Today I completed the last two dives of the Sidemount Speciality. As Divewise is also home to Techwise, I was advised to do the Tec Sidemount Speciality so today’s dives were filled with stoppage drills, deco-stages and out-of-air drills.
We carried our stages (this is what tec-divers call their cylinders) down to the water and went back up to the shop and suited up. The plan for this dive was to run stage drills. This is used when you are making a decompression stop. You have a specific cylinder for that. This may just have more of the same gas that you are breathing or it may have a higher oxygen rating. The stage on the left is called the lean – this is because it will have the lower level of oxygen, and the stage on the right is called the rich – this will have the higher level of oxygen. There are many different ways to attach the stages to the sidemount harness so it really depends on your personal preferences. Alan like to attach the deco-stages first and then attach the main stages on top. This has the benefit that your profile is reduced (compared with deco-stages on top) and that you still can access and move everything.
We started off to the the house reef, each of us carrying two Alu-80s and one deco-stage each. We did some buoyancy drills and got ourselves settled in the water. Alan laid out a line and we we practised out-of-air drills while following it. We then took off our deco-stages and clipped them on to the line, we then put on our deco-stages while moving. We then did deco gas drills where you prepare the stage, have your buddy check that the stage is good for that depth (breathing the wrong gas at the wrong depth can be fatal) and then switch to it. I believe there was 50% oxygen in the stage.
We then did a stoppage drill. Over the previous days Steve had mentioned them but he hadn’t shown me how to do them. Alan asked me to perform one, while underwater, I politely declined and stated that I didn’t know how to do it. Alan then showed me. Once he was done, I then copied. Even though I knew what was coming as I turned my air off, it still shocked me. With the air off that stage, I then switched regulators and started breathing from the other. Now I simultaneously, shut down my open stage while opening my closed stage. I then switch regulators and take a breath of “fresh” air. Now as one stage is still closed, I open that and then check to make sure that it is working. While this is all happening, Alan is standing by with his long hose in case I get into difficulty and need his air.
After we had removed and reattached the deco-stages, done the stoppage drills, and out-of-air drills, it was time to head back in. So I collected the two deco-stages and attached them both to my harness. We then started to make our way back in. Alan gestured to me to send up an SMB so I set it up and sent it up. It worked almost flawlessly, I definitely need some practice but as I am buying a reel and a SMB I am hoping to do one on each successive dive. Alan gestures that we should now head back in. So we start swimming towards the shore. Unfortunately the current had picked up and we were swimming against it. As Alan wasn’t carrying any deco-stages he was able to make his way quickly to shore, I took my time as carry a total of 4 stages with a SMB deployed really slows you down. I eventually make it to the shore. I even remembered to wind up the spool that I had been using to attach to the SMB so that I wouldn’t get tangled up.
My only regret about that dive was I did not get a picture of me with all the stages and the SMB, it would have been a great Kodak moment.
Dive two came after lunch. The object of this dive was to practise some of the skills that I had just learnt, and to have a swim under and through some ladders. We didn’t take the deco-stages with us this time. As we kitted up, Alan’s inflater hose for his drysuit wouldn’t connect, and my bungee untied itself from the p-clip. A quick knot later and some wiggling we were both ready to go. I was leading the dive and had carte-blanche to go wherever and however I wanted through the ladders. So we had a little play. Alan showed me some tips and tricks. Even attached one of the stage to the back of my harness. Then it was time for some out-of-air drills and a stoppage drill. The out-of-air drills went fine, the stoppage drill was a bit of a problem as I had got my short hose stuck under my long hose that meant I couldn’t put my open reg in my mouth. It took me a second to fix it, I remained completely calm – knowing that Alan’s long hose was easily with in my reach if I needed it. I finished the drill and we headed back. At that moment my bungee decided to disconnect from it’s p-clip. Luckily we had some double ended p-clips so we clipped it to the harness and swam back to shore.
I have learnt so much on this course, I feel that it has really challenged me and that now I am a better and more confident diver. It has also taught me several important lessons.
- Relax, and then relax some more. The more relaxed you are the less stress you experience and the easier it is for you to do whatever you are doing.
- Breathing is so important. I really learnt that holding your breath while focusing on something is quite bad, one as it can cause a lung over expansion injury and two it messes up your buoyancy. So just keep breathing.
- Have spares. The bungee went on the second dive. On the first dive, one of the deco-stages went straight into free-flow, even though it worked well on the surface.
- Air awareness. As both tanks need to be kept balanced, I am starting to get better at knowing what air is in my cylinder. Ben suggested that I should try to guess how much is in it before looking, the rationale behind this is that you start to build up a 6th sense about the gas you’ve used and you become better at managing it.
For the rest of this week I will be diving sidemount. Though I might try to sneak in a regular BCD dive, but who knows I might be having too much fun.
Tomorrow I will either be completing my deep dive and/or my wreck speciality. I can’t wait.