Yes, they’ve arrived! The photos I have been waiting for so I could show and tell everything about my scuba dive course. Pull up a chair – oh wait, you’re already seated? Well, then let’s get started!
The first week was all about the theory, classes at night far from home, learning about decompression stops and ‘It’s a mask, not goggles’ and ‘It’s a cylinder, not a tank’ and calculating dive times. Our instructor at Wild About Diving, Mike, cracked me up when he explained about getting the bends – when you rise to the surface too quickly and the gases in your bloodstream, which had been compressed at depth suddenly expand too fast: it’s exactly what happens when you open a bottle of fizzy water. If you don’t do it very gradually, it bubbles over!
This explanation from DAN covers the technical basics well:
During a dive, the body tissues absorb nitrogen from the breathing gas in proportion to the surrounding pressure. As long as the diver remains at pressure, the gas presents no problem. If the pressure is reduced too quickly, however, the nitrogen comes out of solution and forms bubbles in the tissues and bloodstream. This commonly occurs as a result of violating or approaching too closely the diving table limits, but it can also occur even when accepted guidelines have been followed.
Bubbles forming in or near joints are the presumed cause of the joint pain of a classical “bend.” When high levels of bubbles occur, complex reactions can take place in the body, usually in the spinal cord or brain. Numbness, paralysis and disorders of higher cerebral function may result. If great amounts of decompression are missed and large numbers of bubbles enter the venous bloodstream, congestive symptoms in the lung and circulatory shock can then occur.
So, guess who simply cannot open any fizzy drinks any more without cracking up. (Snigger! Heehee! I’m bending the bottle!) Humour is a good way of burning information into the brain.
Then, that following Saturday it was time to kit up and go into the pool. First we had to just get in with our normal swimwear and swim a gazillion lengths, followed by treading water. I guess this is to make sure we could actually swim, and were fit enough to handle the experience. I got squeezed into a brand new wetsuit which immediately made me feel ten pounds lighter and is seriously the BEST discovery ever for keeping you warm in the water.
- Tadaaaa! (Photo by Linda)
We were briefed on regulators (the mouthpiece you breathe through) and alternate air sources, how to connect the BCD (buoyancy control device) to the cylinder, etc. – and what we’d be doing in the pool. By the time we got in, we were hot enough that we were looking forward to the cool water!
Scuba kit is wickedly heavy, let me tell you.
Yeah, baby! (Photo by Linda)
That’s my son next to me. He’s been qualified for ages, so he was part of the refresher course team diving with us newbies. Can you tell he’s got a wild sense of humour? =) It felt great diving with him and also with my niece (newbie) and her dad (refresher).
Of course the main aim of learning to dive is to be as safe as possible under the water. After all, us humans weren’t really designed for this, so we’re always explorers in alien territory. That means not only preparing and double-checking everything before you enter the water, but also knowing exactly what to do in the event of a mishap.
Folks, this was intense!
We learned how to find your regulator when it gets ripped from your mouth – with the mask on, your scope of vision is very limited underwater and you can’t afford to search around for your regulator while you are desperate for oxygen. So there is a technique to locate it blindly. That was still fine.
Then we learned what to do if your mask accidentally receives a knock and runs full of water. We had to do partial mask clears and full mask clears, in other words: learn to clear a mask underwater when it has run full of water halfway, and also when it is completely filled up with water. We also had to take it off completely, put it back on, and then clear it. Did I mention this all happens underwater?
I nearly drowned. Three times.
I can honestly say this part of the course was the scariest of all for me. The trick is to keep breathing through your regulator, evenly, continuously, calmly. And then blow air through your nose while tilting the mask up, which drives out the water. No matter how deep underwater you are.
The first time I didn’t understand that I had to exhale through my nose! So what happened? The mask didn’t clear, I got water into my nose, and started coughing. Underwater, yes. (It is perfectly possible to cough through your regulator – in fact, if you don’t, you’re in big trouble because the body’s survival mechanism takes over as you instinctively gasp for air.) Swallowing water signals only one thing to the brain: GO UP TO THE SURFACE AND BREATHE!!!
The first time Mike took me up and let me breathe while explaining the process to me again. Then down we went for a second try. I just couldn’t do it, so I got another lungful of water. And I couldn’t go up the way my body was screaming for me to. Mike held my hand, fingers interlocked, and calmed me down, demonstrating again while I was coughing and spluttering and swallowing more water … and finally I did it. This was in the shallow end of the pool. When we had to repeat the exercise in the deep end of the pool, 3 metres down, I nearly cried. That suddenly looked like a LOT of water above my head to not succeed in this skill. But after some more spluttering (I’m a slow learner when panic sits right under the surface) I finally DID it. I think of all the divers there I was the proudest … and the most relieved.
The Sunday after that we went to Miracle Waters for our first two ‘proper’ dives. Visibility in this flooded open mine is never very good. And we had the rare honour of picking a rainy day where the visibility hit a new all-time low. Diving in green, silty water where you can hardly see 3 metres ahead of you is extremely disorienting and somewhat claustrophobic. Panic sat very close underneath the surface. And you guessed it, we had to do all the skills we had learned in the swimming pool once more.
So, wouldn’t I almost botch the whole mask clear AGAIN! But I finally managed it, and now I know I really can do it – I just need to stay calm.
The dam at Miracle Waters (Photo by me)
Those two floats out there in the water are what divers use as markers. We swam to the blue one further away. Below each float are chains suspending platforms at different levels. We descended to the first platform, equalizing our ears, practised buoyancy (which is essential when you want to swim underwater without fighting sinking or rising too much) and did those all-important skills.
Last Sunday we did the following two dives there again, and even descended to the second platform, but with visibility just as bad as the previous time, we couldn’t really explore deeper to where other divers say there are a submerged bus, helicopter, boat and all kinds of other interesting stuff. We did find the submerged swimming pool where a mommy fish was protecting her tiny, tiny babies.
Afterwards we felt so happy for having
survived it qualified that we went for breakfast on the verandah, feeling very proud of ourselves. I am so proud of my niece for doing everything so well, and very thankful that she accompanied me on this course. (It helps when you have to stay calm for the sake of others. Just saying.)
I had to take a photo of the steel plate leaning against the verandah rail, with a psalm cut out of it. Beautiful and very apt, given that I had had to exercise a lot of faith underwater.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91. (Photo by me)
Here’s a close-up:
Beautiful inspiration - I'd love this in my house! (Photo by me)
I wish I could report that I was the life of this whole scuba training party, swinging into the whole thing like Tarzan from a tree branch. But I did face my fears. And I kept going – and that is the important part.
Thank you to Mike who is the best. dive. instructor. ever. Someone who can keep me alive underwater when I panic is someone I will follow into deeper waters, too.
Thank you to my sponsor for the course, giving me this Christmas-birthday-Christmas-birthday gift. =)
Thank you to my young warrior and my niece for diving with me.
Thank you to Linda for taking such incredible photos!
It’s been amazing, and I’m looking forward to diving where I can find ray mantas, sea turtles and all the other pretties one day.