I had an educational and fun dive trip last this weekend! I signed up for the Advanced Open Water certification course, and after we did the book-work last week we went out to a quarry a few hours away to do the corresponding dives. People who were not gluttons for punishment stayed at nearby hotels; I camped at the quarry, and dragged my fiancee along (who was not at all excited to be stranded all weekend at a rainy campsite by himself, with nothing to do). Sleep was hard to come by, and it was a long and very strenuous weekend for me so I am exhausted on this Monday morning. But it was worth it, I think!
Just to sketch out the weekend and the conditions: it was a ~65′ deep rain-fed quarry, air temps were in the 50-60F range, water temps were high 60s above the thermocline and a brisk 59F near the bottom. Visibility was really good, surprisingly. It rained all weekend, but divers don’t care– we’re already wet. We had 5 dives scheduled, with one bonus third dive on Sunday that I wound up taking a pass on. With the chilly water, I dove in a rented 7mm wetsuit that was super squirrely to fine-tune buoyancy in; if I wasn’t careful and drifted too high without venting air from my BCD, the air in the suit expanded and I would cork right to the surface. Eventually I got that sorted; I basically kept one hand on my inflator hose the whole damn time. After a chilling 2nd dive, I added hood and gloves and that helped me stay toasty. The buoyant wetsuit meant I dove with 20lb of lead on me; that and the weight of my gear meant getting to and from the water was very strenuous; our pavilion was a long walk from the quarry. And just getting the wetsuit on was a workout; it was thick and too long and not as flexible as I’d like and quite snug, and I’ve worn the skin off my knuckles and fingertips wrestling with it. Dry suit diving looks really good right now.
During the class sessions I met my classmates/diving companions, and diving with them was fun. Two of the four of us were very experienced, and me and the other guy were a little less so (okay, I’m super noob). The two of us with less experience were buddies. I’ll refer to my buddy as Bob from here on out (names have been changed).
The quarry was a big dive park– there were probably 10-15 different groups/dive shops/clubs there, hanging out and diving and doing training and testing out gear. Just being around all the divers was really educational– there was a lot to soak up, and people are happy to share the wealth of their knowledge. It’s a great community. Bob and I were unfamiliar with our rental BCDs, and folks were good about stopping us and showing us what we missed (neither of us had gone over our BCDs ahead of time, very poor form– it was a totally new style to me, I’d never used integrated weight pockets before).
Anyway, on to the dives! Each one went along with a chapter in the PADI book. First dive was Peak Performance Buoyancy, which was basically "Figure out how much weight you need, do your trim, and sort out buoyancy control". Which was brilliant, because I was less than useless in that damn wetsuit. I started out overweighted; the instructor (we’ll call her Carrie, she was wonderful) swapped out for a little less weight, and then we got to toodle around. Bob (who was also in a rented 7mm) and I corked over and over. It was maddening. "Where’d my buddy go? Oh, there he is, on the surface. Oh, I looked up and now I’m on the surface too."
Next dive was everyone’s favorite: Navigation. Lots of setting headings and swimming squares and checking kick cycles and times. Bob and I finally got our buoyancy about sorted here, at least. It was a long dive and there was a lot of stuff to do, and Bob wound up low on air, so we surfaced and chilled out waiting for the other 2 students to get their squares right– literally chilled for me, I floated and shivered.
Saturday’s last dive was the Night dive, so we had a long surface interval where I went and spent some time with my wet, grumpy partner and cooked a couple hot dogs on the campfire, taking care not to toast my wetsuit. Then as twilight fell, we geared up, me with gloves and a hood to keep from getting more chilled, and entered the water. Obviously night diving requires a light; I’d bought one at the shop last week. But my giant gloved hands kept hitting the switch and the light kept turning off– so in Carrie’s eyes I kept disappearing in the darkness. Eventually she came and clipped her spare light to me, so I used that one. I didn’t particularly care for the night dive; there wasn’t much to see in the quarry at night aside from a few sleepy bluegill. I had a hard time figuring out where my inflator hose was in the dark so buoyancy was a pain again– that reaction had to be done very quickly and it took me too long, plus the other hand was always occupied with my light. (I’m glad I didn’t put my light on my left hand, in retrospect.)
That was it for Saturday, I peeled off my wetsuit wondering if I was going to be able to get it back on the next day. (I did, much more easily, thank goodness.) Then I had a brief, tired fireside chat with my partner before climbing into my hammock to try to sleep. I was not happy after that night dive; I was overtired and questioning my life choices and wondering if I actually enjoyed diving enough to keep on going. I slept very poorly– I don’t think I got any solid sleep until just before sunrise, and shortly thereafter I was awakened by the sound of tent zippers.
Thankfully, after how badly Sunday started out, it got better. I had some lukewarm coffee, tried to eat some protes oats (100% unappealing) and mustered and geared up for dive #4, the exciting Deep dive. Now, the quarry isn’t all that deep; we went down to 60′, saw the sights in the deepest part of the quarry (they sunk a bunch of random stuff in there, like planes and helicopters and school buses) and kneeled and did a couple skills tests on the bottom and checked our air consumption and the bottom times on our dive computers. I had a scary minute as we kneeled on the bottom– my mask was leaking a little and I got water up my nose and panicked and spit my regulator out. I shoved the reg back in with my hand and willed myself to breathe, coughing, and cleared my mask, then tried to settle myself. I was surprised at how strong my first reaction of swim to the surface to breathe was– you can’t do that from 60′ though, it’s dangerous! I had to stay down and sort it out. I clung to Bob for a bit after that on the bottom; it was reassuring to keep hold of him with one hand while calming myself down. The rest of the dive was good (though I was quite low on air, having wasted a lot of it sputtering, and a little worried) and when we surfaced I decided maybe diving was still fun.
My last dive of the weekend was the Wreck dive with a bit of leftover Navigation thrown in, since we didn’t get to finish it all. That was the most enjoyable dive– we descended and swam to our "wreck", a sunken school bus. We practiced our buoyancy control (I was a pro at buoyancy now, it was much better) as we swam through the bus, and then used natural navigation to find our way back to where we started. At the end of that dive, I was finally excited about diving again. We finished up our paperwork, cheered at our new cert, and then Bob and I peeled off those squirrely rental suits and called it– we both had fiancees sitting around waiting, and we were tired– but my other 2 classmates headed out for one more dive while we packed up.
I helped my partner pack up camp, loaded up my scuba gear, and then it was time for the 4+ hour drive home. (I’m glad I didn’t do the 6th dive; as it was, we didn’t get home until 8, which was enough time to hang up the soaked camping gear and collapse into bed.) Today, I’m sore and tired– but I’m looking forward to diving again next weekend in Florida (goliath groupers, I am finally coming for you!!)