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Nettie Goes Techie!

Annette Mckenna one of our long term Scuba diving instructors here in Sharm thought it was about time that she put her foot on the first rung of the technical diving ladder. So... she enrolled the guidance of John Kean an even longer term diving instructor, guide and technical instructor here at Ocean College to put her through her paces.

Annette is very generously keeping a diary of her course here, so we can follow her progress as each day draws to a close:

Day One:
Before I arrived on the boat, we had a briefing at the dive centre to let me know what the first day of my TDI Advanced Nitrox Course would entail. I was going to be doing 2 dives in a twinset (and not the type you wear with pearls) and 10 litre sling tank.

Having been a scuba diving instructor in Sharm for 4 years I can quite easily manage the weight of a 12 litre tank, but today’s configuration was going to be similar to lifting half my own body weight… a scary thought indeed!

When we got onto the boat John got straight on to showing me the gear. I was first fitted for a harness. This was a bit like being in an M&S underwear fitting room. The person who used it last must have been twice my size as everything needed pulling in and adjusting. The harness has to be figure hugging to ensure the twinset doesn’t swing about under the water. John then went on to show me how everything fit together and the sequence required for analysing and labelling the sling tank.

Then it was onto the exciting part of diving in all this gear. I was going to dive to a maximum depth of 33m for a total dive time of 29 minutes, and that was going to include getting used to the gear in the shallows, descending, switching to my 10 litre sling and ascending to various depths at specific times.

Getting into the twinset was very amusing and standing up in it was nigh on impossible. It didn’t take long for me to feel reasonably well balanced so I could get my fins on. It was at this point I was then handed the 10 litre sling to attach! Oh my god, heavy or what! Doing a giant stride entry was also interesting and I had to give myself a little talking to that I was in fact strong enough to peel my fin off the back deck long enough for me to haul myself into the water.

Once in the water things were far more comfortable. We descended down on cue and I found it reasonably easy to stay horizontal. Because everything is that much heavier I descended fairly quickly and needed my hand on the inflator at all times. At around 25 metres I felt very lop-sided but sorted myself out by pushing my elbow into the wing. I got down to 30 metres and was meant to check how much air I used in 5 minutes. Unfortunately I looked at my sling tank gauge, instead of the twinset I was actually breathing from and then couldn’t understand why it had hardly moved at all (my only real blonde moment of the day!)

After the designated time we signalled each other and headed to 18 metres where we swapped to our 50% nitrox mix. After a few more minutes at this depth we then went up to 9 metres. I was mildly distracted by a really big Napoleon wrasse which reminded me that fish spotting was usually my only job in the water. Again after the designated time we moved up to 6 metres to finish off the dive. I was actually quite surprised that my neutral buoyancy was not bad at all, and really wasn’t as difficult as expected. The planned dive was then over so we went to the shallows to do the skills, some of which were to shutdown part of the twinset to simulate a failed valve. We’d then switch to the back-up. To do this it’s best if you have a double-jointed arm but for those of us that don’t have this quality it’s a pretty tricky task that I probably made look very hard work.

I then was asked to put up my surface marker buoy (SMB) and John was stunned at how fantastic that was… knowing that I was going to do the course I’d been practising my SMB skills for the last few months and it had the desired reaction from John. Total amazement!

Getting out of the water was also fun. In attempting to unclip my sling tank I managed to attach it to my SMB case so I had to be disentangled by my patient instructor. Getting up the ladders with the twinset was tough but I had a great sense of achievement in getting up on my own. Next stop a Gold medal for weight lifting in the Olympics!

The second dive was very similar to the first except a little shallower and a few more skills in the shallows. It was already easier to walk to the back deck in the twinset and I made a much better attempt at my giant stride entry. In the water it all felt less cumbersome so it was easier to concentrate on the timing of the dives. Once again the fish life attempted to distract me, this time a peppered moray at 25 metres. I pointed it out to John who seemed hugely unimpressed but I thought it was cute.

All the drills were fairly straight forward and I was actually starting to enjoy the challenge of getting it right.

Once the planned dive was over it was time for more skills of which one was to swim 10 metres without a regulator in, as if in as out of air situation. You then had to take the donor’s alternate and swim around together. John demonstrated it to me and whilst we were swimming around he signalled that maybe I should fin as he seemed to be dragging me along. This gave me a fit of the giggles which then made my 10 metre dash with no reg in that much more difficult. I did however manage it which was a relief.

When we debriefed John was quite pleased with my performance so I’m therefore looking forward to heading to Tiran on Day 2 tomorrow.


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