GUE Tech 2-Chapter 6: A Little Bit Deeper-Day 3

October 27, 2021

Day 3 already? I remember thinking as I ate my oatmeal and had some coffee. I was feeling good, rested, and healthy. I believe a big part of this was making sure I had energy dense yet “clean” foods to eat during the week. Salads for dinner with some kind of protein, snacks like nuts and fruits, and oatmeal for breakfast. Though oatmeal does have a good bit of sugar in it, however it did give me the energy I needed for a longer days until lunch.

It seemed like the week was flying by as Jon and I prepped our gear in what was now very much a morning routine. Today we would go to a site that was another shore dive called Willis Point. Our plan was to do a couple of shallow tech 2 dives, which basically was a dress rehearsal for the real thing, but with 32% bottom gas and a max depth of 100′. So far we had only been playing in 35′ at maple bay, so this would give us our first real ascent test as a team. I was nervous to be honest. Partly because I didn’t know what to expect from the dive site and who knows what fun Guy had planned for us. It was open season on failures at this point and for sure we’d be doing gas share ascents. Typical GUE “day 3 and all hell breaks loose”, especially on level 2 classes.

Once we had the gear prepped, and loaded into the Rav. Guy wanted Jon and I to bond, so he wouldn’t let us drive separately. I think part of that was the limited parking at Willis Point. It was cool though since Jon and I get along pretty well. Both sets of doubles, bottom stages, deco bottles, and not to mention the rest of the gear definitely made the Rav a little cramped. Guy briefed us in the class room on the dive plan and gave us an idea of some of the fun we’d be having, including the foreshadowing of contingencies for “loss of deco gas”. We would do a couple of dives along a wall at a max of 100′ and we’d return to our entry point in what was a halves dive. (the wall drops down well below 150′ so we’d have no “floor”). Jon and I would take turns leading the dives. After the briefing, we headed south towards the site.

The drive south was about an hour or so but easy, and of course it was still raining. Jon was the DJ while I drove. We chatted about the dives and class so far and about countless other things, it was nice. I did my best to keep a safe distance behind the cars in front of me because the thought of having a set of 104’s careening into the back of my head at 70 miles per hour, in the event of a sudden stop was not very appealing. The little Rav struggled up and down the hills but we eventually made it in one piece.

Willis point is a secluded site but apparently quite popular for diving. There is even a sunken submarine there. The story of the submarine is that it was a student project (if I recall there are two) that was purposely sunk at the site as sort of a “wreck”. I’m still honestly shocked at how popular diving is on the island given how cold the water is almost year round. Those Canadians sure are hardy. Anyway, we parked on a slight hill on a fairly secluded road. Guy briefed the site and gave us some more details on our dive. We would need to carefully carry our gear down a somewhat steep hill to the rocky and very slippery site entry and place our bottes in the water. This was most easily done with the drysuit on but I did carry a few bottles down the hill in my street clothes.

Once we had the bottles in the water in a way that we wouldn’t trip over them trying to get in with doubles on, we trudged back up the hill to finish gearing up. Jon and I basically had to take turns getting into our gear because the Rav was not big enough to sit side by side and get into our doubles. This also highlighted the extreme need to stay organized. It was very very easy to lose gear under the pile of bags and other stuff that was in the car.

The ground was soaked and it was raining pretty heavily so getting into the drysuit was a dance. When I was at Walmart getting groceries earlier in the week, I bought a little plastic “mud room” boot tray to change on, because I thought it would help keep my feet dry. It was useful-ish but I found that it tended to collect water and create a little puddle if it was raining hard. There really was no perfect solution because a tarp would have collected water as well and the typical Halcyon changing mat would have let water soak up through it. I tried various things, including the elegant art of getting in and out of the drysuit while standing inside the Santi bag. I don’t think I settled on one way or the other but in the end I tended to just use both the Santi bag and plastic tray. I’d get out of my drysuit while standing on the plastic tray then step into the clean and dry Santi bag to get into my street clothes. When I say dance, I meant it. To be honest I don’t know what Jon ended up doing. I think he gave far less thought to this and just changed while standing in his Santi bag or maybe he had a tarp, maybe he levitated, I really don’t know.

As was customary, we did most of our GUE EDGE while on the surface and then proceeded to walk down the hill to the water. We helped each other carefully climb over the small rocks and steps into the water. I remember feeling that this water seemed a little bit colder as I clipped on my bottles. Next we swam out about 100 yards to a ball floating off shore which marked where the “line” started in about 20 feet of water, and did our descent. I was feeling pretty good but a bit nervous about what to expect. I was leading this dive as we descended following the line. The water was clear but green and followed the sloped contour gently down hill until we reached a ledge which plunged abruptly down a series of “steps” to 100′. On one of the ledges there is a long torpedo looking thing that is the “submarine”. I’m not sure what I was expecting the submarine to look like but it was much smaller than I thought it should be. The bottom in the shallow area had a good bit of life which was nice compared to Maple Bay. But as we descended deeper, the bottom was more silty/muddy and less life except for cloud sponges and the other deep water dwellers. It was also dark and a little spooky with a dim greenish glow from the surface.

When we arrived at 100′, I indicated to reset average depth and I started the timer to track bottom time. I don’t believe I mentioned this earlier but we had been running our computers as computers and not just bottom timers. However we essentially ignored what the computer said and only used it as a sanity check. Especially at the tech 2 level, It’s important to plan the dive ahead of time follow the plan as close as possible. Computers are fantastic but they do break so at least for the duration of this class we ran them essentially as bottom timers. Unsurprisingly, if you do it right, the decompression obligation matches pretty well with what was calculated so it was a “nice to have feature” to be able to look down and see a total time to surface within a few minutes of what you expect.

We swam along at 100′ with the wall to our left until we reached our predefined stage switch pressure and switched to back gas without issue. I was completely dissatisfied with the Santi gloves because they were slippery and for the life of me I could not get my fingers under the rubber bands to stow the hose neatly. It’s bad enough that the bottom stage is sitting under the 70′ bottle so on a normal warm water tech dive it would already be a pain in the ass to stow the hose, but while wearing thick undergarments and gloves coupled with cold fingers, it was on another level of difficulty.

We continued on for a few minutes until we reached our “time”. Our plan was roughly 10mins out and 10mins back to the place where we started. I was cycling my heater battery to conserve it as much as possible but I was definitely feeling the cold by the time we turned the dive. And as expected, on the way back things started going wrong. Various failures caused Jon and I to be on a gas share by the time we reached the up-line where we would begin our ascent. The timing coming off the bottom is very important in Tech 2 because you don’t want to mess around and accumulate additional decompression obligation. So coming off the bottom at 30’/min seems much faster then it sounds, especially on a gas share. Dumping gas from the suit and wing and staying in formation while sharing gas makes this pretty interesting. We managed the gas share ascent from 100′ and arrived at 70′ where we could untether ourselves and go on the 70 bottle to continue our decompression.

Jon and I began our bottle rotations at 40′ and 30′ respectively, which went pretty well (I didn’t drop anything but my fingers were cold). I still struggled with stowing the hose on the 70′ bottle which really annoyed me. Guy could see I was annoyed and struggling and tried to show me some tricks like “rolling the band” by rubbing your hands over it like you are rolling out dough, but when I tried with my gloves it wouldn’t roll the band at all. If it wasn’t just complete user error (which is likely) or I can only assume that my gloves were so new that they had some kind of oil on them as a preservative for the rubber, which made them really slippery. I suppose maybe had I cleaned them with dish soap or something it may have helped make them a bit more grippy. Unfortunately this didn’t help me at this time.

On this dive we didn’t really have any deco, but we simulated it on the way up to 20′ by doing a few minutes (pragmatized) at each ten foot increment. At around 30 feet (or a little deeper depending on the size of the team) you do the bottle rotation to prep for your 20′ deco stop. More then ever planning and having the attention to detail, (knowing what will happen next) really matters in the high level diving. As we arrived at the 20′ stop we did the switch to the oxygen and my oxygen bottle “failed”. Jon and I reverted back to the “Loss of Deco Gas” procedure which Guy just briefed us on. So we shared oxygen for 5 minutes each and we breathed our 50% in the interim when not on oxygen. We also extended our stop by 1.5x to cover the loss.

Once our simulated deco was over we surface as a team for the debrief. Guy dinged me on my hose clean up but it wasn’t for a lack of trying, and generally I’m pretty particular about cleaning up bottles. This is a cave thing since dangly things tend to get eaten by the cave monster or generally just violate Rule #6 (look cool, especially under water). Guy gave us some additional feedback but other than that, we did ok as a team. We didn’t dilly-dally on the surface very long because we still had a second dive to do and I was already cold. Jon led this dive and we descended along the line a similar way as before.

Once we were at our max depth I clicked my heater pack on high and just hoped I had enough left to last the next 30 or so minutes. Much like before we swam along the wall for about 10 minutes on the stage, did our switch to back gas, and shortly hit our turn time. On the way back, I could feel the heater pack dying and the cold started to be very noticeable. And much like before we had failures on the way back that caused us to again be on a gas share once we arrived back at the up line. This time because of the loss of a 70′ bottle due to a broken first stage; things would be very interesting all the way up to 20′. Once we got to 70′, we did the loss of deco gas procedure for 50%, basically me keeping Jon’s primary reg, and Jon staying on the necklace while sharing the 50% gas back and forth. I don’t remember who’s 50% failed, but It’s a bit of juggling and making sure you don’t get things tangled all to hell, especially while doing the bottle rotation. Considering the complexity, the ascent went swimmingly. I was super cold however, and couldn’t feel my toes and fingers. This is where you appreciate a good buddy.

Jon and I kept it under control up to 20 and were able to clean up and untether. Naturally the guy on the gas share will want to switch to the oxygen first so you can get cleaned up without hoses flying everywhere. We extended the deco and finished the dive clean. Getting warm now became a priority as we exited the water.

I quickly peeled out of my gear to get into street clothes. My toes were so cold that I couldn’t straighten them out and as they warmed up it hurt. It was very apparent that I needed to have a bigger battery for heat and my heated vest was not sufficient. I greatly regretted not bringing my 400. I did feel some relief because I had completed day 3 with what seemed to be a success, and it was a pretty hard day. The rest of the class would be experience dives and while it wasn’t explicitly stated, but I was hoping no more failures and the diving would just be proper execution of the dives with the main objective of just having fun.

As we geared down and repacked the Rav in some meaningfully organized and safe way, Guy mentioned he would be stopping at this place called “The Red Barn” for lunch. I was starving and his mouth watering description of the place seemed like it might be almost a religious experience. Within a few moments we were on our way back south and pulling into the parking lot of the Red Barn. It was part farmers market, part grocery store, part feed store, part gift shop, and part deli. The general theme was “home made” as one might expect, and there were pies, jams, ciders, fruits and a cornucopia of other country style foods.

I stood in line at the deli having trouble deciding what to get. This place very much reminded me of a place I used to go to as a kid near Winchester Virginia with Mom, and I did feel a little sad thinking about it. She would have wanted to spend all day poking around a place like the Red Barn. Since class started, I hadn’t really had time to think about Mom and the situation of her estate, still very much unfished, waiting for me at home. Tech 2 was a much needed distraction but it had only been a few weeks since she passed, so the grief and rollercoaster of emotions that goes along with that was still extremely raw. I grew up in a pretty rural area of West Virginia, so I’ll always feel at home in the country. To be honest, the whole of Vancouver Island felt a little bit like home. I was feeling tired so I got a monster and ordered some type of panini from the deli. We paid for our sandwiches and hit the road. The drive back was relaxing, the weather had cleared a bit. I was so hungry that I devoured my sandwich almost before we left the parking lot.

When we got back to the house SJ had gone shopping and surprised Jon and I with some super warm and thick socks. This couldn’t have come at a better time and words cannot express how much this delighted me; so of course I put them on immediately. I got pretty cold on the dive and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the living room basically warming up, proudly wearing my new socks. If you’ve ever been really cold, you know that the body starts to shiver. This is the body’s way of combating cold by rapidly firing muscles to generate heat. It naturally consumes a good deal of energy so as a consequence it’s exhausting. This is why the recovery from cold stress takes a while and you tend to feel more tired and lethargic. Anyway, I was really enjoying the new socks and I was looking forward to having them in my dry bag for after the dive the next several days. I did my homework while I ate a salad with some veggie chicken patties cut up like chicken strips on top of the salad for dinner. Day 3 was done and so far so good. For the first time I thought I might actually pass this class.