Southern Red Sea Exploration.

So finally on dry land and I am back in the office where I find some time to reflect and evaluate upon the “exploration trip” that my colleague Shaun and myself had recently undertaken.

I use the term “exploration” for lack of better terminology, but I feel an explanation is in order as “exploration” also is not really the correct word!   The term “Exploration” would suggest to the reader that we were finding new dive locations, new reef systems, when simply this was not the case. We were in fact visiting very well know reef areas but the “exploration” part was specific to the depth that we were diving and the area of the reef we were diving.

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During my very first years working in Egypt I had the pleasure and opportunity to visit most dive locations within the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, from as far north as the straights of Tiran down the southern reef systems of Elba which lie on the Sudanese border and everything and anything in between. These were the days where as a safari guide you were not “fixed” to any single route, you were moved around from boat to boat, route to route each week. What this created was a generation of safari guides which a huge expanse of diving knowledge and experience of the entire Red Sea. Sometimes I miss those days, now however, I don’t think the husband would be so happy with me being out at sea for 6 weeks each time!

Anyway, I am becoming side tracked….

So, I found myself back in the southern area of the Red Sea, of which the purpose of the trip was to “explore” each of the dive sites between the depths of 40m – 80m. Currently, there are no companies who offer specific technical diving trips to this area, OK, there are a few boats where they could cater for the odd deco dive but nobody is looking specifically at these dives sites though the eyes of the diver who would like to go that bit deeper. We had to find out why. Is it because there is nothing of interest below 40m in this area? Is it because the potential stronger currents pose a safety hazard to divers during decompression? Or is it lack of knowledge of the area? Or is there simply no demand. We at Tekstreme Diving wanted to try and answer these questions….

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The reef systems in the southern Red Sea are absolutely stunning in the shallow water and believe me this continues though to depth, actually, I would say even better in terms of quality of coral growth. As an example, the size and abundance of the Gorgonia fan corals that we were witnessing between 50m – 85m were mind-blowing. You need to trust me when I say it was like diving untouched reefs, reefs where no diver’s fin had accidentally clipped the coral and snapped off an entire branch, no damaged hard corals about from natural processes, this is what we were experiencing. It was amazing. You can see that not many divers are visiting these depths and the currents provide such a rich supply of nutrients that the soft corals especially can flourish.

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A particularly favourite of mine is a narrow tower of a reef, the local turn for it would be a “Habili”. This particular Habili looks like nothing on the surface but is simply one the reefs which is the most rich in life, its an aquarium for all creatures great and small. This cone shaped reef gets wider as you get deeper and provides marine life, colour and excitement all the way down to around 75m. We actually spent most of our dive at 50m watching as grey reef sharks smoothly cruised in and out unfazed by us as we were still and quiet. The world of having no bubbles on a rebreather comes into its own and the pelagics come closer to check us out. There is a potential for much current on these reefs but as these reef systems rise all he way to the surface you will always have a reference to swim alongside as you fulfil your decompression obligations. Plus, we will always have zodiacs to support us from the surface so if any divers find themselves away from the reef they will always be tracked and collected.

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Within the southern area there are also some wrecks. One in particular is sat at a maximum depth of 50m, this wreck attracts a huge array of marine life and has a great atmosphere. It’s at a nice depth to enjoy a longer bottom time having a scrape around and exploring the wreck in its entirety. There is also another more historic wreck, which is not greater in depth than 30m, but makes a great afternoon dive. Do dive it well it would still require some decompression due to its size so for sure a great feature of the area.

There is talk of another larger wreck within this approximate area but deeper which we aim to do a more specific search for on our next trip to this area. I am always a bit dubious when it comes to listening to tales of sunken wrecks as most of the time it turns out to be nothing, but when I have now had information from a few different sources all talking about a similar location, it certainly gets my attention.

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Moving a little bit further north there are some reefs that sit on the edge of a deep-water trench with walls dropping vertically down depths. These reefs are fed by a stong consistent currents that suppy the goodness for the corals to flourish. It’s on these reefs as you descend through the depth ranges the types and colours of corals here is changing quite dramatically. The colours of the soft corals are not restricted to the shallow waters they can be found through 50, 60, and 70m. Whip corals, black corals and Gorgonians’ in substantial volumes and sizes can be found at depth. Some of these reefs over the years have taken their toll on safari boats and the wrecks that are left behind may not have an exciting history but, what you find is that over time they have created a mini ecosystem and they attract a wide variety of marine life around the outside and inside. For sure it makes a nice feature of the dive.

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Of course we can’t be visiting the southern area without a stop at Elphinestone reef. This particular site needs no further exploration from us, this is one dive site that is already included in some of our other existing technical safari trips, but I include it here for those who have never had the opportunity to dive the reef. This finger long reef has dramatic plunging walls to the east and west, with plateaus on the north and south. You can dive to 100m all the way around this reef if you wanted to! Typically, we dive the northern plateau to any depth between 40 – 100m with eyes peeled with the to aim to find either Grey Reef sharks off the tip of the plateau or Hammerhead sharks. Its an area that gets a great current feed and so very nutrient rich. The colours of soft corals across the plateau are some of the best to be found in this area. As an alternative dive to the north, the reef has provided for us a natural landscape feature in the shape of an archway. Running directly under the southern plateau, this natural feature allows you pass from one side of the reef to the other. You can swim through this archway anywhere between 48m – 60m. It is also on this southern side of the reef where you have chance to find the Oceanic White Tip reef sharks patrolling the shallow waters.

Summary

As much as we have had a great week of diving and the exploration of the area at depth has begun there is a great deal more for us to do and hopefully more wrecks and natural features to be found. With the information that we now have, we have put together an itinerary for next year that will return to the sites that we have just visited but will also build in more time for further exploration. This means, for the divers on trip next year, will be just like us and exploring these areas for the first time. Is there a demand for this type of diving, this type of exploration, I absolutely believe the answer is yes.

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“Exploration is really the essence of human spirit”

Frank Boreman

Trip Details

Dates = 14/08/16 – 21/08/16

Vessel = Emperor Asmaa

Price = 999 euros

Contact info@tekstremediving.com for details on the trip and how to reserve your place.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Techical Diving

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Winter Warmer in The Red SEA

When the European summertime comes to an end and Christmas would be fast approaching take a final chance to escape to the warmer waters of the Red Sea for some scuba diving action.

In November 2015, Emperor Divers will be offering back to back trips to visit the northern wrecks and reefs of the Red Sea and have very kindly offered Tekstreme the opportunity to invite trained decompression divers to join the boat. Tekstreme will provide a guide for divers wishing to enjoy a safari trip made up of non-deco dives and deco dives.

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These trips are also the perfect opportunity for divers onboard the boat who currently do not have any decompression qualification to take the first level decompression course and maximize their times diving on some of the most amazing wrecks that the area has on offer. The SSI Extended Range Nitrox (SSI XR Nitrox) course enables you to continue to use your current scuba diving equipment whilst you learn the basics of decompression diving. You will be trained to dive to 40m utilizing eanx gases up to pure oxygen for decompression. You can do home study for the short course before hand, at your convenience, leaving the most enjoyable part of the course, the diving, to when you are on the boat with us.

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The Safari route

The Wrecks and reefs trip is the best of both worlds, where you visit famous wrecks in the northern Red Sea along with some stunning reef diving. This trip is not about depth, but it’s about having the time to explore the wrecks and reefs in all their glory within the 30 – 45m range.

Abu Nuhas has four well-known wrecks: Ghiannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula and Kimon M. All wrecks offering spectacular dives and plenty of fish life, and how about to try diving all four wrecks in one dive!

Night dives can be superb as Gubal Island offers protected anchoring for the night. A small wreck at 8-10 metres makes for a spectacular night dive with lionfish, scorpion fish and its resident giant moray eel as well as the wreck of the Ulysses.

The wreck of the Rosalie Moller is a perfect example of where having some decompression training can transform a dive. Imagine not being stuck to having only 20 minutes on the wreck before decompression but to be trained to happily have 40 minutes instead! Now we are talking! Next onto the Kingston lying at Shag Rock; the Carina lying close to Sha’ab Ali and the Dunraven at Beacon Rock in Ras Mohamed National Park.

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Last but not least lets not forget the most famous wreck in the Red Sea, the Thistlegorm, at Sha’ab Ali.

The SS Thistlegorm was sunk in 1941 after being bombed by the German Luftwaffe while on a mission to deliver a cargo of ammunition and other war materials to the British troops in North Africa. The Rosalie Moller, carrying a cargo of coal, suffered the same fate just two days later. Many divers have yet to explore the wreck and the surrounding debris field in all its glory again because the computer says “no”! This does not have to be the way. During your SSI XR training you will learn how to combine the best eanx gas for deeper exploration, in combination with an efficient decompression gas to enable you to be the first in the water and for sure the last out the water!

Whilst in Ras Mohamed, you may have the chance to do a dive at Shark Reef; a sheer wall falling into the blue. From here the boat heads back towards Hurghada.

In between wreck dives you will also visit the reefs of the Straits of Gubal, Gulf of Suez and those to the north of Hurghada. A variety of deep walls and hard coral gardens with an abundance of reef fish make them well worth a visit.

All wrecks are subject to divers’ experience and weather conditions.

 

The Dates

November 20th – 27th 2015

November 27th – 4th December 2015

The Price

As a special winter deal Emperor Divers are offering either of these trips above for 899 euros.

This price includes:

Airport transfers

7 nights accommodation

Marine park fees

Fuel Surcharges

All food and soft drinks on the boat

Technical dive guide

This price does not include:

Technical diving supplies:

Twin set hire or CCR tank hire = 60 euros for the week

2 x Deco tank hire / bailout tank hire = 30 euros for the week

CCR oxygen gas fills = 5 euros per fill / top up

Eanx gases up to 39% = 5 euros per fill / top up

Eanx gases between 40% – 79% = 8 euros

Eanx gases 80% – 100% = 12 euros

Sofnolime = 11 euros per kg

Notes

Please note that this trip is not a specific technical safari. It is a traditional wrecks and reefs safari with the option to make some decompression dives or join the entry level SSI XR nitrox course with one of the Tekstreme team. Tekstreme will guarantee their normal high level of service with regards to:

Custom gas mixtures to 200bar

Technical guide(s) available for all dives

Safety procedures and dive awareness

Detailed dive site briefings from a decompression perspective

Emergency oxygen and additional emergency drop down gases

There are no minimum requirements in terms of how many divers would like to make decompression dives. One of our guides will be there even if there is only one person who would like to make decompression dives! There does not get better service than that!

Contact us for reservations or more information.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Manager

info@tekstremediving.com

Tekstreme “The Tour”.

Did you know, that one of the most common questions that I get asked when guests are enquiring to me about Tekstreme and wanting to do some diving with us is, “Are Tekstreme located in other countries?” To date, I have had to reply that the answer is no.

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Tekstreme have, since establishment, concentrated their time offering technical services throughout Egypt. As a technical company we are one of the largest in Egypt with operations, through the facilities of Emperor Divers, in Sharm El Shiekh, El Gouna and Marsa Alam plus offering multiple specific technical safaris throughout the year. I guess personally for me, before taking Tekstreme to other destinations I want to be sure that we have the right attitude, approach, business plan, commitment, audience and of course the desire. Right now I believe we can easily tick all of those boxes. However, these things are not to be rushed. Much research needs to be done on destinations, availability, profitability, demand etc etc. We see in our industry too many technical operations opening up around the world yet one year later they close their doors. As a reputable technical diving company we need to ensure that if we take on such a project outside of Egypt that our customers can be assured that we will be there to stay.

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Now don’t get too excited, this blog is not Tekstreme announcing a new location, not quite yet, but what we are doing in the meantime is to take Tekstreme “On Tour”. Beginning in 2016 we are going to be offering technical diving trips to multiple other locations outside of Egypt. This way, our customers who want to have the benefit of diving multiple locations, but staying with Tekstreme are going to be very happy. Tekstreme will be organising diving trips including accommodation in various European destinations to begin with, before expanding to worldwide destinations. We will only be using the facilities of highly reputable dive centres in each location who we know will maintain high standards that our customers demand. On each trip one of our highly trained technical team members will be there with our customers to ensure that our high standards are kept and of course to offer technical courses on each trip.

For each trip, we are keeping them quite exclusive, small groups only. We plan to take a maximum of around 8 – 10 divers on each trip. For us, it has always been about quality, not quantity and this philosophy will not change. We want to have a more intimate group of divers that we can care for on a personal level, rather than a conveyer belt of divers!

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For us, these are really exciting times and we cant wait to take kick start Tekstreme “The Tour”, we hope that we are going to see many of our technical diver friends come and join us and make this the best technical tour ever.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Diving Manager

info@tekstremediving.com

SSI, Mares and an interesting end to the year.

Can anybody explain to me where the last 4 months have gone as I cant! One minute I am teaching courses in 30 degrees water looking forward to the world cup football to begin and the next thing I know Christmas decorations are up and we need to use the heater at night time!

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The second part of the year for me has been quite exciting. I guess one of the things that stands out the most for me is to receive an email from technical instructor Paul Toomer requesting a meeting somewhere on the out skirts of London. As it happens I happened to be heading to UK and so agreed to meet him. All I knew was he wanted to try and sell me his new product some thing called “SSI TXR”. In all honesty I was not so excited about this, why would I be, its just another training agency looking to increase its numbers and how can they achieve that by trying to recruit Tekstreme who is one of the largest technical training companies in Egypt. Makes sense really! What I was not prepared for was to be shown the new materials that he had written. Now you may think what is so special about another technical diving manual? Well, it seems as though these people in SSI have recognised the digital era that we are in and designed manuals specifically for viewing on tablets, Ipads etc . My husband has taught me, and is continuing to teach me about the wonderful world of digital technology and so of course it immediately got my attention. The layout was clear, the text informative but not overbearing and the structure of the manual was progressive and an easy read. But lets face it, there is more to a training agency than just the manual, now for the important stuff… the courses.

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There are not so many different ways that technical courses can be done, ultimately you start off shallow and you end up deep. You start of with one tank and further down the line you end up with 6 tanks! What was a key factor for me was how can we as the instructor teach the course. This was what was enlightening. We “as the instructors” were actually allowed / given the opportunity to use our judgment and experience to enhance the teaching process. Ultimately there are a set of standards that the agency wants us to adhere to, but within those we had the scope to vary training depending on conditions and the level of students. Paul was very passionate about this range of technical courses and it was nice to spend time with a fellow instructor who is actively looking to continue to improve our industry.

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Moving forward a couple of months in the year was when we heard some strange news. SSI were being brought by Mares. This immediately concerned me. Since the meeting in London I had spent a lot of time with the guys from SSI helping to organise staff crossovers, creating SSI events to increase awareness of SSI recreational and technical courses, helping them out on the SSI stand at the dive show for a few examples. A lot of time and effort had gone into this partnership and then they simply sold themselves out! You can’t help but think that it is just for the money and now SSI wont care! No sooner had these rumours began that Karim Salah who is responsible for SSI recreational training in Egypt spoke to me to reassure that my concerns were not needed and that this move was going to a positive feature. This move by Mares and SSI is probably the most innovative and unique partnership in the diving industry. Towards the latter part of the year SSI and Mares announced that they would host meetings / events around Egypt to bring everybody up to speed. Once again I was dubious but attended the meeting to hear things as they say “from the horses mouth!”.

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Robert Stoss opened the meeting. Robert is one of the founders of SSI along with Guido Waetzig and admirably has a level of energy and passion that makes you want to listen and spend more time around him. For sure this guy is not done with the diving industry yet! By far the opposite, he is driving the digital revolution of training forward, helping us as the service provider be able to provide to our customers with greater ease. Secondly, we were introduced to Dusan Runjajic. Dusan, or Dusko as he is more well known is one of the top dogs within Mares and is a man with equal to, if not even more drive than Robert about his products and the new venture. An engineer by trade he has truly made his mark with Mares. Mares has become a worldwide leader in the manufacturing and distribution of state of the art diving equipment. The constant investment in innovation, patient research in the field of manufacturing materials and processes, combined with the expertise of the staff and professional approach gives Mares its leading position. Mares actually makes up part of the larger “Head” group. “Head” Company is a leading global manufacturer and marketer of branded sporting goods serving the skiing, tennis, swimming and diving markets.

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Dusko then outlined for us the relationship between Head, Mares and SSI. Now, normally through presentations like this I tend to switch off after a period of time, as you tend to hear the same things over and over about how good their product is above everybody elses. But this was not the case, I found myself 2 hours later still eagerly listening. These guys from Mares have actually designed a range of equipment for the dive centres to make our lives easier! The presentation was good and the recreational equipment is great but what about my greatest passion, tech diving, tech equipment?!

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I had some time in between this event in Egypt and the DEMA dive show in America to have a think about a few things. The passion, drive and energy from all these people that I had met at SSI and Mares was astounding and I only knew that I wanted to be more involved. It was a breath of fresh air to find in todays diving industry a group of people with similar future ideas not only about business (which of course is fundamental) but about moving the industry forward in unique ways. The product line by Mares currently does not have a well known reputation in the technical diving world but what I can say is that I personally and Tekstreme will be helping in whatever way we can to test new products and aid the development of Mares technical diving equipment. We will be continually teaching SSI technical courses to show case the new products as they emerge and to increase awareness of the brand in the technical arena.

All I can say is watch this space…..

Many thanks to Guido, Robert, Dusko, Adam, Karim, and Tarek for all of what they have done for us in 2014 and we really look forward to 2015.

Note 1 – Paul Toomer is no longer with SSI. His role in SSI has been taken over by Adam Wood who is a gifted and professional technical instructor and who has already shown his commitment and will continue to drive SSI TXR where Paul left off.

Note 2 – Part of my blog with the description of Head and Mares has come directly from their presentation! I don’t claim that these are my words 🙂

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Who is the leading PADI TecRec dive centre in Egypt……Tekstreme Diving is!

The new year could not have got off to a better start than to receive a phone call from Reto Moser, the PADI regional manager for Egypt, to inform us that Tekstreme had the most PADI TecRec certifications in Egypt in 2012. What an awesome achievement. This  achievement is only possible due to great team of PADI TecRec Instructors that we have here at Tekstreme. The technical manager of Sinai Chris Armstrong, along with Duncan Spenceley and Steve Parry continue to provide thorough, safe, fun packed PADI TecRec courses which keeps our customers returning back to us. Now we would not be able to offer this level of service if it was not for the fantastic work of Emperor Divers. From the very first email reservation enquiries, to the quality of the dive centres, the boats, the transfers etc it makes for a complete high quality package.

 

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If you would have come to Tekstreme four years ago you would have struggled to find any reference to PADI technical diving courses,  so what has changed? Why are these courses now so popular?

 

The PADI TecRec debuted in 2000 with the launch of its Tec Deep Diver and Tec Trimix Diver Programmes.  Although TecRec is not the first tec diving program (cave diver training has been around for decades), it repeatedly receives accolades for its merits. TecRec courses are integrated into an instructionally valid, seamless course flow that takes you from beginning tec diver to one qualified to the outer reaches of sport diving using different gas mixes. Each level introduces you to new gear, planning and procedures appropriate to extend your diving limits.

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The Tec Deep Diver course is a nine day course and successful candidates upon completion would be certified to make decompression dives with the use of two eanx decompression gases for accelerated deco to a maximum depth of 50m. As much as the course was designed very progressively, it was very intensive and for some students proved to be too big a jump in a single course. If students could not achieve the performance requirements by the end of their holiday they would not have any certification to go home with. Of course referral forms were readily available for continuation of training in the future. Also, from the holiday makers side, it was often not possible for them to complete the Tec deep diver course in its entirety if they only had a single week holiday and so the numbers of students enrolling in these courses were relatively low. Similarly, the Trimix Diver course was also a nine day course with successful students being certified to 80m using the full range of trimix gases available. Both courses were perhaps not as user friendly as they could be due to the durations and intensity. Maybe partly for these reasons potential technical students were looking elsewhere to other technical training agencies that had more bite size courses and as a technical diving centre we were obliged to offer the other agencies to satisfy the customer. (Can I make a note at this point that I personally teach through PADI, TDI (technical diving international) and BSAC (British Sub aqua club) and actually enjoy teaching through all three agencies equally. This article is not meant to put other agencies down, far from it, this is an article to simply examine the growth of PADI TecRec)

 

 

PADI responded well to the challenges that were presented against their technical courses and sought to rectify this problem; hence the breakdown of the Tec Deep Diver course and the Tec Trimix diver course. The Tec Diver course is now an integrated sequence of three sub-courses: Tec 40Tec 45 and Tec 50.  You can complete them continuously, or you can complete each level separately with a time span between them.  This gives you learning efficiency, instructional integrity and schedule flexibility. The Tec trimix course is also now an integrated sequence of two courses; the Trimix 65 and the The Trimix diver. Similar to the Tec Deep diver you can complete them continuously or you can complete each level on its own.  With these crucial changes PADI had created a much more use friendly sequence of courses that had a strcuture similar to other technical training agencies. Low and behold with a push on the marketing of these new courses the result was effective and immediate…the numbers of divers entering into the PADI technical training route was rapidly increasing.

 

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Tekstreme recognized the effort that PADI had made and responded by reinforcing the marketing for these new courses and look where we are now! I personally feel that not only are the PADI courses very thorough in their content but the reading materials that accompany each course are the best in comparison to other training agencies. Now yes, I do admit that PADI do love their multiple acronyms which some people are not a fan of, and yes, the manual does have a lots and lots of pretty colorful pictures, but from my experience as an instructor I can only report that these are beneficial to the learning curve of the student not detrimental. The manual is idiot prove, how can that be a bad thing!  The other bonus is that the Tec Deep Manual was designed for the complete Tec Deep Diver course and so the result of this is, is that you only need one manual for the Tec 40, 45 and 50. I do think that in the future that this may change and that PADI will break the manual into three parts to go in partnership with the three sub courses, but for now you get the all in one.

 

PADI have taken some criticism by many over their technical courses. Some people would categorize PADI as only a holidaymaker recreational agency and what place do they have in the technical diving world, but slowly this stigma is being overcome and PADI are standing up tall and defending their courses, as they rightly should.

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It has been a pleasure to join PADI on their journey of technical diving development and we can only hope that it continues to grow in the future.

 

If you are interested in any of the PADI TecRec Courses then you can click on the following link http://www.tekstremediving.com/tecrec-courses.php or email to us directly at tekstreme@emperordivers.com.

 

Cat Braun – Tekstreme Technical Diving Manager