire hour exploring lava flows and looking into the blue beyond the wall.

The third dive of the day was much the same as the second, although we saw some large Silky Sharks. I did not descend to the bottom of the wall this time, choosing instead to swim about 20 feet above the sandy bottom at a maximum depth of 120 feet. I exited the water after 45 minuets, and decided to change out my scrubber material and skip the last dive of the say. That night we pulled anchor and headed off to Roca Partida, the smallest of the Revillagigedo Archipelago.

Revillagigedo Archipelago Dive Log – Day 1

Our first day of diving at the Socorro Islands was was on the northernmost island of San Benidicto at a dive site called “The Canyon“. This site was chosen because of its general lack of swell and current, and was to serve as a warmup to the more challenging conditions to come. We were told this particular place had the potential of being either among the best sites we would visit or the worst. Some friends that had been to the islands before mentioned that they had not enjoyed their dives at this site very much, but we were lucky enough to see a giant Manta Ray that was the friendliest we would encounter for many days to come.

My first dive at The Canyon was enjoyable, but never having used my rebreather with anything other than a drysuit, I was unsure how much weight I would need with my new 5mm wetsuit, and the 12 pounds I added made me grossly over weighted. I also experienced trouble sealing the membrane between my nose and throat, so I was constantly, albeit slightly, breathing in and out through my nose. This effectively resulted in me drinking whatever saltwater came into my mask, giving me a burning sensation in my sinuses and a queasy feeling in my stomach.

Not much worse for the wear, however, I stayed down for 35 minutes and descended to a maximum depth of 90 feet, but did not get to see the group of Hammerhead Sharks that my buddy Rich saw. All in all, it was a great shakeout dive, and seeing the Manta was a real treat. It was clear, however, that I would need to remove quite a lot of weight from my rig.

The second dive was much better, although we did not see any Mantas. My nasal membrane sealed up much better, though not perfectly, and the 6 pounds of weight I had removed resulted in much better trim. I descended the wall to a maximum depth of 120 feet, where we encountered a fairly large group of White Tip Reef Sharks. We stayed there for a while to watch them, but decided to head back after we had incurred about five minuets of decompression obligation. On the way back to the shot line, we saw a large Stingray, and a couple of Moray Eels. The entire dive lasted 45 minuets.

The third and final dive of the day was much the same as the second. By this time I had removed all the weight from my rig, and found that it was trimming out perfectly. We descended to a maximum depth of 100 feet, and encountered a group Silver Tip Reef Sharks. I had been struggling all day with finding a way to use my new Jet fins, but even diving with sneakers on, I found that my right, big toe was killing me on this dive. The problem was that fins were sized for my DUI rock boots, and both the wetsuit boots and sneakers moved around too much inside them. After this dive, I decided I would switch to my Scubapro Twin Jet fins. I only stayed down for 35 minuets on this dive because I was getting tired and my toe was hurting so much. It was a great dive though, and I was looking forward to getting some sleep and diving the next day.

Revillagigedo Archipelago Expedition

I’ve just returned from diving at the Revillagigedo Archipelago, also known as the Socorro Islands. This small and widely distributed Pacific island chain lies about 250 nautical miles southwest off the tip of the Baja California peninsula at roughly 18° N 112° W. Known for their unique ecosystem, these islands are sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Galapagos”, serving as hosts to a number of plant and animal species that are found no place else on Earth. Under threat from exotic species, the Mexican government established the islands as a Biosphere Reserve on June 4, 1994 in an effort to protect this natural treasure.

Because of the extremely remote location, only a select few dive boats are even capable of running trips to the Revillagigedo Archipelago, and of these, only two have been granted the licensees required to do so; the Nautilus Explorer and the Solmar 5. Our trip was on the Nautilus Explorer.

While we spent a total of nine nights and seven days aboard the Nautilus, it takes about 24 hours to reach the Northern most island of San Benedicto, meaning that two full days and nights must be spent at sea. This left us with five days of intense diving, usually making four dives per day, and sometimes even snorkeling with the sharks at night. Needless to say everyone slept very well at night!

The diving at these islands is really quite nice. The water temperature was running about 70 degrees F, which matched up perfectly with the 5mm wet-suit I brought with me. While the deepest dive I made was only 160 feet, I chose to dive my Megalodon rebbreather on all the dives except those on Roca Partida, which had so much surge and swell that maintaining counterlung volume became very difficult in water shallower than 30 feet.

The biggest draw to the Revillagigedo Archipelago is, of course the giant Manta rays, but for me the sharks were perhaps the most interesting. We saw countless White and Silver tip Reef Sharks, and Hammerheads were also quite common. The divemasters commented frequently that the Mantas were much more friendly in on prior trips, but a few did allow us to interact with them. For me, the most memorable experience of the trip was a very friendly Bottlenose Dolphin that swam up to me and practically begged me to pet it.

Again, because of the remoteness of the location, as well as the cost of helium in Mexico we did not make this a technical diving expedition. While there were a number of times I desperately wanted to descend below 200 feet, this trip served as a great opportunity for me to really put some hours on my rebreather, and get myself geared up for some more aggressive diving in the coming season. I find that every dive I am trusting the CCR technology more and more, and diving the unit is starting to become second nature.

Stay tuned. In the coming days I will write about each of the dive sites we visited, and the animals we saw there.

Revillagigedo Archipelago Facts

Island (Alternate Name) Length by
width (km)
Area (km²) Highest Peak (m)
Inner Islands (UTC-7, Mountain Time)
San Benedicto (San Tomás) 4.315 by 2.490 5.94 Bárcena (310)
Socorro 16.813 by 15.629 132.06 Mount Evermann (1130)
Roca Partida 0.246 by 0.073 0.014 (34)
(Outer Island) (UTC-8, Pacific Time Zone)
Clarión (Santa Rosa) 8.544 by 3.686 19.80 Monte Gallegos (335)
Revilla Gigedo Islands 420 by 115 157.81 Mount (Cerro) Evermann (1130)

“Titanbox” Titanium Frame For the Inspiration Rebreather

The Inspiration and Evolution rebreathers from AP Diving are really good rigs, but the design of their housing and harness systems have always limited the flexibility of the units to a degree. The housings are quite fragile, and because they do not use a metal backplate, clipping in side-mounts always seems to be more of a struggle than it’s worth. Top it all off with the fact that housing and harness are quite large and difficult to travel with, and you can conclude pretty quickly that there is a lot of room for improvement in the way the rebreather is attached to the diver.

Indeed, a number of enterprising divers have totally re-invented the housing and harness system. Janwillem Bech’s Travelframe is a good example of this type of innovation. It allows the entire rebreather to fit into a carry on bag, and adapts it to a Hogarthian backplate and harness system, making the use of side-mounts much much easier.

The latest in the series of these custom-made Inspiration / Evolution frame systems is called the Titanbox, and it is truly a work of art! Designer Michael Hearn at Dive Designs must be a master craftsman because the his frame is not only very well built, but absolutely beautiful as well. Hearn writes:

When I started diving the Inspiration rebreather a few years ago, I noticed the original case of the inspiration is limited when it comes to use bigger cylinders or attaching extra accessories such as battery’s.

As I was searching the web and dive shows for a scrubber assembly case, I never found what I was looking for.

So I decided to design and built my own case in one of the most indestructible, non corrosive and affordable metals of all: titanium. As titanium is very expensive and difficult to work with, I also built a hard anodized aluminium version.

He is offering them for sale, but as one might expect in the world of rebreathers, they don’t come cheap. The titanium model can be had for just under $2,000, while the allumnium version comes in at a little under $800.00. As far as I can tell it’s worth every penny though if you have an inspiration. I know I’d have my order in if I’d gotten one instead of my Meg.

Well done!

More info and tons of pictures can be found at Michael’s website.

Hat Tip:

Gas Blending System

With the help of my friend in Reno, I was finally able to get my gas blending system together and working. This system will allow me to connect nearly any type of industrial gas cylinder to any type of SCUBA or medical oxygen tank. I can even connect it up directly to banks of 4500 PSI air.

When building these systems, many people decide to incorporate quick disconnects at the supply side to facilitate quick changes in gas for making custom blends. This allows for the adaptor to stay connected to the industrial gas cylinder, while making it easy to move the whip from gas to gas. This is a great design in theory, but these connectors tend to develop leaks over time, which can be frustrating and costly, especially when working with helium.

In order to maintain the flexibility of quick disconnects without the problem of leaky connections, Keith had the brilliant idea to standardize the entire system on SCUBA DIN connectors. This makes switching source gas nearly as easy, but results in a much more solid and leak-proof connection. A male DIN connector is at each end of the fill whip, and all bulk cylinder adaptors have a female DIN connector on the whip side. Connecting up your source gas becomes as easy as screwing in your SCUBA first stage.

In the interest of being thorough, I decided to get the system with just about every type of cylinder adaptor imaginable. For the time being, I really only plan on doing transfils from industrial gas cylinders for my gas blending, but at some point I may decide to hook it up to a booster. My rebreather tanks are only 20 cf, so I can’t really justify the cost at the moment, but if I ever start making TRIMIX in anything larger, I will have to invest in some type of booster to make the helium go further.

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Don’t Swear Into Helium

Everyone likes Richard Pyle, and we all wish we had is uber sweet CIS Lunar rebreather, but I have to say this video of him down below 100M swearing like a sailer in that Donald Duck voice that you get with a larynx full of helium is pretty darn funny!

The cool thing about rebreathers is that you can talk into them, and people can understand you. Sure, if sounds like you have a mouth full of rubber (which you do), but you can still be understood. I’m guessing that these guys found a pretty serious thermocline, and the water got a great deal colder than they anticipated.

Pyle is clearly disturbed by this unfortunate turn of events, and spends quite a lot of time swearing and complaining about the cold water. I guess we can’t really blame him for not piling on the thermal protection though. He was, after all off Christmas Island in the Central Pacific Ocean. It’s only five degrease north of the equator, so the water should, in theory, be pretty warm.

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Gas Blending Disaster

I will never suggest that a person refrain from messing around with something because it is dangerous. I have always held the belief that given proper respect for the lives of those around them, people should be left free to do their best, or worse as the case may be.

That being said, this article about a diver who, while filling scuba tanks, more or less burned his house down with an oxygen fire really shows us why it is important to be careful when handling high pressure oxygen.

I guess this guy was blending NITROX and the line caught fire. He wasn’t able to get the tank shut down before the whole place went up in flames. From what the article tells us, he was blending the gas himself because he didn’t hold a cert for it, and couldn’t buy it at dive shops. I guess he’d also been known to boost steel tanks up to 4500 psi with pure oxygen.

There are a lot of people out there holding this as an example of why nobody should be blending their own gas. I think this mindset is ridiculous! I frequently blend my own NITROX and TRIMIX, but I’m constantly mindful about the presence of hydrocarbons and adiabatic heating. I can’t say I would boost pure oxygen to 4500 psi, but there is absolutely no reason that divers can’t safely handle high pressure oxygen and blend their own gasses.

Oxygen Fire

Oxygen Fire