It’s already been a year since I took the Tech 1 course through GUE, but I wanted to do a write-up of my experiences for the benefit of anyone else considering undergoing the training and before I forget any more of the details. Prior to taking the course, I tried reading up on it as much as possible but was surprised by how little I could find in the way of personal stories besides the occasional summary under 3 pages.
After much searching and failed attempts at bringing in a teacher to teach the class in Okinawa, Japan where I live, I finally settled on flying to Puerto Galera in the Philippines in order to attend an already scheduled class that Gideon Liew was teaching that was still trying to find a third diver.
I’m one of those people who like to have all the specifics of a trip nailed down well before I leave for the airport. Having traveled on vacation to Thailand before and “winging it” where hotel accommodations, travel and expenses were concerned, I knew that the situation in the Phillipines would be different--there were deadlines and I knew others would be on a tight schedule at the destination—so I wanted to make sure everything was in place before I left home. I, no doubt, bugged the hell out of fellow classmates Michael Puz, Paul Nielson and teacher Gideon with my question-filled emails, but I was already a bit paranoid about my performance going into the class having heard the “horror stories”
and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Plus, it seemed like I just couldn’t get concrete information on transfers to and from the Manila hotel, from the hotel to Batangas (the port where you catch a boat to islands like the one where Puerto Galera is located) and transfers from Sabang to the LLBC hotel in Puerto Galera despite emails from classmates trying to be helpful. Despite the difficulty in getting everything arranged, eventually it all worked out.
Anyway, not to belabor the point, but, in the end, I learned that a diver going into the Philippines for the first time has to have a bit of a taste for adventure and cannot allow himself to get caught up in too many of the details. Carry extra cash, leave a bit earlier than planned and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the various friendly official guides along the way—typical travel advice, I suppose.
So I arrived, at last, on the beach of the La Laguna Beach Club hotel in one of the many little rickshaw-type boats that handle all of the main traffic in and around the islands. I had four rather sizable pieces of luggage (gear, backpack, canister light case and clothing) and stepped off the beach with all eyes on me, the pale white guy, feeling a bit like Ferdinand Magellan must have felt when he first beached in the Philippine settlement of Homonhon.
Upon hauling my gear up the steps leading from the beach to the hotel and not seeing any familiar faces (or faces looking out for a long lost diver), I approached the girl at the front desk who said that she was expecting me. She gave me my room assignment and, at this point, some guys from a nearby table called out to me and asked me if I was Michael.
I replied in the affirmative and, after shaking hands I told them that I’d drop my things off in my room and come back out. When I did, I was met by an even larger group, approximately six guys. Graham (who I’d first mistaken for classmate Michael Puz) told me that three of them were the Tech 2 class and would be back the following weekend to finish their studies. Mike Taylor was also there from the Atlantis dive shop (from the Big La Laguna Beach over the hill that separated the two
beaches) and said he’d be working the camera for our training dives.
Eventually my classmates, Michael and Paul, trailed in and the five of us (Gideon, Mike, Michael, Paul and myself) sat down for introductions and a brief overview of the class. After the introductions and a bit to eat, Michael gave me a tour around the place and handed me my very own Aladin Tec2G computer (timed ascents be damned!) which he was gracious enough to pick up for me in Hong Kong on his way in. Over at the fill station, Graham showed up and brought over the doubles (11L/80cf) and deco bottle (5.5L/40cf) that he lent me and was also kind enough to lend me his deco reg with an SPG in BAR (we use PSI in our particular location of Japan) as well as another SPG in BAR for my backgas. After making sure we had the basics of our gear sorted out, Michael and Paul asked if I wouldn’t be up for a dive with just the three of us students to get used to the dive site and where we could also work on some of the drills together before Gideon ripped us to shreds the next morning! I thought it was a great idea and we eventually entered the water which was VERY convenient because it was straight off the steps of the hotel.
A short kick out and we dropped to a spot about 15 meters in depth. The visibility seemed really low, the water a sort-of “nuclear” green and the currents were insane. This, coming from Okinawa where the color is a light blue and the strongest currents at most dive spots only require you to change from a modified frog-kick to an actual frog-kick! So there I was, huffing and puffing trying to follow Paul and Michael around and yet stay in form all the while trying to make sense of my new gauges in BAR and my new dive computer in METERS!!! The current was, by far, the worst and I remember a general feeling of just not being able to mesh my laid back “putt-putting” in the water with this all-out vigorous swimming that diving in the Philippines seemed to require. I became a bit nervous at the thought of doing all the ascent drills and no-mask ascents in such conditions. On top of all of this, everyone seemed to be on separate pages in terms of experience and diving style, something that I knew would come back to bite us in the ass once the real scenarios began. After our drills, we did a swim into the current for a few minutes and then cut diagonally away from the beach in order to let the current take us to some rusted out something-or-other that had come to attract some fan-coral growth and fish on it. Then we angled ourselves diagonally towards the shore and eventually ended up near where we’d started. We exited the water and I scrambled up the steps feeling perhaps a lot less reassured than when I’d first entered the water.
After getting cleaned up and grabbing some drinks/snacks, we made our way over to the classroom (a hotel room that had been outfitted with desks, a whiteboard and some other materials) where we sat through our first lecture and went over a more detailed outline of the class, its requirements and ourselves. Then it was off to bed.
I arrived at the breakfast table by about 6:30, thirty minutes before our scheduled meeting time for the morning meal. I was taking some shots of the morning scenery with my trusty video camera I’d brought along when Gideon came out to the table. Eventually everyone assembled and we discussed the morning’s events which included meeting back at the fill station out back and going over our gear together as a group with Gideon acting as Inspector Gadget.
When all our gear was assembled and modifications were made, we went over the morning’s dives, practiced basic reel work on some posts inside the hotel near the dining area and talked about valve failures while looking at a kitted set of doubles out by the fill station out back. We were running behind and by the time we finished the dry-run skills it was already time for lunch.
After the lunch break, we each made our way to the fill station to don our gear and proceed towards the water. We finally entered the ocean at about 1:00 pm.
(Dive 1) – 1:14 pm
Gideon and Mike Taylor dropped down to 9 meters and then shot an SMB to the surface which was to be our signal to drop down together to the tie-off point. From there we were supposed to ascend to 6 meters, do our individual valve drills and then do out-of-gas (OOG) drills with each other while maintaining a constant 6-meter depth. Then we were supposed to ascend as a group to the surface in 3-meter increments in what should have resembled a group of talented men diving together. What actually ended up happening, however, was something a whole lot more disgraceful— a sort of testosterone-laden series of events which must have surely made our guardian angels fly ashore to the bar and down enormous quantities of alcohol in an attempt to lessen the pain inflicted upon their retinas (they do have retinas, don’t they?).
After we’d surfaced and Mike Taylor glued up the cracks in the camera lens, Gideon asked us to try again, suggesting that we nix the triangle formation favored by skydivers and, instead, pursue a more appropriate team position in the water due to the strength of the current, as in “side-by-side”. After a little deliberation, we agreed that this might be a worthy strategy and proceeded once again to 9 meters in an attempt to keep Gideon from revoking our Fundamentals cards and sending us home on the first boat out of town.
(Dive 2 – A rehash of Dive 1) – 1:43 pm
Our strategy must have worked, because after repeating the drills, Gideon told us on the surface that we could now progress to the next dive, where we would begin our first scenario. In truth, the man-abreast positioning worked like a charm and didn’t require any of us to fight the current in order to stay near the line.
(Dive 3) – 2:18 pm
On this dive we were to descend to the tie-off (9 meters or so) and run a reel while heading as far as we could, parallel to the beach, for about 10 minutes or until the “Angel of Death” (AoD) appeared and caused us to reevaluate why the hell we had chosen diving in the first place, I mean, until we were forced by the *ahem* circumstances to carry or abandon the line and make for the exit.
As it turned out, I was the only team member with ZERO cave experience and my dry-run line skills proved to be about as adept as lobsters were at knitting sweaters. So naturally, the team wanted me to lead the charge! We dropped down to the tie-off and, I swear, it took me three and a half minutes to tie off the line to two rocks even though I had correctly unclipped the reel on the descent and was ready to wrap the line ahead of time! (I would later mention to Gideon that I was sure that the rocks were endangered and I was doing my best not to harm
Eventually Michael came and helped me secure the primary and secondary ties and we were off, though at a turtle’s pace ever wary that the AoD could strike at any minute. Sure enough, not a minute had gone by when the AoD paid Paul’s right post a visit. I secured the line and held it taut while signaling for Michael to go have a look. He went over, determined it was fixable and we resumed our swim after Paul did a final valve check to make sure everything was on.
After one more tie-off the AoD quickly smote my right post which, when Michael came over to inspect, turned out to be fixable as well. Paul temporarily held the line, keeping it taut. He passed it back after I did my flow check and we continued on. But the AoD was apparently having a bad day and felt the need to strike Michael’s right post. Again, I kept the line taut while Paul went over to inspect. As he was trying to fix Michael’s post, I noticed that we were already at about 10 minutes into our dive and decided to give the line a final tie-off and leave it there as the other two were sorting out the post issue—why, I don’t know, as we all have fixable problems up until that point. As I was preparing to leave the reel, the AoD suddenly claimed Michael’s mask.
Though Paul was nearby, I quickly finished off the wrap and went over to help guide Michael to the line while he fished for his backup mask. And just as he was donning his backup, the AoD came for mine (damn the AoD)!
All I saw was two fingers tapping on my mask lenses and after about 10 seconds of Gideon “asking” for my mask I finally understood and pulled it off my face. I figured that Michael was probably still putting his on, so rather than signal with my light I simply tapped Michael on the arm to let him know that something was going on. As I got my mask on, the AoD finished his circuit of greedy mask collecting by claiming Paul’
s. Michael had apparently just finished adjusting his and, without looking back, took off down the line like the lone gunman whom Mike Taylor was more than happy to videotape! After about 15 seconds he turned around, turned three shades of red when he noticed that his teammates weren’t with him and executed a 180-degree helicopter turn in about a second flat. Gideon, realizing his good fortune, instructed Michael to call OOG and, seeing Paul still busy with his equipment, I kicked over and thrust my primary reg in his face. But apparently Paul had noticed the OOG call as well and offered his to Michael who, since he was already facing Paul, took it.
As I switched back to my primary, I noticed we were already on the upline (I think I had taken us maybe a total of 30 or 40 feet in 10 minutes with the reel!) and positioned myself around it as the other two swam over sharing gas. But, looking back, I positioned myself on the side of the donating diver (Paul) when I should have put myself on the outside so that the OOG-diver was in the middle.
As we dawdled on the line knowing that we had to go up but forgetting who was to run simulated deco (hint: it was me), Paul took charge and motioned for us to ascend to our 6-meter stop. After a minute there we ascended to our 3-meter stop and then the surface without any further incidents.
The dive was a seeming success and I couldn’t help but laugh at the surface. Despite the failures, they were fun to solve and it was refreshing to have something to do while underwater, to be able to think under pressure (literally)!
(Dive 4) – 2:55 pm
Apparently, “GUE EDGE” does not stand for “Good Underwater Equipment Encourages Divers to Get Efficient”, though I’m sure Halcyon might not object to me saying this. I found this out at the surface before heading down again, as it was my turn to run through the list. Of course, it actually stands for:
G – Goal/Objective
E—Exposure: depth and time
G—Gas: type and amount
E—Environment (endangered dolphins and rocks, etc.)
It’s a bit hard to get used to because there are so many E’s in the list, but if you can make it through all the D’s in the previously used acronym “I’M SO SADDDDDDDDDDDDDD” (or something like that), then it should be no big deal. After having Michael and Gideon prod me through the list, we began our descent. In this dive we simply had to descend to
6 meters and do valve drills, OOG drills and then shoot all of our bags and ascend on them together. Paul was our captain.
After all this practice in the water, our group awareness skills had gotten better and it showed. We were, however, still on the slow side as if we were waiting for something to happen. Eventually, we made it through our valve drills, OOG drills and shooting bags without incident and ascended to the surface.
Gideon wanted us to do a fourth dive to go and retrieve the line, but my gas was low from all the excitement and, though a little disappointed, Gideon told the three of us to head back in while he and Mike Taylor went back to pick up the reel. Gideon would stress throughout all the dives that there might me more to my low gas levels than purely fast consumption—something he wanted all of us to continue to monitor throughout the week.
Well, the currents were a bit strong still so the three of us dropped down to the floor and came into shore on the bottom. Then we walked ashore and walked into the outdoor pool that has steps leading into it so we could rinse off our gear just by floating there. Paul surprised us by buying some beer and setting it by the side of the pool so we wouldn’
t “dehydrate” whilst floating in the hot sun!
Another nice thing about the LLBC was that we could unload our gear on tables inside the fill station that were just low enough for us to sit on and slide the harness straps off. Simply by unscrewing our right posts, we could avoid having to “de-kit” after each dive, receive our next day’s fills and come back again the next day without having to set anything up except our lights, which we would take back to our rooms to charge during the evenings, and screw in our right post first stages once again. Many divers even left their deco bottle regs wedged into the rubber straps on the outside of the bottle and received their deco fills simply by unscrewing the first stage from the post just as they did to their doubles. This was probably my favorite thing about taking the class at the LLBC. When you’re having to haul around all the necessary gear for five days straight, simple thoroughly thought-out amenities like this one become a real asset. I can only imagine how nice it must have been for the Tech 2 class with the two additional bottles!
Anyway, after changing and grabbing supper where we rehashed some of the things we thought we did right and wrong during the day’s dives, we regrouped in the classroom where we spent the next four hours going over gas laws and the history of technical diving.
And finally, rest.
I had put it at the front desk to have a wake-up call like the previous day, but apparently the person on staff that night didn’t get the message and I never got the call. As a result, I walked into the restaurant area next to the beach about 30 minutes late where the team was waiting for me.
I grabbed a quick bite to eat and Gideon began by going over the day’s diving schedule. He said that since we were already running a bit behind and he didn’t want us to get in the water as late as we had done the day before, we would all meet at the fill station in about 10 minutes, analyze our gases, check our gear and then go through some more dry-run skills in addition to going over anything else that we might have questions about.
I was real keen on going over proper line-drills considering how I’d done them the day before and Gideon obliged. It was a chance for all of us to come to agreement on tying off the line, choosing placements, proper touch contact in low-visibility situations and how to react when one or more divers find themselves off the line. Considering that a thorough understanding of these skills would be better found in GUE’s Cave 1 course, Gideon tried to give us the most useful information possible while pushing on when the conversation became too detailed (which it did more than once since the other two divers had already taken cave courses and wanted clarification on procedural issues where they might have been taught differently).
We ended up going longer than planned with these drills again simply because we had so many questions for Gideon, but Gideon pushed us to take our lunch break as quickly as possible and then gear up and be in the water before 1:00 pm.
(Dive 1) – 2:18 pm
Gideon and the fabulous Mike Taylor once again dropped to 9 meters to tie off the upline. Once we saw the bag on the surface, we were to again drop down to 9 meters, get situated and make an ascent to 6 meters where we would do valve drills, OOG drills and, this time, switch to our deco bottles.
Somehow *wink wink* during the valve-drill portion, Michael’s primary hose had gotten wrapped around his manifold since he hadn’t secured it around his light canister earlier and when Paul requested gas, there was a flurry of activity as Michael fought to figure out what had happened and get it all sorted out. While I watched on, I did a quick check of my own and reminded myself to always do a hose feel-check both at the surface and as I’m descending through the shallows on my way to a deep dive. The AoD may strike at any time! (The same can be said about valve “flow” checks which I do frequently throughout all dives now out of paranoia).
In the later video review of this and previous dives, Gideon noted four very important things that he wanted us to keep in mind:
1.) Trim – No matter what happens it comes naturally for us to break out of a horizontal position because of stress and task-loading. A good diver breaks him/herself of this practice and has their head pinned back against the valves and back arched at all times.
2.) Hand signals must be clear and deliberate. No more limp-wristed half-attempted “OK” signals or “let’s move up” signals. Anyone giving a signal at any time needs to be clear and authoritative so that the person on the other end would have to second-guess or, worse, mistake what we were attempting to communicate. That said, the person watching shouldn’t be quick to turn away and could even go so far as to assume that the signaling diver will tell him something unexpected. Perhaps the diver using the signals wishes to convey some additional information or wants to make a correction. Giving your buddy your full attention when he is communicating with you until you are sure he is completely done is wise.
3.) Stay clean. When moving from one task to another, for example when you clip off your light in preparation for moving to your deco bottle, tidy up! Those loose cords are a big entanglement hazard, especially if they happen in conjunction with poor trim or buoyancy and will undoubtedly cause confusion in the event that you have to do something else quick at the same time, like share the long hose. This isn’t a rodeo and we’re not catching cattle, so keep the cords tucked away!
4.) Always move in a slow and deliberate fashion. Rushing through steps, like when verifying your deco bottle takes up more time in the long run because you’ll invariably forget something and have to use more precious time to go back and verify it.
(Dive 2) – 2:55 pm
Once again, I had the reel foisted upon me for this dive. “That’s alright, it can only make me stronger,” I reasoned. In a way, I suppose it did as it “only” took me a minute and a half to tie off the line this time. (Which reminds me, I wonder if they have need-based scholarships for the Cave 1 class…)
Anyway, we were supposed to do much like the line-dives during the previous day only this time we were to use the rule of thirds. In other words we HAD to come back to the upline so it would be crucial for us to pay careful attention our gas management, depth and time as we’d need to be able to come back maskless and with 10 bar leftover in our tanks.
After tying off and checking on my buddies, we took off parallel to the beach once again, Michael on my left and Paul on my right.
(Image: Gideon staying behind to check out my secondary tie which I had made on a rock so small that he was able to pick it up with one hand and slip his fingers between the lines.)
Once Gideon caught up, he spotted another loose long hose on Michael’s rig. Michael, sensing the AoD at work behind his back, stopped to assess his hoses and get them straightened out. Meanwhile, I made a wrap around another rock so we could head a bit shallower as our current course had dropped about 3 meters. I soon made another wrap but must have screwed it up even more since Gideon took the reel and showed me how to make a proper wrap with the line properly laying in the direction we planned to head.
At a little over 8 minutes into the dive, Michael signaled for us to turn around and I found the nearest boulder to tie off and leave the reel at. After what I considered to be my first truly excellent tie-off, Gideon came into view and told me to unwrap it all and take it out with me. Again, looking back, I can only surmise that I wanted to tie it off because I knew that it would be easier to manage without it in light of the failures that were sure to come. But according to our dry-run practices, leaving the reel behind should only be done in situations where we are near or at full penetration and there is a silt-out or some situation where our ability to make it back to the entrance with enough air might be compromised.
A couple of minutes into the return, the AoD visited Michael’s right post.
(Image: Michael’s right post explodes into a torrent of bubbles.)
As I held onto the line, Paul came over to help Michael out. I held position as I was told to do but, distracted by the failure, Paul and Michael began to drift further down the line without realizing that I wasn’t with them. I was busy again trying to, you guessed it, tie off the line so I could forget about it! After Paul communicated that Michael’s right post was broken, they continued on down the line becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon.
(Image: Me demonstrating how NOT to stay with the team)
Gideon, realizing what had happened, kicked back towards me and told me to signal OOG. While my teammates were trying to find out where the hell I’d gone and why Mike Taylor and Gideon had also disappeared into the direction they’d just came from, all of a sudden they saw my light bouncing back and forth in rapid motion. Of course, I was in the biggest position to take the blame for not continuing to reel in the line once I saw that Paul was managing the problem. Add to that the fact that they were both drifting away from me busy handling a problem while all I had to do was sit there. I further made the mistake that many divers do when they signal OOG but don’t actually kick towards the donating diver like they are really out of gas! I thought the joke was on my buddies for getting away from me while I “defended” the line, but the joke was really on me because had that been a real OOG situation, I would have been struggling to catch up to them with no air in my lungs! The lesson was clear: stop the reel and keep the line taut in a failure situation, but keep up with the buddies if the situation requires it because of currents, etc. even if it means continuing to bring in the reel. Buddy separation will inevitably cause greater problems for the entire team than a single diver losing his right post.
Anyway, after Paul had given me his primary, we turned around to see Michael holding the line without a mask. Paul then reached out to hold onto Michael’s arm to let him know we were there as Michael fished his spare out of his right pocket. He must have sensed that our time was winding down quickly because he began kicking down the line ahead of us while “O-ing” it. Paul signaled for Michael to drop back and take up a wing formation and, as he did this, the AoD saw that pesky loose long hose. Bam! Around the manifold it went! Michael was, of course, able to feel the presence of the supernatural surrounding his manifold and jerked around to see what was going on but still didn’t think to feel for the location of his long hose. Some failures are just funny and it didn’t matter that I was sharing Paul’s gas and was about to lose my mask to the AoD; seeing Michael’s uncooperative hose made me laugh.
So there I was between Paul and Michael when the AoD claimed my mask.
Soon after replacing it, we were back on the upline and Michael ran the deco ascent. We were on a strict schedule and wanted to get to our deco bottles at the 6 meter stop. Paul was ascending a bit beneath us and Michael called him up. Meanwhile, Michael and I kept drifting behind Paul and out of his line of sight. This, no doubt, frustrated him since he couldn’t see any of the signals going on behind his back.
At the 6-meter stop, being the OOG diver, I switched first, then Michael, then Paul. As we were higher in the water column, the current picked up and I began to slip behind the other divers. As I struggled to kick my way back to the line we were all supposed to face, the AoD claimed my mask. Alas, my backup was gone and so Gideon instructed Paul to put my hand on the upline. (In retrospect, I’m secretly thankful to Gideon for giving me the majority of maskless scenarios since, for some strange reason, it was my biggest worry prior to the class beginning.
But when it actually happened I was quite amazed at how comfortable I was and how nice it was to have buddies, all with spare masks and guiding hands! Oh, and the warm water of the Philippines surely didn’t hurt…).
(Dive 3) – 4:04 pm
Our plan on the third dive was to go back down and follow the line out to the reel, pick it up and continue on. However, during our surface interval, the upline and SMB had drifted with us a good 20+ meters downcurrent! So the five of us spent a good portion of our gas kicking against the current trying to reach the original starting point where our reel-line had been tied off. To our delight, the reel used to shoot the SMB has been clearly dragged along the sandy ocean floor and left us an easy-to-follow snail-trail on the ocean floor.
(Image: “Upline, oh upline, wherefore art thou?)
We eventually reached our original spot with a little gas to spare and, once the upline was secured, we continued down the reel-line in our line-abreast formation. After continuing on a bit, despite the planned scenario portion of our dive having just begun, Michael realized that we were already at our determined turn-pressure so we turned around. Then, WHAM! my right post went kablooey. I signaled to my buddies, turned off the right post, switched regs and then signaled for Paul to come and, as only Gideon can say, “look at my bubbling”. (If you ever have the chance to talk to him in person, have him say these words for you in his wonderful Singaporean accent!) Anyway, Paul determined it was broken; I stayed on my backup and then signaled to Michael that my right post was gone.
We then continued on, but no sooner had we turned then my mask was removed by the strong ocean currents (no doubt fanned by the AoD)! After replacing it, Paul was suddenly OOG and Michael came across from the opposite side and donated. He had forgotten to “unwind” his light cord from the long hose though, so Gideon came down from on-high and reminded him.
At this point, with Paul out of gas, I should have sandwiched him in the middle but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Suddenly, Michael in the middle lost his mask to a”large family of passing tuna”. Knowing that time was of the essence, we all continued on back towards the exit while he donned his trusty backup mask. Soon thereafter we were once again on the upline. Right after Michael signaled for me to run deco and while Paul was breathing Michael’s long hose, Michael’s right post exploded in a torrent of bubbles. It was an interesting dilemma because the default response to bubbling is to want to isolate the problem and shut off the post. However doing so would have eliminated Paul’s gas supply. We should have proceeded immediately to our bottle switch depth and, after everyone had safely been on deco gas, we could have reevaluated Michael’
s right post further. But instead, we wasted a valuable minute or so at depth worrying about fixing a problem that would have lost its urgency only 3 meters above us.
Realizing this, we eventually did ascend and Paul was the first to switch. But then, rather than Michael switching, he shut off his primary instead and isolated at the manifold and called me over to inspect his bubbling right post. Michael and I were still on back gas and once again the prudent thing to do would have been to get on deco gas as soon as possible since Paul was already sucking his down. But we didn’t.
Michael’s right post turned out to be unfixable. After make a quick adjustment to depth, he switched over to his deco bottle and I followed.
With so many failures it can be hard to keep track of team resources especially when we’ve removed a bit of the immediacy and are now sitting comfortably on deco gas. Looking back, I should have definitely done a mental check of what we had lost:
Paul – had lost all of his gas (and was still sitting on the “outside”
of the wing formation—shame on me)
Michael – had lost his right post.
I – had lost my right post.
In this situation, if Paul had run out of deco gas, one of us would have had to donate our deco reg and switch to the backup around our neck.
Thankfully it didn’t come to that. But it should have been on my mind.
(Dive 4) – 5:00 pm
Our final dive on Day 2 would be a toxing diver rescue simulation. For this, we headed up the beach to a sandy bottom about 6 meters in depth.
Gideon ran through the drill with us using Mike Taylor as a guinea pig.
We were to keep ourselves as horizontal as possible in the water while hovering over the backs of the toxing diver. We had to keep the regs in their mouths with hand supporting their heads to keep their airways open, turn them face-down if they were in a different position when we found them, and use their wing (not our own) to gradually take them to the surface while maintaining the above-mentioned characteristics. It was easier said than done and the biggest hassle was trying to keep everyone as horizontal as possible so we didn’t rocket to the surface.
(Image: Gideon isn’t impressed by our experimental tandem-diving
This skill was quite fun to practice and we all did reasonably well.
Gideon made several comments on the surface to help us fix little things, but overall it was a successful (and short) dive.
We eventually meandered ashore, did our customary dip in the pool to rinse off our gear, and readied our gear for fills.
After a quick break to get cleaned up, we met again at the dinner table where we talked about the dives and then went over to the classroom for video review and the evenings lecture on bubble models and more deco theory. After class, we split our separate ways, some taking walks on the night beach and talking about the class, and all, eventually heading off to bed.
Hump day. If my memory serves me correctly, after we met for breakfast, we gathered on the beach in our swim trunks and proceeded to take the swim test. Gideon ran a measure to a boat’s moor line that was sitting out a way from the beach and determined it to be about 100m. We, therefore, had to swim out and back twice for a total of 400 meters in
14 minutes or less. Michael was the strongest swimmer of the bunch but we all finished with plenty of time to spare, however, not without cuts on our feet from the shallow reef near the shore. It was a strange experience to do the test in an open water scenario where currents weaved in and out of the little bay, but had a grander feeling than just doing 16 laps in a 25 meter pool. (I had brought my pool goggles and was greeted by some beautiful reef scenery as I swam). Here, I might mention for the sake of those struggling with the swimming test to practice doing your 400 meters either in the ocean or in the pool but (in the case of the pool) without kicking off from the wall on each pass. If, like us, you’re forced to do it in the open ocean, there will be no wall and you might find yourself a little more tired than if you’d only prepared for the test in a pool and had been relying on the walls to help you swim the distance within the available time.
When that test was done, we ended with our underwater swim for 15 meters. To do this, Gideon measured a distance away from us in water about 1.5 meters in depth and we just had to start swimming under the surface from our starting point until we reached him. Again, there were no problems there.
Back on shore, I think we actually met for an early lecture session on helium because we were going to be using 30/30 for the dives that day.
Before diving, we grabbed some lunch and checked our gear. Michael and I swore that some of our gear had been tampered with: I had an SMB whose bungie-restraint cord was removed from around the bag and Michael had something with one of his regulators. Gideon, of course, swears that he had nothing to do with it! When we were ready, we donned our gear and walked to a waiting banana boat that would take us to the Alma Jane, a wreck that lies pretty much in 30 meters of water.
It was exciting to be diving on Trimix at last and on a real wreck!
(Dive 1) – 1:48pm
There was a massive buoy on the surface that led down to the wreck which also had a marker at 6 meters which we could use on our first dive to practice drills. For the first dive we were to, again, do down to 6 meters, do valve drills, OOG drills and then deco bottle switches (which was also my first time to use real 50%) and then ascend to the surface.
(Image: Michael donates to Michael.)
Reviewing the video, we were still plagued by the occasional dangling light cords and bungled steps in gas switching, but in general, I could see in the video review that we had improved quite a lot.
(Dive 2) – 2:14 pm
This was it! Our first dive of the class below 20m where we could test the benefits of the 30/30 mix over the more oft-used 32% enriched air.
We still didn’t need to do deco, but the dive would incorporate it so we’d get practice for doing real 3 meter stops after a dive a depth and in the proper time.
Though later dives on 35% would show me that breathing on Helium is a lot easier, for some reason, I didn’t notice anything different on this dive with only 30% in the tanks except, of course, that we could talk funny on the surface and sort-of verify that we had some amount of helium in our tanks.
For those who haven’t gone diving using Trimix, the only noticeable difference in warm water is that you don’t become narc’d and are, therefore, clear-headed at depth (which is, at the Tech 1 level, between 30 and 48 meters). Cold water divers, if they are silly enough not to use a separate drysuit inflation source, will definitely notice that they get really cold really fast breathing on helium and using it to inflate their drysuits because of how fast it conducts heat away from the body. Incidentally, I tried this once a number of months later while assisting Gideon as videographer in a drysuit Tech1 class in Izu, Japan—hey, you have to say you’ve tried it ONCE just so you know from experience… But that was in 23 degree (Celsius) water only to 45 meters for a few minutes. I can’t even imagine doing it in colder water or for the entire 30-minute bottom time. Brrrr…..I was frozen. But in the waters of the Philippine we had no such concerns!
We were moving pretty slowly on this dive and it took us nearly 4 minutes to reach our planned depth. No sooner had we arrived then the AoD struck the right side of Michael’s right manifold. I happened to catch the AoD work his magic and stopped to see Michael do his own self-check first. After that, he called Paul over to check his bubbling and Paul confirmed that it was broken and we proceeded back to the line after Michael closed the isolator.
Michael was soon out of gas and after donating to him, I saw that we were on the upline so I began to run deco as had been pre-planned.
Before we could move up though, Paul’s right began to bubble and, as he didn’t see my signal to “move up”, we had to wait at depth until he evaluated the problem. He was quick to determine that the bubbling stopped when he shut down his right post, so after switching to his backup we began to move again. No need to fix the problem as we’d soon be off our backgas once deco began at 21 meters.
(Image: The AoD: hard at work or hardly working?)
Paul was the first to switch, with Michael going over to his deco bottle after him. But alas, Michael clipped off MY long hose to his right D-ring when he switched and had to unclip, sort it out and hand it back before I could stow it and, ultimately, move to my bottle.
Then it was my turn to bungle my light cord stowing. At the time, I was still used to keeping it under the long hose throughout the dive as I’d been taught. So even though it was actually correct, according to my previous light usage, I thought it was backwards and began to straighten it out while my buddies were already busy decoing. With everything combined we probably wasted a good 3 minutes at the 21 meter mark. I later joked that Paul had been on his bottle so long that he had probably already finished his deco by the time we were on the move to 60 feet!
Once we were all on our deco bottles, Michael informed me of Paul’s broken right post and I “okayed” him.
From there to the surface, we didn’t have any more problems.
(Dive 3) – 2:54 pm
Our final dive for the day, dive 3 was supposed to be another dive on the Alma Jane with the remaining gas in our tanks. We dropped again at a pretty slow rate, arriving at depth about three and a half minutes later.
On this dive, Paul led us across the deck of the ship at quite a pace.
The goal was to go so fast that Gideon would apparently have a hard time catching us and giving us failures. One difference on this dive though was that we were to be in single-line formation rather than side by side since Gideon promised we could “see the ship better that way”. We each had a laugh knowing that he really wanted us to do it this way so he’d have an easier time of picking us off one by one in the blind spots of those in front!
(Image: In a single-line formation on the Alma Jane)
We actually made a full revolution around the ship before the AoD got bored and paid us a visit. Did I say, “us”? I meant “the poor guy in the back” (Michael). But we were ready. Being in the middle, I signaled for Paul to “hold” and I turned around to check his left post which had been bubbling. I was able to fix it and we continued on.
Already back to the stern, I called the dive due to time, when all of a sudden my isolator went kablooey! Being nonfixable and after conveying this to my buddies, we went up to 21 meters to do our switches. On the way, sure enough, I ran out of gas and Michael donated his to me. Upon reading 21 meters however, Paul ran deco and told Michael and I to switch at the same time. After I had switched, I was holding on to Michael’s long hose and, not wanting him to get them entangled if he tried to stow it AFTER he’d already gone to his deco bottle, I passed it to him before he could switch. However, being on the outside of the group (*bad, bad*) I couldn’t see that he’d already pulled out the deco regulator. He took the long hose back but now had his hands full trying to figure out what to do first, stow or switch. He chose to stow but did it quickly so as to keep the deco schedule moving.
Once everyone had gone over to our deco bottles, Paul shot a bag so we could ascend on the line. Soon after that my deco bottle actually ran out of gas (for real!) so I switched back to my backgas and notified my buddies. And then the real fun began. After about a minute on backgas, the AoD insisted that I lose that too! Michael promptly fed me his deco regulator and went to HIS backgas but in the mix, he’d forgotten to notice that his deco bottle was actually running out of gas too. After about 30 seconds breathing it, the reg went dead and it was a REAL dead, not pretend. The AoD, in all his wisdom, didn’t see this one coming! But I made the next fatal mistake (or would have been fatal if it hadn’t been a scenario dive)—I went back to my backgas thinking that the scenario was over and I would just have to really use it even though we were pretending it too was gone. WRONG! (Hint: in this sort of situation, the correct response is to go to the 3rd buddy’s gas supply!)
Michael didn’t know what was going on though and put the deco reg back in his mouth when I passed it back, but after the AoD insisted, he wisely stowed his deco reg! (Alas, who says that the AoD is not just and
loving?) In the middle of all this, Paul motioned for us to “move up”.
At the 3 meter mark, I lost both masks and had Paul guide my hand to the line. But after this, both Paul and Michael began giving me touch-contact signals that were different. For example, Michael would wave my hand back and forth to supposedly tell me to “level off” but Paul would squeeze my hand which I guess meant to “stop”. Or Michael would pat the underside of my arm to signal me to “move up” whereas Paul would tug at my thumb in the vertical position.
(Image: Maskless and on the up-line.)
Using both signals I was able to come to an understanding of what they wanted me to do, but after the dives were over we had to go over this some more. In addition, we were still in the habit of reeling in the spool above 6 meters even when there were failures present. Gideon reminded us, too, that we can just leave it and have a peaceful ride to the surface without having to deal with that one extra task.
The dive over, we formed a queue on the surface, got in the boat one by one and made our way back to the hotel where we went through our regular post-dive routine.
We had an early dinner and then proceeded to the classroom where we started our lecture on decompression. During the next day’s dives we’d need it as we’d be on 21/35 and 50% for real!
DAYS 4 & 5
The last two days were spent doing experience dives putting to use all that we had learned throughout the first three days. Our videographer Mike Taylor was unable to join us and was sorely missed, but we were ready to enjoy ourselves and perhaps a bit relieved at not having to rehash things afterwards beyond what Gideon could remember on his own.
The dives went splendidly. All were drift dives in ripping currents near the lighthouse point and getting the chance to be swept back and forth depending on which way the water took us at our particular depth. There were fan corals, reef outcroppings and ledges where sharks were have said to dwell. It was a nice feeling to be at 45 meters and feeling absolutely clear-headed as we took in our surroundings. It was also the first time for me to have a very real “deco ceiling” above that prevented me from going up to the surface. But when I continued to rack my brains for a reason this might be uncomfortable (e.g., situations I couldn’t handle, etc.) this feeling quickly passed. After a week of over-preparation in our drills where we expected anything and everything to go wrong, it was a very guilty pleasure indeed when NOTHING went wrong and our task was simply to HAVE FUN!
Our classroom sessions were equally grueling over the last two days and it soon became clear that we were short on time. Due to taking more time in our lectures than normal, there was little time left for us to take our test and to pack our things before Paul and I had to fly out for the mainland. We could (and should) have easily taken 4 hours to do the test, but we only had about one and a half.
After we had handed in our tests and were carrying our luggage down to the beach, Gideon pulled us aside individually to go over some last points, to mention some things we should continue to work on once we had returned to our various destinations and had begun diving again. When it was all said and done and with a bit of weariness and emotion Gideon let me know that we had all passed the course. And with that, we said our last goodbyes, put our luggage on the waiting rickshaw boat, cracked open some beers and stepped off into the sea.