My first open water dive
Why pool training is so important
By Owen Price, OD trainee, Newbury Scuba Diving Club (BSAC)
I experienced my first two open water dives at Vobster Quay in early April 2018 – what a great day!
Up before 0600 – I was like a kid at Christmas – a good, but quick breakfast (after an early night, preceded by plenty of hydration); a quick kit check; and then I was off to the club boatshed to meet my instructor and other (dry suit) trainee for the day.
And the sun shone. It seemed like the first day of spring after a long, cold,
damp winter. It really lifted our spirits. After quick cup of tea from a thermos flask (more hydration cannot do any harm), we loaded up one vehicle with more kit than seemed necessary for a day trip.
The school holidays’ traffic was kind to us, along the scenic drive to Vobster via the pretty towns and villages of Marlborough and Devises, etc., and the Neolithic barrows around Avebury.
We arrived at Vobster Quay nearly an hour ahead of schedule. And, boy did we (I) need it. I had joined Vobster as a diving member and prebooked a dry suit. It was not busy, but it stil took nearly two hours for us (me) to suit up ready to dive.
A quick recap on the drysuit theory, Ocean diver training and a run through the dive plan and I was ready for my first giant stride into open water. “Fill you BCD, hold your mask, look at the trees (to avoid over rotating, which I had done in the pool) and your head should not go under water!” What could go wrong? I was in and made the okay sign and we proceeded to the confined area for some drysuit buoyancy drills and Ocean diver skills practice. All went well and to plan. Towards the end of this short dive (… it was 6C) we left the confided area and descended to the 6m platform. My equalisation had been less comfortable than normal (from my pool experience) and I was a little apprehensive about the prospect, but I took my time to descend, consciously and carefully equalising and found the second 3m easier than the first had been (physics does help) – my deepest dive to date. A controlled and careful ascent from 6m meters – a core safety stop skill for any BSAC diver – found us successfully on the surface. I was elated, but with my 8kg simple weight belt slipping down over my bottom (I have no hips to speak of), there was no time to celebrate.
So what were the lessons that I learned on this first dive? First, the theory and training provided by the BSAC club instructors was both invaluable and set me up well for this first open water dive. Second, not panicking when something small goes wrong avoids real trouble. One of my fins came adrift in the confined area portion of the dive. I was able confidently to communicate this to my instructor, who helped me address the issue and we carried on with the dive, to plan. Similarly, I let my instructor know that my belt was slipping (but not a real issue), in case I needed help. The practice that I had in the pool and the trust I had in my instructor and other trainee, allow us to manage minor issues without them escalating to major ones. On reflection I think this was a much more useful lesson – I learned more and it reinforced my earlier training – because I had a couple of minor issues to manage. It is an old adage that perfect performance or success is not the best experience.
Sunshine, drysuits and bacon butties made the lunchtime stop seem like heaven. With another dozen or so divers present, there was enough to watch and talk about – type of suit and other items and equipment – without there being a queue for an bap and a cup of tea.
Sticking to our schedule we were back in the water promptly. I had a small leak in my BCD inflation hose shortly after we entered the water, while we were still on the surface. This was quickly fixed after my instructor helped me disconnect and reconnect the hose. The dive plan was more drysuit buoyancy practice and more Ocean Diver skills exercises, including alternative source (AS) exchanges and AS ascents and associated BCD manual fills. All went to plan; on our last ascent we took our time to ensure that hoses were correctly placed, we were wrapped around the shot line, we were holding onto each others BCD harnesses and that we were both “ok” and ready to ascend. We ascended slowly in a controlled manner and reached the surface as planned. I was the “rescue” diver; my instructor was the “victim.” I actuated my BCD inflator and… nothing. I tried again… nothing. I had to inflate my BCD manually (with some prudent help from my instructor), as well as the “victim” doing the same. There was no drama as the previous training had prepared me for this. Oh, and my weight belt had again slipped low – neither fashionable nor comfortable.
So, what did I concluded during the day’s diving debrief? First, my BCD k-valve inflator hose bayonet connector had come unscrewed, exposing the o-ring. I now know my equipment, much better and know what to check as routine maintenance and pre-dive. I clearly need to buy a harness weight belt for cold water diving. And I need to acquire springs for my fins (and follow the equipment tips on the club’s website) . But more importantly, planning the dive and diving the plan, based on sound, practiced training put me in a great position to deal with the minor issues that I unexpectedly encountered. BSAC instructors are great, but I was pleased to remain calm and follow my training throughout the dive. And sunshine helps put everyone in a positive frame of mind – not a bad thing for a first open water diving experience.
Owen Price started diving for the first time with Newbury Scuba Diving Club in early 2018. Although a confident swimmer 30 years ago, his previous diving experience had been limited to warm water snorkelling. He hope to develop his SCUBA skills and experience to allow him to make the most of both UK waters and overseas travel. He is an experienced yachtsman and hopes to combine these two hobbies in the future (perhaps in retirement).