Both Tina and I were feeling pretty confident and I was definitely on a high note from the day before. My body was sore and my brain was reaching capacity but we had done at least a good enough job at Blue Grotto the previous days, to go to Manitee Springs/Catfish Hotel and work on more skills there. We all followed Mer to Manatee springs and were the first ones there. It was spitting rain most of the morning and any hope of keeping the undergarments dry was useless, since they had been full of sweat for the past 2 days anyway. I didn’t care. I was quickly understanding that the drysuits didn’t need babied; it was impossible to keep all the dirt out of them and undergarments were going to stink if you did any real diving. That’s just how it is in Florida.
On the way to the dive site, I downed a large Monster to help wake me up. And by the time we started unloading gear I was feeling pretty jittery. In the back of my mind I knew this was a bad sign but I shrugged it off. Mer did her normal briefing and showed us the dive site. She is always good at pointing out the hazards and giving us tips which was much appreciated.
Our dive plan was to practice ascents, SMB deployment and we would be diving with Braxton for the first time as a third team member. We did our land drills under a pavilion and it was fun to work on the SMB. The first time I deployed my SMB on land was a mess. It got ripped out of my hand by my land drill buddy running with it to simulate it going to the surface. Hence, we learned why the Halcyon spool doesn’t have finger holes. My spool had the standard hole through the center but I discovered that it’s actually kinda hard to hold it without sticking your finger in the center. And an SMB with a good amount of air in it will take off towards the surface like a rocket. Needless to say, I purchased the Halcyon spool after that day.
Once we were done the land drills, we geared up. Tina and I were at each others throats a little bit because I’m sure one of us said something to piss off the other. We tend to do that from time to time as I’m sure most married couples do. Anyway, between the monster, marriage and new skills, it was about to be a difficult day.
We took our extra tanks to the steps that enter the water and dropped them off by the benches, shortly followed by our other gear. It’s a bit of a hike to the parking, lot so it’s just easier to have everything down there by the entrance. The springs where people dive is called Catfish Hotel and it’s an interesting place. The surface of the water is full of duckweed and the basin has mostly a sandy bottom with a few logs and stuff that has fallen in. But under all the duckweed the water is beautiful and clear. There are some awesome screen saver worthy pictures from under the water if you do a google search. And yes of course, Manatee Springs State Park has manatees but we didn’t see any that day. We did however discover that duckweed is not actually that cool to dive in. It gets everywhere in your regs, your hair and your mask. And there are these huge yellow spiders that like to crawl on top of the duck weed. We were picking them off of each other when we were on the surface. We also did end up seeing a rather large water snake at the end of the day too. Anyway, once in the water we plowed through the duckweed to the center of the lake. Braxton ran the GUE edge since he was going for his tech pass. The depth of the basin is a maximum of 50feet I believe, and some of the hazards are branches and logs that you could get tangled up in. But the visibility is pretty good, so it’s unlikely to get caught up in them. However you do need a light for the deeper sections because the duckweed covers enough of the water to block out some ambient light. This will make it somewhat dark near the bottom and edges of the basin. We finished the GUE EDGE and all gave the thumbs down.
We were supposed to do a descent drill and stop at 10 and 20 for a few seconds. This went ok from my recollection. Then we got a quick tour of the basin. as we got deeper I started to feel very anxious and felt like I was going ass over tin cups. On top of that, the massive dose of sugar and caffeine I had from the monster was starting to make me feel even more jittery then I already was. I think I probably didn’t eat much breakfast either. Tina looked pretty good in the water, however I could tell she was a little bit weirded out by the darkness. It was somewhat spooky near the bottom. At some point Mer gave us the sign for our first ascent drill as a team of 3 while holding formation and It was all going well until I tried to hit the 20 foot stop. Nope, not happening. I couldn’t get it under control. I did manage not to cork, but I missed the 20 foot stop and I had to completely break trim to dump the gas from my suit and wing. I finally was able to descend back to the 20 foot stop and we held that for a while. Mer gave us the level up sign and we all started ascending to the next stop at 10ft. Well this time I corked. I felt so defeated. “How could this be?” I thought to my self. I had such a good dive at Blue Grotto the day before, and now it was like I was back at zero. I was disgusted.
We had a small chat on the surface and Mer did a great job of motivating us to push past the frustration. We formulated another dive plan and descended. This time Tina and I were going to watch Braxton do his diver recovery drill. I believe Mer demonstrated it first. This was the first time we got to see it underwater so it was good for us to watch. Even while holding position watching the drill, I still felt like I was really foot light and between my anxiousness and frustration with not hitting my stops I was just beating the crap out of my self internally. Braxton finished his drill and we ascended to the surface. Up until this point I hadn’t really put the puzzle pieces together and I was telling Mer that I just couldn’t get relaxed.
I felt all out of sorts and I was having a bad diving day. She said something like “didn’t you tell me you drank a huge monster energy drink on the way here “Ahhh, yes I’ll blame it on the Monster for now” I said. We still had plenty of gas so Mer had us work on ascents for our next dive which was basically the same profile as as the last dive I was still just fighting to make the stops but it was slowly coming. It felt like the previous day all over. I was wresting the bear again. Dive #133.
Tina and I stepped out of the water for some food. We were starving and we ate some sandwiches that we brought. This made me feel a ton better. The caffeine had worn off and I was no longer jittery. I drank a bunch of water to make sure I was hydrated. We took a pretty good break on the surface and had a nice chill out. For our next dive of the day we had some fresh tanks and she said she was just going to let us explore the basin while she showed us around and once we chilled out we would do more skills like SMB deployment and possibly kicks or S Drills. We swam around the basin looking at all the cool stuff, and she showed us some of the spots where the flow comes out of caves. I needed this. I was having a good time and I was relaxed. Once we circled the basin she brought us over a log and gave us the “hold” command. Tina and I held in position for a few seconds while face to face, and then she asked me to deploy the SMB. Tina and I have done this a few times at home in 20 feet of water but never actually tried the ascent. Our first time in front of Mer didn’t go as smooth as I had hoped though. Mer wanted us to hold position face to face, while about 10 feet directly over the end of a log.
Tina was watching depth and position while I was managing the SMB. We floated off position some, but not that bad. I remembered most of the steps deploying the SMB except that I forgot to look up. The spool did pulled out of my hands so I had to quickly grab it before it launched to the surface. Overall it wasn’t a terrible first SMB deployment at depth. We did the ascent from 35 feet and I actually managed to stop pretty well at 20 and 10 feet. Mer reeled in the SMB for me while I wound the spool up. Then we descend back to the log and we held again. Next was Tina’s turn to deploy the SMB. She did a good job getting it out and rigged, but when she took the reg out of her mouth to fill it up, she couldn’t. Somehow Tina’s SMB had the valve closed but neither of us realized it. By this time I was looking at her trying to figure out why the SMB wasn’t working . Since I wasn’t paying attention to where the log was at this point, I lost position and we were bouncing up and down from 30 feet to 20 feet. I obviously wasn’t being a good buddy because I was paying attention to her and I was trying to figure out why the she couldn’t inflate the SMB instead of doing my job. Finally I saw that the valve was closed I asked her for the SMB. She handed it over rather frustrated with her self and me. I opened the valve and handed it back, and the look she shot me could have burned holes in the back of my head. She was pissed because I lost position and let her bounce but we were all trying to figure out the SMB. I was not paying attention to the position and depth like I should have. She finally did a pretty good job getting the SMB up and her ascent was good with a nice stop at 10 feet. This time we went all the way to the surface.
We still had plenty of air so we dropped back down for more kick practice along the log. I think she actually had all three of us doing kicks but I’m not sure. Braxton had been just a bystander for most of our last few dives. We did all of our kicks up and down the log like we were in a parade while Mer was off to the side giving us tips by using her arms to simulate legs. She would give us the “Ok” if we did it right. The damn flutter and modified flutter kick cramped me up, but I did manage to get a few good runs down the log with it. I can do it if I stop thinking about it and just let it happen. By this time I felt like a totally different diver from the dives in the morning. I was having fun again. We ascended from the log in formation and it went pretty well.
Our next dive was to deploy another SMB, so we descended back to the log for another shot at it. Mer gave me the signal to deploy the SMB and this time we would go all the way up to the surface since I hadn’t had a chance to do it from bottom to the top. I’ll admit that I was pretty nervous at this point. I hadn’t been having a great track record with the full ascents all day and now she wanted me to actually task load? We kicked around some and then ascended to 20 feet depth while over the log. Tina held position over the log beautifully while I got out the SMB. I remembered all the steps this time. I deployed the SMB and the spool didn’t rip out of my hand.
We all hovered in the triangle formation while Tina called deco. She leveled us up, from one stop to the next while I took up the line on the spool. She was having me stop at 5 foot increments as we got closer to 10 because she knows it’s my cryptonite. Stop after stop we ascended in beautiful formation all the way to the surface. I had apparently forgotten about all the stress of dumping the wing and drysuit and somehow managed to do it without thinking. We got to the surface and both Mer and Tina were excited. They said I looked awesome, in trim, holding stops, dumping the wing and drysuit like it was nothing. I actually was kind of surprised when we broke the surface because I was having that same experience like when you drive to work and you can’t remember the last 20 miles. It just happened. So apparently when you give me something to do, I stop hyper focusing on the ascent and just do it.
We discussed the ascent on the surface and had another “Ah Ha!” moment. I can dump the wing fine in trim but as soon as I drop my head, my feet come down and all the air in my wing moves to my shoulders. Then When I go to dump, it’s not there. Almost all of my problems were being solved because I was in good trim on the last dive. I was looking up at the SMB and not dropping my head.
Even though the last dive was great for position and ascents, we did take a really long time to actually get to the surface. Probably twice as slow as we needed. Because of that, Mer wanted to show us the correct speed of an ascent. So we dropped back down for a quick couple of ascents at full speed. I’m ok as long as I go slow for now. But at full speed It just gets away from me. Honestly even though the last dive I missed stops and it looked ugly, it didn’t bother me because we were really dialing things in. Mer didn’t expect us to nail the speed right away while, holding position and staying in formation. Even though the day started pretty rough, in the end I was feeling like it was under control because now I had something that I could understand why I was getting air trapped in my wing and I could fix just by keeping my head up. Both Tina and I had learned so much this day and I learned never to drink a monster before a dive. We were working better as a team and it was starting to click.
The day ended with us stopping for some BBQ at this little restaurant on the way home. It was really nice to just sit and chat with Mer, Stretch and Braxton without having to hurry back to EE for lecture. I know both Tina and I were feeling like we were growing as divers. We had been struggling so long with little things but Mer was able to push us just enough to overcome the challenges and move to the next level. We were starting to dive like a team. With just one more day to go, our GUE fundamentals course was coming to an end. For our last day we would be at Troy Springs which offered more challenges with higher flow and lower visibility.