Wednesday, August 01, 2007

GUE Tech 1 - July 2004

I did my Tech 1 course on board the MV Grace. It's a nice boat, very stable, with a great galley. It's a shame it's so poorly managed, because it has so much potential to be great. Don't even get me started on what went wrong during that week. How about running out of food (they kicked us off the boat and asked us to go find our own dinner) TWICE, running out of water (that one was truly classic), and having permanently flooded bathrooms? I also love it how nobody on board knew how to blend any gas, including nitrox 32%. So much for calling themselves a technical boat.

The instructor was Gideon Liew, a real class act. I had high expectations going into the class and they were all met or exceeded.

The classes started with critical skills in shallow water. We spent MANY dives at 20ft, out of sight of the bottom, with only the anchor line as a visual reference. Here, we did S-drills, valve drills, shot liftbags, and did timed ascents. By the end of the first day, Gideon was not pleased with our performance and ordered us to do an extra set of dives at 7am the next morning. We did these extra dives on days 2 and 3. By the middle of day 3, we were all exhausted and on the brink of diminishing returns. But we had improved significantly and were back on track. Day 4 we added deco bottles and started simulating gas switches and deco. We moved to deeper water and our simulated failures started getting more complicated. They ranged from cut lines, entanglements, valve failures, out of gas emergencies, loss of deco bottles, light failures, loss of visibility, loss of ascent line, and all manner of combinations of the above. Despite the ongoing challenges, we learned to adapt and and deal with whatever Gideon threw at us. Once you can deal with every failure known to mankind happening to you on the same dive, make it through your deco, and hit the surface on time, you're in good shape. Slowly but surely, we progressed through the course, rounding it off with a deep reef dive with 20 min of deco.

I had a lot of fun in Tech 1. It really pushed me and forced me to keep going beyond the point where I thought I would give up. Tech 1 is definitely a huge step up from DIR-F. On hindsight, I wish I had spent more time training before attempting Tech 1. That would have made the class a lot less painful. An alternative way to go about it is to take Rec Triox first, get some experience diving at that level, and later progress to Tech 1. That might break up the course into more manageable chunks.

I'm grateful to Gideon for having the patience to deal with us and teach us incrementally on each and every dive. It might not have been pretty at first, but we got there in the end. Doing the course on a liveaboard was both good and bad. On the one hand, we had Gideon's undivided attention for 7 days. We lived and breathed diving and DIR. But there was also nowhere to run. We were a captive audience. I don't think I'll forget those days of 6am starts, 8 dives in a day, 5 hours in the water, and midnight decompression lectures. But those are the things that made the class so special. You'd have a hard time finding a more dedicated instructor than Gideon.

So what would I recommend to people who want to take Tech 1?

Everything you need to know was covered in DIR-F. The most important thing is that you are solid in your fundamental skills. You don't want to be in the middle of multiple simulated failures when you realize that you can't shoot a bag efficiently or can't maintain your bouyancy when task loaded. This means that buoyancy and trim need to be second nature. You can't drop you knees when you aren't paying attention. Other fundamental skills, like hovering stationary, helicopter kick, backwards kick, shooting a bag, s-drills, valve drills, etc. need to be well practiced so you can do it under stressful conditions. You also need to be comfortable with maintaining buoyancy and doing ascents and descents with no visual reference. Ascending/descending in blue water can be disorienting until you've done it a few times. Make sure you can do it well when you're not task loaded because that's the only hope you have to do it when you are sharing gas with your buddy, he doesn't have a mask, and you need to shoot a bag.

Situational awareness, as always, is key. While the fundamental skills can be mastered by rote learning, situational awareness will come through experience and deliberate effort. Dive a lot and dive with different people so you learn how to communicate effectively with others. And don't just do training dives, because they sometimes create an artificial environment for learning. As you master the basic skills, you will have more mental capacity to focus on other things, like paying attention to what's going on around you. What's the depth? Time? How much gas do you have? Where is your buddy? What is your SAC rate? Where are you going?

Personally, I feel there's no real need to practice the specific things that you'll learn in Tech 1 (like no mask ascents, gas switching, etc.). If your basic skills are solid, adding some task loading shouldn't affect you too much. There is a greater risk of picking up bad habits that will later need to be unlearned.

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