Last weekend Nicki, Tim, Dave and I (and new dive buddies James and Mark) went through the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver training. We had all held the Open Water certification but the Advanced allows us to dive deeper – increasing our maximum depth from 18m to 30m – and hones many skills. The training was really interesting and great fun!
An amazing photo of a pair of divers by arno gourdol from Flickr
Tim and Nicki had used the folks from Aquability for their Open Water cert and had been more than happy with them. So when they organised the Advanced training we went with their recommendation. Mark Ryan, assisted by his wife Vicki, took us for the training and I felt we struck gold; you couldn’t ask for a better instructor than Mark. A highly experienced technical diver, Mark is not only knowledgeable but is patient, calm and blessed with oodles of common sense. He also spins a gripping yarn! Vicki too was a wonderful teacher and a lovely person to boot.
The course was run over both days of the weekend. Saturday there were three dives at the Rye pier, all shallow (<5m) aimed at building fundamental skills. We developed our ability to control buoyancy (and learnt that we should have no more weight than absolutely necessary), practiced underwater navigation skills (compass work, measuring distance, using natural markers) and did a ‘naturalist’ dive. No, this doesn’t mean diving nude! It was designed to focus on marine life and how to be responsible divers in the underwater environment.
We saw seahorses like this one at Rye pier. Photo by Saspotato.
After a meal and beer or two at the Rye pub we all retired to the Rye Beach Hotel where we practically collapsed from exhaustion. Three dives in a day is bloody tiring!
The next morning we woke up fresh to take on the ‘serious’ dives. The first was highly anticipated – diving on the J4 submarine wreck just outside the heads. The J4 was a WW1 British submarine that was given to the Australian Navy toward the end of it’s military life. Our navy used it mostly as a training vessel before scuttling it where it now lies in 28m of water. For all of us this was our first dive over 18m and we were pretty pumped.
Unfortunately, while wrestling with a vicious wetsuit, I hurt my back. It wasn’t crippling but, carrying the 25-30 kg of gear, it was pretty painful. Frankly I don’t think I could have done the dive without Dave really helping me out carrying the gear around. Thanks mate! Anyways, once in the water – almost weightless – it was fine and we quickly descended to find the well-kept wreck. The conning tower was well preserved and you could look straight down into where the periscope used to be. Visibility was a little poor (maybe 8m) and there was a fair bit of surge to fin against. That, combined with it being our first deep-ish dive meant that we consumed more air than we hoped and our bottom time was shorter than we’d have liked. Still, it was an awesome dive. Some of us surfaced with very little air though! 10 bar on the gauge would feel uncomfortable I reckon!
Check out this video of some other group diving on the J4 to get a feel of what it was like; they had excellent conditions!
The next dive was our official ‘deep’ dive and we’d be descending down to 28m – allowing just enough wiggle room to ensure we didn’t go past the 30m limit (instant fail). We were going to part of the Lonsdale Wall which is just inside the heads and renowned for it’s marine life. This dive was more technical than our others with Mark and Vicki watching us closely to ensure we dove competently. We quickly descended and performed a couple of exercises including a “narc” test. You see, when you’re in deep water, typically below mid-20m, your thinking can become slower and concentration can be harder. The effect is known as Nitrogen Narcosis and occurs because the ratio of oxygen to nitrogen in your bloodstream is affected in the deep water (O2 compresses more so you kinda get high on nitrogen). Being ‘narced’ is not dangerous in its own right but it can slow you down and cause you to make mistakes which, when you’re under, can cause serious problems. Anyway Mark whipped out his slate (effectively underwater paper) and wrote a math problem on it. This was mine:
3 x your age
+ your age
I remember staring at it for a few seconds before I could absorb what I had read. Then I struggled to remember my age. Then I slowly worked out the math. It was like I had cotton wool stuffed in my head! It really made it obvious that you had to beware of the narcosis effect.
We swam around for awhile enjoying the marine life on the wall then began our ascent. As a group we formed a pretty tight circle and controlled our ascent reasonably well. You could tell the dive masters though; Mark and Vicki were practically motionless, conserving their energy and air, hovering effortlessly. The rest of us were relatively flapping about as we fought to maintain neutral buoyancy. We got the job done but we’ve got some way to becoming elegant in the water!
After we surfaced and debriefed (naturally over beer and munchies at the Rye pub) we were told we all passed and were fully fledged Advanced Open Water divers!
A big thanks to Tim & Nicki for organising the weekend and to Mark and Vicki for running such a smooth course. Finally to Dave, mucho grazies mate for being an awesome dive buddy. You can be my wingman anytime.