A form of diving that fires most people’s imagination. “Deep, dark and decompression” are normally the first things that come to mind. “A lot of gear” would be a second thought. All apply, but there is so much more to it. This is the story about the path we followed from recreational divers to technical divers. This journey started approximately five years ago and is an ongoing story of courses and personal development. In the next couple of issues we will explain what the term technical diving actually means. We will tell more about the equipment we use and about why we always carry it around (even during dives where we do not need the amount of gas). In part two we will explain a bit more about the standardized equipment used. After that we will publish some articles about the courses we have followed / are following.
Why exactly do we like those deep dives? We carry enormous amounts of heavy equipment and spend more time getting back to the surface than on the wreck… We all have our different reasons. I have actually no idea. In my normal life I am quite a brisk person, but when I am underwater everything becomes relaxed. Being underwater calms me down and life becomes more easy. As a kid I always dreamt I could fly. Up until today I haven’t been very successful in my Peter Pan attempts, but diving is the second best thing: flying in liquid air is something I really enjoy. Even though sometimes there is absolutely nothing to see, the feeling of being weightless is enough for me to be happy. I imagine that many of you, dive fanatics, will recognize the feeling.
However, there is something else for me. When I am in the water I am obsessed by the depth beneath me. It calls my name. I cannot help myself, but I just need to go down there. No idea why. Think of it as reversed fear of heights. When I look up to a building, I imagine it being underwater and where my deco stops would be. The lack of light at those depths just make things more mysterious and interesting to me. Some people find their relaxation in driving a fast car or a motorbike. Many of you find your pleasure in waiting an entire dive for a nudi branch to get into a certain position. Others get immense satisfaction out of teaching people to dive. I just noticed that I like to make deep dives. On the one hand my mind goes into some kind of relaxing state, but on the other hand, I get a great kick out of it.
An additional problem for all Team Pitch Blue members is that each and every one of us is interested in history and vessels. A wreck is a kind of time capsule to us. Everything there is still the same as the moment it sank, even if that is decades ago. We find it really interesting to read and learn about the history of the wreck before diving on it. Where it was built, how it looked, what the cargo was and why did it eventually sink? The more history, the better. (But to be honest, if you throw us overboard near a wreck we know nothing about, we will still have a blast…)
One way or another, we find wreckdiving the most fun way of diving. A lot of the untouched and beautiful wrecks are at greater depths. The less people able to dive it, the more preserved the wreck is. A new interest was born. Just as there are people who have made the choice to become a dive master or instructor, we made the choice to follow the necessary training to be able to make longer and deeper dives in a safe way.
After I started to read about wreckdiving, I found out the way I used to dive is just not safe enough. A single 80 cuft tank of air to 35/40 meters is just not safe. Neither my equipment nor skills were suitable for the dives I wanted to make. It was irresponsible. I came to the conclusion that there is a clear difference between recreational and technical diving.
Imagine a diver packed with complicated-looking equipment swimming through the wheelhouse of the Hilma Hooker in Bonaire. Or another diver with an single 80 cuft tank having to do 12 minutes of deco after looking at the trucks inside the cargo holds of the Thistlegorm. Are this technical divers? Does it make you a technical diver if your computer regularly indicates deco? Of course not, you are pushing the limits of recreational diving. The ultimate difference between a recreational diver who goes beyond his limits and a technical diver, is that the technical diver is trying to ensure his dives are as safe as possible. I noticed I was diving more and more beyond my limits. On deeper dives it was no longer an issue if my computer indicated that I had to make decostops. Deeper dives were the rule rather than the exception. This gave me new issues. In my recreational training I learned about the half-tank rule and 50 bar is “low-on-air”. Is that really enough gas to ascent safely with two persons when there is a serious problem? How much gas do I actually use per minute? And my buddy? What happens to my gasconsumption when I panic? How do the decompression tables actually work? I didn’t know the answer to all of these questions. It just didn’t feel good anymore. This concluded in me following specific training in procedures and skills.
A big misconception is that technical diving is all about technology and the stuff you have dangling around. A wing with backplate, large doubleset and long hoses … you name it. It is the most eye-catching, but certainly not the most important. If you do not know how you should deal with certain equipment, you are actually putting yourself in more danger than adding extra safety. Especially on dives with a ceiling (literally and/or figuratively). How often do we read about a simple free flow combined with human error and incorrectly installed equipment leading to serious and even deadly events?
A lot has been written about the equipment a technical diver uses. I have been ridiculed and gossiped about when jumping into 50 feet of water with my full setup. It doesn’t bother me because I do this to train and get used to my equipment. The system I use has been developed during the most difficult dives you can think of: deep decompression dives during the exploration of cave systems in Florida and Mexico. The men and women who made these dives, actually experienced all possible underwater problems and scenarios you can imagine. Almost all equipment has some sort of backup, and if not, there is always at least one team-member around who has the same equipment in exactly the same place, as a backup for you. This system works for all types of dives sometimes with minimal adjustments of the equipment, but the basics remain the same.
The whole idea behind this configuration is the fact that without making any changes to your equipment, you are able to do any kind of dive. Whether it is a fish-watching-dive or a technical wreck or cave dive, the equipment stays the same. This keeps the necessary routine always the same. Practicing a lot will build muscle memory and this will prevent problems. So we dive to 50 feet with a double 12. Sometimes even with stage bottles.
The point is that I get used to my equipment in a controlled environment. How to react in different situations. Adjustments of D-rings and back plate makes a world of difference in trim and accessibility. Training in a team builds a bond of trust. Every team member has the same procedures and will react in the same way.
I need to practice, practice and practice some more. This way everything becomes a second nature. In my second or third week of training for NAUI intro to tech, I managed to close all my valves during a so called valve drill. With this exercise you have a systematic way of closing and opening your valves to locate, resolve or isolate a problem. By forgetting one step in the process, I managed to put myself out of gas in a very professional way. I gasped for air, but there was…nothing.
Unexpected lack of gas is a huge surprise I can tell you, but a massive learning opportunity. For both me and my teammate. He didn’t see it coming either. Being a team-member is about actually participating in what your team is doing. Not just being there looking at the fish. It is all about team awareness.
It was my own stupid mistake and we’ve learned a lot. Fortunately, in a controlled environment and with my teammate TL as my over-weighted, but life-saving-angel. Of course such errors will happen. The idea is that you have to learn from your own mistakes. The advantage of this learning method: if we really find ourselves in a stressful situation, all necessary actions will run with caution. Even better; automatic actions based on muscle memory will prevail.
Always using the same equipment setup is a condition for creating muscle memory. Whether on a simple dive or on a deep wreck dive, all things should be in the same place. This way, we are trained to donate gas and fix all kinds of gas failures. Knowing exactly what-is-where and how all of the other team members respond without having to think twice, will prevent a lot of stress.
Stress can lead to wrong decisions and will ultimately lead to panic. As a wise instructor once said: We can fix practically anything underwater. The only thing we cannot fix is panic. So please do not panic when you have a problem.
Next issue will be about the special standardized equipment we use, so stay tuned.
Hope to see you at the waterfront and don’t forget to like and follow Team Pitch Blue on Facebook!
WORDS by Job Kuperus and PICTURES by Case Kassenberg