Thursday, 5 May 2011

One Big Step For Me

I have just passed my PADI Open Water, which now allows me to dive with my friends. No big deal thousands of people take and pass this every week, but for me it was a big deal, because I am a complete coward and a dedicated worrier.

The reason for taking up diving is very personal and covered in another blog, but the story of the course can be shared. Once I decided I wanted to do it, I talked to my many friends, and yes there are lots but four were very special in me actually going through with it.

D is a diving instructor in his spare time, and he talked to me a lot about what was involved. I trust him 100% and would so loved him to have been my instructor, but he lives in Chicago and I am in the UK, so logistically not very practical. But I did want him to be part of it, and in February this year when I was staying with D and his family, he took me for a Discover Diving session in his local pool. Where I got the opportunity to try it. I was very excited, and couldn't wait to get into the water, but as soon as I started breathing underwater, i wanted to come back to the surface, breath deeply and then try again. Would another instructor be as patient as D? He put up with my panic but not long later I was in the deep end, playing with water toys and the breathing was natural.

That weekend D and more of my friends were going diving in some mines, previously I would have been content to go along and watch but now I had tried it, I wanted to be in with them, and not being qualified that would not be possible, so I stayed away.

A really close friend L dives a lot, and in the UK, and she kept telling me I could do it. She tells me every weekend how much fun it is. I think she took up diving when she started seeing her boyfriend, many years ago to spend more time with him. She is always encouraging me.

One of my best friends M, dives whenever he can, and has a love for ice diving, I am not sure that is high on my list, but agian he is very supportive and when I told him this was my challenge he promised we will all go diving together one day. Now I really look forward to that.

The final friend I want to menton is S, he set himself the same challenge this year but for a completly different reason. He knows how I felt about it, and just a few weeks ago when we met up he told me all about the experience he had doing his Open Water in Hawaii.

My intention was not to tell D and M, they are very special friends and I wanted it to be a surprise for them

Monday, 2 May 2011

Davy Jones Diving - Gran Canaria

I found Davy Jones Diving using a google search, I was looking for a PADI Open Water course that I could take the week after Easter; location wasn't my biggest concern. My search gave me a few options but what made this the winner was how quick they responded to my email, and how helpful they were with all the logistics.

Davy Jones Diving is in Playa de Arinaga in Gran Canaria, it is owned by exPat Brian Goldthorpe and it was his wife Marilyn that won me over. She explained I would need to be here for 5 clear days, 4 for the course and another as you can't fly home for 24 hours (not quite true, your insurance probably says 24 but the answer for the exam is 18). She didn't laugh when I asked what airport I needed ( they only have one), and she recommended an apartment just a few minutes walk from the diving centre, she told me that there were plenty of 5 star hotels but all I would want to do would be sleep, so she recommended the apartment.

I flew from Gatwick with Easyjet, not quite a 4 hour flight, and the taxi was less than 20 euros to the apartment. Marilyn had thoughtfully sent me a map but the one way system got the better of the taxi driver but luckily she had also sent the telephone number of the owner, so panic soon aborted. The apartment was a basement flat, very minimal but cool and ideal. It could sleep 6 but I guess 4 would be ideal. It had a TV but there were no English channels but there was a computer with Internet access so I was all set. The kitchen area boasted a fridge freezer, toaster, kettle and hotplate.

I arrived early evening and after being helped into the apartment I was given instructions to the local supermarket which is open till 9pm and only about 5 minutes walk. Shopping done, fridge stocked and it was down to last minute manual reading ( again Marilyn had given me the information about what to do in advance, to be best prepared).

On my first day diving I was collected, and shown the way, in fact the dive shop is only a few hundred metres past the supermarket, so very close. I was in a group of 4 novices, the other 3 being a family, two brothers 15 &17 and their sister who was almost 13. We met our instructor Uwe, German by birth but adopted Australian. He talked us through the program and sat us down to watch a video, to cover sections 1 & 2 of the manual. I was a little bit frustrated by this as I had done knowledge reviews for this already but it did serve to calm the nerves a little. Then we did some quizzes to show we had taken it all in, and it was time for lunch. I had made myself a sandwich but there are a few shops nearby if you want to go out and get something. The diveshop provides tea and coffee.

Then time to gear up, and like most novices I was hiring gear, you can't expect an exact fit and I certainly didn't get one. I had a man's wetsuit which was not very pretty but it did the job. I think when the time comes I may invest in made to measure. Then it was off to my first dive. This Open Water Dive was really about seeing how we did with the basics and to show us just how beautiful underwater could be.

Uwe and Brian
We went to Risco Verde and Brian joined us. I had done a Discover Scuba Dive before in a swimming pool earlier in the year, so I was not too nervous, just very excited. My biggest issue was I simply couldn't propel myself, let alone swim underwater. I also had problems breathing out of my nose to equalise my mask and clear it. I found that strange as I had had no issues in the pool with my mask. I also struggled to descend which they decided meant I needed more weight. Anyway it was a lovely dive, we saw a lot of fish and I loved it. When we got out it seemed quite early only about 3.30 but I was so tired. The weather was ok about 20' C and the water just 1' cooler, I wasn't cold at all.

Graham and Uwe
The dive shop has wifi so I was able to tweet my progress to friends. There is also a computer for those who need access. One of the things I liked most was the relief map on the wall to show where all the dives are. It really made it all seem real.

As soon as I got back to the apartment I had a 2 hour siesta, bliss. We had homework, they wanted the knowledge reviews from sections 1,2 & 3 and as I had a head start I only had to finish 3.

The Swimming Pool
Day 2 we were warned would be the hardest. We started with confined water dives, normally these are done in swimming pools, but here they are blessed with a natural swimming pool in the sea. The first thing we had to do was swim 200 meters. I swaim a fair bit, but only breast stroke and this fin business was getting the better of me. I did do the swim, in fact I did more than 200 meters as I went drastically off course and another instructor Graham had to come and tell me to turn around. I think compass use should be earlier in the course!

The it was drills, masks on, masks half full, masks fill, masks off, all under water. Change regulators, descend, ascend, hover and fin pivot. The buoyancy drills were qute difficult for me and I ended up with 13kg of weight, which had it's own problems. This time my mask drills were excellent so no idea what caused the issues yesterday.

After lunch back at the shop it was time for another Open Water Dive, this one was further away at Playa Del Cabron over terrain I could only describe as like hard paved sand dunes, very bumpy but finally we reached our destination. My biggest problem this dive was still buoyancy and swimming. By this time Graham and I had become a great team, his patience was great. I understood all the theory and most of my drills were good, if only I could get the buoyancy and swimming sorted.

It was much later when we returned and everyone was exhausted, but no rest, I was sent off with an additional manual for sections 4 &5 using dive computers rather than tables. I couldn't even read the manual I just went straight to bed, I was exhausted. The biggest aches were in my upper arms, totally numb. But I was up early the next day and caught up with the book work.

Back to the swimming pool for more drills, taking the weight belt off and back on both on the surface and below water, and then the same with the Buoyancy Control Device ( jacket). Despite the heaviest belt in the world I managed this ok and even did a 2nd attempt as I had the belt on upside down. We did a lot more buoyancy drills and I was getting better, although I did have a little panic in this dive, I wanted to go up, but Graham just calmed me down until the feeling passed and I carried on. You need a lot of trust to learn diving, but all the instructors quickly earnt it.

After lunch we had another Open Water Dive, back over the dunes to the farest point on what is known as Cal Steps. The weather had turned and the sea was quite rough. The most difficult thing by far was getting in and out of the water. I have a bad wrist, and it is important you tell your instructors up front, they carried my equipment and led me into the water so I didn't risk falling over. This time we used compasses to plot direction and at least I didn't waste energy with being off course this time.

We did lots more drills and emergency ascents, again I struggled because of all the weight. I was only on 12kg today but it was too much really. We were only in about 7 meters of water and yet it took me 3 attempts to ascend without taking a breath in. Both Graham and Uwe decided it was not just the weight but also my jacket was too big. As my buoyancy skills had improved I could ditch some weight finally. So everything was coming together except for the swimming.

Back at the dive centre, I did the final quizzes and had my last knowledge reviews marked. All I had left for the 4th day was my final dive and the exam. I would be doing this on my own as the family were having a day's rest. I had another siesta and an early night, so I could get up and revise from the manual before the big day.

Graham was to take me for my final dive, Uwe was in the same place but with a couple who had done their Open water previously in Egypt and this was their first qualified dive. His advice was it is better to learn somewhere like Gran Canaria, where it isn't perfect conditions like you find in the Caribbean or Egypt, otherwise you will find the less than perfect locations difficult. I did get a bit of a wakeup call, when this couple struggled to remember everything they had learnt, and they came out before me, it important to practice afterwards, and not just say, done that.

The final dive was at Table Top and like all the others part of the Le Cabron Reserve and the plan was to go down to 18 meters, however that was to be quite a swim and realistically would I manage it? There were only a few drills which I did quickly and with only 9kg and a smaller jacket, the buoyancy was so much better. The swimming was also better, still no style, (and thank you Graham for the video) and still very laboured but I was moving. Although Uwe was not officially my instructor he stopped, looked back at me and signalled well done, I was so pleased. Encouragement like that means so much. I also was using a computer and it was really interesting to me as a part time computer geek to have all the stats in front of me.

All OK on my last dive
I made it to the 18 metre mark and it opened up a whole new world. I saw an angel shark in the sand, Uwe pointed out the outline in the sand and Graham carefully removed sand until I could see part of it. I saw many beautiful fish, a m eel under a rock , an amazing spider crab, and I spotted a barracuda swimming over Graham as we did our safety stop on the way back.

It was by far the best dive, I finally mastered the buoyancy and could enjoy more of my surroundings. Then it was back to the shop, deflated as I had  finished the diving, but quietly confident I would be ok on the exam, having said that I had to guess the very first question, bt then settled down into the 50 questions. The pass mark is 75% and I got 93%. the ones I got wrong were ok, and one was the 24hours I mentioned at the start. Then it was time to print my certificate, finish my log book and all the paperwork and pay.

Playa de Arinaga
The day after I was sad not to be going to the dive centre, but took the opportunity to spend the day in the town. It is not a tourist centre at all, and is more popular with locals. There is a lovely promenade to walk around for a few miles and everyone seemed friendly. Unfortunately my plan to sit out in the sun all day soon faded when the rain started.

I can't recommend Davy Jones highly enough. If you are looking for a dive holiday or to do training check it out. The instructors were brilliant and the only down side was finishing, although the euphoria of having passed made up for all that.