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.