Technical Diving Part 5 Begin with the end in mind / The path from recreational to technical diving

This is another part of our special articles about Thecnical Diving.
Read also [Part 1] [Part 2][Part 3][Part 4.1][Part 4.2]

Technical diving descentAs you may have read in the previous posts, all members of Team Pitch Blue managed to pass the brutal T1 course. Amazingly enough, the whole team stayed together after that and we did a lot of diving together. In fact, since then we have been joined by Cees (nicknamed Case / father of team-member Jeroen), Richard (nicknamed UMM) and Thomas (nicknamed TL). These divers were certified a year earlier, but unfortunately Case saw his team fall apart due to a combination of money- and time constraints of his other team and UMM…just wants to dive as much as possible and is actually diving in two teams. Team member Thomas is also our technical support. If TL can’t fix it…no one can. With his ridiculously heavy toolbox he more than once managed to save dives that otherwise would have been cancelled.
They were more than welcome in Team Pitch Blue and an additional benefit for us is that Case is a more than gifted underwater photographer. The pictures in these articles and all pictures on our Facebook page are of course taken by Case. They have joined us to keep practicing and we maintain our team dive skills every Sunday at Scuba Academie Vinkeveen. But they also plan to take the next step in our journey with us: T1+.
It appears that at this level of diving, buddies are very thin on the people who have the same mindset as well as the time, money and opportunity to train every Sunday. Weirdo’s that want to endlessly fool around with excessive amounts of dive gear are hard to find. Also the necessary investment that has to be made after the T1 level is really considerable, both in terms of training as well as in materials (thus financial). Additional material, regulators, stage bottles are a significant drain on the household budget, I can tell you.
Diving in a team is super nice to build trust and confidence, but it is also very difficult to keep that team together. Partly because the margin for error is getting smaller and smaller. Several teams are thus disintegrated as individual team members place their personal limit at the level of T1.
The T1+ course has the same gas limits (21/35) but allows for an extra bottom stage for extended bottom time. This gives you new challenges to solve, because longer exposure causes the slow body tissues to saturate. To solve this, long decompression times with 50% and 100% oxygen are necessary. In particular 100% oxy is very handy to allow off-gassing in the most effective way. But this has a downside too: pure oxy requires a high level of buoyancy control. The deco is performed on a maximum ppO2 of 1.6. We do this at 21 meters with nitrox 50% and switch at 6 meters to 100% O2. However, where nitrox 50 is still somewhat forgiving, pure oxy is not. It’s super super effective for off-gassing, but absolutely not forgiving to any mistakes. It is therefore very important to stay focused on the long and boring deco’s and tightly stay in trim at six meters. There is no other choice. Ascend and you risk DCS, descend and there is a – possibly even nastier result – the chance of an oxygen hit.

For this reason all foundations are laid in the Intro to Tech / Fundamentals courses. It proves that the long hours of training we spent on this, and the harsh lessons learned from Cees, Ron and Rob were really really important. Now that we actually dive the dives we trained for, our basic training falls more and more into place. To have every item always in the same place and always dive with the same equipment causes your muscles to do things automatically. The exercises that we first experienced as difficult and in fact could not understand “the how and why” very well only form a complete picture if you go further and expand boundaries and equipment. “Begin with the end in mind” is what technical diving is about really. We do not have to unlearn things, but only have to add things in our already familiar system.
Why certain things are in a certain place / are stored in a specific pocket only becomes clear when you’re at 50 meters, packed with gear and you come to the conclusion that you just cannot physically reach an item because it is not on the spot you are told to keep it. Mental note: listen to your instructor. He probably knows 😉
You will never forget to have a good look above you for other divers if you have been hovering in deco formation at 6 meters – 20 minutes to go – and some dumb-arse at 21 meters shoots his SMB straight through your formation almost pulling your entire team up with it.
You always double check and analyze your gasses before every dive. Always. It becomes clear when receiving a very completely different gas mix you expect / ordered. “Trust-me-dives” on mixed gas diving is out of the question.
Gas analysis marking at the correct place only hits you if you have three stage bottles with three different gasses – of which two are simply not breathable at the depth you are at. You really do want to see and check the gas before you are going to breath it.
Endless exercise and practicing lost-deco-bottle scenarios seems useless until you actually need it. Not because you lost a stage bottle, but because your second stage just decides it will no longer work – making the entire tank useless.
These are but a few examples where the “Oooh that’s why Rob was such a pain in the arse to us. That’s why he kept whining about the little stuff” got obvious.
Practicing the little stuff makes the big difference when you need it. With these dives it is not the question if-, but when problems will happen.
On the T1+ course the theory is again challenging, but if you got it with T1, the method is very well known and we only need to learn the other figures by heart. What actually is very different are the additional stage bottles. We learn the rules of the proper handling of multiple stages. To help solve this, we have access to an extremely handy, essential and illustrious part of the equipment of every der and a rope through a piece of garden hose. No more…no less…
On this leash three stages can be stored without any problems. The double-ender is clipped on your hip D-ring and by the sophisticated feature of this piece-of-rope-through-a-garden-hose the tanks hang between / above your legs so you are actually not bothered by them at all. The bottom stage and the first deco-gas are situated under your left arm. Life can be simple !!
The only trick is to get everything where you need, when you need it. We come back to: “Plan your dive and dive your plan” motto of the intro and T1. Everything has an order and a place for a good reason and it all comes back with greater extent again on T1+.
Because we have all been training and juggling with the extra stages for more than a year and because we understand the how and why of deco, this course is more of an in depth training of what we already know than something entirely new (although the fingertips of my gloves are totally worn from clipping stage bottles on- and off the leash).
It seems better not to describe the grief the instructors Cees den Toom and Ron Baars hand out to us. I’ve already done that in previous issues. And believe me, they once again succeed in having us make very strange underwater decisions. Fortunately this time no decision we made during the training would be “lethal” in a non-training situation. We did manage to learn something. Yet some actions were still stupid enough to be ashamed beyond belief when we surfaced.
What started as a team of three rookie divers on the intro to tech, years later turned out to be, on entering the T1+ program, a tight team of six tech divers. With pride I can say, “Good afternoon, the whole Team Pitch Blue is T1+ certified!!!”.

In this part I will describe the procedures of a common T1+ dive.

Technical diverA “regular” T1+ dive goes like this:
Before getting all the equipment on the boat, all gasses are analyzed and tanks are labelled with the MOD of that specific gas. We make a good habit out of doing this ourselves. There is only one person down there that is going to put the regulator in his/her mouth and breathe the gas: you! So you better make sure it’s the correct gas.
After that it is a team effort to get all equipment on the boat. Although a “normal” tech team usually consist of three, because we do a lot of photo-shoots, we dive with two teams of three. Just to give you an idea for the amount of equipment we need for just two boat dives: twelve doubles, twenty-four 80 cuft stages and six 40 cuft stages, thirty first- and second stages and not even to mention the underwater scooters, camera equipment, strobes, flashes we need for a specific photoshoot. It is almost a military exercise.
After that we do the SADDDD (see part 4.1) and final equipment check on the boat and jump into the water. Bottom stage and 50 nitrox on your left D-ring. 100% oxy on the “leash” in your hand. Once in the water the 40 cuft stage on the leash is clipped onto your hip-D-ring and out of harm’s way. A free tip on this one: you want to double check before you let go. Your stage just might want to travel to the seabed on its own…Trust me. I know…
Next: longhose deployment and the last bubble check. Then first gas-switch to bottom stage and a controlled, but steady descent. The actual runtime has started so all time lost here shortens the dive. On the wreck a quick check on time, depth and spg. At a depth of 52 meters up to 130 liters per minute are used, so somewhere around minute 13 there is still approximately 50 bar in your bottom stage. According to the dive-plan this is where we do our second gas-switch: to back-gas and stow our regulator on the bottom stage. Every gas-switch is a serious part in the dive so extra attention is needed. Checking correct gas, checking correct flow and ask for the final okay from your team members. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast on this one.
Once the whole team is switched to back gas, the dive is continued. At this depth minimum gas for a D-12 is 100 bar so we can use another 100 bar before we have to start the ascent. Plenty of time to have a good look at the wreck and to get into the desired positions to let Case do his artwork. Everyone has a specific task. At these depths excessive lighting is essential for a great picture so some team members carry ridiculous amounts of it. Both in their hands and/or on the back of the doubles. Sometimes standalone lights are placed on or even in the wreck to generate a specific effect. Other divers are capable of insane tight trim so they are usually the models hovering around the wreck. Last, but most certainly not least, there is always one team member keeping a close eye on Case whilst he is looking through the lens of his camera. As you can imagine, communication is difficult so besides the planning of the dive considering gas- and deco strategies, we also spend a lot of time planning the actual dive itself with all photo moments and team positioning.
According to the dive plan we gather at the line to start the ascent. The last adjustments are made and everything that needs to be stowed should be stowed. Thumbs go up and we take a deep breath to start the ascent. According to our pre-calculated schedule we ascend to 21 meters in 11 minutes. At 21 we all do our third gas switch to nitrox 50 and start the 45 minutes deco. This slow ascent gives us more than enough time to get the “leash” 100% oxy to the front and switch this with the empty (and therefore positive) bottom stage. The full 100% goes on top of the 50% nitrox already under your left arm. Empty stages are neatly clipped together as this bunch has done its job. We no longer need them and therefore they are placed on the leash and hung on the butt ring. Basta di pasta: out of harm’s way and I find it adding to my buoyancy and stability.
Deco from this depth and with these gasses are done on 21, 18, 15, 12, 9, 6 and 3 meters. The last two minutes of the 9-meter-stop we do our fourth gas switch from 50% to back gas so as to not get into trouble with the hoses and to maximize the impact of the 100% oxy as much as possible. At six meters we do our fifth gas switch and let the gas-of-the-gods do its job. It’s a crazy sensation that I feel through my whole body. After the back gas with 21/35 (and even more in T2 with 18/45) pure oxygen breathes different, it tastes different and sounds different. Not for nothing do we wait three full breaths after a switch before you give the “OK” sign. We are halfway on our deco schedule. So close to the surface, but still so far away…
With deco’s in this range it’s not really necessary, but we make it good practice to do a gas break. After twelve minutes, we switch to back gas again to avoid lung damage because of breathing pure oxygen under high pressure for too long. We switch and after a break of five minutes our lungs are clean again. After that we switch again and continue our deco on pure oxy. Last stop is at three meters. Here, we hover for the final step. The last three meters to the surface take us another three minutes, after with we surface with a big grin on our faces. Dive executed as planned!
Weather allowing we add at least 10 minutes or so for surface decompression. Just doing nothing on the surface. Floating calmly and letting our bodies adjust to the ambient pressure. It is not scientifically proven, but it can most certainly do no harm. I always test my pee valve on this surface deco…just so you know not to get too close to me when I’m smiling. Calmly all stages are attached to the leash so we can get out of the water with as little as effort as possible.
All equipment: stages, camera’s, lights, scooters etc. is handed to the crew on the boat and they make sure all is neatly stowed for the surface interval or ride back. We try to be as light as possible when climbing the ladder. A high percentage of deco problems occur when divers stress themselves to much directly after a dive. Again: slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
As said: we all completed our T1+ course as a team and have been making many fantastic dives since (of which many pictures are on our TPB Facebook page). We really felt that it was important to gain a lot of experience at this level and be fully comfortable with all procedures and extra equipment before taking the next step.
However…there were more wrecks luring us to the “pitch blue” depths. Because of the added bottom stage, T1+ was for allowing longer bottom time. T2 allows for different gasses and greater depths. A team decision was made. Tech 2.
Of course you will read soon about that. For now: safe diving!
Hope to see you at the waterfront and do not forget to like and follow Team Pitch Blue on Facebook

WORDS by Job Kuperus and PICTURES by Case Kassenberg

Technical diving at wreck

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