Sunday, October 4, 2015

I can breathe underwater, and that’s pretty cool! Part Two.

Part Two. (Part One is here.)


When first registering for the SCUBA course, each student was issued a textbook, accompanying workbook, cd, various stickers and swag, and access to the online course of which completion was mandatory before the first day of class. Char and I both managed to procrastinate much of the online course until the day prior where we spent a majority of the day reading, studying, quizzing and swearing. There were nine chapters, each with an online quiz required before moving on to the next chapter and one of these chapters was wholly dedicated to the functionality of dive tables.

Dive tables allow a diver to plan dives to safely off gas the excess nitrogen in their blood accrued by spending time underwater at various depths. The charts are supposedly designed to simplify these calculations and to be intuitive in their use.

I pride myself on my ability to pick up new material, especially anything math or formula related. My job demands that I be able to learn new things, not so much to master them but at least to apply the concepts in new situations under duress.

I had assumed that SCUBA would be no different.

Somehow the dive tables eluded my comprehension for several hours. The ensuing yelling, swearing, and throwing of objects across the room did not bode well for my ability to figure out how to breathe underwater without killing myself.

So far, still not going well.

Into the blue

The first day of class was spent reviewing the online course and previewing the week’s academic and pool sessions. We learned about the horrible ways to die by descending too quickly, ascending too quickly, playing with the local wildlife and ignoring our dive tables. I paid close attention to the all the horrible things that happen when you rise too quickly: reverse blocks, burst sinus blood vessels, air embolisms, and decompression sickness.

JD explains dive tables to the class in the hopes that we
won't accidentally explode underwater.

A true child of the 90s I was already familiar with decompression sickness having recalled a particular Baywatch episode from my youth when the Hof rescued a SCUBA diver and then spent a good portion of the episode in a hyperbaric chamber watching flashbacks roll by. Everything I know about saving lives I learned from Baywatch or Rescue 911.

We discussed the alcohol-like effects of nitrogen narcosis, caused by being too deep for too long. 

While this typically doesn’t happen above 24 meters, and we weren’t planning on any dives deeper than 18 meters, it still sounded like an easy way to put yourself in a bad situation very quickly.

We were also assigned our dive buddies. For safety and liability reasons most husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, groom/bride, father/son, mother/daughter teams are banned. Apparently, being underwater with minimal guidance makes for a great place to hide the body and previously hidden subconscious desires or tendencies sometimes reveal themselves in “accidents.”

They also don’t allow students to wear a dive knife, bring spear guns, or carry harpoons. Go figure.

We were introduced to our cadre of instructors, who would hold our hands through the process of learning to dive and help us survive our first open water experiences in the coming weekend.

There was JD, a retired military officer turned kept man volunteering with ODR to teach SCUBA to first timers. He would be with us all week through the classroom and pool sessions but miss the trip to Croatia for a family obligation.

Popeye would be our main instructor, a former soldier and current adventure sports guide for ODR. 

As his nickname suggests, he’s intimidating in the weight room at the local gym and seems right at home under about 10 meters of water. I’m not sure about any actual affinity for spinach, but he definitely has a penchant for smashing unguarded sandwiches. Whatever you do, don’t leave your sandwich alone.

Finally, Ed was the assistant trainer, current soldier and volunteer with ODR. He would suffer multiple failed attempts on his life by my poor ability to wrangle another body through the water during rescue dive training while burdened with a steel tank. Who knows how many gallons of saltwater he must have swallowed while I foundered alongside during surface tows. Good sport, really. Though, the final attempt on his life would come from another diver tagging along with our small crew for the weekend during one of our last dives.

We finished off the first evening at a local dive shop, procuring the personal gear to augment the gear issued to us by the Outdoor Recreation MWR shop hosting the SCUBA course.

The second night of class was our first night in the pool, and where we demonstrated our comfort in the water with basic swim skills. My own history with swimming is long and sordid and not something I will delve too deeply into here except to say, I was intimidated.

We settled our gear in buddy teams and got our first of many safety briefs from the instructors. They demonstrated a few acceptable swim strokes and lined us up alongside one end of the pool with a simple instruction: swim to the other side and back.

No goggles, no noseplug.

I hesitated for several seconds before pushing off, thinking about the water that was sure to shoot right up my nose, the fact that I could barely see without my goggles under the water, and how embarrassing this whole adventure was going to be after everyone saw me swim half the length of the pool, diagonally, before sputtering and coughing until someone pulled me out to sit soggy and crying on the sidelines for the rest of the evening.

Instead, I managed to keep most of the water out and could even, though just barely, follow the black line along the bottom of the pool to the other side. Once there I struggled to resist jumping out and doing a victory dance before swimming back.

The rest of the skills testing passed relatively uneventful. Even the 10 minutes of treading water was only approaching dramatic once the Taco Bell I had unwisely consumed a couple hours before began an apparently eventful journey through my digestive tract. Each prospective burp became a roll of the dice as to just what was going to come out, and no one wants to be the guy puking in the pool during SCUBA class.

We spent the rest of the evening with fins and snorkel masks learning to surface dive, swim with fins on, and basic rescue surface tows.

"Shark Bait" ready to try breathing underwater
for the first time.
The final two nights of class incorporated the tanks and wetsuits and we spent a lot of time at the bottom of the pool. We took our masks off and then put them back on and cleared them. We took our regulators out then recovered them. We pretended to run out of air so our buddy could share their alternate regulator (the “octopus”) with us. We did more rescue training and learned how to control our buoyancy to keep from sinking too deep or rocketing to the surface.

The basic skills training was simple and confidence building. I began looking forward to the weekend of open water dives for the first time. That is, until I my buddy started breaking for the surface every time something didn’t go quite right. A little water leaked into his mask, poof, he’s gone. Trouble putting his regulator back into his mouth, he’s up, up, and away. Couldn’t equalize the pressure in his ears, at 12 feet in a swimming pool, and the next thing I knew I was staring up at the bottoms of his fins.

Maybe the weekend was going to be more difficult than I thought.

To be continued...

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