I am now a PADI scuba diver. I have completed my knowledge, confined and open water sessions and now I can go out and dive without an instructor, bit like passing your driving test. A bit like your driving teat the learning really begins now, I am allowed to dive to 18 metres in the ocean bit like learning around town and then being allowed on the motorway!
I spent the weekend at Capernwray on the edge of the Lake District a diving adventure playground. This was the site for the open water dive part of the course, practicing and demonstrating the drills you have to complete to gain certification.
In the week before that trip I went to the dive centre to try on and swim in dry suits as I was also completing the dry suit course. After trying on the under suit the dry suit came next, after a bit of a faff I was in it and zipped up. I had been standing in the clobber for about two minutes it looked like I had been in the water the sweat was pouring out of me. Standing in a pool of my body fluids the instructor suggested that I may not need the under suit in the pool, no shit Sherlock! I went to the changing room and struggled out of the wetsuit to remove the under suit before I went into the pool
I buddied up with a chap that I completed the pool session a couple of weeks before. This guy was a big chap, now I’m not small but he is BIG. His face was bright red as the blood was constricted in his head by the seal on the dry suit. He instilled confidence at every point, during our buddy checks he had not turned his air on! After I enabled his breathing, it was clear that he also had not tightened his cylinder strap. He was told to take his BCD off and tighten his cylinder by the instructor. To do this he decided to undo his gear and start from scratch, while I stood there fully kitted up, loosing weight!
Once he was ready again I was stood in another pool of my own sweat, as I completed his buddy check for the second time again he had failed to turn his air on. The instructor decided that I should go in the pool before I melted, while some more theory was being delivered.
I giant stepped into the pool and completed a buoyancy check I had 2.5kg on and was floating at eye level! Funny I thought, as I needed that and an additional 2kg when in trunks and t-shirt.
Under I went and completed the pool drills, I completed the fin pivot with few problems and was then sent to swim around while the others completed their drills I was able to watch my buddy slam into the pool bottom, and then add air to his dry suit and float to the top, to return to the bottom crashing his cylinder on the pool floor. After a lot of gesticulating and signals that indicate small changes in the amount of air to be added and released he managed to gain some neutral buoyancy!
We then had to do a hand stand on the pool floor to move the air to the legs, once in the feet up position I had to fin hard and complete a summersault to move the air back in to the top of the dry suit. Pool drills complete there was some more swimming around watching my buddy try and do a handstand and then getting rolled over by the instructors. I left the pool and left my buddy in the water completing his drills.
We took all of the kit home and on unloading the car I realised that the BCD was sloshing turning it up I emptied another 4kgs of water, that explained the weights then
On Saturday I drove across to Capernwray stopping for breakfast at Truck Heaven and a meet up with the rest of the group we chatted excitedly about what we were going to be doing. My buddy had been spending money he had brought a pair of very smart fins, gloves and a hood and was very excited.
After breakfast we drove the short hop to Capernwray and two things immediately struck me; firstly how busy it was. We joined a queue of about 30 cars; secondly the lake looked a lot smaller than in the picture on the web site.
The weather was not great grey clouds and light drizzle. We completed a dive briefing for the weekend and the first specific dive. The plan was three dives on Saturday followed by two dives on the Sunday. The first dive was to be a walk in and swim to the two meter platform where we would complete our drills followed by a swim around on the air remaining.
Our first open water dive was a 34 minute swim to 9 meters and during the swim we completed our hand signals, completed a partial mask flood, recovery of a lost regulator and were reminded to keep an clear check of the amount of air being used. Once the swim was over we completed a controlled ascent and headed back to the car park.
During the swim it was very difficult to stay with my buddy who was impersonating a yoyo and some of this impression was done on his side as he rolled down the edge of the quarry! At the end of the dive he was clearly struggling, and unexpectedly I completed both the cramp removal and tired diver tow!!! I left the water with 110 bar of air left he left with 40 bar!
Back on the shore I could see he was struggling to walk with all of his gear on. I helped him off with his BCD and could hardly lift it. He was loaded with 18kgs of lead that’s nearly three stone. When I looked at this for him he had also muddled his weights and had 11kgs on his left side and only 7kg on his right. He had not realised that there were 5, 3, 2 and 1kg weights. We balanced his sides and move some weights to the trim pouches and headed for a warm up.
After a coffee and debrief we reset our gear and completed the briefing for the second dive. This time we were giant stepping in and then swimming on the surface while following a compass then dropping on to the 6 meter platform for the drills followed by a swim to the Cessna. Turning the dive when the first of us got to 100 bar and completing a safety stop before returning to the surface.
We all stepped in and this time we had to surface swim on our own to the platform following the compass, I swam out and missed the platform but was able to see it from a long way out and could adjust and hit the line marking the platform (cheat). We waited on the surface for a while my bubby and another diver made their way across to us. Once we were all together we completed a controlled decent on to the platform as a buddy pair. This was not that easy as I was descending at a very different rate to my buddy who was going too fast. I decided that as a pair we would split up for a while. That was until I arrived at the platform at a speed I was comfortable with. We lined up on the platform slowly raising with each breath in and descending with every exhale. That was fine until my buddy crashed down on the platform again, and this time his flailing arm knocking my regulator out of my mouth. Good job we’d done the regulator recovery on the last dive, Prat!!!
Once we were all on the platform we had to complete the mask flood, simple or not as the case may be. My buddy struggled with this and the dive master was telling him that his mask strap was too tight and this was folding the skirt over and causing a leak. Once he was settled it was my turn to be out of air, we undertook an alternate air source ascent and oral inflation of BCD on the surface, this went fairly smoothly and I manage to complete the drill. Then it was swap time.
We descended to the platform as we arrived his mask was full of water again! He signalled out of air, I responded by giving him access to my octo, and after taking hold of his BCD he signalled and made for the surface I could feel the instructor holding my fins trying to slow us down, when he managed to kick or knee me in the tenders. On the surface I tried to pull him towards me as I inflated both my BCD and dry suit after all he must have weighed 25 stone with the lead he needed! He spat out the octo before I had a good hold and started to try and inflate his BCD but in doing this he pulled away from me and could not stay on the surface, I pulled him towards me again and he spluttered and splashed and managed to inflate enough to end the drill. His mask was off his face and he was lying on his back signalling to me that he had a cramp. Strange I did not remember that being a drill discussed in the briefing, so I duly extended his fin and stretched out his calf. The instructor suggested that this was a good time to practice a tied diver tow, so I set off tugging him to the edge of the quarry. Two more drills ticked off.
This second dive was for 35 minutes and we went to a depth of 12 meters.
I left the water with 110 bar in my cylinder.
I had a period of reflection and could remember reading an article about how to choose a dive buddy and realised that there were some good pointers in the article! “All the gear and no idea” springs to mind.
After the debrief my buddy told me that they were finished and would not be diving again. While I was a bit surprised that they were giving up I knew how important to them diving was to them and I thought that they would have persevered after all this was only the second time they had dived outside of the pool. I also had a small amount of relief as I would be able to concentrate on my diving and not them. Selfish yes but I am learning to dive.
For the final dive of the day and the two dives on the final day I had a different dive buddy as these also had been broken. There was a bit of ribbing for the instructor who had lost two trainees!
The final dive of the day was brilliant I was buddied with someone who was calm and relaxed and this rubbed off on me. I felt so much more comfortable under the water. His buddy had been persuaded in to diving again and was buddied with one of the dive masters. We this time swam out to the 6 meter platform, time for the drill I was dreading the Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent or CESA. Swimming at a speed no faster than one foot a second from 30 feet down whilst breathing out all the time. Now I have been practicing on land and I cant breath out for that long, so how was I going to manage this drill?
It was my instructor who said something that was so logical it made complete sense and I realised it would be possible. He said “you will be amazed who much air you have left and will realise that you could have done this from significantly deeper”. I looked at him quizzically and he asked “what happens to the air you breath as you go deeper?” Bingo, I will be at almost 10 meters so the air in my lungs will be twice a dense as on the surface I will effectively, sort of, have twice as much air in my lungs as I do on the surface. If I did not breath out during the exercise this would expand and cause lung trauma.
The instructor signalled for me to go when ready I returned OK and set off aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhh! And at the surface I had plenty of air left, thank god for physics! The dreaded drill was completed really easily.
We swam around for a while and were taken to a sunken boat, the African Queen and after a while the instructor signalled it was time to ascend, and as this was happening to think about how our buoyancy will change. We went up to 3 metres and completed a safety stop before heading to the surface. On the surface we had to remove and replace our weights. Once this was completed we had to remove and replace our BCD’s. Drills done it was time to get warm again.
This dive was for 40 minutes to a depth of 12 metres.
The final drive of the open water training was planned for the next day, so it was time to strip and clean kit before heading back to the hotel for dinner and a pint.
We got in to the water on the Sunday morning at 09:52 for the final dive. We had a great dive with no real drills to complete other than to deploy the signalling device, (delayed surface marker buoy) which was a demonstration rather than a practical. I made a bit of a pigs ear of the safety stop and ended leaving the water feet first! After a bit of a telling off we had completed all of the parts of the training and qualified as a PADI open water diver.
There was one more dive to complete to get the dry suit qualification but as one of the groups had only just got into the water we should have a long break before this as we were diving as a big group.
Before we began the final dive we worked through the knowledge section of the dry suit course and then had a dive briefing. We were to entre the water for a photo, and then swim to the buoy over the Hawker Sidderley descend onto the wing where we were to complete the two drills. Firstly we removed the low pressure hose to the suit and replaced this. Following this we had to fin pivot on the wing of the plane. Nine new divers in a row on the wing of a plane at 18 meters what could go wrong?
Once we completed our drills we set off in dive pairs for a swim we headed out towards Podsnap and after swimming around this we headed in a loop towards the edge of the quarry where we were to safety stop at the ledge. I was a little nervous after the last dive but this time it was fine I just floated up and down as I breathed in and out. The dive just keep getting better and better. We only spent 40 minutes under the water but this was a great dive.
Job done Open water and Dry suit passed.