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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.