This is the second edition of the First Class Diver diaries written for DIVE magazine in 2005.
You may recall that last edition I was sitting by a pool in Hurghada reading a mighty tome on Diving Medicine. This month I am writing this article on a snowy day in North Yorkshire where I live with Angela (my wife, who is also secretary of the Ribble Valley Sub Aqua Club), Jim and Joe - my two sons - and Bevis my hairy princess who somewhat resembles a black Labrador.
I am not normally worked up by exams. The Advanced Instructor (AI) experience changed that where I literally fell to pieces on the first day. I didn’t actually realise that the examiners would probe the extent of my theory knowledge during the practical exam. First Class is the same. Someone described it to me as being pushed along the bench of your knowledge until you eventually fall off! In the light of this AI experience, I am REALLY preparing for the weekend long exam. So, what have I been doing about it?
I was invited to a meeting at Salford University where the First Class ‘wannabees’ congregated for a presentation by our regional First Class coach Sinclair McKay.
I met Sinclair at the Diving Officers Conference in December but was quite startled when I walked in the room. Had he aged rapidly, put on a little around the tummy and started wearing glasses? No, I was staring into the eyes of our regional coach Jim Donbavand.
After the initial shock (which naturally was treated immediately with O2 by my zealous colleagues), we were told that Sinclair couldn’t make it due to his car breaking down in Morecambe. I couldn’t help thinking that I’d rather be set adrift in an open boat in a force 9 with nowt (that’s Yorkshire for nothing) but a broken paddle than break down in Morecombe.
Jim, a First Class Diver himself, quickly brought me back to reality by expertly delivering Sinclair’s presentation which had been e-mailed over to him outlining the elements of the First Class Diver accreditation process.
Tension grew as he explained the four elements of the programme. These are: a theory test (which can also be used for the National Instructor grade); an expedition plan which is written around certain criteria then submitted for marking and two practical assessments completed over a weekend.
Next he gave us some ‘self analysis’ sheets used to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Reading through, I realised that what the examiners are expecting is a fully rounded practical diver, proficient in seamanship and navigation and able to both plan and implement complex diving expeditions. After completing the form I realised that I had a number of ‘areas of improvement’... I looked around and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Towards the end of the session the candidates themselves were encouraged to arrange the next meeting and implement a self study programme. Most of us also needed to complete certain skills development course prerequisites such as Advanced Lifesaver. Arranging this one was very easy as it was quickly delegated to Robert Asquith who had gone to the loo.
We established that there was only myself, 'Fearless' Frank Lintott and Jamie 'Pretty Boy' Heptonstall who were crazy enough to go for the practical, held at Cumbrae in September 2005. Tide tables were consulted and dates were arranged for the three of us to go diving in the Clyde during the summer.
The prospect of diving quickly revived our spirits but soon dashed as we realised the examiners won’t let you use GPS (Global Positioning System) to find anything in the practical AND the theory exam was in THREE WEEKS. More O2 dispensed and on the way home an extra-large donna kebab - with additional extra hot chilli sauce - was consumed.
So what’s my tip this month:
Next time: The Theory Test and my trip to the South China Sea.
Be afraid, very afraid…