Hi there all, I thought that I would jot down some of my reflections on the Fundies class I took at NDAC. I know that one of my classmates is doing a proper report so I don't feel so bad about missing most of the details:
9am (ish) and the motley crew descend upon rural Chepstow all keen to experience what the brochures describe as a “whole new world of pain”. Two of my classmates stayed the night before and are busy ingesting a ‘breakfast’. As I was to find out later the ‘breakfasts’ were excellent but had the same calorific value as the Indian subcontinent.We move on to introductions and bit of background for each of us.
After that it’s straight into lectures and apart from a lunch that would sink the Titanic we roll straight through to about 6pm. We reconvene at the pub for dinner a little later and over dinner I hear myself confessing to a bit of hero worship. Clare starts to look worried so I decide that discretion is the better part of valour and don’t give her a picture of the shrine room. We arrange to meet for the swim test the following morning and slope off to try and get some sleep.
Up bright and early for the swim test, and I must confess to feeling a little nervous about it. I had planned to get into a swimming regime months ago, but only managed to get to the pool a couple of times before the course. Into the changing rooms and all of the others are looking cool in their board shorts. I however am sporting the ugliest budgie smuggling look known to mankind. Still the extra streamlining may be the difference between pass and fail and I need all the help I can get. First up is the breath hold, Mal stands at 15meters and we go in turn. I go first and as I pass I give his foot a cheeky tickle. I pop up at the end of the pool without problem. Everyone else completes this task well. Next we have the swim test and generally all seem to complete this happily. We then faff around for a bit swimming backwards and doing helicopter turns. I must confess that this is so much easier without fins.
Off to NDAC and we are put into one team of 3 and one team of 2 for the first dive so that Clare can get a look at where we are with our skills. This dive we will mostly be frog kicking and fluttering. In we get and do some laps around the platform. Frog kick seems fine, modified frog seems fine, flutter kicking – oh dear. I can’t seem to do it unless I really mince it up. I consider going round the platform with a limp wrist but remember at the last minute that Mal will capture this for posterity so manage to restrain myself for once.
We get to the end of the dive and Clare calls us round. She thumbs the dive and signals an ascent to 6m. We all give ok’s and then hang slack jawed as she rockets out of sight as though someone has strapped her to an exocet missile….. except that she stops dead at 6m! In t
he meantime we are all taking the biggest breaths we can manage and start to slowly drift up. As we reach Clare there is a bit of comedy buoyancy as I shoot past, then drop back down a few times.
Out of the water and up for some chow and a debrief before we consider the plan for Dive 2. Back on the pontoon we plan to demonstrate the back kick and perform a basic 5 drill. Back kicks were always one of my fears heading into the class and although I could do them, I was never consistent. We manage to do a bit of practice and Mal comes over to see me. He hangs about an inch from my face and asks me to go back. I back off (from the scary scowl) and he follows. Then he backs off and makes me keep level with him. We go back and forth for a bit and Mal gets me to extend my legs more and snap further, and would you believe it, I can now actually back kick reasonably well.
We all go through the basic 5 in turn and apart from getting tangled with the light cord on the S-Drill, I think it goes reasonably well. I am most pleased that when I put my mask back on and clear it, Clare is still in exactly the same position.
We head back to the B&B for a video debrief. I am in two minds about this. On the one hand I’d love to see myself in the water. On the other hand I am terrified about what Clare will do to me….. The reality is that some bits are better than expected, and some are much, much worse. What is most interesting is that it is the simple things that I thought I was doing right that are letting me down. Disappointingly, my frog kick is nowhere like what it looks like in my head.
More hilarity over dinner. I select a chilli from the menu and discover that it has been made from the hallucinogenic chilli pepper of death and is roughly the same temperature as the centre of the sun. It’s very tasty but I apparently no longer have any lips or tongue. Overnight the weather breaks and we have enough rain to really put a downer on things. It’s not looking good for tomorrow.
Yet again I am forced to face the monumental breakfast, I manage to finish it but struggle to draw breath or blink for an hour afterwards. In fact by body mass I am now genetically more pig than man. I suspect that some of my poorer moments in the water stem from the high partial pressure of sausage in my system.
After I regain consciousness, we proceed with some harness fun and watch as Mal and Al dribble into our classmates regs while demonstrating S-Drills. Having never done them before we have a laugh cocking them up in a variety of amusing ways. Back to NDAC for Dive 3 – S-drills and DSMB launching. The carpark is flooded and everyone is complaining of the crappy vis. We head off down and are greeted with pretty horrible conditions. Given a choice I wouldn’t have got in but we had things to do so went to check it out.
Something approaching 1m vis is really quite grisly. It gets marginally better on the platform, but my recollections are of a lot of hazy green people with no feet! The S-Drills really showed up issues with team buoyancy and I for one felt quite uncomfortable, spending most of the time breathing off the bottom of my lungs rather than adjusting buoyancy so when it all hits the fan I take a big breath and then fight to stay down. Dive 4 consists of valve drills and an air sharing ascent. Valve drills are better than expected but the air sharing ascent again highlights issues with team buoyancy. The video debrief shows exactly what we expect it to and I must admit that I am feeling a little low at this point.
We have another meal but it is a slightly more sober affair as we all contemplate the areas for improvement. I’m feeling a little off so only manage a salad. Clare hands out exam papers which we complete after breaking for dinner. Graham and I finish off a little past midnight and get our heads down for the last dives.
Monster breakfast, and nerves have me in their grip so I don’t feel like eating anything. I struggle to force the food down but feel distinctly green around the gills. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to look at a sausage in quite the same way again after this experience. I ask the landlady if her breakfasts have ever rendered anyone unconscious. She takes this feedback in good grace and goes to amend my bill accordingly…..
Down to NDAC for Dive 5 – the weather has at last broken and the sun is out. Dive 5 consists of more practice on S-drills, no mask swims and backup light deployment. S-drills are much improved and the other drills are completed without fuss. The ascent is much improved and we manage close positioning and good stops. Back at the surface I actually feel good and am smiling and joking around. I have a good feeling about all of this.
Dive 6 – Armageddon.
We help the first team with their kit and I go over to Al and Mal: “Good afternoon, I will be your kit bitch for today, in the unlikely event of a dive, your exits are here, here and here” As the other team gets in for Dive 6, a dark cloud rolls over the quarry and as their heads go under a huge clap of thunder echos around the site. Perhaps a mirror of the nightmare that is unfolding underwater!
The guys swim back looking like they have been through the mill. Now it’s our turn. We head down the shotline and while concentrating on position and buoyancy, I neglect to put air into my suit. Consequently I am vacuum packed at the bottom, no problem, except that Clare has instructed us to do flow checks. I can hardly move for suit squeeze, and after a couple of pathetic attempts I decide that I’ll do what I would do in real life and get Nick to check for me rather than faff around with putting air in the suit and taking it out of the wing. We swim along for a bit, looking out for any signs of trouble, close formation with good light communications. Suddenly my primary goes out. I go for my backup, which has been pinched! Fortunately Nick in position 1 is already looking round so I get him to look on my d-ring for the backup. It’s not there so he donates his. We do this, OK Graham in position 3 and move off. Nick’s primary light goes out, and since he has already donated to me, has to go to Graham for one of his backups. We shuffle the team and I go to position 1, Nick goes to 2 and Graham picks up position 3 as he has the only working primary.
As I head off I go to check my gauge…. it’s not there, I stop and signal Nick and Graham who check their own and re-locate mine. As we sort this, our primaries come back and we revert to the original order. I am instructed to throw an S-Drill to Nick and since we are on the bottom I kick the silt up. We are now air sharing in possibly the worst vis I have ever come across. At least I know that Nick is on the end of the hose despite being unable to see him at all. At the side of me I can just see Graham building the bag, so we start to ascend. We go up well in a team and do stops at 6 and 3. At 3 Clare signals to cut the drill so Nick and I cut and re-stow mid water before completing the stop and surfacing. We get out for team and individual debriefs.
This tells me exactly what I expected to hear apart from the fact that I have managed to scrape together a Technical pass!
A little bit about Clare:Clare, quite simply has the most terrifying stare of anyone I have ever seen. Above the water she is an infectiously enthusiastic munchkin, simply oozing enthusiasm and masses of experience. However, the moment she puts a mask on her face something strange and terrible happens. For those of you who have yet to experience it, I will try to describe “the eyes”. Imagine if you will, a 500lb mountain gorilla that has been zip-tied to a lamppost while a spotty oik whips its testicles repeatedly with a stinging nettle while badly singing a medley of hits by the Monkees. The bloodshot, baleful glare, promising untold misery and acts of unspeakable violence is a rough approximation of what happens behind Clare’s mask. I had initially thought that she had taken a picture of some wild beast, stuck it inside her mask with a couple of pin holes for her to look out of, but apparently not, that really is her.
More seriously though, I cannot think of a more professional and competent tutor. I have been seriously impressed with Clare and I did go in with pretty high expectations. It has been a privilege to get to spend so much time in and out of the water with her. I had an amazing time, my classmates were all cracking people who I would be delighted to dive with again in the future. I have learned that I have so much more to learn and that I am only at the beginning of what could be a very long journey. However, I am comforted by the fact that it is going to be a blast along the way.
If anyone is wondering if they should do this course, I would say that if I had to pay twice as much for it, it would still be the bargain of the century. It really has revolutionised my diving.
Thanks for reading,