• SCUBA Certification - Open Water Dives 3 & 4

    The final part of my PADI Open Water diver certification was Dives 3 & 4. Yesterday, Dives 1 & 2 were done in Terrell, Texas. Today's took place in Glen Rose, Texas.

    The purpose of this documentation is to provide information to consider so your experience will go smoothly, and that is why I opt to share a number of details, including minor ones:

    I awoke at 8 a.m. so I'd have an hour to get myself going before my drive to Glen Rose. As soon as the alarm sounded, I jumped up but wow did I feel like heck. I could see through the closed blinds that it wasn't bright outside, which meant it would feel colder than yesterday's sunny day. My body ached, my neck bothered me, my sinuses seemed a little restricted... more than likely the result of cold water dives the day before. I reset the timer on the alarm, and went back to sleep for 45 minutes. I felt better, and had just enough time to brew some coffee and get all my gear back into the car. The night before, I took the wet dive gear and suspended them in the garage to dry out, primarily so I wouldn't have to don cold wet fabric at the lake, and secondarily to avoid the smell that would have amassed in my vehicle overnight. I threw my lunch in the cooler, and was on my way. I stopped at Walgreens to get some SPF 50 cream to prevent further sun damage even though it looked overcast, and I also found water-resistant blister bandages to put over the big blister on the area close to the Achilles' tendon the had developed yesterday.

    70 mph on a backroad doesn't help when you're lost.

    And again, I found myself lost on the backroads, trying to locate the dive park. The map app didn't get me there, nor did the printout the dive shop gave me. I called the instructor, who's number I'd requested the day before, and he helped navigate me to the right spot where the turn off was. It's no wonder I never saw it, as it wasn't much larger than an alley and there was no way anyone would have thought taking that little path would end up anywhere other than what the garbage trucks might take to collect debris. I followed the path that finally matched the printed map, and arrived at the gate of Wheeler Branch Park. I noticed immediately that no liquor was allowed in the park, and $8 later I was heading toward the group chatting at the shore near a covered seating area. We were required to unload our vehicles, then move them to the parking area by the restrooms 100 yards away.

    Mitch is holding the air tank, while Buck listened to the others.

    Mitch, the instructor, had to get my dives completed and logged, work with Buck, (the other diver that was with me yesterday) for his advanced technique completions (underwater navigation and item retrieval I believe), and the couple (Spencer and Jill) were working on their Emergency Rescue certification. We joked about how there was no way I'd get myself into trouble with all that experience on hand, until they started calling dibs on my fins. It was then that I realized they'd rather rescue my yellow fins for selfish reasons. When I bought them, my thought was it would be easier to locate my body with those bright fins. hehe Mitch saw my blister, and recommended not to use the ace bandage for my ankle today.

    Dive #3
    Suiting up, we assembled our gear, did pre-dive checks and walked into the lake via a boat dock. It was nice and easy to walk down the sloped concrete ramp, get our fins on and swim out to the buoy 60 yards away. During that swim, I found myself tangled up in a thorny vine that had drifted into my path, which I carefully extracted myself from and rolled away to my right to avoid that weed. The water was greenish, and particulates drifted in my field of view. My head was full of details pertaining to all of our dives, so at the buoy I asked my instructor to remind me once more what we were doing specifically during this dive. As he spoke, the distance between us increased to the point that I thought he was swimming away from me, when it was actually the current moving me as he held onto the buoy. Sneaky guy! I swam back, grabbed hold and listened closely.

    He repeated the plan once more, and then we did a free descent to the platform about 23' beneath the surface. Free descent means you swim down without holding the guide line, but you do keep that rope in sight. The lake water was murky, providing 8' visibility (again!). It was cold, 65 F at the surface and 63 F at the platform. It was about 59 F 20' lower, I was told later. For a point of reference, your home's water heater is set to 110-120F; 65 F weather isn't bad, but submerged in 65 F water will rob you of body heat even in a wetsuit. The water didn't really bother me, but I'd prefer warmer tropical waters. Practicing neutral buoyancy once more, I did my best to float even with the railing that surrounded the platform, maintaining that for about a minute. Practice is the sage advice I've been given, and to keep yourself hovering perfectly required balancing the air in your BCD, the weights on your body, and your every breath. If you begin to sink, inhale a few times more quickly. If you need to sink, exhale for a long time to empty your lungs and get a little downward movement. Ideally, you need to breath evenly in and out and with enough experience this will be second nature. Next I flooded my mask (filled it with water) and cleared it so I could see again. Flooding the mask with the cold lake water ended up with the lenses fogging up after it was cleared, and it took about two minutes for the fog to dissipate as the temperature of the air in the mask warmed the glass enough to see clearly again.

    This dive lasts a minimum of 20 minutes, so we swam around the small platform but there was nothing to be seen in the murky water. Exploring was a bust, as it was dark down below, and basically foggy in all other directions. I kept the platform in view, as well as my buddy, and did a few laps. I checked my air gauge to get an idea of the depletion rate, generally just to keep busy and active to avoid getting cold. Checking my depth, I was really surprised to see that it read 99 feet. Immediately I got my buddy's attention to show him my computer's screen, and we both agreed it was malfunctioning. His computer read 23'. (I should point out that in a normal dive situation, the dive would be aborted with a bad computer, but since I was completing skills for certification, we pressed on.)

    Next, I had to demonstrate using the compass to swim away from the underwater platform for about 30 yards or more, then turn 180 and follow the compass back to the platform. The entire time I towed my buddy with me (to keep each other in sight), and I'm happy to say with that terrible visibility I ended up 2' from where I originally started. It's really odd to have to follow the lubber line of the compass and not see your goal ahead, but I just kept swimming until the platform appeared before me once more. Nailed it.

    My instructor wanted me to practice neutral buoyancy, floating just above the platform's deck. For some reason, my legs tends to be hang lower than my body and I'd feel the fins' tips touch requiring me to adjust with a tiny bit more air in the BCD, or regulate my breathing. He demonstrated the floating Buddha, where you cross your legs and grab each of your fins and hover. My injured ankle rejected that particular position when I tried to grip the fin, but I still did my best to come close to the general look. While I did achieve my hover for the required duration, I call it the Floating Rolling Buddha because I slowly rotated like the hands of a clock. When my head was around 5 o'clock, he righted me and shook my hand. As far as I was concerned, I didn't care what direction I was in as long as I could maintain the same height!

    He gave me another hand gesture, which I thought meant play time to see more stuff. I decided to dive deeper to find the bottom of this part of the lake, and maybe see something recognizable. My instructor watched me take off and later related his thought process: "Where's he going? ... He's coming back right? ... Oh great, now I have to go after him and get him back here." Which he did; he dove after me, got my attention and pulled me back to the platform. I misunderstood the plan, which was to hang out a bit longer where we were. Still, I dove to 44' during this dive, and did a "safety stop" on the way back up, holding at 15' for two minutes before finishing our ascension.

    Bonus Opportunity
    At the surface, he asked me to signal to the others on the shore that a diver was in distress, and to get the rescue team to rescue him. I did as he requested, and he then floated facedown at the surface unmoving. I called out for help, and waved my arm right arm up and down repeatedly. Then looking at him face down, I figured I better flip him over to get him into a better position to breathe. At this point he told me "to quit saving [him] and tell the two divers that the current was too strong for [him]", and await their approach. I held onto the buoy as he drifted away ever so slowly, and when Spencer and Jill were near they asked my name, what the situation was, and if he was breathing. Then they headed over to Mitch, and began the procedures they'd learned in advance. They flipped him over after getting no response to their questions, and checked him for breathing. Jill put the troubled diver's feet against her shoulders and started pushing him as she swam toward the shore, while Spencer began giving him a breath of air every five seconds. As I watched, I decided I wasn't needed and lined up my compass with my destination, then switched to my snorkel and swam face down following the lubber line. After a while, I saw Jill's fins ahead, which meant I was right on target. I kept swimming along gently, watching the compass until the ground beneath was within standing distance. They discussed how exhausting it was, and how it would have helped had they exchanged positions midway through the exercise.

    The temperature at this time was 70 F in Glen Rose, and the sun was shining. But clouds were gathering.

    Dive #4
    After donning my gear once more... we swam out to the buoy backwards to conserve energy while keeping an eye on our campsite, and didn't waste any tank air. We dove down to the platform without any reference this time. No line (rope) in sight, you swim down and try to find it. The murky water made this challenging, but we located it. One of my required skills was to take off my mask completely, then put it back on and clear it. The reason for this is to demonstrate that you can put it back on if it gets knocked off accidentally during a dive. When the cold water suddenly hits your face and your nose, the reaction is to start breathing in with your nose instead of continuing to breathe with the regulator still in your mouth. One method is to remember to slowly breathe out through your nose to avoid taking in any water. I kept my eyes firmly shut to complete this task, only opening them when my mask was mostly clear of water. My mask has a clearing port beneath my nose, and each time I breathe out from it, water is forced out the port. It's really nice compared to a standard mask without this feature. We swam around a bit more, practiced cramp removal on myself as well as my buddy, and then prepared for CESA.

    CESA is a Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. The premise is that you are out of air, and your buddy is too far away to assist. You head for the surface exhaling your final breath of air for nearly 30 seconds. It sounds impossible to breathe out that long, right? Just sitting here reading, you're averaging about eight breaths per minute. The way this test is performed, the instructor gets behind you and reaches over to feel your regulator during the entire ascent, and as you slowly breathe out you hum the entire time. He's feeling the hum in your regulator, and providing som resistance to make you really swim harder. My first attempt started off okay, but midway I realized I hadn't emptied the BCD of trapped air. As you rise, the air expands and will propel you to the surface too quickly, so it needs to be completely empty as you swim up for the surface kicking your fins as you exhale the entire time. It sounds a little complicated, but this race for the surface is safe as long as you empty your lungs - the same principle as the reason the BCD needed to be empty - so the lungs don't over inflate. CESA is for dives around 30' deep (or higher). Link As I tried to empty the BCD, I took in another breath instead of continuing to exhale, so I had to go back down and try it again and perform it correctly.

    At the platform, I took three big breaths and raised my arms upwards as I swam up, exhaling very slowly and humming. What really impressed me was how I watched my surroundings go from dark to light as I rose upwards. It only lasted seconds, but it was such a dynamic visual stimulus to watch the transition as it got brighter and brighter, and was an excellent indication that the surface was getting closer. In the brighter light, I could finally see my own bubbles rising from that slow exhalation in front of my mask. We broke the surface and I was still humming. The reason the breath lasts so long is due to the fact that as you rise the compressed air in your lungs expands and yields more air than you'd think possible. It felt great to accomplish this procedure, actually.

    We swam back to shore, updated my log book, and I got to dry off since I was done. The weather worsened as more cloud cover rolled in. I felt badly for the others since no sun would only make their dives feel even colder. The instructor went out with Buck to dive a grid pattern using compass navigation, and then 'got stuck under the platform' so the rescue divers would get to do a 'search and rescue' mission. By the time they got down to him and brought him back to the surface, the cold had really affected Mitch. His staying motionless waiting for them to find him in the dark plus poor visibility took its toll. They again practiced the breathing (mouth-to-mouth with a breathing gizmo) technique while they swam/pushed his floating body to shore. Jill lost a fin during that rescue, and the fin sank to the bottom and was lost.

    Mitch was very cold, his teeth chattering and his hands shaking for a few minutes until he warmed up again. Everyone got their gear off, switched to dry clothing, got their log books updated and broke camp. The wind was picking up, the sun was obscured by clouds... we finished up just in time. We went to dinner at a local restaurant, had a warm meal and chatted about today. It was a lot of fun. On the way home, drops of rain hit my windshield.

    I asked to see Mitch's PADI card, and he opened up his binder to show me this:

    Quite a collection! He had more cards behind this page, plus one in his wallet. Makes me want a few more...

    Additional Related Reading:

    Closed Water (Pool) Dives:
    Dives 1, 2, & 3: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...t-then-Wetwork
    Dives 4 & 5: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...ork-and-finals

    Open Water (Lake) Dives:
    Dive 1 & Dive 2: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...ater-Dives-1-2

    Dive 3 & Dive 4: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...ater-Dives-3-4

    Equipment choices: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...ast-SCUBA-gear

    Tips and suggestions: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.p...-I-ve-Received