Late 2015 I said to myself I must take the next step and go for my Technical Diver 1 rating with GUE.
Lets just have a quick look at what GUE themselves have to say the course entails:
"GUE’s Technical Diver Level 1 course is designed to prepare divers for the rigors of technical diving and to familiarize them with the use of different breathing and decompression mixtures. Additional course outcomes include: cultivating, integrating, and expanding the essential skills required for safe technical diving; problem identification and resolution; the use of double tanks/cylinders and the potential failure problems associated with them; the use of Nitrox for accelerated and general decompression strategies; the use of Helium to minimize narcosis; and the applications of single decompression stage diving, with respect to decompression procedures."
Sounds easy enough doesnt it...?
Well, that depends if you have done the Fundies course or not.
My Fundies course was with two well known NZ Tech Divers - Tom Crisp and Mike Batey.
Both had done numerous dives with double tanks and were both very capable divers - so as a shallow water single tank Wellington diver I was well out of my depth - and as a result I struggled. My second twinset dive ever was day #1 of the course, in the pool in Auckland.
And as you can imagine that didnt end well - but I passed the course with a "Recreational" pass (Rec) and worked hard to re-sit the exam for the "Technical" (Tech) pass a few months later. Since then I have been working on the skills/drills and preparing for this next step.
One of the most facinating facts that my dive mentor Jamie highlighted to me was the fact I had done these skills before and had absolutely no issues, gas switching alone seemed so difficult.
And I had less than a few months prior I had done gas switching with J.C with no problems.
Jamie noted: "And the reason why, is because J.C did eveything.." - he monitored depth, ran and planned the decompression, basically single handedly managed the dive.
That was quite a realization...
On top of that I also had difficulty in reaching my tank valves and even venting gas from the drysuit on the fast ascents we did from the HMNZS Waikato.
End result was we both scraped through the course first time and passed - It was a hell of a ride.
However I was still very keen to tag along for my very good friend from NIWA Dr Serena Wilkens Tech 1 course, which was still scheduled to run - and GUE NZ Chief Instructor Jamie Obern had added a third team member to what would have been mine and Serena's course.
This third member was Tristan Jongejans, someone who I had bumped into on the odd ocassion at the Dive Tutukaka HQ.
Serena was someone I had known for quite some time and was an extremely capable diver as she dives as a primary part of her job at NIWA and regularly dives in high stress zero visibility locations.
At this stage I had no idea who Tristan was or how this would pan out working as a team under duress. I would soon learn just what a genuinely amazing character he was.
- one of the real good guys.
So we dropped in to the blue waters of the Poor Knights for our first days diving and training on the course - and later that day was when the strangest thing happened... I found myself talking to Jamie about the present dives - and about not taking photographs as I was originally planning to do.
I genuinely felt if I did not participate as a totally functional member of the team I would in effect let the team down.
(Now this was huge for me, as I knew just how tough and exhausting the course was.... and the thought of doing it all all over again was not one I had taken lightly.)
This was one of the first times I had really felt the sense of - "Team" - team is a word I hear being used quite a lot in the dive community, so as an advocate of "Team diving" - I had to question my own concept of team again, as this was different. - Wonderfully so...
One of the things I really struggled with on my T1 course were the ascents in blue water. Ninja master Jamie soon noticed my struggle and pointed out the odd location of my air dump valve on the arm of my drysuit - the valve was almost on my bicep area.
(Too far forward to vent gas without braking trim.)
On the ascents I would have to perform all manner of contortion in an attempt to ditch the expanding air which was apparently quite clearly pooling behind my valve as we rose from depth.
A quick call to another good guy Rob Edward - South Coast Drysuits and at extremely short notice the problem was sorted - we shifted the valve well back.
(Rob's work is absolutely grade A.)
This re-location of the valve made venting air from my drysuit on ascent much easier and I didn’t have to break trim doing it - Rob and I also compared the valve location with the SANTI and DUI range of suits.
Our suspicions were confirmed when we noticed the valve locations on both were much further back - this could be for any number of reasons - one of which could be the fact that my suit is an off the shelf size and it may simply just be too big for me. (who knows…)
- the below image clearly shows the far more optimal ditch angle for the vent and the patch where the valve used to reside.
I also have implicit trust in Jamie as he deftly watches over everything going on - and I mean everything, from gas consumption rates to the NDL (No Decompression Limit)- he misses nothing.
One of the main reasons for adding helium to the breathing mix is to reduce the proportions of nitrogen and oxygen below those of air (78% and 21% respectively), to allow the gas mix to be breathed safely on deep dives. A lower proportion of nitrogen is required to reduce nitrogen narcosis and other physiological effects of the gas at depth.
It’s also a much lighter gas which requires a lot less effort to breathe at depth. The deeper you go, the more dense the air becomes to breathe, making it significantly harder to inhale through the regulator. This increased breathing difficulty can then cause other issues such as the build-up of carbon dioxide – a very serious and dangerous problem for divers.
On my first T1 course I got a bit carried away finning (swimming) and ended up feeling the effects of carbon dioxide build-up with a heightened sense of anxiety - which was unpleasant and made me quite nervous about diving to depth again.
However - I did the first dive with Serena and Tristan. The conditions were not great and I had felt a bit run down from the start of the day, this was a 45m dive at Danger Rock (east coast of Northern New Zealand) with the awesome team at Northland Dive. After completing the dive I was again feeling the effects of anxiety and stress so I decided for the better of the team that I stand down from the second dive - I was feeling quite low and that I was to some extent holding the team back.
I declared to the team and Jamie that I wasn’t feeling the best and would sit the next dive out - THIS was a moment of reckoning as both of my team members without even batting an eyelid turned one after the other and clearly stated how much they valued me as a team member and needed me on the dive.
Tristan with a broad smile said: - "Rob you have to dive, we have jobs for you to do". I felt emotion well up and I had an enormous sense of belonging. This was new - this was "Team". I was really on my way to bettering myself and I knew it.
Armed with this ultimate weapon I backwards rolled off the boat for the second dive into the fairly angry seas. The boat was lurching and some of Tristan’s gear dislodged in the big water movement. Tristan in his usual style just managed the situation completely relaxed, and I looked to see Serena holding on to the anchor line as she disappeared below the water as the line thrashed up and down in the swell and chop. Serena was relaxed and looked more concerned about me - but this was the perfect place for me.
I felt an incredible feeling of connection with the ocean and I have respect for it, an amazing feeling of calm washed over me as the ocean churned around me. The team was ready and we were ready to do this dive as a multi functioning machine - we were the Swiss Army knives of dive teams.........!!!!
We did the next dive with Bottlenose Dolphins and they swam and played with us from the depths to the surface - It was magical. And I had learned so much about myself and the team on that dive, there was no ego or negativity - we had a perfect equilibrium....
I was running the dive as team captain and I nominated roles for the team.
Deco (Decompression profile.) for Serena and Tristan has a unique local knowledge of the Poor Knights area, so this time he would navigate. I told the team I was nervous about the depth and as a team we had decided it was best to take this head on. So I would drop down the wall and head for 51m....
I remember it well - I plummeted down like a slow motion parachutist - watching the depth numbers roll past on my Petrel (Shearwater Petrel - Dive computer.) - 51m came quickly and my mind raced.
My senses calmed... and the training and trust in the team took over - their words came to me in quiet confidence - "You have got this Rob.." - Serena's calming voice washed through my mind.
I turned and smiled at the team gave them the "Ok" signal and I could see my mentor Jamie smiling broadly - he was mouthing the words - "See...Its beautiful down here".
I felt incredibly proud to be a part of the team and this course, we continued along at 45m for quite some time and I had defeated my fear with the support of my teacher and team.
I shook each of their hands - I looked up the wall and saw the wall so high from 50m that it faded away well before the surface was visible, its an incredibly humbling feeling.
Reminded me of the Wall from Game of Thrones....
Dr Serena Wilkens NIWA
Jamie Obern & Mel Jeavons Tech Dive NZ
Kate Malcom and the team at Dive Tutukaka
Shane and Julia at Northland Dive
Global Underwater Explorers
Halcyon Dive Systems
And a parting quote of exellence - Regards Rob Wilson