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· Jonah
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OK, as promised on the Red Sea thread, for Kate and others looking at drysuit courses, here is a quick report on the PADI Drysuit Specialty course Alison and I did with "Learn to Dive" at Wraysbury today. Neither of us had dived dry before, but with the temperature dropping it seemed to be time...

Cost was £85 each, all inclusive. Seems a lot for a couple of dives, but I think it was worth it, I learned a lot.

Richard talked us through some theory stuff, and Simon took us for the two dives. They seemed to know what they were doing (which is nice in an instructor!) and were pretty laid back (read: took the piss out of me mercilessly for my yo-yo style buoyancy "control"). Interestingly, they weren't prescriptive about what to use (suit or BCD) for buoyancy and mentioned the pros and cons of each.

I already had my own suit, but they lent Alison a whole set of kit - suits, undersuits, everything, right down to a pair of fins as hers were too small to go over the boots.

Richard pulled out a bunch of different makes / types of suit (different zips, inflators, valves, neoprene/membrane etc) and talked us through the various bits and pieces. They gave Alison a different suit for each of the dives to get a feel for what she would eventually want to buy - damn good idea I thought, except she ended up liking the O'3 Neoprene best... I'm sure I'd like it as well if I could afford it!

In both of the two dives, the basic idea was to run through a couple of skills at a platform (fin pivots,  hovering), and then go for a tour, trying to get buoyancy control sorted, play with the valves, recover from feet-first ascents (we had a couple each) - if anyone was there today and saw a couple of pairs of legs waving in the air in the midddle of the lake, that was us.

The first dive was a real shock - I was all over the place, it was like I'd never dived before. I'd tried the suit in the pool the week before and thought I'd got the hang of it - NOPE. I'd decided to try not wearing ankle weights on this dive (I'd used them in the pool) as I'd thought it would be better to learn to control the thing without them. Might have been a mistake...

Quick cup of coffee and a debrief, and change of suit for Alison, then back in the water for more of the same. This time I wore a pair of ankle weights (which I hadn't on the first dive) and that was probably one reason things went a lot better. The second dive, I felt much more in control of everything and had a much better time. No inverted ascents, no bobbing to the surface, and a genuinely pleasant dive - toured round some of the 'attractions' and even saw some wildlife (4 baby pike). And some silt, obviously.

Water temperature was 8 degrees, coldest I've ever been in. I was warm enough, and came out bone dry. Very civilised.

Lessons learned -

- Very different to wetsuit diving, but manageable despite the initial feelings of utter incompetence.
- MUCH nicer out of the water between dives.
- I need a LOT of practice - a few more pool and sheltered water sessions called for over the winter. There's still a way to go before I'll really feel in complete control of the suit.
- Ankle weights are a good idea, at least for me and for the moment. I've heard various arguments for/against them, but based on my experience today I'll be using them until I'm much more comfortable in the use of the suit.
- The dive school at Wraysbury looked after us well, and I'll be happy going back to them for training in the future.

Tom
 
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