The fourth day of TekCamp began with the standard routine. ‘The Breakfast Club’ gathered, discussed the plan for the day, then ventured down to Vobster for the mornings debrief and a day’s diving.
Over cups of tea the brief unfolded and we duly awaited our instructor for the day.
The names were rattled off and Martin declared; “By popular demand Rich Walker has ‘The Clarkes’ and Tara.”
In theory each day would bring a lesson from a different instructor, yet Tara, Kerri and I were standing, yet again, with Rich Walker; a clerical error perhaps?
At the close of day 3 Kerri and I had decided TekCamp had been arranged solely for us, and it was critical to the event success that we were kept as happy as possible.
One of the things we hoped to get out of TekCamp was an improvement on our buoyancy and trim, Kerri’s trim in particular, which she had become quite obsessed with. Throughout day 3 we had been torturing Rich to help, but it was clear there just wasn’t enough time.
Not a reflection of our ability you understand, simply a time constraint… ahem.
We nabbed Martin and asked him if it was possible to stay with Rich for an additional day and forgo the rebreather or scooter try dives. It was a totally selfish and unreasonable request, but even still he managed to shuffle things around without upsetting anyone, excluding Rich perhaps, and gave us exactly what we wanted.
So, we binned the rebreathers and agreed to make Rich spend the entire next day working on our trim and buoyancy. Kerri explained what she wanted to achieve and Rich said he’d work out a plan. Tara wanted to improve her back kick, and I needed stage handling help.
We owned him, and he knew it…
Flash forward to day 4.
By the time we got our kit together Rich had his whiteboard set up with a huge list of the skills we would be undertaking.
I made a joke; “You know Kerri thinks you’ve been up all night calculating her trim problem!”
Rich nodded thoughtfully, “I have been thinking about it.”
Rich really had been thinking hard about how we performed in the water and was convinced he knew what Kerri’s problem was. He explained what he would be doing with Kerri in water and how he was going to correct areas that needed fine tuning.
It was quite frightening to watch his mind work. He had it absolutely nailed. Once we were in the water I witnessed him move Kerri about, stretch her legs, move her arms, add air, dump air, add air, dump air, it was boggling. I’m not usually fussed when another man interferes with my wife, more so when I’m not included, but she seemed happy, so I let it go.
‘STOP – THINK – ACT.’
He was able to communicate this very effectively underwater with hand signals, which subsequently Kerri and I found very amusing and do it all the time now.
It certainly wasn’t an immediate fix, but it gave us a greater understanding of why we behaved the way we did underwater. It became apparent it was a combination of breathing, fining and a tendency to prefer negative buoyancy. How he was able to work that out from only a few hours in water, while doing reel work, the previous day is a testament to the level of instruction these guys have. It was very impressive.
The back kick was next on the list.
It seems that when a diver decides to move into the technical arena it is essential they learn to swim backwards. I know there are plenty of tech divers who survive without going backwards, but it is definitely a useful tool. I recall diving in Egypt and looking closely at a ‘Nemo fish’ and thinking; ‘Oh shit, i’m about to bump into that fire coral!’ If I had been able to fin backwards, just a little, I would have been safer in the water, and so would the reef.
Paul Toomer had already spent time during day 1 working on my back kick, so I knew the technique and Rich told me it just needed polished a bit. I decided to take that as a huge compliment as before arriving at TekCamp I could barely struggle forwards.
The three of us lined up over the platform and were scrutinised as we attempted to fin backwards.
I was first. It was ok, then Rich gave a few directions; ‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ and I had another go. Big improvement – keep my head up was the way forward… or backwards… you know what I mean.
Kerri had a tendency to fin too quickly. Rich signalled, ‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ asking her to slow down and she began to creep back. Jeez, the guy was good.
Tara was up next.
What followed was probably best kept for tales around the campfire. What Tara managed to accomplish underwater was horrifying. It wasn’t forwards, or backwards… it was more like a sideways convulsion of some kind.
‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ was no good here.
Crinoid Manoeuvre’ and doubted he could re-create it.
However, with a little encouragement and some manipulation of the lower legs he did get her to move back eventually; impressive. The real question was could he keep her quiet?
S-Drills were an area that clearly needed some work. They were ok at best, until Tara and I conducted an out of gas scenario.
Tara signalled out of air, and like a good buddy I donated my primary reg. I then stared down at my light cord immediately realising I had no clue as to where to move it. Tara watched eagerly awaiting my decision. I moved the cord over the long hose; she shook her head and helped me sort it out. It wasn’t going according to plan at all.
By this stage the two of us had become totally focussed on routing problems and our buoyancy control had completely collapsed. I think my ears finally gave me the good news.
Tara: “ess” (yes)
Me: “ugh - oh - ear - inking?” (you know we’re sinking?)
Tara: “eye - oh” (I know)
Me: “ear - it” (we’re shit)
Tara: “eye - oh” (I know)
At that point Rich had obviously decided we needed a live demo of how an S-Drill should be done. He waved a hand, and as if by magic Jim Dowling appeared. I didn't even know he was there, it turned out he was our safety diver and had been lurking the entire dive. It was creepy. He slid in from the gloom, demonstrated a perfect drill with Rich then back kicked out of sight.
Another stealthy bastard.
We made another lame effort but as the dive hit 105 mins the ladies really needed a toilet break.
The exercise was binned and we retired for lunch, and proceeded to discuss pee valves. Delightful s
Martin Robson gave a very sobering talk on You Are What You Breathe. It basically outlined the extreme importance of analysing your gas before diving. Kerri and I recoiled a little as we don’t own an analyser and it has since become a priority item for us, as we are a statistic waiting to happen.
It was especially sad as Martin had lost a close friend to carbon monoxide poisoning; something that I would never have considered a threat.
Cave diver extraordinaire Phil Short followed with a talk on CCR Design, Testing and Safety. This included looking into the design process and vital tests such as Canister duration and work of breathing. He also touched on introducing the concept of a true 'Sport/Recreational' rebreather to serve the mass recreational diving market safely.
I have to be honest I got caught up talking to the Apeks guys about their new drysuit, missed the beginning of Phil’s talk, and spent the remainder hiding until he finished in case he saw me; Dark Lord and all that.
After lunch Rich produced ali 80’s and talked us through stage bottle set up, gas switching procedure, as well as how to rig a spool correctly. This included showing us his ‘woody;’ Tara, Kerri and I found this especially funny.
Yes, I am 34 years old, but funny’s funny.
Once in water boot camp returned and we conducted a million S-Drills, which were improving steadily, stage handling, gas switching, valve drills, smb deployment and ascents. I felt the day was going quite well, up until the smb bit.
We got the bags launched ok, but the ascents were a bit enthusiastic. The smbs ended up like a maypole and I recall just seeing Rich shaking his head as we floated off leaving him in the darkness below.
‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ that mate!
It was a really fun day out and it was brilliant of Rich to tailor a class specifically for our needs.
After dinner we jumped back in Frieda to get back to the campsite in time for beer and the evening talk. I turned the ignition. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. The van was dead.
‘Oh Frieda – what have you done?’
By this stage everyone had more or less gone, including John Kendall who possessed the only vehicle capable of towing our ageing motorhome up the hill. Undeterred I frantically beat the starter motor with a v-weight in the hope of un-sticking it, but to no avail.
I now have a 'w-shaped' v-weight.
Thankfully Tim from Vobster was still about and his trusty transit was able to give Frieda the bump start she needed; another fine display from the Vobster staff.
It was 8pm by the time we finally got back to camp. Kerri and I looked at each other; "Oh shit - we’re gonna miss Phil Short’s talk… again!"
We quickly grabbed beers and ran to the barn, hoping we could sneak in the back without being noticed. Just as we rounded the corner we practically bumped into Phil walking right towards us.
We slowed down and acted all casual like.
He beamed; “Don’t panic guys, I haven’t started yet.”
Like rabbits in car headlights we managed, “Oh.. em… yes. We knew that… sir… I mean Phil…”
We then scarpered off to the barn laughing our heads off.
Phil Short gave an amazing recount of A Cave Diver Journey. He had some awesome photos and video to go along with his mental accounts of his experiences cave diving. It was soon apparent Phil refused to acknowledge fear, and his ability to problem solve under extreme pressure was mind blowing, if not terrifying. I still can’t decide if the man has something missing, or something extra.
As the talk progressed Paul Toomer and I had been enjoying the remaining Carlsberg from the cool bag. Upon its conclusion he turned to me and simply asked “Pub?”
Kerri looked perplexed as she and Trudy retired to the motor home for hot chocolate. Kerri is fully aware of my behaviour when inebriated, and the addition of Paul Toomer / Howard Payne to the mix didn’t bode well in her mind.
Oh, the irony.
A stunning hand brake turn brought Howard Payne’s Vectra to where we stood; Paul and I jumped in. I decided a seat belt was a wise option and fought to bring it home as we bounded down the country lane, hand braking yet again, around the first corner. I decided it was going to be a great night out.
As we roared into the pub car park Toomer spied Phil Short’s little Ford Fiesta van innocently resting on the gravel area.
Toomer exclaimed; “Hand brake turn mate! – Throw some dust up Shorty’s car!”
The manoeuvre was a superb display and Howard closed down the engine as the dust began to settle over Phil Shorts van.
Paul was still enjoying a can of Carslberg at this point;
Paul: “Hold on lads, - I’m still drinking this can”
Me: “Leave it under the wheel arch; finish it when we come out.”
Howard: “You pikey bastards!”
Literally as we were about to walk into the pub a figure loomed out of the settling dust.
“Who’s the driver?” he demanded in a clichéd Somerset accent.
Toomer and I quickly abandoned all loyalty pointing at Howard.
“Does this look like Brands Hatch?”
Paul later stated he was considering explaining to the man Brands Hatch wasn’t gravel, but thought better of it.
Toomer reclaimed his can at the wheel arch, and the three of us laughed our way back to the campsite.
Did you hear the one about the Englishman, The Irishman and the South African? ….
That was the best pint I’ve never had and day 4 was most definitely over.
TekCamp Part #5 - What about a race?