Taking things further

Originally post 14 December, 2013 http://www.padi.com/blog/2013/12/14/taking-things-further/

Continued Education and Diving Deeper

It feels like a life time ago, but only 10 months have passed since I was just your average Advanced Openwater Diver looking to progress their diving.

Now as I sit here and type this my thoughts are already on my next trip to finish off my Trimix 65 training.   Anyone else feel there is not enough holiday for all the diving you want to do?

Over the past 10 months I have completed my PADI Tec Deep certification taking in PADI Tec40, 45 and 50 and found a new passion in Sidemount diving.  Its been an amazing journey and one that I had not planned at all.

I had decided to finish my Tec deep on a sidemount configuration, so the first few days were spent tagging along on a recreational sidemount course just as a refresher while my buddy for the Tec course got his first taste of sidemount.  It gave me the opportunity to continue practising equipment setup, getting the equipment on in the water quickly and perfecting my trim in the water all while taking part in some great fun dives.


Theory = Knowledge

Even though I had read a lot of the Tec Deep manual during the Tec40 course, I spent much of the 4 hour flight out to Egypt reading over the whole manual again and refreshing my knowledge, I feel its vital to get a firm grasp of the principles as this is your bases for future knowledge development.  I know a lot of people think  that the theory for Tec diving must be hard and complicated, and during my first skim over the manual I thought the same.  But NO!  Actually P02, CNS, OTU and SAC rate are all really simple to grasp, and the way you learn with constant re-enforcement and practical examples really helps make you feel confident of mastering the subject.   Also anyone freshly through the Rescue Diver course will breeze through sections on Decompression Illness DCI / Decompression sickness DCS.

In the evenings during the recreational sidemount dives I spent time completing the knowledge reviews so I was getting quiet eager to get that 3rd and 4th tank on and get in the water!


Its all about Trim!

Knowledge reviews done the next day was spent at the buoyancy park.  We took 4 tanks, but started with 3 fine tuning skills from our Tec sidemount as a refresher, and then we moved on to the 4th tank.  Perfecting Trim with for tanks, moving through water and also drills, Out of Air, free flows, NOTOX, staging and then finally deco stops with NOTOX drills along a line..every time we moved too far up or down we started again.  If you’re not a trim Ninja after a day of dives like this then there is no hope for you!!   I don’t know about you, but I find after a good days diving I’m always tired and very hungry so Dahab’s finest King Chicken was on the menu as we sat down to plan our next days deco dive to 45m at possibly my favourite dive site – The Canyons

After the 45m dive we next planned out our 50m dive and followed that one up with the exam.  I’ve always been terrible at exams (well thats what I told my parents all my childhood) but this one I found myself flying through, even turning the page and seeing the long scenario it asked me to work out, wow didn’t even need to think the answer is obvious.  BAM.  Thats the value of good training.  Solid knowledge.


Going through the Arch of Awesome

Following the refrain of onwards and upwards or maybe in my case that should be onwards and downwards.  I now took the opportunity to do my 1st Trimix dive.  What a dive it would be, a sidemount trimix dive through the Arch at the famous Bluehole of Dahab.  The evening before we started our planning and getting our tanks ready for blending a 20/20 Trimix  that is 20% O2 and 20%Helium.   The next morning we arrived at the centre early (even Greg Desatnick managed this!!) and started analysing and labelling our tanks and getting the gear ready for our favourite Dahab taxi Mr Mansour.

Once at the site we unloaded and did our final equipment checks before sitting down to have a tea and go over our dive plan with not too many distractions from the Freedivers doing their yoga in front of us.

Blue hole dahab

Kitted up we headed into the water, for what was going to be a truly amazing dive.  This was one of those dives that when not concentrating on your dive plan you brain is just saying whoop whoop – truly amazing. I’d heard so much about the arch and had also dived the rest of the site before as others with the correct training went through the arch.  This time it was my go, and down we went and through the arch, turned hung in there in wonder for a moment then started on our long way back up.  It was one of those “This is Why” moments.  Baring a freeflow on my deco tank on the way up which was quickly and calmly solved using my training the dive was perfect, our plan followed and 3 happy divers emerging from the water equally stoked instructor and students alike.

Diving in Dahab follows its own time, but unfortunately mine was up again, so with many great dives and lots old friends met again and many new ones added I headed back home.

Massive thanks to all the guys at Team Blue Immersion  in Dahab for the great hospitality and dedication to getting their students not just through a course but owning the course.    Also thanks to Erik Brown Staff IDC instructor 285393 for continuing to be my Sidemount Guru and mentor.  Not forgetting Greg Desatnick MSDT 35225 for being a great buddy.  Of course special mention to Trimix the dog  for drooling in my flipflops when ever he got the chance.

I hope this blog gives you the urge to get out there and learn more, take things further and master your skills.  Theres a PADI course out there for all of you, even if you don’t want to go down the Tec route.


Full Face Mask diving with Oceanreef

Originally published 8 June 2013  http://www.padi.com/blog/2013/06/08/full-face-mask-diving/

Its often the case that we try new things by chance, and so it was with the OCEAN REEF fullface mask (FFM) and integrated communications. Having completed my Tec Sidemount course and with a few dives left before I was needed in Sharm el Sheikh for the PADI Business Academy, I spotted two instructors setting up some brand new FFMs. This looks cool, I thought! After a quick conversation, the next morning found me reading the course materials and setting up my equipment for my first FFM dive.

oceanreef full face mask set up

The full face experience

The PADI distinctive specialty course started with a classroom session looking at the equipment and configuration considerations. We were using the OCEAN REEF Neptune series masks and I’d heard about a few divers having issues equalising using these. The value of the classroom session is learning how to set up these masks perfectly for you before even getting near the water. This is particularly important when we talk about equalisation. The masks come in two different sizes with three different size plugs for various nose sizes. Fitting the correct size for you and adjusting them correctly makes all the difference.

Full face mask set up

There are also three sets of straps that need to be fasten in a set sequence to get the best and most comfortable fit, getting this wrong is certainly noticeable. While on dry land and not connected to an air supply, the most important feature to learn about is the Surface Air Valve that allows you to breathe normally with the mask on.

With the set up now completed to our satisfaction we kitted up and headed into the water.

Diving and skills 

My first impressions of the mask underwater were good, breathing is a lot easier and quieter, vision is amazing and most important of all no leaks. The early part of the dive was spent in shallow water to allow us to complete the required skills. First up, clearing the mask. The biggest consideration is that now the mask and breathing are one complete unit – unlike normal masks where you have your separate regulator. But, I actually found the hardest of this skill was breaking the seal of the mask to let in enough water. Clearing the mask was easy and very, very quick, just press the purge button and keep your eyes tight shut.

After a few repeats we moved on to the next skill, complete mask removal and replacement. Again, removing the mask means not just losing vision but also your air supply.  After a few deep breaths I removed the mask using the quick release tabs, changed to my alternate air supply and spare mask. Easy enough, now back the other way. Using my thumbs as a guide along the mask straps, I returned the mask to my face, created a seal and pressed purge. A short blast of air and my mask is clear. Now, I can breath normally and see again. All that was left was to fine tune the strap adjustments and I was done.

Skills done, we now had two dives to a max of 18 metres/60 feet to complete the course. The dives were opportunities to get used to the mask and really enjoy the benefits. As mentioned above, the all round vision is amazing – you can see your buddy at your side with out having to turn your head. I saw a very large Napoleon fish in the top right of the mask that I would have missed with a normal  mask. With the integrated communications system (more about this below) I was able to alert my buddies to it as well. Anyone who has been in a similar position of seeing something amazing and then not being able to get the attention of your buddies will know how cool this is.

So what advantages are there to full face masks?

In my experience, the distinct advantages are the much greater field of vision, the ease of breathing and  ability to breathe through the nose. Biggest plus for me would be for cold water diving as it provides excellent coverage and protection against cold water and no more numb teeth!

Talking underwater

As an option, you can also have a communications system fitted to the OCEAN REEF mask, including a microphone inside the mask and an ear piece that is connected via the mask straps. Speaking underwater is a totally different proposition then having a conversation on land. There were a number of steps and rules to learn as part of underwater communication, which include:

  • Pressing the button to begin transmitting. After hearing the activation beep, wait a few seconds before speaking.
  • Speak slowly and pronounce your words carefully.
  • Every communication should end with the word “over”.

Now this is harder then it seems, and bringing all the elements together to communicate in an understandable way takes concentration. I often found myself replying using good old fashioned hand signals out of habit and in some part as its easier just to throw the OK sign. I think this part of the FFM experience is more useful for mission specific communications.

Big Thanks to Aron Daníel Arngrímsson my instructor and all the guys at Team Blue Immersion an OCEAN REEF official international Training College for putting together the course at short notice and giving me the chance to be one of their first students to do the course.

PADI Tec40 course

Originally Posted by http://www.padi.com/blog/2013/03/24/padi-tec40-course/

PADI Tec40

Having freshly completed my recreational sidemount course and with a week of dive time still ahead of me, I decided why not take the next step and do my PADI Tec40 course.

I’d already learnt and felt comfortable with gas management on my sidemount course and with these skills still fresh in my memory and being in the company of the Tec gurus at Team Blue Immersion in Dahab I decided it was an opportunity not to be missed.  So after a day off after my birthday it was straight back into learning.

PADI tec40 Diver

Look mum 3 tanks

It was with some trepidation that I opened the PADI Tec Deep diver manual and flicked through its pages.  What have I let myself in for I wondered, some of my university texts books were shorter.  It was only after my instructor Erik Brown explained to me that the manual actually covered Tec40, 45 and 50 and I only needed to concentrate on certain chapters for this course – phew!

Tec diving isn’t just about two tanks or more, its about redundancy of the whole system, so we started looking at the equipment requirements.  What does redundancy mean in simple terms?  Two of everything.  Two BCD bladders, two low pressure inflators, two regs, two computers and a spare mask and of course twin tanks (with an additional stage tank added later)

So over the following 5 days of the course we completed 8 dives in total, each one building, reinforcing and perfecting skills. Each evening was then spent nose in the manual and completing the knowledge reviews.

  • Dive 1 – Trim & Positioning.
  • Dive 2 – Trim & Positioning, Out of Air, Buddy checks –  more like  self check routines confirmed with Buddy.
  • Dive 3 – Out of Air, Shut down Drills – identifying which manifold the issue may be.
  • Dive  4 – Stage tank introduced, Shut Down, Deco NOTOX* drills at 12m, 9m, 6m, 3m.
  • Dive 5 – Shut Down, Deco NOTOX Drills at 12m, 9m, 6m, Deploying Marker Buoy for ascent line, Low pressure inflator failure.
  • Dive 6 – Simulated Deco dive on 21% EANx (Enriched Air Nitrox) NOTOX drills.
  • Dive 7 – Final training dive recapping on all skills learnt.
  • Dive 8 – Qualifying Dive 14mins @ 40m

(*NOTOX – Note, Observe, Turn, Orient, eXamine)

The theory included learning about Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rate and Maximum Operating Depth (MOD) and diving planning using desk top decompression software (V Planner) and writing my 1st dive plan on my slate.

After the final Dive came the theory exam, which turned out to be a lot easier then I thought, as everything you need to learn is in the course materials and with great instruction from Erik putting the theory into the practices during the water sessions it was amazing recalling facts so easily.

Even if you have no interest in becoming a Tec diver, I would recommend this course to you.  Why?  Well personally it has given me so much confidence in my ability and has improved my general diving skills beyond anything else I have done to date.  My eureka moment came on dive #7 after spending 5mins at 3m perfectly still and only ever having a 0.1m change.  Doing nothing never felt like a bigger achievement.

If you’re interested in taking a Tec course then contact your local PADI center to see if they offer Tec courses or just a discover Tec taster, I’m sure you won’t regret it.