This is the fifth edition of the First Class Diver diaries written for DIVE magazine in 2005.
The day I discovered I was the only candidate booked on the September ‘Cumbrae’ First Class practical, a place became free on the July event in Plymouth. So, three months before I was expecting to do the exam, in a place I have only dived once before, I decided to go for it. A fail is the worse thing that could happen!!
I set off to Plymouth on the Thursday before the exam started on the Friday evening to meet the other team members. The 12 candidates met together on Friday morning and discussed our preparation material. In the afternoon we went out to ‘get a feel’ of one of the two Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB’s) which we would be using on the exam.
Tension rose during the day and at 2000 we met with the examiners at the Deep Blue Dive Centre at Mount Batten. Mark Wilson, the First Class Chief Examiner, introduced his team. As you would expect at this level they are all big cheeses.
The candidates were divided into two. I was in the same group as Paul & Sharon and we were given the hard-boat day to organise. This involved planning the diving of two adventurous sites and finding, via the chart / Global Positioning System (GPS), four further sites suitable for First Class Divers.
Sounds simple, but you are faced with organising everyone to dive with a different examiner, demonstrating seamanship, position fixing, coxing, dive managing, showcasing your underwater skills, providing a risk assessment, a full navigational plan and a timed plan for the day; it’s pretty hectic!
We started planning at 2030. For the first hour, the examiners are with us in the room assessing each candidate’s contribution. We finished at 0150…
In the morning, bright and early, we loaded the hard boat following a boat safety brief and the master dive managers brief for the day. We left ahead of schedule and started to execute the plan.
The hard boat, owned and skippered by ex National Diving Officer Tony Hoile, was very ‘compact’ - especially when packed with multiple re-breathers and twin-sets. The lead examiner for our group was Jeff Reed who brought his highly modified ‘Inspiration’ which looked like a DALEK. Trying to manage the change of managers with the briefs and debriefs whilst being constantly interrogated by the examiners on the weather, charts, boats was exciting to say the least.
After an hour, the wheelhouse seemed very inviting as it was out of the way of most of the examiners. I slipped up, went outside and was instantly pinned against the gunwale by examiner Ian Cheetham for a good 20 minutes being interrogated on all things nautical.
In the afternoon we were confronted with an ‘emergency’ scenario where I ended up as rescue manager. It's adrenalin charged and fast moving stuff. I made the mistake of not delegating the ‘communications’ with the ‘coastguard’ until half way though the exercise. Marks deducted methinks.
I actually had a good time; the best being under the water with examiner Pete Church having a lovely dive looking for, counting and categorising various sea life. At least down there they can’t talk to you!!
We finished day one, returning half an hour late (more deductions) but then rushing to fill our cylinders, presenting the results of the day and being briefed for the next day. The Task: we were asked to find a suitable ‘wall’ and then perform a vertical topographical survey and sea life survey upon it. Tired and emotional, we set about creating a solution. Of course all the same criteria still apply so we split into teams, some creating the dive plan and organisation, some selecting the site and some deciding how we were going to do it. Again for the first hour the examiners were watching… 0130 finish.
Not so bright and breezy on the Sunday morning. We set up a dry run of how we planned to perform this task and ran through it. We had calculated slack water and we were quite confident as we briefed the examiners and the team.
This task is carried out from two RIB’s. We were about to load the boat when we found that all Sharon’s gear and Paul’s drysuit were missing!! We hunted for it to no avail and I was getting very twitchy about leaving so we could hit slack water. Sharon & Paul remained very calm, went off and hired the missing kit and following the boat briefings we left 30 minutes late.
We arrived at our selected ‘wall’ only to find there wasn’t one there!! We needed a minimum depth of 20m to carry out the task correctly so we were hunting around for something suitable. Time was marching on with slack water quickly evaporating. Eventually we decided to pick any suitable drop off regardless of depth. During all this confusion and tension the examiners were still asking questions, specifically about who was in charge and when were they were going to dive? Nightmare!
We eventually managed to get into the water and each buddy pair set up the equipment we had prepared. The task was a disaster, no wall to measure!! The best thing about this day is that we didn’t fall out and remained jointly responsible for the cock-up!!
We returned back to the harbour tired and with heavy hearts to present the ‘results’ of our survey. BUT, good news, Sharon & Paul’s kit had not been nicked but mistakenly loaded onto another boat!
At the end of the exam, in true BSAC style we debriefed and then had a joint ‘boat washing’ session. Mark pointed out that the examiners really want to give you a detailed account of your strengths and weaknesses and so it takes three to four weeks to find out the results.
Points to take away from this month:
In the next and final edition I will be reviewing what I have learnt from the experience, give you result of my practical, the date of the re-sit and talking a little bit about the expedition plan.