Thursday, 23 June 2016

Open Water SCUBA Qualification on Koh Tao

Honestly, diving was a lot harder than I thought. I never really considered what it would entail, I just knew thousands of people each year got their open water on Koh Tao, and I wanted to be one of them. I never thought about the risk you put yourself in, or the fact you’ll have a lot to learn and think about when you go into the water.

The diving course started off with possible the most boring two-hour video I have ever seen. It explains the ins and out of diving, and just monotonously trawls through a whole bunch of crap and is impossible to take anything in. The Dive school then gave me a book which I had to read as homework every night and answer all of the questions at the back of each chapter and learn them for a test I would take at the middle of the course.

Here’s the type of things to expect, this is also for myself so I can remember what to do next time I want to go:
-       We lose heat 25x faster in water (consider when choosing wet-suit) & sound travels 4x faster (so it’s hard to see where it’s from).
-       You should test cylinder every 5 years, visually inspect it once every year.
-       Before entering the water BWRAF: BCD (using hose, then inflate orally/ dump purge), Weights (right-hand opening and good positioning), Releases (check shoulder, belly and safety straps on tank), Air (breath on own regulator while friend breathes on your alternate air source together and check SPG doesn’t flicker, then swap and test their tank), Final Ok sign.
-       You should ascend 9m (30ft) per minute to avoid nitrogen-related issues. Ascend with one arm up and looking upwards, be sure to deflate your BCD and only re-inflate on the surface. At 5 minutes do a 3-5 minute safety stop.
o   SORTED 5-point descent: Signal (hand), Orientation (look where you’re going), Regulator (put in your mouth), Time (start of dive), Elevate (inflator to let out air from BCD), Descent.
o   STELLA 5-point ascent: Signal (hand), Time (end of dive is when you start ascent, not reach the surface), Elevate (go up to 5m), Look, Listen, Ascend.
-       Remember, when diving at 1000 ft/ 305m above sea level, nitrogen rates differ so take these into account when calculating your no-dive time.
-       Boyle’s law states that in a given temperature, then pressure and volume and inversely proportional. You also have to learn the chart for this.
-       Don’t dive with blocked sinus, and never hold breath under water. Continually squeeze your nose and breath out to unblock your ears while descending, make sure you don’t wait until you feel pain.  
-       If you’re within 9m of the surface and have to do an emergency ascent with no air, and you’ve lost your friend with their alternative air source, make ‘ummmmm’ noise when rising with regulator still in your mouth to keep the airway to your lungs open. Rise as slowly as possible to avoid nitrogen build up in brain. Inflate BCD on surface and wait for assistance.
-       2 fingers tapping on hand means “how much air” be sure to stay wary of your SPG. Tapping on tank helps to get other divers attention.
-       Nitrogen narcosis in like being drunk/ taking NOS balloon, may do stupid things, might try giving your regulator to a fish! Rise 1-2 meters then try descend again.
-       Dive computer:
o   Deepest point reached during the dive, no matter how briefly, is called depth.
o   Bottom time is the total elapsed time from the start of descent until the surface.
o   Surface interval starts when you’re on the surface of water until your next dive (your computer will tell you how long you have to remain there).
o   No decompression limits refers to the maximum allowed time at the depth.
o   Repetitive dive refers to a dive that has taken place more than 10 minutes after another, but less than 12 hours after.
o   Always check your watch to see when you can fly again, if in doubt leave 24 hours to fly above 8000 ft.
o   Always start dive with the deepest point and go upwards.

When I first got to Alvaro Dive School, I was asked to fill out a health and safety questionnaire – honestly, I put back pain down but later they allowed to change my answer. Frankly, put no to everything, else they’ll make you go to a doctors near the pier, which will cost loads to get to, then you’ll have to pay to see, just for them to say ‘yes you can dive’ – when they don’t actually check you at all. It’s just bureaucracy.

Now to my actual experience diving – I didn’t understand why they asked you if you were claustrophobic, or why it would matter at all, but being underwater diving was a totally different story. When your instructor tells you that you may have a stroke and die if you ascend too quickly, it really makes you panic when you’re underwater. You always have to stay really calm and remember you can’t act irrationally – doing so could actually kill you.  So, when you start getting stressed out, or really want to go to the top, you can’t – it feels like you’re trapped in a box, it was super scary at times!

But, on the whole I loved it. Maybe I would have enjoyed doing a few taster dives instead though as it was a bit intense.  Some of the things you have to do include:

But, on the whole I loved it. Maybe I would have enjoyed doing a few taster dives instead though as it was a bit intense.  Some of the things you have to do include:
-       Swim twice around the boat (equivalent of 200 meters) & tread water for 10 minutes.
-       Removing and clearing your mask – which means you can’t see at all and gets really disorientating. You have to swim around for 1 minute too without it on too. At one point my mask kept getting fogged up and I couldn’t clear it properly and it was just terrible and so stressful.
-       Your instructor has to cut off your air supply so you know what it feels like if you’ve run out of air without knowing it.
-       You have to learn to blast your alternator and switch from yours to your friends alternative air source if you’ve run out and how to make ascent.
-       Use your SPG and use specified hand signals to show how much air you have left.
-       Demonstrate neutral buoyancy – that means, float at eye level at the surface with no/ minimal air. Float in ‘buddha’ position. It’s actually way harder than it sounds and really confused me! Buoyancy was the hardest thing to do the entire qualification.
-       Swim and navigate using a compass – they give you a direction, and you have to set the compass and swim there, change the direction of the compass, pivot and swim back. 

Etc etc etc! On my first dive I went to Aow Leak, second and third in Tanote Bay, final was in Hin Ngam Bay. In Tanote Bay we found a small ship-wrecked catamaran, it was a shame though as there were like 8 other tourists around the boat too learning to dive and it was so confusing having so many people! That’s why learning to dive with a big group would have been a terrible idea. Could faintly see a sting ray underneath but luckily on our last dive we actually came across 3 sting rays just swimming in daylight! Also a pufferfish. The stingrays were my favorite though.

Overall, it was good fun; I loved it and would definitely do it again. However, what I would recommend would be not to take the decision lightly to do the open water – it’s actually a lot harder than you expect!

Have fun and be safe!
Any questions drop a line below xxx

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