This is the third part of our special articles about Technical Diving. Read also [Part 1] [Part 2]
In this third part things are getting more serious. This is where the actual courses start: with the Intro to Tech / Fundamentals. This basic training is intended for everyone who wants to step into the world of technical diving. Regardless of what religion you are (PADI, NAUI, GUE, SSI, NOB), dive-master, instructor or even course director, this program is the first step and you simply can not go any further if you have not completed it with a Tech-rating.
As already said in the previous parts 1 and 2: it is essential that everyone you (are going to ) dive with has the same mindset. In this way, every diver knows that every one of his team members has the correct and the same equipment, but most importantly: has the same procedures as you for every part of the dive. This way each team-member will know what’s coming and therefore will easily see if something is out of the ordinary /wrong. So if the inevitable problem occurs, everybody will react in the same way. The diver in trouble will recognize and predict the behaviour of his helping team members so that there will be no panic and everyone knows that the problem is dealt with in the most efficient manner.
The first step to learn these procedures will be set today. The last weeks we already had the odd hours of theory about the ins-and-outs of decompression and the how- and why of the different exercises. Now, we can’t wait to put the theory into actual practice. This all was going on June in 2011. Early in the morning I jumped in my car loaded with dive gear. We were as ready for the course as we could. We thought…
Almost everybody arrived at Scuba Academy at the same time, so first things first: a cup of coffee. Secondly, but also very important: walking around the premises whilst trying to look very techy. Obviously you cannot start your introduction to tech diving without that…
The day began with even more theory. Fortunately, not only the “dry” decompression theory, but also explaining how first stages, second stages, de- and inflators and your manifold are put together and how they actually work. Off course all to help recognize and solve problems.
After a couple of hours it turned out that we didn’t pack our dive gear for nothing. Everything had to pass the thorough inspection of Cees den Toom, our instructor. And when I say thorough, I really mean thorough. The man is 6 foot 6 and has fingers like winter carrots. My expensive dive gear was made idiot-proof with the idea: better rupture above – than under water. Rubber parts which to my best knowledge were still perfectly fine, turned out not to be so perfect any more after contact with the winter carrots of Cees. Knots and tie-wraps were cut off without further ceremony and a mouthpiece was pierced by a fingernail, “this is not good anymore”, grumbled Cees. “No you turd, not if you stick your fingernail in it!” I thought, but dutifully placed a new mouthpiece. In short, the gear got checked properly.
Then the correct placement of the backplate and D-rings were checked. This to make sure that everybody should be able to reach the valves (at least in theory) and to make sure that, when getting more experienced, stage bottles could be added to our setup without any problems. Even more, by having everything at the excact correct spot now, muscle memory to blindly find the D-rings is already getting established.
After this we watched a video. Over and over again. All the exercises (skills) which we had to master during the coming days were cut into pieces and explained step by step, so we could take full advantage of this on day 2. All exercises should be performed first on the 6 meter platform, then on a line and finally ‘in the blue’ with your buddies as a reference point. This is because if there is a problem, you most probably do not have a bottom where you can comfortably kneel down on, relax for a bit and than start your search for the problem.
Furthermore, maintaining proper trim and buoyancy is of key importance, because soon we will be spending at least half of our dive time on a deco stop. Executing these skills whilst maintaining a solid platform is actually the most-important thing. Therefore, we should perform our exercises whilst demonstrating good buoyancy and trim. Maximum is 30 degrees off horizontal while remaining within 5 feet/1.5 meters of a target depth and keeping eye contact with our buddies at all times.
The skills themselves. If you look at them separately, it’s really not that difficult. Mask on and off – open and close your valves in a certain order – S-drill – deploy your spare light – shoot an SMB – get everything out of your pockets and stow it back – frogkick – back kick – helicopter turn – Easily done, right? Absolutely true. Until everything had to be combined with precise trim, buoyancy and awareness. Than all the above suddenly becomes quite a task I can tell you. If something is difficult, you have a tendency to get caught up in your own little world which makes you look…but see nothing. Loss of awareness is possibly the biggest danger, therefore a big issue that has to be trained.
I hope I made you a little bit interested or at least curious about the skils. Because they are difficult to describe we will be uploading them on Facebook:Team Pitch Blue and on our YouTube channel : youtube.com/c/TeamPitchBlue. Pictures speak louder than words; a movie works even better.
Day two: rise and shine and straight to the dive site. We started immediately with dry runs for donating the long hose, valve-drill and S-drill. To be honest, felt a bit of an idiot walking around with backplate, regs and light on land, but hey…all for the greater cause. After this exercise we tuned and tweaked our backplate some more and then…it was finally time to go to water.
The dive-plan was to go to the 20 foot platform. We all got numbers; 1,2,3, and 4 and we needed to do our skills in that specific order. Ron Baars (2nd instructor) had a GoPro camera along with him to film everything and give video feedback afterwards. Cees den Toom would be hovering in our blind spot as a giant shadow. The skills actually went fine (we still thought at that moment ). Until the ascent. For some reason we all thought we had our ascent covered and therefore hardly paid attention to it in our preparation. The valve drill and shooting an SMB : that looked very techy; so we practiced that. Swim backwards: really cool. So we practiced that. The ascent? That would be easy right? In our preparation to this course we hardly paid attention to a proper ascent. Ascending was a piece of cake right? Untill you have to maintain a steady platform, stay in formation, shoot an smb and ascend at exactly 9 foot per 30 seconds whilst keeping your awareness…Then the piece of cake proves to be a really, really long row to hoe (not sure this expression exists in English? I’m not familiar with it). The individual divers went up- and down and in short: we were a mess. This reality check hit us: we were far from the dive-gods we thought we were…
On the second dive we swam back towards the platform where we once again performed all skills. Everything went fairly well, although we had to get used to the specific way of teaching. It’s actually very harsh. In the dive training I’ve done so far, the instructors help you through the exercises and correct you before you make a big mistake. Whilst during this course the instructors Cees and Ron (and later in Croatia especially Rob) really went out of their way to make sure you get yourself in trouble. Everybody in the team ends up with all valves closed at least once.
The essence of this training is to learn from your mistakes in controlled conditions. When you stow your lamp cord incorrectly or make another completely idiotic decision, Cees or Ron would immediately be there to punish that. With an incorrectly stowed light cord you will have a hard time donating gas. Lesson learned the hard way. Not looking up before you shoot an smb can get the team above you that’s on a deco stop in really big trouble when the smb rushes straight through their platform. Again: lesson learned the hard way. A very direct and efficient way to learn. But hey, better here than at 160 foot during Tech 1.
Then to the dive centre for evaluation. The film Ron shot was very confronting: we were not quite as horizontal in the water as we thought we were and also the skills had many many (beauty) flaws. The order we were supposed to do our skills in (1,2,3,4 remember?) well, lets say we needed to learn to count to 4 again (and no one in the team even noticed we messed up). Furthermore: eye contact? Non existing… And last but not least: for some reason the whole team started rotating around an invisible axle which had us finning the whole time. No one noticed this either. Cees of course had seen and remembered everything. The next 1.5 hours were used extensively to show where improvements should be made. Ending with a postive point is of course an old trick in training so in the last five minutes Cees mentioned something positive about the abilities of each team member. Well thanks Cees. Nice that you took the full five minutes there ;). Anyway, day two was very informative and again it became more than clear that trim and bouancy should be rock solid before you even start a skill. Taking your time before you start a skill/excercise is half of the job done.
Day three began with more theory and a quick run through of yesterday’s funniest home video to refresh our minds. With this wisdom and the feedback from the previous day in our minds it was time for dives three and four. Again, the whole nine yards of exercises. The hard way of imidiatly being confronted with your mistakes, steepens the learning curve a lot I must say. Furthermore, it really is: slow is smooth and smooth is fast. We were way too eager to show our progress by doing things quickly which led to making mistakes instead.
The second dive we got enlightened on how to transport an unconscious diver with a heavy ‘twinset’ underwater and how to safely surface this way . We had often read and talked about it, but I must say, to actually do it and to keep control (mostly the important last meters/feet) is quite an effort. But we actually had lots of fun doing it. Good to end a day with and particularly good for the team spirit. After another lengthy review and viewing the video footage we could go home with a good feeling. Only to stand in a massive traffic jam on the way back.Two and a half hours gone because of road construction and lanes shifts whilst no roadwork is being done! Bye bye good feelings…
The last day we did all the skills “in the blue”, but with the “extra” that for some skills the mask was optional. Read: the mask was off. It’s hard at first to really fully rely on the team, but you get used to it pretty quickly. And it’s actually a great feeling to know your team is there to help you out in case of trouble. After that the emphasis was on the ascent again. Shooting the smb was not an issue at all but the ascents themselves were still not flawless. That’s really something a couple of our team (including myself) had to work on to get the tech rating and move on to T1. At the end we did scenario dive: The dive would be as followed: nr. 2 would be out-of-gas. nr. 3 would donate gas and nr. 1 would lead us back to the ascent point. Than again an ascent, but this time with an out-of-gas-situation. The out-of-gas was solved correctly and there was good buddy awareness, but still that ascent…… It remained an issue. Everything had to be done on time. Thirty seconds for each part of the ascent, followed by thirty seconds “hangtime” whilst dealing with an out of gas diver is just difficult.
Finally, there was a theory exam on the program and we were called on by the instructors to get a team – and a personal evaluation.
One diver could not complete the course because of personal issues. One had to repeat the course. Roen passed with honour and I passed with a “revisional”. I had to work on my ascent some more and after practicing a lot I could show Cees den Toom a couple of weeks later that I really could count to thirty during an ascent. Yeah! tech-rated for my intro to tech. That was nice (and needed) because I wanted to go to the Croatia Tech 1 trip later that year.
All in all a great course (if not the best course I have ever had) in which we learned a lot. New insights, new techniques and a hard learning method made us better and safer divers.
We 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