So, having done just about every tech course short of a Trimix Card, getting one had been on the cards for a while now. At some stage trying to get my Global Underwater Explorers Fundamentals (GUE Fundies) buddies back together for Tech 1 had been mooted but our schedules never seemed to gel.
So the other option of just doing TDI Trimix came about… and Simon, my erstwhile and long suffering dive buddy, agreed to do it with me. Of course, getting a commitment to a date was another story altogether and so, I think more than a year after I first talked to Gary about doing the course, a date was finally set on The Ark.
Of course, real life gets in the way and I then promptly forgot about it. The realisation slowly dawned upon me about week and a bit before the trip itself, as I had a vague recollection that we had, in a bout of keenness, opted to do a pool session to brush up on skills.
Luckily, as I had not unpacked my dive bag from my last trip, no preparation was required for the pool session (or so I thought). All that was needed was to pick up my stage bottle.
Call me weird, but I actually quite like diving in the pool. Actually I guess I like diving full stop, so just being underwater is fun for me. So I wrapped up my work quickly and actually was ready to jet out the office at 5pm. The pool session had been scheduled for 6.30pm.
Unfortunately, Simon said he was running late, so I just told Gary I’d meet him there at the appointed time to help him unload the truck.
(Kelvin’s tip – always be helpful to your Instructor in every possible way)
Outram pool was its usual crowded self. So Gary and I had a chat about the skills requirements for the course and what we were going to do for the pool session. We then started to kit up.
This is where I realized, that my erstwhile grand plan of never unpacking dive gear from a trip, had its shortcomings. Or one particular shortcoming, when I discovered that one of the bling bling aluminium dust caps that I had bought for my first stage was well and truly stuck on and refused to come unscrewed.
However, all was not lost. Every good diver, should always have a spare, and thankfully I had a spare first stage floating around so we just swopped the hoses over.
We then got in the pool and drills commenced. Having not dived with stages for a while, I guess my muscle memory deserted my fingers so I took a while to get the one handed clipping and unclipping down. In the course of it, and dealing with two stage bottles, I somehow managed to gash the tip of my thumb open.
Of course, I did not realise this, till I started to see blood flowing out underwater from the cut. We proceeded to the shallow end and when I got up out of the water, the blood flow was really quite epic. I think Gary was a bit lost for words at that stage..
Anyway, undeterred, I slapped on a band-aid and my glove and looking a bit like Michael Jackson (MJ) wearing only one glove, got back in the pool.
Going back in the pool, we then started on some “Out of Gas” (OOG) scenarios. Due to the extreme loss of blood and my befuddled state, I had somehow managed to get my long hose snagged. So when Simon signaled he was out of air, I reached for my second stage and when I was in the process of offering it to him, I realised, that my hose was stuck. Gary’s eyes rolled for a second time I think… But seriously Gary, I blame the loss of blood.
Anyway, mortally embarrassed by this numpteenth mistake, I refused any offer of assistance to help figure out the problem and proceeded to unwrap the hose. Everything thereafter proceeded quite smoothly. Satisfied with our skills, (I think) Gary called an end to the session.
(Kelvin’s tip – on a more serious note, I’m glad we had the pool session and I think they are a good idea to have one before any big trip or if you have not been diving in a while. Any problems with equipment can be detected – rather that, than on the boat itself en route to your destination, and the importance of doing simple things like basic checks can be remembered and reinforced).
Pool session over, it was now time to look forward to the trip. Of course, before any big trip, there is always the chance (or excuse) to go down to the local dive shop to spend some money. So on Thursday, I popped over to Friendly Waters Seasports (FWS) on the pretext of getting them to help unscrew my offending dust cap. In the process, three new hoses, a reel and a bottle of frog spit were acquired (all absolutely essential of course).
Dave (the owner of The Ark and FWS) was there, and as seems to be par for the course for us, our usual bantering started.
“Are your regs 02 clean?”
“Why do I need 02 clean regs for backgas?”
“Cos my twins are 02 clean!”
Quizzical look ensues.
“How much are you charging me for helium?”
“My prices are cheap considering prices have gone up.”
“Cheap is a relative concept.”
“Why are you sorting out all your gear just before a dive trip, I’ve known people to die from doing this.”
“But it’s not the day before the dive trip, it’s two days.”
“Is this reel made of delrin?”
“No, if it was it would be more expensive.”
“But its already so damn expensive!”
“Can I settle the balance for my other dive trips?”
“Do you take credit card?”
“Call this a business?”
Anyway, bank account partially depleted, it was time to look forward to the trip. Friday came soon enough and before I knew it, I was rolling up to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (TMFT) and unloading my bags. One of the interesting things about dive trips is you never know who your diving companions are going to be for the weekend. So for this trip, we had a whole gaggle of schoolkids. However, it was also good to see some familiar faces in Matt, Sarah and Phil.
So the boat was loaded and soon enough we were underway to Seven Skies (via Batam in Indonesia).
After dinner, Gary, Simon and I had a sit down to plan the diving for the next day. This is where of course we realised that we had some tough decisions to make as far as gas planning was concerned.
And this was the time, that Gary earned a new nickname, to add to the many that he already has, right Gavin?
In the course of playing around with numbers on Vplanner, Gary saw the Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rate we had planned, (to see it was on the high side and would be a generous understatement). When he expressed his shock/ incredulity, Simon said,
“But Gary, you are a dive god!”
And that is how a nickname is created. And from henceforth that weekend, Gary was (quite rightly) referred to as Dive God. For the purpose of this report, and as my fingers are getting tired, all references to Gary shall now be as DG.
Back to our dive plan. So, it turns out, that we had both been given larger 12.5 litre tanks. So after some fiddling around, we came up with a first dive plan of 45m for 30min. Total run time was around 1 hour and based on Vplanner we still would have had around 1700 litres of backgas spare. As part of our course requirements, we also had to work out some contingencies like lost 50%, 5m deeper, 5 mins longer etc, etc. Of course, doing some of this makes you realise that you can run into some serious gas issues in a contingency. I think for the lost 50% we would have run out of backgas somewhere up on the way up to 6m. Anyway, we came up (with DG’ concurrence) a relatively simpler set up of contingencies. I would state what that was, now, but my slate is at the bottom of my unpacked divebag. It was something like – double up the stops on backgas as far as possible, get to 6m and hang on 100% till computer cleared.
Anyway, with contingencies cleared, we then settled and rigged dive gear and analyzed gases. The first dive fill was for 20/20. We then realized that I had a tank of 20/30. It wasn’t a bad thing, just meant my expensive helium bill for this trip just went up by a fair amount. We realised later, that I had actually been given a fill meant for another diver, but as our gear had already been rigged up, we just decided to stick with it.
Being prudent students, we ran the deco schedule based on 20/30 but it didn’t give anything significantly different to 20/20 so the plan was largely unchanged.
After a bit more chit chat, it was time for bed. As always, I never sleep well that first night on dive trips, partially due to excitement of the next day’s diving, and partially, because Dave has seen fit to install mattresses on The Ark that would make an adamantium bed seem like soft goosedown.
Matters were compounded a bit further by a somewhat rough passage to the dive site. Lying on a rock hard bed, in a rolling boat, I felt a bit like that guy who had a suit with roller blades all over i.e. I was sliding all over the place. I realised the only way to keep stable, was to splay out all my limbs.
Waking up bright and early on Saturday around 7am, I went up to the dive deck, to realise that everyone was still sleeping. I then found out, we weren’t due to hit the wreck till around 10+. Ah well, back to bed it was.
Soon enough everyone was up. Dave expressed confidence that we would be able to get our 3 dives in as he had a mooring line set up on the wreck from the previous week. Somehow, we all soon learnt, that Dave’s confidence about the state of his mooring lines, was about the same as DG’s confidence about visibility at dive sites.
Sure enough, the mooring line was nowhere to be seen. Being old hands at this, we chilled upstairs whilst all the more optimistic divers sweated downstairs in their wetsuits as Dave set about tying us off.
Once tied off, we kitted up and got in the water. The plan was for quick stop at the 6m deco bar to check bubbles and long hoses and then down to the wreck. The descent went okay and conditions were not too bad with a mild current. Soon enough we were on the wreck. We had originally planned to do some simple valve drills on the deck but as there was a bit of current swirling all over it, that was not possible. We then proceeded down the hatch to have our look around at 45 metres.
Helium. That expensive gas. I’ve been down to 45 metres before on air, and was pretty off my head. So it was a big change to now dive helium and my head definitely felt clearer. I can’t say that I wasn’t still a bit narced though. I know this because, on this dive, I had brought down my little gopro type camera. Wanting to film some footage, I then realised, I had forgotten to turn the camera on before the dive (there is no on off button on the casing, it has to be turned on before the camera is put in the casing). I then knew I was still a little narced, because down there at 45m, the thought briefly crossed my mind, of whether I should open up the casing to turn it on.
Gary then proceeded to lead us into one of the side rooms in the superstructure. I was behind him, and Simon was behind me. As we circumnavigated the room and made back for the exit, I noticed that visibility had dropped off a fair bit i.e. there was a bit of a silt up.
People have asked me before, when seeing my enormous 21w HID canister light, “Why do you need such a big torch Kelvin?” Secretly, maybe they wonder if its for the same reason people buy expensive sports cars. Some people have also expressed shock, when finding out how much damage a 21w HID canister light, can do to one’s bank account. Well, I guess I’ve always liked bright torches. And maybe I have a secret fetish for blinding marine life at a thousand paces. But I will say this…
45 metres deep, inside a wreck, on open circuit with a limited supply of gas, in a slightly silted out room, I will never regret the money I spent on that torch. Despite the drop in visibility, it was not hard to make out the wall, and from there it was easy to know the way back out. The rest of the dive went without incident. We went back up the hatch and did some stage removal drills, before ascending back up the line for our deco.
But before I deal with that, I will just talk about the silting. Of course, back up on the boat later, we all vehemently denied being responsible for being the one. Clearly, DG would never have committed such a faux pas, so the responsibility was down to Simon or me, or perhaps some erstwhile marine creature. I have, before this course, gone for GUE fundies and as well as prep courses for it. And, for all its criticisms, if there’s one thing that GUE does well, is turn out divers who have good buoyancy and trim. If for any reason, it looks great underwater. I also know, that during that excursion into the room, as I was only slightly narced, that I had not made any contact whatsoever with any part of my body. But if there’s one thing that we have to realize about technical diving, is we can’t shrug off mistakes and we need to learn from them, if we are to have a continued and safe future in this sport. So I have to accept responsibility for it, I think the only likely explanation was that my trim had perhaps dropped slightly at one stage, and a bigger than usual frog kick had been sufficient to cause the silt to be stirred. So, this is a salutary reminder to me – to always be extra vigilant about my trim, and that we were taught all those small gentle kicks for a reason.
Kelvin’s Tip – No matter how much training you have had, or how fabulous you think you look under water, it will never be good enough. Unless of course, you are Chuck Norris, or DG.
Back to the dive.
The deco went well enough and our run time was pretty spot on. However back on the 6 metre bar, I realised that there was a bit more swell that we would have liked. It was here that I was then presented with one of life’s little conundrums. Do I struggle to unclip my stage bottles with my broken thumb so I can hand them up to the boat guys, or do I struggle up the ladder fully kitted up.
This was actually no easy decision. Unclipping the stages in that swell with my thumb, was I felt going to be a big ask. At the same time, although having dived many times with twins and on occasions a 7 litre stage, this was the first time I was going to have to ascend a ladder with bigger 12.5 litre twins, a bigger 11 litre 50% bottle, as well as an additional 100% bottle in addition to can light, 2 back up torches, and all the back up gear in my pockets. I honestly had simply no idea if I could make it. Anyway, I settled on option 2. Surprisingly, it was not as bad as I thought it would be, but there was a still a bit of an excruciating wait as I stood there dripping, whilst they unclipped my stages, and I had to resist the temptation to not cry like a baby.
Back on deck, lunch was eaten and as we had a bit of a surface interval I went to plonk myself down and watch TV. Dave was also there. In fact, I think he was there the whole trip, unmoving, like the sphinx. It’s a good life being owner of a dive boat. Just sit there and watch TV the whole time. Soon enough, we were at it again.
“What snacks did you bring?”
“You are a lawyer, why don’t you bring macadamia nuts?”
“I was going to, until I realised how much you were charging for helium.”
“Why are you wasting time learning OC (open circuit), just get a JJ CCR (closed circuit rebreather).”
“I was going to, until I realised how much you were charging for helium.”
“Why don’t you have a nespresso machine on this boat?”
“I do. Theres a dolce gusto.”
“I said, why don’t you have a nespresso machine on this boat?”
It was also around that time, that I understood, one of the benefits of having a gaggle of schoolkids on a dive boat. They bring with them, an unending and various supply of all manner of sweets and chocolates and goodies. Which Dave, was readily helping himself to. See, it’s a good life. Being a boat owner. Lie there, watch TV all day and steal candy from kids.
Anyway, I took the liberty to reacquaint myself with the joy of eating nerds (the sweets that crackle and pop in your mouth).
Soon enough, surface interval was over and it was back down for our second dive. This time, we had planned a dive to 55 metres for 10 minutes and then back up to 35 metres for around 15 minutes and back up. Run time was around the same at about an hour. This time, I managed to remember to switch the camera on so got some footage of the dive. As for the dive itself, it went smoothly. As our dive was deeper we didn’t do any penetration but just went down the superstructure and back up again. The dive proceeded uneventfully and we were soon back on the line for deco. This time, the swell had picked up, so we made use of the jon lines on the deco bar and grabbed the 100% surface supplied O2 regulators. I think Dave must have had some budget issues when fitting out the surface supply, because the regulator I picked up was the odd one out – it was that extra small back up octopus type with a side type exit. And it breathed like crap so I had to dig around for another one. After bouncing around for the required time, we proceeded back up to the surface. It was then, that I felt, that somehow, the top clips of both my stage bottles had become unclipped and they were hanging somewhat free.
So, for the second time that day, I was presented with life’s little conundrums. Go back down to the 6 metre bar, and try with broken thumb in a swell, to clip back on, or get out of the ladder with bottles hanging around my legs.
Luckily and by the grace of King Neptune himself, I managed to clip them back on to something, so I managed to exit without any drama.
After that second dive, and with the worsening conditions, we decided to skip the option of a third dive at Seven Skies and we headed to Damar (a nearby sheltered island).
We had a great dive there. The conditions were nice and calm, visibility was good and it’s a nice reef. Huge, gently sloping and lots of soft and hard coral and a reasonably amount of fish. We took the opportunity to do the rest of the required skills (no mask OOG swim, valve drills, tox diver recovery and 30 metre surface tow etc) and things went well and without any incident. Soon enough we were back on the boat, where a well deserved beer was handed over to DG, as soon as he was out of his gear.
(Kelvin’s tip – always bribe your Instructor at every possible opportunity)
However, on the back of 3 longish dives, we decided to skip the night dive that night, as we had done all the required skills and there was only the no mask ascent & deco to be done which was planned for our Igara dives, the next morning.
The food on Dave’s boat is always really good and I always enjoy the Saturday night BBQ and that night’s was no different. But Dave! What happened to the steak and sausages?!
In the course of the dinner, the boat was starting to drift perilously close to the rocks (apparently we lost the mooring, again).
As Dave was in his usual place, i.e. by the TV, and as the crew were out the front on the BBQ, no one actually realised this except for ever alert DG, who saved the day by alerting the crew. Ah, a trip on The Ark, is never without fun and excitement.
Anyway, the evening ended with a bit more television and the consumption of many sweets. Which promptly caused me to have an allergic reaction. Luckily I had some antihistamines in my first aid kit.
(Kelvin’s tip – always be prepared for every eventuality on a dive boat, including a swollen lip due to the consumption of too many nerds)
I have never seen the nurse shark at Igara, despite several trips to that wreck. So that evening, when I mentioned this to DG, he said that we should get up early so we could be the first in the water and into the rope room where they were.
Following his sage advice, I was up at 6am the next day. I went out to the dive deck and realised, everyone was still sleeping. It seemed no one had told me, that we were not due to arrive at the Igara to around 10.30am.
At that stage, I did have the slight urge to go and kick the still sleeping DG awake. By chance or maybe good management, he was sandwiched between two other people so the opportunity did not arise.
Thankfully, the mooring line was there when we got to the site, as was the White Manta with its usual truckload of divers. Thankfully they were already in the water, otherwise things would certainly have been fun down on the wreck. As seems to be par for the course everytime we encounter that boat on the wreck, their divers popped up on the wrong mooring line and one even came up on an SMB. They should all sign up for courses with DG.
As I passed through the TV room, Dave was in his usual position.
“Whats your dive plan?”
I told him.
“You will never make it back in time by 12pm, you aren’t even kitted up yet.”
“Beer on you if I do.”
PS, Dave, you owe me a beer.
We had planned a dive to the bottom at around 40 metres and then an ascent up to the deck and just a look around before we did our no mask ascent. I was tasked to be the first person with no mask. It was a nice dive. I had never been down so deep on that wreck before and seeing the whole of the bow and was a great experience. We did overshoot a little so we had to fight the current a bit on the way back. Back near the mooring line, it was drill time. So off with the mask and my life was now in the hands of my dive buddy to get me back up on the line, which actually all went without a hitch.
I did learn some things. First, salt water in a current and no mask for an extended duration, stings like a … (you know what I mean). However, as I had to still watch out for signals for gas switches and ascents etc, I had no choice but to keep them open.
Secondly, contrast is everything when you are half blind. I could barely make out Simon’s large hand and his signals, but I could see make out quite well my dive computer readings.
On the way up, as Simon was adjusting his computer settings, he drifted a little from the line. So I reached out and grabbed him. See Simon, even half blind, I saved your life. I’ll take the beer next time.
Reaching the surface after computers had cleared, we then descended back down to repeat the drill, this time with Simon having no mask. When we got to the bottom, I realised that I only had around 90bar of backgas left, so I asked DG to check on Simon’s. Turns out he was running a bit lower so DG asked him to switch to his 50%. Life saving exercise #2. I’ll take that second beer next time. The ascent went without a hitch and we were back up on the boat. That was effectively the end of the skills part of the course.
As we had one dive left, we decided to have a fun dive without stages for the next dive. We also kept a short surface interval, so we hung around on the deck between dives.
The last dive was fun. There was a really stupendous amount of fish on the deck which we enjoyed seeing. We made a quick foray down into one of the holds as one of our plans was to get some iron ore souvenirs. When we got to the bottom, I heard this BOOM, BOOM sound. I actually had no idea what it was. I then realised it was DG, banging some rocks (actually iron ore) against each other. So I thought, hmm, I’ll follow suit. I grabbed a rock, and banged it against another rock. Clink, clink. Harder. CLINK CLINK.
You see, that’s the difference between a DG and a mere mortal. They get BOOM. We get clink. Pockets filled, we made our way back up and on the boat.
Back on the boat (it was around 2 plus) we realised lunch had come and gone. So I joined the three girls (sorry I have no recollection of your names – Gary says they were Natasha, Cherilynn and Krystal) who were feasting on peanut butter and bread. I showed them the joys of a Nutella banana sandwich, and then headed down to the saloon to join Dave.
“There was no lunch.”
“It’s not my fault you were underwater when it was served.”
“If you had been on deck you would have known and saved me some.”
“What is this awful movie you are watching?”
“It’s Tom Cruise.”
“So? It’ awful.”
Seriously though, it was awful. I learnt along the way that it was called Oblivion. An apt name, cos soon enough I was fast asleep, as was Dave.
Afterwards, whilst stuffing our faces with stolen children’s candy, Dave asked, ”Don’t you have to do your trimix exam?”
I then gave him one of life’s great lessons.
Always put off to later, what you can put off to later, and proceeded to eat more nerds.
The trimix exam. To anyone from TDI reading this – hello. We are in the modern world. No one, and I mean no one, except perhaps old style Americans, uses imperial measurements anymore. So if you ask me to work calculations using feet and feet per sea water (FSW) depths, especially on a dive boat, in the middle of nowhere, with no access to the internet, to do conversions, you will understand my frustration.
Thankfully, DG was quite understanding, so, after refreshing my memory about Mr Boyle and his equations, we did all the questions that we could and just skipped a couple of the more excruciating ones. And that was about that. Smooth progress was made and we were back home before 8pm and I had a new certification (Gary says – metric exam now available if you would like to retake?).
Thank you DG for all your patience, help and instruction. It was a lot of fun. The thought has vaguely crossed my mind of TDI Advanced Trimix, but receded when my wallet heard about the cost of helium.
Thank you Simon. I struggle to think what for, but it seems a polite thing to say. J
To Dave, well, your helium prices are actually not too bad la. Even if it was expensive, you know we love diving with you and your boat.