Published: July 27th 2009July 27th 2009
Note: I'm woefully behind on my travel blog entries, but I will catch them up over the next few months (I still haven't written about the rest of the NZ trip, Thailand, Cambodia, or Japan).
What an awesome weekend! Though, it was another weekend in a plane... except for the big difference that instead of in a plane in the air I was in one *submerged*! :)
A few weeks ago I took the plunge and signed up for the NAUI Advanced Diver Course at Sub-Aquatic Sports & Services
located in Battle Creek, MI.
For the course, last week we had two nights (Tuesday & Thursday) of class time. Then for the weekend we had a schedule of six dives.
After a half-day at work last Friday, I drove home, took care of a few things, practiced piano and voice, packed, headed to SASS and picked up my gear (I only have fins, mask/snorkel, weights, and boots... so I rented a buoyancy compensator (BC), wet suit, gloves, computer system/gauges, two 80ft. cylinders, and a regulator). It took about an hour to get fitted out with everything (with wonderful help from the SASS staff).
then started driving to Findlay, OH. This is a relatively straightforward trip... I94 East towards Detroit and then I75 South to Findlay... around 2.5 hours. But that would be TOO easy, wouldn't it?
About 35 miles into the trip my transmission fluid temperature light came on in my Isuzu Rodeo.
This first happened a few months ago on a long trip back from my parent’s house in Indiana. I had had the transmission flushed a few weeks before that, so it probably knocked some gunk loose and blocked up the transmission cooling system. After that event, I took it back to the shop and, along with some other work, asked them to check it out. Apparently... it isn't fixed.
Now, you may say: "Transmission fluid? It doesn't overheat." That was what I used to think, too. But the fluid was coming out of the overflow valve and getting into the right side of my engine and up underneath the car.
What this means is that I had to stop about every 30 miles for five to ten minutes to let the transmission cool off. I also took a lot of back roads to drive slower. Both
of which made a 2.5 hour trip four hours long.
So, terribly late, I caught up with the dive group at Outback Steakhouse in Findlay, OH. I sat with Jason, Matt, and Andy... three divers with a lot of experience (the other divers... Jonathan, Jay, John, Jeff, Dan, Dollie, and Jim sat at another table). I asked for (and they were happy to give) advice on how to approach the weekend, especially the deep dive to 80 feet (24 meters); in the instructor's terms, at 80 feet, the *surface* (one atmosphere) becomes dangerous to the human body.
At Gilboa, at 80 ft. the temperature is around 35 degrees Fahrenheit (~1.7 Celsius) and there is a risk of "free flow" where ice builds in the regulator and freezes it open (air expanding from the tank is colder than ambient temperature and, in this case, below freezing)... thus air starts pouring out. This causes a number of problems -- 1) Only a few minutes before the air runs out; 2) At 80 ft, can't go right to the surface without likely getting bent (i.e. Decompression Sickness
; 3) The air is coming out fast and breathing is like trying to drink
from a fire hose.
The primary way to prevent this, besides having a regulator designed to prevent it, is to take short, deep breathes and exhale slowly in order to minimize the time that air is flowing from the tank.
Also, on our deep-dive the instructor (Jim) and another diver (Dan) would be carrying pony tanks (20 CU FT tanks of air in an addition to their main tanks) and monitoring us. If a free flow were to occur a diver could breath off of the pony tank while they turned off that person's main tank (to let the ice melt in the regulator) in addition to possibly ascending to 40 feet to warmer water.
So, at the Outback Steakhouse we had some great conversation and they are really cool guys. I also found out that Jason, Matt, and Andy (in addition to Jim) are part of a crime unit team that helps out law enforcement with underwater searches and crime scenes (searching for disposed weapons, recovering dead bodies, etc.). They've also scuba dived under ice and in rivers.
We then headed back to the motel (Quality Inn). I was rooming with Jonathan; another
cool guy that is relatively new to diving but has a lot more experience than me. Since last year, he already has over 30 dives. In two years I've done six: Five in my SSI Open Water Certification class and one in Sydney, AU with my brother-in-law, Shawn.
We talked for about an hour about diving and the weekend and then got to sleep right before midnight.
In the morning, after stopping by Wal-Mart for some food/snacks, I drove out to Gilboa Quarry
, which is about 15 minutes west from Findlay.
Gilboa Quarry is an old limestone quarry that goes to 130 feet deep. In 2000, a scuba diver bought the quarry to create a scuba diving destination.
Besides that quarry, there is a campground, main office to refill tanks and buy snacks, clothes, etc., a climbing/ropes course gym called Vertical Reality (didn't have time to check it out), bathrooms/showers, and a large parking area.
There are a lot of other attractions, too.
The quarry is stocked with a number of fish, including trout and paddlefish. Fishing is not allowed (and neither is boating). It is purely a dive site. You can
feed the fish, too.
On one dive, I took some food with me ($0.50/bag at the dive shop) and opened it up right next to the school bus (there is a lot of trout there due to the bus... think of it... a *school* of fish around a school bus :) and dozens of trout swarmed around me; they weren't bashful by any means. During this feeding frenzy I could reach out and touch them and they didn't mind at all (or, at least, didn't notice in their fight to get the food before the others). It was a wonderful experience. I loved it.
At other times, random fish would swim right up and look straight at me expectantly (or hopefully).
Gilboa Quarry also puts a lot of stuff in there to look at (e.g. a massive Christmas tree, a Grumman airplane, a motorcycle, an old car, a VW bus, etc.), humorous things (e.g. gnomes, skulls, skeletons in the plane), and to swim through (e.g. tires, large tubes, the large airplane, the school bus). All of this while fish are swimming about generally unbothered by the divers.
So, for the first dive, I was
a bit apprehensive as I hadn't dived since Dec. 2007 (though, I did take a refresher course last year, but didn't do any open water dives). I asked Jonathan to help me with making sure I got all of my gear hooked up correctly and did the proper checks.
On my first entry, I forgot to hold onto my mask and regulator; though they stayed on, Jim (the instructor) corrected me quickly.
We descended 30 feet to a platform and got weighted out, which means Jim watched our buoyancy and added or removed weights on us as needed. We then briefly surfaced to discuss and then went back down to the platform.
From there we did a tour of the shallow side of quarry (which goes down to maybe 60 feet while the deep-end goes to 130 feet and requires a dive plan be filed with the main office prior to the dive).
On this dive (Dive #1), we went as deep as 56 feet (where the water temperature was just over 50 degrees) and had a dive time of 57 minutes. I worked a lot on buoyancy control and proper breathing.
The second dive
(Dive #2 - Depth 33 feet; 49 minutes) was a navigation dive where we used a compass and predetermined bearings to locate objects. I learned some valuable lessons from this experience... 1) Plan, plan, plan; 2) Democracy is not cool underwater with limited communication; 3) Pick a leader; 4) Ensure the plan is very much worked out and communicated before getting in the water.
While the instructor did a good job of communicating to us, we didn't do a great job of executing. Before entering the water, I thought we were ready to go, and Jonathan and Jeff thought we were ready, too. However, we didn't synchronize our individual thoughts and plans with each other before diving in. So, once submerged we quickly got off course and then it was pretty much lot of writing on our slates (little white writing boards with pencils for use underwater) to each other and lots of searches coming up empty.
After surfacing we discussed the dive a bit. Also, I blew my nose and the mucous had small amounts of blood in it; I asked Jim and he said it was the result of sinus squeeze and was not uncommon. I
Climbing Wall on Left
I think the tower is for a zip line.
had it again after another dive but didn't notice it on any subsequent dives.
We then rested for about three hours, had lunch, and refilled our tanks.
(Dive #3 - Not sure of depth or time)
We geared back up and Jim took us through some more technical swimming. We practiced going through tight spaces such as the school bus and the plane. I loved going through the school bus... entering from the exit and floating through it while lightly touching the seats and then slowly gliding out the front door.
For the plane, I entered through the side and went towards the cockpit. About five of us crowded in there and we looked out the windows at other divers and fish swimming around. In the cockpit they had a gnome, a skeleton, and a laptop.
We also swam through a big tire and through a long tube.
Jim also showed us where the objects were that we were looking for on our navigation dive.
We then surfaced and took a break for dinner, to rest, and to wait until nightfall.
(Dive #4 - Depth 40 feet, 44 minutes, Night Dive)
Just after sunset, we geared back up and headed to the dock. My light wasn't working, but thankfully Dollie lent me one.
Jim decided to combine the night dive with a repeat of the navigation dive. I would like to say this ended up with more success. However, it was a similar repeat except that we had combined forces with a team of two such that five of us were now wondering around 30 feet under water at night, with light beams from our flashlights moving all over the place, lots of pointing, scribbling on our slates... and all of us being absolutely lost.
A consolation is that some of the markers on the objects were gone, so we weren't sure which ones were the correct objects (in order to set our next bearing to another object and to find our way back).
Still, I liked the night dive a lot and it was very enjoyable.
We then headed back to the motel for the night. Dollie asked how I felt and I said that I felt pretty good. And I did.
That was yesterday. Today, I woke up with a
sore neck and back (I think mainly from carrying the tanks a long way from our site to the main office to get refills), my left eardrum feeling kind of clogged (you know how when you get water in your ear and you can tap your head and it has that hollow-ish sound... yeah, that except not going away), my throat dry and sore, and feeling a consummate "blah".
From the motel I headed to McDonald's to get a drive-thru breakfast before driving to Gilboa.
The weather today was beautiful and sunny. Perfect weather.
When I got to Gilboa, I first went to our site from yesterday and, of-course, nobody was there since we were doing the deep-dive (different dock)... actually, I didn't readily figure this out until a pleasant lady nearby informed me where everyone was. I then drove to the deep-dive area and got out my gear.
Still, I was apprehensive about going to 80 feet.
Before the 80 ft. deep-dive, a few of our group that were taking a Masters Course did a dive to 120 ft. (which requires, I think, Nitrox and more technical training; it also has mandatory stops (rather
than safety stops)... "mandatory stops" being mandatory since a diver would risk death going straight to the top from 120 feet... "safety stops" being for the safety of the diver since going straight to the top (say from 80 feet) would risk decompression sickness, but probably not death).
While they were diving, we geared up and waited. We could see their bubbles surfacing all over the water near the dock. With every 33 feet of depth, the air is compressed to half its size... so the air at 120 feet expands almost to four times its size on the way to the surface (this also causes a diver to use air faster at greater depths). So, in front of the dock the water basically looked like simmering Jacuzzi.
(Dive #5 - 81 feet, 27 minutes)
I was assigned to buddy with Dan; he is a very experienced diver that could watch over me, and he also had a pony tank. On our descent we followed a descent line. I descended slowly in order to equalize my ears as best as I could (I had been having some trouble with this on a few of the prior
dives). Looking down at the divers below me, their bubbles were coming up all around me. At about 45 feet I looked down again and could see the platform 25 feet below me.
After descending to the platform and equalized, we headed to the wall. Now, since this is a quarry there are some big underwater shear cliffs. I looked up the wall and it just went until I couldn't see it anymore. Looking down, the wall went into the abyss. Jim had mentioned that when he first did this dive, he felt like Jacques-Yves Cousteau
and I felt the same. It was amazing being suspended 80 feet down in front of this massive wall. Six of us swimming along it in near-freezing temperatures (I had on a 7mm wetsuit for all the dives, but that was barely enough for this dive and it would be better with a dry suit).
I focused on my breathing, ensuring that I took quick inhales and then slowly exhaled to reduce the likelihood of a free flow occurring. My posture was a little off as I tended to lean up instead of stay flat... I corrected it somewhat... I think without
being able to see the bottom I had a tendency to want to lean up.
A few times I experienced a tiny spark of panic. One time when I looked back over my head at the others, something about it messed with my mind a bit... it was like it didn't compute that I was turning while suspended in space in front of this infinite wall on one side and abyss on the other.
However, the few times I did feel a spark of panic, I calmed it down probably within a second. Mentally, I was stomping it out like one would put out a cigarette butt on the ground; I had been mentally prepping myself all weekend to control any hints of panic; if something like that went from a spark to a flame, then I might do something stupid like bolt to the top.
Another thing that caused a few of those sparks was when after taking an inhale I would continue slightly inhaling for some reason without even thinking about it; hearing the slight hiss I would think for a second that a free flow was beginning (a slight hiss is what starts a
few breaths before the free flow begins). I would briefly think "Oh, Shit!" and would start to look for Dan before realizing it was my own breathing causing the hiss and then I would calm down.
After we followed the wall a bit, it curved to the left and we swam along a ways further (maybe 240 feet) and then circled back to the platform. On our way back the platform, at one point we swam a bit away from the wall, some algae was swirling around knocking down visibility, and I could only see us and the water. That was it.
By this time, I was beginning to shiver and my face was numb. We got to the platform and then ascended to 40 feet for a safety stop of, I think, five minutes. It was great to get to warmer water. We then ascended to 15 feet for a three minute safety stop. At this point the water was much warmer and I could see and feel the sunlight pouring down on us.
We then surfaced and rested. I did it! :) I survived!
(Dive #6 - 37 feet, 24 minutes)
resting and refilling one of my tanks, we did some safety training and dives. We practiced different ways of pushing or pulling a diver along on the surface, ditching our weights and going to the top (for instance, in a situation where a diver runs out of air or has some sort of equipment failure), and sharing air. We then swam around a bit, went through a big tire, went back through the airplane, and practiced buoyancy control.
After that we surfaced, loaded up, said our goodbyes, and headed out.
I took a long way home through lots of small towns and farmland while driving 55 mph most of the way (even in 70 mph zones (I got passed by hundreds of vehicles) while also stopping about every 40 minutes in order to try to keep the transmission from having any problems (and it went well).
Overall, this trip and diving course were very much worth it. I feel like I've crossed another milestone in my life. I'll take a few weeks to savor, mull over, and reflect on this experience. It was lots of fun with lots of great learning. The group
was friendly, cheerful, and there was great camaraderie. And I'm already looking forward to my next dive.
There are more photos below