GUE Tech 2-Chapter 8: The Thermocline-Day 5

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Friday, October 29th 2021

I woke up excited for the day but also very anxious. The weather was looking beautiful. The rain we had all week was long gone and the sun was already burning off the morning dew. Today would be our first experience dive and the first “real” Tech 2 dive, with real obligated deco. All the previous days were essentially dress rehearsals. As I sat in the breakfast nook sipping on my coffee and waiting for the garage to open up, I went over the dive plan on my computer and double checked the math. We would do 25mins at 200 feet, off a boat somewhere off the coast of Vancouver Island. I visualized the dive in my head; Jumping off the boat, clipping all the bottles on, descending on our travel gas, switching to our bottom stages, descending further into the inky blackness and I tried to imagine what it would be like on the bottom. I have been to 200 feet many times before with the WKPP, in a cave, so it wasn’t a depth thing, but this would be 200ft in open water with what I assumed was no visual reference. Oh and did I mention the water was 48F in Vancouver this time of year? I repeated a mantra about checking my drysuit zipper before jumping off the boat. The last thing I needed was to get a flood in my suit on this dive. I was also worried I’d be too positive because I was borrowing Guy’s brand new heated BZ200 and I didn’t change my weighting. On the previous days, I was using my old BZ200 with a couple of base layers but but all that stuff is fairly well compressed after hundreds of dives.

The garage door went up and both Jon and I did our usual routine. There was a bit less of a rush this morning since the marina where the boat was moored was only a few minutes drive away. After getting all the tanks analyzed, I triple checked that I had everything, since it’s not like I could run back to the car and get that “thing” I forgot. Nope if you don’t bring it on the boat you are shit out of luck. I packed some extra spare stuff too, just in case a glove blew overboard or something stupid like that, who knows. Guy probably had some of that stuff on board in a save a dive kit but I don’t like to assume. Call me prepared.

Once we loaded the trusty Rav, we followed Guy and Kelvin down the road for a few minutes to a Marina where we would meet a friend of Guy’s and another GUE diver, whom I cannot remember his name. Guy did a quick briefing and showed us where the boat was as well as the general do’s and don’ts for being on the boat. Typical captain stuff. The Thermocline was very nice and MUCH larger than I expected. I think I pictured a little skiff or something but she was very comfortable looking with a nice salon to get out of the cold. Jon and I unloaded our gear and used the marina’s loaner wheel burrows to shuttle tanks, drysuits and everything else to a spot on the dock by The Thermocline. We hauled our doubles up the stairs to a nice dive rack and tucked our drysuits and other dry gear in the salon. Once everything was secured, Guy moved the boat over to the marina’s gas station and filled up. Jon and I were in good spirits, the weather was perfect and I was getting excited. Gassing up took some time so I had a chance to poke around the wharf and look at some of the other boats. There were some super cool houseboats and some sailboats that looked like people might have traveled around the world in. Quite a few people were actively living on their boats which was really neat to see. I walked around and snapped a few pictures of boats I thought were cool.

It’s long been a dream of mine to sail. I learned a bit of sailing on a small, maybe 14ft zuma. As a kid I would take the zuma out into the sound from Colington Harbor in Kill Devil Hills North Carolina (The Outerbanks) and sail around with no motor, just a crappy old compass and an emergency folding paddle to get me home. In hindsight, it was fairly risky but I loved the freedom. I’d be out by myself back in the 90’s long before cellphones, sailing far enough that I could just barely make out the shore. One afternoon when I was particularly far out a huge storm kicked up a few miles west of me and was heading my way fast. I could see the black clouds and lightning flashing in the distance.

I immediately started racing towards the harbor mouth where I could be safe. I cranked the sheet in as hard as I could, and the zuma spring forward cutting through the waves. She was heeled over so far that I had to hike out so I could coax all the speed I could out of her. Honestly she was a fast boat, but I was still really far out. The storm grew closer and the wind whipped up 3-4 foot whitecap swells that turned the sound into a washing machine. I was getting jostled around trying to keep a heading and speed with spray hitting me in the face constantly. Then it happened, I hit a funny swell and it was like someone pulled a rug out from under me. The wind caught the sail in the other direction, the boom snapped back towards me and I capsized. I plunged backwards into the water and I remember the zuma flipping over on top of me. The sheet landed in my lap as I went over and the other rigging became a tangled mess. For a second under water I was tangled up in lines but I managed to free myself and pop to the surface.

The zuma was sitting belly up, with her wooden running board standing proud. I was still thousands of yards away from land and the storm was close enough that it was raining and blowing a gale. Without much thought I dove under the water and pulled the sail from the jam cleat on the boom. I climbed on the gunwale with both feet and grabbed the centerboard. To my surprise the zuma flipped over with ease and I quickly rerigged the sail and got under way. Until then, I never actually had to right the zuma and I was very glad the “theory” worked. The journey back was so rough and the rain was so bad that I capsized the zuma no less than 3 more times before I made it back to the harbor. It was an adventure for sure but only a small taste of what I imagine sailing for real is. Also my dad was furious when I got home “You could have gotten killed..” Yeah I know, Dad. My sailing adventure to come will require lots of education (and money) However I’m saving that for later in life. Hopefully I’ll have the energy and the money when I get there.

Our planned dive site would be a bit of a haul and we were on the leeward side of the island but it would still take over two hours to motor out. Once we were underway most of my anxiety subsided. There is just something about the water for me, especially the velvety sound of the water slipping past the hull of a boat. The Thermocline’s diesel engines chugged along at a nice leisurely pace as we threaded our way through the fjords. in some areas the land jutted out of the water abruptly upwards many hundreds of feet. There were beautiful homes on cliffs; sometimes entire communities of what I can only imagine is some sort of exclusive retreat. I saw many homes on stilts because I can only assume the land is too steep to build on. We joked about parking and not having to mow your lawn. I stared at the water a lot during those two or so hours, just breathing in that fresh air. We had to be on the look out for “dead heads” or logs that were partially submerged. The Thermocline has a really nice radar that could see some of the bigger things but we’d still spot one occasionally and have to divert our course.

After a few hours of motoring, Guy announced we were getting close which was the signal for us to start gearing up. I remember being hyper focused trying to take my time getting into my gear. I didn’t want to forget anything. I double checked my heat was working, I was plumbed up, checked my lights, regulators, and I loaded my pockets with the SMB, spool, wet notes, a spare bolt snap, spare leash, etc etc. Within a few minutes we were tied off on a mooring ball. Guy shut down the engines and it was almost silent. The water was dead calm. We threw a knotted rope tied to the stern into the water to hang bottles on and Kelvin jumped into and clip them off.

Jon and I helped each other into our doubles and I asked him to verify my drysuit zipper. After experiencing the shock of getting into the water at Maple bay with an open zipper I definitely didn’t want that to happen jumping off the boat loaded down with gear. Once we were all ready, it was Jon’s turn to lead the GUE EDGE and the dive. Jon went through the edge efficiently and we were all ready to go. One by one we climbed down the stairs onto the stern swim platform and hopped into the water. I was feeling nervous but focused as I jumped in. The water was cold but my suit was nice and dry which made me happy. So far so good. This tech 2 class really drove home the concept of slow is smooth and smooth is fast and I began to implement this even when gearing up before even getting into the water. I deliberately make slow movements getting into my doubles, clipping gear, checking regulators, clearing my mask etc. I guess it sort of sets the tempo of the dive and begins to calm those nerves for me at least. I took a few moments to settle down, taking in the moment while others got bottles clipped on. Then it was my turn, I checked all the regulators and valves on the bottles, and slowly clipped my bottles, and shuffled them around to get oriented.

Our dive plan was to descend down a line to what Guy described as a dome/mound with a depth of 50 or so feet and then we would continue swimming from the line down over the side of the dome until we reach our maximum depth of 200ft. Jon would pick a direction and we would swim around the dome while we looked around.. Guy was going to use a couple of strobes to mark our way back. It seemed like a simple enough plan.

Once everyone was situated, we said our goodbyes to the crew and began our descent. The water was dark on the surface but once we got a few feet under, and with the sun shining high in the sky, my eyes adjusted to a nice emerald green. Lots of tiny sea life skittered about and we continued following the line down, briefly pausing to switch to our bottom gas at around 30ft. At the bottom of the mooring line, Guy fastened a strobe and it flashed in a slow calming way as we swam away from it. I briefly turned to see that it was fairly easy to notice even from a distance. We continued descending over the edge of the dome, down over underwater cliffs with a mostly silty bottom as the daylight began to disappear pretty quickly. Guy dropped another strop on a rock once we hit 200 feet. It was very dark and pretty spooky. We turned right/Clockwise and Jon continued to lead the team around the side of the dome as we spotted various sea life. At one point we came up on a huge fish just chilling on the bottom. I am not sure what it was but it was easily the size of a small human, or half a washing machine (inside joke). After some time, probably 10 minutes or so we switch to back gas and continued around the dome until we reach our turn time. The dive was going well and I was having fun. I had switched my heat on low about halfway down the slope but I was getting cold so I switched it on high. I was using a bigger battery so I was hoping it would last through deco.

We made our way back and found the strobe then slowly deco’d our way up the slope towards the mooring line. Jon and I switch to our 50% at 70 and worked our way up. We were still over the edge of the dome so you couldn’t see the mooring line or the strobe yet. Navigation was pretty easy, just follow the natural landscape up. Eventually we crested the dome and I could see the strobe flashing in the distance. At this point I was super relaxed and really just enjoying the moment. Jon and I continued to deco up, doing our bottle rotations and eventually making it to our 20ft stop. We switch to O2 and settled in for the long deco. We had about 25 mins at 20 feet. Our total deco was about 55mins. My heat was still working but I was getting cold in my hands and feet. We stared at the mooring line that had all kinds of critters crawling on it. There were little shrimp and other crustaceans that I let crawl on my hands to pass the time. Finally deco was over and we did a nice slow ascent to the surface. It was a textbook tech 2 dive.

Everyone was pretty cold once we reached the surface, and the Crew (SJ and Guy’s Friend) helped us all back on the boat with haste. I was feeling absolutely content as I peeled out of my dry suit and put on some warm clothes. I was most excited to put on my new ultra thick fuzzy socks from SJ and lounge in the salon. We motored back to the marina and the time passed much more quickly on the way back. It had already been a pretty long day but guy told us that we’d still need to do the swim test. I joked about doing it off the boat in the cold water but I think he didn’t want to have to rescue me.

Once we got back to the house, and had some time to clean and hang gear, Jon, Kelvin and I set off to find the recreation center to do our swim test, in a pool. The rec center was right beside a pretty cool hockey rink with a giant hockey stick and puck sign and I made a mental note to bring my skates next time. The rec center was nice and had a warm (relatively speaking) pool. I was feeling really energized and swam well. Neither Jon or I had any issues with the swim test which I expected would be the case. On the way back we stopped and got some beer. I didn’t want much but having one for dinner would be nice.

When we got back to the house, we had some food, I did my homework dive planning for the next day and then relaxed until bed time. Tomorrow we would be back on the boat and I would lead the final dive. I was nervous but I was also more confident now since the day went so well. I was almost done and I began to get a little home sick. I was scheduled to fly on Sunday the 31st and I was hoping all would go well on the final dive tomorrow. What would it feel like to be sitting on the plane having completed the course, something I’ve long thought was unachievable? I visualized the final dive, feeling confident, as I slowly drifted off to sleep.