Thursday, April 9, 2009

A trip to the Divers Alert Network

We were in North Carolina this past weekend, a trip that my wife Jill and I have done for the past three years as our "vacation" as we celebrate our anniversary after we take fellow divers on a trip to the Cooper River. This trip, my wife suggested that on the way home we stop by the offices of the Divers Alert Network and visit our friend, Eric Douglas and see one of the "mecca's" of the diving world. She set it up and WOW was it a great experience.

Eric met us at the front door for our tour and we were greeted at the door by a sign that said "Today we welcome Rich and Jill Synowiec" which I thought was pretty cool. Eric showed us a fish tank in the lobby that he said was "the coolest part of the tour" and then said that he didn't know how long the tour would be since it was an office building afterall. Since Eric is the training director of DAN it isn't surprising that he started with the training department... we met Scott, who we found out had an office full of stuffed animals (the cuddly type)AND surprisingly with all the toys in his office we found he was actually allergic to kids (he gets hives :)) Eric's office looked exactly what I would have expected a creative geniuses office to look like... shelves of books and boxes of his own books on the floor... the Mike Scott novels are a great read... especially for divers. Check them out at We also got to meet Fay. Every DAN instructor gets emails from Fay saying "your roster is processed" and it was good to put a face with a name. We also got to visit the call center.. the place where all the emergency calls come in and we got to visit with some of the cool staff of the medical department... they had some of their papers on a bulletin board in the hall. They are super smart :)

The tour took us around the first floor, to the second where we met...well no one.. the second floor was deserted... all in a meeting and not available. We did get to see the latest issue of Alert Diver up on the wall... they post a rough draft for everyone to check out before it goes to final print. They had some issues of the older copies.. not sure how they picked them but they were still cool. We saw a lot of other people.. too many to remember.. and I am looking forward to knowing them better on another trip.

The top floor of DAN.. where the executives, senior staff and the accountants are.. the important top of the ivory tower. We got to spend some time sitting in the office of Jeff Meyers, the COO of DAN talking about his time in Eric's position. I met Jeff in the Bahamas aboard a Blackbeard's cruise nearly 18 years ago when he was with PADI. Now his corner office is a pretty cool and comfortable place. I was glad we got to see him.

Then on to the other corner office. Jill and I met the person who does all the work, Dan Orr's personal assistant, and then the corner office... the top of the tower... and Dan Orr, the CEO of Divers Alert Network was in. He showed us some cool photos he took at the Guadalupe islands... he had a huge amount of awards including the Reaching out.. and I think I saw the NOGI.. He showed us some of the old Alert Divers... including an original first edition (I want one of those) from the early 80's... and we distracted him while Eric raided the candy jar. All kidding aside, Dan is a great story teller and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm of his stories of the Sharks at Guadalupe. Jill and I so want to go there.

Back downstairs and then back on the road back to Michigan. Glad we got to spend a couple of hours with Eric and the DAN team. I would like to come back again soon. For Eric, he began joking about it being an office building since it was his work and he also talked about how he wasn't sure how it could be a long tour.. but he beat out Dan Orr's normal 45 minute tour by nearly double. Good job, warm welcome and a great time... one I will not soon forget. Big thanks to everyone at DAN for making us feel comfortable... and Eric,Scott, Fay and the rest of the training department for all their help and support. Jill and I look forward to next time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cooper River, South Carolina

This past weekend was our annual trip to dive the black waters of the Cooper River in South Carolina. If you are wondering why anyone would travel to dive in limited visibility and perpetual darkness in a river where the tidal currents require that you litterally have to hang on to see stuff, you are probably not alone.

The Cooper River is part of a large fossil bed that covers most of the state of South Carolina and into North Carolina. There are hundreds of fossil fragments littering the bottom from the Pliocene period of geologic history. According to Wikipedia, The Pliocene Epoch (spelled Pleiocene in older texts) is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 1.806 million years before present. Because the River is cutting through the area and taking with it everything imbedded in that time period, it is not uncommon to find other bones scattered among the gravel on the bottom. Mastadons, Whales, Other sharks, fossilized sea creatures, and other amazing finds have all come out of the Cooper River.

Diving into the Dark waters is like travelling back in time 4 million years or so and discovering the remnants of those amazing animals. The coolest and most abundant fossils are the sharks teeth. For millions of years sharks roamed the waters of the area as the dominant predators. It is theorized that they have changed little over the years and it is assumed that the sharks of 4 million years ago shed their teeth like the sharks of todays waters. This means that over 4 million years, LOTS of teeth were deposited on the ocean floor.

In the Cooper River we go for sharks teeth, The Megalodon being the most coveted, but we find the teeth and bite plates of Great Whites, Tiger sharks, Rays, and even some of the older sharks. It makes for some exciting discoveries. The rule of diving the Cooper is to stay in the gravel beds and cover a lot of territory. If it looks interesting pick it up. I have added "if it is big pick it up" to my rules and have found some very cool things.

River diving in black water is definitely not for everyone. River diving alone is something that requires some additional experience and training, add limited visibility and your whole world being reduced to a square meter of murky water it takes some mental fortitude as well as physical stamina. Our dives are typically an hour long in 30-45 feet of water. Your light becomes your best friend so you bring a couple of back ups. A river tool to hold you in place, a little extra weight, a goodie bag and a tooth bucket and you are ready for battle.

But oh, the treasures you can find.

The largest sharks tooth ever recovered and publicized out of the Cooper River area was 7.25 inches long on a diagonal. That is almost the size of a piece of notebook paper on the short side. Way bigger than your hand. We haven't got that lucky yet. Paleontologists theorize that the Megalodon that had that tooth in its mouth would have been at least 60ft long. They also theorize that the Meg could have grown to 100ft but they need a 9 inch tooth to prove it. That is HUGE! The biggest tooth I have ever recovered was 4.25 inches. This trip we had a bunch of 3 inch ones come out but a lot of fragmented teeth that would have had sides much bigger. We also had a lot of species of sharks represented in our finds as well as a whale lumbar vertebra and an earbone or two. I like finding the other fossils as much as I like finding the teeth. Coming home with a bag full of goodies is really the reason to dive here. There are very few places on the planet that you are able to find some cool stuff for your collection at home.

One more thing to get you excited about the Cooper River, the history of the Charleston Area. A civil war and a revolutionary war were fought here so the area has a lot of really cool things to see from early American history. The Plantations that survived (or were rebuilt after) General Sherman's devistation are amazing and the historic buildings of Charleston and Fort Sumpter are pretty cool for the non divers that may want to tag along. The possibility of finding stuff from that time period on the bottom of the Cooper River is all part of the excitement.

My dive center takes this trip every year around the second weekend of April. If you want to join us and think you are ready to dive the Black Waters of the Cooper River you need to sign up well in advance. This trip has consistently sold out all of its spots for the last four years. I know I am looking forward to diving here again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Opening Day at White Star Quarry

What a super fun day! Big thank you out to everyone who made it great! The weather was fantastic, the water clear, the event well attended and although it was windy, we got 4 dives in and got a lot accomplished.

Started out the day early with Bill and Bronson to lift the platforms. We got the platforms all up and all the buoys out and a good start to the summer dive season.

I am really looking forward to seeing a lot of people out at White Star Quarry this summer!

Hope to see you!