latest update: 7/24/05
This is a journal which begins with my SCUBA diving certification class, in the form of e-mails to my best friend, who is a divemaster herself.
It is exceedingly long, but anybody who wants to know what diving is like can get a real sense here!
Pictures are included.
For the uninitiated, a BCD is a form of air-bladder backpack that you can use to float yourself on the surface, and which also has the straps that retain your air tank (a very good thing).
You should have been there tonight. It would have been all the entertainment you would need for months.
Yes, Peter has finally talked me into taking a SCUBA course. I did the chapters in the book and the quizzes (trivial), and last night, we practiced clearing our masks in the pool. I managed to get water up my nose every time I did it, choked myself and panicked repeatedly, but finally got it enough times to quit. So tonight we went to class.
The first hour was lecture . . . yawn. Although the instructors are funny and EVERYBODY is incredibly nice and kind. This was really critical (see later section of e-mail). Then we practiced assembling our gear, and I discovered that my air tank weighed just about as much as I do, and there is no way I can carry it when it is assembled into my BCD. More about the BCD later, too. Anyway, we loaded all the gear into the car and went to the Bothell pool, which thank God was closing, as I would not have wanted anyone from the general public to have seen what went on later.
We got in the pool and put on our fins. This was fine. Then we helped each other into our BCD/tank combinations. This is where the problems started. I have no idea how anybody keeps his or her balance in the water wearing one of those things. No matter how much I (or anybody else) reefed on the straps, it would not fasten tightly enough to prevent my tank from attempting to do a side-run around me. Every time I tried to vent air from my BCD to descend onto my knees, the tank would slew sideways and so would I, and then I would lose my balance backwards and end up clanking the tank onto the bottom of the pool. Then I would have to reinflate the BCD, go back to the surface, and start over.
My knees haven't been this skinned since I was a little kid on roller skates.
All the "skills" went fine. I lost my regulator and found it, and cleared it, and went back to breathing. I cleared my mask without choking. I shared air with my buddy (who was not Peter, as they arbitrarily assign your buddy so you get used to working with strangers). But every time I was asked to go up, or down, or -- God forbid -- SWIM, I turned turtle. When we all went to the deep end to practice "swimming like a scuba diver", I appeared to have two choices. I could look relatively competent a foot from the bottom, by pushing myself off the concrete discreetly with my hand, or I could put some air in the BCD and do an unplanned and rapid ascent to the surface. It became clear to me that the amount of air that makes the difference between negative and positive buoyancy is about the amount of the air bubble in a level. Below that -- skinned knees. Above that -- unplanned ascent, or at best, turtle-turning.
I ended up getting one-on-one instruction from the kindest man you ever met, who was determined that I would get this. Unfortunately, he was NOT the person in control of the low-pressure inflation valve. I was, and I am clearly even LESS talented with that than on horseback . . . :(
All in all, another public lesson in humility.
And Peter, of course, who was certified in 1967 and dove for years, is gliding around the pool like an ice skater in the Olympics.
I think this will eventually be fun. But I have got to get this buoyancy thing figured out, and I have got to get a wetsuit. I ended up getting thrown out of the pool after the "deep water" swimming part, because by then I was shivering constantly (and the book says that when you shiver constantly, you have to get out of the water, and they go by the book). What can you say about somebody who needs a wet suit to swim in a heated pool?
Well, I got taken off to the corner of the pool for the SCUBA equivalent of special ed tonight.
We had upgraded several things: I bought a wetsuit, because I wasn't going to shiver through another class. The wetsuit looks like a sausage casing and dry, feels like one, but wet, it was warm and friendly and apparently fit perfectly, because at no time did I feel any cold water coming in anywhere. Of course, we were "diving" in an 84 degree pool, which may have had something to do with it. But the suit definitely seems to help. In addition, I switched to an aluminum air tank, which, as far as I could tell, changed absolutely nothing, since it still weighed so much that I couldn't climb the ladder out of the pool while wearing it. After watching me try, the instructor said, "Well, we won't ask YOU to get out of the pool in your gear again. Tell the divemaster it's his job to get the gear out of the pool. Then tip him."
The result of the lighter (hah!) tank and wetsuit was that I was so buoyant I wasn't EVER going down. Even with a weight belt. Even with an empty BCD and ALL my air blown out. I was a cork. The instructor took the weights out of his BCD (they are apparently called clip weights, as I learned when I turned in the equipment at the end of the class, and the check-in guy kept asking me if they had given me clip weights, and I kept saying they gave me weights that went into the pockets of the BCD, and he kept asking if they were clip weights, and finally we figured out that they CLIP into the BCD. This whole dive thing has a whole frigging language of its own, and just like dressage, nobody gives you the dictionary before they start slinging terminology around.) With the instructor's weights, I could now descend just like before -- in other words, like a stone. At this point, they assigned me to poor Mark (who must have offended the SCUBA gods) for remedial buoyancy work.
We went off in the corner of the pool and practiced going down. There are two ways to go down. The way Mark goes down, you bleed a little air out of your BCD, exhale, and gracefully glide downward while executing this sinuous, fishy kick with your fins. The way I go down, you bleed a little air out of your BCD and promptly begin sinking like the Titanic, up to and including the fact that you don't sink vertically, but slung sideways or backwards or in some other orientation that isn't conducive to using your fins to slow your descent, assuming you use your fins properly, which I apparently do not. Mark kept saying things would get better if I used my fins. I used them. I used them desperately, in all directions, and they seemed to do very little of any use. Apparently fin usage can be added to buoyancy control and half pass on the list of things I don't seem to be very good at.
We went down, and we went up. Up isn't better. Down you can pinch your nose and blow violently into it, and squeak air into your ears. Up, when uncontrolled, results in equal discomfort, but there isn't any mechanically brutal way to bleed air OUT of your ears. Like infants on airplanes, I wanted to cry loudly. But sound carries underwater . . . The good news is that, with my efforts, and Tim's efforts, and Mark's efforts, we got the BCD cinched tightly enough around me so that the tank remained on my BACK and not on my side or somewhere equally dysfunctional. The bad news is that once again, everybody else in the class seemed to be gliding like porpoises, while I was still in my corner of the pool, with poor Mark, going UP and DOWN and UP and DOWN and UP . . .
In addition, I pulled a great stupid stunt, by attempting to descend while still using my snorkel. You know what? If you try to go underwater while snorkeling, what comes into the snorkel when you breathe isn't breathable. Luckily, I realized from the resistance immediately what was going on, and calmly exchanged the snorkel for the regulator, a skill we had spent ten minutes practicing at the beginning of the class. No big deal, right? I made a mistake and fixed it, and no harm was done. No one would have known, except the instructor was irked that none of the assistant/candidate instructors had spotted the problem, so he spent five minutes on the surface talking about it, so everybody in the class knew what a dumb thing I had done. Sigh.
I am quite sure that diving is fun . . . eventually. I am equally sure that I may be one of those people who soles in an airplane at about 80 hours (40 is standard). Turning me loose in the open ocean at this point would be slower and more inelegant than a lethal injection, but would have the same eventual result.
Peter appears to have decided that we ARE doing our open water dives with the class, so I need to go to the shop to get fitted for a drysuit, which I will rent for the open water dives, adding a whole level of complexity and skill to the process which I am barely managing in a nice, controlled, safe, municipal swimming pool.
It was nice knowing you.
So, tonight we were back in the pool. I wasn't actually looking forward to it. I told Peter that diving is like dressage; if I could just do the book part, I could really shine . . . But they insist that you get in the water. They're actually pretty narrow-minded that way.
But tonight, I didn't do anything stupid, or anything particularly klutzy. I didn't get taken off in the corner for remedial work on anything, and I managed a fin pivot WITH breath control. I mean, I got the rhythm . . . start to float up, blow breath OUT; start to sag down, take breath IN. When the instructor was talking us through it in the classroom, I thought it was kind of like knowing all the footfalls on the horse. You know how it is -- when somebody tells you it's possible to do that, you snigger, because it isn't either; six months later, you know where every foot is all the time, and eventually you know it without thinking about it. But I didn't expect to get this breathing thing tonight, so I was ridiculously pleased with myself.
Of course, tonight's stuff was pretty easy. I swam eight laps -- after hiking the Grand Canyon, that was no sweat (literally, because we did it sans wetsuits). Treading water for ten minutes was just boring, because I float. Skin diving was fun. I have done enough snorkeling to have gotten quite good at that. Then we put our scuba gear on and had to do that darned giant step again. Why does that bother me? I mean, I've got a perfectly good regulator in which I have every confidence. What does it matter if I step out into space and plummet into the inky depths of a 12 foot pool? I'm so freaking buoyant that they have to hang weights all over me to let me sink at all, so getting stuck on the bottom may be the stuff of nightmares, but it's only going to happen in my sleep. Yet taking that step is really HARD. Shades of genetic fears of falling, I guess. Anyway, I did it, but it took a couple of deep breaths. I hope they eventually teach us the cool looking technique that the Cousteau divers use -- you know, the one where you fall into the pool backwards? I think I could manage backwards without having to grab myself by the nape of the neck and say, "You idiot, EVERYBODY else is in the water already!"
We towed, and were towed, and being pushed from the feet reminds me rather unpleasantly of the ski patrol toboggan. Not to mention that the person doing the pushing can't see where the head of the pushee is going, so it's rather easy to run him into things, or people, which is what our pool is full of. God help any sharks where I'm rescuing a tired diver, because I am going to run right into them. And then we had to swim the width of the pool without any air, underwater, which turned out to be trivial. Underwater -- finally a place where they WANT me to sing!
Overall, I felt a hundred percent more at home, and more comfortable in the water tonight than before. Maybe they are right -- maybe ANYBODY can learn to do this!
Okay, fifth night in the pool. Lots of stuff was better, starting with assembling the gear and getting it out to the car. I had the blinding flash of insight that I could pick up the assembled gear and PUT IT ON THE TABLE to put it on. This worked beautifully, although I think I scared one of the instructors out of several year's growth by doing it. And he can't afford that, because I think he's at least as old as Peter and I are. (You know you are old for diving when you have to ask the question about whether there is any way to get bifocal lenses in your mask so you can read your computer -- and Dennis could ANSWER the question!) At the pool, I got into my gear properly, although I was slow enough to be one of the last people into the water. But I made my "giant step" with only one or two hyperventilation breaths beforehand, and looked up, and didn't do a face plant, and nobody criticized it this time. Maybe nobody was watching.
I had ankle weights on tonight, and I think I was very slightly overweighted, but things were still significantly better with them. I could do the fin pivot! I did it a lot, because we had a lot of free time, and when I found myself going UP and DOWN again, I would go back to the bottom and fin pivot to try to figure out what had gone wrong. Buoyancy is still a thing of extreme nuance, but there were times tonight where I could control my depth with my breathing. I told one of the instructors that I thought I was getting the hang of the breath control thing, and he said, "It's the FIFTH session, WTF?" He was kidding. I think.
We swam without our masks. I tried to do it with my eyes closed, with Peter guiding me. This was a mistake. Peter had my left hand, which meant I had to reach across my body with my right to control my buoyancy. Reaching across my body with my right hand made me pull my knees up toward me (don't ask me why -- it's like riding, body parts do what they want sometimes) which resulted in my swimming, rather than horizontal and straight, in somersaults. Of course, with my eyes closed, I didn't know I was somersaulting, but I knew something was funky, and when the instructor tried to signal me to go to the surface, I had my eyes closed, and didn't know what the signal was, or for that matter, where the surface was. The second attempt, I kept my eyes open, and it was somewhat more successful.
Then they took half the class's masks and threw them in the deep end, and we were to go get them and swim back to the beginning. I got excited, because I saw Peter's mask right away, and we were trucking to get it. We were well in the lead (I was going to be GOOD at something at last!) when one of the instructors noted that Peter's tank was slipping down, and stopped him to tighten it. Needless to say, we were last, and I lost my one chance to shine :(
Then we did the weight belt removal and replacement underwater. Aside from being totally counterintuitive, it went fine. Getting the BCD off and on is another story. Do you have any idea how many things are attached to that jacket? And how many latches, snaps, straps, hoses, velcro etc. you have to disconnect/reconnect/clear/organize without being able to SEE ANY OF IT? I kept having to tell myself, "You have plenty of air, you have plenty of air, if it takes you ten minutes to get the GODDAMN thing back on it doesn't MATTER." I did manage it without help, which Peter didn't (Ha HA HA HA) because he got his computer caught in his straps. I think it would be VERY easy to panic totally in a situation like the story you told about getting caught in the fishline.
Then they gave us about ten minutes to "practice". Since my bete noir is buoyancy, I tried to swim. Things were better. I think in the whole night, I only made one entirely unplanned ascent. This, believe it or not, is an improvement. Peter and I threw a torpedo back and forth for a while, and I tried very hard to hover at the 10' depth, and sort of managed it.
I forgot to tell you that we took our final written exam tonight, and I passed. As is usual for me, I was the first one done, and I spent the extra time in the shop, talking with one of the instructors about books (I'm going to order the text for the divemaster course, because it looks like very interesting reading) and gear. I got the ten minute run through all the gear the shop carries, and we talked about BCD styles, and regulators, and computers, and what the considerations are. Interestingly, he doesn't use analog gauges, although he did tell me that some people do. He said that from his standpoint, if his computer fails, he should always be in a position to make it to the surface with adequate air, because he should have been checking his values frequently enough to know roughly where he is when the thing goes down. It was an interesting alternative viewpoint.
It sounds as though I will be making my first open water dive on Thursday, as a makeup. After tonight, I feel much more confident about doing it. If I can do that, I can finish the course with my class, although sadly, our two instructors will BOTH be out of town on Saturday, so we will finish with people we don't know. I feel very attached to our instructors, almost as though it might not be quite safe to be in the water without them . . . sort of the syndrome that dressage riders get, when they are afraid to ride their horses outside of lessons :)
One of the groups that went out Saturday saw an octopus. Not Peter's, unfortunately. I think that would be so cool.
Let me open by saying that "dry suit" is a complete misnomer. The difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit is that the wetsuit lets the water back OUT. Furthermore, wetsuits don't fart on your neck.
Yes, tonight was dry suit orientation night. Somehow, Tim was feeling hurried. I came out as instructed, with the suit halfway up, and within minutes, he and Jeff had me in it, zipped up, with tank and BCD and weight belt and fins on. I barely followed the process, which became important later. One giant step into the pool and we were off. First instruction: Go to the bottom and kneel. Hah. Suit deflated, BCD deflated, lungs deflated, and I am still floating with my face out of the water. Arms over my head -- instructor PULLING on my fins -- and I am still floating with my head out of the water. Emergency call for clip weights, and the instructor puts the first one on my BCD just below my collarbone, which did a lovely job of completing my natural tendency to float head down and feet up. Unfortunately, in a drysuit, this doesn't work very well. We had to alter the planned sequence of skills, because I had to learn how to turn myself right-side-up again. Which is easy. What is not easy is sinking .
Eventually, I got enough weight, and the ankle weights back on again (I am buying a set tomorrow, because I am not diving in any gear whatsoever without them again). And then things got rather nice for a while. I got neutrally buoyant, swam about feeling quite competent, hovered at 10', did fin pivots, practiced the two methods of getting your feet back down and actually got praised for my performance at one of them, the one I don't like. I told Dennis it was no surprise to me that I did the somersault well, since I have been doing somersaults inadvertently all along. I had a BCD tonight that would NOT cinch down around me properly, so my tank was always busy going somewhere I wasn't. Luckily, unlike the first night where I just thought I was stupid, tonight I knew enough to heave the damned thing back into the middle of my back. Like a horse with an unbalanced rider, I was compensating.
We did removal and replacement of weights belts at the surface. The instructor demonstrated, and when I went to do it myself, none of what he had said seemed to make any sense. I got the belt off and back on without any particular trouble, and the instructor said the standard was to take it off and get it back on, so I had passed, but he clearly wasn't happy, so we did it again. I still think my way worked fine. Then we did removal and redonning of BCD at the surface. Removal went okay until I actually had to get my arms out of the thing, but the instructor showed me how to go wrist first, and then it was possible. Redonning was complicated by the fact that I had had the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am stuffing into drysuit, so I really hadn't noticed how all the hoses were led, and I needed a lot of help putting myself back together.
Of course, through all of this, my neck seal kept suddenly dumping all my drysuit air, which made life interesting, and progressively damper. When I felt the water run down into my feet, I knew things were not well. When I got out of the pool, I unzipped the suit, stepped out of it and upended it . . . and dumped about three cups of water on the floor. And this is the suit I'm supposed to drive in the Sound in on Saturday! One divemaster told me to talk to "Brekke" about my seals, but she wasn't there when we turned the equipment in. Tim was, and Tim said there are no seals smaller than the ones on my suit (it's an extra-small). He says I'll be fine. Hmmmph.
The highlight of the night was using the little motor gadget to truck around. THAT was fun, even though it makes too much noise and I don't think I would like it in real-life diving. But I was cruising the bottom of that pool, man!
So Saturday is open water. A 7AM start (yeuuuccchh!) and we have to dive Cove 3 by Salty's, because of the tides. Reportedly, the bottom there is very silty, and leads to very poor visibility most of the time. In addition, there is apparently very little sea life there. But I guess we don't need sea life to do snorkel-to-regulator exchanges, right?
BTW, one of the reasons given for my drysuit failing to maintain any semblance of dryness was that my hair is too long. I KNEW there was a reason I needed to get it cut.
We were rather late getting up and getting going, as we were up until 1 am the night before because of scuba class. In addition, I had failed to remember breakfast materials at the grocery store, so we had to make do. Finally, we got going, and began running errands. We got to the vet to get Cheyenne's medications, and then we went to the dive store. They loved us. We spent lots and lots of money. (I kept reciting the mantra: It is less than a saddle, it is less than a saddle.) We bought regs and BCDs. We did not buy computers, as I'm still uncertain what is best. Peter bought bifocal lenses for his mask, and we will both try them Saturday to see if they are worth it for me, too. (I can still read the numbers on the computer in normal light -- what will happen 60' down in Puget Sound is another story.) I bought the textbook they use for the divemaster course, because as usual, I have a craving to understand what I am doing at a higher level than anyone wants to explain it to me. I have been casting a curious eye at various references on Barnes and Noble as well. Another bookcase for the dive books . . .
I am very apprehensive about Saturday. I am not afraid of buoyancy (and I should be) or skills, which I seem to do fine with. I am terrified about being cold. You know me -- I HATE being cold, hate it, hate it, hate it, and cope with it poorly. That darned drysuit was so far from being a drysuit that I am deeply worried that, within minutes, I will be cold and miserable and wishing I were anywhere else in the universe. All the instructors say that won't happen. They've never seen me riding in the wintertime! I am contemplating layering every piece of polarfleece I own under the suit (and you, of all people, would know just how many pieces of polarfleece that would involve) but I'm already so buoyant I can't sink, and there may not be enough additional weights in the diving world to compensate for my polarfleece wardrobe.
I am going to ask them tomorrow, when I go to pick up my gear, what happens when you wear your wetsuit under your drysuit, or your wetsuit with polarfleece over the top . . . They will look at me oddly, having never been asked that question before.
Call me Cassandra.
It appears that all I need to do is predict my adventures will end in cold, wet underwear, and I will be right.
Today was open water diving. We met at Cove 3, just up from Salty's at on Alki, at 7 AM, which is a disgusting, uncivilized, barbaric hour to be awake and doing anything, let alone anything that starts from a parking lot in which it is raining. We actually arrived about a quarter to seven, and we were one of the last students from our group to get there, although we were not required to be present until 7. We are a group of overachievers. We had TONS of gear to transport from the car to the waterfront, but Peter had wisely put our Rubbermaid wheelbarrow in the car, which helped. I had polarfleece galore, and more dry polarfleece in the car, in case the drysuit leaked on the first dive. This turned out to be prescient, although were I prescient, I would have stayed in bed this morning.
I was the only one of the dozen or so of us who was to do the first two dives. The net result of this was that I was last out on both dives. I had an hour or so to wait in my drysuit (misnomer) in the rain and the 54 degree weather. I was pretty chilly before I ever got in the water, despite having marched like Hitler's Youth up and down the pavement where we had gathered. Nevertheless, the first dive went okay, as such things go. I got in the water, which was a triumph in and of itself; I totally failed at getting my own fins on, but when the assistant instructor assigned to Lynne-herding heard that I was diving in Maui, he decided I was an effete snob and should have my fins put on by someone else, which he then did. Thank goodness, or we would still be ten feet into the water at Cove 3, struggling.
Frankly, one of the worst things about the whole day was trying to maneuver myself and my gear, waist-deep in water. For some reason, I was terrified of falling down. I don't know why. I had a perfectly good regulator and I wasn't going to drown. I think at gut level, I thought if I fell down the tank would explode, and we would have Lynne-bits showering all of Alki. I was much, much happier when we got out deep enough that I could inflate my BCD and just float. I am happy with my BCD. I won't drown if it has air in it, and both my reasoning mind and my stomach completely accept that. What happens when you take the air out is another story.
Of course, in addition to being the first open water dive, this was my first dive in salt water with a drysuit. They assigned me weight in the shop, and I put the weights in the BCD yesterday when I picked it up. This is a non-trivial maneuver for which one gets no coaching and no assistance. It took me about a half hour, during which I finally realized that if you maneuvered the BCD so that the "wings" pointed UP, the weight pouches went in with the help of gravity, instead of being pushed into place by a small human bent at the waist to the point where her lumbar spine was screaming for mercy. I had twenty pounds of weight, which was probably at least five pounds too much, but I didn't know that. I didn't know that until two-thirds of the way through my second dive, when the instructor herding me realized that the amount of air he had to put in my drysuit to make me neutral was WAY excessive. Of course, I hadn't been using the drysuit for buoyancy, because the neck seal didn't, and every time I put much air in the drysuit, I got a neck fart into my hood, which caused my hood to make a break for Salty's.
Anyway, my problem through all the pool dives was that I couldn't descend. Today that was not a problem. Today, if I took the air out of the BCD and drysuit, I catapulted downward at a rate that absolutely terrified me. It is not good to sink like a stone. It makes one think of not getting back up again. Why we didn't do a neutral buoyancy check at the surface, and why nobody realized how heavy I was until we were two-thirds of the way through the second dive, is one of the only criticisms I have had of this course to this point. I think I would have been spared a lot of apprehension had that been fixed early.
Anyway, first dive, I did a couple of simple skills and then we went on tour. I had two people with me, an assistant instructor and the chief instructor. Visibility was almost zero-zero, unless one could get into areas not disturbed by the two prior groups of divers who had gone down. I was anxious, but Jeff, the chief instructor, did an incredibly reassuring thing: He gave me his light. The light gave me some control over what I saw, but more than that, it had a bungee connection with Jeff, so I knew he couldn't be far from me, and I didn't have to keep trying to look over my shoulder to find him. At that point, I could relax and try to find sea life to enjoy looking at. We saw some wonderful sunstars and flounders, and a very cute small jellyfish. We were down 17 minutes, and it felt like an hour.
Getting out of the water with all the gear on is a challenge. The rocks are very slippery AND mobile, and the tank is a . . . well, it's a TANK. It's not easy for me to walk on concrete with all that weight on my back, let alone a sloping, slippery, unstable surface. I did manage to get back up to the bulkhead without falling, and when I went to the bathroom, found that only my left arm was wet, which was a HUGE improvement over the pool session. I was pleased, and had some warm tea, and put my polarfleece hat on between dives. I was going to be okay. But I did get colder waiting, as I think we all did. Frankly, the weather sucked.
Then the second dive, This went wrong from the beginning. I was cold to start with, but thought I'd be okay once I got moving. The assistant instructor took me into the water way too early, and we had to hang out ten feet offshore for, I don't know, twenty minutes or more? I swam continuously, because I knew I would chill. I practiced swimming with my compass, but I still got colder. Finally, they decided it was time to swim to the buoys. We got there, but the certified instructor who was going to run my dive was not to be seen, and was probably still underwater with the previous group. Unfortunately, where they thought he was was not where he was, and we killed time hanging from the float for another ten minutes or so. Now I'm a half hour or more in the water without doing much of anything, and I'm starting to get really cold. Finally, they send a different instructor out and we descend to start skills.
The first one was mask flooding, which I have decided is my very unfavorite skill, and one I would just as soon NEVER practice again. I flooded it okay, and I cleared it, but as I did so often in the pool, got water up my nose. In this case, it ran into my throat and I choked and I lost it. I absolutely panicked, and I wanted OUT of that water in the worst way. I signaled to the instructor that I needed to go UP, NOW!!!!!!!! UP UP UP UP NOW NOW NOW!!!!!! And she said no. And she pulled me back down. And she was right, because the problem was solvable, and I solved it, but I was so frightened. I think my pulse was 160 and my respiratory rate was about 40. She was wise, so we went to fin pivot next instead of trying the mask clearing again, and in the fin pivot, I got my composure back. But I didn't like that feeling at all, and it was not the last time I was going to have it.
The other skills were fine. I ditched and found my regulator, did alternate air source in place and ascending (my fault in the ascent was venting too much air out of my BCD too early, because I was worried about going up too fast, and converted an ascent into a descent again, until the instructor made the appropriate signs and got me straightened out). Then we went "on tour", because apparently there is a minimum time that makes a "dive" for PADI's purposes, and we needed five more minutes to get there. On tour was awful. I was very, very cold and stiff and finding it hard to swim. There was no visibility, and I could not get my buoyancy right. I was using my BCD, for the reasons above, but the instructor herding me was convinced that was not right, and let all the air out of the BCD and inflated my drysuit. He could not BELIEVE the amount of air he had to put in to keep me off the bottom. That was when they realized how overweighted I was. I had known it all along, because I knew I was sinking and couldn't stop sinking, and it scared me. But since I don't know how things are supposed to be, I didn't know it was wrong. I got severely disoriented repeatedly, not knowing where up or down or sideways were, or what orientation I had in the water (remember, visibility is essentially zero-zero). The problem was that getting at all head-up meant I would vent air out of my drysuit and lose buoyancy, as well as shipping water.
By the time we got to where I could put my feet on the bottom, I was shivering uncontrollably. I literally could barely get myself and my gear out of the water. They had to pull my weights for me to get out. I staggered up the slope to the concrete wall and got out of my tank and BCD. Peter was helping me by then, and I had him unzip my drysuit so I could go to the bathroom, only I couldn't get there. I put my hands in the warm water we had brought for the gloves and hoods, and stood and shook violently. Eventually, I was able to go to the restroom, and as I came out, one of the instructors realized how cold I was and got very worried. I was completely and utterly soaking wet, from head to toe. I had squishing water in my drysuit feet. I ended up changing into dry clothes on the sidewalk, while Peter and Sharon held a towel. It's the only time in my life I have stood on a sidewalk in a major city in my underwear, and you know what, I didn't care. I had my polarfleece, and Peter's vest, and Jeff's jacket, and my hat, and Wendy's hot packs, and I stood and shook and shook and shook and felt sick.
We ran the heater full on in the car as we went back to the shop, and by the time we got there, the gross shivering had stopped, but I was still having tremors. I drank coffee and ate a KFC barbecued chicken sandwich which was hot, and sat in the classroom while Peter washed and turned in our gear.
We had an extensive discussion about what went wrong. First of all, my drysuit didn't fit very well, and everybody (including me) knew it, but nobody realized just how bad it was. Whether I had enough clothes underneath it or not would not have mattered, as wet as I got. Secondly, the logistics were bad, because I shouldn't have done all that waiting in the water. Thirdly, I should have been MUCH more aggressive in telling the instructors I was COLD and I needed to get OUT of the water, whether that aborted the dive or not. That's my fault. I don't ever want to do anything that isn't right. You know me! But I kept thinking I could go just a little longer . . .
I'm going out Tuesday to do the second two dives to get certified. I am not enthusiastic. I told Peter I think I should wait until the memory of today's dives fades, you know, like labor? But I am borrowing a drysuit from one of the instructors which has a MUCH better neck seal, and I will wear more clothes, and I will be more proactive about protecting myself. Tuesday's dives will be off Mukilteo, so hopefully not in such awful visibility, and with luck, I won't get so disoriented underwater. I will have less weight, and I will be diving one on one with an instructor. It WILL go better. It has to.
So my friend Sylvia asked me how it all went, and I said I wasn't very happy with today because I panicked underwater. But the instructors told us we would panic at some point, that everybody does, and maybe I got mine out of the way today. Maybe I'm inclined to panic underwater. I hope not, because we've bought a lot of equipment, although I'm sure I can returned it unused if necessary. Sylvia thought I should be feeling triumphant for having gotten through it all, but that's not a dressage rider's personality, is it?
God, I'm tired. Didn't even ride today, and you know what THAT means.
Wish me luck for Tuesday.
The nice thing about last weekend was that things really would have had to work hard to have been worse, and they didn't.
Today, we dove from T dock at Mukilteo. The good news is that it's MUCH easier to get in and out of the water there. It's particularly easy to get out of the water when the tide comes in and the water comes all the way up to the steps. The bad news is that, when the tide is coming in that much, there's a lot of current. Current has some interesting effects. More about that later.
It was lightly overcast and about 70 degrees when we got to the dock, and I was very warm in my long undies, and felt absurd climbing into my polarfleece top and polarfleece pants and polarfleece vest and two pairs of socks with a heater packet between them, and THEN into a large, black drysuit. Wisely, Jeff told me not to finish getting into the drysuit until he had set the buoys and the line, because I would have been nicely braised by then and suitable for serving. He said he had talked to Tim about my debacle on Saturday, and Tim had suggested that perhaps part of the reason for my getting wet was polarfleece too close to the seals, so I pulled my sleeves up and tucked my collar down. Laurie's seals were MUCH better, although the plastic cups around the wrists for the dry gloves made getting my wet gloves on a more significant challenge than it already was. I put the rest of my gear, five pounds lighter than Saturday, and we were off into the water.
I towed Jeff out to the buoy, which was fine and not too far, although one of the big lessons in all of this for me is that you really don't want to swim very much with the intention of getting somewhere. SCUBA is a sport for tourists, looky-lous who want to dawdle along and sightsee, not for Type A get-somewhere people. If you're type A and want to get somewhere in the water, you do not lade yourself with bulky, heavy, high-resistance gear! Anyway, we got to the float and went through the checklist of skills we were going to do for that dive, which included the dreaded mask flooding and clearing AGAIN. They seem to think I need to learn how to do this. Our first descent was to be with visual reference to the line, but not touching it. We did our five point check and started down. My weight was pretty good, maybe a little light, and I didn't have the plummeting problem from last week. What I had was current, and it pushed me away from Jeff very fast. The visibility was better than last week, but about 20' down it was soup, and I lost Jeff completely. What's more, I lost ME; the same problem of losing track of up and down. Dark is generally down, but dark is straight down and diagonally down and looks the same in both places, so it's not very useful as a reference. Bubbles go up, but if you are being pushed by a current, bubbles don't stay where you are, so they go diagonally up, which makes them a little less useful, even if I had enough processing power to think about where my bubbles were going, which I didn't. At any rate, what happens to you eventually if you keep going in a generally DOWN direction is that you hit the bottom, assuming there is a bottom, which there was where we were diving because that's a pretty solid requirement for training dives, and for good reason, as I proved. Of course, I hit the bottom on my back. I suspected I wasn't in the right attitude, and I was right.
So here I am, sitting on the bottom at Mulkilteo, all by myself in about 36 feet of water. Actually, I wasn't sitting on the bottom, I was lying on my back, but I fixed that pretty quickly. So I sat for a moment and contemplated life, and thought about procedures for buddy loss. "Wait one minute, then proceed to the surface and regroup." This principles had been driven into me by your story about getting caught in the fishline. But I really didn't think it was worth waiting a whole minute, because the visibility was so poor that it was vanishingly unlikely that Jeff was ever going to find me, especially since he wouldn't have much of an idea of where I had drifted to during my tumbling routine. So I started up. Since my tendency is to surface too quickly, and I didn't have an instructor with me to make sure I didn't, I put my computer in front of my face and watched the depth numbers to make sure I was going slowly (and to make sure I was going UP). It seemed to take a very long time to get to the surface, but I got there, and discovered I was about 50 feet or more from where I had started, and Jeff needed CPR.
He, of course, had gotten frantic when he lost me (having visions of losing his first diver, since he only got his full instructor certification last week). He had made two ascents and descents looking for me, and couldn't find my bubbles, and was afraid. In fact, during the whole thing, I think I was much calmer than he was, which is the signal virtue of lack of experience.
We made our descents holding onto one another after that.
So, after time for Jeff's heart rate and breathing to normalize, we went back down to the line to do skills. I flooded and cleared my mask WITHOUT getting water up my nose or panicking (hooray!). I did my CESA, which was absolutely fascinating, because I was so worried about exhaling too fast and running out of air before the surface that I wasn't exhaling fast ENOUGH, and found myself about halfway up having to exhale faster because my lungs were too full. What a weird feeling! I got to the surface with plenty of air to blow up my BCD, which I did without problems. I got a big hand for that skill, and Jeff said I didn't even surface too fast. Maybe the prior experience had helped.
Then we went back down and "on tour". Mukilteo is much more interesting on the bottom than Alki was. I had no idea there were so many kinds of anemones, including ones that look like big orange trees that kids would draw in nursery school. If you touch them, they fold up. We saw huge sea stars and big purple starfish, and lots of crabs, including a pair mating. Flounders were everywhere, including where you didn't realize they were until you lost buoyancy again and scared them. Jeff found a very small crab that was all craggy and rough and only about two inches across, and he picked it up and gave it to me, and I watched it crawl across my glove. It was very interesting, although at no time did I have any idea where we were, nor did I ever get my buoyancy right. For reasons entirely unclear to me, this dive I was feet low all the time. I had the same ankle weight on as before, but maybe the extra socks or something resulted in less air in my feet. At any rate, through both dives, I had my feet in the bottom all the time, which is not good. This is part of why I'm going to the pool to start the "Peak Performance Buoyancy" class tonight :)
I did compass navigation back to the shore on the surface, which was cheating, because I was aimed at where I was going, and I could see it. It's a good thing, because the compass in my computer was so sensitive to being kept precisely horizontal that I noticed it didn't move most of the time, even when I did. The compasses in the Suuntos that we bought are much better about this.
I got out of the water and discovered I was almost completely dry. A little damp (and I mean just damp) on the arms. And NOT COLD. So drysuits can actually BE drysuits, which is I guess why they call them that. They just need to label the one from last week a wet drysuit so they can remember that it's different.
One would think that getting lost underwater would have been enough excitement for one day, but it wasn't. When we went down for the second dive, Jeff put me on the line to do the last skills, and the line pulled out of the bottom. The auger came out. It was a non-trivial thing to put it back together, because the first time Jeff put the auger back in, it was too far from the other one for the line to reach, so he had to take BOTH out again and move them. During all of this, I am sitting on my haunches, holding the line from the float, and just watching. Jeff was apparently impressed at my calm, but what was upsetting about all this? Compared with crashing on your back into the bottom all by yourself? No worries.
Anyway, he got it all rebuilt, and I took my mask off and put it back on again, once again without choking myself (I think I may have it figured out now). Then I did navigation out and back, which was absurd, because I'm convinced I swam in a big circle, but I did find the line again. Jeff was with me, but I wasn't following him. That was it for skills except for taking the gear off and on at the surface, which I did okay but only with some assistance, which is apparently allowed. I just can't see my chest strap, and can't feel it very well with those thick, cold gloves. Of course, if I were on the surface in a situation where I had to take my gear off and put it back on without a buddy, I'd be headed for shore anyway.
The second tour was also fun except for constant buoyancy problems. The current was strong enough that there were some times when I was kicking as hard as I could and not making any forward progress at all. I got a taste of what it feels like to overexert and exceed the minute ventilation you can get out of a regulator. Jeff ended the dive in a neat way, by swimming along the bottom as the bottom came up. He says he likes to do this, because it allows one to off-gas during the slow ascent, and makes it more interesting, because you are continuing to see things as you go. The tide had come in, and when we finally stood up, we were right at the steps.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I got my OWN fins on and off yesterday, only using Jeff for balance. He gave me a tip on how to do it that worked really well.
So we came out and tried to get my computer to divulge any information about what we had done, and neither of us could, so we used Jeff's data. I filled out my logbook, and Jeff signed off on it, and I am now a certified SCUBA diver!
BTW, we got to 60 feet on the first dive, so I've gone as deep as I'm allowed.
We took the gear back to the store, and sat in on the introductory talk for the advanced course. We are going to the pool tonight for buoyancy work, and they are going out this weekend. Peter may get all five dives in on Saturday and Sunday, including a night dive. Unfortunately, I have to drive to ML on Sunday fairly early in the day, which precludes me diving on Saturday because I can't meet the 18 hour window for going over the pass. Hadn't even thought about it, but it was a good half-halt because this will often be an issue for me.
I need buoyancy work, and I need hours underwater to get oriented. I'm still completely lost and utterly dependent on my partner to know where I am going, and I don't have enough processing left over to keep track of my computer as much as I should. But it's just like flying an airplane, or even learning to drive a car. At the beginning, there is just too much to manage, but as more and more things become second nature, you free up attention to use on something else.
Anyway, hooray for DRY and WARM, and if those things are always possible, I can dive in the Sound whenever!
You didn't think the books were going to stop coming, did you?
BTW, I did print out the prior volumes and take them to the shop. One of the instructors was reading them before our session tonight, and I heard at least one guffaw. He said, "I LOVE people who can write well." I felt good. I'm underwater-challenged, but golly, I can WRITE.
Tonight was the first session of the "Peak Performance Buoyancy" class, in which I learned that probably 80% of my wallowing, turtle-turning, somersaulting UP and DOWN problems have to do with my equipment. Wow. I thought it was all me.
We met in the shop, where all the classrooms were busy, and talked a bit and signed MORE waivers. There are waivers for diving and waivers for taking classes and probably waivers for signing waivers. I'm not sure, because about 20 waivers into it, I stopped reading them. They wanted my medical history all over again, but they graciously agreed NOT to make me get another doctor's certificate asserting that my asthma is not bad enough to preclude diving. It's a good thing, because the guy who perjured himself on the first one might not be willing to do it again. We talked about equipment, and the guy leading the class told me he wanted me in an aluminum tank. I had checked a steel one out earlier in the day, and he said not to worry, he would bring an aluminum one to the pool. First mistake.
We got to the pool and threw our gear in a corner and went up to the bleachers for some more theory. The theory is nice, if one could put it into practice. Turns out no amount of visualization is going to make up for a steel 72 that wants to obey the dictates of gravity.
Yes, Tim forgot the aluminum tank, so I got in the pool with the steel one. First discovery: Four pounds of weight was four pounds too much. In fact, four pounds of weight was probably eight pounds too much, because in order to be neutral with the steel tank, I had to inflate my BCD about three-quarters of the way. There is a huge penalty to be paid for this, because at that point, you are swimming beneath a pillow. If the pillow turns to one side at ALL, all the air rushes to that side of the pillow, turning you further. There is a REASON I keep ending up on my back. The good thing about it was that, given the experiences of my open water dives, I decided to see what would happen if I let my gear do its thing and I did nothing. I flipped on my back and sank. It was okay -- really okay -- to do that, because I dispelled the lingering visceral conviction that regulators don't work if you are upside down. Somewhere in my subconscious, I was convinced that if I lay on my back, water would rush into the regulator and I would choke. Doesn't happen, as it turns out. I AM getting braver.
Tim came and tried and tried to fix things. We tried ankle weights, but I ended up with my feet on the bottom again. We tried hoisting the tank higher. This resulted in my inability to look anywhere but straight down, but didn't stop the tank from trying to precede me to the bottom. We tried dropping the tank lower. What we couldn't try was a smaller, or lighter, tank.
Between the big tank and the inflated BCD, I found I had to scull with my fins constantly in order to maintain a horizontal and untipped attitude. This was the quick, ineffective kicking that Tim kept trying to get me to stop doing. If I stopped doing it, I flipped over on my back and sank. Hmmm.
Finally, at the end of class, I managed to swim from the deep end to the shallow end and back again, about two feet off the bottom, all with breath control and BCD control. My attitude in the water was sometimes rather unconventional, but I did it. One giant step for scubakind . . .
And the best thing about tonight's class was -- PETER was having horrible trouble! He couldn't get trimmed properly, kept wanting to go over backwards, and was kicking too hard and too much. I tell you, I think those steel tanks want to join the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean, and they are a force to be reckoned with.
The "Advanced" class (which means those of us who can assemble our gear and get ourselves dressed without help) is diving this weekend. Saturday, they are going out to do a buoyancy dive, a photo dive, and then have a barbecue and eat dinner in David and David's camper, then a night dive. Sunday, they are going out on a charter boat to dive some walls and do the deep dive. And I can't do any of it :( Saturday morning, I have my last lesson in this clinic, and Sunday morning I have to drive over the pass, which rules out doing anything underwater after 3PM, which is when they are going out. Oh well. Peter will have fun.
Whew, THREE dives today. I'm amazing I'm still sitting up and typing, but I wanted to get this written while the kaleidoscope of images was still bright and shiny (which nothing underwater was today).
Six of us met at the underwater park at 8am. Once again, an uncivilized hour for a wet parking lot, but it wasn't cold this time, and I made every stoplight between Woodinville and Edmonds, so I was in a pretty good mood. Peter wasn't with me, having elected to take his lesson on Wings rather than show up for the first dive. We all walked up the hill to a diner place to have breakfast. We weren't planning on going into the water until after 10, but we had to get there at 8 to get parking places -- and boy, was that true! Every time we came back to the vehicles to change tanks, we got the evil eye from people cruising for parking and hoping against hope that we were done with our diving nonsense for the day.
Breakfast was amusing. Once more, I opened my mouth. I asked a diving physiology question that, again, nobody could answer. A fair amount of discussion ensued, until finally the chief instructor, Tim, decided that enough was enough and that we should discuss something rather more practical, like what we were going to do later and how we were going to do it, and with whom. However, my seatmate at the table, who is a high-end computer security guy, was so into the problem I'd posed that he kept trying to think through it. Eventually, even I was smiling at his tenacity. (BTW, the problem was eventually referred to the owner of the dive shop, who was able to answer it immediately, but had a broad smile on his face, saying that it was a very GOOD question. See, I told you I'm sharp at the book part of this.)
After eating, and carefully drinking one cup of weak tea (caffeine, you know!) I followed the group back down to the cars and we began the investment ritual. Polarfleece on polarfleece; socks over socks, after warm packs are applied. Everything topped with my BRAND NEW drysuit, which I bought last night because Bud made me such a good deal on it that I couldn't not. It's really quite a nice one, "self-donning" so I don't have to feel like a three year old all the time, looking for somebody to zip me. The seals hold BEAUTIFULLY. After three hours in the water today, I was damp (merely damp) to the elbows and that was IT.
I used the tailgate of someone's truck to get into my gear, since the back of the Audi is rather low for the purpose, and I actually pretty much got myself dressed and hooked up, except for forgetting to turn on my air. I would have realized it eventually. We headed down to the water, which was quite a ways away, since it was a very low tide. Walking on wet seaweed with a tank on your back is a good way to demonstrate all the fancy dance steps you haven't done since high school. But I made it into the water without falling, which was good. Then I faced the great fin-putting-on challenge. Now, last time, I managed the fins quite well, but this time, I was having significant trouble, which eventually led to me lying on my back while Tim put them on me and tightened them down.
Five minutes later, I lost the left one.
Tim went down and found it for me, which was the least he could do.
Dive one was buoyancy, so we swam out to the float and spent time assessing our weight. I was pretty close. During the dive, Tim put two pounds on me and took it off and took my light off and put the weight back on, so I'm not entirely sure what we decided, except that I carried two pounds more the next time. We went down and did fin pivots. The first descent was horrible, losing my balance, falling on my back, flailing wildly, but subsequent ones went better. If I hold onto my buddy I don't fall on my back, and if I don't fall on my back, I needn't flail, so I can almost do the smooth descent with sinuous fishy-kick thing. The fin pivots were eventually fine, when I got the drysuit appropriately inflated, and then we went diving.
Visibility wasn't super, but it was better than it was later in the day. We headed out into the park in pairs, and Tim, bless his heart, held my hand at the beginning. I'd like to think that this was a friendly hand-in-hand stroll in the park, but I think it partook far more of the flavor of trying to help a toddler across a busy street. Nonetheless, especially in view of the visibility, it was a very nice thing for him to do, and allowed me to relax and really look around, and there was a lot to see.
In the course of the day, we saw ling cod (the one as long as both my arms I almost kicked in the head), cabezone (non-biting ones), perch, rockfish, and several sorts whose names I acquired and promptly forgot. We saw two kinds of crabs, several kinds of starfish and sea stars, large nudibranchs and little baby newly hatched nudibranchs, which were festooning the eelgrass. We saw little hopping shrimp and fish-eating anemones. We saw a seal from the surface -- he came and played with Greg and Jesper, but I didn't get to see him underwater. We didn't see any octopus :(
But my heart has been stolen by the huge anemones. At one point, we were swimming through this PVC pipe structure ("tubehenge") like a big jungle gym, where every spar was covered with anemones, some of them at least a couple of feet tall, and all feathery and elegant and brightly white or orange. It was the moment of the day when I felt like the scuba divers in the movies. I had my buoyancy right for those for minutes, and I could glide through this spot and just gaze and marvel and feel like I was on another planet. That was later, but the first dive really went pretty well. From time to time, we would stop by things and work on hovering by them. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. I actually had things going swimmingly as long as I was moving forward, but when the kicking stopped, I often couldn't maintain my attitude in the water, and the tank would pull me over backwards again. There were a few times when I got totally disoriented again, and I still don't like that sensation, but I was far less perturbed by it than before. There is a bottom, and there is a top, and eventually you are going to orient yourself on one of them.
We spent almost an hour in the water on that dive, by far and away the longest one I'd done, and I wasn't cold and I mostly had fun.
The second dive started poorly, with me losing my tank. I couldn't figure out why my descent was going so badly, when I had been doing so well (maybe it was because I was buddied up with Peter?) But I suddenly realized something was bumping me in the butt where nothing should be bumping, so I was either being attacked by a seal or I had lost my tank. I signaled to go back up, but Tim told me to go to the bottom instead, and he fixed it there. I think I won't have that problem as much when the new gear has had a chance to stretch out a little.
This was the navigation dive. We swam a hundred feet counting kick cycles (60) and then turned around to count seconds, which I messed up because I thought I could get the time off my computer, and you can't. Since I've already lost my much-loved Citizen watch to this diving thing (lost out of Peter's car last week), I didn't have any sort of chronometer, and I didn't count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two". Tim didn't flunk me for it :)
Out and back was fine. The squares were more challenging. I list to the right. We weren't hopelessly lost at the end of the square (about ten feet from the line) and it was much better than we were at the end of the left-hand square, which Peter navigated. That one was complicated by current, so we didn't know how long the legs were and ended up much further off.
Having finished those skills, we were told to go off and do some diving together. Tim suggested we swim around the jetty and get out on the beach on the other side. As you might expect, we didn't get fifty feet into the dive before we had to surface and have an argument. I told Peter I wanted to go back to diving with people who are paid to be nice to me:)
Actually, the argument was a good one and one I don't have a good answer for. If one diver leads, and his buddy follows, the leader can't see the follower and has to keep curling around to be sure he isn't swimming off alone. If you swim side by side though, along something interesting, the person on the outside can't see all the cool stuff. We had decided I would lead, because Peter has a tendency to swim off without me, but if I couldn't see him, I kept slowing down to curl around and check his whereabouts, which meant I wasn't leading, I was waiting, and eventually both of us were going nowhere. Since the visibility by this time was really getting bad, it made my anxiety not to lose my buddy even worse. I was about ready to go back, but Peter pointed out that we hadn't seen the end of the jetty (not that we were seeing much of anything) and maybe the viz would be better there . . . and thank goodness, it was. It was some of the best viewing we had all day. We made it back to shore without decking one another, and carried all the gear back to the cars.
The third dive was . . . scooters! Tim has a couple, and he borrowed another one, and we went out and explored the park in third gear. We got all the way out to the east boundary, and that was the trip where we saw the magical anemone forest. I had some trouble getting my buoyancy sorted out with the scooter -- as long as it was running, I could "cheat" and use its motive power to adjust my depth, but when we would stop to look at something, I would generally sink, until I put enough air in my suit that I didn't sink, in which case I rose. There was a short period where I had it very right, though, and that was really fun.
And then we came back to the beach, and carried the gear to the cars . . . again. If I do a lot of this, I will have much stronger legs, or have acquired a Sherpa.
At any rate, the verdict on the day is that it was SO SO SO much better than the prior two attempts that it was extremely gratifying. The learning curve is very steep right now.
Another day of diving, and I have now finished my "Advanced Open Water Diver" certification. I told Tim how ridiculous I found the name, and he said, "Oh, you're just a diver with a little more experience." THAT I'll buy.
Today was deep dive first. We got to 97 feet. I was hoping to get a little narcosis, to have the experience and get three cheap martinis, but no dice. I was as good at the tasks at depth as I was on the surface. I was delighted to discover how EASY it is to maintain your buoyancy, once you've got it right, when you are that deep. There wasn't a lot to see, except for a forest of my favorite anemones on the I-beams and some very cute hermit crabs. I really like diving with the instructor I worked with today. He's a big, kind man, with a tremendous love of diving, and for some reason, inspires an enormous amount of confidence in me. (He's also very patient.) He swims fast, though! I had to work fairly hard to keep up with him.
The second dive was more buoyancy practice. Peter had to abort at the beginning, because he didn't get his drysuit zipper closed all the way (snicker) and was getting flooded. So Jeff and I took off together and went out to the buoy and tried to descend.
If I can get descents and ascents figured out, I will have this pretty reasonably down for a beginner. But at the moment, when I lose visual references, I go a little nuts, trying to somersault and getting really anxious. Jeff and I tried to go down holding onto one another (which worked beautifully for me yesterday), and I was doing fine as long as I was vertical. But when he wanted me to flare out to horizontal and still descend, I got really badly disoriented and started flailing around and getting kind of frantic. As soon as I could see the bottom coming up, it all resolved and I was fine. Maybe this will be better in clearer water? I hope?
Once we got down, we did fin pivots, and I needed a LOT of air in my drysuit, but once I got it, we were fine. Then followed the best half hour yet. Under 40' or so, I was rock stable. For a while, I floated along with my arms out like a sky diver, reveling in the fact that I was just floating -- up a little with an inhalation, down a little with an exhalation, absolutely weightless and completely at ease. Wow. What a drug. Jeff took me over to some pilings that were full of anemones, and a few fish, and we looked for war bonnets but didn't see any, or any octopus either, or any "six fins" which they had promised were often seen. Visibility was pretty decent, maybe even 20 feet or so. We swam into a school of tiny, tiny fish, maybe 2 cm long and 5 mm wide -- literally hundreds of them, and we cruised through them as though they were a thin, silver cloud. Then we saw something alarming -- large, and dark, and wearing two big tanks marked "Nitrox" -- yes, we had run into another diver! That was a strange feeling.
We went in a little bit to where it was a little bit shallower, and cruised a bed of broad-leafed, red kelp, full of crabs and starfish. The intent here was to glide with our stomachs just about, but not quite in the kelp, and I did real well with it. But get me under 30 feet, and things start to go a little haywire. I was rolling on my side and venting for all I was worth, but still getting too much buoyancy. It didn't get really bad, though, until we got to about 15 feet, and we were okay, because the ascent before that had been slow.
One huge piece of progress today: Tim recognized that part of my turtle-turning problem might be that my tank was hanging too low, so we reefed it up about six inches, and all of a sudden, the tank was willing to cooperate. I didn't arch my back this time at all, and didn't tend to swim feet down. To the contrary -- my feet kept wanting to get above me and get some air in them (not dangerous, uncontrolled ascent air, just enough air to make the boots feel loose and insecure, as though they were going to come off. Jeff told me that's normal, but it had me going for a while.) Tim has got me perfectly weighted for my suit and what I'm wearing underneath it -- I don't think it could be better. I mean, I got the "hover perfectly still" thing repeatedly today -- not even sculling with my fins to maintain attitude. Just hanging in mid-air . . . woops, mid-water!
It was a spectacular day, probably high 70's or low 80's on shore. Each time we suited up, we got HOT, and the second time, I found myself thinking, "I can't WAIT to get in the water." Can you believe it?
After diving, we went for fish and chips. I changed into a camisole top and shorts, and it was warm enough to enjoy sitting out there and looking at the view, which is certainly fabulous
This is probably it for diving before we go to Maui, which is a shame. I have the whole week off, and I could dive if I knew anybody who wanted to go during the week. But I need to go with somebody more experienced than I am (although that includes almost the entire diving population!) Peter will go out on Sunday, when they are doing another boat dive, dammit, that I can't do because I work Sunday night.
Are you getting a good chuckle out of the fact that I WANT to go diving?
Sound the trumpets, send up the flares.
I went diving today. With a stranger, who I found on the Internet. Without an instructor or a divemaster or a spouse. I survived, had intermittent fun, and came home with a whole new set of data to analyze.
One of our instructors had told me to get on the shop e-group and ask for a buddy to dive with, so I did. I made it abundantly clear in my message that I was about as green as you can be and be a diver at all, and I was looking for a babysitter as much as a buddy. I got a bunch of return messages, mostly from people who do sound like reasonable companions, but I particularly liked the one from this specific woman. She didn't meet my criteria, which were divemaster or above, but she's just short of her master scuba rating by two specialty dives, and had 165 dives in her log. I asked about her at the shop, and two different people said she could be excessively assertive, but she was competent and safe. Excessively assertive, during a period in my life where I am excessive submissive and dependent, didn't sound bad at all, and it wasn't.
We exchanged a volley of e-mails, at the end of which I had decided that, no matter what her diving skills, this woman and I shared a sense of humor, and many things are possible if that is true. We agreed to meet today at Seacrest, because the tides were such that almost anything else was impossible. Tides were so low that Edmonds would have been diving in eight feet of water, which, in retrospect, may have been what we should have done.
Instead, we met at Salty's. I hadn't slept much, for excitement and apprehension, and neither had she, as it turned out, for the same reasons. I was worried about diving with a stranger, looking like an idiot, or forgetting something critical in my gear; she was worried about diving with a stranger, looking like an idiot (while being charged with everything that I can't yet manage) or forgetting something critical in her gear. Does this sound like a match made in heaven?
We took our time getting everything together. Jacki gave me some good tips -- on lubricant for my seals, on a technique for tightening my tank band (which I should have employed the first time, as my tank once again ended up on the back of my thighs). Tide was so low that it was like hiking down into the Grand Canyon to get to the water. When the shore is that long and steep, you end up carefully picking your way through large rocks and sheets of concrete before you get into the water. And THEN you have to put on your fins.
Jacki has fin strips I lust after. They are made of heavy metal spring, inside a clear plastic tube. No funky, balky straps to pull or release. Just pull them out, and let them spring back. She can get her fins on in 10 seconds. I can't. I lost fins twice today (although I'm getting quite good at the trick of spinning around rapidly and catching the fin before it disappears in the depths -- rather like the seal that can toss the treat off its nose into the air and catch it). Once again, diving is a gear and wallet-intensive sport. BTW, I did buy the fin-keepers, and although they didn't seem to help keep my fins, they totally solved the loose boot problem. Good tip, and thank you.
Our first dive, we went down along the boundary rope, looking for octopus. Jacki had brought mackerel, in the hopes that we would find an octopus and feed it. Instead, the sea stars of Cove 2 experienced manna from heaven. It was fun to see how long their reaction time was -- it would take a full minute, sometimes, for them to realize what they had caught,and then they were literally all over it. On this dive, I was carrying the 18 pounds of ditchable weight that Tim had put me in, plus Peter's ankle weights -- a total of 21 pounds, which was 2 pounds heavier than the last time I dived, in hopes of controlling that last 30 feet.
Below 30 feet, I was in heaven. No heavy feet, no disorientation, no excessive effort or flailing. I felt . . well, I felt rather competent, actually. This went on through the dive, until we began to ascend and hit 30 feet. I felt it coming -- too much buoyancy -- and began venting for all I was worth. It wasn't worth enough, and I ended up in an uncontrolled ascent from about 20 feet to the surface, despite Jacki hanging onto my fins for dear life and TRYING to control matters. We had been cautious, and worked well within limits, so there was no real danger in what happened, but it is definitely one of the most dangerous problems I have, so we discussed it extensively.
Jacki thought I was underweighted, and that as I used the air in the tank, I was becoming excessively buoyant. So we began the second dive with two more pounds on me. I had trouble early on, and she put four more pounds on my tank, which was something we had discussed beforehand. At that point, I was no longer too buoyant . . in fact, I was back to wallowing like a water buffalo. I had to use dry suit and BCD to get neutral, and once I put air in the BCD, I was back to the dreaded pillow affect, where any motion gets magnified, and it's easy to spin completely over. Horrible feeling, compared with the freedom and grace of being properly weighted. The problem is that I have to find a middle ground, or the end of the dive is going to continue to be an adventure.
The second dive, I made it to 15 feet for the safety stop. We were there about 30 seconds, and then something went wrong, and all of a sudden I was going UP again. I didn't add any air to anything; I think I breathed in at the wrong moment. All I can say is that at least I waited to fifteen feet to do it this time.
Viz sucked, but such is my progress with this diving thing that I did not have uncontrollable anxiety about losing my buddy. I actually succeeded in losing ALL visual references a couple of times, and doing nothing violent or maladaptive about it. Repeat after me: "There is a top, and a bottom, and eventually you are going to orient on one of them." The second descent was actually sort of a descent, rather than a tumbling flail to the bottom, and I managed to get my body horizontal and STILL SINK. But still, below 30 feet, I really AM an "advanced open water diver", at least in comparison with the novice open water diver I was before; above 30 feet, I am a klutz.
We did not succeed in finding a lot of wild life today. I saw a rockfish take an exploratory bite at a crab, which was fun. We saw the beautiful plumose anemones, but the water was so murky, even they were not as thrilling. We saw many, many starfish of various shapes and colors, and fed a lot of them, which was fun. We saw a lemon peel nudibranch, and a bunch of hermit crabs and goeducks. But the main attraction of today was a chance to continue to practice, and to make a new friend.
Making the new friend went well.
What I want is the ability to wrinkle my nose like Samantha and instantly transport myself to 30 feet down. Same on the return. I cannot believe that I need more weight, since the difference between the streamlined, elegant, efficient swimming creature I was before the six extra pounds and the wallowing, ungainly, awkward thing I was after was too painful to bear. And even the extra SIX pounds didn't keep me from shooting to the surface from 15 feet, after some kind of ill-timed mishap.
But my next chance to work on this will be in Hawaii.
Peter called the charter operator where we will be diving while we're there. He called me and told me that we could do the "boat dive" specialty for $130/day. I was aghast. I, of course, thought that was $130/day over and above the cost of the charter, which it is not -- that's the total cost per day, which is basically $30 a person for the paperwork to go to PADI, plus the cost of the charter itself. So I guess I'll come home from Maui (if I survive my under-30-foot-klutzness) with one specialty under my belt.
My hope is to continue to do this one day a week. Jacki dives with a group of people that go in at Seacrest every Tuesday evening, and she says that the "leaders" of the group are very experienced and patient divers (instructors) and happy to go with novices. Diving Tuesday evenings might be a way to continue to get bottom time and still be able to do something else with the day, which I certainly didn't manage yesterday -- out of the house at 9:30 to go to the shop to rent a second tank, and home at 7 PM!