I got off work early, the truck was already packed from the night before, so all we had to do was put food in the cooler, load the dogs, and head south. It was Thursday July 19th and our fourth day of Tech 1 was in the morning. We rented an Air BnB a few miles from pompano dive center where our friend and GUE tech/cave diver Rick would meet us each morning to take us out for some wreck diving on his boat. Initially pompano dive center was going to have us on the normal tech charter but they were booked that weekend. So Rick was very kind and helped us out.
This was the first GUE class where we had a break halfway through. Logistically it was much easier for us since half the class would be in high springs and half the class would be in Pompano. I wouldn’t have wanted to leave highsprings late on Sunday after a long day at Hudson then drive to south Florida. It was also nice to have a mental break .
Tina and I had to work the whole week and it was nice to relax and rest. This also gave me a chance to find a play pen for Marley that we could use to corral her in. We didn’t quite know what to expect with the BnB but we were really not wanting Marley to freak out and destroy something in the house or or worse, hurt herself. I ordered a wire pen on amazon. I opted for this because she tends to freak out in a kennel and I thought if she had a bit more room to move she would be ok.
Kirill drove down early in the day and was already at the house. Per would be showing up at about the same time as we did. We were a bit worried that the house wouldn’t be nice so when asked Kirill how it was, we were pleased to hear it was very nice. The house was on a small canal and was a two bedroom two bath with a small kitchen. Per would be sleeping on an air mattress which we brought. We arrived shortly before Per and we all had a beer when he got there and then crashed. The house was cozy. It would do just fine for a few days.
The following morning we were all up pretty early. I was excited and anxious. About what the day would be like. We would be doing some ascent work in 100fsw. I think everybody slept pretty well but coffee was the priority of the morning. We got to pompano dive center (PDC) and had to wait for the PDC boat to load and head out before we could board Ricks boat, so we walked to a small gas station that had a sign that read something like “best coffee on the beach” or maybe “worlds best coffee”. Well how could we not try it? The coffee was already brewed so we each poured a cup. Kirill tried it first and nearly spit it out, it was burnt and bitter. False advertising I think.
After finding the worlds worst coffee, we made our way back to the dock to find Rick prepping the boat. We all helped load the gear onboard and got half way into our drysuits. It was around 9:30 by this time and already hot. I was very much looking forward to getting in the water. I wasn’t quite sure what back plate and undergarment combination I would use all weekend so I started with just my merino wool base layer with a thin vest. The water temp on the surface was in the 80’s so this would be just fine (I thought). For cave where the water temp is 72f, I use fourth element arctics and an aluminum back plate. We were diving double 104s and they weigh a good bit. But since we hadn’t dove them very often in the ocean to get the weighting/undergarment combination dialed in it was just an educated shot in the dark. Since salt water is more dense, it changes the buoyancy characteristics compared to fresh water. I wasn’t quite sure how it would work, but I would give this a try and see.
Rick gave a quick briefing on the safety of the vessel, we were under way. The cruise out of marina and to the ocean was nice. The cool air coming off the water and occasional spray was a welcome relief to the heat. I haven’t been on a private boat in such a long time, and I really miss it. The smells and the sounds of the ocean are soothing. Don’t get me wrong I love cave diving but there really is something soothing about being on a boat. We made good time getting out to our first dive site.
Rick dropped a shot line (an anchor chain with a float ball) to mark our spot, and we finished getting into our drysuits. Now that we were not moving, it was critical to get geared up and in the water quickly or risk getting overheated. Our plan was to do three 100fsw max depth dives and essentially do short drift dives. We weren’t really shooting for any wrecks as I recall, these were just training dives to the sand and back up. We were on 32% back gas, and would be doing our deco on our 50% bottles with a deco switch at 50fsw and running deco from there to the surface. A similar day to what we did in Hudson, but more challenging with current, drifting deco, shooting an SMB and all the dynamics of ocean diving.
I was feeling a combination of excitement and anxiousness. I’m not that comfortable in the ocean yet, and I didn’t quite know what to expect on the mid water ascents on an SMB with gas switches. Although we have done it on back gas alone, having to perform in class is just added pressure. This type of ascent is much more challenging for some people because you don’t have any visual reference other than your buddies. It can be very disorientating.
We were all geared up sitting on the edge of the boat as Rick was calculating the current at 3-4 knots. He maneuvered the boat south of the ball and prepared to drop us upstream from the shot line. We were going to follow this line down as best as we could so that we wouldn’t drift too far away and out of sight of the boat during deco. Rick finally gave us the “Dive Dive Dive” and we rolled backwards over the side of the boat and into the water. The water was bathtub warm but still cooler than the ambient air. Tina, myself, Per and Kirill were drifting towards the Ball and we descended as quickly as we could. We briefly had the shot line in sight but the current was much to strong to stay on it so we drifted away.
At about 50-60 feet we crossed into a very cold thermocline. It instantly chilled me to the point that i was shaking. It’s amazing how the water can go from warm and in the 80’s to what I guessed was low 60s in a matter of feet. We kept decending and then the bottom came into view at around 100ft. Nothing but sand, some barrel sponges and a few old pieces of fishing gear. We drifted along the bottom for maybe 5 minutes until one of us thumbed the dive, signaling our ascent. I’m glad the dive was short because I was cold. This went fairly well but we were still slow as a team. That lazy slow cave ascent that I’ve gotten into the bad habit of, hasn’t helped me in Tech 1, but we were getting better.
We shot our SMB at 70 and continued the ascent to 50ft. The gas switch at 50ft went pretty well and I don’t remember it being an issue. I was worried about getting vertigo but so far it wasn’t much of an issue either. I would have a few moments where my head would spin, but I just watched my buddies and it went away after a few seconds (and thankfully my buddies are awesome). Once we hit the surface, I was astonished to find that the ball we were dropped on was no where in sight. Rick was waiting just a few yards away when we surfaced. He had followed our SMB as we drifted during deco. It’s really a slick system. He informed us that we had drifted a few miles north. We were only in the water for maybe 20 minutes total. We had our debrief as we waited out our required surface interval. We continued to drift north with rick beside us.
Once our surface interval was done we did essentially the same dive. Now knowing it was going to be cold, I was a little more prepared for the thermocline when it hit me, but it still took my breath away. Tina, Per and I all took turns being the captain, calling deco. We had lots of things to work on after the second dive as well and we repeated the dive for a third time to try to correct some of these issues.
The diving went fairly quickly and before I knew it, we were climbing back onto the boat. We were in the water for quite a while and over the course of three dives, decos and surface intervals, we ended up drifting many miles north of where we started. It really gives an appreciation for current. Once back on the boat, we geared down, stowed our loose gear and headed south to pick up our shot line. The boat ride seemed to take a while and then finally we spotted the the big orange ball and picked up our line.
The boat ride back to the marina was nice. I was in shorts and much cooler. The smell of the ocean and the salt spray was very relaxing. Overall i was pretty happy with how the diving went. Sure there were lots of things to work on but as a team we were performing better. Most of all, we were having fun. Once back at the docks, we made short work of unloading gear and and packing the trucks. Kirill informed us that we would need 21/35 for tomorrows dives. We had earned a deeper dive. The reality hit me that I’ve never been deeper than 105ft (according to my dive log), and I was pretty excited to finally cross the 100ft mark for real. The last thing we did before we left the marina, was carry our doubles and deco bottles to the C Dive Center filling station to be filled with tri-mix for the morning.
We were all starving so the next order of business was to get cleaned up and then dinner. We went back to the house and everyone got cleaned up. Tina fed Marley her dinner and got her out to do her thing, while Kirill found a traditional German place on Yelp that had good reviews, and it sounded delicious to us. Marley did really well, no issues or chewing the BnB up, which made us feel much better. Dinner was very nice and relaxing. This class was quite a bit different than the others. The pace was intense during the instruction part of the day but relaxed in the evening. It was nice to unwind at dinner and talk about things other than diving. We got to know Per and Kirill more and just have fun.
After dinner we went back to the house. Everyone was pretty tired so it was off to bed.