Thursday, 23 November 2006

Garfs Fundies Report

Well, it's over.

The following people signed for a fundies course with Rich Walker. Garf, Ahar, Mark Chase, Daz, and Bogwoppit. we all had different expectations for the course, but I will not second guess the others or steal their thunder. For myself, I had two primary reasons for doing the course. Firstly, if I'm honest, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I'd heard so much about it from so many people, which ranged from those who suggested that they make you eat babies for breakfast, through to those who were far more laid back about it all. It raises so much interest, I simply had to see what it was about.

The second reason was far more pragmatic. I had seen several GUE trained divers last year. They differed in some respects. Some were egomaniac, condescending tossers who preached that DIr is the Light and the Way. However, whilst some were preaching, some were quietly getting in the water and going diving. I noticed that they did all, however, have a few things in common. They all possessed excellent awareness of environment, team and scenario. Theyt knew that their role was on every dive, and they knew what to expect from their team. They also communicated very efficiently and effectively. I liked this a lot, and though, for want of a better phrase "That'll do me, I'll have a bit of that thanks". So I decided to do fundies and see what it was all about.

I had been umming and ahhing about it for several months when Rich Walker posted a course up and YD and I signed up immediately. Also signed up were Ian (Bogwoppit) Stapleton, Andy (ahar) Harries, Darren (Daz) Carpenter, and Mark (I can't think of an online name) Chase. I had dived with Boggie before, and knew that both Chasey and Ahar were decent divers, so figured I was lucky enough to be on a course full of people who knew what they were doing.

Immediately after signing up for the course, I thought, if I'm being honest, "I want to minimise the twattishness of my diving on the course and get a head start", and organised a day's diving with Gledders. I'll get into the "Right" and
"Wrong" of this later. On this day I saw how high the bar was, or rather I was clubbed over the head with it and told toarch my back. Gledders and Al were astonishing in the water, and the vain element in me thought "I wanna look like that".

I then organised a few sessions with Ahar in Wraysbury. Now Ahar is a top diver and no mistake, rock solid in the water. We put a lot of effort into going through the drills, both on dry land and in the water. The logic was that if we at least were totally familiar with the actual procedure of the drills, then we would be able to concentrate on other things, such as trim and situational awareness. We also focussed on ensuring we stayed aware of what was happening to the other person, and not getting tunnel vision when performing drills. Now this is easy to say, not so easy to do. Keeping eye contact with an ugly bastard like me through every step of a valve drill must be very hard work indeed. The training felt at the time very valuable, but I wanted to keep things sharp, so spent the last few Wednesday nights before the course in the pool training on my own, doing valve drills and modified S drills, as well as practising the various kicks that would be required.

Another element that I felt required attention was my swimming, which was rocket fast for 50M but then I would grind to a halt, I went swimming every other day for a month before fundies. There is no question that this paid off as we shall see later.

Fundies Approaches...

fundies started for me on the Thursday night, with a complete kit check, which took hours as I checked every nut and bolt,
every boltsnap, every possible detail, to make sure kit was not an element that let me down. Everything was charged, greased and packed away ready for the morning. Off I went to sleep, only to realise once I had relaxed that I was sweating, not due to the work I had been doing, but because I was coming down with a terrible cold. I got no sleep at all, thrashing about in that horrible, feverish, sweaty delirium that you get when you have a bad cold. Throughout the night I became more and more annoyed about how i felt as I knew that firstly it would have a severe impact on how I would dive (assuming I could dive at all) and also because I knew those sods on the course would never believe me.


0830 AM and like a well oiled DIR machine, bogwoppit turned up to pick me at the agreed time. Actually, that must have still been delirium as he never turned up until 9am. Totally relaxed and in control, he was the complete opposite of me, who was a nervous wreck, coughing, sneezing, and trying to decide if I should even bother getting in the car. I felt truly terrible, and figured I’d be retaking the course at some point in the near future. I decided to go anyway, and just see what happened. Boggie turned up in the little Citroen C3 and we packed it to the brim with black kit and shiny things. Wondering if the suspension was going to cope we climbed in and set off at 9am, with me dosing myself with a combination of nurufen plus and Sudafed.

A leisurely and pleasant drive to the B&B just outside Trowbride in Somserset was made, during which I felt gradually worse and worse, and probably whinged more and more. Despite this, Boggie remained perfectly polite, relaxed and cheerful. We arrived after about 2 hours 45 minutes and found GUE Tech1 diver David Martin chatting away happily with Mark Chase. We also found that somewhere between Surrey and Somerset, someone had turned the thermostat down. It was bloody freezing. My body had obviously given up trying to regulate my temperature and quietly alternated between hot and cold whilst I stood there sneezing and trying to keep up with the conversation

Chasey had promised to play nice with the GUE divers and not upset them, but already they were in hot debate about deco cylinder usage. Despite making a promise to myself not to be an awkward sod, I joined in happily

A few minutes later and the rest of the team began to show up. Daz arrived from Bristol, and Rich Walker all the way from Sheffield. The plan was to start doing the lectures in the B&B, but unfortunately, the B&BG people were not there, so we bailed out to the local pub and had a coffee. In the pub, we finalised the paperwork (DIR-F students are required to submit a very detailed profile of their diving history, kit, and medical health, which Rich then reviewed whilst we tried to warm ourselves up. DIR kit extends to civvies, as demonstrated by David and Rich, wearing identical puffer jackets. Unfortunately, Vobster did not sell them.

At this point, we were still waiting for Ahar, so as Rich had managed to contact him by mobile, and we couldn’t get into the B&B, we decided to skip the first lectures and go directly into the swim tests. I swear that I felt a shudder when he said this, as I had been worried about the tests for weeks. We packed up, picked ourselves up and got ready to go to trowbridge leisure centre. Boggie and I decided to follow Chasey, which included a u turn during which I swear I could hear Chasey’s GPS saying “Turn around when possible, dickhead”. We just pointed and laughed.

Arriving in the leisure centre, my guts were in turmoil, and my ears were now starting to get that horrible “sticky” feeling. Into the pool and we were told it was a 25M pool and we had to swim 15 metres on a breath hold. No problems here, we all managed 25 metres. Chasey the fish could have done laps. Now came the one that scared me, the distance swim. “get going” said Rich, and I launched into a backstroke. 7 minutes and twenty seconds later I was astonished to find I had finished, ten seconds behind Ahar. Chasey was just behind, and captain cool boggie sauntered in with a relaxed breastroke a minute later. Daz struggled with this, and finished up in just under 13 mins, but he only has little legs. So that was the whole team through the swim tests and I was delighted. There had to be some measure of fitness for the course, and I guess a swim test is as good if not better than any other. If there is anyone out there in a similar position to myself, my advice is firstly not to leave training for it until the last minute, and secondly not to swim as fast as you can, as it’s a stamina test not a sprint.

Being in the pool did provide an opportunity for Rich to try out a few new ideas ;“New Ideas on a DIR course, I hear you scream, how can this be?????”. Well, I’ll no doubt talk about my misplaced preconceptions a bit later. We swam to the side of the pool and were instructed in the pool on how to back kick. You have to “get the feet back without the water noticing” and then snap back, using the sides of fins. The power of the stroke comes from the calves, not the fins. This was all news to me. Next, we tried simulating the trim position. Floating on the stomach, back arched as hard as possible, head pushed back to touch the isolator, and arse muscles clenched to raise the knees. Hold that position. It hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not trying. Finally, we put the two together. Back arched, head up, arse clenched, now back fin. Good god. We all went backwards, faster than I’d ever done before. So he wasn’t telling lies about the fins not providing the power. This was the first time that I realised that Rich really did have his shit squared away. We tried this several times, and it worked. Great news. Being in the water felt great as it was keeping my fever down, so I was reluctant to get out, but we had lectures to attend to , so we all got dressed and headed back to the B&B.

We were all feeling a little happier now I think, now that the first assessed bit was out of the way, and we were about to start absorbing information. We were then given thorough and informative lectures about the history of GUE and DIR diving, and all given 30cc’s of chlorpromazine via intravenous drip. No. No. No. You see, I used to make all the jokes, and take the piss, but the ironic thing is that Rich was about the most laid-back and flexible DIR diver I’ve met. His attitude seemed to be “look, you’re paying, so accept my advice for the weekend, and then do what you want to do”. Nothing was rammed down our throats, and our opinions were often asked what we thought about a topic, rather than just lecturing. A perfect example is we had a big discussion about self inflating blobs, with Chasey and I arguing strongly that they are the best invention ever and David Martin arguing that they were the spawn of the devil and anyone that uses them probably eats babies for breakfast. Meanwhile, Rich just kept quiet listening to the discussion, or rather beasting we were giving Dave, and then said “gimme one and ill have a go tomorrow then”, which shut us up and to my vast amusment, had david staring at Rich in the same way Socrates stared at his best friend and said “I drank WHAT?” So - open to new ideas, willing to try out new things. That was a DIR I hadn’t expected. These lectures I found phenomally interesting and informative, as they blew away all the chaff I had read about DIR and all the shite I had read on forums (such as this posting) and laid it out properly. And you know what, it all starts to make sense when someone explains it properly. The whole “all or nothing” approach just started to make sense, even without the use of barbiturates. We gave as good as we got in the lectures, and thankfully Rich has a healthy sense of humour, so comments from me such as “sometimes you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone just sat down in their garage all day and made this shit up” didn’t result in being admonished. All in all, this was really useful for me, and put the whole course into perspective. Rich proved a very relaxed and knowledgeable instructor, but I am convinced his obvious experience in diving, including instructing for other agencies, helps to provide a more well rounded instructor.

After finishing up with the lectures, we decided to head into Trowbridge for a curry. We piled in the cars and headed off. This is where the team ethic started to break down. Daz got lost on the 3 mile drive into Trowbridge. FFS. We hung around waiting for twenty minutes and eventually he turned up. We decided on a currey. Now, experience served me well in this area. I was well aware that I was going to be spending a significant proportion of the next day clenching my arse, so why make things worse than they are already going to be. “Please provide me with your mildest, most gentle curry” says Garf. “Do you worst” says Daz. How can so much, of something so fiendishly hot, fit into someone so small. I was partly in awe, partly shaking my head in rememberance of the time I nearly had to bin a days diving due to a poorly timed madras.

Dinner was a good laugh, we all chatted amiably about diving, as you’d expect, and rich kept noticeably reticent about the more controversial subject, which I was actually quite impressed with, as I’d have been tempted to just shout “Oh stop talking bolox you tiny man. And you, blond git, will you STFU about your rebreather”. Anyway, a delightful time was had by all, and we wisely decided to head right back to the B&B for an early night. All except Daz, who headed off in a random direction and got lost again. Hey ho, night night. Big day tomorrow.


I hadn’t slept all night. I still felt awful. Added to my cold, I was sharing a room with Bogwoppit. What is it about ex-matelots? All night I had shivered in my fever. All night Boggie had been sawing a plank of wood in half. The buzzing in my ears was blatently perforated ear drums. It wasn’t snoring, it was like listening to speeded-up continental drift. Give me strength.

I dosed up with as many painkillers as I could lay my hands on and went through for breakfast. Fair play to Bardo’s In Laws, they cook a mean fry up and no mistake. Chasey and I displayed a similar trait when we announced that the next person to speak at the breakfast table would have their tongue torn out if the words “here’s the coffee for you” were not forthcoming. Over breakfast, we made our jokes, said our last goodbyes etc etc………

Dive 1

First things first, Rich went through a thorough safety briefing. After this, he outlined the plan for the dive, which was to split up into two teams. The teams were Daz, chasey and bogwoppit, and then Myself and ahar. This suited me as I had been training with Andy and we knew what to expect from each other. We took our time kitting up, making sure everything was where it was supposed to be. This was partyl becuase we wanted everything to be correct, and partyl becuase we were waiting for Daz, who was shitting his brains out after the hot curry the night before. I can stil hear the scremas now. Eventually, he reappeared, somewhat flushed, and looking even thinner than normal, and we continued to kit up. I still managed to leave a reg lying around which rich spotted after appearing from nowhere. I suspect he was on the roof with binoculars. We finshed putting everything together and then worked out the plan. We had to do a valve drill and an S drill, and then practice a frog kick, modified frog kick and modified flutter kick. We did this by swimming very close down to a platform. It’s not as easy as it looks. Valve drills went ok for us, as did S drills, but trim was scrappy and we were drifting forwards. We did not see much of the other team as we were focussing on ourselves. The devil is in the detail with DIR, and it’s the details like always clipping off the primary reg if its not in your mouth that was catching us out. The kicks went ok, but it’s very intimidating with an instructor that seems to be on wires and a video camera stuck in your face. We also needed to work on the distance between us. Andy and I could both sort of back kick, so when one of us drifted towards the other, rather than stopping them, we took it as an opportunity to practice, which was not the best plan as the team then drifted off into the distance.

At the end of the dive, we both sent bags up. This took a little while as it was bloody freezing in the water and everyone’s hands were suffering. Remember that devil? Well, the devil in the bagging up procedure is remembering to clip your drysuit hose back on after you have filled your smb. Andy and I ascended in control, both it was very slow indeed and needed work.

Out of the water and it was time for coffee, burgers and debrief. What can I say about the debrief other than Rich Walker is a very honest man indeed He missed nothing, despite keeping an eye on two separate teams. We did not get a beasting, let’s not pretend this is some kind of “boot camp” style course. It’s not. Rich just watches you, and then edges you to where he expects you to be. There’s none of that mask off, reg out, do a v drill with one hand crap you hear people talking about. The skills are basic, and the focus is on muscle memory, doing the drills again and again until they are slick and second nature, with the intention that when the brown smelly stuff hits the rotating office whirry thing, your hands will know where to go without thinking about it. Nothing on the course is “complicated”. It’s just that the standard for the simple things is set very high.

Whilst we are on this subject the valve drill. I spent ages working on the valve drill, and constantly though “this is mental, id never do this in an emergency”. Well, no you wouldn’t. the drill is to build the muscle memory, in an emergency you utilise parts of the drill as necessary. The debrief was exhaustive and quite correct imho, and I wandered off afterwards, wondering if I was simply to ill to give the course the attention it deserved. There’s not a diver on the course this weekend that hasn’t beaten themselves up over something, and in Daz’s case that is probably considered abuse of a minor.

Dive 2

The way the course works, they give you some set skills, such as valve drill and S drill. You then do that every dive. Then they add more tasks in each dive, so you can never relax, and are constantly learning something new. This is very carefully designed so that it does not overload the diver. Rather it is set at a level so that the learning curve is steep, but not catastrophically so. In some ways, you just sort of go diving and end up better at the end.

The plan for dive two, then, was another valve drill and S drill, and then this time we would do back kicking, the centre of gravity drill, and helicopter turns. Helicopter turns involve some kind of mystic sorcery that allow you to make one frog kick forward with one foot, and one back kick with the other. Yeah right. Note to self. Practice. Back- kicking I am getting. Once you get that the fin is somewhat irrelevant, and that you are using the sides of the fin anyway, and the power comes from your calf, it starts to happen. The other trick is to slow down the recovery part of the kick so that you don’t end up propelling yourself forwards. Finally, trim. If you haven’t got a stable trim, forget it. A big smile from Daz showed he was indeed going backwards. Three seconds later he was going backwards faster than I’d ever seen anyone, granted it being to the surface led by his feet.

The centre of gravity drill is an interesting exercise. If you weighting, and trim are correct, then you can adjust your trim in the water by the simple action of raising or lowering your head, extending your arms and feet. Imagine your body is a see-saw, and you can make that see saw go up or down depending on which end is longest. Obviously, if your weighting is way off, you can forget this drill, but we all managed some semblance of it, which was very rewarding.

The valve and S drills went ok, Andy and I felt like we were getting to grips with them, although during our drills this dive, a bunch of single cylinder wetsuit divers came and kneeled down on the platform, literally between my legs, which was a bit disconcerting. We tried to carry on regardless and got through the drills ok. By now, I have to admit, Andy was looking pretty slick in the water, and I was feeling worse and worse, partly because I was feeling sicker and sicker, and partly because I was struggling to match Andy’s level of control in the water.

Out of the water, and we did not bother with the debrief. It was just too damn cold. This time, we packed up our kit and headed back down to the B&B to warm up before going through the dive. I decided on a shower before facing the video. A word about the showers. Be careful, be very careful. On the thermostatic control for the showers, there was one nano-millimetre between Excruciatingly Hot, and Fantastically Freezing. You have been warned.

eventually, we all settled in the room serving as the lecture room for the course and sat down, not without a little trepidation, to watch the video. Well,the camera never lies. What I thought was pretty good trim turned out to be a bag of shite. We all, without exception, looked at ourselves and went "oh dear", or at least variations on that theme. However, rather than give us a hard time, Rich calmly walked us through what we were doing, and what we had to work on for the next day. Mine was clear. I could do the procedures for the valve drills and s drills in my sleep, but needed to sort out my trim and stability. Andy was pretty much the same, although at this point he was clearly emerging as the strongest DIR diver of the group.

Daz was doing well, obviously diving with DIR divers has helped him, but was struggling a little as his trim and bouyancy were a little unstable, and Mark and Ian, well, they had problems, which I felt looked worse on the video than actually were, and were probably caused becuase they were diving with totally unfamiliar people. I knew at least what I had to do the next day. My back wasn't hurting, and I'd been lazing about working to get my trim into a decent position. The next day I had to basically sort that out.

We went out for another curry, and then called it a night. At some point in the evening, the fever I was running broke, and I began to feel immediately better. I went to bed, fell asleep immedistely, and snored so heavily that chasey, in the room upstairs, was kept awake.

A final word about the Saturday before I move on. Rock Bottom. This is not the condition that arises from maintaining trim, or even the condition that Daz adopted after eating too hot a carry, rather a calculation that provides the absolute minimum requirement for a given depth in terms of gas and time to get you and a buddy safely to the surface. When it was explained to me, I have to be honest I thought “What’s the point of all this faff, if the result is always the same for a given depth, why not just work them all out and write them down?”, which of course Rich then showed me that there was a rock bottom table, but he wanted us to understand the theory. Standalone, it provides a useful little “get out of jail” tool. However, when combined with GUE’s gas management strategies, it becomes very useful indeed.

For example, if you know that rock bottom (and I’m not going to get into the calculations here, they are on YD if you want them) is 90 bar, you can then use a gas management strategy, for example the thirds rule, and arrive back before you get to rock bottom. If you arrive back in plenty of time, you might then extend the dive in another direction with another plan, all the time remembering that it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t violate rock bottom. Simple, and obvious, but one of those little gems that I will always remember to do before a dive, and keep in mind when running plans through any software. Moving on…


Now I felt MUCH better today , partly because I had broken the fever and was on the road to recovery, but also because I’d managed to have a good night sleep, although poor boggie had been up since about 4 going through valve drills in his head. Fundies is a bit like that  Off for breakfast, and another fine fry-up was provided, washing down with the appropriate amounts of caffeine. By now, I was realising that Chasey and I shared a similar sense of humour as well as an addiction to caffeine, so we growled at everyone across the table until they ordered more coffee in self defence.

The plan for the day was to do a full backplate check (Now this happened on the 1st day, so forgive me I’ll include it here). I was a little sad at the prospect of having my harness messed with, as I have spent MONTHS getting it to what I thought is right, finally nailing it a couple of months ago, and writing down all the measurements etc. We kitted up in full drysuits, and then Rich and Dave cast a very critical eye over the harnesses. First adjustment, the shoulder straps. Leaving the wasitbelt undone, can you reach back with one hand at a time and just touch your backplate with the tips of your fingers. Luckily, I could, but everyone else was told to strip theirharnesses down and adjust them. Let’s just say that not one of them was too tight, all had to be tightened up, to the point that I thought we were going to have to grease Daz and Chasey up with KY to get them out. We didn’t in the end, so after we had finished, they lubed up anyway as they had got the idea into their heads…..

Next step, are the shoulder straps even. Stand on the crotch strap and pull the shoulder straps. I escaped again, so far so good. Another five minutes was spent adjusting, checking and readjusting. Next step, the waist belt. It should come across horizontally from the slots in the backplate, not under or over a belly  When done up, the buckle should be over on the right hand side near the buckle holding the light canister in place. Another five minutes was spent adjusting this. Finally, the crotch strap. Standing up, there should be a minimum amount of room between the crotch strap and you. There was a little more than necessary in everyone’s, but it was VERY cold. Finally, do the whole harness up and see how it feels. Next, cylinder bands. Top band should be JUST below the break of the neck of the cylinders. Ahar had to move his up about 4 inches and was VERY concerned about what this would do to his trim. Boggie also had to move his up a couple of inches. I had escaped the trial unscathed. Hurrah.

Back to the plan……Dive 3

The plan for Dive3 was to take a step back and teach the valve and S drills, and also do “The basic 5”. Now the basic 5 are as follows; Reg remove and replace, Reg exchange, mask flood and clear, mask remove and replace and then a modified S drill. I’ll go through all of these in some detail, as it’s the details that bite you in DIR.

We dropped in, and I felt much better than the previous day. I started to concentrate on my trim, but it was intermittent, so more work needed there. I found that if I adopted a perfectly flat trim, I would start to drop head down, very so slowly. This was discovered by Rich, who got me into a perfectly flat position, and then watched my drift. That one would be resolved later.

Onto the basic 5. The Reg remove and replace. Easy peasy, just remember to remove the reg by the hose and don’t let go of it. Reg Exchange, a little more complicated than it sounds, but again you are building muscle memory. I’ll detail it so you can see it; 1. Get backup reg in hand, 2. Get primary reg hose in hand, 3. Remove primary Reg (keep hold), 4. Put backup in mouth, 5. clip off primary reg on right chest D ring with right hand, 6. unclip primary reg from right chest D ring, 7. take told of backup and remove from mouth, 8. put primary in mouth. Sounds like a hell of a lot of steps doesn’t it, but it’s all nice and smooth when you get it right.

Number three the mask flood and clear. No problems here as long as you control your breathing so that you trim and buoyancy do not go to ratshit. Mask remove and replace I have no issues, its just a case of getting the breathing under control so that when you take the mask off the icy waters of vobster don’t freak you out. By jesus it was cold and no mistake. Watching Rich demo the drills I saw his eyes bulge when he did the mask off, and the uwatec was reading 4 degrees C

Number 5, the modified S is just an S drill where the other person holds the reg rather than breaths it, so they don’t have to clip off their own primary etc. this is a drill I will be doing whether I am in the water with DIR divers or not, as all I have to explain to JAG is “hang on to my reg when I give it you until I ask for it back”. It is also worth doing at the surface as it is a check you have not tangled any of your hoses and can deploy the long hose without any issues. The basic 5 then, are drills I will practice again and again. They are simple enough, but there are lots of little steps to build muscle memory. I think we all managed to get through these fairly successfully, although joking aside the cold water really was an issue.

We then watched Rich do a valve drill. Again, I was looking for the wires that were keeping him rigidly in place whilst he did it, his control was awesome. Smoothly through all the steps, and then it was our turn, which again we did we varying degrees of success. Now, Ahar, who had been worried that Rich’s insistence he move his bands on his cylinders a good 3-4 inches had him worried sick, had just dropped into PERFECTLY flat trim the moment he hit the water. It looked superb, so apparently Rich knows what he is doing. By now, the valve drills for Andy and I were getting steadily better, and we were starting to focus on the minutiae of the drill rather than the major issues. This also meant we could pay more attention to trim, as it is during the more complicated drills that trim tends to go to ratshit as you forget about it. Practice, practice, practice I guess. The GUE valve drill seems to take ages, especially when compared with the TDI drill, which is more of a “dislocate your own arms if you have to, but turn that damn thing off NOW”. I liked the TDI drill, but the more I do the GUE drill, the more I understand that its detailed steps and procedure are designed not to be replicated in an emergency, but ensure you don’t have to think about where to go or what to do when that emergency happens. Muscle memory was a term used again and again through the course. It’s also the drill where you are most likely to drop your head, lose trim, and go all introspective as you try to remember the procedure. I thanked God I had spent a few weeks with the drill blu-tacked to the side of the training pool I used, as this helped me a lot. There are a lot of steps in the drills, and I would personally recommend that GUE write these steps into a procedure and issue them to students a couple of weeks before the course, so at least they have some time to read through it and practice the arm movements. It would also get rid of a lot of what Rich is worried about – people being instructed incorrectly by their friends, and him having to then unpick this training. Anyway, moving on….

Out of the water, and we all felt pretty cold this time, so it was off to the burger fan for double cheeseburgers and triple coffees. I personally took a diversion to the loos first. I had fitted a p valve catheter before the first dive, and having not used it, decided to remove it. Evidence showed NOT using it was a good idea, as it had come loose. Obviously I need a “Summer” size and a “winter” size 

We took our coffees and went for a debrief. Again, rich was pretty thorough, and praised as well as criticised. Suggestions were made for the final dive. We then discussed what was to happen on the final dive. Basically, rather than hover over the “artificial crutch” of a platform, we would move to open water, and do our valve drills and S drills in open water. We would then swim off at 6m round the quarry, and Rich would throw the odd “grenade” at us. This meant if you were daft enough to be more than arms length away from your team mate, one of you was going to run out of air. We spent an hour or so warming up, and then carefully kitted up for the last dive of the course. I was feeling a little better about my diving at this point, but wanted to really focus on the trim in the last dive. I also needed to resolve that weighting issue, so I got Rich to check over my weighting arrangement and he made a suggestion which I implemented immediately.

We put all the kit together, and went over to the water next to the burger van, which saved us the trek round the quarry to the platform we had been using for the other dives. We went through the head-to-toe pre dive checks we had been taught, and then moved into the water. Down to six metres and something strange happened. I arched my back, raised by head, clenched my arse, and the trim just fell into place. It felt perfectly natural, and I felt rock stable in the water. It was the best I had ever felt when underwater. Meanwhile, poor Andy, who had been diving well all weekend, was struggling. He was obviously a but unstable, and the inability to stablise was making him more and more frustrated. I could hear him swearing through his regulator as he thrashed about, which probably appeared more pronounced than it actually was because I was more controlled than I had been on any of the other dives.

Andy, who had no problems with the Valve drill all through the course, now missed a step and I dived in and cut the drill, resetting his valves for him. I could see he was fuming with himself. We went through it again, and then went through mine, and then proceeded onto the S drills. I was really enjoying myself at this point, but then Rich appeared from nowhere and signalled to cut the dive. Andy and I went up to find Mark had experienced a valve failure, I believe during his S drill. We watched it on the video later, and I have to admit he dealt with it pretty well, but then I’ve never seen a video of anyone throwing up underwater before, so maybe everyone just hovers there when it happens 

On the video you can see him begin an S drill. He checks his backup, which works. He then donates his long hose, and goes to his back. You can see one clear exhalation from the regulator and then bugger all as it breathed water. He signals to Ian that he needs the regulator back, and Ian provides it immediately. Actually, I thought the both did pretty well considering there was a real gas failure going on. It should also be noted that Dave, the trainee instructor we had been taking the piss out of all weekend, had basically stopped filming at this point and dived in with a reg at the ready. Nice one.

Eventually, Chasey decided enough was enough and went to the surface to sort out the regs, which then appeared to be working ok. This is the point at which Rich called the dive for Andy and I and we joined them on the surface, obviously without a clue what was happening to the other team. Once everything had settled down, Rich asked Mark if he was up to going back down, and he gamely said he was. Respect where it’s due, I’d have probably had enough by then.

We descended again, and then Andy and I hovered around whilst Chasey, Bogwoppit and Daz went through their S drills again. I was having a great time by now as the trim was really starting to come together, and Andy appeared to have settled down, although we was drifting a little more than usual. Once the other team had finished all their drills, which took a little longer than usual as Daz managed to get himself all mixed up, we then just started a simple swim around the quarry. Andy let himself drop a couple of metres below me, which Rich then rewarded with an OOG drill that resulted in Andy rocketing up into me. The inevitable occurred and we ended up on the surface. Bolox. Back down and continue swimming. Eventually, Rich gave us the signal to bag up, and as previously agreed, Andy began to put his SMB together. Just as the spool was unwinding, Rich gave me the OOG signal and Andy had to dinate immediately. The lesson here was obvious. Sort out the gas situation, and then go back to everything else. We dealt with it ok, and then Andy started to wind in the spool. We managed a controlled, slow ascent to the surface, and then spent two mins at the surface organising lights, hoses etc, so we were set to leave the water. Swimming back to the exit point, I felt like everything had come together on the last dive, and felt for the first time like I might be joining Andy, whom I was convinced would pass the course. If I’m being honest, I figured the other three would get provisionals, although both Chasey and Boggie had been harder on themselves than they needed to, and both had proved competent team members, providing gas on demand when the other managed to shut down both their valves on a vavle drill (they both did this one after the other, you couldn’t make up anything funnier than this )

One final interesting point on the last dive was that Chasey bagged up, and then on the video you can see the SMB sailing back down to the bottom from the surface, despite apparently containing gas. It looked truly surreal on the video.

We exited the water, and immediately packed up all the kit into the cars and headed back to the B&B for the full debrief, video, and then individual assessments, which I awaited with some trepidation.

The video showed exactly what I expected. Scrappy on the first dive on the dive, and then all coming together on the last dive. I would give vital parts of my anatomy for a copy of that video. The video debrief was ruthlessly honest, as normal, and then a surprise appeared, another lecture to do.

I struggled through this if I’m being honest. I made notes about situational awareness, dive planning and preparation, which I’m glad I did or I wouldn’t have had a clue. Once the lecture was over, Rich said it was the time for individual debriefs. The plan was that Rich and Dave would remain in the room, and then we would come in one by one for 5-10 mins per person and be debriefed. I volunteered to go first, and remained in the room whilst all the others filed out, feeling strangely nervous about the whole affair.

“Right then….no, I want you to debrief yourself. Go for it”


Below is a rough interpretation of what I said

“Well, I know I can do all the drills as I have been training for them. I appreciate that you have concerns about training before fundies and now understand why, but in this case I think I was lucky to be told the correct drills and the practice has helped me. My diving has improved through the 4 dives, and there is a substantial difference between my diving now, and my diving at the start of the course. I felt everything came together in the last dive. Why are you both laughing, stop pointing at me, that’s really mean, I’m going home”

Rich asked me what I felt I had to train on. I said I was overjoyed with how my trim had fallen into place and needed some in water time to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Once I had that properly dialled in, I then needed to spend time working on the drills to make them smoother and smoother. I also knew I had to work on clipping things off with one hand, which I was struggling with. Rich suggested some pool time with no gloves, so that the movements become second nature, and then add the gloves back into the equation.

Rich then asked where I wanted to go with my training. I had been thinking about this throughout the weekend. Diving a la GUE had started to make more and more sense to me over the weekend, and I came to realise that I wanted to progress along this course. So I decided to just tell him the truth. I said I wanted to get the fundies skills nailed properly, and then go for Tech1, once I had found an appropriate team to train with. I knew Andy was thinking about this as well, and so all I have to do now is convince him 

By now Rich was in hysterics, and I thought Dave was going to have to call an ambulance. Actually, Rich took it all very seriously, and then said “you’ve passed”.

Which was nice.

I thanked both him and Dave and admitted I had got far more out of the course than my jokes and teasing might have suggested. I then left the room and called my wife, who said “you’re really late, I’m going to eat without you”. Sigh.

I waited in the corridors for the others. Andy got a full pass, which seemed to be no suprise to anyone except Andy. He had dived consistently well throughout the weekend, and deserved his pass, well done mate.

Chasey and boggie, both came away with provisionals, and both furious with themselves, unjustly so in my opinion. It’s easy for me to be relaxed about it, but I’ve seen both of them dive far better than they did this weekend, and they had their share of bad luck. Perhaps most importantly, they have both come away with the determination to go back and nail the skills, which is great as it means I’ll have people to train with over the next few months 

Daz apparently got a provisional as well, although tbh we didn’t find out right away as he came out of his individual debrief, stormed out of the B&B without saying a word, and drove off in some kind of munchkin strop. Whoops.

Lessons and Thoughts.

Am I convinced that DIR diving is for me. Yes, I am. I love it, it makes sense, and it feels right.
Should everyone dive DIR? Whatever, it works for me. Will I stop diving with non-GUE trained divers. Don’t be daft. I might have to explain to JAG exactly WTF I am doing, but I have no doubt he’ll take an active interest in it anyway, as he’ll want to see what all the fuss is about, just as I did.
Will the VR3 be burnt in a midnight ritual. No, but I can see the day when it will be ebayed. That day will come when GUE training gives me the tools to do without it. Maybe.
Did I understand DIR before the course. No. I read everything there is to read. I spoke to numerous GUE trained divers at various different levels. And I still didn’t get it. If you are curious, take the course, it’s worth it.
Should you train before fundies. Difficult one. The problem is THE STANDARD. The moment training is done by people other than GUE instructors then they lose control of that standard, and the standard really is the core of it all, if that starts getting diluted it’s all over. That’s why GUE instructors are continually examined to ensure they are still adhering to the standard. Ant yet….it helped me, but I was lucky enough to be taught the correct drills. So I dunno.

So what’s next. For me, months of training lie ahead, getting these drills nailed. And then I’ll start hassling Andy to train for tech1, and by then I suspect Chasey and Boggie will have passed fundies and we might have a team coming together. Daz, I’m afraid is a little fiery for me. Must be all the curries.

So, thanks to Rich for being a top instructor, Dave for never losing his cool, Andy for being a superb buddy, and all the rest of the team for a great laugh and a great course.