Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2011-2012

Happy New Year from the Cap'n and krewe (and, of course, Admiral Ronnie!) of the Zombie Princess!

We're having our usual New Year's Eve party for the cousins. Amusingly, our own daughters are old enough now that they're going to their own party and Ronnie and I will be ringing in the new year with just the younger cousins and without our own daughters. What's wrong with this picture? (grin)

My best wishes to you and yours for the coming year. As for me,

Shiny! Let's be bad guys! Or big damn heroes! Or both and let history be the final arbiter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Defending unschooling

Our fabulous girls are 19 and 17 and we’ve been unschooling for quite a while now, not their entire lives, but quite a while. I’ve never really been one who wanted to discuss unschooling very much. I’m only on a couple of online groups and I rarely say much on those. I go to conferences and enjoy the experience immensely but I’ve never given a talk at one. I appreciate the fact that Ronnie interacts broadly and honestly with people about our lives and I’m willing to rest on her laurels. Thank you, my nonpareil wife!

There are also those long-time voices of unschooling, both online and IRL, who do such a thorough job of explaining, defining, and defending unschooling that they free me to just be an unschooler without having to spend my time discussing it. When someone wants to engage me in a prolonged discourse about educational philosophy, I just direct them to a couple of unschooling websites and go on about my merry way. I greatly appreciate the efforts of those who’ve BTDT for all those many years and made their efforts available to the proletariat (for free).

With our girls at peri-adulthood, I have my own internal, intuitive knowledge of their journey through learning in the wide, wide world. Part of that journey has been in parallel with and/or in congruence with other unschooling families of older teens and young adults and I see the same thing with those lovely people. These are exquisite human beings who make the world a better place just by virtue of their existence and who, I’m sure, will continue to do so throughout their lives. It has been a privilege to call them my friends.

So, when I see people asking those tired, old questions about homeschooling/unschooling, I just kinda shake my head and don’t understand why they just don’t get it. Of course, intellectually, I understand that I “get it” because I’ve lived it for all these years, day by day, week by week, year by year, adventure by adventure and they are speaking from their experience, which is completely different than mine, and from what they see or read about unschooling, which can be awfully misleading. Take, for example, what I saw recently on an unschooling site, which is the thing which prompted me to write this post.

The poster wrote this as his self-introduction:
i'm the father of 3 beautifol girls they are all home schooled [name] (7) and [name] (9) still sleep in cribs bottle feed and none of them are potty trained me and my wife never seen the need for it they are adorable runing around in their diapers [sic]

He then posted this:
hi my name is [deleted] and i'm a member please check out my page and coment on how i'm raising my children i'll let you know this our children are 7, 9, 14 years old and not potty trained me and my wife both decided never to potty train them they are more obediant thin other children there age if more parents kept their kids in diapers there would be less teen pregancy teen drug use exc [sic]

I read those posts and thought about a normal person reading it. Normal being someone who works hard at his job and pays to send his kids to a private school so they’ll get a good education, etc. Culturally indoctrinated, and I don’t necessarily mean that pejoratively. I further imagine Abby Normal reading that and thinking that it’s on an unschooling site and it is, therefore, something that all unschoolers believe in and do. Thinking about that, I feel less snarky about Abby asking the “same old” questions about unschooling. So, I’ll come out of my typical lurker mode to respond to Abby or anyone who wonders if that is how all unschoolers live.

Speaking only for my family and me, our girls did not and do not sleep in cribs; we coslept when they were younger and they got their own rooms when they wanted a private space. They were breast-fed, not bottle-fed. We did not actively pottytrain them but they were both out of diapers before their teen years… well before their teen years. Our girls are absolutely not obedient, or even “obediant,” and we’re very happy about that. As for sex and drugs (and I presume rock’n’roll), I like all three and I leave it to you to decide for yourself whether you do or not.

Make no mistake, leaving kids in diapers into their teens is not an official unschooling position. You can read about actual, practical, real-world unschooling here and here for starters. For a little sci-fi short story combined with my take on unschooling and other educational philosophies, go to my post from Christmas ’08 here.

I hope you had a wonderful 2011 and that 2012 will be even better!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Do your best!

He tried to do his best
But he could not.
Neil Young – Tired Eyes

“Just do your best.”
“I give 100% (or, illogically but enthusiastically, 110% or 1000%) every day.”
“I tried my best.”
“Leave it all on the field.”
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” -Henry “Red” Sanders

For some reason, I've been thinking about percentages lately. This ideal has been chewing my ass forever. I took it to heart as a child and have only recovered from it (a little) at an intellectual level; I still feel it at my core. Confession: I do not give 100% every day, in the way that those exhortations imply. Maybe I should state that “in the way that I hear these aphorisms”; but I think I’m hearing exactly what they mean. If you have any tendency toward self-doubt, or maybe even merely introspection, isn’t there always the opportunity to question your total commitment? Did I really give a full 100% to that effort? Isn’t there something I could have done… Better? Faster? Cleaner? Prettier? More? Whatever?

“Do you best.“ is not an exhortation, it’s an order, with an implied consequence for failure to do so.

As always, I only speak knowledgeably from myself and of myself, but I’ve known a lotta other guys over the years and I’m gonna bravely generalize from that experience and a Bergsonian intuition, ok? American boys/men are indoctrinated from their earliest age that life is a competition and ya gotta win, presumably by doing your best and giving 100%. The inescapable lemma of that is that you’re competing against others and the way to win is to beat them. They must lose. The very definition of a zero-sum game.

Happily, I got over that particular belief early on. I was never very comfortable with the zero-sum model for human interactions and I was smugly pleased with myself for not being suckered into an endless nightmare life of feeling eternally competed against in all aspects of my existence with the consequence of being the LOSER if I wasn’t the winner. That shit wears ya down. However, the competition model I did hold onto is competition with myself. Well, the “myself” which is actually the demon I allowed to possess me, lo!, those many years ago, the demon whose name is Legion and whose cognomen is (Asinine) Culturally Imposed Beliefs.

A while back I did a post where I referenced my delight with myself for being less interested in defeating my opponent than in bettering my own skills, in the example/metaphor of a tennis game. How superior and enlightened of me. Well, maybe. At a simplistic level, anyway. But let’s dissect that a bit.

In that post I said:
I'm rushing the net. My opponent just made a poor return which is floating toward me and which I can do anything I want with. I can choose to make the high-percentage put-away shot, which I can make 99 times out of 100 and which will certainly win me the point, game, set, or even match. It's the sure winner. Or I can try for the high-skill shot, the difficult one which I make maybe 30 times out of 100, the shot which challenges me but which doesn't really benefit my score in the game. Quite the opposite, by trying that shot, I have a 70% chance of giving away a sure point.

If the important thing to me is winning this particular game or, more generally, playing the game with an overall philosophy that winning is the most important part of the game to me, then I'll probably choose the 99% sure shot. However, if my philosophy is more inclined toward challenging myself rather than being concerned with a particular outcome of a particular game, then I'm thinking about trying the low-percentage shot.


Perhaps this is merely the ultimate egotistical version of “Do your best.” Is it possible that what I’m really saying here is that my opponent is so far beneath my level that he’s not really a factor in my game? He’s no more important or meaningful than a practice wall or ball machine. The true competition is against me, the incredible, transcendental, striving-for-perfection demigod incarnate, Frank the Nonpareil, Emperor of Eternity, Imperator of Infinity. Ave, Franko, morituri te salutamus!

In that context, I’m even more of an indoctrinated prole than the guy who follows “Do your best.” to the point of besting his opponents and stopping there. When he’s accomplished that, he can take a well-deserved rest and kick back with a beer and an entertaining football game on the tv, feeling like a winner. The competition against the self is literally eternal and infinite. It’s worse than a zero-sum game. It is the Kobayashi Maru of the soul.

I dislike that idea very much.

Come to think of it, speaking in populist postulates, why throw the baby out with the bathwater? When I wasn’t writing about tennis, I once wrote about perception. In that post, I wisely stated there that perception is everything. Everything. Is competing against myself necessarily a “bad” thing or is it just the psychological baggage I impose on it which makes it something it actually isn’t at its root? For the sake of my own sanity, and peace in my troubled soul, I choose to believe that striving to increase my personal body of knowledge/skills is not congruent with merciless competition against my (inadequate) present self to create a perfected future me.

Many of my friends have written lovely posts about being kind to yourself, as kind as you would be to a cherished friend. That’s something which I, again, accept intellectually, but have never really internalized. I can easily and happily do that for others but it’s difficult to do that for myself.

Maybe it’s as simple as that. If I choose to try/do something to stretch myself simply for its own sake, that’s not only ok, it’s delightful. If I feel compelled to compete against myself mercilessly and endlessly, that’s not the same thing and it’s not a pleasant way to live. I can choose to live happily with myself rather than always living in competition with my current self.

Today, I will NOT do my best or give 100%. Or maybe I will. If I feel like it. But I refuse to feel pressured to do so, especially at unrealistic levels.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The faces of Chloe

Little Chloe snuggled with Ronnie.

Chloe's official camera smile when she was younger.

Chloe playing some bass (not her bass, Cornelius, but the one that lives there) with the Basement Boys.

When she was little, we sometimes called her "ti rouge." She's very red here.

Chloe and her pal Qacei ready to take the time machine back to the 80s.

Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

She no longer needs braces

That's not just a metaphor but it is also a metaphor.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Marjorie. She was usually called Marjie but sometimes she was know as Iggie.

She grew.

And grew.

She tried school. It wasn't a great fit.

She leapt into life with unbridled enthusiasm.

She had many adventures.

One day, she decided she wanted to be MJ, rather than Marjorie, and have some holes in her nose.

She had more adventures, including a nice visit to Europe.

And one day, she decided she needed some braces.

Then one day, she no longer needed them.

But in the Duchy of Metaphor, if you ever want some (more) bracing, of any kind, smallish or largeish, the Duke of Metaphor (aka yer dad, sometimes known as me) is always reachable and ready to assist. And the Duke is a stone-cold, awesome genius, yo! He can figure shit out like a motherfucker! Remember dat!

I love you, my little MJ!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Really? Intellectually, I know some people are gullible and antiscience while relying on pseudoscience to legitimize their beliefs but this kinda shit drives me nuts.

Someone recently posted this chart on FB.

Direct comparison KIGGS study and (September 2011)

Damn! Sure looks like it's a LOT healthier to avoid vaccinations, doesn't it?

The original KiGGS study is abstracted at this site. I recommend reading the whole thing but I’ll quote some highlights here:

The lifetime prevalence of diseases preventable by vaccination was markedly higher in unvaccinated than in vaccinated subjects.

The prevalence of allergic diseases and non-specific infections in children and adolescents was not found to depend on vaccination status.

Protective vaccinations are among the most important and effective preventive measures in modern medicine.

The benefits, efficacy, and safety of protective vaccinations are widely scientifically proven.

Some parents—and doctors—fear that vaccinated children are protected against specific infections, but that their immune systems reacts less to non-specific diseases and that vaccinated children contract infections such as colds, bronchitis, or gastrointestinal infections more often than unvaccinated children. However, the KiGGS data did not show any notable differences in the numbers of infections.

Another fear associated with protective vaccinations is that they might possibly promote the development of allergies. The KiGGS data did not show statistically significant differences in the prevalence of atopic disorders in unvaccinated subjects compared with vaccinated subjects.

In recent years, a number of scientific articles were published investigating potential associations between vaccinations and allergies. In a review article by Bernsen et al. from 2006, which summarized study results about the association of diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccination, measles/mumps/rubella vaccination, and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccination with atopic disorders, the authors conclude that according to the available evidence, recommended protective vaccinations do not increase the risk of atopic disorders in children.

The current guideline for allergy prevention (as of March 2009) recommends vaccinations according to STIKO recommendations for children and adolescents with and without allergy risk.

In addition to atopic disorders, we further compared diseases—such as obstructive bronchitis, pneumonia and otitis media, heart disease, anemia, epilepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—in unvaccinated and vaccinated subjects. No relevant differences in the lifetime prevalences were found, neither for different age groups nor between girls and boys. SchneeweiƟ et al. conducted a comprehensive literature review of vaccine safety, the central part of which was the evaluation of vaccine critical arguments on the basis of the current state of scientific knowledge. None of the hypotheses were found to be valid.

The evaluation showed that vaccinated children and unvaccinated children differed substantially only in terms of the lifetime prevalence of vaccine preventable diseases; as is to be expected the risk of such diseases is notably lower in vaccinated subjects.

[End quotes from abstract of KiGGS study.]

Wow! That's kinda the opposite of what the graph shows, isn't it? It shows that there are significantly smaller values (lower incidence of illnesses and diseases) for nonvax kids than for vax kids but these statements quoted from the abstract say otherwise. What's up?

Yes, that’s certainly what the graph seems to indicate but if you read the label carefully, you’ll note that it says:

Direct comparison KIGGS study and (September 2011)

Let’s parse that.

The blue graph is the scientific study produced under rigorous conditions by KiGGS. It included vaccinated and unvaccinated children. The graph is their summary. The comparison results, and differentiation between vax and nonvax kids, are deciphered at that site I linked in ponderous, statistical detail.

The red graph is the compilation of voluntary parent comments from parents who subscribe to the beliefs of the website called This informal online survey, created by a rabid antivax site and populated by feedback from rabid antivax responders, is not only unscientific, it is antiscientific. And (Do I really need to say it?) worthless, fact-free, anecdotal crap.

To create the seemingly impressive graph at the beginning of this post, the ideologues at vaccineinjury simply took their anecdotal feedback from their true believers and stuck that alongside the actual, scientific KiGGS graph. Voila! Pseudoscience at its most heinous.


Vaccinate. Don't vaccinate. The choice is yours. But, please, whatever choice you make, do it on the basis of facts not woo-woo.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First approximation

In my post While we’re on the subject I talked about the difference between limiting and constricting knowledge into discrete “subjects” vs. accepting the reality that all knowledge and information is connected – somehow. Granted, the connection might be tenuous, to you, at this particular time, but at some other time, in some other circumstance, to someone else, it might be quite closely connected. Early in that post I referenced Eratosthenes and his ingenious – and simple – method for calculating the circumference of the earth 2200 years ago, with none of the resources we have today. Remembering Eratosthenes reminded me of another brilliant man whose life overlapped my own, rather than being from two millennia earlier, Enrico Fermi. If you’re not specifically familiar with him, you may recognize his name from the element named after him, fermium (Fm - element 100), or the fermion of quantum physics.

First, I’ll tell you the Fermi story which Eratosthenes’ story reminded me of, then I’ll fill in the how and why I wanna talk about it.

Fermi was one of the transcendental geniuses of his time who worked on the first atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project. All the lead-up calculations to the first test explosion were very blue-sky. They were even unsure of the order of magnitude they might be dealing with. AAMOF, there’s a story that prior to the explosion, Fermi was taking bets on whether or not it would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the entire universe, or at least the earth, maybe just New Mexico. (Yes, Fermi was a funny guy.) But that’s not the Fermi story I wanna tell. It’s this. Because they wanted to know just how much power they were producing, they set up lots and lots of sophisticated sensors and measurement devices to monitor the blast. It took quite a while after the explosion for the calculations to be completed but as the blast happened, Fermi dropped some torn-up pieces of paper and from their displacement, he quickly calculated it at about 10 kilotons.

Eventually, when the rigorous calculations were complete, the official measurement came out at around 18 kilotons. When your margin of error includes orders of magnitude, that’s incredibly precise, especially when your equipment is a torn sheet of paper vs. the most accurate, sophisticated, and expensive scientific instrumentation of the day.

Fermi was famous for his simple approach to any and all problems, even before his torn-paper A-bomb powerometer. He was so significantly know for this that nowadays it’s often called the Fermi method. You may have also heard this concept referred to as BOTE (back of the envelope) calculations, guesstimate, SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess), etc. The phrase I heard most often in my schooling was “first approximation,” thus the title of this post. Unfortunately, in popular culture, most of these phrases have lost the rigorousness and accuracy which the concept actually embodies. This is not something you pull out of your ass; if done properly, it should get you within striking distance of the ponderously-calculated answer.

Because the Manhattan project was a government/military project, a career officer named General Leslie Groves was placed in charge. In an unfortunate juxtaposition of personalities, Groves was a micromanaging, toe-the-line, precision-in-everything, engineering-mentality kinda guy. That’s not bad per se but most of the folks he was now in charge of were more, ummmnn, theoretical than that. Take the brilliant Leo Szliard who was responsible for many breakthroughs in this field. Leo did his best thinking in the bathtub or on long walks. To a guy like Groves, lying in the bathtub for half a day was not an effective use of time. Except, of course, that it was.

One of Groves’ first interactions with the scientists was when he watched them brainstorming in a room and throwing equations on the chalkboard as they talked. He was shocked to see that there was a (minor) mistake in one calculation and he was appalled that they shrugged it off when he pointed it out. Groves and Fermi had a number of interactions like this, based on their different approaches to life.

When I think about those personalities and interactions, I always see Groves as one (or several) of my math teachers. He’s the kind of guy who’d give you zero credit on a quiz or homework for making a simple mistake in your number manipulation when you had successfully defined the problem and attacked it with the proper solution. On an infinitely more significant playing field than a school math class, here were the greatest geniuses of the age, solving a problem which had never been addressed, which was possibly unsolvable, and his input to the process of saving the world from the NAZIs is to correct their arithmetic and complain about their undisciplined work habits.

The original code names for the two test bombs (two because they were experimenting with two different types of atomic bombs) were “Fat Man” and “Thin Man,” ostensibly for the Dashiell Hammett characters. “Thin Man” was later changed to “Little Boy” but “Fat Man” was retained. Despite the official explanation, scuttlebutt maintained that “Thin Man” was named for Oppenheimer and “Fat Man” was Groves, and the former was an homage but the latter was a studied insult, referring not only to Groves’ physicality but also to his fat-headedness.

One reason why we unschool, one of many reasons, each of which has its own significance, is that I hope my children will be free enough to be like Enrico Fermi or James Brown rather than Leslie Groves or Arnold Schoenberg. I know I somewhat emulate Szliard in my bathing habits and Chloe does, too. I guess that’s something.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

While we’re on the subject…

Yes, I’m doing a post on unschooling. Don’t get all wound up or anything; I won’t make a habit of it.

The subject of this post is subjects. What is a subject? What constitutes or limits or defines a subject vs. not-a-subject, more-than-a-subject, an ur-subject, a preter-subject, a super-subject, or real life? As a culture we are so used to the concept of curriculum dividing things into discrete subjects that we don’t stop to question the concept and we fall into that style of thinking pretty much by default. At the recent Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference 2011 in San Diego, a dad who said he’d been unschooling for 13 years stated that he felt the need to teach his 13-year-old daughter algebra and he was getting resistance in his house about it.

There are many unschooling-related posts I could write about that statement but here and now I’m gonna talk about *subjects*. The context of this man’s statement was clearly about sitting her down and doing algebraic formulae and cranking through textbooks/workbooks rather than *algebra* as a component of reality. Why limit algebra to such a dry and uninteresting, and useless, niche when it’s so much more than that?

Go out in the yard and build a shed or treehouse or something and figure out [HINT: There could be formulaic *algebra* involved!] how to cut the roof joists. For big fun, put a hip roof on that sucker. Based on your plan, determine how much of each kind of material you’ll need. Now, that’s algebra. Ya know what else is algebra?

We’ve had the following actual (approximately) conversations in our house.

Algebra, in the generally accepted (limited) sense of that word as a curriculum subject, is a way to discover something that’s unknown by using information which is known. For example, about 200 years B.C., Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth with great accuracy using some very simple measurements and calculating from them to determine the full circumference of the earth. (As an interesting addition, he also calculated the earth’s axial tilt, again, very accurately.) Now, a curriculum maven might put that in the subject of geometry. Fine, be that way. To me, it’s all of a piece and *algebra* includes the *history* (as well as other *subjects* which we’ll get to) of calculating unknowns, which in this case, I find pretty fucking amazing. That’s 2200 years ago. Without Googling it, can you think of a way to calculate the earth’s circumference just by being out and about in the world today? And old Eratosthenes had never even taken a class in algebra, or geometry, or calculus. Poor bastard didn’t even have a slide rule, much less a calculator, much less that wonderful series of tubes known affectionately as the interwebs.

A later conversation about *algebra* and history and Eratosthenes and faith vs. science and a whole bunch of other *subjects*, had us talking about Columbus. About 1700 years after Eratosthenes used straightforward, factual measurements to calculate the circumference of the earth, the religious fanatic Columbus decided against Eratosthenes’ conclusions because his Papally-vetted math used different values, which made the circumference much smaller than Eratosthenes’ original calculations (which were accurate), and his religious texts told him that the earth was 6 parts land to 1 part water. [N.B. As we now know, it’s more like 1 part land to 3 parts water.] Relying on these two incorrect axioms, Columbus concluded that he could reach Asia by sailing West and get there safely using the maritime technology available in his time. Why was Columbus so determined to ignore Eratosthenes’ calculations?

As we know from our study of *algebra* (or history or economics or politics or something), Portugal was the big dog in the Asia trade in those days. They were the guys who knew the sailing routes to Asia going East around the bottom of Africa. It was a long and perilous voyage but the payoff was huge and Portugal was fat and happy. The rest of Europe was jealous. They all wanted to have their own pipeline to the wealth of Asia. Columbus was one of many individuals, and governments, who wanted to cash in on that. Columbus finally got the Spanish monarchy to throw him a few bucks and some old boats. You can readily assume they figured it was a cheap investment. If he sailed into oblivion, no big loss; but if he actually made it, HUGE payoff.

See how interesting *algebra* is?

As we know, Columbus ran headlong into the Bahamas before he could get lost across the actual distance from Spain to China in sea miles if there were no landmass between the two. Columbus was extremely lucky in that the maritime technology of his time would not have gotten him across those distances and our current knowledge of *algebra* (or biology or medicine or something) informs us that they all would have died of scurvy even if their food and water and ships had lasted. Fascinating.

I love algebra!

And while we’re talking about the timeframe of 500ish years ago and sailors finding their way, one of the calculating aspects of algebra for them was limited by the lack of accurate time-keeping when determining longitude. The British government, for one, offered immense cash prizes for the invention of an accurate chronometer which would survive the rigors of a long sea voyage and allow navigators to determine a reasonably accurate value for their longitude. I guess that’s the political or financial part of *algebra*.

It’s probably time to do some algebraic calculations now, students. Problem #1: If the population of the Bahamas before Columbus was 40,000 and the Spanish took them as slaves to work on Hispaniola at the rate of 2,000 per year, how many years did it take before the Bahamas became unpopulated? For extra credit, if the Bahamas remained unpopulated for 130 years after that, when did repopulation with African slaves to work plantations there begin?

The ecology part of our *algebra* also tells us that the early explorers described the Bahamas as lushly forested. They were denuded during the plantation period (Remember the African slave question above?) and remain so to this day. Hmmm, is this the sociopolitical-ethical part of *algebra*?

Shit! Sometimes *algebra* is kinda depressing. No wonder students dislike doing algebra problems. If a train leaves Seattle at noon doing 60 mph and I’m not on it, why the fuck do I care what happens to it? It can crash into the one leaving Chicago at stardate 69.666 doing ludicrous speed, or even plaid, for all I care. If you’re worried about it, send Denzel Washington after that motherfucker. I saw that movie. He can do it. Hell, he has the new Captain Kirk to help him. How can they *not* succeed?

Sorry, I got distracted. We were talking about algebra in all its radiant forms and glory.

I love algebra! Ask anybody who attended the Sunday SSUDs meeting at Good Vibrations, they’ll tell ya. But “subjects,” nah, I’m not so interested in subjects, unless maybe there are verbs and objects to go with ‘em. Of course, the verb might be intransitive, then what's the object? That's ok. It's all algebra.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Retro Suave

I wonder whatever happened to Rico Suave? Ok, honestly I don't really care. I am going Retro Suave this Summer with the purchase of a blue seersucker suit. I haven't owned a seersucker suit in more than 30 years but it's an eternal style, right?

It should be perfect for my sister Chrissy's wedding in New Orleans later this month. Now I think I really need a white Panama hat, huh? As ZZ Top confided, every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man.

Awww, yeah you right, darlin'! What's that you say? A bow tie? Bien sur!

Howzabout this one from these guys?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Letters to the dead: Tom

My friend Ren has a blog where she collects letters to the dead. I've sent one for my friend Rich and one for my sister Marjorie. I have a couple half done, and occasionally worked on, for my mom and dad which I'll finish and send one of these days. This last coupla weeks, I've worked out my own sorrow about Tom by writing one of these letters to him. I'm not yet ready to put the whole thing up but I think I wanna share this part.


Tom was graced with a gaggle of granddaughters, so he naturally called ‘em his “boys.” “C’mon, boys, we’re going crabbing.” “You boys help get that stuff ready if we’re going waterskiing and tubing.” Etc. Naturally, they ate it up. Papa was Papa and could do no wrong. Our older daughter, MJ, and her close-in-age cousin Chelsea were Papa’s oldest granddaughters and his go-to boys. When he got a bit older, they’d go out with Papa to drop the crab pots, retrieve the crab-pots, and measure and sort the catch for him. Crab for dinner tonight! They were his clamming buddies, going for their limit and anxious to return home for some fresh seafood.

The bond between Papa and his boys was a wondrous, thick chain of links forged from love, unbreakable, unyielding, and untouchable. Their sadness is profound. I have had many a shirt soaked through with tears over the last couple of days and Papa hasn’t even died yet. Tom has had a long life and a good one. I desperately wish I could make these last days better for him but all that can be done is being done and I guess that has to count as enough. [Clearly, this part was written before Tom died.] It breaks my heart so terribly that I am unable to ameliorate the emotional suffering of our poor, sweet gang of “Papa’s boys.” Their sorrow is vast. Their grief inconsolable. And I am bereft of healing balm for their wounds. This train does not pass through Gilead.

I will not extoll Tom’s virtues here like a grocery list; I would find that demeaning somehow. They are best summed up in the simple sentence: Papa Tom was a good man. Really, when you strip away the chaff, the fluff, the frippery, if you can say that about someone, you’ve said everything that needs to be said.


Tom and some of his "boys"

I love you, Tom.

Tom's obituary is posted here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 12

Fly Away Home

This is the end, beautiful friends. I never did like The Doors very much; I really don’t like them now.

We stroll down to the restaurant/bar for some breakfast. It’s another perfect Caribbean morning, comforting and supportive, promising an eternity of delights sufficient to satisfy even a Lotus-eater. We order some food and try to drink in a few final sense-memories. Unfortunately, writing this now, a coupla weeks later, that morning melds into all the others, which is perhaps not a bad thing. The one thing that stands out is the brainflash I had when I first tasted the watery orange juice which came with my breakfast.

Remember the Three Stooges sketch when they make chicken soup by pouring hot water over a chicken which they’re holding above the pot. That’s what my OJ tastes like, like they poured some water over an uncut orange into a glass and served it to me for a mere $3.95 or whatever. Oh well, I’m already melancholy, some watery OJ can’t make it much worse. So, that’s what’s stuck in my brain about that morning, a Three Stooges sketch, and I’m not even a Stooges fan.

Jon and I had a morning flight scheduled. Ben’s wasn’t until later in the afternoon but he thought he’d accompany us to the airport and see if he could talk ‘em into an earlier flight; so the three of us shouldered our burdens and trudged to the terminal. Jon and I checked in and said farewell and good luck to Ben, then we headed to the security station. This time it was Jon’s turn to have a role in Kabuki Security Theater.

When we caught our crack-of-dawn flight from SEA, they pulled me aside and swiped my hands (for explosives?). Made me wish I’d recently taken a dump without washing my hands after wiping. Rant! Now, leaving STT, they paw through Jon’s stuff, searching perhaps for some self-awareness. They are unsuccessful in their quest and release him to proceed with me to the gate. We settle in for a long day of flights punctuated by airport layovers. A protracted stay at the horrid and detestable SJU was long but uneventful.

Meanwhile, Ben uneventfully makes his way to his home. Good-bye, dear friend. It was magnificent.

A long flight to ORD with a decent layover is followed by a final flight to good, old SEA. Hooray! Ronnie and Chloe meet us at the airport as midnight Pacific Time approaches. We get to the house and crash hard. The next morning, I drop Jon at the Amtrak station in Seattle for his trip to his ultimate destination in Corvallis and the VirginSSUDs2011 adventure is completed, disbanded, and finished. For now.

In perpetuum, fratres, vale atque ave ab hinc iter nobis, olim futurumque.
(Brothers, goodbye and hello forever from here on for our continuing journey.) Fratres/brothers = Ben Lovejoy and Jon Gold

Do I have thoughts, feelings, concepts, action items, etc. which I distilled from this trip? Yes. Yes, I do. And perhaps I’ll share them as I distill them in my own mind into something tangible. For now, I’m content to hold them close and nurture them unspecified, undefined, undifferentiated, and undiluted. Meanwhile, I thank you, Dear Reader, for persevering. I thank the biosphere for sharing its incredible diversity with me. I thank Panthalassa for being and for breeding life. And I thank my incomparable friends for sharing themselves and this adventure with me. You inspire me to be a better person. You are marvels beyond compare. I love you.

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 11

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Squall, y’all!

Huh? Whazzat? Wow!

I wake in darkness as rain pelts me through the open hatch above my head. Big rain composed of gravid drops, not just a polite, short-lived, featherweight cooling drizzle. Lightning strobes the darkness and thunder follows. Iupiter Elicius bestrides our world in full command of his powers, revelling in their use. Aeolus is clearly off duty in deference to Iupiter as powerful, impatient storm gusts wring cries from our rigging and cause Kokomo to rear against her mooring ball like a frightened mare pulling against the post where her reins are tied. I hear Jon and Ben both up and about so I join them in the saloon. We are about to experience the full power of a classic Caribbean squall.

And, yes, I had been hoping the entire trip that we’d get one good squall so I could use that Shakespeare quote. Nature decided to cooperate on the perfect day at the perfect time.

After dogging all the hatches and ports, the three of us sat on the oval settee in the saloon enjoying the storm. We left the slider open to the cockpit, which was somewhat protected by the bimini, and that allowed us to smell the cool dampness and sharp ozone of the squall. Lightning cracked and strobed, followed by the boom of thunder in decreasing intervals as the heart of the storm blew closer, until the lightning and thunder were simultaneous and the glass ports and fiberglass hull rattled and vibrated sympathetically.


We could see the other boats nearby in the bay, their crews all up and observing, just like us. There were several of those sad Sail Caribbean (or whatever their name is) monohulls crammed full of teens, bursting at the seams like overstuffed sausages, and one of the idiot counselor/leader types took the dink from one to the other. In this weather? Really? You just hadda go yourself, a VHF or phone call wouldn’t do when lightning is striking right here in the anchorage?

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the timing between the lightning and thunder lengthens as the storm passes over us on its way to Tortola. The full, roiling blackness and heavy rain ameliorates to a light grey and sprinkly drizzle quite familiar to this Northwest boy. Of course, this grey drizzle is about 20 degrees warmer than any Northwest sprinkle.

We’re all awake and this is our day to return Kokomo so we agree to just get started now. We slip our mooing and point Kokomo toward Roadtown. I sit at the helm in just a pair of shorts as the gentle rain caresses my skin and the overcast eliminates the need for sunglasses. Heading in.

About a half-hour out, we call Conch on the VHF and inform them of our position. They ask for us to call again when we’re in the road. Will do. As we enter the road we call again and they send a dink out with a “harbor pilot” to drive Kokomo to the fuel dock. It’s kinda interesting that they don’t trust their customers to dock/undock from their own marina but allow them to run free around the rest of the islands. Whatever.

As we head for the fuel dock we see a monohull which has grounded itself in the sand by being a bit too casual about the channel. By the time we’ve fuelled up, they have managed to free themselves and are now sticking to the middle of the channel, other traffic be damned. Happily, our fuel bill is only sixty-something dollars. I had expected to pay at least twice that, if not thrice, because we were not penurious in our fuel usage. Hooray for that. Paperwork checkin and we are set until our ferry at 1430. We leave our bags at the Conch office and go shopping in downtown Roadtown.

(Jon Photo)

Roadtown is not Charlotte Amalie (the duty-free shopping mecca of the USVI). We wander a bit, finding a few interesting shops. After a while, we stop for lunch at Pusser’s. Yes, I think I will have a painkiller with my food, thank you very much. Eventually, we head back to Conch, grab a taxi to the ferry dock, and do the ferry thing. This time we remember to try the upper deck in preference to the horrid steambath of the lower. Of course, this trip the upper deck is like a meat locker and we retreat to the comfortable lower deck for our return to US waters.

US paperwork done, we grab a cab to our Best Western Carib Beach Hotel with thoughts of long, aggressively-scrubbed hot showers dancing in our heads. We hafta wait a bit before our room is ready, then we discover that the hot water in the shower is random and brief; but it’s the tropics and a tepid shower is ok. Not what I hoped for but ok. So we’re back in the US of A. Hamburgers are mentioned as a dinner possibility and we ask about a nearby good burger place. The front desk has some suggestions but when we run the numbers, it’s gonna cost us about $50 each to get a hamburger because of taxi prices and we can go eat at the upscale sister Best Western hotel’s nouvelle Italian restaurant for less. Ok, we take the free shuttle to the good Best Western (where the rooms are at least twice as much), and settle in for some al fresco nouvelle Italian.

Maybe we shoulda sprung for the expensive burgers.

All in all, it’s a fine evening, with lots of lovely reminiscences and we eventually return to our room for a good night’s sleep in an actual bed. Me, I missed having Kokomo rock me to sleep.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 10

I don’t want nobody to give me nothin’.
Open up the door, I’ll get it myself!

I love James Brown. Jon supplied most of our music from his player on this trip and there was a good bit of James in the mix. Good Gawd! Today we would embody the message of this song. With no openings available with any of the dive operators, we’d simply hafta take care of diving on our own. We don’t need anybody to hold our hands, just rent us some gear and we’ll take ourselves diving.

Yeeee-oooowww! Take me to the bridge!

Or the dive site. Whichever.

The three of us discussed our desires for our last two dives of the trip and consulted the dive guide for possibilities. The one that floated to the top for me was Carval Rock. This is an exposed seamount which breaks the surface as a small islet between Ginger and Cooper islands. It is on the Caribbean Sea side of the islands and is deep and exposed. Perfect for visiting pelagics which makes it a good possibility for us. Unfortunately, the SDC folks informed us that the dive balls had gone missing and had not been replaced. Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

There’s one dive site called Vanishing Rock. The author of the dive guide we’re using personally calls it Vanishing Boat because on one dive there he came up to find his boat a good way off. He swam hurriedly to the boat and when he reached it he discovered that the entire mooring system was still attached to the boat, having come free from the seabed.

Cross off Carval Rock.

We eventually settle on a site called Ginger Steps. This is a site on the Caribbean Sea side of Ginger Island. It’s a series of rock ledges and sand canyons starting at about 35’, where the mooring ball is, and descending to 100’ at the bottom of the last wall (“step”) whose top is at about 65’. It’s deep and it’s exposed. The potential for pelagic visitors is pretty good. We untie from our mooring and power up Kokomo’s mighty twin diesels, heading for exciting, new adventures. Alone.

It takes some careful looking but we eventually spot the ball for Ginger Steps and tie up. Yep. This site is definitely exposed. Even on our big, stable, wide-body catamaran, we are doing some rocking and rolling. We gear up and I take my role as Divemaster seriously for this experience. These are my wonderful friends whom I love. I do NOT want to lead them into trouble or danger or allow them to fall into danger because of my inattention or incompetence. This will be our deepest dive and we are responsible for our own dive plan and navigation. Safety and responsibility are my bywords for the day. Well, and fun. Fun is ALWAYS a consideration.

We tie a float to the end of a long dockline and stream it from the stern of the dink, which we allow to float at the end of its line from the stern of Kokomo. Now we have a nice, long connection downcurrent. If things get dicey and somebody gets caught downcurrent from the boat, too tired to make the swim on his own all the way back to Kokomo, he can grab the float line or the dink line and pull himself to Kokomo’s sugarscoop. Or in the case of extreme exhaustion, he can just hang on while we pull him in.

The navigation and dive plan are fairly straightforward. We drop down the mooring line and head West down the ledges/steps. When we hit the bottom of the last one at 100’ we turn South and follow the wall until we reach our limit on time or air, whichever comes first. Then we turn East and ascend back up the ledges/steps until we hit the ledge at the 35-40’ mark. Turn North and follow this one back to the mooring. A nice, simple rectangle.

Before the advent of dive computers, divers used “the tables.” These were originally bottom-time tables developed by the Navy which were later converted to something a bit simpler for sport divers. The PADI tables allow a total bottom time of 25 minutes for a 100’ dive. Take an extra 5 minutes and you must do a decompression stop of 3 minutes at 10’. The old-time tables are more merciless than modern dive computers. When you use the tables, you calculate your time for the absolute deepest you’ve been, even if you were only there for a brief moment and the rest of your dive was much shallower. For example, the tables allow 100 minutes at 50’ but if your dive is a mix of 100’ and 50’, you must calculate it as a 100’ dive. For the purposes of simplicity and safety, we were doing a table-style 100’ dive.

Gearing up in the chop required some care and effort but we helped each other and ultimately did giant stride entries from Kokomo’s sugarscoop transom. No backrolls today, folks. At the mooring ball we all agreed that we were ready so I started timing and we descended Ginger Steps. At the bottom of the mooring line, I switched my watch to compass mode and headed West down the steps. We crossed the first sand gully at 60ish’ and saw ray track but no rays. Dropped over the final wall and found the sandy seafloor at 100’. Time to turn South.

(Jon photo)

We cruised along the wall, enjoying the usual reef life but searching and hoping for some big pelagics to cruise by. There. Who’s that? A large, beautiful Queen triggerfish. Ahhhh, lovely. That’s a treat. Now what other unusual sightings will we have?

(Jon photo)

One unusual experience here is the random swirling cold current which occasionally flows over us. As we’ve coasted along this wall we’ve been hit several times with a chilly burst, varying significantly from the basic 85ish-degree embrace we’re used to. Felt like it was in the mid-70s. Brrrr! I looked especially carefully for pelagics when we were in the chillier flow but no luck.

Checking my watch for time and compass heading I discover that it has died. Well, shit. I catch up to Ben who’s near me and ask him to check his watch, indicating that mine is dead and he’s now our official timekeeper. I check air status on all three of us and figure it’s about time to turn East up the steps, now just an approximation because of my dead compass.

Ginger Steps decides to grace us with a fond farewell. A large spotted eagle ray comes cruising from the distance and flows up the wall not far from us. Magnificent. My breath catches in my throat.

(Jon photo)

Now we’re climbing the steps back to the 35’ level. When my depth gauge tells me we’re there, I turn us (approximately) North toward the mooring. As we cruise along this reef, I again check with Ben for time and both guys for air levels. Jon looks at me and cups his hands together which is SCUBA sign-language for “Where’s the boat, dude?” I shrug and indicate that my watch/compass died. We contour along the 35’ reef in a generally Northward direction. Eventually, we do come back to the boat and board successfully despite the chop.

(Jon photo)

We strip out of our gear and have a freshwater rinse. Phew. Time for some hydration and a nice surface interval rest before our second dive. The chop and surge here is not conducive to a pleasant experience, so we free ourselves from the mooring and head for a more-protected spot.

There’s a dive site called Alice’s Wonderland which is not very far from us and it looks calmer there. We motor on over in that direction. There are a coupla dive balls in the approximate area. We tie to the one in shallower, more-protected water and settle down to relax and enjoy our required surface interval.

While we rest, I’ll tell you about Alice’s Wonderland. At one time it was arguably the loveliest reef in the BVI. Sadly, the coral bleaching in recent years has turned this reef into a skeleton of its past glory. Word is that it’s still worth seeing and we’re here so this will be our second dive.

The depth sounder indicates only 25’ and the shallowest parts of Alice’s are listed at 35-40 so maybe we’re way off the tail end of Alice’s or on a different site altogether. Formulating a rigorous dive plan is impractical. We agree to just drop down and look around, staying together and monitoring our air and bottom time. Gearing up is easier in the calmer water and we’re soon all assembled at the mooring line. Down we go for our last SCUBA adventure of the trip.

We soon discover that this is a shallow reef and it’s clearly in sad decline. There are some clusters of living coral and their associated ecosystems but there are lots of dead areas. We peek and poke around, seeing the usual suspects. Then, a pleasant surprise. A large hogfish is cruising for snacks and he doesn’t mind if we tag along.

(Jon photo)

Jon and I swim with him for quite a while before I get tired of the pace. Sad, sad, injured ass. I call my gargantuan fins “turtle-catchers” but in this reduced state I can barely keep up with a grazing hogfish. Oh well, it is what it is and he was very sweet. Finally, it’s time to call it a dive and a day. We return to Kokomo, tired but satisfied.

Now it’s time to head back to the mooring field at Cooper Island to return all this rented dive gear and prepare ourselves for the following morning when we must return Kokomo to the good folks at Conch Charters and depart this island paradise. Thanks, SDC, you’ve provided us with a memorable final day of diving.

The Hesperides come softly, summoning their parents, Erebus and Nyx. With them comes Hypnos and, under his care, we float away on the river Lethe.

Friday, July 08, 2011

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 9

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I’m sure some of my dreams were sea-born as I rested sea-borne in my cabin, floating on that sea bourn. I woke slowly and languorously to another idyllic Caribbean morning. No AM diveboat today, an indulgent morning followed by an afternoon dive to the enticingly-named Wreck Alley. As we woke and became part of the day, Ben and Jon thought they might enjoy a snorkel in the area of Cistern Point, just South of our location. I was, again, more in the mood to rest my still-sore butt so I’d have sufficient energy for our afternoon dive and our two-dive adventure the next day; therefore I chose to stay on board and have a lazy morning.

The fellas geared up and hopped in the dink for a run over to Cistern Point. I told ‘em to look for the blue dinghy tie-up ball and waved them off on their adventure. Being a little bit in mother-hen mode, I watched them as they sped away, hoping to see them successfully tie up the dink and drop in for their snorkelling adventure. I saw them speed over the shallows between Cooper Island and Cistern Point. Too far, guys, the dink ball is on this side of Cistern Rock. But here they come, back toward where the dink ball lives. Then, they’re stopping. Ok. Guess they’ve found a spot they like and are happy to drop in there. Then they’re paddling. And paddling back toward Kokomo. Oh oh.

When I’m certain they are indeed distinctly paddling back toward Kokomo rather than some nearby spot to leave the dink while they snorkel, I power up Kokomo’s mighty, twin, three-cylinder diesels and head toward them. When we meet, they explain that the dink prop hit a rock and they now have no propulsion from the dink motor. Oops.

A brief examination confirms that the prop is only a bit deformed but it spins freely on the driveshaft. Clearly some sacrificial shear-pin or its equivalent has broken internally to save the transmission from damage in such an event and we are reduced to rowing or paddling the dink. An indulgent brunch would be a nice substitute for a snorkel, right? We move Kokomo to the mooring ball closest to the dive shop dock to reduce our rowing efforts for the coming afternoon and settle into a comfortable midday. Wreck Alley will be our deepest dive so far, being down at a consistent 85-90 feet as opposed to the maximum Rhone depth of 80ish, shallowing from there to 60 and less.

Lemme tell ya about Martini’s Law. Unlike Boyle’s Law, Charles’ Law, Gay-Lussac’s Law, and Avogadro’s Law, which are actual, scientific laws regarding gasses and pressure, Martini’s Law is more of a homiletic concerning the effects of Henry’s Law, describing the effect of partial pressure of gasses. Without going into the boring details about why, Martini’s Law warns the diver that every atmosphere of increased pressure, approximately every 33 feet, is like drinking a(nother) martini. So, at 33 feet, you’ve had the equivalent of 1 martini, 66 feet equals 2 martinis, etc. The actual effect is from nitrogen, in the form of nitrogen narcosis, aka "rapture of the deep." At the 90+-foot level, you’ve had the equivalent of 3 martinis. Just like alcohol, the effect is subjective. Some people seem to exhibit no impairment. Others seem clearly impaired. A person who experienced negligible effects one day might show significant effects another day. This information will be useful later in this narrative. (wink)

Ok, I’m back. I took a midday break to go to REI with Ronnie. She wound up with a pair of blue Vibram Komodos. (She’s partial to the periwinkle!) They’ve very cool; I think I want some. Anyway, back to the Caribbean.

So in the middle of the afternoon, the SCD boat pulls up to their dock and we row the dink over to meet them. Wonderfully, it will be a dive with just the three of us. A couple of other people tentatively signed up but then dropped out. How sweet is that? Our private guided dive of Wreck Alley. We had read up on this site in the dive guide I purchased at the shop. Our divemaster for this dive, Ria O’Hagen, was the illustrator of the guide and the cover is a depiction of the Beata, which was added to the site in 2000. Cool.

The three of us head over to the site of Wreck Alley in the SCD diveboat with the lovely Ria and her trusty assistant whose name I forget so he’ll be Igor for the purposes of this narrative. [N.B. I have been reliably informed by Ria on 1/24/14 that "Igor" was really Kit Arton. Sorry, Kit. You were cool and it was a great day with you.] We arrive and tie to the dive mooring. As Kit gets us geared up (careful individual attention – nice), Ria gives us the dive briefing. She’ll be monitoring our air carefully because this is a consistently deep dive on multiple wrecks. Rate of air consumption is the key this afternoon. We all notice the excellent level of professionalism during this period. I don’t wanna denigrate BWD but their level of professionalism was a lot more casual than what Ria and Kit are showing us. For instance, Kit drops a long hooka airhose over the side; this is a very nice safety backup if someone runs short of air but still needs to do a longish decompression stop before final ascent to the surface.

I’m liking Ria and SCD very much. And the trusty Kit, too, of course.

Now comes the piece de resistance, the icing on the cake, the sine qua non, as Ria dons her Riasaur dive cap. OMFG! I needs me one of those!

(Jon photo)

Then we’re off to the bottom of the sea to explore four separate wrecks, from the 90-foot Marie L. to the much larger, multiply-named Island Seal/Joey D. The dive mooring is on a reef which sits at about 50’. We descend to the reef then drop over the edge of its wall down to the bare sand bottom at 90ish’, where we encounter the Pat and the Marie L. lying together. After some exploration of these two and the life they support, we swim North parallel to the wall, across an eel garden, to come to the tug Beata.

As we’re exploring the Beata, Ria asks us for our air status. We started with 3000psi. Ben signals that he’s at about 2200psi by flashing 2 fingers, then 2 again. I flash 2 then 1 for 2100psi, Jon signals 1 and 1.

Wow! Really? Jon has been good on air all week; I’ve usually been the low air guy, fighting against the debilitation of my twisted left knee and my damaged right buttock, but now Jon is signaling only 1100psi while Ben and I are still above 2K. Ria takes careful note and, as she confided to us on our return to the diveboat, she picks up the pace a bit to be sure we get done and back to the ascent line in a safe timeframe.

Done with our exploration of the Beata, we swim toward the Island Seal/Joey D. As we survey the length of this sunken barge we notice that she sank upside down and there’s a gap of maybe three feet between the deck, which is the downside of the wreck, and the smooth sand bottom. A bit past midway along the length of this wreck, Ria heads under it crosswise, a distance of about 60’. Oh my! Ben was first in line behind her and later confessed that he hesitated a moment (or two), imagining the possibility of a strong current or undersea quake shifting the wreck and eliminating that 3-foot gap while he was under the boat.

But, ultimately, how could he hesitate when a mere slip of a girl led the way under without hesitation? (grin) Ben took a deep breath and kicked his way into the narrow gap, following the rare Riasaur into the dark, constrained unknown.

Safely and successfully surviving our under-wreck passage, Ria queries our air status. Ben signals 1 and 5, 1500psi. Ok. I signal 1 and 3, 1300psi. Fine. Jon signals 1 and 2, 1200psi. Huh? Ria swims over to personally look at his SPG (submersible pressure gauge). How could Jon have gained air when the rest of us were sucking down an additional 700-800 from over 2K to mid-to-low 1K values? Jon’s gauge does indeed register 1200psi and Ria leads us back up onto the reef for some lifeform siteseeing after all our wreck experiences.

Finally, we make our way back to the ascent line, do a safety decompression stop, then clamber back aboard the diveboat, assisted by the enthusiastic Kit. As we chat about all aspects of the dive, Jon’s air reporting is the significant one. Remember Martini’s Law? Jon informs us that the first time Ria asked for air levels, Jon actually had 1900psi but was too narced to think of how to convey 1 and 9 and he just wound up raising his fingers in the 1 and 1 that he reported, rather than the 1 and 9 he intended to report. That was clearly the laugh of the day.

Unlike the cheap beer offered us post-dive by BWD, our hostess and host today offer us slices of homemade cake as we strip off dive gear and ready ourselves for the ride home. How very civilized. Back to the SDC dock and the friendly and customer-oriented staff agree to drop the 6 tanks right at Kokomo, rather than making us try to fit all that in the dink and then row it all back to Kokomo. With 6 tanks and assorted other gear aboard, we are ready for the next day and we wave goodbye to the SDC crewboat as they head back to Tortola for the night.

Thanks, y’all. It was a lovely and exciting dive. Tomorrow, we’re on our own.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

VirginSSUDs2011 Trip Report - Day 8

Once more unto the breach, dear friends...

Morning has broken, like the first morning. So sayeth Cat Stevens or whatever the fuck his name is now. We’re back to our regular morning dive routine. Wake, breakfast, prep gear, and wait for the radio call from the diveboat. Today we’ll be heading back to the Rhone; it’ll be fascinating for the guys to experience this wreck in the daylight after diving on it at night, a completely different experience. A voice from the ether calls out to us, “Kokomo, Kokomo, Kokomo…” and we’re once again welcoming the diveboat alongside for a journey of discovery.

This morning in the crisp light of day the translucent water beckons in a way its nighttime occult version never could. We are not the only seekers summoned here by Apollo’s chariot. There are a couple of other diveboats on the other moorings, all readying divers for their plunge into otherness. We’ll begin our morning with an exploration of the deeper bow section.

Backroll in and dump buoyancy from the BC, descending like a slow-motion skydiver, spread-eagle and eager with anticipation, losing color with depth in rainbow order (Remember ROY G. BIV?) until we exist in a blue world, only lightly tinged with hints of green and perhaps a bit of yellow-ish. If you cut yourself at this depth, the blood looks like green smoke. I recommend against trying it; the ‘cudas are watching closely.

The night shift entities we visited on our previous Rhone dive are somnolent and the day shift is out and about in the Babylonian hurly-burly of the morning. We ghost along the exterior for a while, then come to a point where we can penetrate the wreck. Single-file, we enter the mausoleum of those who perished here a century and a half ago.

Winding back and forth between the ribs and debris, all softened by a century and a half of marine growth, there is a small sense of claustrophobia which is mostly obscured by the intensity of the experience. Mostly. We spend a considerable amount of time enclosed in this sunken tomb before emerging again into the open water. Fascinating. Moving. Intense. All too soon, especially at this depth, our time is up and Boet gives us the signal to head up for a brief decompression stop before surfacing. We hang on or near the mooring line, looking down at where we’ve been, thinking private thoughts, and feeling private feelings.

Then it’s time to surface, climb the gravity ladder (Are you sure we’re not on Jupiter? Ack!), and rest, drink, and recuperate during our surface interval before our second dive. During the interval, our divemasters try to tell the story of the Rhone. They do their best but, bluntly, they are shallow and callow twenty-somethings and they stumble through it like unwilling actors in a high-school play, chewing and expectorating their lines without feeling or meaning. But it’s alright. I have my own internal narrative and apprehension of what transpired those long years ago and what it means in my greater scheme of things now.

Time flows away, moved along by the relentless current of the Great Temporal River, and we prepare for our second dive. This will be to the same sections we visited on our night dive so the comparison will be direct and specific. From their humble beginnings as newly-certified divers on their first actual dives, Jon and Ben are now old hands, after their week of living aboard a boat, snorkelling and diving. We gear up like pros and drop in.

Here now, revealed by the stark light of day, are the sights which were previously alternately obscured by darkness or harshly illuminated by divelight specificity. A large condenser. An immense boiler. Oversize steamfitter wrenches. A waterpump surrounded by dismembered grating. The aft mast and the long prop shaft. The remains of a once-proud mistress of the waves, now lying beneath that surface, broken and dead, her internals strewn over the seafloor, bow and stern sections akimbo, all the harsh lines, angles, and surfaces of a violent death softened and muted by lush, colorful sealife, extravagant in its promiscuous beauty. Wanton life, bred from death, not to be denied.

Once again, we’ve reached the limit of our stay in this realm. We ascend to the mundane surface world, divest ourselves of our survival gear, and Boed speeds us back to Kokomo, delighting in his post-dive beer.

Feel free, O Gentle Reader, to ignore my tone in these last paragraphs. It’s grey and rainy here after several perfectly lovely days and I’m feeling melancholy. It will pass. Diving the Rhone is a magnificent experience and one which can reflect and amplify whatever you bring to it.

A full rinsing of ourselves and our gear with the cockpit shower and we relaxed into a pleasant lunch aboard Kokomo. With only two more days available for diving, we decided to see what we could organize with BWD, hopefully something on the outside of the islands where we might have a better chance to see the big pelagics. Yeah, that mostly means sharks but it does not preclude rays, turtles, etc. Turns out the BWD is booked solid for Day 9 and only doing some shallow reefs on Day 10. Hmmmm. We’ll hafta think about that. There’s a dive shop right here on Cooper. Let’s talk to them.

I hereby confess, I’m still not completely sure who we talked to and wound up diving with. The dive shop proclaimed boldly "DIVE BVI" but the boats were all labeled "Sail Caribbean Divers." I think we were dealing with Sail Caribbean Divers, so I’m gonna call them SCD. Like everyone else, SCD was booked for the morning of Day 9, however, they were willing to talk about an afternoon dive that day and were not opposed to the idea of diving someplace more interesting, like Wreck Alley, for $80 each. Day 10 was no joy with them either, however (again) they would rent us gear for two dives for $30 each as long as we returned it before 1900 on Day 10.

I believe we have a deal.

And with that, we eased into the evening of Day8, tired but satisfied.