Advanced Open Water Certification: Done!

I got home on Friday at around 6. It was a major rush to pack all the gear for our Advanced Open Water Certification, feed the cats, drop off keys to my brother and head back out to the dive shop for a weight belt and additional weights. By the time we got on the road it was well past 8PM. We stopped by a Panera and bought sandwiches only to land in bumper to bumper traffic on Route 78! All kinds of construction and road delays. We sat in the car a bit grumpy when all of a sudden we noticed the moon was disappearing. We were witnessing a complete lunar eclipse and suddenly didn’t fee so bad about the traffic. We watched amazed as slowly the shadow of the earth reduced the large moon to a sliver and then it was gone. I sat on IM for a while texting some friends as we cursed traffic.

At nearly 11 we got to the hotel, Allentown Sheraton and checked in. We had gotten these great rates through Priceline ($50 a night) for a four star which was great and our check-in process went pretty smoothly. Our room was perfectly situated on the bottom floor right next to the exit which made lugging gear in and out fairly easy!

The following morning after breakfast we arrived at Dutch Springs bright and early to fill out release forms (AKA if you drown we don’t care forms) and get our tank fill tickets and such. Divers are sort of a motley bunch varying in age, gender, weight and appearance. It’s impossible to look at someone and say “diver.” What I like about the diving crowd is that they love to travel and so the conversation is always a highlight as tips and anecdotes are shared and exchanged. Divers are generally very friendly and eager to socialize. I have also found them to be cool and collected even bordering on laid back.

After unloading our equipment (and there was quite a lot) and laying it out on the blue tarp for setup we were met by Klaus, Ray and John, our instructors. Klaus was older, Swedish. His hair was peppered and he had American Indian tattoos on his back and arms. His clear blue eyes conveyed intelligence, warmth and an open sense of humor that was instantly disarming. His accent was great and yes he did say “Ya”! Ray was slight, her frame fragile. She couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. Her short black hair was dyed with blond streaks and she had all kinds of piercings including a stud in her tongue. She was of Asian descent and her skin was like caramel. She was wearing a bright blue dress and we could so tell she was gonna be the drill sergeant! John was our dive-master for the day and he instantly singled me out as clueless chick I guess but he couldn’t have been more wrong. “Here let me help you with that!” Was he flirting? I think so.

We instantly began to get a move on. Walked down the steep hill to wet our BCD’s in the quarry so we could start setting up our tanks. I was given four extra pounds by Ray and throughout the day another four as my buoyancy needed adjustment. Just to give you an idea of how heavy the gear is, the tank alone weighs 45 lbs. when filled. I was then carrying 16 lbs on a weight belt and another 8lbs in pockets. There there is a 7mm wetsuit with a 7mm jacket, 5mm hood, gloves and boots, plus the weight of the regulator. Then of course there are fins, mask and snorkel!  I equate this gear to what astronauts must feel upon entering earth gravity! Crushing!

If for some reason any part of this gear rubs you the wrong way, as rental gear is bound to, your diving experience will suffer. Immediately after entering the water for our Peak Performance Buoyancy dive I got a horrendous cramp on my right leg. I had to wait for that to subside but the stress of this gave me a totally strange pain in my upper left shoulder. To top things off my snorkel came loose and I didn’t have it on the surface which sucked since we were waiting for a good twenty minutes for the first group to finish before descending. This was not a good way to get started. We had to swim through a diamond reef watching our buoyancy with additional weight which I negotiated just fine. I lost a fin underwater during this dive and luckily Klaus caught it. It just came right off! I was able to put the fin back on and finish the dive. The whole dive was stressful and I went through quite a bit of air in 30 minutes, much more than I normally do.

To my surprise, someone had found my snorkel and put it on the dock. For the second dive I did some serious adjustment to my gear and while my leg still hurt I felt much better. Underwater navigation was a bitch. Our second dive involved navigating a perfect square with a buddy, ten kick cycles each way. My turn with the compass was good, I was able to focus and get us back to the platform while Rob watched the depth but when we reversed I had a major issue with depth and really became scared when I couldn’t find the valve on my BCD to let air out. I felt myself floating to the surface which was bad! This can be lethal. I was focusing so hard on the gauges (mind you rental equipment was off by 10′ at least!) that I lost track of direction. Compass navigation rarely ever comes into play but still, this was a failure on my part. I felt like that was a total fail and made note of what I did wrong.

I have to say this was the first time I had become completely disoriented underwater. The visibility was low and I lost my cool for a second and really didn’t know which way was up or down. I was glad I DID NOT panic and finally got my bearings but I need to really watch buoyancy much better in future. My biggest fear is to rise to the surface too quickly in an uncontrolled ascent!

We had lunch after our second dive and went over knowledge reviews. John and I discussed what had gone wrong and how to correct it. He was extremely positive and did manage to instill me with confidence. By the time we were done and dropped tanks off to be refilled it was past 2:30 PM. We made it to the hotel by 3PM where we took a nap for a bit. Some experts say that tiredness and fatigue are sub clinical DCS symptoms but I think lugging all that heavy stuff was primarily responsible. We did our safety stops and were properly hydrated but that is not to say that you can’t get bent in 10′ of water.

At around 6PM we grabbed dinner and headed back to the quarry to pick up our tanks for the night dive. We began setting up right away, attaching lights, testing equipment etc. The quarry was peaceful as the throng of divers were gone mostly. I had no problems during the night dive and enjoyed it immensely. All of my equipment was fine, my buoyancy was near perfect and it was just an amazing dive! Magical in fact. This dive reminded me why I got into this to begin with. We went over signals and got comfortable with the lights and darkness. The bubbles themselves came to life. I can only imagine how gorgeous a night dive along a reef must be!

The following day I didn’t waste any time suiting up. We got there and I was ready to go. Our wet suits didn’t dry very well in the bathtub which was unfortunate. I felt so grimy it wasn’t even funny. By 9AM we were back in the water for our deep dive.  During the descent I pinched an ear and got water trapped under the hood which was bad. At least I know what I should have done differently. The dive itself to 70′ went well and we did our drills underwater. It was funny to feel my reaction time slow down from the cold and the depth. Write my name backwards? What? The water was cold!  By the time we made it out my right ear was aching quite a bit. Great.

One more dive to go! The wreck reel was a fiasco. Rob tied the reel and swam out and before we knew it the thing was tangled up and he was sinking to the bottom. Fine manual dexterity goes out the window in the cold. Ray and I finally managed to get him untangled and get him back to the proper depth. His mask had almost completely flooded. I had no issue with the reel and quickly got this drill done. We went from a sunken school bus to a fire truck to the platform and back. This dive was pretty good and I had no issues. On the surface, however, my ear was aching bad. Luckily we had just completed our Advanced Open Water Certification and no more dives would follow.

I’m keeping close tabs on my ear to see if I’ll need a doctor. Hopefully I won’t. My body aches from lugging all that gear but it’s not that bad. I have a couple of bruises on my shoulder from carrying the tank and on my shin…but it’s all good. Got my cert! Woot!