That was fine. What I hadn’t realised was ‘The Breakfast Club’ had also become part of the morning ritual.
So, as my sleepy eyes began to focus I was told;
“Get up – Trudy and Tara can’t come in until you’re dressed.”
This obviously led me to picturing myself semi naked with 3 women in a confined space; pleasant thought, but dutifully I pulled on some clothes so ‘The Breakfast Club’ could convene.
Once dressed, the van quickly filled with chatty women and I was handed Trudy’s new Turtle Fins while being kindly asked to put her new spring straps together as well. So I got to work while the women had breakfast.
I didn’t get breakfast. The new routine was crap.
Freida led the convoy down to Vobster just in time for Martin’s morning briefing.
Like a school assembly we sat patiently drinking tea, and I finally got a bacon sandwich down my neck, as the instructors were allocated their team for the day. Amongst the list Rich Walker was allocated ‘The Clarkes’ for the day, along with Tara.
It was now clear that Kerri and I had become a single entity; ‘The Clarkes.’
That was fine, but it also transpired to be amusing, as the announcement was met with a group chuckle from the remainder of TekCamp. Rich appeared bemused, then concerned as it was followed by the statement;
“Congratulations Rich – you’ve ended up with the 3 loudest people at TekCamp.”
Phil Short in the car park.
Initially I was concerned he was just going to challenge the rest of us to get past him; he is the Dark Lord after all, but it transpired we would be trying some breathing exercises.
Phil led us to the car park where an 18m length of cave line was tied between two cones and proceeded to demonstrate how breathing techniques improved how long you could hold your breath. It was quite bizarre.
Initially Phil raised his heart rate with a 60 second jog, held his breath and, as per Johnny Cash, walked the line, noting the distance he could travel before he fell unconscious… well, until he felt uncomfortable. The process was then repeated after rest, again noting the distance travelled. Finally Phil showed us a breathing exercise and had another go.
Demonstration completed, we were broken into groups, paired off with an instructor and given the opportunity to conduct the experiment ourselves.
We were quite close to Phil, so we nabbed him, and he talked us through the exercise. As per his example, at every stage of the drill we all walked further along the line, reaching our farthest having concluded the breathing exercise.
|(c) Jason Brown :: BARDO creative|
Disclaimer: I would like to point out that i was not eying up my fellow campers, merely looking for Kerri across the car park - honest!
Ultimately, this demonstrated controlling breathing at all times while diving would enable an out of gas diver swim to greater distances. 18m is the standard distance used on training courses for an out of gas emergency, and it was comforting to know it was possible to cover twice the distance after Phil’s breathing exercise.
Phil Short is Zen diver.
Kerri, Tara and I then proceeded to ruin Rich Walkers line laying class.
We were shown primary ties, secondary ties, ordinary tie off’s and how to secure the reel at the end. Rich was very into his lovely Halcyon reel and talked us though all the aspects that made it such a wonderful, valuable tool.
Tara then announced she too had a beloved Halcyon reel.
“Great!” declared Rich.
“Go and get it.”
What Tara returned with was horrifying. It was a Frankenstein-bastard of a reel. It had a permanent bolt snap attached, a plastic bobble on the end of the line, barnacles on the casing and had possibly been used to hammer in tent pegs at least once in its life.
I thought Rich was going to go down.
We consoled our poor instructor, got his breathing back under control, assuring him;
“It’s ok Richard - we will send the reel home. Halcyon will make it all o-kay…”
A ‘dry run’ of line-laying was good fun, especially following the line with our eyes closed over bars and picnic tables; simulating loss of vis. Rich taught us touch contact communication and how to securely follow the line without being able to see; a valuable skill but not one I’d care to experience underwater inside a wreck.
Then it was time to do the same underwater. As we kitted up I noted on Rich’s whiteboard (he’s so efficient) the statement, ‘mask off following line. ‘
I hate mask removals. I hate water up my nose. I hate the cold on my face. I hate water in my eyes. I hate Rich Walker and his fucking whiteboard.
I can do the removal skill; I don’t enjoy it very much, but I can do it. I don’t however pay £300 to have some GUE fella take my mask and make me swim up a bloody line. I really began to sweat. I had been telling Paul Toomer not 2 days previous how much I hated mask off stuff, I couldn’t believe what was about to happen.
I knew I was going to have to tell Rich how amazingly unhappy I was at the prospect. I told the ‘loud team’ about my concerns and finally admitted to Rich I wasn’t great with mask removal.
He was brilliant. He talked me through a few tips on breathing, explained if I didn’t want to do it at the time that was grand, and if I freaked out doing the skill all I had to do was put my hand up then a mask would amazingly appear.
Settled, I donned my kit and jumped in.
We reeled about, forgetting everything Rich taught us; catching the line on pieces of debris, cars, each other and the reel itself. This was a lot of fun, but quickly demonstrated how difficult it was to lay line properly and efficiently.
Then it was time.
The loud team lined up, fingers firmly hooked on the line in preparation for the simulated zero visibility – i.e. I was losing my mask.
Working his way down the line Rich gently tapped the mask of each diver. Tara handed over her mask. Kerri handed over her mask. Rich tapped the lens in front of my face. I stared at him. I knew my team were floating in complete darkness, with no masks, clinging to the line. I had to decide. Rich hovered closely in front of me. It wasn’t fair on my team to leave them hanging; I had to decide.
I ripped my mask from my face. The cold water rushed against my skin. Water trickled up my nose.
I did what Rich instructed; applied positive pressure to my nose and breathed through my mouth, nice and slow.
I was fine. I was definitely fine. I was doing it and not going bananas.
The three of us were in close proximity to each other to allow communication through constant arm squeezes. I finally remembered I was in last place and it was my job to move the team. I gave Kerri two squeezes which sent the message up the chain to progress down the line. I could feel Kerri moving off and I pockled after her.
Diving with no mask, in constant contact with a line, holding another diver by the arm and maintaining even reasonable buoyancy is nigh impossible. Very funny though.
I was quite at ease now with no mask, and even managed a slight chuckle picturing how it must have looked to Rich fining along beside, as Kerri later dubbed, “The Human Centipede.”
For those who aren’t familiar, “The Human Centipede” is a b-movie horror movie about a crazy ex-Nazi scientist who surgically sews three unsuspecting victims together; mouth to butt and so on, forming a human centipede. It’s an awesome film. Honest.
My team of three, at that point, were now floundering along the floor of Vobster almost atop of one another making us “The Human Centipede,” and therefore Rich a mad Nazi scientist with a thirst for creating abominations of nature, hence the whiteboard.
Kerri was the middle section. Poor Kerri.
20 mins later we had our masks returned and moved once again to the beginning of the line. I was designated out of gas and Kerri donated her long hose while we all maintained contact with the line. It was then ‘switch to blacked out mask’ time which we had stowed in our pockets.
We began switching our masks, but the tape had fallen off mine so I didn’t have a blacked out mask. I thought that was fine, I’ll just do it with eyes open – great!
Rich gently tapped the lens of my mask.
Oh you twisted bastard.
No mask was becoming part of the routine.
Dutifully I lost my mask again, whilst sharing air, whilst maintaining contact with a line, whilst keeping touch contact with my team. I was actually quite happy with the skill now. I was the mid-section of the centipede and with Tara in front and Kerri behind I felt quite secure.
I now have absolutely no fear of mask removal, which was a big thing for me to finally get over. As a technical diver I felt it was something I should be comfortable with. Rich explained I did a fantastic job and congratulated me accordingly.
Too bloody right mate, I’m a fucking superstar.
After lunch we were treated to a talk from Mark Powell. Mark had just got back from Sri Lanka where he had been diving HMS Hermes, the world's first custom built aircraft carrier. The 170m long wreck is intact and lies in 53m of water. Mark led the first ever liveaboard expedition to dive the wreck using a combination of open circuit and rebreathers. It was an excellent talk and gave me a new reason to become trimix certified. (cue sales pitch from Paul Toomer…)
Crazy Jim Dowling (Jim Downling Technical Instructor) was up next describing the Deep Caves of Ras Mohamed. I knew the guy was a technical diving instructor by that stage, as I had spoken him quite a bit, but I had no idea he was an explorer and pioneer. He and his team have ventured 100’s of meters into unknown territory on open circuit to map out the cave systems of Ras Mohamed. It was an excellent talk with some brilliant photos and even some video footage.
Triple back mounted 20 litre cylinders you say? Dead on mate - let me know how you get on with that.
Lunch done our little GUE team headed back to check the whiteboard to see what we would be doing on the afternoon dive. Technical Rescue was on the list and we would be working alongside John Kendall and his students.
The dive consisted of buddy rescue whilst wearing twinsets and a stage bottle. It was difficult, but I really enjoyed the challenge of maintaining buoyancy and trim whilst carrying a dead team mate. The point of the exercise was that you may have to rescue a diver from a wreck or cave where maintaining control was paramount. If I ever have that problem, I’ll just go and get Rich.
The routine debrief, BBQ, back to the campsite for beer and talks followed.
Richie Stevenson and Martin Robson provide a fascinating insight into the logistics and procedures that form the foundations of Expedition Planning. Richie looked at deep wreck exploration whilst acclaimed cave explorer Martin Robson approached the subject from a slightly different angle with an overview of what was involved in the planning and execution of an expedition to explore a virgin cave system in a remote location.
Both talks were excellent, again with some brilliant photos from their adventures. I especially enjoyed Martin Robson drinking red wine in a decompression habitat.
Throughout the talks I had been enjoying the Carlsberg, slipping the odd can to Jim Dowling, who I felt, had earned it for his talk earlier in the day. It also seemed quite rude not to have a few more afterwards. Everyone was really getting to know one another and it was great fun chatting to other enthusiastic divers. I enjoyed a couple more beers, pestering Paul Toomer and Mark Powell mostly; it was rather entertaining.
Kerri and Trudy began a new routine of heading back to the motor home for hot chocolate instead.
Hot chocolate over beer? - Uh?
An hour later the bag of beer and I retired to get some much needed sleep in preparation for Day 4.
I liked the routine.
TekCamp Part #4 - Fancy a pint?