... as a PADI Open Water Diver. Woo hoo!
Thank you to my very patient instructor, Martin, from Aquatron in Glasgow.
This was a bit of a trauma for me. I should have completed my certification 4 weeks ago but for a number of reasons that I won't bore you with, I didn't even though The Boy completed his.
First of all I'm really not that keen on water unless it's warm, in a bath and covered in bubbles. Secondly, I'm perfectly happy to dive if the water conditions allow me to wear a swimsuit or a shorty wetsuit. Unfortunately, in Loch Long in October you need to wear a drysuit, fleecy undersuit, hood and gloves to keep warm. Here's the reason why:
When we arrived there just before 9am it was almost sunny and the water was as smooth as glass. As the day progressed, the mist rolled in and the rain started. Thankfully the water stayed fairly calm, for which I am eternally grateful.
Dive number 1 was fine. I got into the water, used my compass to navigate to the buoy (skill #1) that marks the underwater platform and managed to descend to the platform. Normally, you kneel on the bottom while everyone takes turns to do their skills. I found kneeling a problem as I kept tipping forward and had to be held up. Not a great start.
I did my full mask flood and clear (skill #2) without any issues. I even did my fin pivot using manual inflation (skill #3), eventually, once I worked out what I was supposed to be doing. The instructor must have thought I was thick. Basically you lie on your stomach, breath in through your regulator, remove the regulator from your mouth and use most of the air to breath into your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device - ie, the inflatable waistcoat thingy divers wear) through a tube. Unfortunately, you have to press a button to open the valve on the tube and my fingers were being feeble and seemed unable to actually press the thing hard enough. I got there in the end so big tick for skill #3.
Next we went for a swim around the platform and had a look at the wildlife. There were velvet crabs, tiny little fish, starfish from tiny ones to huge ones and sea urchins.
Say hello to a velvet crab (photo courtesy of Google search):
Last skill for this dive (skill #4) was a CESA - that is Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. That means you have to pretend you're out of air, take one final breath and swim to the surface breathing out very slowly as you go. No more breathing in allowed. Then you have to inflate your BCD on the surface by breathing into it. The ascent was easier than I expected as I thought I would run out of air. On the surface I was able to use my not so feeble right hand to press the button on the tube and inflated my BCD without problems. Big tick in that box.
We had a break for lunch and then had our second dive. This is where my trauma started. We swam out to the buoy and descended. All the while my mask (which I had borrowed as own one had been leaking a bit) was filling up with water. On it's own I could have coped with that but my mouth was filling up with water as well and no matter what I did I just couldn't spit the water out. So, I panicked. I managed to stay calm long enough to signal to the instructor that I needed to surface and up we went. Dive time 6 minutes. I explained my dilema and the instructor very kindly swam to the shore and got me another couple of masks to try. Eventually I found one that seemed to be airtight(-ish) and we descended again. Meanwhile The Boy was sitting patiently on the bottom with another Open Water student and a dive master.
So we had to start on the skills again. Mask removal and replacement, then clear (skill #5 and the one I was dreading due to my leaky mask problems). Tick. Next up was reciprocal navigation (skill #6) - basically use your compass to navigate to a point on the sea bed then navigate back to where you started. Tick. :o)
We had another swim around the bottom. This time The Boy had borrowed a flashlight so he was able to point it at some of the wildlife on the sea bed so that we could get a better look at them. There was a huge hermit crab running around the sea bed and loads more velvet crabs, star fish, sea urchins and tiny fish. Where have all the big fish gone?
Most of the star fish seemed to be this variety, I think (photo courtesy of Google search):
After our swim, it was back to the surface and on to the last 2 skills. Remove / replace weights (skill #7). You need to be able to remove weights in an emergency to ascend. As I was wearing a harness rather than a weight belt I only had to do the remove part. What a faff that was! One of the weights was determined to stay exactly where it was but I won in the end and dropped it to the bottom. Tick! Then it was remove / replace BCD on the surface (skill #8). This skill would have been completed a whole lot quicker if my gloves hadn't kept getting stuck to the Velcro on the cummerbund thingy that's part of the BCD. Boy that's strong Velcro! Tickety-tick-tick.
All skills successfully completed it was time to get out of the water. Sounds easy doesn't it? Try trudging up a rocky shore, trying to avoid tripping over rocks, carrying a metal cylinder on your back and 42 pounds of weights. You suddenly get a clue what Atlas must have felt like carrying the world on his shoulders.
So.... now I am a certified PADI Open Water Diver. Look:
We have our first Advanced Open Water dive in two weeks so new skills to learn. Martin assures me I won't need to take my mask off under water again, which is good. We might even manage to see a different dive site this time, maybe Loch Fyne, famous for it's great seafood :o)
Here are a couple of photos I took of The Boy at Loch Long in September:
Waiting to go in .....
You can see there isn't much room for masks and regulators when you're wearing a diving hood.....