Published: February 7th 2012February 7th 2012
Our first day, we met our dive instructor at 8am to go through the theory part of the course. It was like being back at school for the first half of the day, watching educational dvds. I must admit I was dosing a few times but my "dive buddy", Aoife, woke me. Your dive partner is referred to as your "dive buddy", buddy for short.
After lunch we got to the more interesting practical training. Our dive instructor, Lorraine, first showed us how all the scuba equipment worked, how to put it all together and how to prepare properly for your dive. When we got all the gear on, we had to walk about five minutes to a sectioned off part of the beach. The gear is about 12KG and the weight belt is another 4-6KG. We practiced at a depth of around 2-3 metres, just off the beach where we went under and dropped onto our knees on the sand. We were lucky as it was just the two of us with our divemaster. The skills we practiced included: Basic use of the equipment, defogging the mask, removing water from partially and fully flooded mask when
underwater, removing your regulator (breathing apparatus) underwater, letting it go and retrieving it using two methods, sharing air with 'buddy' in case of emergency, emergency swimming ascent and emergency buoyancy ascent in the case where you run out of air and cannot find your buddy, and clearing your regulator. There were a couple of other skills Lorraine decided to leave until the next day after Aoife was finding it hard to get used to breathing through a regulator underwater.
Initially we both found it weird breathing under water but Aoife was getting a bit freaked out. As she was less relaxed the different skills underwater became more difficult. The "flooding of the mask" skill is basically where you pull your mask away from your face slightly to let it fill up with water. The partial flood is half way and the full flooding of the mask is obviously where you fill the entire mask with water. To remove the water you have to put pressure on the front top part of your mask with your index fingers, tilt your head back and exhale through your nose. It can take a couple of attempts to fully empty it. Aoife did
the full flooding but got a bit freaked out and rushed to the surface. Basically she inflated her buoyancy compensator (the dive jacket) which we were later told was not the correct way to surface!
The next problem arose when we had to share air under the emergency condition where it was assumed I had run out of air. I removed my regulator (breathing apparatus) and moved towards Aoife and used the signal for 'I am out of air, let me use your alternate air source' (basically her second breathing apparatus). Within seconds Aoife panicked for some reason and rushed to the surface, taking my alternate air source with her so I had to hold my breath and retrieve my own!
The diving experience was starting to overwhelm Aoife so our dive instructor decided it was best to call it a day and spread our 3 day course over 4 days instead. In fairness she was a very good instructor, very patient and encouraging. She kept sayng how well we had done, and made it clear to Aoife that many people panic on their first day and that she would overcome her anxiety. Aoife was a nonbeliver at
Our second day started at the more reasonable hour of 9am. We did some more theory and a multiple choice exam which we successfully passed. At 12pm we returned to the same spot as the day before for some more dive skills. Two more lads had joined our group. Lorraine was determined to help Aoife and decided to take a different approach. Rather than start off with more skills we went for a small dive around the perimeter of the sectioned off area. This allowed Aoife to become more comfortable with diving without actually realising it. You are busy swimming below with the fish and you start thinking less about the fact that you are breathing underwater. Also, since there was some amazing fish down there we got to appreciate how cool diving is. When we came back to the top Aoife was excited and feeling more like she could "maybe" do it. I was really enjoying it and looking forward to going deeper and seeing more unusual types of fish.
On our third day, we all met at the dive school at 7.15am. We had two planned dives scheduled
as part of the course. We were on a big Island Divers boat with other diving instructors/divers. About half an hour south of Phi Phi are two islands, basically massive rocks jutting out of the ocean, called Bida Nai and Bida Nok. Our first dive was at Bida Nok. After getting all our gear on and performing our "buddy checks" (a final check to make sure all our buddy’s gear is working) we each had to step off the back of the boat with one hand on our masks and the other on our weight belts. Aoife looked terrified at this stage! Once in the water, we all gathered around a buoy line (me, Aoife, the two lads who joined us on the 2nd
day and Lorraine), Once everyone gave the signal that they were ok, we started our descent. The main thing to remember as you descend is to equalise your ears, where you hold your nose and breathe out, due to the massive pressure of the water. One of the lads had a problem with his ears so after a few minutes waiting for him to come down to our depth, we headed off on our dive. The
water was amazingly clear and as we followed Lorraine along, she pointed out lots of cool stuff to us, like angel fish, giant moray eel, lion fish, western clown fish (nemo) and many others.
It was great doing our first proper dive and Aoife had overcome her anxiety and fear. It seemed like no length of time when Lorraine inflated the safety buoy signally our dive was coming to an end. We then did our safety stop of 3 minutes at a depth of 5 metres before surfacing and getting back on the boat.
During our two hour surface interval (required time between dives to ensure the nitrogen leaves your body) we were given fresh pineapple and water while we waited for the other dive groups. After lunch, the boat brought us to nearby Maya Bay, famous from the movie The Beach where we were informed that we had to do our swim test! But first, we each had to jump off the top of the boat into the water! Once we had all jumped, we had to swim around the boat twice and then tread water for 10mins. Once completed, it was time for our second dive.
Our second dive was at Palong on Phi Phi Ley, around the corner from Maya Bay. We were on the search for Black Tipped Reef sharks but unfortunately the visibility was not great so we didn’t get to see any sharks, much to Aoife’s relief! Apparently we just missed them swimming right in front of us according to one of the dive instructors. Once again we got to see many different types of colourful fish. The dive was a smooth one and we reached a depth of 12 metres.
Our final day of our open water diving course, we had two more planned dives. The first dive of the day was at Bida Nai, the second of the two islands jutting out of the ocean. The dive company messed up and brought an extra small wetsuit for Aoife instead of a small. She ended up having to wear a medium which was huge on her. Since Aoife had been struggling with buoyancy the day before she was given four weights instead of five on her weight belt. We were all a lot more comfortable by this stage as it was our 3rd
dive. However, after
checking out some cool fish I turned around to check on my buddy and there was not a sign of Aoife. The dive instructor gave me the 'buddy' signal but I didn't have a clue where she was. It seemed to happen so quickly. One minute she was there, the next minute I'm frantically looking around to find her. Big ocean! I was in a state of panic but figured it was safest to stay where I was. (I don't have a great sense of direction on land so there was no point trying to backtrack in the ocean!). Thankfully the instructor spotted her floating at the surface and was signalling with her. I couldn't really make out what was going on. It turned out Aoife had floated to the top because she was wearing a wetsuit too big and she had one less weight. Lorraine explained afterwards that the neoprene in the suit made her extra bouyant and by giving her one less weight that day, she floated straight to the top! Once she had managed to descend again to our level, Lorraine gave her another weight for her weight belt and on we went to finish the rest
of our dive. Not the most enjoyable of dives!! At the end, we had to do a few more skills that we had already practised.
After another nice lunch at Maya Bay, we headed to a dive site called Malong, also on Phi Phi Ley and thankfully that was without incident. It was brilliant as we got to see a sea turtle and at one point I think I was swimming with a full school of fish! So cool. I also got to show off my diving skills when our divemaster dropped her dive knife when we were floating at the top of the ocean. I dived down and found the knife under a rock. I was loving it. I also spotted an underwater snake and Lorraine gathered our group together so we could all see it. When we got back to the boat she informed us that the snake was deadly poisonous, one bite had enough venom to kill ten people. You wouldn’t even have time to say goodbye!
We successfully completed the open water diving course and are now officially open water divers, something we are proud of doing on this trip. We are now looking
forward to our next dive. The diving bug is infectious!
There are more photos below