Advanced Open Water Diver

22 04 2009

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.  😉

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6 responses

23 04 2009
Hamish Moffatt

Hi Matt,
The narcosis test is pretty trippy huh? My instructor put the numbers 1-9 in a grid and had us point to them in turn, then timed us again on the surface.. didn’t feel slow at 22m but the clock said it was.

I’ve done OW and only the deep dive from AOW. So I hope you won’t mind the Spanish inquisition.. 🙂
Do you think the AOW skills will make diving easier/more fun?
Which dives did you do, and did the shop let you choose apart from the compulsory stuff?
How many dives had you done before?
I did OW in Cairns and I’m thinking about heading back there soon maybe for AOW.. diving in warm water is so easy. I haven’t been diving in Melb yet though.
Well done on the AOW.

23 04 2009
Jiggy

That ‘narcosis’ thing is interesting – I hadn’t heard about that.

Presumably they taught you about “the bends” as well?

23 04 2009
Hamish Moffatt

You learn about decompression sickness (DCS) (the bends) in the open water course, though with a maximum depth of 18m you don’t have to be nearly so careful, basically just allow enough surface interval between dives. Beyond 18m you require a decompression stop on the way back up, and you’ve got to budget enough air for it etc.

DCS is interesting, you can apparently get symptoms up to 24 hours after surfacing and it can be headaches, rashes, joint pain or other stuff. I get headaches after diving a bit but it’s typically dehydration.

23 04 2009
MattyT

Heya Hamish,

Yeah, the narc test is weird – you can sense you’re moving slower but you’re not really sure why. Just doesn’t…quite…make…sense.

There’s a couple of reasons to do the AOW. The most obvious is the deeper bottom depth. If you like diving on wrecks then this is a no-brainer, just do it. There aren’t many decent wrecks at 18m (the Eliza Ramsden is the only one that comes to mind). So there’s that.

Secondly, if you get a good instructor you’ll improve your skills. My buoyancy control – which I didn’t think was terrible – improved *significantly* after the AOW. Mostly due to the reduction of weight in my weight belt. At five metres I have almost no air in my BCD and I’m neutrally buoyant. It means that at depth you no longer need gross adjustments to manage your buoyancy. Which means less movement in the water. Which means less air consumption and longer bottom times. And yes, this makes diving much more fun. 🙂

We did the Peak Performance Buoyancy, Navigator, Naturalist, Wreck and Deep dives. The shop asked us (as a group) which we were interested in and then tried to work that into a schedule. We were also considering the night dive but logistically it was going to be challenging to fit it in. So yeah, they do let you choose to some degree but not all options are going to be available if you want to do it all on one weekend (which we wanted). If you are prepared to do it over a longer period you can do whichever dives you like (I think the only compulsory dive is the deep).

I hadn’t really done that many dives before – perhaps 20 or so.

Diving in warm water is *much* nicer. You’ve got to be fairly keen to dive in Victoria, especially when it’s not summer!! Funnily enough dry suits are popular here too… But we do have excellent wreck and drift dives.

We’re planning on going on a night dive in the next couple of months – I’ll let you know when as I don’t think it’ll be >18m. Would be a great excuse to catch up.

Thanks for the comment mate. 🙂

23 04 2009
MattyT

Yeah, they cover the bends. Although our book calls it DCI (DeCompression Illness). Getting bent isn’t as cool as it sounded in high school!

Dehydration is a problem – air from a tank has almost no moisture in it (unlike regular air) so you get really dry. I must have drank 3-odd litres of water on both Saturday and Sunday. On the plus side it does help keep your wetsuit warm. 😉

24 04 2009
Hamish Moffatt

Hi Matt, thanks for the info. I’ve done about 20 dives now. My buoyancy control is pretty average so I reckon some more training in that area would be good for me. My last dives were in Tasmania in January. 7mm wet suits made the buoyancy control really tough. (Two-part suit though so really easy to put on.)

I went diving off Rottnest Island near Perth in Jan too, my dive buddies and I got quite lost and ended up surfacing next to the wrong boat!! So navigation would be a good skill too.

So maybe you don’t want to go diving with me after these horror stories 😉
Let me know about the night dive. Thanks

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