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Diving into Open Water

The PADI Open Water Course

For most people delving into the world of diving, doing the PADI Open Water course is the first step. For those with less time or more nerves there is also the Scuba Diver course, shorter and certifies to a shallower depth with more restrictions.

The Open Water course takes 3-4 days and will ultimately certify you to dive to 18m / 60ft with a buddy/fellow diver. It is a great course that introduces the students to all the basic skills in an easy succession to ensure the students comfort.

Playing Favorites

I must admit, so far I do have a couple of favorites and it just so happens they were 2 Open Water students. Shon and Mike are a pair of friends from completely different backgrounds and yet most likely brothers in a previous life. Shon, from Israel, met Mike, an engineer at a diamond mine in Arctic Canada, yup you heard right… while traveling in Japan and planned to meet up again in Thailand and do their dive course.

Shon contacted me through couchsurfing and asked many questions concerning class size, cost, where to stay etc.. he was considering Koh Tao as it was cheaper but ultimately liked the idea of having a small private class with me. So it was decided I would host and teach them, great fun would ensue. Shon arrived the day of the Full Moon party and was a hoot, ensuring he not only bought a couple of rolls of toilet paper (amazing how expensive that can get with couchsurfers) but also winning my heart with a reeses peanut butter cup! He headed off to the party and arrived back to pass out in the morning. Meanwhile Mike (who I had assumed was Japanese as all I knew was that they had met in Japan) was flying in from Arctic Canada, after numerous flights and a ferry to the island most people would be exhausted, Mike on the other hand walked from Tong Sala to Chaloklum!!! I repeat walked!!!! Probably a good hour or more with a number of hills. Shon met him and brought him over and let’s just say he wasn’t Japanese, too funny, what a pair.

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Nerves

Probably the one thing that can ruin a course is when the student’s nerves get the better of them, when the “what ifs!!” emerge. While Mike was completely chilled (at least he appeared to be) and taking all the videos in stride with a few questions, Shon’s nerves began to show. Completely understandable considering he was learning in his second language and needed certain words translated. But the moment he said “I have one problem, I can’t breathe through my mouth”…. the headmistress in me came out, the only way to stop the nerves was to make it clear that he had nothing to fear and if he still had these fears after the pool session, then we could discuss them… especially since the whole premise of scuba is to breathe through your mouth. That calmed his nerves dramatically.

This is an important skill to learn as an instructor, some students will need hand holding and tender words, others need a good stern demeanor and an aura of confidence. You just have to know which one and how much to dial it up or down.

Pool Sessions

For the PADI Open Water course there is a required set of 5 sessions in the pool, these can be done all together or over two days. We started in the morning and ended up finishing 5 hours later, very prune like, but happy to have completed all of them.

Once I had them prepare their equipment enough times they could do it blindfolded, it was time to breathe underwater. I knew both of them were nervous so we first just breathed through the regulator above the water, then just the face in the water and finally down on our knees. For me being on my knees in the shallow end gave me a good 5 inches of water above, for them they had to bend over and hunch up… the joys of being tall. As soon as we went under I could see the light bulbs begin to glow and the excitement begin to grow. We whizzed through the skills and the boys were amazing!! A lot of laughs were had.

Wolverine??

Now while Shon was the charismatic, fun loving socialite, Mike was.. well from Arctic Canada with a certain Wolverine quality about him. During one session of diving Shon and I surfaced after completing a skill, to see Mike at the steps, chin on hand… I nearly passed both of them right there and then, they just looked like scuba divers!

At the pier

At the pier

Open Water

Finally completing copious videos and quizzes and finals, it came time to take them into the deep and so we headed off to Sail Rock. Once again they amazed me, even with their nerves they kept calm and completed all the skills with flying colors. All the time they called me Master Sensei, awesome guys to hang out with.

Ready to go!!

Ready to go!!

Dive 1 was the hardest, nerves and distracting fish proved hurdles they luckily got over.

Dive 2 was much better, they flowed through the skills and seemed more confident.

Dive buds!

Dive buds!

Dive 3 on the second day, proved a slight hitch with full mask removal, but once again they overcame their nerves and carried on, even with a bit of a current.

Dive 4 proved to be the one where the veil lifted, the nerves dropped away and much fun was had. Most of the other dive boats had left and it felt like it was just us at Sail Rock, the boys conserved their air well, we got down to 18m with no problems equalising like the first 3 dives. Truly spectacular.

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Neil of Scuba Futures with Shon, Mike and 2 other students

So Proud!!

I felt very proud to announce that they had successfully passed their course and were now PADI divers. I hope to meet up with them again in the future and just head out for a fun dive, no skills or tests required!!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0971.

Thanks boys for being such amazing students!

Great Students

Great Students

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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Avoiding Decompression…

Waking up at 6am every morning due to the glorious sun shining through my window is one of the best things ever. The boys were still asleep and I tiptoed out of the bungalow so as not to wake them…especially Willy all wrapped up in the hammock like silkworm in it’s cocoon.
Thailand (149)

Assisting the French

Today the shop had 3 French students doing their Open Water Course and their first ocean dives. In cases where we have students with a language that is not covered by the instructors at the shop we hire in a freelancer. I think being a freelance dive instructor would be a great way to have a dive career, especially if you have another skill that can be used to fill in the financial gaps between dive jobs. Shops call you in and you can either decline or accept without the pressure to take it as it is your place of employment. But again, you must either be in high demand, have another skill or be financially independent otherwise you could go through long stretches of ramen dinners.

Richie, our freelance French instructor, had me help him with his dives today. As soon as we reached Sail Rock he sent me in first to go set the float line. I had done this once before and was still mastering the strangely difficult task of getting it tight enough. If it is too loose then it could get caught up on the coral or tangle with another line, if it is too tight and waves develop it could be yanked off taking the chunk of rock with it and causing damage. Swimming out to the rock and dropping down at the appropriate spot I just hoped that I would drop down where some of the tie lines were. CORE SEA, a local non profit studying the coral and working to protect it, had set these nifty loops at certain intervals around Sail Rock. Of course there are always the days where the current forces you onto the less frequented side resulting in a difficult search for a spot to tie the line. Luckily, this was not one of those days and I managed to find a tie line and tie it up. Of course, even though I had battled to pull it as tight as I could with the surge constantly pulling it from my hands, I discovered it was still too loose. Luckily it was ok for the students to complete their skills and when we dropped down I was able to quickly retie it tighter.

I was buddied with the 3rd member of the trio and he was a dream student. Completely natural in the water and no issues what so ever. If I didn’t know better I would have thought he dove before, but he swore he this was his first time… I bet you that’s what they all say đŸ˜‰ . The other 2 however, were not as dreamy. In fact just after we dropped down, less than 5 minutes after Richie had explicitly said not to touch anything, one them got my attention and pointed to his hand. I saw around 5 small puncture wounds trailing blood in what appeared to be a sea urchin inflicted wound, as if he had tried to pick one up.. on the surface we discovered that is precisely what he had tried to do. I guess he didn’t realise they are just as prickly below the surface as they are above!

Prickly, definitely prickly!

Prickly, definitely prickly!

On the up side the dive was pretty good. There were tons of large groupers everywhere and we saw 3 scorpion fish, the most I had ever seen in one dive. The students all seemed happy when they came out and enthusiastic for the next dive.

Scorpion Fish (courtesy of Michael Devlin DiveMaster)

Scorpion Fish (courtesy of Michael Devlin DiveMaster)

As I clambered aboard, Marc told me that he needed me to dive with his group on the next one as the male half of his couple had “sucked” his air. This means that he had breathed too heavily and depleted his air much faster than expected, in fact he was down to the limit after barely 20min. With only Marc as a guide he could not send the guy to the surface alone nor could he leave the wife to dive alone. So he had been forced to return after a very short dive. Most dives last at least 40min.

Avoiding Decompression

Marc planned to drop back down within 20min, which would give me around a 40min surface interval instead of the usual hour. In these circumstances you have to keep an eye on your computer to watch your time for DCS (Decompression Sickness). Most computers will tell you how many minutes you can remain at a certain depth before the risk of DCS, and as long as you move to a shallower depth and be sure to surface before these numbers are too low then you should be fine.

I ended up having almost an hour but to be safe I dove a few meters above them and thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out…literally. 30min into the dive Marc signaled to me that the husband was down to 50bar, the minimum preferred amount of air to surface with a 3min safety stop at 5m. Acting as calm and professional as I could, this was the first time I was taking a diver back to the surface alone, I guided him back the way we had come hoping I would surface at the right spot. We hung out at the 5m mark, all the time keeping my eye on a rope I hoped to heck was our boat and not a Burmese fishing vessel on the other side of the rock. When our 5min were up we surfaced and, just as I had expected…., there was the boat (thank the heavens!)

All in all a great day and I liked the feeling of the responsibility of taking the diver to the surface and tying the float line.

Introducing the Local to the Surfers

Back home I studied my dive books and waited for Willy and Daniel my two couchsurfers to return from their escapades around the island. After a few hours I went to fill Lucy Liu bike with gas, the farthest I had gone on my bike. A full 5min away from home. When they weren’t home by 6pm and I was famished I popped down to my local and got some of my favorites.

Reclining in the hammock, reading and killing mosquitoes while periodically watching a great episode of gecko tv on my wall, they arrived, it was barely 7.30pm and they felt bad I had waited. But it was all good and I took them over where they bought me a beer and told me about their day while eating. Both of them are huge foodies and could not believe how good the food was. They planned to come back the next day, Willy with his notebook to take down how to cook all the delicious dishes.

Willy and Daniel

Willy and Daniel

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and planning our adventures for the following day. At the boys encouragement to improve my driving, I had decided to take the day off and attempt to drive all the way to Tong Sala, a full 20min. Mmmm this could prove a make it or break it moment in my bike driving career…

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Teaching Open Waters…

Assisting 

Over the next 3 days we have a group of 4 open water students. Padi Open Water is the first level of certification that allows you to dive without having to take any basic skills courses each time you want to dive.

We had 3 from France and 1 from England. Andy and Carol had 4 from England and we all knew theirs was going to be a “fun” group when we saw one of the lads chugging down SangSum, Thai whiskey, at 8am in the morning. Well I guess they are here for the Full Moon Party. Ours on the other hand were perfect students. No worries what so ever. They got through the 3 hrs of theory and then we had a further 3hrs in the pool doing skills.

I am fairly certain I start absorbing the pool water after 10min as I needed to pee so many times it was ridiculous. The pool water was a good temperature until you have been sitting at the bottom of it for 2hrs and then it starts getting a bit chilly. By the end of the pool session, we were all completely water logged and shivering.

Jungle Island Fever????

Returning home and having a wonderfully refreshing shower or rather dribble (no water pressure), I lay down and pretty much felt like my skin was on fire. I didn’t have a fever, but my skin was almost radiating heat and yet I felt cold. I had felt tired before and a little hot but this was taking on a life of it’s own.

Also I was developing little red dots all over my body. Not like the humidity induced rash that lasted for months after living in the Amazon, but more of subtle, yet disturbing, rash. It wasn’t itchy though, which might have meant it was the dengue rash. Of course everyone still insisted it was the Dengue rash which didn’t help my sanity.

Luckily Laura, from the animal shelter, recommended I start pretty much bathing in baby powder and to get some of the prickly heat powder. This seemed to help the rash quite significantly, so I think it is just my body adjusting to seeing sun for the first time in years and living in a tropical location.
IMG_6619
Warning on the Prickly Heat powder, it is like powdered air conditioning and feels fantastic unless you get it near any sensitive areas… trust me

First Dive For Students

While conditions up top were glorious with clear blue sky and no clouds, the vis turned out to be so so, maybe only 5meters. With the full moon and it’s party, the coral also spawns and the currents change causing a significant decrease in vis.

The French boys had a friend with them who was already certified, so she buddied with me on the dive. Yuko hadn’t been diving in over 4yrs and had only dove during her course, she realised she most likely should have done a refresher as we did our giant stride into the water. Oh well, too late now, just going to have to keep my eye on her. At the surface we prepared to go down, the first thing being to clean your mask using spit. This might seem gross, but for some reason the enzymes in your saliva keep the mask from fogging, and apparently boy saliva is the best. Then Ricardo said a line I will never forget, “Remember, the greener the cleaner”. At this the Frenchies got right into that and we could hear them hocking a loogey from the other side of the rock. It might seem disgusting but none of their masks fogged.
IMG_4825

The dive itself was ok, and the boys all thought it was wonderful. But seeing the rock in much better conditions, it wasn’t much fun for us and at one point I almost lost the group as they went round a corner and mingled with another group. On clear days you can see 20 – 30 meters no problem, so 5 meters is rather limiting. At the end of the dive Yuko and I still had a lot of air so Ricardo indicated that we should keep diving as he took the boys up. But Yuko decided she wanted to return as well. Unfortunately as we surfaced we realised we had been caught in a current and towed around the back side of the rock, it was almost impossible to swim against so we dropped back down to 5meters and I pretty much pulled her back to the boat. Talk about tired diver at the end of it.

First Couchsurfer

Returning back to the shop the group was thrilled that they had seen a whale shark on the second dive, making the bad visibility of not much importance. Andy and Carol’s group had unfortunately proved to be what we all feared, the one drinking SanSom the day before had panicked at about 2 meters and Carol had to bring him back. He ended up quitting the course and just recovering from his hangover while the rest completed the last pool session after returning.

I had a couchsurfer waiting for me when I returned. Stephanie was from France and would be my first surfer to stay with me. For those of you who are not aware of couchrsurfing, it is an online community which allows people around the world to post profiles and then stay with others who live in a place they are visiting. There is no cost and there is no obligation to host. In most cases the surfer usually contributes something to the house or buys the host dinner. It is a great way to meet people and I have hosted and surfed all over the world.

Since the boys in our group still had to do a pool session, I sorted their equipment and then took Stephanie to my bungalow. In most cases the host would have a couch or spare bed, but I had a floor or a hammock, Stephanie didn’t mind. Then we went to meet Yuko who had some time to waste while her friends finished their skills. We walked around Chaloklum and then I took them to have banana balls in chocolate sauce. Always a good way to end an afternoon.

French Cuisine

Stephanie and I decided to drive down the coast a bit to watch the sunset, it was glorious.

Sunset

Sunset

Since I wasn’t comfortable driving on the coast road yet, I sat behind Stephanie on the bike she had rented. On the way back there was one spot where we wobbled a little but thankfully she was able to keep the bike upright.

Back at home I took her over to meet my multiple French neighbors. They all rattled away in French and I just smiled and nodded, still not feeling 100% these days especially after the exhausting dives. Next thing I knew we were both invited to have dinner. Sophie and Frank, long termers, always had dinner parties and Sophie was a phenomenal cook, I nearly crashed my bike once driving past as it smelled so good. The food was incredible, and with the limited resources on the island, it was downright incredible. We had rolled pork with bacon and scalloped potatoes and sticky apple cake for dessert. The food was perfect, the company was great (even in French) and yet I was feeling very run down and could feel my fever like non fever coming on. Sophie insisted I have a small piece of the cake before going home. I passed out at home feeling less than miserable. Could this be a sun allergy???

Last Open Water Dives

Waking in the morning I felt fine, no problems. It probably helped that I had had such good food the night before. It’s weird how this “illness” only seems to hit me in the evenings.

Today was full moon day and so the vis was not any improved. But when you have a great group not much can spoil a good day of diving. Carol and Andy had a slightly better day with only 3, the 1 no show most likely nursing another hangover. Our only issue was on the 2nd dive the one guy had some ear trouble, not being able to equalise and so I took him back to the boat. Ricardo managed to take him back out for a short dive and get him deep enough to pass the last 2 skills.

One of the best groups I had during the whole 3mths odd I was there.
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Sunsets and Wipeouts

That evening we decided to go try find a place Stephanie had hear about called Amsterdam. It was meant to have the best views of the sunset. We didn’t find it but we did find another place with a stunning view and an infinity pool, wish I had brought my swimsuit. Also outrageous prices so we could only afford one drink.

Sunset and Infinity Pools

Sunset and Infinity Pools

Stephanie and Me

Stephanie and Me

On the way home we were going at a nice pace, not speeding but also not going too slow, which is also rather dangerous. Steph had had a bad fall in Bali and she had just uttered the sentence “I don’t want to fall again like Bali” when, Murphy’s Law, we hit that same patch of loose gravel we wobbled on yesterday. We hit it at just the wrong angle and in her effort to slow the bike, Steph grabbed both the front and back brakes, causing the bike to lock and us to slide. Thankfully we only had a few scrapes, nothing too serious. Although we were both rather shaken. 2 people drove past us and one English chap going in the opposite direction, stopped, looked us over and deciding we were ok, uttered this oh so helpful sentence: “try to be more careful!”. Well ya think we were not being careful??? Then he drove off. So much gallantry and knights’ in shining helmets…

Back home we treated our wounds and headed to the Italian restaurant for a friends farewell. I decided to drive my own bike, as I felt more secure having control. We had no issues driving their and back, a few good laughs with everyone and sharing stories about accidents and injuries. Apparently that corner has caused a few broken arms and legs, so we got off lightly.

Handmade to Order Taglietelle with Homemade Bolognaise Sauce

Handmade to Order Taglietelle with Homemade Bolognaise Sauce

It was a great 3 days, but still feeling a bit under the weather and now rather shaken after the slide out, I headed home to bed, Stephanie following later to her spot on the floor.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Diving, diving, diving…

Have been in Thailand for a week now and am loving it. Love the sounds of the birds and insects (except the mosquitoes) all day and all night, the frogs pretty much put on a rock concert after the sun goes down. I forgot how much I missed that living in Oregon.

I usually get to the shop around 7am and start helping get gear set up and sorted. I asked one of the instructors, Andy from Germany with years and years of experience in almost all realms of diving, what he suspected was wrong with my camera. He reckons it might be the moisture as anything electronic doesn’t survive long in the humidity. His suggestion was to buy a bag of rice and stick it inside, try and suck out the moisture and see if there is an improvement.

However, another friend in Australia who does underwater photography fears that it might have been the pressure in the airplane when I checked the camera in my bag, and the sensor might be shot. Mmmmmmm, what to do. Just have to wait and see.

Kittens

When I arrived Momma cat had a litter of 4 kittens about a week old and now they are almost qualifying as real cats. Momma has brought them down from her hiding place and they are super cute, endless entertainment as you watch them learn and grow.

Ginger and Spot

Ginger and Spot

Shy girl peeping from behind.

Shy girl peeping from behind.

Momma Cat, note her left eye it is blue and brown.

Momma Cat, note her left eye it is blue and brown.

Diving With Gem

Gem is a Thai instructor at the shop and I got to dive with her and a student doing his open water course. Gem insisted that I cut my weights down and by the 2nd dive I had gone from 6.4 to 3.2Kg. I realised that diving in cold water you tend to control your bouyancy with your BCD (the jacket that inflates) vs your breathing like you do in warm water. It is a whole new set of skills to learn.

She also has impeccable hand signals, very clear and precise, will have to try pick up some tips from her in that regard.

As we were going down the float line we saw a whale shark, incredible as always! Later nearer the end of the dive we heard a very excited diver making noises, and turned to see another whale shark in the distance. It’s almost as awe inspiring to see them at a distance as it is to see them up close.

On the second dive I literally looked a whale shark in the eye, time seemed to slow and I felt captivated by what ever intelligence there was in there. The spell was broken when I was kind of muscled out of the way by another diver trying to follow it. Seeing whale sharks tends to make certain folks oblivious to everyone else. Unfortunately our student was low on air and we had to surface so we weren’t able to follow him.

Coconuts and Monkeys

Back at the shop I got a fright when coconuts started dropping from the trees. John said that the monkey was up there picking the ripe ones. I was about to tell him it’s not nice to say something like that just because a guy can climb a coconut palm, when I looked up…

monkey picking coconuts

monkey picking coconuts

The trainer

The trainer

Apparently, monkeys are trained to climb up and pick ripe coconuts which are then taken away and sold or used. It certainly is a great way of preventing more coconut related injuries, they are really quite hazardous to your health unless mixed with alcohol…

Driving…kind of

Managed to putt-a-putt to the 7-11 about a minute down the road for everyone else, about 3min for me. Am starting to get the hang of the bike and might even have some freedom at some point. Woohoo!

After packing my bags I went for a shower and nearly had a heart attack as I discovered I had a shower mate, who seemed to want to hang out and watch.

Shower mate, about 30cm/1ft long

Shower mate, about 30cm/1ft long

and soooo handsome!

and soooo handsome!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Thailand, Travel

 

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