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#91067 - 08/25/04 09:59 PM Technical Diving Training in Belize
eagleray Offline
Part I

After over 500 recreational dives, I finally decided to get a taste of technical diving training on my most recent trip to Ambergris Caye by taking an IANTD Advanced Nitrox Diver course.

Before going any further, you might want to go over to www.iantd.com and take a look at their mission statement and training philosophy. I don't know what other agencies do, but I suspect that the IANTD stress management technique might be controversial to some. So, why would I want someone messing with me to make things harder while I am doing a training exercise? To become a better diver, because stress management will simulate emergency situations and teach skills necessary for emergency situations.

Before taking a course of this type you have to find a first rate instructor. I was lucky because I already knew one. During my last four trips to AC, I dove with Protech Belize. The owner, Roni Liberman is an IANTD Trimix instructor Trainer Trainer (ITT), qualified to train students and instructors in many areas of technical diving. Rather than give you his entire CV, check out the IANTD site. In addition to knowing his credentials on paper, I have had ample time to get to know Roni and see him in action while teaching various classes.

The other student in the class was Uttah, a young German lady with a British accent and a personality that you cannot help liking immediately. She is finishing up her PADI divemaster course, also at Protech.

On the first day we spent most of the time in the classroom. The course materials build on recreational nitrox and dive accident management found in the typical scuba rescue program. New material deals with technical gear and the IANTD way of doing things. Trust me, while we had to go through the classroom stuff a bit each day, and take a written test, the real guts of this course took place in the water. Roni's classroom style is to give personal experiences that illustrate various points.

In the afternoon we put together our gear which consisted of double aluminum 80's with an isolation manifold, various Scubapro din regulators set up with a long and short hose, Transpac II harnesses with 1” crotch strap, stabilizer bars for the TP II, one reel each, lift bag or large SMB and a rather large Dive-Rite Super wing.

The choice of gear reflects mainly what was available at the shop this summer. He has some new technical gear on order including more compact Dive-Rite Trek wings, open reels, and Scubapro DIN regulators. On the initial training dive Roni wore a jacket and a single 80. On others, he wore a Transpac II with a double Rec wing, and steel 95's with an isolation manifold. We also used Dive-Rite Nitek 3 computers (a Nitek He in Roni's case). All dives were planned with IANTD tables. The computers were used as bottom timers and backups to the plan. If you have something else, he would probably let you use it. I asked him this very question, but check with him first. During the more advanced technical diver course the student dives with a stainless steel back plate, and may make additional gear choices based on personal preference. Remember, IANTD allows divers a range of choices in gear. He explained the choice of long hose over short hose and we all agreed to breath from the long hose. Some things come naturally.

After assembling the gear, we jumped off the dock for a “confined” water session to get used to the doubles and big wing. I had to increase my weight from 7 pounds to a range of 11 to 13 to compensate for the extra buoyancy of the second tank. The first thing I noticed was how much air it took to maintain buoyancy, even in very shallow water. This would remain a challenge throughout all of the dives. Uttah had an initial problem with harness adjustment that nearly prevented her from breathing, so we climbed out of the water on some real slippery stairs with 100+ pounds no our backs and made adjustments before trying again.

On the stairs Roni showed us a really cool trick: curl your toes over the far end of the step to maintain traction.

On day two we headed out past the barrier reef to Toffee Canyon for our first open water session with doubles. Getting up from the bench is a challenge, but I found that the rocking of the boat could be used to gain enough inertia to get up without any help. Before each dive we do a valve check on the boat. We get in the water and do a bubble check. Roni is wearing Scubapro Jet Fins and takes off fairly fast. We follow, but Uttah is hampered by her too soft black Twin Jet split fins. Later she will switch to some other fins, but this item remains a problem for her throughout the course. My Mares Quattro Power (full foot) fins, which worked perfectly with a single, seem out of place, but I am able to keep up. Eventually I adjust to a shorter fin stroke at a higher frequency. Roni swims down to 114 feet. The water is cooler and feels good. He then points a shame-on-you finger at me. I was not supposed to go past 90 feet. One of his rules is use your instruments and stick to the plan, which he will intentionally violate at times, to keep the game interesting, and mainly to develop a self awareness of the depth and time.

We go back into the 50 foot deep part of the reef, the water is a toasty 86F. There we get to lay out some lines with our strange looking enclosed Buddy reels. We do a valve shutdown switching from the long hose to short and back again. I manage to mess it up and don't have my air all the way on, but survive long enough to fix it. He gives us a nice demo on deploying a lift bag. We deploy our lift bags and do a simulated deco hang for our safety stop. Now we get the joy of climbing back on the boat. Although Roni's 38 foot diesel powered dive boat has a nice fin ladder, we climb up a smaller ladder laid over the side, just to see if we could do it. When we get back to the dock Roni tells all of the things we did wrong. In addition to some of the above items, he said I did not stay close enough to my buddy, Uttah. He also recommends that both of us get Jet Fins.

On one of the later dives Roni used inexpensive Scubapro Veloce snorkel fins. He had no trouble moving his doubles around quickly. He says it is mostlykicking technique. He has an awesome frog kick.

Things get more interesting on the second dive. Roni has each of us run a line for about 100 feet. Then we get to swim along the line with our masks on and return with the masks off. We do another valve shutdown. Valves seem to mysteriously turn themselves off while we looked at a nice turtle swimming by. We get used to turning them back on with 50 feet of sea water above us. Next we took off our gear and put it back on. I manage to do this with great difficulty. Another lift bag deployment with simulated deco and the dive is over. I think this was the dive where I did not put enough air in the lift bag, a big SMB. I had trouble maintaining the stop and made the additional error of not looking up to see what was going on.

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#91068 - 08/25/04 10:00 PM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
eagleray Offline
Part II

Day three brings progressively more difficult dives. We add 30 cf deco bottles filled with 50% nitrox. The bottles are hooked to the rings on the right side of our harnesses The third training dive turns into a series of simulated out of air and panicked diver exercises. They are done on a surprise basis. No doubt it is beneficial to do practice drills with your buddy, but the element of surprise takes you as close to a real emergency as you can get without actually having one. First, Roni comes up to me in the panicked diver mode and grabs the regulator in my mouth. I am so startled that I do not let go for a second or two. During that exercise I drop down to 103 feet, another profile violation. A few minutes later he decides that I am too far away from Uttah. He gives the signal for out of air, then points to me. I have to take my regulator out and swim over to Uttah, about 30 feet, and breathe off her long hose. We are at about 80 or 90 feet. We then swim up to 50 feet and Roni signals Uttah to stay put and I follow him. Now I have to swim back to Uttah with my mask off and holding my regulator out of my mouth. It is supposed to be 45 feet, but I have no idea of the actual distance. Remember, this is with doubles, a deco bottle and the bulky Super wing. I am not totally recovered from my out of air drill a few minutes earlier. Roni Guides me in the direction of Uttah. By the end of the swim I am having to suppress breathing spasms in order to reach Uttah's regulator. To get a perfect grade on this exercise you have to swim around for an additional 3 minutes with your mask off breathing from your buddy's regulator. We do another valve shutdown drill this time with Roni flooding our masks. Later he turns off our valves. This dive is being done on a run time schedule limit. About 1 minute before we are supposed to begin our ascent he tells us to do a gear strip. We refuse, as there is not enough time. That is the right answer. Lift bags are deployed and we do a gas switch. This time I have enough air in the bag to do the hang, but did not pull on the line hard enough to make the SMB stand up. We have also changed to conventional open reels which I like much more. After the dive Roni gives me a lecture about solo diving and the need to stay near your buddy, because your buddy is part of your air system.

A pattern is starting to emerge. After each dive I am excited and full of energy rather than tired or upset by my mistakes. The dives are not easy and I am feeling a sense of accomplishment that I have not felt in a while. I am starting to appreciate the IANTD philosophy. Besides, I always felt that things learned the hard way are learned best. The effect of these exercises is beginning to form a new way of looking at things as a diver. The valve shutdowns and out of air drills are giving me both the confidence to deal with a busted hose, regulator or whatever and a sense of caution that I might have been losing from too many easy recreational dives. Even with over 500 dives, I feel like I am learning to dive all over again.

On dive four Uttah got the honor of the no-mask out of air swim and did not find it so easy either. More valve shutdown drills follow with Roni simultaneously messing with our valves, flooding our masks and pressing the purge button of the regulator I am breathing on. He calls this task loading and it is not giving me any trouble this time. That is the objective, to be able to do the valve shutdown and regulator switch perfectly, even if a lot of stuff is going wrong at the same time. We do another gear strip, completely detaching from our gear, including the regulator. We each swim over to Roni, about one yard away, take a breath off his regulator and then go back to our rig and put it on. Uttah does this in about two minutes. I struggle for 8 minutes because my wrist slate keeps hanging up on the strap and the deco bottle is in the way. Uttah swims over and points at her computer, we are out of time. I have my rig on is some kind of a half baked way and must ascend. My long hose is tangled up and my second reg is buried somewhere. The necklace broke. In class Roni had told us a story about an out of air drill where he could not find his regulator and almost had to take a hit off a deco bottle in water deep enough to cause convulsions. I know what is going to happen. Uttah comes up to me with her regulator out. I hesitate then spit out my main and start looking at the deco bottle. Fortunately, were are within the MOD for the gas, but Roni hands me his regulator. I manage to deploy a lift bag after Uttah hands back my regulator. Gas switch and simulated deco stops follow. On this dive we use the nice fin ladder on the 38 footer to climb back on board.

I actually feel pretty good about this dive. Despite the mess with my hoses, I managed to not blow the simulated deco stops. Roni tells me we are beginning to work like a buddy team, progress. I am still a bit slow to give up my regulator, but he also said that Uttah should have handed the regulator back as in sharing air without a safe second, a skill that is disappearing from open water courses. It would have been nice to have some weight on the rig as the negative buoyancy of the tanks made things more difficult. Dive-Rite makes a weight for this purpose.

On day four we plan our final certification dive using IANTD tables as if it were a 15 minute 150 foot dive on air. For safety purposes a 140 foot maximum depth is set and we will do a gas switch to 50% nitrox, while sticking to the air deco schedule. We work out the run times and write it all down on our slates. Roni has repeatedly told us that divers that cut things close get bent, or worse.

We are on the smaller 27 foot boat this time. There is not as much room to gear up. I start out by forgetting to put on my weight belt or do a valve check. Uttah stops me. I take off the rig and start again from scratch, then back roll into the water. Uttah gets in and there is something wrong with her gear that can't be fixed in the water. Roni is using Poseidon regulators that he is not all that fond of. There is a slow leak, but it is not serious. We all wind up back on the boat to get things sorted out. About twenty minutes later we try again. In the water Roni heads for a narrow crack in the reef at the end of Toffee Canyon. It is just wide enough to swim through with doubles and a deco bottle. He goes through perfectly, I stir the sand up, something that would have not happened with a single tank. As I exit, I turn around and wait for Uttah to emerge from the fog. I feel bad that she has to swim through that mess. The rest of the dive goes smoothly, there is an incredible drop off at the deep end of this site. We ascend, although the ascent is slightly too fast between 100 and 70 feet. I deploy my lift bag/SMB perfectly and it stands up on the surface. On the hang he has Uttah do another surprise out of air drill. I hand her my long hose. I am getting better, but could still use some more practice. Roni hangs onto Uttah and pretends to fall asleep to test her buoyancy. At the surface we do another gear strip. This time I get smart and clip my slate to the harness, but still have trouble with my watch hanging up. Roni tells me to detach the bottom of the deco bottle from the harness. Finally, the rig comes together. We return to the dock. I eat lunch and pick up the exam and finish it in about an hour, passing. At that point I am feeling a real glow, late in the afternoon.

I did not have that great of an interest in technical diving at the start of the course. The main goals were to improve my diving skills and to test my abilities as a diver. I accomplished these goals and now are tempted to do a few more dives to 150 feet, staying long enough to look around, rather than the bounce dives that some recreational divers do. The entire experience exceeded my expectations.

One last thought, when you find a good dive instructor you are not doing him a favor by paying for the course. He is doing you a favor by teaching you.

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#91069 - 08/26/04 08:31 AM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
seashell Offline
Glad you had fun, eagle. Based on your last couple of paragraphs, I'd say you are a candidate for DIR. Check these guys out. http://www.gue.com/
_________________________
A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?


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#91070 - 08/27/04 09:25 PM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
eagleray Offline
Seashell,

Would you care to share with us why you are qualified to make such a recommendation?
IANTD Advanced Nitrox requires the diver to be at a skill level that is beyond DIR-F and is taught at a level similar to GUE's Tech I.

Anyone who wants to go the GUE route has to take DIR-F whether they need it or not, buy DIR gear whether they want it or not, and then I would have to chase after one of only 16 GUE instructors who teach Tech I, so that I could repeat that level. Finally, none of those GUE instructors lives in Belize.

Thanks, but no thanks.

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#91071 - 08/27/04 11:05 PM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
seashell Offline
There were two DIRF courses here this summer. The students were almost all advanced technical divers and some were instructors. Only 2 out of 24 passed. Most of the rest got a provisional.

I just thought since you were so keen on the tech diving, you'd be interested. My mistake.

Do you live in Belize? If not, did you check out the GUE course calendar? The instructors travel to give classes at many different places and so may be in city near you.
_________________________
A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?


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#91072 - 08/28/04 05:48 AM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
eagleray Offline
Seashell,

I suggest you go down to AC and try some IANTD training with Roni before you go out and offer your unsolicited advice about what anyone needs. You must be rather naive if you think I never heard of DIR before you mentioned it.

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#91073 - 08/28/04 06:47 AM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
seashell Offline
OK, OK, I get it. You aren't interested. By the way, I didn't say that you needed DIR training. I merely thought you might be interested since you seem so keen on tech diving.

Please accept my apologies. No offence was intended.
_________________________
A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?


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#91074 - 08/28/04 07:01 AM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
eagleray Offline
appology accepted.

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#91075 - 08/28/04 10:06 PM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
seashell Offline
Whoa! Thanks guys, for your support and kinds words. I'm a bit overwhelmed.

But I think that since eagleray is familiar with DIR/GUE, that was probably part of the problem. The whole DIR vs non-DIR has become quite a sensitive issue for many scuba divers. Eagleray was probably reacting to the DIR issue, as much or more than he was actually reacting to my posts.

Many of the divers that profess to be DIR can get a bit rabid about it and that puts many others off. Eagleray appears to be one that comes down on that side of the fence.

Also, we've all been around here long enough to know that misunderstandings arise from time to time. So no worries on my end.
_________________________
A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?


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#91076 - 09/02/04 02:46 AM Re: Technical Diving Training in Belize
Anonymous
If I recall seashell was a shemale, is that correct?

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