Saturday, 6 September 2008

Tech 2 Course Report: Day 1

Day 1.

Well, either GUE has undergone a fundamental shift in it’s approach to training, or at the very least the UK training director has a very different style than this team has encountered previously. Previously, various members of this team have been threatened with verbal assassination, clubbing with a stick, and on one memorable day, stabbing by Tech instructors in the past. Not anymore. Now, the instructions is more of a specialised coaching. The instructors listen, and give individual guidance. The course is more about you and your requirements, albeit within the usual strict performance requirements of a GUE course.

But then, Tech2 is a bit of a weird course. There is a depth limit on the qualification, but the course gives you the tools to plan and execute pretty much any open circuit dive you care to invest the time and energy in. The drills described in the course materials are there as guidelines, and are modified by the instructors to suit your specific learning needs. The course materials themselves are well prepared, and reviewed by most of the senior team at GUE. We got the feeling that at the Tech2 level, we were being brought more into the fold than previously. It’s a fascinating experience.

Anyway, we all rocked up at the NDC to do the first day. Richard Lundren (RL) is the official instructor, and so did the official safety briefings and introduction to the course. As Rich Walker (RW) was interning on the course, he would be delivering most of the actual content under the ever watchful eye of RL, with RL chipping in here and there to add a different perspective, or give the benefit of his frankly ludicrous amount of diving experience.

On land, we walked through gas switching and stowing procedures. These were obviously the same as at Tech1 level. Well, not quite. Whilst the procedure was obviously identical, there was a great deal more finesse put into it, with checks and balances here and there, all designed to reduce the risk of swapping to the wrong gas when you have a potentially large number of bottles clipped to you. We went through it mentally a few times before moving on. We then discussed how to handle multiple bottles. RW has a great style of doing this, which I remembered from my fundamentals course with him. Contrary to popular belief, GUE instructors by and large do not say “Do things this way because I say so”. What they, and especially RW do is to let the group discuss it, and use the benefit of experience to point out potential flaws in your argument. Pretty soon we had come to the ideal solution( to fit in with the rest of the DIR configuration and procedures obviously) for wearing two bottles, and a leash containing one or more other bottles. We then had quite a discussion about how all of these boltsnaps should be arranged on chest and hip d rings, which I guess sounds like overkill until you try it in the water and realise that unless you do have a robust solution for doing it, usually means you end up cross-clipping things and getting into a nightmare of stress.

We then talked about how to rotate deco bottles, to bring bottles off the leash and onto you, and take bottles off you and onto the leash. Again, a robust procedure, which we practiced out of the water for a while, and spent the rest of the day doing in the water. For those interested, a summary might be unclip the tail of the stage you want to put on the leash, and unclip the leash whilst your hand is already back there. Bring the leash to your front. Unclip the nose of the stage you want to put on the leash, and clip it onto the leash. Now unclip the bottle that was already on the leash, and nose clip it to your chest d ring. Finally, take the leasg round and clip it onto your hip, and tail clip the stage whilst your hand is there. To those that think that sounds complicated, it’s done with a minimum of movement, and makes a lot more sense when you see it. To those to whom that sounds simple, remember you can’t see much of what is happening on your hip, and moving all of these bottles around plays holy hell with buoyancy and trim.

Ahh buoyancy. Deep joy. We all struggled with that today. 3 heavy bottles attached – more gas in the wing. That meant it dumped from the wing quicker. So coming up to stops , we had to relearn how much gas todump to bring you to a stop without overshooting it or dumping too much. This took a couple of dives, and is something we need to keep working on.

Once all of the theory was out of the way, we jumped in for a 2 and a half hour dive. We descended to 6 metres and did valve drills and S drills. Again RW was looking for more finesse. Now cam our first bottle rotation and ascent. Well, we didn’t hit the surface, but I got lost in the procedure and just stressed out. We recovered it but it wasn’t by any means pretty. Descend again, and this time we go to ten metres, and start laying line. Like Tech1, the line laying is a distraction to give you something to do, rather than keep a concerned eye on the instructor. Mr bubble gun appeared several times and made things fail. Right posts failed, left posts failed, deco bottles failed, stage bottles failed. Masks disappeared, people went out of air. It was Tech1 all over again, but with more bottles. And considerably less stress. I suspect partly the lack of stress is down to the fact that we have moved on as divers since Tech1. But part of it is definitely the more relaxed teaching style.

Once RW was satisfied he couldn’t fail anything else, we went into an ascent.

8 metres. Start the clock. Wait 1 minute, move to 7 metres. Wait one minute. Move to 6 metres. Switch team to 21 metre bottle. 3 minutes deco during which to do the bottle rotation. Wait 1 minute. Move to 4 metres. Switch back to backgas ready for the switch to Oxygen. . Stow the 21metre bottle hose. Move to 3 metres. Switch to Oxygen. 3 mins deco. Clear up hoses, tidy up lightcords. 1 minute at 2 metres. 1 minute at 1 metre. Surface.

That became our ascent for the day, and we did it several times. At one point RL stepped in and said we needed some more time doing rotations. So we dropped to 6 metres and just rotated. And rotated, and rotated. At the beginning of the dives the rotations were just terrible, but got smoother and smoother as we went on. Partly this was us just getting better and better at it. But partly it was breathing down the bottom stage, as moving an AL80 full of nitrox onto a leash in front of you is a nightmare as it is so heavy. On a real multi bottle mix dive, it would be full of mix rather than nitrox and would behave very differently.

5 o clock and we left the water for a debrief. RW announced there was enough there for him to work with. Tech1 skills were there but rusty and the bottle rotations had improved during the course of the day. Plan for the next day would be more finesse of V and S drills, and tighten teamwork during failures and ascents. This was no surprise to us, as we had a pretty good idea of what had gone well and what needed some work.

On the last GUE course I did I sat in my car at the end of the first day and gave serious consideration to giving up and driving home. This time, I can’t wait for tomorrow to begin. Apparently, we’re going to dive in something called “the sea” tomorrow. This will all be very new to us, but that’s what courses are for I guess.