Reef Seekers Responds - 4/10 trip comments

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Posted by Reef Seekers Dive Co. on April 12, 2004 at 19:52:49:

I want to respond to some of the questions raised in the "Dive Report/Reef Seekers 4-10-04" thread below. However, I'll also point out that it seems to me that if someone has a serious concern, you could at least do me the courtesy of calling me first to see what was going on (maybe there are factors in play of which you're unaware or maybe we simply screwed up and it's something I'd like to know about) rather than simply posting on a BBS. But at this point, that's moot.

I also want those reading this to know that I was not on the boat Saturday for the Farnsworth trip, so what I'm saying is based on discussions I've had with Tim Burke, captain of the Great Escape, Hal Greenberg, one of my DMs, looking over the check in/out board for the boat, and reading the comments of those who filled out the post-trip evaluation forms.

First off, let me say (and I've discussed this with Tim as well) that I think the legitimate complaint is that we left the island too early. We were due back into Long Beach at 5PM (reasons in a moment) and the fact that we hit the dock at 4:15PM indicates that we perhaps could have stayed at the final site longer. However, hindsight is always 20/20.

I will also add that if anyone who was on this boat feels that they got short-changed, call me and I'll work out a discount for you on a future Reef Seekers trip on the Great Escape. That being said . . .

Farnsworth trips pose a unique set of logistical problems. One is the distance needed to be traveled as it's almost as far as going to Santa Barbara. However, since it's a Catalina trip, it's also usually done as a single-captain run. That means that there's a 12-hour time limit on the entire day because that's the Coast Guard-mandated maximum time a captain can run without a relief captain on board.

Normally, Farnsworth trips leave at 6AM and return at 6PM. But there are many times when we've made the run out there only to find that there are already fishing boats anchored in the few places where we can drop a hook to go diving. So Tim has agreed to make the Farnsworth departures at 5AM to hopefully beat the fishing boats out, but that also means we're due back in LB by 5PM, not 6PM. I just checked our master boat book and see that we've got the return listed as 6PM. That's MY fault since I'm the one who prints up the master copies of the manifest for our staff to use when you call in to make a reservation. If one of our people told any of you we'd be back at 6PM, my apologies. Regardless, Tim is under a 12-hour deadline and can be sanctioned for violating it.

Run time to Farnsworth, depending on the seas, is generally just under 4 hours. Apparently we arrived on-site at 8:45AM, so that sounds about right. Our safety briefing was done en route so it didn't impinge on the dive time. I wasn't sure from Tim Johnson's post if he was complaining that it was overly long or not but, for those who have heard it, you certainly can't say it isn't thorough. We also include a Farnsworth-specific briefing, since it can be a tricky spot to dive. And maybe we're being overly cautious, but generally if we leave something out, THAT'S the thing that goes wrong.

Steve Clark also said, "Am also a little miffed at the DM's insistence that all divers stay above 100' . . ." I say, What's wrong with that? There's plenty to see at 100' and above, it lengthens your available bottom time and decreases your air consumption as opposed to diving deeper. Since divers who get into trouble on Farnsworth are frequently seduced by the depth and either run out of air or have deco problems, it seems to us that this makes eminent sense and is rather prudent and responsible on our part. And it's not like we bust you if you go deeper. But if you DO choose to go deeper than 100' and something goes wrong and you want to point a finger at us (given that it's a litigious society) it also gives us a legal leg to stand on.

Once the anchor was set, I'm told we sent down one of our DMs to make sure we had the anchor sitting on the high spot and that it was hooked in firmly. For the sake of argument, let's say the anchoring and checking process may have taken 15 minutes (although it could have been less), which puts us at 9:00AM as the gate-opening time. The first diver (Tim Johnson, BTW) hit the water at 9:09AM, according to our records. The average dive for those in the first group was about 25 minutes.

A quick word on why we divide the group in half. We simply feel it's not only safer and makes it easier for us should something go wrong, but also more enjoyable for you. Farnsworth, at least the diveable area, is relatively small. I simply don't think it's a great idea to dump 35 people (or even 25 in this case) down there all at the same time. On top of that, since we STRONGLY recommend you go down and up the anchor line, that can get pretty crowded when you have all those people starting and ending the dive at the same time.

Additionally, by splitting the group I can arrange to have DMs both on the deck and underwater. Generally we try to have 2 DMs work the deck and 2 DMs do the dive. Then they switch for the second group. Gives us more coverage, enables us to provide escorts to those people who may be new to Farnsworth or want to see something specific (like the Yellow Wall), and also spreads out the post-dive tank-filling process. But if that's something you don't like, then don't dive with us at Farnsworth. It's a plan that we think works and seems to please most of the people most of the time.

The first diver in the second group hit the water at 9:49AM with the last diver entering at 10:07AM. The last diver back on the boat (Steve Clark, BTW) was logged back on board at 10:35AM. With time to do roll call and pull the anchor, the boat probably left Farnsworth around 10:45AM.

Now one thing that's being overlooked here is that the original plan WAS to do two dives per group at Farnsworth. However, both Tim Burke and I had noticed that the swell was building on Thursday and Friday, but the period was staying long enough that we hoped it wouldn't be a factor. The first group reported roughly 70' vis and very little surge but the second group didn't have those conditions. Even Steve Clark admits in his post, "Conditions below were not ideal... 20' Vis + a pretty strong surge... " That's a textbook example of deteriorating conditions that would mandate a decision to leave the spot, and NOT to do another dive there.

Steve also mentions a diver's tank coming off and says, "I didn't ask but I'm guessing that the DM reasoned the tankless diver stood a good chance of getting hurt or worse if we stayed at Farnsworth." Here's a request: ASK next time. Your guess is way off base. That diver had nothing to do with the decision to leave. It was strictly based on conditions. Had we been concerned about the diver and been staying for a second dive, he either would have been asked not to do the dive, or would have been offered the option to go with one of the DMs as an escort. But we don't just cancel dives for an entire boat because one person has a problem. To make that assertion is simply, IMHO, ludicrous.

Once the decision was made to move the questions became "Where?" This is something that's a tough one because it's weather-dependent. Ideally you want to make a short move but that's not always feasible, based on conditions. One of our DMs suggested Pedestal Rock but our concern was that, given what the water looked like on the backside (very green) that it wouldn't be diveable and would be a waste of time. So the boat headed back up to the West End.

West End Point itself (which is a GREAT dive, BTW) was not diveable. There were already three boats at Johnson's Rock so there wasn't room to slide in. Tim stopped at Black Rock but the water looked too green. Next he pulled into Arrow Point which looked better than the rest so, especially given the time, it was decided to dive there. The first diver in the water (Tim Johnson, BTW) was logged out at 12:03PM, or roughly one hour and fifteen minutes after the end of the previous dive.

Now we freely admit that the problem here, given the request to leave the island by 1:30PM (and again I'll grant that it may have been a bit early) was that we could only leave the gate open until 1PM with a 1:30 be-back time. That meant there was ample time to do a long dive, or time (if you got in the water right away), to do a 30-minute dive, come back for a refill and a 30-minute surface interval, and then do another 30-minute dive. It's tight, but it's doable. Additionally, we already had people complaining they were too cold (7 people on the trip only made one dive) so it didn't seem like the group as a whole was gung-ho to dive/dive/dive.

And, to make sure that divers didn't have to choose between eating lunch or going diving, Tim Burke had Mickey in the galley hold lunch until after the diving was done.

Nothing's perfect but I think we're getting blamed for some things here that are out of our control. For instance, Tim Johnson says, "I was one of the first divers in [on the second dive], and had a 34 minute dive. 15 min. after I returned from my dive, we were advised that we were heading for home." We have Tim logged in at 12:03 and back on at 12:51. That's a 48-minute dive. And as far as getting late advice as to the departure time, I have to disagree.

As many of you who dive with Reef Seekers know, we have what we call a Boat Board that clearly lists the site name, gate open time, gate close time, and be-back time. We show the Boat Board and what it's used for during the 20-minute briefing that Tim Johnson referred to. (On top of that, we usually announce these times - or have the captain do it - over the PA.) I'm looking at it right now and it clearly says "Arrow Point/Open 12:00/ Close 1:00/Be-Back 1:30." I can't force anyone to listen to the briefing or the PA or to look at the Boat Board but to insinuate that we're making these decisions at the last minute does NOT paint an accurate picture.

As to the comment made that by H2O Hank that "Most boats do 4 dives , maybe 3 , never 2," that's simply not true. In fact (and I don't dive with other shops so I won't claim this is 100% accurate) my understanding is that we're one of the few shops that DOES consistently try to get in four dives. I am told that most of the time, many charterers only get in 3. HOWEVER . . .

. . . on a day that includes Farnsworth, three dives is the norm. Start with a 12-hour day, take off 3:45 each way for travel (so 7 hours of travel) and you're left with 4 hours of diving time, which has to include time for the dive, surface interval, and moves to other sites. If you allow 1 hour for the first site, half hour to move (and that's optimistic), 1 hours for the second site (since it'll be shallower AND you need to allot time to fill all the tanks), half an hour to move to the third site . . . you've now got a TOTAL of 1 hour at the third site. So it's really tough to get in 4 dives on a Farnsworth day with the 12-hour rule in place.

That's about it for us. I'm happy to discuss this with anyone telephonically or through private e-mail but don't intend to get into a BBS tit-for-tat type of a thing. But I'll freely admit that our style of diving and dive policies may not suit everyone. If that's the case, then don't dive with us since there's no sense in making yourself miserable. And if you REALLY want the trip to run exactly the way you'd like, simply charter the whole boat yourself and then you get to decide how things will be done (as long as the captain agrees as well).

Hopefully this clears up some of the questions.

Ken Kurtis
NAUI Instr. #5936
Co-owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
Beverly Hills, CA

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