• SCUBA Certification - Open Water Dives 1 & 2

    To receive my PADI SCUBA certification, I have to complete four "open water" dives with a qualified instructor. This weekend is halfway over, and I was able to get two of the four done today before we ran out of daylight. Here's the link to the planning blog: http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php...-certification

    Yesterday (Friday), I went to We B Divin' to pick up my gear. This includes the BCD, weights, 5mm wetsuit and 5mm Hooded Vest. Because the dive shop doesn't have any Large wetsuits at this time, I used the LL (large-long) and an XL hooded vest. The purpose of both is to insulate me from the colder water in our lakes during November. I picked up two air tanks, and checked both for their O-rings. One was fine while the other looked pretty rough. I asked for a spare O-ring since it is very important if you want to dive at your destination. I checked the BCD for all the connections, clasps, and tie downs. Everything looked trustworthy; if anything is amiss once you arrive at your destination, it could force you to abandon your dive(s). The reason for two tanks of air was to make sure I had enough air for my procedures, even if I'm gulping down air too quickly.

    A repair kit is one more thing that is recommended for all divers, which includes spare parts for yourself as well as others in your group, because if something is cracked, broken, or lost, you or a buddy won't be able to dive which may even result in your own dive being canceled. My kit started with this little guy.

    This is one of the cheapest things I'll buy in this hobby, I'm told. Considering the water's temperature, I looked at some of the gloves but decided that for the completion of my training period I needed tactile function over comfort. The other side of that coin is when my fingers are frozen, I won't feel anything. The choices at the shop didn't strike a chord and I resisted the impulse (or trepidation of being cold).

    As always, I tend to have lots of questions. Asking how I know for sure if my air tanks are full or not, as I didn't see any type of obvious markings either way, I was told the difference between a full tank and an empty one is 6 lbs. I had no idea, and there's little likelihood that I'd be able to tell the difference. Once the regulator is connected to the tank, it should read near 3000 PSI. If the reading is significantly lower, it's an empty one. (FYI: air tanks should never be completely empty, as the remaining air protects the internal surfaces from rust damage.) Air tanks can be refilled on site, in dive shops, and rentals are returned mostly empty. With rental cars, we are required to fill the gas tank to avoid fees, so it's good to know that isn't the case with air tanks.

    The gear was loaded into the car, using weights to keep the air tanks from rolling around. That same night, I loaded up all my dive stuff, a first aid kit, plenty of towels to keep the car dry, extra clothes, and packed up my lunch and snacks for the day. I made a check list for myself for the morning, and got to sleep.

    At 8:00 a.m. the alarm went off, and I quickly started up the coffee, took a shower and shaved, then dressed in street clothes for the long drive to Clear Springs Scuba Park. Then I checked my list to see what needed doing: Water the plants, check; clean the dishes, check; clean the bunny's bedding and litter pan, check; dump the protein skimmer's collection cup... which of course was overflowing and making the usual mess. Quickly getting that resolved, I put my lunch in the cooler with some ice as well as a bunch of bottles of Gatorade, and was on my way. I'd already checked Google Maps for my preferred route, and then loaded the same location in my iPhone's Map app. It looked the same, so I headed east.

    The dive shop gave me a printed copy of the destination, and even between referencing those directions and the Map app, it was obvious that I wasn't where I needed to be. Switching to the Google Maps option in the browser, I traced my path to figure out how to get to the park. Backtracking via some backroads, I eventually got to the entrance that was not at all obvious and signed in at the gate. It costs $20 per day for students to use the SCUBA park. I was directed where the restroom & showers were, the air tank refill station, and where my group was set up for the day. It was nice to finally be on site, after the small issues that had already occurred for the day.

    The weather was beautiful, with the high predicted at 64F and sunny skies. After informing my instructor about the recently sprained ankle, I suited up and got all my gear on. The wetsuit wasn't the same as what I'd used with my pool dives; this one had the zipper on the front instead of the back. I had no idea what a difference that made at the time, but more about this later.

    I was the only person getting their Open Water dive certification as the other students from my class weren't able for various reasons. The other person with us was working on advanced dive certifications. We agreed to take turns with the instructor, with me going first. With one-on-one instruction, we started at 11 a.m. to allow things warm up a little, theoretically. Mitch, the instructor, had my regulator. Until certified, I'm not allowed by PADI to have that one piece of equipment.

    With the ace bandage reinforcing my ankle inside my boot, I carefully chose my steps to get down to the dock without incident. Near the edge, we put on our fins, pulled our hood up to cover our heads, got our masks on, and with a giant stride I splashed into the cold water. Cold, but not bad. My dive required that I remain under the surface a minimum of 20 minutes. Prior to this, I did some other exercises. One was to switch back and forth between my snorkel and my regulator as I swam 50 yards to the buoy. My ankle didn't bother me, and maybe the cold water helped ice it somewhat.

    Submerged beneath was an airplane simulator with windows, doors, & structural supports. The top doubled as a platform for divers to utilize for various skills, like establishing neutral buoyancy. We explored around the 'fuselage' and then swam around the contour of the lake bed. A type of branching bushy green algae was present, and plenty of sediment. Visibility was really bad, maybe 8' at best. I had to really keep my eye on my buddy to make sure we didn't get separated, and I constantly was checking my dive computer to see the depth I was swimming because I couldn't begin to estimate if I was rising or sinking during my dive. It was pretty interesting to see how much this varied from minute to minute. My instructor/buddy called my attention to some shadows to his left, which I barely made out. It was obvious he was showing me some fish, but I'd yet to see them. I did see a small one swimming beneath me, something silver looking. Mentally, I endeavored to slow my breathing because I was warned in colder water more air is consumed. Mitch grabbed my regulator hose to pull me to the group of fish (they were bass apparently); I had to hold my regulator in place with my hand to overcome his tugging. I did see the larger fish for 10 or 15 seconds... just more silver fish that looked almost translucent. Later he exclaimed how one was quite large. meh. Freshwater - don't care. We swam some more, and I felt the silty substrate, the rock, and even cautiously touched the fuselage before we began our ascent up the line. Mitch gave me the hand gesture indicating it was time to go up, and I started up like I was told. Turns out up doesn't mean up, it meant we BEGIN our ascent as he reminded me by slowing me down to a gentle pace as we swam upwards gradually.

    A new skill I had to learn was to use a compass to find my way back to the dock without lifting my head out of the water. This is a pretty good test when you can't see ahead of you in low or poor visibility, which I did using my snorkel to conserve air. Once that was completed, it was time to remove my fins and carefully climb up the ladder in full gear to return to camp.

    The second diver was ready to start his advanced dive exercises. Here's a shot before they submerged.

    At the covered area, I tried to peel off my wetsuit to start warming up in the sunlight. The local dive club was sitting around a campfire sharing stories, laughs and a few beers (they were done diving for the day). I didn't want to bother them, but frankly I couldn't get the wetsuit off my shoulders by myself. Before looking like a bear rubbing up against a tree to peel it off, I asked for some assistance. With the back-zipper wetsuit, you can pull it off quite easily, but the zipper-in-front was completely different. Beneath I had my hooded vest that was keeping me trapped due to the neoprene against neoprene friction. With a little help, I was able to free myself and get dried off. Rear-zipper for me, from now on! I drank a bottle of Gatorade, ate some pretzels and relaxed in the sun.

    Checking my dive computer, it read that I'd dove 24 minutes with the lowest point 24' and my average depth was 20', and my body likely built up 28% Nitrogen. This de-gasses naturally by staying out of the water for an hour. My dive started with 3000 PSI of air, and ended with 1650 PSI remaining. Cold water definitely used up air more quickly, and that is why I was sent with the second tank, just in case.

    For my second dive, I had to complete specific exercises that included towing a tired diver 50 yards, completely remove and replace my dive gear while treading water, pull and replace my weights, flood and clear my mask, and also do a Controlled Emergency Surface Ascent (simulating out of air and using a buddy's regulator as we rose together to surface). I had to demonstrate how to find my regulator if it is knocked out of my mouth with a lean and sweep move, and then I got to explore for the rest of that dive. The water seemed colder to me on the second dive, but it wasn't enough to warrant a distraction or worse.

    The water temperature at the surface was 68F and at depth it measured 63F. After my second 20 minute dive, I had 800 PSI of air left in my tank. 500 PSI is considered "time's up."

    Talking with some of the other divers that were nearby, I found out they were from the Diving Rebels club in Arlington, Tx. One of their newest members was unable to submerge, even with all weights strapped to his BCD and ankles. Another person wasn't able to dive because he also was too buoyant. He'd lost 30 lbs and his weight no longer matched his gear, and that difference resulted in his having to sit it out. With all these divers, you get to see a variety of gear they've purchased or rented, and learn about other optional equipment.

    I'd had the GoPro with me on Dive #1, but with visibility so poor it just didn't rate turning it on for any time at all. All my logs were updated, and we packed our gear in our cars for the day. I returned the regulator to Mitch, and he will issue it to me again tomorrow for the final dives. Before leaving the park, I refilled my air tank for $8 so that I'd have two tanks for Sunday.

    We went out to dinner, chatted, traded contact information, and made plans for tomorrow. Mitch also suffered an inconvenience: a reverse block. During ascent, the air in your trapped areas (inner ear and sinuses) releases almost always, but somehow one ear did not. Hopefully by the time of this writing, it popped at last so he will be okay for tomorrow.

    My ankle did well, although I'm surprised to report that the ace bandage rubbed a blister on the back of my ankle somehow. I'll have to put a bandaid there tomorrow to cushion the rubbed area. I ended up getting too much sun, as my face and upper shoulders are a bit pink right now. It's November, right?! Regardless, by this time tomorrow I'll be PADI certified.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Paul B's Avatar
      Paul B -
      Congrats on that. Now you can go out and see some coral, whales and sharks.
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      Thanks Paul. I saw some in Hawaii - that article is coming out in January.
    1. DaveMorris's Avatar
      DaveMorris -
      I have to go to Chengdu China for work in May/June. I have decided that I was going to do a side trip to Phuket Thailand. Then it occurred to me...I should get dive certified. I am planning on getting certified over there. Then I'll be all ready for a side trip after MACNA this year to do some Carribean diving.
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      Nice, Dave. That sounds like an excellent plan. Do you need vision correction? If so, you might want to shop for a prescription mask first.