Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Back to school

Posted by Scot

Dive school that is.

Check it out.  We're diving!

In 1987, when I was in my first year of university, I commuted from home.  That meant about an hour and a half driving each way from the suburbs.  I had to arrive early and go back home late to avoid getting stuck in tunnel traffic.

What all that added up to was needing to kill a lot of time on campus, before, after, and between classes.  It didn’t take long for me to find a place to hide out.  My friend, John, from high school, was good pals with Mike, who was the manager of the dive shop on campus.  Mike was our age, but he wasn’t a student.  Instead, he managed the dive shop, and on weekends taught PADI dive courses.

At first, I didn’t really have any interest in diving.  The dive shop was just a place to feel safe and surrounded by friends in an otherwise huge, anonymous institution.  Before long, though, all those pictures of underwater life, and the cool gear in the dive shop got me interested.  I kept making plans to get PADI certified, but money, time and class schedules always got in the way.

Since then, I have made plans to take the course multiple times, but again, life always intervened, and I have never gotten around to it.

So, one of the goals I set myself for this year was to try and get my open water dive ticket.  Now, there are two things the Caymans are famous for.  One is offshore banking.  The other is scuba diving.  After coming up with the dough to live on a boat for the year, we have no need for an offshore bank account (and won’t for some time!).  This time, though, there was no excuse not to go diving.  So last week, Christopher, Alexander and I signed up for our PADI Open Water course with a local dive outfit called Divetech.

On the first day, the Divetech van picked us up at the marina right at 0700.  We drove to the north end of the island, to an area called the Cobalt Coast.  There, we met our instructor, Susan.  Susan is a 70 year old retired lawyer and professional pool player from Texas.  She has over 3000 dives under her belt, and retired to the Caymans 15 years ago to teach diving.  She is pretty much what you would expect from a Texan, a lawyer, and a pool shark.  She doesn’t mince words, and takes no sh%*& from anyone.  Especially a couple of teenage boys who think they know all the answers.  So, in short, she was a perfect dive instructor for us, and kept us on task and efficient through the course.

Susan, keeping us in line.

The first morning, after filling out all the usual liability releases, we watched videos that went through some of the relevant theory and safety ideas.  The videos were clearly made in the early ‘90s, with lots of neon scuba gear and feathered hair.

The boys actually did great with the academics, and I had to really stay on my toes to keep up with them when we went through the questions and answers at the end of each chapter and video.  In the afternoon, we hit the pool.  The first thing we did was a swim test.  20 laps of the pool and 10 minutes of treading water was a joke for my swim club kids.  Again, I found myself working hard to keep up as they laughed through the exercises.

Slogging through the book work, so we can get in the water.

Finally, at the end of day one we got to put on the scuba gear, and go through a bunch of skills in the pool, including buoyancy control, safety breathing, and gear setup.

The next morning started with an open water dive first thing.  We were off the dock by 0800, and enjoying the sights of the Sea Fan reef.  As we worked our way through the requisite open water skills, we saw lionfish, stingrays, and eels, in among the amazing coral and reef fish.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera, since this was serious dive training, and we weren’t supposed to be fooling around with photography.

Christopher's dive gear and weights weighed about as much as he did.  He never once complained, though.

We followed up with another open water dive right away.  After lunch, we finished off the theory portion of the course with a few more videos, questions and answers.  Then, we did the exam!  Again, the boys made me very proud – we all scored 94% or more on the exam, so if you ever want to dive with us, you can feel confident that we at least have the academic part down.

Day 3 was supposed to be comprised of a few more pool skills, and our last two open water dives for our certification.  The pool skills were easy.  We practiced the backward roll into the pool with our dive gear on.  Since we’ve been doing this off our dinghy for the last five months with our snorkel gear on, it was no problem.

Caution no diving.  Except for diving.

The first of our last two open water dives presented a bit more of a challenge.  There were big waves breaking straight onto the dock as we walked out.  Every so often, one would crest up and over the end of the dock, sending salt water washing towards our feet.  As we made our way along, we had to step over one board that had already been knocked loose by the big waves.  Suddenly, right in front of Alexander, another dock board got knocked out, nails and all, by a crashing wave.

As we lowered ourselves down the ladder at the end of the dock, we kept a cautious watch to make sure we jumped in between waves, so that we didn’t get smashed back into the dock.  The dive itself went well, but by the time we got out of the water, the waves were even bigger.  Most of them were now cresting above the height of the dock.

Mastering buoyancy control.  And looking good doing it.

The boys got themselves out during a lull in the waves, and managed to escape getting bashed against the dock.  I wasn’t so lucky.  Just as I started to climb out, a big wave caught me from behind, and threw me straight into the steps of the ladder.  One of the steps caught me in the ribs and knocked the wind out of me.  The pain was significant, and I briefly got knocked off the ladder.  But I grabbed on again and hauled myself out as quickly as I could, since I didn’t want that to happen again.

As we sat and watched the waves breaking over the dock, waiting the appropriate surface interval for our next dive, I could feel the pain in my chest with every deep breath.  Nothing felt displaced or broken, but I figured another run-in with the dock would probably change that, so I approached Susan, and told her I wasn’t keen to go back in today.

Just hanging out under water.

She jumped at the chance to postpone our final dive for another day.  She wasn’t too happy about going back in either, and told us that she probably wouldn’t have taken us out at all if we weren’t strong swimmers.
So, we held off until the following day.  On the morning of day 4, I was still having some pain with a deep breath, but we were determined to finish our course.  The waves had calmed down significantly, so we went back in, and had our best dive yet, staying down at 60 feet for most of our 45 minute dive.  Then, up we came, now certified PADI divers!

Now, a few days later, my chest is still sore, but starting to feel better, and we are already planning our next dive.  The wind and waves are pretty high here right now, so we may hold off until later in our trip, but stay tuned for some attempts at underwater photographs assisted by scuba gear.

Ready for our next dive.

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