I don’t do mornings … really I don’t! I took 30 mins of snoozing the alarm plus a phone call from the fiancée to get me up! So I staggered bleary eyed down the stairs to receive a fantastic fry up from Barbara at 8am.
Clare soon arrives and introductions are made. Assisting Clare is John Grogan. My first impression of both Clare and John was surprise … when you read about “celebrities” such as these I was expecting GI3 type characters … but when I met them they are down to earth normal people!
I’m by far the youngest and most inexperienced of the group. Walking into the class at 20 with only 72 dives to my name. That eventually came back to haunt me. Coffee peculators are distributed and then the course officially starts at 9:30am. A round the table introduction gives each other a quick insight into each other and why we want to do the class. I wanted to do the course to become a better diver and become more proficient in the water.
The lectures started – I was particularly interested in the decompression lectures and how the DIR way of recreational deco is conducted. Rather than the typical “stop at 6m for 3 minutes” that most divers who have come up through PADI/BSAC know, this is more of a gradual/continual deco – known as Minimum Deco. At this point I started picking brains into the details of decompression at the levels Clare and John dive at. Wow it gets fun!
Then we rolled onto nitrox … of even more interest was the oxygen toxicity and the mechanisms behind it and why 32% is considered ideal for its balance of 02 content and reduction of nitrogen. How Sudafed decongestant tablets are proven to be exciters of oxygen toxicity, why PP02 should be kept as low as possible, how to track CNS % and OTU counts …
At this point I could feel steam raising off my head … the knowledge to take in is immense and I considered myself quite wised up before walking into the class! Lectures rolled onto minimum gas … why 50bar is absolutely useless! Even in twin-12! It’s incredible the amount of gas that is required to do a safe ascent from depth., at some point we all had to do the calculations, my minimum gas (in twin-12’s) for a 30m dive is set at 80bar. Clare asked us what pressure we would turn a dive at – later it revealed that what we thought was safe … wasn’t! Colin revealed that he would end a dive at 80bar on a 15 … after crunching some numbers he decides to up it to 100!
John told a story of when he was doing a push dive in Ressel, he had left twin-18’s plus other safety reserves of gas as back up, when something went wrong and they decided to leave, they managed to burn through all that gas (that’s two twin-18’s at 240 bar … nearly 18,000 litres of gas purely for emergencies gone). Minimum gas calculations for our dives may seem a bit trivial, but it could save your life later on…
More lectures on trim, finning techniques, buoyancy characteristics, balanced rig … you name it we learned (well tried to absorb!) it. An interesting lecture was narcosis where Clare admitted to being narked at 3m. I found this truly ridiculous. 3m! I mean come on – admitting to being narked at 30m is understandable! In theory you are narked the minute you descend, the effect just increases with depth. However, thinking that when we do a deep dive where we are nervous and tense we usually feel more narked, the same process should apply shallow. Looking back I am convinced I was narked at the 6m platform during the first two days diving on the course… I was stressed to the max and I can’t remember parts of the dive. Hmmm … I think helium is on its way soon as humanly possible…
Day 2 We went out into the car park and learned the S-Drill. Actually quite a simple drill, but you have to really take your take and think. What we must have looked like to the people walking around nearby I have no idea.
Dive #1 Depth: 12.5m Duration: 45 mins The first dive was to try out the new finning techniques Frog Kick, Mod-Frog Kick, Flutter Kick and Mod-Flutter Kick. It was supposed to be a nice easy shake down dive. Pleasant swim round to the platforms, we go straight through a silt cloud where I lose my sense of direction and have a buoyant ascent … I get back down and carry on and arrive at the platforms.
Clare demo-ed each kick and then we did laps around the platform. Everyone did OK although I had the problem of dropping my knee’s during the power phase of each kick. The back kick was a failure; I just couldn’t do a thing! I just stayed where I was, if anything I went forward and down!!
Next was no-mask swim … was not looking forward to this whatsoever. Richard led me well and gave me the all important feedback of where I was … managed to get my mask on and hey – still somewhere near the platform! I ended up having some buoyancy issues as I was getting ready to lead Richard on a no-mask swim which resulted in massive stress and an equally massive CO2 hit (I learned this in the evening).
Gas got to my feet and no matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable, I was getting extremely stressed. Although my average SAC for this dive was 30 l/min, at this point I was hitting close to 70 l/min. Although I was panicked and stressed I tried my best to get it sorted, in the end I did a gradual ascent and relaxed for a bit – I could see everything with the appearance of fog/mist – a positive sign of C02 hit caused by stress and an ineffective breathing cycle.
We ended the dive with an attempted 9m/min ascent to 3m, a stop then slow ascent upwards.
I just went up and up and I felt horrible, I had two buoyant ascents, a stressed but vaguely controlled ascent, couldn’t do the drills, couldn’t do the finning techniques, couldn’t keep trim, couldn’t get comfortable, had floaty feet … I just wondered why I dived.
But after feeling low and a chat with the fiancée I shaked myself down for dive #2 – I refused to be beaten – I would not quit at this. I was determined not to be beaten.
Dive #2 Depth: 12.5m Duration: 55 mins
This dive was an attempt at the basic 5...Step 1 – take your primary regulator out and put it back in – did ok. Step 2 – take your primary regulator out, stow it and switch to back up – did ok. Step 3 – deploy long hose, switch to back up, restow and return to primary – did ok. Step 4 – Mask flood and clear – did ok. Step 5 – Mask removal and refit – massive problem.
Doing step 5 horizontal compared to kneeling on the floor was freaking hard! I also had a bad habit of spitting my primary reg out when I took the mask off! Don’t understand why that happened! The first time I did this I floated up and had to be pushed down, the second time I did quite well and stayed within about a meter of starting point.
Doing the second one took a bit of building myself up to – although I didn’t show it, I really hated having my mask off. In warm Florida waters I would open my eyes so at least I could see, even in a pool I can do it however the water was freezing and it gave me headaches when I had my mask off, so that wasn’t an option to me. In return it did panic me a bit. Which is why it took me so long to do it the second time.
Day 3 Dive #3 Depth: 6.4m Duration: 49 mins
Clare ran us through the pre dive checks and demonstrated valve drills. I even noticed one bloke who kept shuffling over to us and then whenever I looked at him he would pretend to not look at us and look the other way … that guy wanted a free lesson.
This dive was all about S-drills and Valve-drills. We got in and did a left turn around the scaffolding to the deeper platforms. I was buddied up with Richard, I let him do the valve drill first, he did well looking very relaxed. Then it was my turn, for a bit of safety I moved over the platform, as the last time I did a drill like this I dropped down quite a bit. OK breathe deep, quick wriggle to stretch the suit out and then throw the arm back ... right ... the valve is around here somewhere.... couldn’t touch it! I was nowhere near the valve! I kept trying and trying I got to the point where lactic acid had built up so much I just couldn’t move my arms any more. So I cut the drill.
Next was the S-drill, again I let Richard go first, the drill went well. My turn OK I went OOG got a reg ... a little nervous and ... hey those sodding floaty feet are back!! I resisted the urge and carried on with the drill but it just got worse. Eventually all my energy was going on keeping down, Richard eventually took his reg back and I went to my backup.... no time to grab my primary – my legs gave up and off I floated ... feeling sheepish again.
I came out of the dive feeling shite. The past three dives on the course made me feel so low – I couldn’t do a thing! I kept wondering how I was so bad and that I’m letting the team down. Another chat with the fiancée and I’d shaken myself down ready for the next dive. As always I wasn’t giving up. I had come into the class with the attitude of not being fussed if I failed – I was going to do my best and if I wasn’t up to scratch then at least I knew where the bar was!
Dive #4 Depth: 12.5m Duration: 55 mins
In my opinion I had been performing the worst in the class. Clare recognised that I was unhappy and struggling and that the team was stressed, so decided to call the end of the class for the day, she made us jump in for a nice long pleasure dive with no instructors to try to relax and enjoy a dive. 52 minutes later we surfaced – the others felt better, I was less convinced, I had tried to do what I was told such as arching my back, clenching butt cheeks etc came out feeling low as I was still useless in the water.
On the surface we practiced valve drills and s-drills. I had also decided to scrap the HID torch – reason? I was too task loaded doing the skills and handling the torch.
Dive #5 Depth: 6.1m Duration: 50mins
This was actually two dives rolled in one. The first was recovery of an unconscious diver. Richard tried to raise me, however I wasn’t having a good time with my feet and he couldn’t manage the lift. Clare stayed eye level with me which gave me an excuse to relax as I concentrated on her – still didn’t get the feet sorted, I ended up hanging on to the platform while Richard got himself in a good position but eventually Clare cut the drill. I didn’t know this and I was raised to the surface by Clare! Size doesn’t matter she said …. If you know Clare, think off opposite to her, Clare is a short petite woman and I’m well ... quite simply not short, not petite and certainly not a woman! 6ft 5in and a few stone of man!
We descended and I recovered Richard, I felt I did really well on everything except the trim, we went vertical on ascent. And I managed to knock the reg out of his mouth …. Oops! But this was while he was on the platform so he got it back in and we continued the drill. Clare was at eye level with Richard, so if anything were to go wrong Clare wouldn’t have been more than a second away. Clare told me horizontal is best because (for me) if it were to happen at the back of a cave, you would have to swim out horizontally but she did congratulate me for a good recovery and controlled ascent. At least the fella would be alive!
We dropped down again to conduct valve drills, S-drills and then finally SMB deployment. Since taking a knife to my under suit and learning to stretch my legs out to keep my trim, I managed my first ever valve drill quite comfortably. The S-drill also went well. Clare was impressed and I got a strong congratulatory hand shake. Finally things are looking up!
I can actually do this diving malarkey! Now the adrenaline was pumping, but it wasn’t for fear, it was for excitement, it was starting to come together, I thought that I might just be able to prove myself worthy.
Colin and I did the S-drills, we finished and then had to wait for Richard and Stathis to finish their SMB drill, because, somehow, Stathis dropped a semi-inflated SMB through the platform and it got completely stuck! While waiting I even asked John how my trim was while we waited for Stathis and Richard to finish their drills– he said I looked good! My moral was picking up.
SMB deployment went fantastically although I did forget to look up. I came out of this dive with an ear-to-ear grin! I was the happiest I have ever been on the course– I dekitted and rang with missus and I was beaming! For the first time on the course I felt like I actually was half decent under water. My trim and in-water comfort had improved so drastically in four dives it was incredible. At no point on the dive did I have a problem with my feet!
Dive #6 Depth: 12m Duration: 37 mins For this dive, John was joining us as our #3.
Colin and I were to plan and execute a dive including calculations for minimum gas. The plan was to go in the slipway, drop down to 4.5m and hang to the left of the path where a square shaped boulder would mark a location for us to do S-drills. Colin seemed chuffed to find it he was constantly signalling “THERE!”
We then followed the quarry wall to the right and headed for the 9m platform. Clare hit us with S-drills; again Colin struggled to keep horizontal and silted the area out! In the middle of the drill we lost John (I think Clare told him to swim off – we found him sat over a hole waving at us). I felt sheepish that I couldn’t keep track of a bloke with a HID torch sat next to me when I’m usually quiet aware of the team. Yet again shows how team awareness goes out the window when a bit of stress and hard work is put on me.
Clare led us to a platform to conduct backup light deployment and then we continued to the crushing works, which is actually a really impressive place! We hovered over a bridge which would have been an amazing Kodak moment! John was made out-of-gas and it was my job to deploy the SMB and lead the ascent. I was half way through deploying the bag and Colin (tried) to tell me to look up before launch, I couldn’t figure this out, he took the bag off me and I thought he implied a free ascent – particularly as we had two divers sharing air, I figured that it is on its way to being depleted very quickly, so I put it away, Clare told me to launch the (damn!) bag so I launched it and still forgot to look up. The ascent started OK but I soon ended up being pinned against the trapeze and then in the mess that followed I floated up to the surface.
A long surface swim back to the shore and we dekitted and waited for the other team to eventually got our results. Part of me felt that I could get the rec pass as I had shown determination through the course and at the end it finally came together. But another (more significant) part of me felt that I just wasn’t anywhere near the standards. Fingers crossed!
How was the course? It was officially the most difficult diving I have ever done. However, the knowledge I am leaving the course with has made me an infinitely better diver. Anyone who thinks they are a good diver should take the course. It will reveal you for your true colours, yet also give you the tools to walk away far more competent even if you failed the course. Knowing the outcome, would I still do it? Absolutely, my in-water comfort has improved so much and it was due to a lot of little things. That on its own was worth it. My skills and abilities and even my capacity has improved.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely, if you want to improve you’re diving and become a better diver you NEED to do this. I thought that I was half decent underwater and that I was safe. However on day 2 of the diving I came to a realisation that I was nowhere near as good as I thought and that I wasn’t safe. But by the end of the course I can at least say that I am a safe diver and that I’m definitely improving the right way.
Have I changed? Absolutely, I have always admired cave divers and technical divers for the discipline and the dedication to the level of diving that they are at. I have even more respect for technical/cave divers, particularly the DIR crew. I can see how high the bar is held and I have almost been humbled by the course.
Are you considering doing Fundamentals? You should definitely do it. It is money well spent. Getting four days to pick the brains of an instructor is worth the money. If you are having issues with trim & weighting, don’t worry – it will get sorted on the course! My issue of rolling over head first was solved by stretching my legs out! Every tail weight under the sun wasn’t fixing the problem!
How can you prepare? DO NOT PRACTICE SKILLS! Best thing you can do is just get in the water and toddle about and get more comfortable. Ask a DIR diver to demonstrate the skills but don’t bother doing them yourself. Experience in the water is the best thing you can do for yourself. Hope this has been an interesting read for you all - it was certainly the best course I have ever done in my life.