Thursday, October 27, 2016


In my last blog I talked about common issues that lead to water in the mask. I discussed at length how this problem is often caused because divers misunderstood the instructions that they were given. When I teach a skill I try to make sure my students understand WHY they are doing it to help avoid these misunderstandings. During this blog I will discuss mask on the forehead, right hand release weight belts, the controlled emergency swimming ascent and neutral buoyancy skills.

Since I discussed a mask issue the last time let’s start with another one. Why don’t we put our mask on our forehead? If your answer is “because it is a sign of distress”, you would be wrong. Ask yourself “Why is it a sign of distress?” A clear thinking diver would not want to get hit in the face with an unusually high wave that could possibly drowned him and/or cause him to lose is mask. Since having your mask on the forehead would make your face vulnerable to such a situation and probably cause you to lose your mask, a diver who is thinking clearly would not want either to happen and would keep is mask on his face. Since a diver who is thinking clearly would not put his mask on is on his forehead, it is assumed that the diver may not be thinking clearly when it is. A diver who is not thinking clearly could be because he is disoriented and in distress. Therefore, if you see a diver with his mask on his forehead he maybe in distress and should be checked on. If you feel you must remove your mask at the surface put it around your neck. This shows you are at least making a conscious clearly thought out choice. The best place for your mask is on your face and the best place for your regulator is in your mouth until you are safely back on board the boat.

I saw a diver put his weight belt on backwards the other day. That is, he put it on with a left hand release. I brought this to his attention. He replied, “I am left handed so my instructor told me to do it that way.” BAD INSRUCTOR. The reason we reason we put our weight belt on with a right hand release is because all divers are taught this so that a person responding to an emergency will know which belt to pull quickly.  Many of the older BCD’s and a few of the newer ones have a belt with the same release. That release is put on left handed. This avoids confusion when dropping a weight belt that could increase the risk of a serious accident. This skill has been brushed off more and more by newer technologies. Weight belts are not as common place with the invention of weight integrated BCD’s. Most BCD’s now use fastek clips instead of weight belt releases. This makes the weight belt less commonplace. Some divers think it is ok to put all of their weight in non-quick release pockets. Danger Will Robinson! Always keep the lion’s share of your weight where it can be quickly released in an emergency. If this means wearing a weight belt make sure the release is in your left hand when putting it on so that the clasp is opened by pulling to your right.

PADI is big on acronyms. (Ya think? Professional Association of Diving Instructors.) One of the most misunderstood is CESA. It didn’t amaze me that a Divemaster candidate did not know what this means. While some of the literary gadgets and pneumonics help us remember important things this is one that I think often confuses the issue. CESA stands for Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. If you have to use this procedure you have already screwed up twice. You didn’t watch your gauge and ran out of air. You are too far away from your buddy. This skill is taught so that a person who has run out of air can ascend safely to the surface when the surface is closer than their buddy. To perform it, simply signal that you are out of air so that if someone does see you they know what is going on. Raise your low pressure inflator over your head with your left hand so that you can release any air trapped in your BCD. Put your right hand over your head like Superman to prevent running into anything, like the boat, on ascent. Look up opening your airway and slowly hummmmm or blow bubbles into your regulator. This keeps your airway open so that expanding air in your lungs can escape without causing an over expansion injury. Finally swim to the surface slowly. SLOWLY. The operative word in Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent is CONTROLLED. Don’t race to the surface and get decompression sickness. Ascend at a normal ascent rate of about 60 ft. per minute or slightly slower than the small bubbles exiting your regulator. When you reach the surface you are out of air. Orally inflate your BCD by blowing into the mouthpiece on your inflator hose while pushing the deflate button. Release it and repeat until you are positively buoyant. Another option to get buoyant would be to grab the RIGHT hand release and drop your weight belt or weight pockets.

Your instructor may have had you perform a skill called fin pivots. It is like doing push-ups on the bottom. No he didn’t want to help you prepare to join the Navy SEALS. In fact you shouldn’t be using your hands at all. This skill and hovering are actually the backbone of being a great diver. They should be teaching you to use breathing to control your buoyancy and not your BCD. Even carrying extra weight as a dive guide I never have to use air in my BCD as a mechanism to control my buoyancy. Try it! If you inhale deeply you can ascend. If you exhale deeply you will descend. That is what these skills are meant to be teaching you. The rest of the time a normal controlled breathing rate will allow you to move through the water with only a small variation in depth. THIS IS BUOYANCY CONTROL!!!!!

The next time you go diving watch divers who you respect as being great divers. You won’t see their mask on their forehead. You won’t see their weight belt on backwards. You will see them diving almost motionless through the water with no air in their BCD. Finally, you won’t see them run out of air. But, in the unlikely event they did, you would see them do a proper Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent.

Until next time always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.

Your really cool blogger,


Sunday, October 23, 2016


And other open water skills misconceptions.

 Are you one those of those divers who always seems to have water in your mask? After 21 years as an instructor, dive guide, dive boat captain and former dive shop owner, I frequently see divers clearing their mask incorrectly. This isn’t the only mistake I see divers make because they misunderstood either the mechanics or purpose of skills they were taught in open water class. In this and the next blog I will debunk some of these mysteries. Focusing on mask clearing today.

When we are taught to clear our masks in open water class, the instructor often teaches us to “pull gently at the bottom of the mask to break the seal.” Unfortunately, many students graduate with the understanding that they must pull the bottom of their masks away from their face. While it does help get most of the water out of your mask I guarantee that there will still be some left. YOU DO NOT NEED TO PULL THE MASK AWAY FROM YOUR FACE. This usually results in water being sucked back in when you reseal it against your face because divers stop blowing air before they let the mask back into place. Most of the time you can get rid of the water without using your thumbs at all. Take one or two fingers of each hand and place them firmly on the top of each lens or the top of the frame. Next, push the mask firmly against your forehead. Not up but straight back. Then start blowing air out your nose like you are trying to get rid of that big snot wad. (You wouldn’t believe the disgusting things instructors see swimming around in your masks when it is done correctly and you are congested.) But that is ok and part of our job. Don’t be embarrassed by it. Next, tilt your head back and change your position so that you are looking towards the heavens. This allows all the water to settle in the bottom of the mask and be forced out when you are blowing. A diver who is swimming along in a nice horizontal posture will not get all of the water out of his mask until he gets himself in a more upright position allowing the air between the skirt and his skin to become the lowest point. Finally, in rare occasions, use your thumbs to break the seal and not pull the mask away from your face. Try it and see how easy it really is.

There are some other reasons that will cause your mask to have water in it. Facial hair is common. Putting a little silicone grease on your moustache generally helps with this. You could also try shaving a small area right below your nose to provide a smooth surface for your mask to seal against. Funny enough, the guy on the boat with the shortest hair is usually the one with some stuck between his mask and his face. I have long hair and an extra two seconds to insure none of it is in your mask will avoid a lot of frustration during your dive.

All faces are different shapes. For example, divers usually live happy lives so we get “smile lines”. These are the wrinkles that form on either side of your nose and mouth when you smile. There are hundreds of mask styles to choose from. Keep trying them on until you find one that seals correctly. To do this, make sure all of your hair is out of the way and push the mask gently against your face and don’t use the strap. Inhale through your nose so that the mask sucks to your face. Block your palette to your nose so that if you talk you would hear a nasally voice. If the mask stays on your face until you exhale through your nose it is a good fit. When a mask fits me right I can carry on a conversation without it falling off.

If you follow these instructions the next time you are diving you will have less of a problem with water in your mask. Guess what? You will see better and enjoy your dive more.

Until next time always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.

Your really cool blogger,


Sunday, October 16, 2016


This should be titled barely legal. However, I am going to cover the ins and outs of lobsters in Virgin Islands waters. We will talk about the Virgin Islands lobster laws. I will also include a little about what is desirable and what isn’t. For more information on identification, anatomy, and behavior please refer to my last blog, Caribbean Lobster Primer. So here it is the Virgin Islands Lobster Hunting Practices.

There are no licensing requirements to take lobsters in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We do have regulations. Most of them pertain to the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. This is the one most of us prefer to catch and eat. The pregnancy laws do apply to all lobsters.

Lobsters in the USVI have no season. A diver or snorkeler may catch them year round providing they have a 3.5” carapace. This means the main shell from the notch between the horns to the end of the shell where the tail starts must be 3.5”. Only 2 lobsters may be taken by a diver in any one day.

All lobsters must be landed whole. This way a carapace could be measured by an officer if needed. “Wringing” a lobster (the practice of twisting the tail off and discarding the head before reaching shore) is a USVI no-no. If a leg or antennae breaks off you are required to bring that back with you as well. You may only take lobsters by trapping them snaring them or grabbing them by hand. SPEARING LOBSTERS IS ILLEGAL. If you remember what I said last week about lobster blood then you know that the chemical receptors on the smaller forked antennae sense the blood and won’t return to that hole knowing another lobster was injured there. By the way, just like squid lobsters have hemocyanic or copper based blood that is therefore blue in color.

Finally, it is illegal to take a pregnant female of any specie of lobster. This includes females who currently possess sperm caps and not just displaying eggs under the tail. Sperm caps are the two dark grey or black looking smears found on the abdomen of the female just in front of the tail. Sometimes they merge and appear as one.

Finally, be aware of you are hunting “bugs”. Much of the south east end of St. Thomas surrounding the mangroves and the waters extending to St. John are protected against fishing or hunting of any kind. The waters included in the St. John National Park can be hunted with the same restrictions. If you are hunting around one of the islands Like the Capella Islands (Capella and Buck Island), The Flat Cays, and Saba you need to be careful as well because they are wildlife sanctuaries and these privileges do extend off shore.

The ideal lobster to catch and eat is a male roughly 1.5 lbs. (just barely legal). Our first instinct is to take the biggest lobster we can find. The problem with this is cooking them. When the tail gets too large. Big tails don’t taste as sweet and often become too gummy or chewy because they have to be over cooked. Almost all females that reach this size are perpetually pregnant and are therefore, off limits. If you do decide to catch a lobster over this size use the whole thing. Really large lobsters have tasty legs that can be eaten like crab legs. The meat inside the carapace makes a delicious bisque. The muscle inside the first knuckle of the antennae is very tasty and sweet just like the claws of Maine or American lobster.

We find lobsters hidden in holes, overhangs, and crevices. Do you know why? Females prefer these places to protect them elves while they tend their eggs during pregnancy. The other reason lobsters search out these spots is to protect themselves during molting. Yes, lobsters shed their shells just like snakes shed their skin. This leads me to another undesirable catch. A molting lobster is not worth catching. When the new shell is not fully developed you cannot successfully separate the meat from the new shell making it difficult to eat.

Caribbean spiny lobster tastes pest when served fresh. Don’t plan on poaching more than 2 freezing them doesn’t provide the best results anyway. If you focus on the tale, start by either twisting off of the main body or inserting your knife between the tale on an angle towards the head and under the carapace. Then make a a 300 degree conical cut removing as much meat as you can. Remove a section of the antennae about 2” longer that the tale. Insert the wide end of the antennae into the anal vent pushing it until you see it stick out the other end. By pulling it through you can invert the mudline or intestines without contaminating the meat. I like to use double fulcrum shears to cut along the bottom of each side of the belly and across the tail at the base. Grab a hold of the now loose exoskeleton and peal it off the belly like a banana. The tail is now ready to cook. For boiling drop the entire tail in water that is already boiling. The shell will start to turn orange the meat will turn white and the shell will start to release the tail. On the smaller lobsters that I like to eat this takes about 6 minutes. I actually prefer grilling them. They need to go shell side up on medium heat. Covering or butterflying them helps. Keep moving them around the coals every few minutes until the shell starts to release the meat. I encourage butterflying the tail if you don’t take my advice and go out to catch larger lobsters.

I never attempt to catch a lobster I don’t intend to eat. I look for lobsters I believe will meet the size criteria. I never attempt to catch a lobster I think is female. You might ask how I know. It’s simple Look at their legs then peak under her skirt. Seriously this is a valid answer. The rear legs of a female have an extra claw that looks like a thumb. Then as you look upwards under the tail, you may notice extra swimmerets or feathers. The tail of a female is generally more rectangular in shape where the male’s is more tapered.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse and fines can be considerable. Be environmentally friend when you are hunting lobsters. Take what is legal, what is in the limit, and only what you can tastefully eat.

BONUS SECTION: Thank you to Bill Westman our former Captain and Divemaster for these incredible pictures of lobsters preparing to mate and mating on a night dive at The Legends of Little St. James.

Until next time always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.

Your really cool blogger,


Thursday, October 6, 2016

You asked I respond. In this blog, I will discuss the mating habits, characteristics, and anatomy of Caribbean lobsters. I will finish up with the variations of lobsters in the VI. However, in my next blog, I will talk about the Virgin Islands lobster laws. I will also include a little about what is desirable and what isn’t. So here it is the Virgin Islands Lobster Primer.
I have personally seen 6 different species of lobster here. They fall into 2 categories, Langouste or spiny lobsters and Slipper lobsters. While I will talk more about these later, they all have a few things in common. These lobsters are all closely related to each other but very distantly related to the lobsters with claws we are used to seeing in the North Atlantic. “Maine” lobsters evolved about 30,000,000 years before our lobsters walked the earth.
All of these lobsters have 3 distinct features. They all have a tail. They all have a carapace under which are attached 10 legs making them decapods. They all have antennae and not large claws. While the spiny lobsters have long thin antennae the slipper lobsters are broad and flat, plate like if you will. They also have smaller forked antennae closer to the centerline which are used to taste the water for chemicals. Recent studies suggest they may also be used to sense slight electromagnetic anomalies beneath the sand that could signify food as well.
As we will discuss in the fishing laws next week it is important to bring all pieces of a lobster back. If you have never noticed, the blood of a lobster is an extremely sticky glue like substance. These smaller receptors can find this substance stuck to rocks and coral and make a great lobster hole useless. The lobsters will know that another lobster has been injured there and won’t return there to molt or reproduce.
The next time you are swimming along and find what appears to be a dead lobster on the bottom turn it over an examine it. If the insides appear to be black or moldy then yes Virginia you may have found a dead lobster. But more than likely you will see a clean looking pale orange to light brown coloration. This is because lobsters molt their exoskeleton. Exoskeleton means they have no bones on the inside. Their skeleton is on the outside. As the lobster starts to outgrow its shell, a new soft pliable and expandable shell will start to form underneath. When it is ready the outer shell will start to let go from the tail near the carapace first. Then, as it comes fully loose, the lobster will back out of the carapace and walk away to a sheltered hiding place to let the new shell fully expand and become hard again. This is one reason we find lobsters hiding in overhangs and holes. It protects them while the shell hardens.

The other main reason we find lobsters hiding in such secret places is reproduction. It provides excellent cover for the female to move to the opening and irrigate the eggs while she is incubating them. If trouble appears she only needs to back up a foot or so and the aggressor can’t get to her. On the underside of a male lobster between the last two legs you will see 2 scrub brushes. These are the male sex organs. The female has two flat spots in the same location. When they mate the male literally paints two sperm patches that are a dark gray or black in color and sometimes merge together on these flat places. The last leg on each side of the female has a small claw that sticks out resembling a thumb. When she drops her orange hair like strands of eggs, she uses this claw to scrape off the sperm and inseminate the eggs herself. As the eggs mature into jelly like strands, she can pick out the dead ones and help to prevent disease, parasites, and fungus from overtaking healthy ones using this special claw.

As I said in the beginning I have personally identified 6 different lobster species here. The first 3 are from the Palinuridae family. These are the spiny or langouste lobsters. They include:
The Caribbean Spiny Lobster which is the easiest one to spot and most often hunted.
The Spotted Lobster which resembles the spiny but is much smaller and tastier.
The last is the Copper Lobster which I could not find a great picture of.  These resemble the other two but are much smaller, about 5” long. I have seen only exoskeletons during the day but I have seen 2 on night dives as they are nocturnal. They are a brighter yellow in color.
I often hear divers say “I saw a slipper lobster on that dive”. They are right but they are wrong. Most commonly they saw the first member of the Scyllaridae family. These are the slipper lobsters. They include:
The Spanish Lobster. The most common in VI waters.
The Regal Slipper Lobster. Certainly the most colorful.

The Sculpted or Sculptured Slipper Lobster.

The next time you see a lobster you will know a lot more about what you are seeing. When you get back on the dive boat I hope you too will share some of this information with your new diving friends. Next week I will share the VI lobster regulations and talk about hunting, preparing and cooking lobster.

Until next time always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.
Your really cool blogger,