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August 06, 2006


There are things that only happen once in your life. Graduations, various firsts, things that we'll remember forever. Getting our PADI certification this morning was one such moment. After the two final open water dives, instructor Chuck proclaimed: "You are now certified!" Yeah!!!

Sure it was "only" three or four weeks of classes, some diving in a pool, and then dives in a lake. But it was also more than that. We learned to handle ourselves underwater, with equipment that keeps us alive in an environment that mankind cannot live and breathe in, an environment that evolution made us leave a gadzillion years ago. And we did not only learn how to handle that equipment and stay alive, but we also learned how to help another diver and keeping him or her alive as well.

Am I proud to now be a Certified Open Water Scuba Diver? Hell yes. Very much.

So how did it go? Once again we had to be at the Folsom Lake Browns Ravine at 7AM sharp. Which made for a short night for me. Everyone arrived on the button, and this time instructor Chuck Odell, again in high spirits, did not waste any time. And neither did we. No more tentative shlepping of stuff from here to there. We knew exactly what we needed and where it had to be. No need to bring the second tank until you need it. Nor any other gear.

So descended down to the shore and suited up quickly, much to the chagrin of a good-sized flock of geese and ducks and such. Then into the water and snorkel swimming out to the buoy, using compass navigation. My buddy is Holly again, and this time we agree that she leads and I follow. I grab the yellow buoy anchor line to descend, keep an eye on her, but in an instant she's gone. At the bottom, some 25 feet, I see Julie and Spencer. Chuck wants us to do full mask flooding and clearing (no problem), then fin pivot to practice neutral buoyancy, then free float a few feet off the bottom.

Since my buddy still hasn't reappeared, Chuck fills in to do the out-of-air exercise with me. He signals out-of-air, I acknowledge and hand him my secondary air-source. I make sure he has it in his mouth, then grab him firmly by the shoulder of his BC and give the "up" sign. He acknowledges and we swim up. He actually goes a bit faster than I expected, but that must have been the right speed. From the surface we see Holly at the shore. She had lost her weight belt and gone back to retrieve it. Chuck goes down again to work with Julie and Spencer. Holly rejoins me.

Then something a bit scary happens. Chuck comes up with a gasping diver, the woman who had not been part of our class but joined us with her partner for certification. We're concerned as she keeps gasping for air. Turns out she'd had problems with the alternate air supply attached to her BC and gulped a bunch of water. Fortunately she's okay. In stuations like this, it sure is comforting to know you have a former Navy SEAL as your instructor.

We go down again to "burn some air" and reach perhaps 27 feet. Then Open Water Dive 3 is over. We don't actually go out of the water this time, but spend a lot of time on the surface waiting for everyone to go through their exercises, and then listening to Chuck on what'd we'd do for the final dive.

We really only had one skill left to practice in open water, and that was the dreaded Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA). The assumption here is that you're out of air and your buddy is not closeby. So up you go after you gulp whatever air may be left in the tank. But do not hold your breath, ever!! So you swim up at a controlled rate, constanty blowing bubbles and making an "Ahhhhh" sounds so that you release the air that greatly expands in your lungs as you go up. Remember: going up from 25 feet to the surface almost doubles the volume of air.

I get to go first. Chuck gives me the sign that I am out of air. I acknowledge. He uses his fingers to count to three, then gives me the "up" sign. I begin blowing bubbles as I fin up. Chuck holds on to me and is right beside me, just in case that I stop blowing bubbles. I don't, and soon we're at the surface where I try to stay afloat and blow up my BC with my mouth at the same time. I had dreaded that exercise as it'd been a bit scary in the pool. Amazingly, in the open water, going up from 25 feet to the surface, it was an entirely different experience. I never ran out of air. It was as if my lungs were getting new air all the time, though I didn't cheat once.

Chuck did the exercise with all students, then we got to do more underwater navigation. 50 kicks 240 degree, then turn to 60 degrees. My buddy and I agree that she will lead and I will follow, and we resolve not to get separated. We go under and the visibility immediately drops to perhaps six feet. We hit a mild thermocline and eventually descend to about 33 feet. We stay close and despite the poor viz manage to stay together until ... the visibility drops to perhaps three to four feet. I still see Holly's fins, but they grow fainter and, dang, she's gone! I accelerate, but no luck. So I search a bit more, then go up. She's not far and we both laugh.

Then it's back to the shore, take off the gear, wrap things up. Chuck makes us fill out our logs for open water dives 3 and 4. Hey, we end up in pressure group "J", at least if we use the tables. A dive computer probably would have seen things a bit differently.

Chuck uses his digital camera to take shots of each of us for the official records. and presumably our C-Cards. And he dutifully signs all the log books and initials this and that. Then we are done.

We are now PADI Certified Open Water Divers!!!!

Posted by conradb212 at August 6, 2006 10:52 PM