Thursday, 23 November 2006

Tech 1 Part one

Report by Garf


“Dive 1 was to be a checkout dive. Nothing fancy, just lay some line along the 6 metre shelf for Andy to see where our skills were, and how confident we were in the water. A nice gentle checkout dive. Two minutes into the dive, Gareth swam out of a cloud of silt making a frantic out of Gas signal, with Howard next to him missing a mask and eyes closed. Barely had I time to recognise what was going on before a loud bubbling noise at my shoulder signalled my right post was undergoing a total failure. Perhaps three minutes of the first dive had now past. Apparantly, "gentle checkout dive" has a slightly different meaning to AndyK than myself, but any man who happily wears a cap with "BEAST" written on it is clearly not a man to be messed with...........”

The path to tech1 started about six months ago, when I felt like it was time to give myself another challenge. At the same time, Gareth Lock and Howard Payne were thinking along the same lines, and Clare Gledhill all pointed us in the direction of each other as she felt we would be a good mix for a team. Thus team foxturd was born. Practicing for Tech1 was a bit of a non-starter. For one reason or another, although a pair of us would manage to get together fairly regularly, we did not manage to get together as a three until the day before the course, so had no time to really gel as a team. Also, we really did not have any real idea of what to practice, and ended up practicing the wrong things. Oh Well.

Gareth and I rocked up to Stoney on The Monday at 9am, with Howard arriving a little later. It took me a grand total of 8 minutes to upset someone at Stoney cove, which is a record for me, and something I am appropriately proud of. The gas monkey told me to just leave my cylinders, and got a bit arsey when I asked if it would help if I told him what I wanted in them, or if he was planning to just use the force. One day I will learn to just keep my gob shut, but I was just so unimpressed with Stoney's attitude towards us, and this was a theme that continued throughout the week until Gledders arrived and smoothed over everything. Her career as a practitioner of rotational medicine obviously sets her in good stead for sorting these things out. Anyway, I digress...

The plan was to get some dives in during the day and then meet up with AndyK Later to get the paperwork out of the way ready for the course starting proper on the Tuesday morning. We managed to get a couple of dives in, and went through the usual valve drills, S drills etc, as well as having a general swim about with no stress to relax before the course. Last minute inspections of each other's kit was performed, which resulted in some last minute fettling and adjustment, although by this time our kit was pretty much compliant with the standards anyway so there wasn't much to do. I had to rerig my argon bottle and Howard had to adjust his, but apart from that, we figured we were about ready, at least from a kit perspective. Later on in the week we would learn this opinion was a little premature, as Andy described my fins as perhaps a little shorter than he was used to seeing on DIR divers, and perhaps not giving me the propulsion they should. Well, he said they were “completely useless girly crap” anyway.

After a couple of dives, we were having a good laugh, some terrific banter, and were getting over our initial nerves and starting to think that we would enjoy the week. After negotiating some fills for the twinsets, we headed back to the B&B and checked in for the week. Andy arrived on schedule and we sat down to talk about the week. The initial plan was to get the paperwork out of the way and then start some theory. This was hampered a little bit by Howard forgetting to bring his paperwork (I was so glad I’d remembered at the last minute to nip back into the house and get mine) prompting a torrent of friendly abuse from Andy as GLOC and I stood back and watched Andy with glee. Now, you have to understand that we take the piss out of each other ruthlessly but Andy has a genuine gift for sarcasm that I have rarely seen equalled.

After we got the paperwork out of the way, we laid out the plan for the week. The basic plan was to spend each morning doing theory work, then head down to stoney about midday and spend 2-3 hours in the water. We would have surface intervals between dives, but we would not be getting out of the water. This meant we would be getting cold, but making the most of the daylight hours for diving. Every evening would be more lectures and theory, and then we would head out for something to eat. Over dinner we would continue to discuss anything else that came up during the theory lectures. On the Friday it would be slightly different as we would sit an exam in place of lectures. The Friday dives were to be the “hump day” dives.

The theory side of the course is nothing if not comprehensive. There were sections on Oxygen, Nitrogen, Helium, CO2, Argon, Gas Management, Gas Mixing, Dive planning, decompression theory, decompression practice, decompression strategy, physiology, situational awareness, equipment configuration etc etc. There was lots and lots and lots of it, and Andy presents his material with the confidence who uses notes and presentations really only for our benefits. He clearly knows his subject extremely well, and communicates it effectively. We were able to constantly challenge and question him, and he was able to answer all our questions effectively.

We had a great meal in a local pub that evening and then crashed out ready for the first big day.

Monday morning began with some dry land practice of line laying. We were taught how to lay line, how to swim as a team along the line, how to retrieve line, and how to get out of a situation if the entire team is blind and has to feel their way out along the line. I’d done a bunch of line laying before, but the devil appears to be in the detail, and there was a lot of detail I had not come across before. Andy was at pains to stress that Tech1 is really NOT a line laying course, the line laying element is really just there to distract us and add task loading to the students in the water. That being said, there is more to it than you might imagine, and it has left us with a need to practice it again and again. We spent a couple of hours in the garden wrapping up bird feeders in line, and tramping across the garden with our eyes closed. Half way through the morning Gledders arrived, as she was due to be videoing the course. Once we had suitably wrapped ourselves up in line, Andy a few basic rules as a reminder. “If you let go of the line, you and your team are dead”. If you leave slack in the line you and your team are dead”. When teaching like this Andy’s joking manner disappears and the seriousness with which he imparts such information is contagious. We looked at each other, perhaps for the first time starting to realise what we were getting ourselves into.

Following the line laying drills, we headed down to Stoney Cove and Prepped our kit ready for the first session of dives. Into the water, and then plan was to do a series of valve drills and S drills before moving on to line laying so that Andy could assess where we were in terms of skills and ability. Looking back at a week ago I can’t quite believe how crap our drills really were and how much Andy has helped us improve them, adding details to the basic drill we had never heard of but made such a difference to the effectiveness. We would always set a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd position for the team, and the drills would go round in that order. Similarly, we would be in that order on the line. This would start to install a feeling of roles and responsibilities in the team, and the week was spent hammering in the message that the roles belong to a diver in the team, not to a specific person, as you would have to very quickly re-assign roles and prioritise responsibilities as “emergencies” appeared.

“Dive 1 was to be a checkout dive. Nothing fancy, just lay some line along the 6 metre shelf for Andy to see where our skills were, and how confident we were in the water. A nice gentle checkout dive. Two minutes into the dive, Gareth swam out of a cloud of silt making a frantic out of Gas signal, with Howard next to him missing a mask and eyes closed. Barely had I time to recognise what was going on before a loud bubbling noise at my shoulder signalled my right post was undergoing a total failure. Perhaps three minutes of the first dive had now past. Apparantly, "gentle checkout dive" has a slightly different meaning to AndyK than myself, but any man who happily wears a cap with "BEAST" written on it is clearly not a man to be messed with. The dive continued for about 45 minutes, with Andy loading different people at different times to see how they reacted. I guess we got a thorough assessment after all. We had a short period on the surface with which to count our blessings that we were all actually still alive, and then it was flow checks, head to toe kit checks and back down into the water for more of the same punishment. Even by the second dive, elements which had been difficult to manage in the first had been superseded by more complicated problems and we were thus dealing with the simple ones without thinking about it.

This is one of the great things about the course. It is INTENSE, and no mistake. There is no time for consolidation, dwelling on mistakes or bad dives, or discussing plans for future dives. The problems come on relentlessly and increase in complication as time goes on. At the beginning of the week a simple out of gas might shake you. By the end of the week, an out of gas with two of the divers blind and one of them with a failed right post and wing inflate seem to be more manageable.

After the first day’s diving we all emerged from the waters a little shell shocked, and packed up to go back to the B&B for the debrief. We sat on the sofa looking like we'd just been beaten senseless, and were all personally wondering how hard this course was going to get if this was only day 1. The debrief was neither cruel or gentle, just brutally honest and to the point. Crucially, individual failures were pointed out by ourselves, team failures by Andy. Andy has no time for individuals on the course, everything is about the team. It took us three days to work this out, and in the end it was quite a revelation when it did…more about that later. the video is unforgiving, and so were we, wanting to get as much as possible from the experience. We all had individual skills issue to address, and needed to start communicating as a team.

After this first day, we were all feeling a little knackered, and it was also obvious there was a natural 2 and a 1. this was partly down to Gareth and I sharing a room leaving Howard on his own, and partly due to Gareth and I having done a lot of diving together without Howard in the previous few months. This was really no-one’s fault but definitely had a detrimental affect on the team’s performance, as in the water we were all concerned with our individual skills and management of problems, and not looking at the bigger picture.

The second day’s diving did not get any easier, and concluded with one of the most difficult drills I have ever tried. The valve drills and S drills were starting to get a little slicker. I had stopped waving my arms about, and Gareth was keeping his fins a little more horizontal in the water. Howard was focussing on his buoyancy, and we were all starting to communicate. More complex failures such as unfixable post failures were added into the mix, and we now had to start remembering what had failed on each team member’s rig. This led to me having to get out of the way quick when Gareth had an OOG as Howard had to come between us to give him gas as I had a left post failure and thus had nothing to switch to if I donated. One thing we learned on this dive is to check what is working on your rig and your team’s rig after a missing mask drill as things might have changed from the last time you could see…..

The second half of this dive was a real struggle for all of us. The plan was to lay some line around the APC in Stoney, at a depth of about 6 metres, and Andy would throw mayhem our way as usual. Business as usual for team foxturd then. Well, not quite. This dive was a little different as after Andy had let us lay perhaps 30 metres of line he took ALL of our masks, leaving us flailing about with our eyes closed. Now there is a drill for this, but we made a mockery of it and all “died”. we ended up with people wrapped in line, with no way of knowing which was the way out. Other team members were drifting about looking for the line with no idea of where they were. It was a nightmare, and only those who have tried such a drill know how hard it really is. This is where the simple rules come into play. The line must be as tight as piano wire. NEVER let go of the line. Always keep only ONE hand on the line and have your thumb pointing in the direction o fthe way out. Form a train with your team and communicate. A thousand other things to remember, and it makes you realise just how dangerous it is to lay line badly, and how bad things can really get if you cannot see. This dive freaked me out a little after the scapa incident earlier in the year, but mainly I was pissed off that we had been so crap at it.

This is where the weakness in our preparation started to appear. Individually, we all had fairly passable basic skills, but there was no real teamwork going on. We were all so focussed on doing well on the course that we missed the point that you cannot pass the course as a team by all doing well individually. GUE stress the team element again and again in their training, and TBH I had always almost laughed it off. That disdain was now showing through as our team skills started to let us down. We were not communicating effectively, and not treating every team member as a team resource.

We left the water on the second day feeling pretty crap, but unfortunately, still individually beating ourselves up and not discussing it properly as a team.

That evening we went off for another meal. At this point I must point out that Andy has been teaching courses up at Stoney forever and a day, so has an in depth knowledge of all the local eateries. The end result of this was that I had one of the best Chinese meals I can remember eating, one of the best Curries I can remember eating, and a damn fine pub dinner to boot! The video debrief that evening was revealing as all our hands on the line when we were without masks looked to me like a bucket of crabs. We looked like a bag of shit, and went to bed feeling pretty negative about it all.

Day 3, and the drills are getting nastier. We were to repeat the drill we did the day before, and this time it got quite a bit better. We still died, but at least we were starting to communicate and work as a team, if only at a very basic level. Negotiating tie-offs takes longer than you might imagine, and you only have to pull one of the things off and then you have a nightmare of slack line everywhere. The second half of the dives were the interesting ones here. We had to do a bunch of ascent drills. First up was the usual 6-3-0-3-6 drill, which normally we have no problem with but turned into a bag of shit because Andy asked us to switch to stages at 3 metres and then restow them at 3m on the way down. The lesson learned here is don’t mince about with your ascent rate, and practice getting the stage reg out and stowing it as it should only take a couple of seconds. Ten seconds for the entire team is Andy’s reckoning. We ballsed it up by taking too long.

The second drill on this dive was to do an ascent from 21 metres to the surface, getting a bag up on the way, and switching gas at 12 metres. Sounds simple and it should have been, but we still managed to die, having kept to time within 5 seconds, but forgetting to gas switch on the way because we were so focussed on the time and getting the bag sorted. At the time I beat myself up pretty badly about this as I was calling time and leading the dive, but in retrospect the whole point of the team is that any one of us should have spotted and corrected this error. Again, lessons were learned – don’t piss about on the ascent, get up to your stop depth quick and give yourself time to do things. Prioritise and don’t be afraid to swap responsibilities around the team as and when the need arises.

The final drill of this dive was the one that really messed with our heads. This was the same drill as before, but this time Andy was going to throw an OOG at us somewhere on the ascent, and also take someone’s mask near the bottom. So, I lost my mask approximately two seconds after I announced I was calling time on the ascent. Great. After that of course, for me it was all a blur until we hit the surface approximately 18 minutes later. I could feel someone guiding me, and swapping my gas for me, but mostly I just kept my eyes closed and tried to relax. This drill took ten minutes longer than the drill was supposed to take and Howard and Gareth both looked exhausted when we eventually hit the surface. Being the blind diver, I just hung on and relaxed, and I guess I had the easy time of it.

Once again, a very thorough and honest video and verbal debrief was had, and by now, everyone including Andy knew what the problem was. There simply was no real team to speak of, and this was our real weakness. I caught up with Gareth and Howard in the Car park and told them we needed to speak immediately in the B&B before we went back into more theory. I also told Andy that we were going to thrash some things out and we would be ready for the lectures when we were ready. He knew exactly what was going on and gave us the freedom to take the time we needed.

The conversation that happened in that room stays within the team, but basically we all acknowledged that it was time to start working together. This was to affect everything we did. From now on we would plan together, kit up and kit check together, eat together, and shared a room for the remainder of the week. It sounds daft to anyone that hasn’t been through it I guess, but it was at this point that the week changed for us, and all of us “got it”. Until then we had all been trying to do our individual best, but now realised that the team would pass or fail together.

We went back into the lecture room as a team, and it was a strange moment. The final lectures were related to Ratio Deco, or Deco on the fly and this was very interesting for me personally. I have a real interest in deco theory and had read a great deal about Ratio Deco. I had even read all the tech1 course notes in the past and thought I had it nailed. However, I can now understand why Tech1 divers are a little hesitant to fully explain ratio deco as, although there is no big secret, there are a great deal of subtleties in the detail that could be missed when not taught professionally, and I certainly learned a great deal in that lecture. Again, Andy knows his subject inside out and was able to answer every question we threw at him without hesitation.

Day4. Hump Day.

Hump day sounds simple enough. Do an ascent from the bottom of Stoney Cove on triox, at the appropriate ascent rates, with a blind diver and a OOG diver. Other failures may appear on the whim of the instructor.

We did a few more ascents in the morning, which revealed that although we were now starting to communicate, we still had a lot of work to do in order to reach hump day standards. As a team we came to the conclusion that we did not want even to attempt to do the deeper ascents, and were calling the diving for the rest of the day, and we then told Andy so. He had no issue with this as he knew the situation and almost certainly wouldn’t have let us do the dives anyway.

We agreed that we would meet up with Andy sometimes before the end of the year, and then potentially finish off the course in the first quarter of next year. This gives us plenty of time to continue to work on our ascents and team skills, and any remaining individual skills area that Andy pointed out for us. Although initially disappointed in our own performance, we all left the course feeling positive in several areas. Firstly, we had built a team, although there is little doubt in my mind that the course will either make or break a team. The team had come a very long way in just a few short days. The drills, such as valve drills and ascent drills which started the week being “my valve drills” were now very much team exercises. Individually, we had all improved an incredible amount during the week, and certainly learned a great deal, both in and out of the water. As for finishing off the course, we will do it when we are ready as a team, but don’t be surprised if you hear from team foxturd again in April or May next year.


The course is phenomenal but not for the faint of heart. It plays with your head, and I can see why some people end up quitting half way through, permanently falling out with their team, or even quitting diving. It is a real head game. The information given in the theory sections is comprehensive and makes a lot of sense, but again as with everything in DIR, much of it only makes sense if you adopt the entire approach to diving.

There really is only one sad element to the entire event. This was Andy Kerslake’s final Tech1 course, as he is leaving GUE as an instructor at the end of December. We all without exception think this is a real shame, as the man has a wealth of knowledge and experience trapped up behind that “beast” cap, and is frankly a superb instructor. Although he will continue to dive with the UK DIR mob, it is a real shame that students will no longer be benefiting from his skills. GUE should be bashing their heads against a wall trying to think of a way to keep him in my personal humble opinion.

So, Thanks to Andy for a superb course, superb food, and superb banter and comedy throughout the week, to Clare for the advice and steady videoing, and thanks to the rest of Team Foxturd for the most intense and rewarding diving experience I have ever had.