Ok, here we have it. I have successfully completed some tech diving training and survived! Who’d have though it? I decided to go with TDI and the first step on their very tall ladder is TDI ADVANCED NITROX. Sounds very tech doesn’t it? - I thought so and knew everyone would be suitably impressed. So, here’s a step by step account of my experience of TDI Advanced Nitrox training courtesy of Maltaqua in Malta.
So, avid tech divers in the making, Kerri and I landed in an airport in Malta somewhere at 1pm. I don’t know where exactly as I leave all that boring arranging holidays and stuff to Kerri, I just nod and follow. We doffed the plane, I nodded and followed, retrieved our luggage from the carousel and headed into the foyer. On cue, a rather handsome fellow (Will) from Maltaqua was holding my name on a placard. This felt rather nice, an element of fame and importance upon my arrival, I hoped this would continue. Will led us to a small truck, our gear was stowed and Kerri and I were escorted straight to the dive centre. No messing here, this was straight to business.
We were introduced to the head shed of Maltaqua, Agnes, a very friendly Maltese woman who owns and runs the centre with her Scottish born husband Mike. They have been doing this since the ice age so we felt immediately at ease and confident they could make us tech divers!
We got our apartment stuff sorted, signed some forms and went for lunch in the nice wee café conveniently found next door, "The Peppermill". Whilst we were having a ludicrously inexpensive lunch we began discussing what our instructor would be like. I imagined a very serious, stern, Special Forces type guy dressed in black, with deco tables tattooed on his forearms. At that moment a polite, very English sounding, steel haired guy in his forties, not any taller than me walked into the café. We just knew this was the guy. Not what I was expecting I have to admit, this guy seemed pretty normal. He wandered over to us, raised a hand and a smile, introduced himself as David, and explained he was our instructor. I replied, “We were just hoping it wasn’t you!” He gave a laugh and I knew the week was going to be a lot of fun, probably at each other’s expense. I was right.
Again, no messing, we were escorted to the classroom and straight to learning to be tech divers. We already had our manuals and had been revising all week, but we started at the beginning and David talked us through the manual, chapter by chapter, going over the knowledge reviews at the end, then asking additional questions and answering any we had. It was clear this guy knew his stuff.
It was after 5pm when we finished and we headed back to the Peppermill for extraordinary cheap food and beer then headed back to the apartment for some well earned sleep.
The second day was all about getting wet. I was really looking forward to getting into the water, all this talk of scuba and no action was getting to me. Kerri and I brought our gear round to the shop and David met us with 2 twin sets and told us to get our kit together. Now, I had never actually dived twin 12’s before and was pretty shocked at the weight of the things. I knew they’d be heavy but this was mental. Kerri opted for twin 10’s in the end, but to be honest they were still pretty heavy.
Wings and regs were hastily put together in the hope that we didn’t look like prats in front of the jedi master watching over us. I did quite well I thought, David wasn’t hugely impressed by my hose routing initially but I explained I used it this way at home on my twin 7’s and he was happy enough. Poor Kerri had fallen at the first hurdle. The twin 10’s had strange spacing between the bolts which didn’t fit the Frog backplate spacings. So there was all kind of struggling from her and David as they relocated the fixings then all was well again in the tech diving world.
We then went for our first dive at Sireens, a shallow 6m dive in which we could check our weighting and do a few drills. Drills? You serious? We’re only here and we’re gonna have to do stuff….already? Apprehension was now setting in. There was talk of valve shutdowns, mask removals, trim and buoyancy control. I’m sorry – what?
|The Sireens Pool|
David gave a thorough brief of what we were going to be doing and showed us our entry and exit points. This was all grand aside from the metal ladder we would be using to haul ourselves, and said twin sets, out of the water. I wasn’t totally convinced I was fit for this, but it was the standard procedure so I guessed I’d be ok. One giant stride later my twin 12’s and I were plummeting to the sea bed.
This was amazing. The twinset sat wonderfully on my back, held firmly in place buy my trusted Halcyon backplate and webbing. Buoyancy was fine too, the 12’s just seemed to nail me in the flat position I strived for so much when diving at home. Kerri was in next and all seemed to be grand with her too. Another good day out for Andy and Kerri. We finned about a bit while David scanned over us, I could tell he was in awe of my fabulous trim. Then he made me do mask flooding. Not so fabulous.
I hate mask clearing and removal. My eyes do not agree with salt water, as soon as they make contact they sting like a jellyfish. Having said that I know the skill and can perform it fine, all be it kneeling on the sea floor scrunching my eyes closed over and over again waiting for the burning to recede. In the mean time Kerri and successfully flooded and cleared her mask in true PADI fashion in less than 30 seconds. Thanks luv.
When my vision finally returned I was being given the ok signal by the man in blue marigolds. Did I forget to mention that this very serious tech diving instructor dives wearing blue marigold washing up gloves? Well he does, and although this was a grave concern for me I had other issues running through my head as he gave me the “valve drill” hand signal. Oh shit. Here we go, not only am I going to drown whilst diving, but it’s going to be effective suicide as I turn off MY OWN air supply. I began the exercise shutting off main valve, breathing down the reg, switch to back up reg, turn it back on, switching off the back up reg, breathing it down, switching reg, turn it back on, then open and close the isolator. Phew. It wasn’t pretty. There I was, on the sea bed, flat on my knees flailing and swatting at my valves in the hope not to drown. I did it!
Kerri was up next. After her flawless mask skills it appeared the shutdown drill wasn’t going to be as pleasant. At the risk of being divorced I’ll just say she struggled. Kerri is also stubborn beyond belief and it wasn’t for lack of trying but in the end she had to give up half way through. I felt terrible for her. I knew she would really go to town on herself about this and want to quit diving and most likely go home immediately. She gave me the international signal for, “I’m pissed off” and we swam around a bit longer.
At this stage we had been in the water nearly an hour and David gave us the signal to launch our smb’s. I have a stupidly expensive Halcyon smb, and to be honest, I’d never used it. I’d never needed to, and wasn’t 100% sure when you needed the things anyway. Oh Christ. Nonetheless I, just about, got it out of my leg pocket and, remembering a video I watched on you tube, inflated and deployed the orange blob with the aid of my spool. Flawless. Kerri had also managed to get hers up as well, a massive buddy smb that’s about 4ft tall. Well done. We were amazing again.
We surfaced right at the ladder, David got out first while Kerri and I just about managed to haul the big steel twinsets onto dry land under his watchful gaze. Then we had our debrief. Our buoyancy needed work, smb deployment was good and we both did really well on our valve drills. Needless to say Kerri wasn’t convinced and still tortured herself about the shutdown drill even though David explained it was her first dive in a twin set and did really well.
Back at the truck we got our kit off, stowed and headed back to the classroom for more studying and further debriefing of the dive along with a little well earned banter. Again 5pm came too quickly and we were released to the Peppermill for dinner and a beer. By 9pm we were safely back at the apartment sound asleep.
This was tough going, and we’d only started.