Nerdy Cat Scuba Travels

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

Author: leslie (page 4 of 4)

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.

Customer Dive of the Day: My Experience at Kleifarvatn Geothermal tour

Kleifervatn collage

Yesterday sent me on a customer guided tour of Kleifarvatn. Kleifarvatn is the largest fresh water lake in the Reykjavik Pennisula region. The big draw here is the geothermal activity. While diving you can see thermoclines, bubbles coming from the ground, smell and see sulfur deposits and hear the “fizziness.”

The dive site required about a 100-200m walk on the rocks before swimming another 100m to the active geothermal zone. The good news was that Patrik carried everyone’s tank to the dive site- which really saved me from exhaustion. Dive.Is likes to have every new employee, divemaster candidate, or Instructor Development Course (IDC) candidiate have a “customer tour” before they start working. The purpose is to show the newbie how a tour should feel like, and give you the customer perspective. Since I actually paid for a silfra dive last year during my holiday in Iceland, I was given the option to dive here instead.  It’s sooooooo nice not to carry or assemble any gear. Just jump right in! Nothing to worry about here. What a treat. This place made me feel like I was on a movie set. No one around.  We could be expecting Matt Damon to pop out of nowhere with his Martian outfit on.

I felt a little more relaxed in the open atmosphere compared to the silfra night dive. There were just a couple of times where I struggled with my fin and then lost track of my buoyancy.  But I’m here to learn, right? I can’t start the program perfect. (Although I really wish I would be better)

Once the dive was over, this tour also included a trip to Seltun.  The area is a small hike around geothermal hill where temperatures beneath the surface reach 200°C. It reminded me of the Hells gate geothermal spa in New Zealand. Unlike NZ, this place is free.  Hells gate charges $35 NZD just to tour the area. On top of that, you have to pay more for the spa area.    A big bonus over Hells gate is that you can hike up a hill and get really close to all the mud and steaming holes. I suppose if you really want to get that mud, you could dig into at the top and camouflage yourself. I decided to just stay dry and as I was. At the top of the hills we saw a grand view of the different lakes around the area.

This was my favorite part of the day.

Lessons Learned:

For Scuba people: Choose a divemaster program where you get to dive interesting spots!

For Tourists: Come to Iceland, its got Seltun for FREE!

Night Diving at Silfra

Night Dive Silfra

Amazing! Beautiful night dive at þingvellir National Park with Dive.Is staff

Dive Log: 157 days since my last dry suit dive.

Am I really here? Do I really want to become a divemaster in about 2°C water?  I’ve been here a few times before. Why is it so cold? Am I being the biggest wimp ever? Are there icicles forming from my nose? The night skies are quickly disappearing from Iceland, so we had to squeeze in a night dive before the summer officially arrives.

“Buoyancy control to Major Tom.  Major Tom. Are you there? Ground Control to Major Tom!! Help!”

It took me about 30 minutes to settle in my drysuit and control my buoyancy. I really felt like I could have been a ball in one of those pinball arcade games. Good thing I was in a fissure and didn’t drift off into the lake. I’m totally over exaggerating, but you get the idea.

Once I calmed down, I was able to enjoy the dive for what it was: Beautiful. The water at an angle beautifully reflected the scenery below.  There were periods of darkness, then flashes of bright light from the backgrounds as other divers moved about.  When I turned on my back, I could see the stars shine through the water.

After the dive, I struggled to get out of my fins. It seems like I just had one stress after another tonight. The 400m walk back to the picnic tables wasn’t as bad as I remembered.  But then taking off the drysuit was definitely difficult. I couldn’t do it by myself.  By then, it had dropped below freezing. Once I got my drysuit off, it looked like a frozen dead body on the ground. Kinda stiff and just laying there. I should have asked for her to walk herself to the van and put herself away.

As tradition for any silfra dive, we had some nice hot drinks afterwards.  I should have enjoyed the moment, but the thoughts and pressure of the divemaster program were weighing me down. Back at the shop, my dive instructor comforted me and gave me the strength/boost I needed to get me out of that “doubt hump.” Thanks instructor!

Takeaway thought of the day: Know that the divemaster program will be very difficult… but that you need to give yourself time to breathe, adjust to the weather, and stop being so hard on yourself.

And So it Begins- Dive.Is Divemaster Program


Today I received my PADI divemaster package. In Iceland the package costs 41,000Kr (approximately $341) Pretty standard price across Europe.  On it was about $300 including shipping. This cost is not included in most PADI Divemaster programs. Its considered something else you need to get on your own (like your gear).

The one most important thing I learned was not to lose the GREEN Sticker, as that was proof that I bought an authentic and unique PADI divemaster package. A $300 green sticker. Wow.

If anyone is thinking about doing the  DM program, I would recommend getting the package yourself before starting the program.

At first glance, I was pretty happy with the package. The Recreational Diving book has everything! It reminded me of the old days (times before Wikipedia).


I’m a sucker for hard copies the book has very detailed information on the physiology of diving to polar cells and global wind patterns.

The PADI Pro Black Zip mini binder contains slates and the instructor manual.  The slates have a lot of useful information on the workshops that you need to complete during the course.  One thing missing is a good old-fashioned pencil.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember the last time I actually used a pencil. Add these things to “Stuff to get before you start your Divemaster program.”

Speaking of which. “DOH! moment of the day” – Before starting the dive program I learned that I needed to get a physical / doctor’s note.  I have a regular doctor at home that could have done the examination, but now I need to try the Icelandic Health system and see how it goes. Hoping I get it done before my first day on Sunday. Gulp.

Lessons Learned: Things to do before actually starting the PADI Divemaster Course

  • Buy your Divemaster Package online (amazon or ebay) for a better price
  • Get a physical; get the doctor to sign your divemaster candidate application
  • Buy a pencil and a sharpener and figure out some way to attach it to the slates while diving
  • Once you get the Divemaster Package, don’t lose the $300 green sticker

Goodbye Engineering – Hello World

I’ve been working since I was about 14 years old. My first job was working for my friend’s mom at one of those Thai Food places at Festivals. During high school, I folded clothes and talked people into buying denim at the Gap.  When I got to college I worked a variety of jobs- internship at Raytheon, a grader, and teacher’s assistant (TA) for engineering classes.  Once I graduated with a B.S. Electrical Engineering, I got a real paying job in Engineering.

I got into this habit of working really hard, then taking a crazy vacation. Work Hard. Take a Break. Repeat. in 2014, I worked 7 months straight (7 days a week) with a total of 3 days off.  My team had an important job to do by a deadline; so everyone worked everyday until we delivered the product. I bonded with all my team mates, but I felt the disappearance of my personal life. What happened? When did life turn into only work? After three long years without a proper vacation, I took 7 weeks off of work to go to my friend’s wedding in Thailand and unwind.  It was great. I set goals and told myself I wouldn’t get into the same habit.

In 2015, I felt myself drifting into the same habit. I wanted to be different, but I couldn’t stop dedicating my life to my work. I needed to put the same amount of effort in my personal life as I have been at all my jobs.

Personal Leave of Absence – A Sabbatical

I don’t think any of my managers were happy to let me leave, but they all understood. I have been a “Far Exceeds Expectations” type of gal. But I told the truth and said I wanted a break and needed to pursue my personal life. I met someone while in Thailand back in 2014 and fell in love. I wanted a chance to see what life would be like without the pressures of work.


It’s not easy to leave your life behind. I have a great apartment in Santa Monica. I have a rental townhouse in San Diego. I’ve been a cat mommy for 16 years. I have a car, I’m a hoarder.  The list goes on and on.

Here’s what I did…I spent a month de-hoarding and donating all my stuff to salvation army.  I vacuum sealed any clothes I would need the next year and boxed up other important documents and stuff that I didn’t want stolen. I filled my garage with boxes of anything personal from my apartment.  I called my landlord and told her I needed to leave but would like the chance to come back. Being the nice lady she is, she let me sublet my apartment. That saved me about $200 a month in storage costs.  Coincidentally a swimmer friend was looking for a place at the same time so he agreed to sign a sublease with me and my landlord.

Next I spent about 2 weeks searching for someone that would watch my cat, Jade.  My close friend in San Diego volunteered her spacious house for Jade. I spent the next two weekends at her house with Jade making sure the cat was ok with her temporary accommodations.

Everything was hard to do, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could see the freedom of doing whatever I wanted. Jade would understand, mommy needed a break. My family would understand. Friends were excited for me. Let’s DO THIS.


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