GUE Tech 1, Croatia - PART FIVE: The Feeding Frenzy


The night after ascent training Rich had sent our team away with the simple task of planning the following dive on SS Lina. Despite having listened to a five-hour lecture on dive planning, we still managed to complicate the crap out of it. Nevertheless we retired that evening with no less than six solid plans we prepared to relay to Rich in the morning.

I slept better, and actually awoke with an appetite; I imagine that was due to slightly less fear being present than the previous nights exploding lung nightmares.

A glance towards the kitchen revealed a further platter of bread, and the remnants of the 300g of cheese from day one. In an attempt to add variety to the affair Liam and Kerri had begun toasting said bread. I struggled one piece of toast and called it quits.

Once in Liam's rental car we scooted down to the dive centre, simultaneously educating Rich with our dive plan; sorry, dive plans. I was a little disappointed that Rich seemed somewhat unimpressed with the submitted plan(s).

"You only need ONE plan."

 "The first one?" 

"Good plan."

Simplicity seemed to be the key in keeping Rich happy, and in hindsight I don't know why we insisted on several possible scenarios. The whole point of the previous lecture was how to manipulate plans 'on the fly' to compensate for changes in bottom time or depth. As with everything GUE, the teachings appeared to 'click' all of a sudden. I confirmed with Rich;

"Ah right; so if we stay longer we do 'X' deco, or if it's shallower we can extend our bottom time but do the same deco plan?" 

The response was merely a smug smirk.

Gear was assembled, thrown into the back of Krnica's van, and our convoy travelled the 45-minute trip to the harbour to meet the boat. Liam was forced to drive us yet again, but he was coping well with the wrong side of the very narrow, windy, roads we travelled along. I was surprisingly more excited than nervous, and was looking forward to a 'proper' trimix dive; a lovely fill of 21/35 had my name all over it. Literally.

The harbour

Rich setting gear up

Jacko from Krnica Dive

Kerri awaiting the journey out

The boat journey to the SS Lina site was lovely. The seas were fantastically calm, allowing our team to go over our plan a few times and conduct GUE EDGE. At the site we donned our twinsets, performed a firm gear check, and the crew aided our entry into the water.


'The SS Lina was built in 1879 at Andrew Leslie shipyard. 70 meters long and 9 meters wide, it had 1049 GRT. Lina was powered by triple expansion steam engine. The hull was made from steel while the deck was made out of wood. Main Bridge and cabins were positioned in the middle of the ship. It sank in 1912 carrying wooden cargo, of which remains can still be seen. It sank like no other ship in Kvarner bay. During the thick fog it hit the shore of island Cres, near cape Pecenj. The bow sits at 25m, while the stern is at 55 m.'

SOURCE: [Krnica Dive]

Our ascent was slow but steady, and we did our best to stay together descending to the bow. Once we arrived, we signalled we were ready to explore. The plan was to work our way along the wreck to a maximum depth of 45m, turn the dive, retrace our path and ascend. Rich made it very clear he did not want to see us rush to depth, then rush back to the shot line and hang about for half an hour.

We tried. We really tried.

The wreck was fantastic. The visibility was simply astounding, without a doubt the best I've ever dived. It was like floating over the highly intact ship. Post dive, I think Rich was frustrated we hadn't investigated the wreck more closely, but I found it amazing to just stare into the distance at the entire thing. It was like a painting just sitting there, you could see so much from even a few metres from the deck. That said, I did get a good look at the steering mechanism, located the anchors, and confirmed why she sank.

source: Wreck & Cave

Liam hit turn pressure first and our team responded accordingly; a race back to the shot line. As soon as the bow came into view I checked my timer; we had tons of time left. Balls. We had done the very thing Rich insisted we not do. Balls. I was annoyed with myself and couldn't quite figure out the best plan of attack. It didn't seem wise to start going deeper again, it would give a crappy profile, and so we opted to investigate the outside of the ship and inspect where the hull had crashed into the sand. 

source: Wreck & Cave

In short, we hung about the bow like Rich asked us not to until we hit our planned bottom time, then ascended. Morons.

The ascent was straightforward. Our team successfully completed the gas switch and decompression stops perfectly, led by our deco captain Kerri. She was fab.

It was really interesting during the stops, as every time I figured we'd begin to move, I’d glance over my timer to see Kerri give the 'next stop' signal. Diving with a simple timer was fun, more fun than I anticipated. There was no need to faff with buttons or distinguishing what the computer wanted me to do next, it was just so easy.

We broke the surface and all beamed from ear to ear. Our team had successfully completed a Tech 1 dive. It felt great. I explained to Rich how thrilled I was immediately. He nodded:

"It's a good dive. Get back on the boat."

On the boat Rich got straight into a brief. It appeared our skills were in check, but he was disappointed in the actual dive, feeling we didn't get to experience enough of the wreck. He was right, but I felt the 'better' dives would come with time, experience and confidence. Plus, we were very aware the head of GUE technical training was watching our every more; and yer man from Neighbours was kicking about too. No pressure; none at all. I had a great time anyway, and was totally thrilled by the whole experience.

courtesy of JP Bresser

Rich was quickly back to business:

"Right guys. Good. Now - do you want to have lunch now or after the swim test?"

I took the lead again.

"Swim test, then food. I can't swim on a full stomach."

"Ok, let's go."

Logic dictated food later, but historically I should have known better. We were going to be hungry … again.

We dropped the gear back to the dive centre, and followed Tony's little car to the local swimming pool, which was in a very posh hotel an hour away. I was hungry. The swim test for GUE Tech 1 is 375m in less than 14 minutes without stopping, and a breath hold swim of 18m. Regular readers will know I nearly killed myself completing the GUE-F swim test, which was 100m less. The memory of not being able to brush my hair 'post-swim' has stuck with me forever, and I had no desire of repeating the performance. As a result, I trained for tech 1 with a few swims every month leading up to the trip.

Rich totally thrilled

The pool was 25m long, and full of seawater; which was weird. Rich stood like a schoolmaster at the edge of the pool and demanded the breath hold swim. Kerri launched off the side. 20m: no problem. I was next. I did my Phil Short meditation thing I learned at TekCamp and kicked from the side. I kept it nice and smooth. Soon I could see the wall of the pool and surfaced: a full 25m length. I was very happy. Liam repeated my performance.  The 15 lengths didn't provide much resistance; we were done in under 10 minutes. Training did work, I wasn't sore at all. Huh. I felt it necessary to inform Rich of my new found fitness:

"Better than my fundies swim eh Rich?"

"Yes. It only took you two lengths to remember how to swim; then you were fine."

By the time we arrived back at Krnica we were famished. What was it with Rich not feeding us?

He was like a feeder, only backwards. Either way, we were starving.

We were released for lunch at 4pm. Liam hurtled the rental car up the road and headed for the supermarket. I successfully ordered a reasonable amount of cheese, and as I was eying the cold meats I saw it...

...It was beautiful

I thought it was a mirage, but it was real;

a shrink-wrapped thing of splendour ...


It was uncut, sure, but I could sort that; all I had to do was figure out how to ask for the bloody thing. It didn't take long.

"Give me that."

A little frantic pointing followed, and it was mine. Mine. All. Mine.

Kerri and Liam were still doing the healthy option, talking about some lentil / pasta abomination; I can't remember. It sounded rubbish, and I had bacon. Real bacon. My bacon.

The car felt as if it were on rails as Liam negotiated every turn back to the apartment.

The healthy pair began sensible arranging bread, eggs, and fruit, and setting the table. In the mean time I hacked at my slab of uncut bacon with a bread knife, and flung the butchered mess into the nearest frying pan. I squealed in delight. Liam was horrified as the fat oozed out and filled the pan. It became a bit of an extreme sport, avoiding the spitting, boiling fat; but I knew it would be worth it. 

Our starving team sat at the tiny table, which was heaped with bacon, bread, fried eggs, tomatoes, toast, pepperoni, salami, ham, garlic things and Coca-Cola.

The feeding frenzy began. No talk, no smiles, just food. Liam lent back, sweating slightly:

"I can't do any more of that bacon … it's just grease man… I can feel my arteries hardening as I eat."

"Pussy. Give."

Kerri agreed with Liam also, resulting in me eating the majority of the bacon. It was fucking awesome.

With the feeding frenzy completed, and never to be spoken of again, we trundled back to class for the remaining academics. More planning and deco theory followed. As the class progressed I got to chat further with Jamie, the Intern from Neighbours. Rich was doing a fine job, but Jamie was able to bring a few other short cuts and tips to the fray when it came to calculating 75% of max depth. We basically had two instructors, and I made a point of asking Jamie for advice too as the days progressed.


Throughout the day Liam had explained he liked football.

Liam liked football a lot.

Liam liked Watford.

Liam liked Watford a lot.

Liam really wanted to get class wrapped up by 8pm so he could find a TV and watch Watford win the world cup or something. Rich said that was fine, and sent us on our way at 8.30pm as Liam had begun chewing the chairs. To that point Liam had never moved so quickly. We sped up the road to Pizza Kum and perched ourselves in front of the only TV in the bar.

I enquired:

"Is this the right game?"
 "No. Fuck."

With that Liam simply accosted the barmaid and forced her to search through all channels until the Watford lads appeared on the screen. Liam didn't speak for the following sixty minutes. I did attempt to annoy the avid Watford fan as his team was trounced, but he wouldn't bite. Football fans baffle me.

Liam ignoring me completely

Once the game was done Liam came back to normal, and we planned our dive on The Vis over pepperoni pizza. We unanimously agreed max depth, turn pressure, turn time and deco profile in no time at all. Liam looked up, quite shocked;

"We just planned a 51m trimix dive, in less than 5 mins, without a computer, or even a pen and paper. And we all got the same plan. Fucking hell."

It was true, another light bulb moment. It was simple, and quick. We had set aside an hour to plan the dive, so we drank beer and ate pizza instead. That was a great plan.

Part 1
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Part 5 - Part 6

GUE Tech 1, Croatia - PART FOUR: Stop, thief!

The night before day, ... day, ... day, ... three maybe? I can't remember; all i knew was it was the night before the ascent training. Any tech diver will tell you it's not going deep that's the problem; it's getting back. The idea behind going up, or the 'ascent' as we in the business like to call it, is to allow all the nasty, bend you into little pieces, nitrogen bubbles to bugger off nice and slow like. The eradication of said nitrogen bubbles is a controlled process; controlled by the speed of the ascent, i.e. controlled by the diver. In effect, you pretty much decide how badly bent you get. The goal is to not get bent, by conducting a nice, smooth, controlled ascent to the surface at a particular rate, with precisely timed stops in between.


Is it fuck.

Ascending is a nightmare. 

Personally i blame yer man Boyle. Remember him from your PADI training? He's the boyo that took the balloon for a scuba dive and ascertained that when the ballon descended the air got squeezed, and on the way up it expanded back to normal. Who takes a ballon diving? I mean really? 

Anyway, when scuba diving, that means all the air we pump into our wings and suits expands as we ascend, and unless the sudden expansion of said gases is controlled by sequential venting of both suit and wing, we will rocket to the surface, pop up like a jack in the box, bend into little pieces, and most likely die in excruciating pain choking on our own lung blood.

That image is what kept me awake most of the night as i awaited the 30m ascent training.

The morning finally broke, and after not enough hours sleep i dragged myself into the kitchen where my two comrades sat staring at a table of bread, cheese and cold meats. 

"I am so sick of fucking bread."

"Me too. I'm so bloated."

Finally Liam and Wifebuddy agreed the Europeans were totally wrong, and bread should only be handed off the back of aid lorries in third world countries. I concurred; 

"I told you. Bread is balls. We should have got bacon."

*unified sigh

Our trio followed Dr. Walker into Krnica dive centre, having waited only five minutes for Liam, and systematically began attaching regs, wings and lead to the many, many complicated pieces of our tech gear. 

Stage bottles rigged we attended the land drill Rich had prepared outside. The three of us had to ascend the full length of the front bench, following protocols for gas switches and a lost gas scenario. The lost gas procedure was particularly interesting, and pretty straight forward once you got into it. 

Doing it in water of course would be a different matter.

To practice ascents we needed to get some depth, so the day involved diving from a boat to a maximum of 30m. Regular readers will know neither Wifebuddy ,nor I, do particularly well on boats. We went regardless, with increased anxiety of 'boat-fear' to add to the ever increasing 'lung-overexpansion-fear.' Liam seemed pretty happy on the boat, as a seasoned UK channel diver, and i hated him quite a bit at that stage. Bloody boat divers. Thankfully he was equally terrified of the going up bit. I hated him less.

Krnica dive boat

Captains bit

Diver bit

The boat was actually very cool. There was another tech 1 class aboard, plus our class, plus the guy from Neighbours, and we still had enough room for all our gear. I watched the seasoned boaters closely to try and pick up tips on getting kitted without falling over. Thankfully, Rich walked us though a few tricks for getting dressed in a logical order and avoiding moving as much as possible. Before I knew it, i was on the surface staring at my instructor; 

"Right guys; lets do this."

We descended to 30m.

Like clockwork we began laying line and exploring the local topography. BANG! It started again; Mr Squirty was at his work. Muscle memory kicked in; i reached back, closed my left post, simultaneously signalling my team and then began closing my manifold in an attempt to stop the bubbles. The bubbles kept going as Liam investigated. 

He signalled an 'unfixable failure' and it was on; we had to dump the reel, check our gas, head for the shot and ASCEND.

We encircled the shot line, threw in our thumbs, inhaled deeply and started to rise. I checked my depth gauge and knew i had to cover the next 9m in 1 minute, then stop at 21m for the gas switch. The team reached the 21m mark together and switched onto 50%, simulated a stop, then continued at a reduced rate of 6m per minute to the final stop of 6m. From 6m to the surface we gently ascended at 1m per minute. 

We popped up and Rich provided feedback on areas that needed improvement. Overall i was very pleased.

During our next pre-dive checks i noticed the handle on my light had become loose, and was effectively useless. It was really annoying as it was flapping about on the back of my hand, making drills unnecessarily difficult. Rich stepped in; 

"What's up?"
"It's gone floppy."

"Indeed. Does it have e/o cords?"


"Here, use mine."


Seconds later i had a 21w HID light head attached to my canister; the beauty of GUE unified equipment philosophy at work. I sparked up my new laser beam and descended for another round of craziness. Before we knew it lights went out, gas ran out, posts broke and reels were abandoned yet again, as we kicked for the shot line.

At 21m Liam and I conducted our switch, then i turned my attention to Wifebuddy to oversee her 50% deployment. I signalled for her to begin. She provided some strange hand signals. I signalled again for her to switch. I received further erratic signals. I became annoyed and held out my stage waving it in her direction. Kerri tilted her head slightly and pointed to her ... ah, i got it. There was no stage. I have no idea how i didn't notice. Somewhere throughout the dive Rich had robbed Kerri of her deco gas. It transpired Rich wrapped Liam's gauge in line, and while Kerri was sorting it, he stole her bottle. I used to think Jim Dowling was a stealthy bastard, but Rich's display was something else! In Kerri's defence, Rich said she noticed earlier than most. Our team got into position and began the lost deco gas procedure, getting Kerri to the surface safely. 

The final dive of the day was a nightmare. We were plagued with fixable failures, lost lights and OOG scenarios. Ultimately we had to retrieve the reel, which we did ... having spent 3 hours in water. The ascent soon turned nasty. Liam signalled he was bubbling whilst on his deco reg. I came in to help as Liam began shutting his post and attempted to switch. My brain slowed slightly as i worked out where he was breathing from, and finally signalled for him to stay as he was while i closed his backgas. During that episode we had to abandon the fix as we needed to progress to the next stop at 6m. Rich's words swirled in my head; 

"You can bring every problem to the next stop except a buoyancy problem." 

The 6m mark proved equally challenging. Liam and I finally sorted his posts out just as Kerri signalled a lost mask. Wifebuddy did really well maintaining the stop as she ransacked her pocket for the back up mask. Mask in place we drew a close to the day with a gentle ascent to the surface.

I was shattered.

Back on the boat Rich explained he was pleased with our performance, and although we had a day in place for further ascent training we wouldn't be using it; it was all about the wreck diving from then on. 

*air punch 

One amusing critique from the day was Rich's concern that Kerri had a tendency to come to me when she was OOG. Rich explained at one point he physically blocked me from Kerri's vision, and she simply barrelled him out of the way to get her dear, dear husband. 

What can i see Rich? The chicks dig me. We made our way to shore nice and relaxed and i chatted with Jamie, who also provided some excellent tips and tricks for future dives.

The afternoon lectures that followed were intense. Rich explained we had to have a solid understanding of what he babbling about, as surviving our next dive depended on it. Gas analysis, bubble mechanics, nitrogen dispersion, deco planner, pragmatic planning, ratio deco, average depth, and deco on the fly brought us into the twilight hours. 

I have to admit i struggled to stay focused. I was very tired and a stranger to study. It seemed i was always he one to ask Rich to go over something again. I truly expected him to lose the plot as i requested a further example of ratio deco on the fly, but he didn't. Rich  simply ran another dive and got me to run the deco. It was satisfying finally getting it straight in my busy, busy head.

Light relief was granted when one of Kirill's kids locked us in the classroom. The child gleefully mocked as the four of us struggled to find the Russian equivalent "open the door or i'll tell you scary tattooed dad!" In the end we gave up. Rich had to phone Maurizzio, get him to find Kirill, who had to ring his wife to finally release us.

By the end we tired, over educated and hungry.

Maurizzio treated everyone to a BBQ at the dive centre, and more bread. We stayed as long as we could awaiting the Russians who were bringing more food, but we were simply too exhausted and had a dive to plan. The next day brought our first wreck dive in Croatia. We headed back and home and planned a 45m dive on The SS Lina.

Part 1
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Part 5 - Part 6