Opening the door to diving… anywhere

I did it, I did it, I did it!

Excuse the unbridled blowing of one’s trumpet but I just can’t hide my glee over the weekend of diving I’ve just had. I am now the proud owner of an Advanced Open Water qualification and a Dry Suit Speciality.

Surprisingly clear water, happy face!

It was a really hard slog at times but the sense of achievement makes all the lugging of dive gear, getting used to the dry suit and the challenges that it presents worthwhile. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll already know that I was a little worried about the weekend’s six dives in a dry suit after a not-so-great experience a month ago when I had a flooded suit. For non-divers, that’s bad news and can be dangerous – it can cause a sudden loss of buoyancy (you go down!)and rapid chilling, which could lead to hypothermia. Not good.

But I’m pleased to report I faced my dry suit demons and won. I found a lot of it’s down to confidence. Testing out the dry suit in the pool on Friday night was the turning point for me. It fitted, which was the main thing because I knew I wouldn’t get wet that weekend. But it was also down to great instructing.

Poaky's teaching methods are unique

Poaky at the dive school is the kind of instructor that can get you in trouble – I’ve nearly spat out my regulator on more than one occasion in giggles because of his underwater tomfoolery. But that same fun, comical approach makes you so relaxed, that you find your diving Zen again. I was hovering in the dry suit and swimming around didn’t feel too much different than a wetsuit. Get in… Now to the Open Water.

Capernwray Quarry

Weekends at Capernwray are not relaxing, but what did I expect? The early starts, long drives and the heavy equipment you need to haul around nearly made me cry out for the Hollyoaks omnibus and a duvet. But once I’d made that first trip to the water’s edge, after several pitying looks at my little bean frame with a 15litre tank on my back and 10KG of weight bruising my hips, I could relax. The kind water took all the weight and it was time to descend and crack on with nailing the skills.

We got through the first two dives (the Dry Suit Speciality part of the weekend) with a few interesting challenges. Why oh why did the air in my suit keep going to my feet? By the time we took a break before the third dive I was feeling a bit sick – I think from being upside down so much. I managed to do the skills, such as the fin pivot and hover, with no problems but every so often when I was just swimming along, wooooaaahhh, there I go again! Feet first and heading for the surface.

I was knackered. All the swimming down and tucking into a ball to roll out of the position and get the air back upwards so I could dump the air out of my shoulder valve was tiring and just plain ridiculous. I thought I was heading for Game Over, but I took a breather and went for my Navigation Dive, the last dive of the day, with determination.

Kitting Up

I thought I’d be no good at this dive; I wasn’t much of an orienteerer at school. But I loved it and felt empowered. Using a compass and natural references to navigate made me feel in control and I felt like I was becoming a better diver with every kick cycle.

The dive brief - Plan the Dive, Dive the Plan!

I began the next day full of beans despite the sleep deprivation and aching muscles from Saturday. I was really looking forward to the Deep, Wreck and Peak Performance Buoyancy dives. It was a great day, full of more learning curves and just good old-fashioned fun with the resident trout and sturgeon. By this point I was getting comfortable in the suit and adjusting to the extra air space. On our Deep dive our instructor for the day, Russell, showed us a tennis ball and a bottle of water 21 metres down. What do you think would happen to them?

Gold star – yes, they compressed. For a hard tennis ball to be folded in two just showed how much pressure is put on our bodies at depth; no wonder you feel like you’ve been an Alsatian’s chew toy after diving. You’re working really hard even when you think you’re just bimbling along.

It was on this dive that we all had our training for pea soup visibility. We swam into a silt cloud and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I grabbed hold of my buddy’s tank and we swam upwards slightly to clearer water. Good practice for keeping a cool head! We enjoyed a little jaunt around the quarry, saw a headless rabbit on the bottom – you don’t see that on tropical reefs – and made our safety stop before ascending.

The rest of the day took us around Capernwray’s attractions whilst practising our skills. There’s all sorts down there. A Cessna aircraft, a passenger jet plane, boats, a helicopter, even fairground horses that once lived at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. But even though they’re not exactly manta rays, stingrays or tropical fish, I loved looking at the trout. Belly down, looking up, we were circled by tens of trout, just swishing and flipping, hoping to be fed as they’ve come to expect from divers here. This is where I’m reminded why diving puts a huge grin on my face. Every diver has their own motivation for making their way into the underwater world, but for me I’ll never yawn at just watching marine life in their natural habitat.

And now I’ve learned how to dive anywhere – well worth the effort and perseverance. The world is my lobster Rodney! Flicking through my log book, I smile at the stamp’s motto that approves me as an Advanced Open Water diver: “I dived and survived”.

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Scuba Diving AOW weekend – don't leave me high and dry?

Since asking for people’s advice on whether I should ‘get wet or go dry’ this weekend in a fairly chilly quarry in the North of England, I’ve been inundated with tips, hints, rants and have unwittingly found myself in the crossfire of opinionated divers.

I posed my dilemma on the ‘YD Scuba Community‘ forum to see what other divers thought and my my, they are a zealous bunch. It actually got me even more confused at one point because they’d all started arguing with each other about which exposure suit was better in which temperatures: quite a few threw in the possibility of a semi-dry suit. Well I don’t think I even have the option of hiring one of those, so that’s out.

One member, ‘scubabob’ thinks wet suits are the way to go. He said: “The drysuit issue is about where you want to dive when qualified.” But he’s a firm warm water diver and says he won’t go anywhere that requires more than a 5mm.

‘Nickb’ said: “If you have any intention of carrying on with UK diving, you’ll need to get into a drysuit ASAP.” This is just a flavour of the back and forths that made up the discussion and since, yes I do intend to dive around the UK, drysuit diving was becoming more appealing. It’s clearly a personal preference for many and there aren’t guidelines that everyone follows – some say they dive in the UK all year round in a wetsuit, but I fear I’m not so ‘ard.Trying on a drysuit

It’s clearly something that divers enjoy getting hot and bothered about, because the forum thread has had over 800 views in just a few days. It ended up turning into a bit of a slanging match at times, but then there were some pearls of wisdom that helped push me in one direction. ‘Foxe’ said: “Don’t let your first bad experience with a drysuit put you off – people sometimes make a big deal out of how much harder it is to dive in a drysuit… But there are some advantages, like being able to move air around to adjust your position, not to mention coming out (in theory!) dry and clothed.”

And what really tipped it: “Some people only want to dive on holiday… but there is so much amazing diving here, I think you’ll be missing out if you don’t do it! You only have to read a few of the trip reports on here to realise the spectacular range of experience that UK diving offers.”

With the Advanced Open Water only a couple of days away I thought I’d pop to the dive shop to try on a drysuit that’s more my size.

Apparently that’s a small size. NOT sexy, but as long as it keeps me warm and I can complete the whole weekend’s dives comfortably, then I don’t care if I look like a sack of spuds. I’m testing it in the pool tomorrow night, so wish me luck that it doesn’t leak. I hope to see you in a few days brandishing my spanking new AOW card…

Scuba Diving AOW weekend – don’t leave me high and dry?

Since asking for people’s advice on whether I should ‘get wet or go dry’ this weekend in a fairly chilly quarry in the North of England I’ve been inundated with tips, hints, rants and have unwittingly found myself in the crossfire of opinionated divers.

I posed my dilemma on the ‘YD Scuba Community‘ forum to see what other divers thought and my my, they are a zealous bunch. It actually got me even more confused at one point because they’d all started arguing with each other about which exposure suit was better in which temperatures: quite a few threw in the possibility of a semi-dry suit. Well I don’t think I even have the option of hiring one of those, so that’s out.

One member, ‘scubabob’ thinks wet suits are the way to go. He said: “The dry suit issue is about where you want to dive when qualified.” But he’s a firm warm water diver and says he won’t go anywhere that requires more than a 5mm.

‘Nickb’ said: “If you have any intention of carrying on with UK diving, you’ll need to get into a drysuit ASAP.” This is just a flavour of the back and forths that made up the discussion and since, yes I do intend to dive around the UK, dry suit diving was becoming more appealing. It’s clearly a personal preference for many and there aren’t guidelines that everyone follows – some say they dive in the UK all year round in a wetsuit, but I fear I’m not so ‘ard.

It’s clearly something that divers enjoy getting hot and bothered about, because the forum thread has had over 800 views in just a few days. It ended up turning into a bit of a slanging match at times, but then there were some pearls of wisdom that helped push me in one direction. ‘Foxe’ said: “Don’t let your first bad experience with a drysuit put you off – people sometimes make a big deal out of how much harder it is to dive in a drysuit… But there are some advantages, like being able to move air around to adjust your position, not to mention coming out (in theory!) dry and clothed.”

And what really tipped it: “Some people only want to dive on holiday… but there is so much amazing diving here, I think you’ll be missing out if you don’t do it! You only have to read a few of the trip reports on here to realise the spectacular range of experience that UK diving offers.”

With the Advanced Open Water only a couple of days away I thought I’d pop to the dive shop to try on a dry suit that’s more my size.

Hot... or not? UK diving calls for more stitching

Apparently that’s a small size. NOT sexy, but as long as it keeps me warm and I can complete the whole weekend’s dives comfortably, then I don’t care if I look like a sack of spuds. I’m testing it in the pool tomorrow night, so wish me luck that it doesn’t leak. I hope to see you in a few days brandishing my spanking new AOW card…

Get wet or go dry?

It’s just a few days until I’m off to a quarry in Lancashire to get my Advanced Open Water Qualification in the bag. And because of the location it’ll be somewhat chilly (according to the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious). You might remember from an earlier blog post that I’ve been to Capernwray quarry before, but I had an unlucky incident with an ill-fitting dry suit which meant I had to postpone my Advanced dives and give it another go with one that does fit. Well here’s hoping I don’t get drenched with ‘Baltic’ quarry water this time round.

But here’s my quandary folks. Alex from the dive school says that the water there has been warmer recently due to the freakishly warm weather we’ve been having. “It was 14 degrees last weekend Karli, we even had students in 5mm wetsuits!” he chirpily informed me. Well if it is warm enough to get wet that would put an end to dry suit disasters and I’d be able to just focus on the skills of the AOW qualification, such as navigation and the techniques you need to dive a wreck. But would that make me a ‘glory diver’? I’d only ever be a wetsuit diver in warmer waters and not be able to say I can brave the chilly waters of the UK and in doing so, pass up the opportunities to see basking sharks around the Isle of Man, say, or the curious seals that many divers enjoy interacting with around the Farnes Islands.

Do I give dry suits the ok?

My gut tells me to go for it and conquer dry suit diving. And hopefully that will open up doors to experience dive sites in locations I would otherwise miss out on. But given the option, what would you do? A few divers I’ve spoken to say they’ve binned dry suit diving and just stick to mild conditions. Is that the sissy way out or is it true that UK divers (or cold water divers) are a glutton for punishment? Words of wisdom from experienced divers are also gratefully received…

Getting my name in print in Lonely Planet

Anyone wanting to get published in travel magazines might be interested to follow my story to doing just this – to see just how achievable it can be. She says. You might remember previous posts about my photjournalist coach, Brendan, setting me tasks to get my name in print. Well here’s how I’m getting on with breaking into Lonely Planet magazine as featured on Brendiver’s World.

Seeing my stories in black and white in those shiny travel magazines seemed to be a long, long way off when I first decided I really wanted to give travel/adventure journalism a shot. But Brendan is showing me how to take baby steps to achieving this goal. To start with, he tasked me with finding opportunities that Lonely Planet is serving up to readers. And lo, in May’s edition of Lonely Planet the generous editors are asking readers for their contributions – could this be my way in? If they like the first snippet of what I can write, and then maybe the second, will they start to notice that I’m somebody they could trust to actually write up a feature piece for them?

Beavering away at the research

Well, I’m not getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to those baby steps. On the first page the editor of Lonely Planet magazine himself, Peter Grunert, is asking for inspiration on where the most beautiful places on earth are from – yes – the readers! So right there, an opportunity and email address for me to write up my experiences of beautiful lands. I’ve already got a few ideas rolling around in my head, but you’ll have to wait and see what actually gets submitted for now.

Then flick a couple of pages and you find the ‘Share with us’ section. There’s the chance to review a hotel (and they’ll pay for a stay of up to £150) if you can convince them a particular hotel is worth checking out. They also offer readers the print space to talk about their memorable holidays – their first, best and worst. Now I generally always enjoy my travels, but the worst sprang to my mind in a flash. Hands down, it was a week in Prestatyn, Wales with the family when I was 10. The beds were flea-ridden and I came home covered in bites. You should only bear those kinds of scars if you’ve been somewhere exotic!

Then there’s the ‘Postcards’ section. This part of the magazine offers the chance to send in your pictures and the stories behind them. Excellent! The pictures featured don’t have to be necessarily taken with a really expensive camera from what I can see, but they all provide good angles to write a story from. The words sometimes tell you a different story from what you’d assume by just looking at the photograph on its own. Again, I think I’ve got a few cracking photographs from recent travels that could provide a springboard to tell a good story. But like the photos, it needs to be a snapshot. The accompanying stories can’t be more than 100 words from the entries I’ve read.

Delving further into the magazine leads me to another chance to get involved in this travel publication. The Lonely Planet team are giving readers a say in the first ever Lonely Planet awards. Following the online link takes me to where I can give my input on what’s the greatest wildlife encounter? What’s the greatest outdoor activity? The page reads: “These are the first travel awards to focus on the experiences that inspire us all to travel, from those you’ve had to those you dream of having.” I’d love to have my say and just by taking part I could win a trip to Thailand and Cambodia. I never win random online draws and competitions, but I like the idea that by getting involved, my name’s at least in the hat!

Going online gives you more chances to get involved in some way with Lonely Planet – there’s a competition to win more goodies by submitting your favourite travel photo. I’m finding that once you actually start looking, there are more ways than you think to get your toe in the travel magazine door.