Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Badger Loses His Virginity (on the DIR-UK boat)

As I drop down the shot line I can see the exhaust of the team that hit the water a few minutes before us mushrooming up and reflecting the torch beam of GLOC behind me like a series of concave mirrors. I equalise, add a little air to my dry suit and continue down the shot. After few moments the outline of the LH Carl comes into view below us, silhouetted in the bright green ambient light, deck structure visible for at least 8m in every direction. I flow check, gas check and get my self trimmed and comfortable. Signal OK to Gareth and off we swim to explore the wreck.

I suspect that described dozens of dives that happened over the beautiful weekend that we have just enjoyed all over the UK. What makes it special to me was that I was at 47m on my first dive after completing my GUE Tech 1 diver just few weeks before with Richard Walker.

I spent the preceding week watching the forecast and tracking down enough Helium for my gas mix (some bright spark at the club had bought a J of balloon gas!!) I was ready to go. Gas selection is easy at Tech-1; 21/35 or 18/45 with one 50% or 100% deco. I chose 18/45 and 50%. What information did we have before the dive? None!! Isn’t that great. I knew where to meet and the range would be Tech-1. That's all I need to know.

It’s worth noting we don't go anywhere near the MOD of the 18/45 but if the dive did end up with parts of the dive profile at the edge my Tech-1 training, the PPo2 was still nice and low and the END would make my first dive after my course (without the watchful eye of Richard Walker ever present!) nice and relaxed.

I was going to be diving with Gareth (GLOC) so did I care what gas mix he chose? Nope. It would be one of the two standard gases for that range and they both have the same deco profile in that range. Easy.

I was luck enough to be on the boat Outcast with Grahame Knott at the helm and some of the divers from the DIR-UK mailing list. It’s quite a thing to be the baby Tech-1 diver on a boat with divers that had more hours at the back of caves or hanging in deco than I had women, and that is going some!! I had met a couple of the team before and the new introductions were quickly made.

James on the LH Carl

One familiar face was Iain Smith who I had done the GUE Cave 1 course with in January this year. Iain had driven overnight from Glasgow, via London to join the dive. It has to be said that man has whiter legs than can even be explained by his Gaelic genes and have no right to be on public display. Long trousers next time Iain, please! Also for reasons unknown, even to him, he left his scooter in the car.

And as we sat in sunshine at the quayside in Weymouth watching Bob, Andy and Joe loading scooters and Clare and Al assembling their RB80's was a great sight.

As a side note I had read a great deal about the RB80 but had never seen one in the flesh so thanks to Clare and Al for taking the time to talk me through that amazing piece of kit.

Bob Cooper :)

A couple of suggestions were made by Grahame for the days dive and the wreck LH Carl (LH Carl) was agreed. The LH Carl was sunk on the same day as the Salsette by the same U-Boat.

Realistically, the only plan Gareth and I had to make was who ran the deco, who was going to shoot the bag and how much deco did we want to do. Easy, so easy in fact that Gareth decided I should run it (with his reputation, this may have been the safer option!!). The controlling factor for me at the moment is my deco SAC, so we agreed 35 mins max deco. We would know when we hit the wreck what that would mean in terms of bottom time at our average depth. Easy, no complex plans on slates or two different computers on each arm, just make a plan based on what you know, then adjust as you need using simple easy to remember patterns. Min gas was worked out before we jumped in using the sounder depth from Grahame and didn’t need to be adjusted when we got to the bottom.

The really bad weather we had over the weekend!

The plan was simple, Clare and Al would hit the water first (what’s the point of having a rebreather if you aren’t going to extend your bottom time!) Greg and Iain would go in next, then GLOC and I, with Andy, Bob and Joe as the scooter squadron bringing up the rear.

This is where I hoisted my newbie status flag high above my like a majestic banner. All my dry kit is in a mesh bag under my seat, Grahame is pouring buckets of water over me to cool me down and the water is soaking my mesh bag and all my worldly goods. Bugger.

During the final pre-dive prep Joe had a problem with his scooter and rather than muck around with that, he just left his scooter buddies and joined myself & GLOC. No discussion of what gas or what computer or what profile, just minimum gas and what length deco we had planned. Joe gets the 'armchair' position or as we like to call it, 'Lucky Pierre'.

Unfortunately on hitting the water Joe had a primary light problem and decided to call his dive at the surface. I secretly suspect he had just spied another pack of hob-nobs that had gone unnoticed on the way out and was securing the lot!

So Gareth and I enjoyed a cracking 30 minute dive, with a swim through, great viz and some really top photographs.

The wreck sits in 54m and rises to 47m from the seabed. The bow section is quite intact with a nice swim through on the deck below the winch gear. The deck below that could be penetrated but it silted out really quickly with rusticles dropping down and GLOC turned around before we had gone more than a couple of metres in. After a few laps and exploring we wondered where everyone else was so we moved aft past the vertical hull break to find the boilers, engine and aft section some 15m across the seabed. Unfortunately we only found the boilers and stern section with a few minutes of bottom time left. After 30 mins of bottom time, with great viz and some cracking photo opportunities, I thumbed it and ran the ascent and deco. We hit the surface 40mins later feeling good with sunshine on my face. (Sunshine is not a euphemism for anything else before someone makes a comment!!)

Despite learning a little lesson in properly securing (and removing!) a catheter, the deco was easy and seemed to fly past, albeit a little damp!!

Kit offloaded and whizzed across to Scimitar Diving (Scimitar Diving Ltd Hardboat Diving Made Easy) for the gas fills and off we went for a curry in the Balti House where we were joined by Vonny. Many thanks to Vonny for putting us up for a good nights rest. I hope that was your cat we left asleep on the sofa.

Greg and James on the SS Chateau Yeams

The day couldn't have gone better especially as the trip out provided an excellent photo opportunity to show how big Bob Cooper’s nose really is!!

The following day we had a planned ropes off of 11:15 to the same area as conditions the day before were excellent. Unfortunately this departure meant that Iain was going to have to knock the trip on the head as he had to drive all the way back to Glasgow to start a shift at 07:00! Iain, top tips, look at the tide times before committing to a 900-mile round trip and you might get 2 dives in!!

The wreck we were going to was the SS Chateau Yeams/Yquem/Youem (Chateau Yquem SS WRECK). The prospect of getting onto a less common wreck with almost perfect dive conditions set spirits high and we were not disappointed. Chateau Yquem SS was traveling from Dunkirk to Barry in ballast, when torpedoed on the 30th June 1917. She sits upright at 44 metres standing 16 metres proud.

The Badger emerging from his hole on the SS Chateau Yeams

Where the shot went in there was a large mono-filament net draped over the port side but fortunately with the 10m+ visibility and the high levels of ambient light, this was easily avoided. We went down the port side moving forward to the bow section which stands some 15m proud of the seabed at 47m. Over the bow section which has collapsed crane towers and winch gear, through a couple of swim-throughs/companion ways and towards the stern which has almost disappeared. The scooter team came buzzing past on a couple of occasions. The rear deck was fairly collapsed but Clare and Al found the bridge section and went inside. Maybe next time.

30 minutes was up and I thumbed the dive; GLOC ran the deco, and I had the bag. For many this might seem like the 'perfect storm' of team responsibilities, but the pessimists were proved wrong. A slightly stuck spool was expertly caught on its way down by Greg who had joined us for that dive.
Greg and James on the bow of the SS Chateau Yeams
We were not the only team 'challenged' by a spool; Bob Cooper discovered that he had exactly 20m of line on his. The only problem was he was at 21m. Thankfully his right arm (for reasons best left unmentioned here) is 1m long and the stop was held, albeit with Bob looking like he was flagging down a bus.

A nice ride home in the last afternoon sun and fish and chips on the quayside rounded of a really great couple dives with a top team of divers. Thanks again to Grahame for skippering.

For me it was something of a personal milestone and achievement in a diving career that had started for me on holiday in Sharm in 2002 and has now afforded me some of the most amazing dive experiences. It was chance to put into practice more of the core philosophies and skills of GUE diving that I had started to learn with Fundamentals last October and Cave 1 in January. I believe that it shows the training offered by GUE and its instructors not only gave me a certification, but actually equipped me with the skills and confidence to safely undertake the sort of dives I want to do and really enjoy a cracking first Tech 1 weekend.