The second of five open water adventure dives to pass the PADI Advanced Open Water Certification
Feeling accomplished by the previous day’s challenges, I arrived at the Dive College with no idea of what would be in store for the second dive of the advanced open water course. It’s the deep dive and I knew it would be the most challenging day of the course. The course instructor is Damian, an experienced, straight-talking Londoner whose ‘let’s do it’ approach is refreshing and reassuring. There are eight of us on the dive and we’re heading out on the boat to Punto Berrugo. We suit up. I’m buddied with a girl who is young and very shy, too shy in fact to speak which made our buddy check difficult to say the least. I do what I can for us both with my limited knowledge but it’s a little rushed as the other divers are heading out to the boat and we are still at the dive store. I’m starting to feel stressed as I’m not feeling confident my kit is set up correctly and I’m fairly sure my buddy would not be able to help me if I was unfortunate enough to get into trouble.
We make our way to the shoreline. The sea is choppy today and we are told to inflate our BCD’s and swim on our backs to conserve energy. Kitted up with over twelve kilograms on my weight belt and another five to eight kilograms in dive gear, it’s the equivalent of lugging a large suitcase onto the boat. Reaching the ladder, I struggle to get on board; by design, every other step of the ladder is missing, making the height in between each step quite large. With my short legs and the heavy equipment, it’s a struggle. Once aboard, the driver rides the small rib through the choppy waters to the dive site Punta Berrugo ten minutes away. We arrive at the dive site where the surface current is strong. We moor up and one by one the divers fall backwards and disappear beneath the waves. I’ve never been trained to backward roll from a boat before and start feeling anxious. Everyone’s in the water. It’s now or never; do I face my fears and dive in? Or abort the dive and fail the course? This dive is a mandatory requirement for the advanced open water and without it I can’t pass.
Tears stream down my face as panic, fear and emotion rises. It’s been fourteen years since I took my Open Water Course and in the few times I’ve dived since then, it’s been one-to-one with an instructor, fully guided throughout the dive. I feel scared and out of my depth. I make my decision; this fear will not beat me. I’m with professionals. I will do this. Pushing through tears of emotion, I put my regulator in my mouth, hold my mask to my face and allow myself to fall backwards off the boat. I roll under the waves and surface a few seconds later. I’m in! I make my way to the front of the boat where the other divers are descending one by one down the anchor line. It’s choppy and it’s a struggle to hold on to the rope. I wait until last then deflate my BCD to begin sinking. After a few seconds, I realise I’m not going down, just bobbing about on the surface. Fifteen meters below I can see divers waiting to start the dive. The instructor is still on the line and surfaces to tell me to breathe out. I realise by this time I’m panicking, breathing lots of shallow breaths, which is using up precious air.
Our lungs can hold up to ten litres of air, which can counter up to 10 pounds of weight. If I don’t relax and breathe out, I simply won’t sink. I let go. Soothed by the site of the divers below, and helped with a gentle push down from the instructor, I descend, slowly down the line. Reaching the rocky bottom, I discover my weight belt is loose. I must turn with my belly towards the sand with the weight belt across my back before I tighten it up to ensure I remain weighted down. We set off. Rocked by the previous day’s buoyancy issues, I keep deliberately keep myself heavy (by having less air in my BCD less than I would normally) to ensure I do not ascend and lose control. At these depths and in this current, I don’t want an uncontrolled rapid ascent. However, my thinking is flawed; I bounce along the bottom, hitting rocks with my knees, swimming is difficult and requires much effort. I’m struggling. Divers swim over my head like kangaroos, I get finned in the head by another diver and I’m starting to fall back. The instructor notices my struggling and signals to me to add more air. We continue the dive. I decide to stick close to the instructor and keep as near as I can behind him. I’m still concerned about buoyancy; still over compensating, I keep myself heavy. I check my air; I started at the surface with 200 bar, at this point, less than a few minutes into the dive, I’m down to just 130 bar, showing me just how much I much I was over breathing on the descent.
Over the rocks and the dive master points out a tunnel. Half the group split off and go through it, the other half stay with the instructor. Over a steep rock we see a baby angel shark, which is a rare site as they are an endangered species, closely followed by a beautiful grey triggerfish, the size of a dinner plate and the most beautiful fish I have ever seen. Trigger fish are territorial and can bite with their beak-like mouths but this one seems friendly enough and swims off busily beating his bat-like fins. On the final part of the dive we arrive at a large open cave with open mouthed moray eels revealing rows of sharp-fanged teeth. They look quite scary and menacing but they are in fact just taking large gulps of air to breathe and are not aggressive, unless provoked. Up over the cave, we did a three-minute safety stop at five meters, then back on the boat with just forty bar left in my air tank. Back on the rib and another diver is lying on the floor looking sick. Having rolled backwards into the sea, the surface current took him three meters away and despite being a big, burly chap, he had used all his energy to get back to the boat. An experienced diver, he realised he was now too exhausted to dive and took the decision to abort. It was challenging dive, raising all kinds of questions for me; Can I do this? Am I out of my depth? Am I insane for attempting this and thinking I could achieve it? Have I reached my limits? Have I gone beyond them? Am I fit enough? Back on land, I’m not feeling well. The dreaded holiday-tummy S+D has kicked in and I need to keep near the loo. I’m shaken and go to sleep that night wondering if the course will be completed.
The skills covered in the navigation adventure dive