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Last weekend I finally finished my advanced nitrox, decompression procedures and helitrox course which, I started a while ago but for one reason or another (mainly work) kept getting postponed.

It all started on a very icy Friday night in a B&B near Vobster Quay which was described as "quaint" - I’m sure I’d seen the place in a movie once… After a rubbish journey down the M5 I finally met up with the rest of the group - some of whom I’d met whilst working at F&B, some I’d heard of and finally got to meet. So over some drinks and home-made cake we discussed some theory and the plan for the next day, all sounded good and while nervous I was looking forward to the day.

Day 1 started at around 0700 with a full English to warm us up and then off to Vobster. After a briefing about what we were about to do and some kit set-up advice on setting up a stage (which I’d never used before) it was time to jump in. So in we went and checks were made on the surface then bubble checks and S-Drill at 6m and then off to a ledge to practice some drills. I had done an intro to twins course with Ross a while ago and had been practicing shutdowns on most dives so I wasn’t really concerned about them but when they’re thrown in with other skills it gets a little more tricky. While Barry and myself were trying to have a "nice" dive, Ross kept appearing and pointing out kit issues which we had to deal with. The first few times they are always a little nervy but by the 5th or 6th they were quite fluid and I was getting more and more comfortable with the whole team concept. With a short surface interface and debrief/briefing it was time to de-ice the drysuits and get back in, we weren’t quite as enthusiastic at this point - it was rather chilly! During the second dive there were much the same "issues" except this time masks were involved. I can still feel the pain of the icy cold water on my eyeballs when removing a stage and swimming around without a mask on! Then it was back to the B&B for dinner and more theory. As an instructor myself the theory for the deco side was manageable as it’s something we have to teach and the book ‘Deco for Divers’ certainly gave me a leg-up with it. What I found most interesting was the gas planning stuff - it’s something I had never really done to that level; rule of thirds was all I knew and was how I’d plan dives! Most of the time I would be diving with people with a single tank and I’d be in twin 12s so if they ever ran out of gas I was really concerned as I had plenty - I’d never really dived with someone else with similar gas so planning minimum gas was very interesting.

Day 2 - 0700 start for "slightly modified full English" and a packed lunch, sort of. Back to Vobby for more fun and games, this time we had another member in the team and we were to be practicing team issues and stops on the ascent; at least the was the brief. During the dive we headed down the ‘road’ and went through the tunnel (stupid request from me) - I was the last one out of the tunnel and emerged to total chaos. One team member was out of gas having had a freeflow and the other was finning down trying to get air out of his drysuit. After a short time we settled and Ross pointed the direction we should go - by this time the visibility was all but a memory and we headed in off together in formation with everyone back on their own gas. After a few more issues it was time to start the ascent so, looking at the slate, we made our ascent. Now, I’m not entirely sure what happened at this point because while some of us were going up, the other were going down and vice verca, or at least that’s how it felt! After getting to the 12m stop I checked the slate and realised none of us had switched gas at 18m and I hadn’t deployed my DSMB at 15m and it was at this point that Barry also twigged so we soon rectified the situation… sort of. When we surfaced we’d missed several minutes of accelerated deco by missing the switch but still sticking to the original schedule. It wasn’t all bad though as we apparently won a free trip in a helicopter which I’m still waiting for… The last dive was much the same but with lots of stop practice and DSMB work which is very useful - although I cheated and used my CO2 blob ;o)

Now fast forward a few months and it was time to do the helitrox dive and follow a planned deco schedule. The wreck was to be the Frognor and the plan was 35m for 35mins with deco of 35mins. Ropes off was 1215 but we were to meet at Scimitar at 0900 for theory and briefings. Unfortunately the other team member had to pull out at the last minute so it was just going to be Ross and myself on the dive which I was more than happy with. Now I can’t lie - on the way home to Weymouth I was nervous aboutt he dive, really nervous. I wasn’t sure why and I kept running through the dive in my head but still the nerves persisted. After meeting up with Ross at Scimitar and catching up with a few old friends we got down to business and planned the dive in a lot of detail, gas usuage, back-up deco plans etc. The gas I had chosen was 21/10 with 50% for deco. Before I knew it it was time to kit up and board Cutlass. The weather was "iffy" but seemed to be holding out and the journey was OK. I was apprehensive but just wanted to get in the water at this point. We got to the position and waited for a little while for slack and then it was time to get in. I was to lead the dive and "just deal with what happens"… "OK" I confirmed and started the descent. On the way down the shot it was apparent that our plankton friends were out in numbers and it was to be a little bit of murky dive. We approached the end of the shot and I checked my computers - 34.9m on the nose - but no wreck in sight! Ross then appeared next to me and pointed away to my right, so that way I swam keeping an eye on his torchlight out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough we found the wreck and I led on. With a few issues suddenly happening (shocking buddy!) and my drysuit valve sticking we got to the allocated 35 minutes and started our ascent. At 21m we switched gases and I deployed my blob (letting go of the spool towards the end but acting cool at the double ender came back down). I then spent the next 30 mins or so staring at Ross during deco as there was really nothing else to see! We popped up 5 minutes over schedule (computer said no) and all was well. Back on board we drank hot chocolate and ate chocolate and made our way back to harbour and even got a show from the helicopter extracting someone from the boat! Not for me but I’m still waiting for that free-ride! So after a debrief, more tea and a discussion about the dive it was all done and how relieved was I!

It was a great course and I can see the benefit of helitrox. There were a couple of different agency divers on-board who didn’t set the point in such a lean trimix but having done it and seen the prices I can see the benefit; it’s not only an introduction to trimix diving but also an accessible way into diving trimix and with a max depth of 45m that’s plenty to keep me going. It also had quite a profound effect on me; rather than thinking "I’ll do this for when I go on holiday" I came up thinking "I want to do that again". Whilst down there in the dark and murky depths I felt a confidence in the dive - in everything about the dive; the plan, the times, the backups and the team procedures. Whereas I would normally plan a dive with something like "let me know when you get to 100 bar and we’ll turn around/ascend/head back" I can now plan a dive more accurately and know exactly what has to happen and when. Now I just need to sort out some proper dives and make use of my new skills!
 

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Great report. Enjoyed it. Dive with my EX buddy & you'll get that helicopter ride for sure.............& well done, enjoy the new skills.
 
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