Saturday, July 27, 2013

Scuba Checkout dives: Day 1: Dive 1

So today started with an early morning at Seatasea to catch the van to the quarry. It was mostly DMs and Instructors, just two other students. I was surprised that in a class of 13 most people drove. It's a pretty long drive- almost 100 miles from Iowa City.  I know not everyone lives in IC, but a number of other people did, and most people live somewhere close to Cedar Rapids (or else they wouldn't have gone with Seatasea for open water...).  So yeah, I took the free ride and didn't pay gas. Figured my course fee was going for that.

It was a LONG ride, where I learned a lot about how tough the Marines are, about being in the Army reserves, about how the government is trying to take away our guns, and how the Instructor who held me down two weeks ago (today they actually told us they'd do that...but being warned kind of makes it different!) thought Perry should be President.  I joked with him that I'm now not sure I can trust him with my safety....

So we got to the quarry, unloaded stuff and got geared up.  It was a chilly 60 degrees with wind blowing.  Most of us put on our 7 mm wetsuits to get our gear together- I didn't pull mine up, just on the legs, but it was worth it for the extra warmth.

We got our stuff on, buddy checked, and jumped into the water (giant stride).  And this was where my freak-out of the day happened.  I hit the water, my mask flooded, I pulled the mask off, put it back on, and started crying.  WTF?  Absolutely no reason for this. I'm floating safely on the surface, BCD inflated, and freaking out.  My breathing is fine, but I'm literally fighting back tears. I was terrified, anxious, and panicked. The water was warm-ish, I wasn't UNDER water, it was absolutely ridiculous.  I have no explanation, and it took me longer than it should have to calm down. I'm embarrassed, but except the DM who was doing the weight check, I don't think anyone really noticed.

After everyone was weight checked (mine was wrong- I needed more...) we went over to the platform.  The quarry has two platforms that float about 15 feet under water.  There are lines on them that go from buoys so you can follow the line down under water.  Because of a storm, the visibility was terrible (estimated at 3-5 feet), so the 2 instructors and 2 DMs decided that it was not a good idea to take 13 people underwater. The original plan was for 1 instructor to lead, 2 buddy teams to follow, and 1 DM to be the caboose for Dive 1.  Dive 1 of checkout is just 'explore the dive site'.  We were briefed that if we lost site of our instructor to immediately surface (standard rule is search for 1 minute than surface. They decided that once someone was lost there was no way they'd be found, so just go up.)

So my buddy Anna (whose stated goal of the day was "do not drown") and I volunteer to go in the first group.  We get down on the platform, and I can't see the instructor, but can see the buddy team in front of us. They take two kicks, and I can no longer see her white fins.  We lost our group within 5-10 seconds.  Anna and I are looking at each other like "uh? Go up?" We swim a bit further, and look at each other, not sure what to do. Then the DM behind us taps us on the shoulder. Oh yeah! Him! Thank goodness.  So we gone on with our dive.  At the 15 foot mark, the water is relatively warm (we're in 7mm suits). I think it was maybe 66 degrees.  We hit a thermocline at 17 feet, the water is about 60 degrees. At 20 feet there is another- down to around 56 degrees.  60 degrees is cold. Under 60 is VERY cold.  VERY cold.

After the near lost experience of losing our group, Anna and I are holding hands.  I'm doing fine- but honestly it was really stressful. I was so worried about losing her. (Losing the DM was a bit of a concern too, but if he disappears we surface. If the girl who tells me her only goal was to not drown disappears and then something happens to her- OMG. Thankfully, that didn't happen.)  Since our DM kept us around the 20-25 mark, the water was very cold. I kept looking at my computer to see how many minutes would pass hoping it would be over. (We were told it would be about 15 minutes long.)

After about 7 minutes we were feeling more comfortable and let go of each others hands, still just half a foot between each other.  We tried to practice our buoyancy with hands in front of us. Anna and I have opposite problems, I crash into the ground, she floats up to the surface.  She would go floating and get about 2 feet away and start getting blurry, so I'd reach up and hold her hand while she came back down.  The DM would turn around and OK every minute or two, but I don't think he saw any of this...  The quarry was very grassy, and we saw 3 fish.  After 17 minutes we swam up, did a 3 minute "safety stop" and ended the dive.

We talked with other groups and none of them went below 20 feet, so they didn't hit the really cold water, and their DM kept them above the thermocline so they all go to stay in the really warm water!  No fair. Still, the depth was kind of nice, because I guess it makes it a bit more of a real dive.

Also, the buddy pair in front of us went to the surface probably about the time we lost them. They said they were under for less than a minute; they lost the instructor too (he took off into the thermocline, which has the worst visibility- less than a foot) and then the guy went to let air out of his BC to surface and pressed the wrong button and shot to the surface. He said he probably caught air upon hitting the surface- kind of scary. Rapid ascent isn't good!

And while I was anxious and ready to be done the whole time, I made the whole 20 minutes with really no problems at all. This does make me wonder if I'm going to be able to handle a whole hour (well 45 minutes, maybe, with my crappy breathing...) underwater when we go to Cozumel.  Maybe with things to look at time will pass faster?

The most amazing thing was the visibility.  It was literally 5 feet at its best, and in the theromcline where it was so silted up (where we lost the instructor).  When I've heard about poor visibilty I always thought about like dusk, when it is hard to see around you.  But it isn't like that at all. What you can see, you can see perfectly clearly. You hold your hand in front of your face, and it is clear as day. But then 3-5 feet out it is like there is a wall. You can see absolutely nothing.  So you can either see, or you can't. It isn't like some stuff gets blurry.  I actually think, for me, that made it less claustrophobic, but I could see how for other people, it might be worse.  I'm happy that claustrophobia hasn't been an issue for me in the diving.  I just wish I knew why I freaked out jumping into the water. That was just ridiculous. I think all my other panics have been somewhat justified, but that was not.

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