GUE Tech 1-Day 6, The Last Day

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Team Selfie-Left to right (Per, Kirill, Andrew, Tina)

It was 3am on Sunday July 22nd and Tina and I were wide awake desperately trying to sleep.  Marley woke up around 2am because of a storm and was bumping around, crashing into the walls and closet door.  She’s a 14 year old Golden Retriever, that’s totally blind,  and hates thunderstorms.  So when she gets upset,  she wanders aimlessly around.  Nothing seems to calm her,  so we just try to manage her until she finally settles down.   I was worried that she would wake up the other other guys so we tried to keep her from hitting our bedroom door.  I laid in bed, tossing and turning every time Marley bumped into something.  I was hoping I could get a full nights sleep but it wasn’t happening.  I was also anxious about the day ahead.  This would be our last dive and it would potentially be deeper with longer deco.  I reminded myself that we had been doing just fine the previous days but I was worried about not having enough sleep and messing something up. It was also my turn to lead the dive so I was thinking about that.  Tina and Per did a great job the day before leading the two dives on the Guy Harvey and Miller Lite,  and today was mine.  I was anxious that I might forget something or call the wrong deco. But I was also determined to hit the wreck. I visualized the dive in my head. Rolling out of the boat, hitting the water,  descending quickly and then out of nowhere the wreck would appear. In my head we swam around the wreck having a great time.   That was my plan and I was sticking to it.   Being tired was not going to help that though.  In reality I was just trying to psych my self up, surely we would hit the wreck this time.  I looked at my phone more times than i can count, and when it finally said 5am, I got up.  I figured I’d go get coffee and donuts as a peace offering just in case Marley had woken any of the other guys.

I quietly got dressed, while Tina quietly took care of Marley.  About the time we got out of bed was the time she finally settled down,” typical” I said to Tina.   Next, I snuck out the front door, being careful not to let it creak too loud, and drove to the nearest Starbucks. The Starbucks also happened to be beside Duncan donuts, so I got a few dozen munchkins along with iced and hot coffees.  I got 6 different coffees since not knowing exactly what everyone would like.   By the time I got back to the house, people had started to stir.  I put the coffee and munchkins on the table , and had some for myself.   I was tired but as the coffee and sugar kicked in, I started to feel better.

As Per, Kirill,  Tina and I gathered around the table enjoying coffee and munchkins.  It was getting light out by now and I was pretty anxious to get the day over with to be honest.

On the way to the dive site we listened to The Dropkick Murphy’s, Rose Tattoo. It was fitting. Everyone was feeling the pressure to hit the wreck I think.  Kirill told us that he’s never missed a wreck more than twice so there was no way we could let him down.

Heading out to the Hydro

We arrived at the marina to find that there were no parking spaces left, so we had to unload our gear and lay it on the grass beside the dock.  There were a lot of other divers around gearing up to get onto the PDC boat.   Tina took the truck down the street a mile or so to a parking lot.  I sorted my undergarments , deciding on what to wear for day.  I was a bit hot the day before with my fourth element arctics, so I went with  a slightly different undergarment combination.   I would use a thin base layer merino wool top and bottoms, then the thicker santi base layer merino wool top and bottoms, and then a vest. As I was laying my undergarments out on the grass,  I realized I was missing one of my fourth element drysuit socks.  A moment of panic set in.  I keep all the smaller items that could get lost easily (like socks) in a smaller draw cord bag that lives in my drysuit bag.  This helps keep things dry and separated.  And in that draw cord bag, I normally keep a spare pair of santi socks for this very reason.  But  on this day I wasn’t quite sure if I actually had my spare socks,  because I hadn’t seen them in a while.   So when I rummaged around and found them at the bottom of the smaller draw cord bag,  I was pretty relieved that I had indeed brought them.  Fortunately,  I learned a lesson a long time ago about dry suit socks.  Always, always have a spare pair.    The santi socks are not ideal for me and don’t fit as comfortable as the fourth element socks,  but they would do the trick for a dive.  And honestly I would have made due with whatever I could find,  even if I had to layer cotton socks or something. It would have been annoying but I would have been ok.

By now Rick had the boat on the dock and after sorting the gear and analyzing our gas, we loaded onto the boat.  Todays gas mix was something between 21/35 and 18/45.   I think Tina had 19/42 and we all had some flavor of that.  It would work for our dive on the hydro.  We also  would be joined on the boat by three more friends, Alex, Deidre and  Jeff, for this dive.  Everyone exchanged greetings, Rick gave his safety brief and we were on our way.  Jeff volunteered to captain the boat so Rick and Deidre could dive.

Ready for the Hydro

We motored north from the inlet to where the Hydro sits.  Jeff worked out the current and he said it was 5 knots but didn’t believe it, so he did it two more times. Sure enough, each time he calculated the current, it was 5 knots. Alex set the shot line on the wreck and said to me, “The hydro is easy to find because its due east of that hotel with brown tile roofing”  it was a unique enough architecture that it stood out among the other buildings. Most of the wrecks in this area are only a mile or so offshore.  And on a clear day you can easily see the hotels and buildings.  It gives a bit of security should you get separated from your boat. I supposed you could always swim to shore. It would be work,  but you could do it.

Dive Dive Dive

There was little to no wind and the seas were really calm,  but the current was absolutely ripping.   Jeff decided to give us all a 500yard lead knowing we missed the wrecks the day before. Surely that would be enough.  Everyone geared up quickly.  Tina, Per and I sat in the bow of the boat going over our plan. It was our dive now.  I led the dive planning.  We talked about quickly regrouping in the water and starting our descent fast and not delaying at the surface.  We were fairly certain that we were over shooting the wrecks on the day before and we wanted to get down to 150 or so as fast as possible,  so we would hopefully be swept  onto the wreck by the current. We made our contingency if we didn’t hit the wreck,  that we would look around for 10 minutes max then begin our ascent.  This would be our last chance to redeem ourselves and I wanted it bad.  I was anxious but also excited.

After the plan was made, we got our doubles on and sat on the edge of the boat waiting for the call.  Jeff motored down upstream of the ball and finally gave us the signal. “Dive Dive Dive”.  We hit the water.  Everyone got situated quickly and we were on our descent.  We were going much faster than the days before and I was feeling confident. I saw this in my head when I visualized the dive as I was laying awake that morning.   We went deeper and deeper.  At around 140 we saw a huge school of jacks to our left and I thought at any moment the shadow of the Hydro would appear.  We zipped past the school of Jacks and continued heading north.  Then we saw the sand below us at probably 180 or 190.  It was too deep to go to the bottom so we leveled off at 150 to save some gas as we looked for the wreck.  I figured we were heading straight for it as we drifted, but nothing ever appeared. No big shadow, no huge schools of fish or corals.  Nothing but sand below us,  and blue water around us.  There were no fish or other indications that a wreck was nearby.  We missed the wreck.  I couldn’t believe it.

We continued drifting for 10 minutes more until we were absolutely sure we were nowhere near our target.  We began our ascent and it went well.  I shot the SMB from 70ft,  and we did our switch to deco gas.  The rest of the ascent went as planned.  We didn’t have much deco at 20ft and the current on pulling on the SMB wasn’t that bad. I did however call deco time a little short,  but my team  questioned it and we arrived at the correct amount of time after a few hand signals back and forth.  I miscalculated in my head, but that’s why you dive as a team. 2 or 3 brains is always better than 1.

Once we hit the surface, our boat was nowhere to be seen.  I looked south and noticed that the hotel that had the unique brown tile roofing was at least 3 miles away.  We had drifted a very long way.  So I fully inflated my bright pink Halcyon 6ft tall SMB and held it up in the air as high as I could,  in hopes that boats would see us as we continued to drift North.  We were effectively lost at sea, although not worried since it was a heavily populated area, and surely someone would find us eventually.  Kirill did his debrief as we drifted  and this took about 10 minutes. All the while we kept a sharp eye out for our boat, or any boat for that matter.

The Hydro and if you look closely you can see a cloud of jacks on the bow.

Off in the distance a fishing boat started heading in our direction, so I waved the SMB around and they drove past us by about 200 yards. I kept waving the SMB and I could just make out one of the crew turning in my direction.  He saw us.  The boat turned around and came back for us.  We explained that we were on another dive boat and did a dive on the Hydro,  but were about 3 miles north of where Ricks boat was likely waiting for us.   Rick and Deidre were also likely on the  hydro doing their dive,  so we would have to wait until they Shot their SMB,  so that they would not be lost as well.  The fishing boat crew idled with us as we drifted and we asked them if they could hail Ricks boat to let them know where we were.  It was ironic that Alex mentioned the hotel with the tile roof. I was able to give the fishing boat good information about our location compared to where we assumed Jeff and Alex were camping above the Hydro.  It’s one of those situational awareness things that I may not have noticed if he hand’t pointed it out.   The lesson here is to  always take the lay of the land, use these things to your advantage.

Within a few minutes, we could see Alex and Jeff in the boat heading towards us.  The crew of the fishing boat were awesome.  They offered us water, not really knowing how long we were lost.  We all declined, explaining that we had only been at the surface for about 20 minutes.   They stuck around until Jeff and Alex arrived.  We got back on the boat and  Kirill bestowed the prestigious honor of now missing 3 wrecks in a row.  I joked that I can now say I’ve been lost at sea.   Everyone got out of their gear quickly and as we headed back south to the hydro where Rick and Deidre were doing deco. We spotted their SMB just north west of the hydro and as we idled closer,  could see they were at about 20 ft, finishing up deco.

Within a few more minutes, Rick and Deidre surfaced  and got back onboard. They actually made the wreck, but just barely.  We described our dive and became more and more convinced that the school of jacks that we saw were on the bow and we likely flew right over it the wreck.   I was disappointed that we didn’t see the wreck but it is what it is. I was also glad that the diving was over because it’s been a long two weeks.   At the marina we unloaded our gear, thanked everyone for helping us and settled our gas bill with PDC.  A good friend of ours calls the bubbles you make while diving on helium, “money bubbles”.   It’s true.

A celebratory dinner at Pazza Osteria del Duomo

Once we got back to the house, everyone had a chance to shower and unwind a bit.  We still had one more lecture and a class debrief to do.  The lecture was about what could go wrong and it was poignant considering some of the small things we encountered this weekend.  Dives don’t always go as planned and a thinking diver stays calm and keeps the dive from going out of control.  The last thing we did was our debrief for the class. He informed us all that we passed and we congratulated one another.  As always, each of us had things to work on.  Kirill is a perfectionist, but in a good way.  I like that he sets the bar high.  I’ve never been one that took the easy route. I also wasn’t worried about a pass or fail.  If it happened than good but if it didn’t,  then that means I need to work harder.It

Next was dinner.  We found this highly rated Italian place on yelp called POD or Pazza Osteria del Duomo and made plans to go there.  Now that everyone didn’t smell like death and sweaty undergarments, we did the obligatory team selfie before we heading for dinner.  We arrived at at POD and it was really quaint. Very European and they sat us quickly.   Dinner was absolutely fantastic and we talked for hours about everything from diving to cultures to traveling.  I had  an amazing risotto and we all split two really nice bottles of wine. It was a great end to a really fun couple of weeks, and it was nice to finally relax.

After dinner we went back to the house and crashed.  We needed to get up early because I had to work on the following  morning so we said our goodbyes to everyone in case we wouldn’t see them in the morning and crashed.

I’m really proud to say that we passed Tech 1. It wasn’t easy by any means. Everyone worked hard, everyone improved each day.  Most importantly, I think everyone had a great time.  We were so glad we got a chance to dive with Per and he was as solid of a team mate as we could have asked for.  The timing for tech 1 was just right for me.  I’m fairly certain I couldn’t have handled the class even last year.  But having done cave 2 and getting familiar with handling stages/deco bottles was a huge help. Also one of the biggest things that helped both Tina and I,  was our level of fitness.  We have been on a regular 3-4 days per week weight training regimen and it’s been immensely beneficial.  I’m glad we took the class with Kirill. His experience in the tech diving world allows him to impart some of that best practice on us as we learn and grow. It was really nice and we are looking forward to more tech diving in the future.  However I must say I’m not that convinced that the wrecks even exist.

The Big Pink SMB and our Tech 1 Cards.