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Photos from Ropes Anchors Class for North Carolina Technical Rescue
Dark water diving initially to me was night diving. I have done a few dives in semi clear water with the worst being a few feet of visibility. Recently we did a training dive at Bear Lake and I got to experience what dark water diving was like. It was a sunny day, as we descended with our lights. At about 20' it was almost pitch black and I needed a light to see anything. As we went further down on the anchor line visibility went to near 0. I could not see my hand or anything else for that matter. Even with my trusty dive light there
I recently had the opportunity to dive in one of our local rivers, the Tuckasegee. It was very close to dark by the time we arrived. There were three divers affording us a safety diver and several SRT (Swift-water Rescue Technicians) on the bank. Since at least two of us had never been diving in this kind of current much less in the dark it seemed we were well prepared.
It was a cold night in the 50's and the water temp according to my Suunoto gage was 43 degrees. I had all of my 7mm gear on but could certainly feel the cold water. One difficulty I hadn't thought about was getting myself in a 7mm suit with booties, no less, down to the dive site with my equipment. We had some dive handlers that helped but it was a careful stroll down the embankment thru heavy brush to get to the waters edge. Not something that was particularly fun in a wetsuit and booties.
After getting our gear on someone who knew how to do this gave us some quick advice and made it a point that it was just that, advice. He reiterated a few times that it was an acquired skill diving in current and navigating to the bottom. I of course had no real idea what he was talking about I just knew I was going to do my best to apply what he was saying once I got out there.
We had a target area about 25 feet out in the river we wanted to go over well. Initially I went up stream a bit then attempted to descend and begin the search. I quickly floated downstream past our target area and had to swim to the edge and walk back up. Not something with scuba gear on your back you would like to do many times in a row.
Second try, I went a bit further and tried to visualize my speed vs where I went at to determine if I was going to over shoot. First I dipped down into the water and completely emptied my BC, snagged an additional 8 lbs of weight as I walked by the bag, and found the secret. What is that you ask, well head down butt up is the best way I know to describe it. I forced my head down to the bottom. The current took care of getting the rest of me planted well enough with the pressure of the current pushing down on me to hold me in place. I could now crawl around and examine the bottom.
First small problem that arises. Am I even at the target site? I browsed around for a bit and realized if i didn't keep my body laid out the way it was I would be whisked off downstream. Struggling around I finally noticed some light from the bank and used the lines of wash to establish I was near slightly upstream from the target area. The important point here is use the lines of the wash underwater to use a parallels along with light source on bank to tell where you are. I searched much of the target area and was able to hand around for about 10 minutes before making a mistake move that whisked me away quickly downstream.
Walking back up, I shared what I had learnt and headed back upstream. This time I perfectly "landed" the target area and reproduced it several times until I ran out of air and we packed up for the night. With each dive I got better and better at managing the current, my position, and my dive light. The only scary part of the night came while I was at about 15 feet searching. I was windshield wiper searching the bottom and suddenly a bright rainbow flash was suddenly right next to my head. It was a 12-16 inch rainbow trout swimming happily right next to my head. I almost spit the reg from my mouth. He just hovered around me like I was supposed to be in the water.
After playing with diving in a pool for over a year I finally got to do my open water and high altitude certification.
Pool Skills - We all met up at the pool which had been ultra chlorinated. Many of us didn't have all the gear we needed such as weights etc and had to beg borrow and steal. Everything went great until we got to the survival swim. MySelf and my brother had been going to the lake for years. Doing stunts and such from an inter-tube or wakeboard. We considered ourselves fish in water. At this moment however we were a few minutes into the swim and both on the verge of drowning. A simple skill neither of us really knew we didn't know. After we both gave up, winded and beaten down, the instructor gets us back in the water demonstrates the proper technique and sudden we were masters at the survival swim. It was simple don't exhale all the air which makes you float. The doggie paddle wasn't needed.
Day 1 of Open Water Dives
Lake Jocassee in South Carolina was our dive spot. We went over all the gear and about signals etc. We were all taking in as much as possible as its a lot to remember. Not remembering could be a real problem when you are 40' with no way to talk other than with your hands. I learned a lot in the first 20 minutes of diving. We had one that had trouble clearing at first. We did three dives this day all simple dives mixed with skills. Buoyancy seemed to be the big issue with everyone. Otherwise it was uneventful and a fun day of diving.
Day 2 of Open Water Dives
Lake Jocassee in South Carolina was our dive spot once again. The day started off with some humor and some engineering. Someone, I won't say who, put there first stage on the tank and turned on the air. Unfortunately it was backwards and the air pressure was so great we couldn't get the yoke to release. After some engineering, ribbing, and laughs it came off and was put back the right way. There were some equipment struggles at first at the surface so the instructor asked me to go own down with him for a bit. I was really surprised after getting to about 38' when he signaled for my emergency ascent skill. I wasn't ready for it but didn't' panic and completed the skill well. I think the only skill I haven't mastered at this point is always remembering to blow bubbles when the reg wasn't in my mouth. I forget to do this a lot so I've been spitting it out and bubbling to try and get it to become instinctive. Another person goes so I go down a few feet to watch. They did fine and the day was starting off really good. Then the same person that put there gear together backwards was up. He started his ascent on queue then after a few feet up panicked. Spit the reg out and did the quickest hand over hand up a rope I have ever seen. I'm just glad it wasn't me. After the skills were complete we dove down to the "Junk" and actually for the first time just dove for the fun of it. Me and my dive buddy were open to dive around the junk and actually pay attention to what was around us rather than worry about skills. This is certainly what I signed up for and it was a great day of fun. Our instructor was great, he really knew what he was doing and really did a great job of showing us what do do and expect.
I recently got the opportunity to become a open water certified diver. Prior to getting certified, after many trips to the pool to test how I might like diving, it didn't take long for me to realize its one of the most interesting and fun activities I have ever done. It requires a lot of things to go right and little to go wrong to ruin your day.
During the pool visits prior to starting the certification process I got to experience a lot of " things going wrong". Some of the things that happened are extremely funny now but were most likely terrifying moments. In the end the pre-dive experience certainly showed me what not to do and how crazy a bunch of guys can get when unsupervised and not knowing any better.
One of the most memorial moments is all of us sitting around the pool switching out tanks when sudden it felt like an plane had crashed into the ground and forced the earth around us to shake. We all looked at each other then a the huge cloud of bubbles coming up from the pool. After putting two and two together we realized that a diver was in the pool, alone and something had gone terribly wrong. Luckily the person at the bottom of the pool knew it was time to surface and didn't let the explosion underwater thwart his exit from certain death. After he was deemed ok we figured out that if your gauge o-ring seal decides to rupture and spit your gauge off the end of the hose, it results in a thunderous boom as well as sudden loss of air. Lessons learned here are don't dive by yourself even with other people on the surface and if you suspect bad gear fix it. They likely won't make it to you in time if something does happen. If air is leaking from a part profusely its more likely it will completely fail once underwater.
Another event that comes to mind was the horse play that occurs when people that should know better get together. For everyone's reference, pulling a regulator out of someone's mouth in three feet of water could potentially drown that person. Even if all they have to do is stand up. The sudden panic from water rushing into ones mouth after being in the water for the first time with scuba gear will most certainly end the scuba experience. It was admittedly one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed and most would agree was well deserved punishment for things this individual had done in the past.
In looking back, I got to experence a lot going wrong prior to acutally be trained properly on how to handle it. I knew what to do when my air suddenly stopped, minus cursing everyone around me to make sure I let the person know that turned my air off underwater I was upset about it. I quickly learned not to panic because panic was going to cost some ribbing by my peers.
In closing, if you haven't tried diving please goto your nearest NAUI or PADI instruction site. Book some pool time and get your open water certifcation. If you chose the Pre-101 method be warned it will be tried by fire event filled with some panic and laughing.