Author Archives: John Hoh

September 24-30, 2016 Blackbeard’s Liveaboard Dive Trip

blackbeard logoBlackbeard’s Cruises is based out of Nassua, Bahamas and is one of the best valued dive trips on the market today.  Divers spend a week at sea on a sailboat, food and alcoholic/non alcoholic drinks included, dive up to 20 times during the week in varied conditions including reefs, wrecks, drift, blue hole, night, and shark dives, and visit some of the most remote islands in the Bahamas. The sailboats only hold a maximum of 22 divers, so it’s small and personal and you get to dive away from the crowds.

Your price includes a berth on the ship, all food and drinks for the week, all diving for the week, and your docking fees for Nassau.  It does not include airfare to/from Nassau, any extra nights you want to spend before or after the trip (and food for those extra nights), souvenirs, or a tip for the boat crew (roughly 10% is customary).

These trips usually book a year in advance and they allow us to split payments up into a very generous payment plan for divers to make it affordable for anyone to go.  A $200 deposit will hold your spot on this trip.  Additional payment information is below:

  • 10/15/2015 – $200.00
  • 01/15/2016 – $200.00
  • 03/15/2016 – $200.00
  • 05/15/2016 – $200.00
  • 07/15/2016 – $135.00

We are now taking reservations and booking spots.  I have 10 spots reserved as of now with the option to reserve more if needed.  For anyone thinking about vacations for next year, this is a great way to get many types of diving in on a very laid back vacation destination and see the out islands of the Bahamas that many people do not travel to.

September 11-13 Dive Trip – Loch Low Minn, Sweetwater, TN

Our final regional dive trip of the 2015 season is officially booked and open for reservations.  We are going to Loch Low Minn in Sweetwater, TN.  Loch Low Minn is a medium sized quarry nestled in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  It is located just south of Sweetwater, TN, and is fed by runoff from the Smokies.  This results in very clean and usually very clear water conditions.

The majority of the quarry is 30-45 feet deep, with a 70 ft trench in the middle.  The natural landscape is beautiful enough, but it is also home to a decent population of hand-raised paddlefish as part of a study by the University of Tennessee.

When: September 11-13, 2015
Where: Sweetwater, TN
Cost:  $155.00 per diver/ $145.00 per non-diver ($145.00 diver/$135.00 non-diver cash price).  Rooms are based on double occupancy.  Rental Equipment available if needed.

Trip Includes:

  • 2 nights hotel accommodations
  • 2 days entry into dive park, including night dive opportunity Saturday evening, weather permitting.
  • Tank/weight rental (if required)
  • *2015 Special* Any additional gear rental is included in cost (pending availability)

SCUBA Divers Lead Charge Against Invasive Lionfish – by Kerry Sheridan

Diver brings up Lionfish catch

Diver brings up Lionfish catch

Islamorada (United States) (AFP) – Clad in a gray hooded wetsuit, Eric Billips straps on his scuba tank, grabs a pole spear and nods at his dive buddy as they step feet-first off the boat and disappear with a splash into sparkling blue waters off the Florida Keys.

The lionfish hunt is on.

Billips, 42, speared his first lionfish six years ago and estimates he has since killed thousands of the invasive, venomous predators, as their numbers have exploded across the western Atlantic and Caribbean.

But he isn’t sure what he will find in this particular spot, about four and a half miles (seven kilometers) offshore.

A fisherman told him he’d snared a couple of lionfish on his hook and line there — which was unusual because they typically stalk their prey in the ocean depths and don’t chase bait on a line — and gave Billips the coordinates so he could find the area himself.

The divers descend 135 feet (about 40 meters), and see what looks like bridge debris — concrete and steel girders that someone dropped there long ago to create shelter and habitat for fish, and a custom fishing hole.

Full-grown grouper and snapper are swimming around, along with vast schools of minnows ready to be gobbled up by the lurking lionfish.

Billips kneels in the sand and begins to shoot. His weapon is equipped with a three-pronged trident tip that impales each lionfish. He pushes the speared fish into his shoulder-slung container — a narrow barrel with a one-way entry — and pulls the tip out, clean and ready to shoot again.

Twelve minutes later, Billips and his fellow diver resurface, grinning and breathless. They slide their containers onto the boat, each filled with more than a dozen fat, full-grown lionfish.

“It’s crazy. These lionfish, they have no fear,” says Billips, who owns the Islamorada Dive Center in the Florida Keys.

Two more divers go down to hunt, and soon they emerge with their own bounties. A cooler fills up with twitching red, orange and brown striped fish, some as long as 16 inches (40 centimeters).

Billips pauses for a quick review of the cooler contents, and counts about 50. Then he fires up the boat’s engine to bring his team to the next fishing spot.

– A ruthless invader –

Lionfish were first spotted off Dania Beach, Florida, in 1985. The fish are native to the Red Sea and the tropical Pacific, and are believed to have been introduced to the western Atlantic by people who let their aquarium fish go in the ocean.

Two species of lionfish — Pterois volitans, which is the most common, and Pterois miles — have officially become the first outsider finfish to establish a sizeable population in the waters off the United States.

They can now be found in an area covering more than 1.5 million square miles (four million square kilometers) in the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

With 18 venomous spikes that can cause intense pain, and no natural enemies besides humans, these members of the scorpionfish family scare off any would-be predators. Even sharks will not eat them.

But lionfish will eat almost anything smaller than them, including valuable species like red porgy, vermilion snapper, Nassau grouper and fish that consume algae off reefs and keep them healthy.

“It is quite alarming that a small population of lionfish can literally consume millions of prey over the course of the year, so that is one of the reasons we are very focused on control,” says James Morris, a leading lionfish researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

– Competitive sport –

The first lionfish derby was held in 2009 in the Bahamas, according to Lad Akins, director of special projects at Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit marine conservation group.

“Derbies have spread all through the region and they are held quite frequently now,” he says.

What has given divers hope that their efforts are working is an ongoing study being led by Stephanie Green, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University.

Her team has found that killing between 75 and 95 percent of lionfish off reefs in the Bahamas was enough to help populations of local fish rebound.

For the past couple of years, Green has been traveling to South Florida, tracking derbies, counting lionfish in the waters before and after hunting expeditions, and comparing the populations to areas that have not been hunted.

She and colleagues are submitting their latest work for peer-review and publication in the coming months. So far, the news is good.

“We are finding really strong evidence that volunteers can be really effective,” Green says.

“By doing derbies on an annual basis, or possibly even more frequently, the hope is that you are keeping lionfish at very low numbers, low enough that they are not having an impact.”

– The winner is… –

After the derby off the Florida Keys, a seaside party ensues. Reggae music plays, and prizes of cash, stuffed toy lionfish and jars of liquor are handed out to the winners.

Akins, who has co-authored a lionfish cookbook, demonstrates for a small crowd how to clean the fish, cut off the spikes, and slice filets.

Volunteer chefs make samples of ceviche and fried lionfish for the crowd.

“It is a really light, flaky fish,” says Michelle Dickerson, a diver from Texas. “It tasted really good.”

Two of the five boats that entered this derby came back empty handed. One team caught just two lionfish, and another boat snared 11.

Billips’ boat, The Life Aquatic, is the winner with 86.

For Billips, it wasn’t the biggest haul ever, but it was still satisfying.

“That probably saved 20,000 little fishies, just our boat today,” he says.

“That’s huge.”


Life Ending Seconds – 3000 to Zero in 72 Seconds – Advanced Diver Magazine – by Curt Bowen

We train for equipment failures in our certification courses, practice our emergency drills, and conduct pre-dive safety inspections. We do all this in hopes that we may catch a problem before it happens or have the knowledge to remedy the situation at depth just in case one occurs. In all the preparation and drills, it always seems that an equipment failure happens at the worst time.

Advanced Diver Magazine looked into equipment failure one step further and conducted a series of tests at multiple depths in an attempt to calculate if increased depth can escalate a potential life threatening equipment failure. Afterwards, we posted the results on the technical diving forum, The Decostop (, to see what the responses and suggestions from other technical divers would be.

The test

Four different equipment failures were simulated at four different preset depths and timed for their results. Each test included a full aluminum 80 cubic foot cylinder filled to 3000 psi. The test timed how long it would take to drain each aluminum 80 from 3000 psi to 0 psi.

The equipment failures tested
1. High-pressure hose failure. Simulated by putting a pre-cut high-pressure hose on a first stage regulator. The cylinder valve was fully opened at the predetermined depths, and the time it took to drain an 80 cubic foot cylinder was recorded.
2. Low-pressure hose failure. Simulated by putting a pre-cut low-pressure hose on a first stage regulator. The cylinder valve was fully opened at the predetermined depths, and the time it took to drain an 80 cubic foot cylinder was recorded.
3. Burst disk failure. Simulated by removing a burst disk from the cylinder valve at depth. The time it took to drain an 80 cubic foot cylinder was recorded.
4. Free-flow second stage regulator. Simulated by manually purging a high performance second stage at the predetermined depths until the cylinder was emptied. The time was recorded.
Depth Tests Conducted

Equipment Failure Test Results

This test (see above results) produced clear and precise results indicating that any major equipment failure, with the exception of a high-pressure hose rupture, would result in a catastrophic gas volume loss in just a few seconds.

Applying this knowledge to real life situations.

The far right column in the chart above provides the amount of gas lost in cubic feet in 15 seconds. (The estimated time it takes for an unsuspected diver to fully analyze and shut down the failed regulator or isolation valve.) Of course with some situations, such as a ruptured burst disk or tank neck o-ring failure, all the volume in the affected cylinder will be lost.

The best reaction and solution to save the maximum amount of gas will vary according to the type of rig each diver is using from doubles with an isolation valve, independent doubles, and side mount cylinders. The ending consensus indicated that a good buddy team, especially for extreme technical diving and proper gear maintenance was of top priority.

Pennyroyal Quarry, September 2014

Mermet Springs, September 2014

White Rock is ready for Try Scuba days!

White Rock pavilion Banner at White Rock

We spent the day yesterday at White Rock park yesterday.  New lines have been run from the sunken van to the school bus, and from the school bus to the wall to make a nice route for divers to take a short tour.  The old rope was removed, our banner has been hung on the pavilion and I have two signs out advertising Try Scuba at White Rock.  While we were there, Bob Brewer completed his first day of open water certification.  I want to send a heartfelt thank you to Bob for helping me with some of the land and surface items and for acting as my spotter while I was running lines.

We will be at White Rock next Saturday from extremely early until closing time to get a few things done ahead of the park opening, and offering certification dives and Try Scuba/Tandem Dives for park attendees.  Remember, entry fee into the park is $12.00 for the day and Try Scubas will be $30.00 per person.  This is a great way for a non-diver to experience scuba diving one on one with a certified instructor.  Reservations are advised due to the private nature of the excursions and limited number of time slots.

Call us at 859-594-4611 or email us at to reserve your spot or just come join us for the day!


Simple Rules to Dive by – June SDI article by Rob Bradish

trimmed diver and turtle

photo credit: Ray Bullion

Deep diving is a portion of recreational scuba diving that can present dangers and concerns for any diver. These factors can be avoided through proper technique and training. First, divers must utilize common sense and safe practices prior to getting wet.

So, let’s start off with a level set. I started diving in 1977. I was not a professional until about two years ago, and while I have traveled a fair amount, I am certainly not a once-a-year, off to the islands kind of diver. I am, for the most part, just like most of you; I like to dive. This is just my opinion and I encourage you to think on it and more importantly, develop your own response. That said, with over 35 years of diving, I have never gone into unplanned decompression, never run out of gas, and never had an incident become an accident.

I am constantly shocked at the number of divers on a boat dive that need to spend 8 – 10 minutes on the line at 20 feet during a recreational dive. Even scarier is the frequency with which I will hear someone come up the ladder with their computer beeping. When asked, they seem shocked and say something like, “I wondered what that was.” Moreover, an informal survey among charter professionals seems to indicate many of these divers are younger, some with just a few years or dives under their belt. This worries me because as I review the training and knowledgebase available to divers today, the detail is much greater than what we previously had.

So, it begs the question, why are divers today, who are better trained and have more information available than ever before, experiencing incidents that we all know, for the most part, are avoidable?

So, what are some differences between new divers and those who may have more experience? Well, right off the top, I have a few rules I dive by, many of you may have heard before.

1. Plan your dive, dive your plan. We have all heard this for years, but how many especially in our age of computers, actually do it? Most computers even have a modelling software built in to help you. But this goes way beyond anticipating your depth and runtime. In sports and high risk activities, people are taught visualization as a means of preparation. The point here is to, first, psych yourself up for a positive outcome, but more importantly, try to visually prepare and foresee any incidents before they occur. Sure, you can talk about what you hope to see and your separation plan, but do you talk about your dive time? What happens if you go to deep, or stay to long? You get the idea, sit with your buddy and talk about the dive, the goals, and the contingencies to insure you both have success and a good time.

2. Three strikes, I’m out. This is one that is personal. I have found that if I have three mini-incidents, my head can get out of the game, and the best thing for me to do is call it. This even includes driving to the charter! I have also learned for me specifically, the number one thing that can lead to an incident is new equipment or a new configuration. Not yet familiar with that new computer? Get a phone call from the boss about work on the way to the site? Can’t quite get your kit to feel right? Any of these items can take your mind out of the game, but a couple or more together, and I know I will be distracted.

3. There is no dive today worth all of my diving tomorrow. Seems simple, but I am always shocked at the number of people who are afraid to call a dive. Fifth dive of the day and you suddenly get a booming headache? Long ride out and you notice the boat bobbing more than you are used to? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t wrap your head around the dive? CALL IT! There is no dive that is more important than all my future diving. This also leads to an additional rule that tech divers frequently state. Any diver can call the dive at any time, for any reason, without fear of repercussion. Now don’t get me wrong, there will likely be some good natured razzing, but we have all called one. It makes no sense to harass someone when there mind isn’t 100% in the game! More importantly, this rule does not just apply above the waterline.

A few years ago, I was privileged to complete my cave diving certification, a section of diving which is dedicated to rules that are necessary to have a successful cave penetration dive. Now, years later, nearly every time there is a death in caves, one or more of these rules was broken, frequently by divers with a great deal of experience and practice. It is important to note however, it was likely not the broken rule or rules that lead to tragedy, but complacency that lead them to ignore the rules in the first place.

I won’t tell you that there is never a reason to run out of gas or go into unplanned decompression. I will tell you however, if you refuse to be complacent about the rules taught to you as a new diver, then the likelihood of you experiencing an incident or accident will be greatly reduced.

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Drift Dive – June SDI article by Lauren Kieren

2 drift divers

Photo Credit: Becky Kagan Schott

Drift diving is like flying underwater. When you are soaring along the bottom contour, neutrally buoyant, guided by a gentle current, watching the marine life; it gives you a perspective of the underwater world that is difficult to obtain any other way.

Depending on where you dive, Divemasters (DM’s) and dive operations may use different techniques for drift diving. In many cases, drift dives are conducted off a boat while a DM guides the direction of the dive while towing a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB) to mark the divers’ location in the water. Meanwhile, a boat might be following the group to pick up divers as they surface (keep in mind, drift diving from a boat requires a skilled boat operator to conduct drift diving procedures properly).

Prior to participating in drift diving activities, you should be extremely proficient in your diving skills. If you have not participated in diving activities for a period of six months or longer, we highly encourage a diver to go through a Scuba Refresher course before considering this type of advanced dive. Setting up a drift dive can be a fast paced activity that requires your diving skills and techniques to be dialed in – the ascents and descents can be challenging but once you are on the bottom… It’s your time to cruise along the ocean floor.

So what should you consider before drift diving? Here are a few tips and tricks before you hit the water:

STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME – Prior to entering the water, ensure all of your dive equipment is on, functioning, and you have completed a pre-dive safety check. Make sure you are properly weighted so you can descend with the group. If you are having difficulties equalizing on the descent – signal to your buddy and be aware of the divers’ location on the bottom, and the surface marker buoy signaling your location. If conditions allow (good visibility and manageable current) slow your descent to catch up with the group. If conditions do not allow for this and you cannot catch up with the group, surface with your buddy to abort the dive.

GO WITH THE FLOW – Once you are on the bottom, it’s important to “go with the flow.” Avoid swimming against the current, as this will increase your work load and air consumption rate. Streamline yourself and your gear to glide effortlessly through the water. Keep an eye out in front of you to plan your moves accordingly. If you see obstructions ahead of you – whether it’s a coral head, a wreck, or a cluster of fishing line – it’s important to plan your moves ahead of time to avoid a collision.

SELF AWARENESS – As previously mentioned, the descents of a drift dive can be fast paced. It is extremely important during all dives (especially drift dives), to monitor your depth gauge to ensure you are staying at a consistent depth versus drifting downward or upward without realizing it. Also, keep a close eye on your no decompression limit (NDL), as you glide along the bottom your air consumption rate may be reduced due to the lack of physical exertion required during this phase of the dive. Remember, just because you have ample an amount of cylinder pressure remaining, does not mean your NDL, or bottom time hasn’t exceeded the limits. Finally, check your tank pressure early and often and make sure you will have an ample supply of breathing gas to make a slow ascent, conduct a safety stop, and safely surface with some remaining tank reserve.

surface marker buoyMAKE YOURSELF NOTICEABLE! – No, we’re not talking about wearing flashy dive gear… Prior to ascending, make sure to keep your eyes open and your ears tuned for boat traffic. If you and your buddy are surfacing before the group, ascend in sight of the SMB the DM is towing. Once at the surface, deploy your own Surface Marker Buoy, give yourself some distance from the SMB marking the divers underwater, then signal to the dive boat for pick up. If necessary, carry a whistle or audible alarm to be heard from a distance if you are not seen. When the boat makes its way towards you, stay put and do not swim towards the boat unless instructed by the boat operator.

Drift diving is a fun and exciting way to explore the underwater world, however, it can also lead to increased stress and anxiety if you are not prepared. This text is not intended to replace proper dive training, nor does it cover all aspects and requirements of drift diving. Following these tips along with proper training will ensure you get the most out of your drift diving experience.