Tec 40 and 45 course review

So in between being very busy with day to day DLL life there have been rumblings in the belly of the beast with regard to adding the full range of PADI tec courses to the already huge repertoire of courses already on the recreational menu.

I had the pleasure of being guided through the Tec40 and Tec45 programmes this summer and I am writing to share my experiences and allow you to see it from the point of view of someone actually going through the process of becoming a fledgling technical diver as opposed the deep sea gods who dwell in the realms of instructorhood….

The knowledge development session kicked off the course which basically entailed me being sat down on the floor of the classroom with a twinset strapped to my back with my head full of new ways of doing things and planning dives. However it didn’t take long for me to realise that it actually all made logical sense and the new view of the diving that had been imparted on me if anything made me see recreational single tank diving in a whole new light too.

So Alex and I (and Jen – if anyone remembers the avengers  photo) trotted off to Wraysbury where I strapped on the twins and a stage and jumped in the water. After the initial fumbling attaching the clips on the stage to the harness we descended. It became immediately apparent just how nice it is to dive this configuration.

Three divers

The Avengers!

Think back to the days when you first strapped a tank to your back and jumped in the pool  – remember that feeling of the weight of the cylinder pulling you to one side or the other? Naturally the human body quickly develops muscle memory and the core strength automatically corrects this so after a few hours you are very stable. However beneath the surface those muscles are still working. Once you dive in twins the first thing you notice is just how stable they are, absolutely no rolling in the water and even distribution of weight coupled with the aforementioned good core strength means you feel very relaxed and comfortable quickly.

It does initially feel odd that with every fin kick the stage that is clipped to your left hand side rhythmically swings back and forth a tiny amount, and yeah for sure shut down drills are a bit of a bugger to start with, but these are absolutely nothing compared to doing your first ever no mask swim or a Buddha style hover and the rest of the skills in the course are basically developments of already ingrained abilities as a diver.

The real beauty came with the qualification dives. 40m!

Let’s take a quick look at what it actually means to dive to 40m on a normal recreational dive. 40m underwater with a single tank, single regulator and often a single means of buoyancy. Only 1 of those things needs to fail and we have a very interesting ascent ahead of us!

When we compare that to technical at 40m with 2 (or more) cylinders, 2 regulators, 2 means of buoyancy and a plan, and a back up plan etc….

Both are perfectly acceptable ways of diving into the depths – but which one would you feel more confortable with?

So we descended down the line to 40m and as the faint whiffs of narcosis seeped in I began to really enjoy the dive. The great vis in Chepstow and the huge cavernous walls stretching up to the surface and away on either side it gave the impression of being in a massive cathedral and the nitrogen really adding an edge to the whole experience. As a tec40 diver you are limited to no more than 10 minutes of deco and so it was with a heavy heart that we began our ascent to our first deco stop depth of 21m and our switch to 50% oxygen to add conservatism to our decompression schedule.

After a mere 10 minutes we surfaced and I was elated to have added another plastic card to my quiver.

I was hungry for more as we began tec45 in earnest. The initial skills dives were much of the same but now it was expected that a higher degree of control was to be needed. Shut downs were now timed and neutrally buoyant. The gas sharing drills were now mask-less and SMB deployment and reel use had to be slick….

These dives were where I really began to feel my skills as a diver sky-rocketed and I finished the day at Vobster feeling great. Things the 3 musketeers (David, Alex and Maxim) talked about endlessly started making sense rather than sounded like a foreign language. Everything was falling into place and where I may have stumbled before I didn’t even take a second look at, and my level of knowledge especially concerning planning and what is expected of me increased infinitely.

By the time of the qualification dives at Chepstow I actually felt like a member of the team; planning and executing a tec dive rather than a student being taken for a dive. We sat down over coffees and discussed the plan and we came to an agreement together regarding bottom time, stop depths, stop times etc. I felt like I had enough knowledge to contribute usefully to the conversations and I actually really enjoyed the process.

The final dive itself still stands out now as one the single best dives of my career. The 4 of us descended the line almost in freefall, the fast yet smooth descent meant we actually had 18 minutes on the bottom which at 45m is pretty damn cool. The great thing about Tec45 is the fact you have unlimited deco and the ability to use up to 100% oxygen to accelerate your stops meaning less time hanging on the line. This effectively means more time doing that actual dive without being penalised so heavily with deco requirements – excellent.

We swam following the wall of Chepstow for what felt like an eternity. Later Alex and I would discuss the effects of narcosis on time perception but whilst on the bottom all I know is that I loved being down there and didn’t want it to end. Although certainly I was not clear headed the great training and preparation we did meant I felt at ease and in control. This feeling of relaxedness and smoothness meant I actually had a pretty good breathing rate and the dive went brilliantly. It will be really interesting to compare the sensation to diving on trimix to the same depth on the course add on.

We returned to the line and after 20 minutes runtime came around we began our ascent to our first stop at 27m. We were all smiles as we ascended to switch depth again and continued upwards, the warm thermocline bringing much relief to numb fingers and Maxim the devil had written a slate to congratulate me whilst hanging out at 6m.

We surfaced in great spirits and went for much needed curry and beer.

Attacked by an Undersuit

Ah Autumn and a young man’s fancy turns to how to protect his delicate parts from the bracing effects of declining water temperatures.
As the leaves begin to turn yellow and the epic 3 month long ramming of Christmas down your throat begins so does the start of the drop in water temperature at the coast and inland sites. Fortunately for us the water doesn’t start to really get cold until December because the water, warmed during the Summer lags behind the air in terms of temperature. Usually the coldest time of the year to dive is January and February with October and November usually absolutely fine.

A surreptitious photo of someone diving in Vobster in January in a shortie wetsuit. note the puce colour of the skin post dive. This article is not aimed at this person.

If you really want to keep warm then you’ll need a drysuit. This isn’t just about being warm in the water it’s also really important outside because you can stay warm and dry between dives with no having to change back into a wet wetsuit which isn’t really all that pleasant even somewhere like the Red Sea. But the drysuit isn’t necessarily what’s going to keep you warm, what you choose to wear under the suit is just as important in keeping you toasty in the water.
So first of a quick recap from your Open Water Course. Many people believe wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a layer of water between you and the neoprene which your body warms up and then that keeps you warm. This isn’t strictly true. The neoprene is what keeps you warm being waterproof and full of tiny bubbles. This acts in a similar way to blubber by insulating you against the cold water. The thicker it is the more insulation you have and the longer you’ll stay warm. The wetsuit must be tight fitting because it is actually by minimising the flush through or pooling of the water that it works.
Drysuits work differently by, strangely enough, being dry. By sealing around the neck and wrists they create a waterproof seal. You then inflate the suit with air and air, being a poor conductor then insulates you. However, just like a duvet the thicker or more efficient your undersuits are the more air they’ll trap and the warmer you’ll be.
A crap drysuit

A crap drysuit yesterday

So therefore the warmest combination would be to have a thick 7mm drysuit with a big sleeping bag style undersuit beneath it trapping loads of air and keeping you warm. Except this isn’t the most practical of solutions for 2 main reasons. First off all a drysuit and undersuit combo like this is incredibly buoyant. You will probably need a metric tonne of lead to sink you. After strapping the lead on and starting your descent you will quickly find yourself facing another problem: compression. You all remember what happens to a balloon as you take it under the water, well the same thing happens to all those tiny bubbles in the neoprene and also the air in the sleeping bag suit compresses too. So suddenly you’re at depth in a suit that is now probably closer to being 4mm thick and much less buoyant with the undersuit compressed to lycra against your skin. You’re now colder than you were at the surface but more importantly you’re now hideously overweighted. Your giant weightbelt has now become dangerously loose to the point that you are currently wearing it low slung beneath the arse in the style of a hateful Shoreditch hipster.
The weightbelt falls off, you rocket to the surface and it’s exactly what you deserve for thinking Ed Sheeran is cool and only ever having one hand free because the other one is holding onto your constantly falling down trousers, you idiots.
idiots wearing saggy jeans

Some idiots yesterday

Deep breath. Anyway, drysuits and undersuits have fortunately come a long way. Neoprene drysuits are often made of compressed neoprene now, like the Bare XCD2s which give you flexibility and a bit of warmth without all the compression issues of standard neoprene. Other suits are trilaminates like the Whites. These have the advantage of being super light weight and flexible but usually require slightly more in the way of undersuits to keep you warm.
Undersuits, therefore, must be a balance between bulk, warmth, buoyancy and compression. First off most decent undersuits are made of a wicking material. This means that water coming  into contact with the fabric is quickly absorbed to the surface of the material. This is important in a drysuit because even when you’re cold you’ll still sweat and this sweat can’t go anywhere. Therefore wicking materials will stop that sweat from sitting against your skin which makes you feel cold. Cotton is useless at this kind of thing so wearing a cotton t shirt under a wicking undersuit will actually make you colder because the t shirt will just stay damp against your skin.
Fourth element have been in the diving undersuit market for years and the almost ubiquitous presence of their products at UK dive sites is a testament to how well they work. Probably the most popular set are the arctics that are now available in a 2 or 1  piece. Combined with a  xerotherm undersuit or drybase layer (they do work a lot better with a base layer) they are very warm as well as not being overly bulky.
A recent addition to the fold has been the Halo 3D undersuit. This is an amazing piece of kit. Essentially made of arctic material this has been upgraded with panels of incompressible material on the chest and thighs, these are the areas that a diver swimming horizontally experiences the most compression of the undersuit against the skin. The panels on the Halo stop this from happening and the suit really does keep you incredibly warm. There is also the added advantage of being able to sidle up to people at the dive site and whisper ‘I’m Batman’ in their ear in your best growly voice.
Halo 3D undersuit

A Halo 3D providing musculature to even the skinniest of bodies.

To put all this in perspective, I am a diving wuss when it comes to cold, the water has to be approaching body temperature to tempt me out of my drysuit but with my Halo and drybase layer on I can happily dive in 3 deg of water in winter.
You do need to wash your undersuits too, although avoid fabric softeners (easy advice for most men- what exactly is it for?) I recall a week diving in the red sea after which I came straight back to another full weekends teaching. On Sunday evening I was physically attacked in the van by a set of Fourth Element drybase layers. Fortunately I was able to subdue them, they were only disorientated and scared and reacting in the only way they knew how to their new found sentience. I took to hiding them in a shed in my garden before eventually they killed the next door neighbours daughter. After that they ran away only appearing now and again by turns to taunt me and to lament their existence. Eventually I was able to track them down to Antartica where we were both killed in an avalanche.
The undersuit attacks

Packing the kit away downstairs after a busy weekend

Anyway, the point I think I was trying to make was that now might be the time to think about shoring up your undergarments or trading that wetsuit in for a drysuit. And make sure you wash your thermals too. I’m just thinking about your safety after all.

Scapa Flow Trip Report 2012

The recent DLL trip to Scapa Flow was 3 years in the making (for me at least). In August of 2009 I was a newly qualified Advanced Open Water diver, with no UK diving experience other than Wrasybury, Vobster and a drinking weekend down in Weymouth. I was still very much on the fence about UK diving (cold water and not-so-good viz?!?!).  I signed up to the 2009 DLL Scapa trip with zero expectations, and a high degree of trepidation at spending a week of diving in the middle of nowhere, with 11 other people, most of whom I had never met.

Divers eating

Divers from our Scapa Flow 2009 trip

That trip was a watershed moment. I returned to London after the week in Scapa certain of the following:

  1. UK diving is awesome, if Scapa was anything to go by.
  2. I wanted to do Technical diving – I had never heard of technical diving before the trip, but spent the trip wishing I could be like Andris and Matt (newly qualified ART-ers at the time) with all their dive planning geeking, getting into the water before the rest of us, getting out after the rest of us.
  3. The DLL bunch was tres cool – Those from the 2009 trip are firm friends and I am now a fully qualified fixture at DLL trips and events.
  4. I needed to buy a drysuit – At this point the only dive kit I owned was a mask and a Suunto Gekko I bought especially for the trip.  I rented a drysuit. I used 3 on the trip. They all leaked on me.

Fast forward to 2012, I’ve since qualified to Normoxic (open circuit), and recently took the plunge into rebreather (closed circuit) territory. And I now have all the accompanying kit – including a drysuit! I had been nagging Alex for a Scapa trip in the subsequent years. I was chomping at the bit to revisit Scapa.

Diver in a rebreather

3 years on and Aileen’s now diving with a rebreather!

Scapa Flow is one of those unique diving sites where the forces of nature and man have coalesced resulting in what is a truly remarkable dive location. Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands that is naturally sheltered by surrounding islands, and it has a sandy bottom and average depth of around 30 metres. Its natural features make it one of the great natural harbours/anchorages of the world and it is best known as the site of UK’s chief naval base in World Wars I and II. For the diving obsessed, this means wrecks! Lots of them! In great diving conditions (by UK standards) – great viz and little or no current! The cream of the Scapa crop is a fleet of WWI German Warships scuttled at the end of the war.

We started our long journey to Scapa one Friday morning and finally arrived in Stromness on Saturday afternoon, following a drive up the length of the UK, an overnight stop in random Pithlochry, and a ferry ride from Thurso. If there’s one downside to Scapa, it is its distance from civilisation. Though having said that, this could be considered a good thing – it filters out the unwilling and therefore unworthy!

Scapa Flow Landscape

View of Scapa Flow from MV Invincible
Photo by Jakub Czeczótka

As a boat of 12 technical divers, we spent the rest of Saturday afternoon in pfaffing bliss, setting up kit all ready for the following morning and the start of the main event – diving!

So did the diving live up to expectations? Hell yeah. From the first dive of the trip, the Coln, a WWI German Cruiser, I was again amazed. The amount of sealife on the wreck was astounding. You could not see the wreck for the fish. Being on a rebreather, I had many a near-miss collision with the odd distracted fish. The wreck was blanketed in soft coral. The 115 metres length of the wreck offered many a swimthrough, lots of crevices and places to explore. At a modest maximum depth of 35 metres, we all got some good bottom time in. An hour and a half later and back on the boat, we were all giddy – and that was our checkout dive!!

Each day we had a new favourite best dive of the trip. On Monday it was Kronprinz Wilhelm, one of 3 WWI German Battleships in Scapa. At 45 metres depth, and 145 metres length, she was deeper, darker and more foreboding. But oh what a set of guns! By Tuesday, the best dive of the trip was the mighty Markgraf, another battleship, sister to the Kronprinz. The Markgraf lies almost completely upturned but it is quite well preserved. Swimming along its hull heading towards the rudders, I marvelled at the scale of the wreck. It kept going and going and going. On Wednesday it was the Karlsruhe, largely broken up, a jumble of nooks and crannies to explore. On Thursday it was the Dresden, another light cruiser. Descend down the shotline onto a massive gun! The wreck had swimthroughs and penetrations galore, and swathes of soft coral blanketing the wreck. On Friday, our last day of diving, Ian let us pick two of our favourites to dive again – we were spoilt for choice but went with the Coln and the Dresden, the perfect way to cap 6 days of the best of UK diving. Making our ascent from the Coln we were even visited by a juvenile seal out for a snack!

MV Invincible was our home for the week, and Ian and Fiona our hosts. Once we got used to bumping our heads in the cramped quarters, we came to appreciate it for what is was – a great diving operation. Ian ran the boat with a deft hand – providing fills when we needed them, with whatever mix we wanted, happily accommodating both open and closed circuit divers. Fiona kept us nourished – pre-breakfast in the morning before the first dive, a full fry-up breakfast after every morning dive, and a cup of warming homemade soup after the second dive of the day. The boat itself had a large kitting up area, dive lift, drying room, a kitchen and dining area, and 2 bathrooms on deck. Below deck were the 6 cabins, and a lounge equipped with an honesty bar and television/DVD player.

We headed out to Scapa Flow from Stromness Harbour every morning around 8 am, were in the water for Dive 1 by 9am, fed and ready for a snooze by 11:30 am, in the water for Dive 2 by 1 pm, and usually out, all showered and back at port by 3 pm.

Stromness is a quiet little village. We had explored ALL of it by Sunday afternoon.  Our venue for pints and an Olympics catch-up was the Ferry Inn. There is a grocer/baker and Coop in town where we picked up supplies for the lovely dinners we made on the boat (V’s bolognaise, and Kristine’s beef stroganoff).  We managed to find a restaurant (yes one) – the Hamnavoe, which served great seafood, and was the venue for our last supper in Stromness. Stromness also has Scapa Scuba, a very well equipped and friendly dive shop/school. We dropped by the shop most afternoons for the odd bit or bob, and because admit it, we all like looking at shiny new kit.

Outside of Stronmess, we ventured over to Kirkwall to check out the Italian Chapel (a chapel built by Italian prisoners of war in WWII), the Orkney wine company (which does not really make wine – it makes specialty liquors from Orkney sourced ingredients), and a few of the group managed to check out the Highland distillery. Kirkwall was also where we went for our curry night of the week. Mostly we spent our evenings chilling, drinking on deck enjoying the stillness of the evenings and serenity of the bay, chatting about the great diving and rare mishap – only 1 really, a certain someone, let’s call him “Zippy C”, forgot to zip up his dry suit before jumping in.

The week zoomed by. Before we knew it we were packing up and getting ready for the journey back down to London. We had lived in a wonderful diving bubble for a week, far away from the bustle of civilisation. I returned back to London, where mullets have not been seen for 20 years, the land of traffic, and crowds, and Wifi, and my reality. The DLL Scapa Flow week had again been a winner – great diving, great company, and fun times. Having now done the trip twice, would I go back? Unequivocal answer is yes. Next time I bring a scooter!

By Aileen Small

Scubapro Equator BCD Review

It would appear that there exists a rather large demographic within the diving population that believes in such farcical ideas regarding how a decent dive should be… All too often in my line of work I hear whimsical phrases such as ‘warm water’, ‘good visibility’ and my favourite all…’a feeling of freedom in the water’.  No idea what they are talking about personally but I assume it’s something to do with them there tropics…..

Now diving manufacturing companies are latching on to this ‘money rich, baggage allowance poor’ group of society in releasing a torrent of dive equipment for travel….characterised by lightweight materials, packing ability and smooth, sleek looks. Although in my past this went against everything I ever believed in, at the end of last season I was myself jetting off to a tropical locale with my 2 backpacks and a limited budget for dive gear and so decided to purchase myself one of these travel BCD’s from my friendly local dive centre operator…

Scubapro Equator BCD

Scubapro Equator BCD

This came in the form of the SCUBAPRO Equator BCD. SCUBAPRO has long been a firm favourite of dive professionals in that it is like the VW of the diving world in that they are bombproof, reliable and can take some abuse. They may not have the Italian sexiness of Mares, or the pedigree of Aqualung but they do what you want them to do, when you want it. Any SCUBAPRO product can be serviced anywhere no matter how backwater and this was very important to me about to go spend 6 months on a desert beach….

So the BCD comes in red and black, or grey and black and has a timeless appeal with its simple, no flair looks. They haven’t added tribal patterns, or fancy writing, or funky ‘shoot from the hip’ inflation systems. It is just a simple, effective BCD. But unusually for a travel jacket it actually comes loaded with features but it just doesn’t make a song and dance about them.

As well as the tank band it also has a tank stabilising strap allowing you to ‘ride’ an aluminium cylinder a little higher which prevents the bottom of it getting a little floaty as you breath down it’s sweet contents…

It has integrated weight pockets which although were perfect for me when diving in thin wetsuits as I only carried 2-4kg, but I have noticed that when you load them up with anything more than about 6kg for drysuit dives, they tend to suffer due to a little less space than a traditional BCD. You have to literally deflate the BC all the way before ramming the pockets in. However this rings true with most travel BC’s and certainly it carries its weights far more effectively than the Cressi Travelight I used for my first 50 dives….

It still has the full complement of dump valves in the normal places and the material of the jacket is rather hardwearing and mine is still showing very little signs of wear even after doing 150 dives, and that’s not including the countless hours it has spent in the pool. The balanced inflator valve typical of SCUBAPRO BC’s is a really nice feature and what is really nice is the neoprene lined collar which reduces neck rubbing, and the semi rigid back pad is felt lined for comfort when diving without wetsuit or rash guard and also means the BC folds really small for travel.

This BC is literally perfect for a travelling diver who wants something a little more substantial and hardwearing than the rest of the herd of travel jackets, and in fact I have been using is this summer in the UK teaching and I am still extremely happy with it. As mentioned the weight pockets don’t quite hold up to the anvil’s required for drysuit diving but in real terms this has actually proved a very minor problem.

If you are someone that wants a BCD that won’t scare the scales at airline check in, but also don’t want it to baulk at a little cold UK action then come see us to try one on! I can personally vouch it will last a long time with good care and I reckon I can still get another few more seasons out of mine yet….

Diver

James diving in his Equator BCD

By James Snelgrove

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer