Nerdy Cat Scuba Travels

A Cat Lovin' Engineer taking a career break by traveling, doing a divemaster internship, and diving around the world

Month: May 2016

Its a Sad Bloody Rainy Day at Silfra


Feels like 4°C. Brrrrr….

Today I worked the surface shift for about 12 hours. At Dive.Is, they have a position called “Surface shift.” Its a person that’s not getting into the water. The responsibility is to prepare the morning gear (get all the hoods and gloves for the day ready). Organize the dive site and prepare for the morning customers to arrive. Assist the dive and snorkel teams get ready to get into the water. Go to the entry point of the dive site and assist each customer by having them spit into their own masks and then rinsing them out, putting on the customer’s masks so that they fit properly, and strapping everyone’s fins on. I probably put on over a 100 pairs of fins during a shift.  It’s not the funnest shift to work, but its part of the whole learning experience. Here you learn how to fix stuff before someone gets into the water. Let’s say the regulator kept free flowing, well now you get to change the regulator out while the customer stands at the stairs. Its real “on the job training.”

Ok back to my rant of the day….. It was a really cold, windy and rainy day. My hang nails were at peak nastiness. Nothing could be done about them. At one point, I left a bloody mark on a customer’s cheek while assisting her with her mask and hood. It wasn’t that bad, but I was embarrassed that I got stuff on a customer.

At the end of the shift I couldn’t even unzip a guide’s drysuit. My hands and strength were just gone.

I’m glad that I’m experiencing all this as a trainee, I can’t imagine experiencing cold like this after working in dive industry for a bit.  It’s only going to get easier, right?

BIG Props to all the guides that did this throughout the winter.

Now…I can’t wait to go home and defrost for an hour or two.  Thanks to my app… I’m bloggin in the car 😉

Drysuit Diving: Zip me up before you go go


Yesterday was the first time I experienced water in my drysuit. Not that bad… But definitely something I don’t want to experience again anytime soon.

After the first dive, I asked Patrik to check my zipper…. There was a very small gap near the end. So water slowly leaked in and filled my right arm. I think the worst part was my elbow. It got really old and felt liked I had arthritis or something.

The water and coldness really messed with my head. I felt like the soggy sweater was occupying my thoughts instead of the dive (work). Once we finished everything, I couldn’t get out of my drysuit. I usually have a hard time anyways, but then my right arm was hurting and I just couldn’t find the leverage or strength to pull my hands out of the right wrist seals.

Once we got back to the shop I hung my under garment up to dry… But 7 hours later, it still was wet for my morning shift.

So what does it feel like when your suit leaks? Well- the biggest difference is that you feel WET. I felt soggy and painfully cold. When I first started drysuit diving I thought my back was wet. But really that was just the suit compressing. That felt like someone out a cold rock on my back. In comparison, the leak felt like a sharp painful coldness. Now I can explain the difference to customers.

Lessons Learned:

  • Double check your own zipper before jumping into the water
  • Double check your own zipper before jumping into the water – really!!
  • Customers always stress out about getting wet. They aren’t going to die of hypothermia, but if they do get wet, change before the next dive so they don’t become the most miserable person in the world

Grundarhverfi – Diving on my day off

Grundarhverfi diving

So it’s been about 2ish weeks into my dive program. Patrik suggested a “fun dive” on my day off. I thought he was crazy. Everyday I’ve been lugging around heavy gear and breaking my back- why would I do that on my day off?

Well, it turned out to be a good idea. We went to Grundarhverfi (north of Reykjavik). It’s a small reef with lots of macro stuff. Lots of hermit crabs, clams, slugs and stuff. I got to try out a 15L steel tank. I quickly realized that it felt like a giant turtle that ate too much. I couldn’t get my trim right and I think I was underweighted. estimated 12kg for a 12L tank. I went with 10kg and a 15L… Should have been ok, right? Oh well- too late now.

If you ever thought about doing a divemaster course or an IDC, I think you really have to be a die hard fan of diving. Do it because you can’t wait to see what the water will show you. If you aren’t in LOVE with diving, this program can really wear you down. I’ve even had days where I wonder if I made the right decision to go on a sabbatical and become a divemaster. Then I open my eyes and take a deep breathe from my regulator and gawk at the life around me. This is amazing. Diving is amazing. Look at that hermit crab fighting with the other crab. Straight Crab gangster. Thug crab life. hooks up.  This fun dive reminded me why I wanted to do the divemaster program in the first place.

Cheers to fun diving!!

Tripadvisor Reviews


Dive.Is is #1 on the Iceland scuba tours. As of today there are over 950 reviews. In the office they give rewards to employees that are mentioned in a five star review. As a dive master student, I don’t receive any incentives or rewards for tripadvisor. However- it would be nice to have someone appreciate my hard work. Some employees tell customers about the rewards and ask for a review. Other employees never ask customers. I’ve been on vacations where companies have asked for a review and ones who have not. I usually write reviews on tours that I really enjoyed. I don’t like to be a negative reviewer. (Ok one time I did write a bad review for a hotel that lost my Sonicare toothbrush… but then after I wrote the review, they gave me credit for a new one. So it was good that I wrote the review after all.

Now, being on the receiver end of reviews, it panics me. I don’t want ruin someone’s vacation. I don’t want to be that person that “lost” a toothbrush.  The management at Dive.Is really has a keen business sense on this tripadvisor stuff. It really pushes me to make sure everyone has the time of their life on these tours.

So far I have received two positive reviews. One of the reviews was from a dry suit course where I assisted Patrik and Tom. We never mentioned tripadvisor … Yet they were kind of enough to mention our names and thank us. It truly was a great feeling knowing that someone recognized my hard work.

The other review was from a guided tour where the lead asked the customers to write us a review and mention our names so that our boss could give us some “thanks.” It also felt good that the customers had a good time and took the time to write a review, but I have to wonder if they would have written one if the guide didn’t mention it.

Is the praise less of a praise? Or are they equal in strength? Does it even matter? If I was an official guide would I ask someone to leave me a review? So far, I’ve never had the guts to ask anyone. It’s strange to me.

Lessons Learned: 

Customers: Before writing a review, think about who reads them and what impact its going to have on the company and future customers. Think about how happy you make an employee when you drop their name in the review.

Divemasters/ Employees: Regardless of tripadvisor, we should go out of our way to make sure each person has a fun day. They are on vacation. They want to have a good time. Be wary of the silent but deadly negative reviewer. It could be that nice grandma that was quiet all day. She didn’t complain, but did she have a good time? Make sure to treat everyone the same and with the expectation that this is going to be the best part of their vacation.

Consequences from Diving all the time: Dishpan Hands


Hi! How can you tell someone is a newbie at Dive.Is? Just ask them to show their hands. It sounds silly really. I never thought I would be such a pansy about hands. Just look at my sausages. Its like I’ve been living in the middle ages as a clothes washer servant gal.

Being in the cold all day doesn’t help, but when you add scuba diving in 2°C water and helping customers with scuba gear – its a recipe for disaster.  My nails have always been brittle, but now i’ve tried to really cut them short as possible.I feel like I’m in kindergarten or something. Nice short nails. No color, not even that white part of the nail on top of the pink part of the nail. No scratch post for me — ow.

Remember that horrible part of Black swan where Natalie Portman has the nastiest hang nail? Yep, thats me.  My middle finger nail split when i was trying to put on a customer’s glove, so now my middle finger nail is slowly ripping.  Filing the name down to stop the chip only made it worse.

Others have complained of their hands cracking at the joints. Think small cuts everywhere. My hands are extremely dry and feel like the tops are going to explode and crackle off my body, but still in tact. I have been trying to prevent this by  covering my hands in  “All good goop.” I call it my hippie creme because it smells like lavender. I got this stuff at Whole Foods before I left for my sabbatical. Its good for itchiness, cracked heels, burns, bites… you name it, it helps it. I would recommend anyone traveling for an extended time to get this stuff. $7.  This stuff has really been a life saver.

I’ve also been putting on some Kiehl’s Creme de Crops Body Butter. This is some fancy smancy stuff I bought when I used to have a job. Now I can’t stop using it. I’m going to be sad when I run out and can’t get another bottle of it (especially in Iceland).  At times I chuckle to myself because I feel like that chick at the bottom of the tunnel in Silence of the lambs. Her nails all jacked up from trying to crawl up. Then crazy psycho telling her to “put the lotion on or it gets the hose.” I’ll be a good scuba divemaster trainee and put the lotion on.

One instructor has recommended work gloves. So I started wearing a pair to try prevent my hands from scraping on the gear.  I’m not sure if that helps, but its giving me some more grip strength.

Bottom line: My hands look like they came out of a horror movie. Iceland +Scuba = Dead Hands

Divemaster Training: First Week Lessons Learned

Dive.Is Undergarments

Ok so it’s been longer than my first week, but I’ve been meaning to put together stuff for the first week.  Working for scuba is really different from engineering. Like the opposite world different. It’s stressful if different ways, and rewarding in different ways.

When I wake up for Engineering, I drag myself out of bed and then start mentally preparing for the meeting and projects I need to do that day. For Diving, I physically prepare myself. Eat Breakfast, dress warm, making sure I have the right gear and food for the day.

Am I a servant?! Ok I’m exaggerating. I don’t really feel like a servant. I’ve learned that each Dive Instructor does things slightly differently. Some like their gear packed OCD like, some couldn’t give a crap as long as it made it to the dive site. I’m easily adaptable and take it all with a positive attitude.

Short on time: I’ve had very little time to complete the dive master manual knowledge reviews during the work week. On my days off I need to do more homework. The days seem to fly by. I’m enjoying the diving and meeting new people. If I could give a note to myself a week ago, it would have been-

Dear Leslie,

Make a schedule so that you have time for knowledge reviews and having some Icelandic Fun.

Your future self,

Divemaster Leslie

Scuba Diving with a Camera

Silfra Diver between the fissure

Yesterday I did my first dive with a camera for customers. Usually I’m really bad at photographs so I was really nervous. Thankfully I was at least able to get a good shot of the customer between the fissure walls. The customers were really nice and  bought the photos from the dive. Yes! Success!

During the dive, I swam backwards for a bit, but found myself hitting the sides or bottom of silfra. I also had a hard time equalizing with my hands as the camera was dangling around my wrists.

The entire time I was really nervous and anxious about my buoyancy. Afterwards my dive instructor, Patrik, checked my photos and gave me a thumbs up. Yay! One new skill learned today.

Divemaster Training Status: So after one week of my internship I have been supporting Dive.Is for a little over 53 hours.

  • Divemasters are also tour guides. They need to be able to guide a group and take photos.
  • Taking photos affects my buoyancy. I need to figure out a way to swim backwards and control myself.
  • My body needs some rest. My hands are beyond DRY.
  • Cold water diving is HEAVY. I’m constantly walking around with about 60+lbs of weight. Sometimes more.

Drysuit Diving: Its all in the hands!


Me as the Divemaster Training, Daniel San, and Patrik as the Dive Instructor, Mr. Miyagi

Yesterday was my second day in training at Silfra.

I started to get comfortable packing and diving. (Check out my previous blog on all the preparations needed in the morning…)

The big problem I have now is getting out of the drysuit. When I first got to Dive.Is, Patrik had me take my drysuit to the shop. Then he watched me put it on and take if off about 5-7 times. I really didn’t enjoy this. But it’s one of those things you have to learn about drysuit diving.  It’s not like Thailand where I can just into a 3mm shorty and shout, ” let’s do this!!” Instead its this slowly and steady turtle like progress. I feel like I need some NASA assistants to help me out. I need someone on a loud speaker counting down for me. 3…..2…..1….. drysuit off!

After the Silfra Dive I had some swollen frozen sausages for hands. I felt like Homer Simpson when he gets too fat and can’t seem to dial the keypad on a fat.  “Error you are too fat.” Somehow the practicing at the dive shop wasn’t helping me. Darn sausage fingers.

Like Mr.Miyagi is demonstrating, I need to put my thumbs on the sides and pull out the sides of the cuffs with my shoulders. A couple of nights ago I even tried googling “how to get out of a drysuit” and couldn’t find anything.  So here let me try to describe what has been told to me:

Once you want to get out, tuck your hands in so that the thumb and pinky are touching each other. Then have the rest of the middle fingers get close to the pinky and thumb. Using the rest of the force in your other hand, make a hole in your wrist seal. Try making the hole as big as possible. Then tuck your fingers in, pulling your hand down with your elbow to get those suckers back in.

Dear God. What am I doing?! Mr. Miyagi show me the way!!

At this point my shoulders and back are really sore. Sitting at a desk all these years has really made me weak. I feel bad about whining so much, but really, waahhhh! I can’t believe its only been a couple days. Someone should have said this ain’t easy. Too late now.

When Engineering Skills Get Used on Scuba: Divemaster Candidate Information and Evaluation Form in Excel

divemaster Candidate information and evaluation form excel

Nerd alert!

So today I spent a little time in excel creating a file to track my divemaster candidate progress. I wanted a way to lay out a schedule per PADI instructions while also adding some details to the Dive.IS divemaster program.  They require a 3 month internship program which I have categorized as Dive.Is.   I think I will modify it a little more onceI get details on the practical assessments and pool sessions.  If there is anyone out there that is trying to track the same information – at least they won’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Divemaster Candidate Information and Evaluation Form template

Internship Details: So Dive.Is has a competitively priced Divemaster program for 99,000Kr ($850).  This cost includes a room and training. It does not cover the PADI Divemaster package (41,000Kr).  Why is this a good option? For one, the cost of a room for rent in Iceland is about 85,000Kr in the city center. So really you can come here for the summer and only pay a fraction of the cost of the rent. The trade-off is that you have to work a certain amount of hours to pay off the program.  Dive.Is benefits because you are working for them for “Free.” I benefit because I get to work at a Top notch dive center. This place is HIGH volume. Every day there are 10+ tours of snorkel and dive groups. Over 30 divemaster/instructors available for mentorship.  Here you will learn about all aspects of a dive center, not just diving. When I pinged some of these divers, they remarked that Dive.Is is one of the only dive centers that gives you 2 days off instead of 1. Isn’t that nuts?! I guess in the dive world, people only get 1 day off. I guess it’s not really “work” if you have fun everyday. I’m not sure if I could do this 6 days a week!

Questions to think about: 

  • What type of Divemaster program would work for you?
    • Internship with low-cost, or something faster?
    • Large dive shop or smaller?
    • Cold water? Or warm water?
    • How many days off a week do I need?
  • How do I want the divemaster program organized?
    • When should I do the pool sessions?
    • When should I do the demonstrations?

If I was feeling super nerdy, I would create a program roadmap showing completion progress. I’m not sure how deep I want to get into planning at this point.

First Day at Silfra – First Official Day of Training!

Silfra Thingvellier National Park

So today was my first day diving with customers at Silfra. I started the day waking up at 5:30am.  At the dive shop to start at 6am. I learned how to calculate people’s drysuit sizes and the logistics regarding morning preparations for tours. Next we picked up customers and drove them to Silfra. On the way Patrik explained the tectonic plates and size of Pingvellir lake.

Getting everyone into drysuits went well. It was after the dive that was a little more difficult. I’m still not used to helping people out of drysuits. On top of that- my hands started to swell up. My palms were swollen (and are still frozen now!) and so it was extremely did for me to pull my own wetsuit off. While helping a customer- I managed to punch myself in the face while I my hand slipped from their drysuit cuff. Ouch.  K.O by punching yourself. good one. I got a nice fat lip and some bit of blood. Ha ha.

Unpacking the gear was pretty easy. I kept trying to put more and more lotion on my face and hands. It seems that the Icelandic weather really knows how to dry them out.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Using people’s height and weight, I look at a size chart and grab a dry suit and matching undergarment.  For BCD’s, I use my own judgement on S,M, L or XL. If unsure- grab both sizes and have the customer decide which one fits better.
  • Weight belts: WTH?! I need to figure out how to do this.  I still have a hard time calculating what weights people need. I used to verify I estimated the right numbers. Most of the instructors knew the amount just by glancing at the weight.  Like a BOSS.
  • Morning preparation for diving: Verify every customer has a drysuit, undergarment, mask, weights, weight belts, weight pockets, fins, BCDs, and regulators.
  • Grab extras in case something goes wrong
  • Don’t punch yourself in the face trying to get a customer’s gear off.