This is the third edition of the First Class Diver diaries written for DIVE magazine in 2005.
Greetings. I have been struggling to find the time to write this month's piece as surprisingly enough I have been doing a lot of diving!!!
At the moment I am sat on board the Irish Mist in Loch Maddy, North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. This is day two of our Ribble Valley Sub Aqua Club's Expedition to St Kilda.
First, let's talk about the theory exam. There are only two exams per year, the first one of 2005 was held at the London International Dive Show. Although the exam was taking place at 1400, I was there early and found myself wandering around the various stands in an attempt to lighten my mood by a bit of retail therapy. I succumbed and purchased a Poseidon Extreme for my twinset.
We congregated ready at the BSAC stand. Who did I see but my own mate Paul Rosendale that I met at an Open Water Instructor event in 2003 and his new pal Sharon Taylor (more about them in the next issue), both who were taking the exam along with myself, 'Pretty Boy' Heptonstall and half a dozen other hopefuls.
Does anyone know what a snoopy loop is? This was one of the more esoteric questions on the paper reinforcing the fact that Mark Wilson (the First Class Chief Examiner) is looking for wide diving knowledge. It's tough completing the thirty detailed questions in the allocated sixty minutes as it is not multiple choice. The paper used to be three hours long but the reduction has been compensated for by more emphasis on intensive oral questioning during the practical exam - oh joy! You can download the paper on the First Class section of the BSAC website so judge for yourself!
As it's all longhand, the paper can take up to six weeks to mark and I was amazed to receive the letter within a month saying I had actually scraped a pass! Think back to the film Zulu - 'It's a miracle!'.
Until three years ago I thought ERD was something that you rubbed cream into. Now of course, being educated in the ways of BSAC skill development courses, I realise it is an acronym for Extended Range Diver, one of the prerequisites along with Chartwork and Position Fixing; Diver Coxn; Diver Rescue Specialist and 100 dives following Advanced Diver.
Having not completed ERD, I called Jack Ingle, who I had met on the excellent Gozo based combined Advanced Instructor event last year. He sent me an e-mail about his South China Sea expedition where he said he would happily do the course there along with Gas Blending. Now I couldn't resist; going all that way and with the depths involved, I also decided to go the whole hog and do the TDI Trimix course.
Decompressing for an hour MUST be boring. Well in 29 degree water it's not bad at all and very relaxing; just focussing upon the blue, doing a few shutdown drills and generally fooling around on the line. On one dive I felt myself getting strangely lighter at the 6m stop. When I returned to the boat I found that my friends had divested me of most of my kit, reels clips etc. That what becomes of chilling out too much!!
Extended Range Diving is about using richer (that's more oxygen) mixes to increase safety and accelerate decompression. But the most important factor is buoyancy control and weight optimisation. How many divers in the UK carry too much lead? I see loads of them.
Jack really put me through my paces taking off and swapping stage cylinders (side-slung cylinders containing different gas mixes) and still maintaining your precise depth plus swapping regulators over eighty times in one dive!! This coupled with the piles of lectures didn't give me time to become bored!
I unfortunately don't have the time or space to go into full details of the trip but needless to say the organisation was first class (pardon the pun), the diving spectacular and well worth the effort!
Tip for this month:
So that's where I am right now as we are now literally sailing off to St Kilda.
Next month, I will be talking about my training trip to Plymouth and what I have learned about organisation from this trip.