Monday, 24 June 2013

My transformation into a Mermaid - Part 1!

 SSI Open Water: Day 2!

So we were scheduled for the afternoon boat for our first 2 open water dives (actual ocean, eak!), so I had until midday to lie-in and prepare mentally for it. When midday came around I met with John in Big Blue 1 where we got my kit together, I took my Tiffy's (cold and flu tablets to help keep my ears unblocked for equalising), had a quick briefing about where we were going and what we’d be doing and waited until 1pm when the boat would leave. We were diving at Mango Bay for the 1st dive, and Japanese Gardens for the 2nd dive.

When 1pm came around, we grabbed our kit bags and carried them to the waiting Big Blue longtail (it was more of a boat really as it was huge), which would take us to the dive boat. We were diving along with one other group (Nick’s group) and a small group of advanced course divers who were with a lovely dive instructor called Natalie, who was also boat master (or boat wench as they called her!).

Once on board the dive boat (after a dodgy lift up from a rocky longtail onto a high dive boat), we went upstairs to the lounge deck and Natalie briefed us on a few bits about the boat, like, don’t touch Buddha Point at the front of the boat as we’ll sink, food and drink will be available upstairs, we could leave our stuff up here, and kitting up will be done on the lower deck etc. We then grouped off with our instructors for a briefing and quick chat about our dives.

As it was just me and John we just sat and had a chat, then he told me, because I still wasn’t confident/getting the mask task very well he wanted to take me closer to shore at Mango Bay, where it would only be about 2 metres of water, to quickly go over it and make sure I was confident before I went down as we couldn’t come up fast if I panicked. The first dive was at 9 metres and we’d just be diving, John said though that he wanted to do a few buoyancy skills and test my ‘drop and retrieve the Regulator’ task on this dive, plus try the mask out before our big test tomorrow at 18 metres, when it would also be filmed, eak!

The next dive would be at 12 metres in Japanese Gardens, where he would also make me do the mask task and the air share task, as he wanted to get me really confident. Then we’d just dive and check out the fishes.

It took around 10 mins to reach Mango Bay, which has crystal clear blue water and calm sea. During which, after the briefing John got me downstairs to kit up. First, I had to put together my weight belt, so I had 4 weights, and first try I put it on the wrong way round, so I had to take them off again and put them on correctly – so that they were facing away from me and had a right-hand release, doh! Then pulling off the safety cap on the air-tank, checking the O-Ring, and quickly checking the air by turning it on and off. Then fitting the BC jacket onto the tank, fitting the regulator onto the tank, and fitting it to the BC. Turning the air on whilst holding the gage on the tank, checking the air through the Reg (smelling it, breathing through it to check the gage doesn’t move), making sure everything was on ok, getting my mask and fins together and then it was ready to start putting on!

When we got to Mango bay me and John suited and booted and then did our Buddy Checks – Bruce Willis Ruins All Films.
1. Bruce = BC, check it inflates and deflates and manually inflates.
2. Willis = Weight Belt, check it’s all on correct and has a right-hand release.
3. Ruins = Releases, check you know all your buddies releases and everything is tight and ok.
4. All = Air, you breathe through your regulator, buddy breathes through your alternate air source, check the gage doesn’t move. Then you check your buddies air by breathing through their alternate air source.
5. Films = Final Ok, check everything is on correct, your buddy is ready and then it’s time to dive!

Once we’d done our buddy checks, we put on our masks and fins and shuffled our way to the back of the boat, where John showed me how to enter the water – the ‘Giant Stride’ – which involved putting your left hand on your regulator and mask, the right hand on your weight belt and taking a giant ‘stride’ into the ocean. John went first, obviously, to show me then I entered next, and luckily it was a successful entry, in fact for me, the entrance into the ocean is and always will be, the scariest part of diving – I HATE entering the water for some reason even with all my kit on so I can see and breathe! Upon entering you have to immediately inflate your BC so you can float and signal ‘OK’ which is a closed-fist upon the top of your head.

Once in we kicked over to shore, where we tried unsuccessfully to master the mask situation in shallow water (I could stand up when under water). For some reason, whatever I did, which John told me was all correct, my mask just wasn’t clearing! So we gave up after about the 5th or 6th attempt as John didn’t want me to get stressed out, and instead he just wanted me to dive so I’d get some more confidence for our 2nd dive. So he told me to deflate and go down, then we’d kick over to the rocks where it would get deeper and we’d just go look at some coral and fishes, and I was totally happy with this! Once down there it was incredible and I started to realise that when you’re not doing skills, diving was AMAZINGLY FUN!! It really is another world down there!

I began to get confident, buoyancy is hard though, you have to keep inflating your BC every now and then in case you were too far down or levelling up vertically, dropping down/maybe deflate your BC a little, then levelling out horizontally to bring yourself lower. But once you got the hang of it, all was good!  John did get me to do the ‘drop and retrieve the Regulator’ task, which I passed perfectly!

There was one point when a giant school of angel fish came along (it was almost double my height) and swam around us, so I totally amazed, followed it all the way around, then came back to where John had been...but he’d already started swimming off and had disappeared!! I managed to glimpse a little of his fins so frantically swam to catch up with him. John kept trying to get me to NOT use my hands, which is incredibly difficult to master, as we’re so used to swimming using hands and legs (in diving you only swim with your fins, no arms, no frantic kicking as otherwise you use up more air – Diving is ‘lazy’ apparently). So he told me to fold my arms to stop me from using them (but when he wasn’t looking I was more than likely using them, he caught me a few times!) While down there you have to constantly be checking your air consumption and signalling how much you have left when John asked for it.

Then before you know it, it’s all over too quick and you have to come up! We were down for around 35/40mins but it goes WAY too quickly I’ve discovered. So John started the ascent by floating the safety buoy to warn boats divers are below, then we came up slowly (never more than 9 metres a minute). Because this dive was quite shallow, we didn’t have to do a 3 minute safety stop at 5 metres, but we would be doing it on the next dive. So we just ascended slowly by deflating the BC and kicking to the top, and once we’d surfaced we inflated the BC and I had to complete a couple more tasks before we kicked back to the boat. First I had to do ‘remove and replace the BC’ while on the surface, so you have to take it off, but because you have the weight belt on you must never let go of it, otherwise you’ll sink! Then you have to sit on it and balance (show your hands) then gradually slip back into it. Next was ‘Weight Belt remove and replace’, so using the right hand release, you had to remove your weight belt, hold it in the air so John could see it, then put it back on – which is incredibly hard!! As I could hardly hold my weight belt on solid land, let alone in the water and control it enough to put it on, but against all odds, I did it!

First Dive = SUCCESSFUL and AMAZING!!! There was a lot of high-fiving and woops of joy on the way back to the boat! I totally had the diving bug now and was eager for more. We met Nick and his group on the way back and John asked for his expert mask help on getting my mask clear, and he reckoned it was because I wasn’t lifting it up enough at the bottom, so air was escaping but no water. So John decided we’d try it at Japanese Gardens along the line before we descended with Nick nearby for help.

Getting onto the boat was tricky as the gear is so goddamn heavy. We first had to grab hold of the ladder and then take off our fins and hand them to the guys on deck, then lift ourselves up the ladder, with a little help from the Thai guys on board, then make our way over to the kit area to take it off. As we were doing a 2nd dive, we simply just turned off our air tanks, took off the BC and regulator (but kept them together) and transferred them onto a new tank, checking the air again and turning it on. Then we went back up on deck for some fruit and drinks while we waited for everyone to come onboard, un-kit and come up on deck. We had a de-briefing and then another brief about Japanese Gardens, which was just around the corner, right next to NangYuan Island.

Once there we got our kit back on, jumped back into the water, and then John had me kick over to the line (which helps you descend on deeper dives) and hold onto it while slightly underwater to get my mask situation sorted. It took a couple of tries and I still couldn’t get it, so John called Nick over and he helped me lift the mask a little more so I understood how to do it, and it did clear!! Then he got me to do it again but this time on my own and after 2 attempts I FINALLY managed to clear it! Well done Nick!!

So me and John were now totally confident about completing it down below, so it was time to descend! John didn’t want me to get too used to using a line to get down, he wanted me to be able to descend on my own, so we came off the line and free-descended instead, making sure we equalised our ears on the way down. The visibility wasn’t great so John had already told me to keep close so I did.

Once we were on the ocean floor he got me to get my buoyancy correct and we went on a bit of a dive, just checking out the underwater world again. Then we came back and settled on our knees on the ocean floor, where he got me to partially flood, fully flood and take off my mask and clear it, and on all 3 times I managed to clear it – YAYYYYYYYY!!!! FINALLY got this thing DOWN!  By then it was time to ascend, BUT with one more task - the air-share task, (oh no, it’s never over!).

Once we’d done our 3 minute safety stop, we then had to do the air-share task, where I was out of air, once successfully air-shared and hand-gripped, we ascended to the top the last 5 metres by kicking and I had to manually inflate my BC on the surface, which is difficult when being hit by waves! But I did it somehow. Then unfortunately that was it for day 2 (sad face). So we kicked back to the boat, and then had a de-briefing which was basically a lot of ‘Thank You’s’ from me and ‘You did awesome, I’m so proud of you’s’ from John and we took the boat back to Sairee beach, took our kit onto shore, washed it off and handed it in to be set up for tomorrows dive. Tomorrow would be a 6am start for a 7am boat, so an early night for me!

After saying goodbye to John – until tomorrow – I went to shower, went and got my washing and a pancake, then met some newcomers in my room. After a bit of umming and arring as we were all super tired (the guys had just come from Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan where they’d done an all-nighter) we all decided (along with Connie the German girl in my room) to go for some drinks at Big Blue Bar for an hour or so (my bedtime was a strict 9pm). We just chatted, had some beers and then I went to bed for some rest, ready for my final two dives (and my actual transformation into a mermaid) tomorrow!

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