Sunday, January 15, 2006


Scuba Lesson #3

I got to the dive shop early so I could buy a wetsuit. I don't need a wetsuit in the warm water of the pool, but I figured if I would be using one in real life, I should get some experience during training. I had planned to try on a few, but after seeing how much work was involved in getting into and out of the first one I tried (which fit well), I just decided to just take that one.

Classroom time was spent reviewing chapters 4-6 of the textbook, then filling out all the training logs and other paperwork needed to get credit for the class.

The in-pool session began with swimming fitness tests. Without any equipment, we had to swim 200 meters without stopping, then tread water for ten minutes. I have not done laps in a pool in about twenty years. The first 25 meters, I was able to swim a pretty good freestyle, but I got tired quickly and so I did the rest with a slow backstroke. (Geez, I'm getting old.) The water treading wasn't too bad, but after those activities, I was exhausted. I was looking forward to getting back in the water with the scuba gear, which is much less strenuous.

But first, I had to put the wetsuit on again. It was hard enough putting it on in the dressing room, but now, with tired arms and wet skin, it was a lot worse. I finally got it on, then had to put on the scuba equipment, which seemed to be about twice as heavy today as it did yesterday.

I did a back roll entry into the water, and then things got easier. You don't use your arms to swim in scuba, so the fact that they had become useless to me didn't matter. My legs cramped up a couple of times, which they hadn't done before during the lessons, but it wasn't too bad. Most of the time, we just floated, which was nice.

It was pretty warm in the wetsuit, and I found that it was slightly more difficult to inhale with the constricted feeling, but it didn't hinder my movement.

We practiced the remaining training tasks. These included "alternate air breathing" (using your buddy's regulator), "hovering" (floating a few feet above the bottom, using breathing to control buoyancy), underwater mask removal and replacement, removing one's BCD underwater and then putting it back on, compass navigation, and "controlled swimming ascent" (ascending to the surface on one breath of air).

I went through two tanks of air during the lesson. Everybody else was still on their first tank at the end of the lesson. I think the wetsuit made me breathe a lot more deeply and often than I normally do.

At the end of all this, I was really tired. After getting out of the pool, I spent about two minutes drinking from the water fountain. My limbs had that wet noodle feeling. Carrying all my gear around was difficult. Taking off the wetsuit took a long time. I spent a couple more minutes at the water fountain before driving home. When I got home, I weighed myself and found that I had lost five pounds today, all presumably from dehydration. Lesson learned: take a break and drink some water once in a while. I also shouldn't have skipped lunch (yes, Kris was pretty stupid today).

That's the end of the lessons in town. To get certified, I'll have to do four dives in a lake or sea. I may take care of that down in Florida next weekend, or I may wait a while. It would be best to do it quickly, but if I decide to wait a few months, I can always take a refresher class.

When I got home, I found Goldfinger on my TiVo. In the opening scene, James Bond comes out of the ocean, dispatches a few bad guys, and plants some explosives. He then removes his diving suit, revealing a tuxedo beneath, and goes to a party to wait for the explosion. I have quite a way to go before I can do all that without needing to guzzle Gatorade afterward.

My scuba class was definitely the "extend-it-for-a-full-semester-so-the-college-students-can-take-it-for-gym-instead-of-basketball" variety.

The scuba instructor was also the men's swim coach and he made sure that everyone could do a 500 meter fitness swim. He was real old school, because he started scuba'ing in the 50s, back when people could die because of a homemade tank compressor introducing CO into the air mix...
Breath Control.. that's going to be a big one once you are out on real dives... at first you need to really focus on your breathing so you don't suck down the tank too quickly. Once you are out in the ocean things can freak you out too.. and your breathing can get away from you... Things like fish you don't want to see.. (barracuda swimming around your boat) jellyfish... sharks.. etc. It's also common to get some vertigo from the pressure changes. On one of my early dives I have a clear memory of swimming along the broken hull of a wreck.. which took me about 10' or so up from where I started.. and I remember watching the 'horizon' line of the ships hull stretching out in front of me.. spinning like I was in a barrel role. It was weird.. and only lasted a few seconds... but it was enough to get my breath rate up and it ended up being a short dive because of it.

So just stay calm... especially if you get in trouble.. sorta like flying.. but with a limited air supply. =] FYI.. I got the basic cert before high school.. then got the advanced open water in college.. and I've not lived near the ocean since.. =\ With the new job I've been thinking about changing that though.. I'd probably get one of those rebreather setups... they were just coming out when I was in college.. about 4k back then... no idea what they have now.
I've decided I want at least one more day of practice before going out on the ocean. With hindsight, I wish I'd bought the wetsuit a day or two earlier, so I could get used to it.

I control my breathing pretty well when I am just hovering or kneeling on the bottom. But as soon as I start some other task, I start breathing harder and ascending. I need to work on that.

I probably could do the certification dives this coming weekend, without the additional practice, but I don't want to be the overconfident guy who screws up the dive for everyone else. Also, I think if I get a refresher in a few weeks and then go on next month's trip, everything will sink in (no pun intended) better than it has after this one weekend.
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