Full Moon Party time on Koh Phangnan means Koh Tao is quiet so the team at Master Divers decided to take the tech kit out for a spin.
Wilco, our head instructor is a full Trimix Instructor too and very familiar with the tech rig. He invited some of our divers along to learn more about the differences between technical and recreational diving. This programme is called Discover Technical Diving.
Helmut and Ursula have returned to Master Divers again and again and took a break in their Rescue Course to have a go along with Sarah who had just completed her Assistant Instructor Course and Rachael who completed her IDC seven months ago. It was Rachaels first time diving in twin tanks and tech kit and being a bit of a fluffy bunny you might find her perspective quite interesting :-
I am very much a rainbow orientated person and love all things pink and fluffy, so TECH diving has never quite made it onto my radar! I have nothing against it mind, there are some amazing things to see at 120m below the surface of the ocean and if it wasn’t for TECH diving, we privileged people would never know what such places looked like! Take hammerhead sharks for example… you can’t just book an appointment with these wonderful beings… indeed you have to wait around for hours at depth to get the kind of footage we enjoy to watch… ! So for all those TECH diving photographers and videographers out there, well done you, but don’t expect me to join you!!
After much “oh no… that TECH diving stuff looks way too manly and scary for my liking… I’ll never be able to walk with twin tanks…” stuff, I find myself in the quite nerve wracking position of having agreed to take a glimpse of what the scary world of TEC diving is all about… I’m doing a TECH DSD!! Having been a PADI pro for the last 7 months, I’m used to being the one who is calming my students down, managing their nerves and all that, so as you can imagine, it was most unsettling to be in the unfamiliar territory of not having a clue what I was doing or what to expect, being, if I’m honest, pretty scared… just as I was 5 years ago when I did my open water course!!! Eeek!!
During the briefing, I had a momentary out of body experience where I checked out the barrage of “stupid questions” that flew out of my mouth as I was becoming increasingly bothered by the prospect of having to turn my own air on and off and fiddle around trying to switch regulators…. Oh my God!!! Instantaneously I have been put straight back to into the shoes of those open water students who nervously chatter whilst they try to fathom out the difference between a CESA and an alternate ascent!! I have a renewed sense of empathy for my next students!
We start in the dive centre by collecting all the TECH gear. Setting up the equipment is a totally different ball game to regular SCUBA equipment – you have 2 of everything for starters! Tanks, regulators, first stages, LPI’s, surface marker buoys… all of it duplicated, back-ups to make the whole thing extra safe! Which is actually quite reassuring when you think about it! A regular BCD is obviously not equipped to hold 2 or more tanks so in this situation a “wing” is required! Although pretty industrial looking, they are pretty cool… I learnt that they have 2 bladders inside which give rise to the 2 LPI hoses so if one fails during a dive you have a whole other one to support the weight of the tanks you’re carrying. On that note, there’s no need for weight belt as the weight of the tanks is way more than enough to assist your descent!!
Today is a very basic taster of TECH diving primarily aimed at getting us used to the equipment and introducing us to a few skills necessary to master when diving on twin tanks. The first amazement I had was that I could actually stand up and walk to the exit point of the boat with twin tanks!! Woop woop!! What a start! We did the usual giant stride entry which was just as normal except you put a lot more air in your wing than you would your BCD. The first thing I noticed was how buoyant my legs were in absence of a weight belt, your surface position feels odd at first as it’s not what you’re used to but actually it’s really comfortable like sitting on a sofa in the sea!
Next was the descent… if you were to let all your air out at once, you would most definitely fall fast so you do this is a very controlled manner to maintain neutral buoyancy once down. My swimming position felt really weird due to the lack of weight belt, again taking me straight back to my own open water days… I really felt like I was falling over when I was horizontal, much like you do when you first start diving… After a few minutes though I was diving just as usual realising how totally easy it was! “Check me out….” I was thinking…. “I’m diving on twin tanks”!!!
Once comfortable in the equipment, we knelt down to do some skills at around 8m. My brain went to mush when we were being briefed about these on the boat but by this time, I’d chilled out a lot having dived around for a while… So in actual fact the skills were really easy (even if I do say so myself!). Wilco, our instructor, obviously demonstrated the skills first, then we did them… easy peasy!
The first thing we had to do was to feel behind us to reach for the tank handles. Then we had to turn them off then straight back on again. This progressed to a sequence where we turned one tank off, waited for out of air, then switch to our alternate regulator whilst reopening the closed tank. Then whilst breathing from the alternate we had to turn it’s tank off and swap back to our primary regulator…. This sounded horrific on the boat but was so fine it was ridiculous!!
Next we prepared for our buddy running out of air – pretty standard stuff except you give them your primary which has a really long hose and take your own alternate. This allows for them to swim in front of you so you can keep an eye on the out of air situation but also to be prepared for the fact that in the unlikely event that this occurred, it may happen in a narrow area, a cave for example, where there isn’t enough room to swim side by side as you would in an out of air situation in recreational diving with regular BCDs and regulators. We both managed this no problem! High fives for myself and Helmut, my TECH buddy for today! So far so good, I am actually enjoying all this manly scary stuff!
So happy faces all around! We’d not only survived a TECH DSD but we’d done really well ! It felt SO good, I was very proud of myself! However, gutted when we had to ascend to go back to the boat . It was such a fun afternoon and has totally changed my perspective of TECH diving! Although to go hang out with hammerheads for hours on end or see wrecks at the deepest depths of the ocean, of course requires extensive TECH diver training beyond the DSD level (!), this day has given me an insight as to how it works and how safe and most of all fun it can be when you understand the precautions in place with regards to the equipment alone. Now I look forward to doing TEC 40, the next level of TECH diving where you dive to 40m and do lots of “scary” things!! Bring it on!!
The next time we went out to do this – we took the video camera – so have a look here if you would like to see the film.