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.
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.