How to beat the West Bay Express
Mounted to the wall inside our dive shop at Lighthouse Point, is this sign:
This is the West Bay Express Leaderboard. Fans of the popular British TV show Top Gear will recognize this sign as something similar to what they use on their segment "Star in a reasonably priced car." While the Top Gear leaderboard measures the best time around the track, our leaderboard measures distance. Of what you ask? The record holders for our West Bay Express. Magnetic tape on the WBX board as we call it, shows the distance in miles you've traveled underwater on a one-way scooter dive.
The West Bay Express is one of Divetech's signature dives on Grand Cayman. The way it works is simple: you and your dive buddies jump in the water from our Lighthouse Point shore location with one of our SubGravity Aqua Prop scooters and one of our dive guides. You head out on what is essentially a one-way scooter dive, while our guide escorts you, towing a surface marker. You follow the mini wall, or main wall (your choice) as far as you can. Once your dive is over, simply surface and the dive boat will pick you up and return you to Lighthouse Point.
The West Bay Express leaderboard was born out of instructors and guests proudly touting their accomplishments, as well as a way to stimulate friendly competition. Distance is measured by our dive boat's GPS. Our current record is 1.69 miles, which is from Lighthouse Point to almost the Kittiwake in a dive time of 1 hour and 16 minutes.
A track of the 1.69 mile West Bay Express journey.
Many guests arrive, and after hearing the dive time of an hour and 16 minutes, think they can easily beat the record. They soon find out, it's not as easy as they think. There are a few difficulties you might not have thought of. So here are a few tips to help you get to the top of the leaderboard.
Watch your alternate air source
This is the single biggest issue we have when conducting scooter dives. This actually happens so often, we added a warning to our scooter waiver, and make sure divers are thoroughly briefed on this.
When you are scootering, you are obviously traveling far quicker than you would normally swim. The water rushing past, and over your alternate second stage regulator creates a venturi effect on the diaphragm, causing it to purge air. When your alternate purges air, it drains your tank at an alarming rate. We tell all of our scooter divers, to secure their alternate in a way this can't happen, and to watch their gauge carefully during the dive. You don't have much of a chance to break the record if you're out of air in 15 minutes.
Beating the record really requires maximum efficiency from the scooter, and the single biggest variable you have on this, is your gear configuration. You need to be as streamlined as possible, with minimal drag from your BCD, and dive equipment. Back mount BCDs, or backplate and wing configurations are generally more streamlined than their jacket BCD counterparts and allow you to glide through the water more effectively. It's not coincidence that most of the divers on West Bay Express leaderboard use a back-inflate BCD.
Be weighted properly
Proper weighting goes hand in hand with streamlining, and it's very simple. The more overweighted the diver is, the more air they need to put in their BCD to offset this. The more air in the BCD, the drag they have, and the slower they will go.
Be neutrally buoyant
As a continuation of our proper weighting point above, a scooter diver needs to be perfectly neutrally buoyant for the depth they are operating the scooter at. When operating the scooter, it's very easy to be too positive, or too negative, letting the scooter compensate for the buoyancy offset. When you let this occur, essentially you are using the scooter to pull you up or down as well as forward, and this is very inefficient. Our advice is when you get to your target depth, stop the scooter and float around for a minute. Remember it's not a race, it's a distance goal, so take all the time you need. Make yourself perfectly neutral and then head off on your scooter. Be aware and stay at this depth - remember the top of the reef will rise and fall as you go along it, so don't use this as a reference for depth.
Proper scooter trim
Your body and the scooter both need to be horizontal for best efficiency. Both are most streamlined and efficient when horizontal, and the thrust of the scooter should be blowing below your body, not at it. If you feel prop wash on your body somewhere, that's inefficient, and you should correct this.
Here's some examples:
In this shot you can see, even though Kim is rolled to her right side, her body and fins are parallel with her axis of movement in the water. The scooter is parallel with her body, and the thrust from the scooter is flowing below her. Even though she is diving a bulkier rebreather, she is gliding along quickly underwater. This is perfect positioning for riding these Aqua Prop scooters.
This is a screen grab from a video. This diver is holding the scooter too high, and all of the prop wash is going directly into his face. In addition to being very inefficient, this is probably not very comfortable either. Hold the scooter so the thrust goes below you.
The limiting factors on any dive are of course breathing air, and no decompression time. Staying shallow allows you more of both. The top of the mini wall averages around 40 feet, and staying at this depth gives even the biggest air hogs a fighting chance. If you really want the advantage however, stay really shallow. At 15 feet deep, you can still see the reef and have an awesome dive, yet find yourself going for hours.
Practice, practice, practice
There's a saying "practice makes perfect." This isn't true. Perfect practice makes perfect, so all of these things I've mentioned need to be practiced in the water using a scooter. You can't expect to be proficient at anything the first time you try it, so those who seriously want to make a run for the money need to do a few test drives first. There will be things you likely haven't thought of, like holding the scooter, how your trim should be, getting that buoyancy correct, or equalizing your ears when your hands are holding the scooter.
Kim teaching a DPV speciality class.
Have good luck
The last variable is really out of your hands. You need to have some good luck. Before your dive, pray, rub your lucky charm, or whatever else you need to do to score some good vibes. You'll need it, because the one thing you can't control is current. Sometimes there will be no current. Other times you will hit a wall of it, and come to a dead standstill. If you're super lucky, you'll find a current pushing you along, giving you greater distance. Our West Bay Express records were mostly set on current-free days.
Practice on a scooter is quite a bit of fun, so come on to Lighthouse Point, rent one for a few dives and get proficient. Or if you really want to be a contender, take a scooter class with one of our experts and learn all of the tricks.