Hear this. I don’t much like the sea, generally. Read that as I’m some what afraid of it. Terrified actually; however, embracing the “do something that scares you every day” mantra and at the behest of a nag of a friend who drove our whole EO Bahrain forum to take up the challenge, we dove right in and signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver course. The course being run by another friend’s company, Environment Arabia, didn’t hurt. We knew that we would be taken care of. Little did we know the amount of work we needed to put in!
Day One started at 9.30 and immersed us into the PADI Open Water Diver text book and its five modules; theory, charts, calculations, water properties, pressure, underwater behaviour, diving computers and plenty of other concepts – a lot of which were foreign to us – yet expertly explained by our instructor Alexandra Pawson and adequately comprehended by us. My guess is that if we retain 20% of what was delivered, we’d most definitely have much more survival chances than what we started with, and be able to enjoy the underwater environment to boot.
Alexandra has been diving for most of her life. Her passion was quite evident and contagious, though she definitely is a strict task master and doesn’t take crap from us neophytes. I’m also convinced she’s got webbed feet which I’m sure will come really useful when we actually get out to the open water tomorrow.
Once the PADI certified test was done just before lunch, we got more of the practical on-land instruction, a full briefing of the exercises we were about to do in the pool and the expectations. At this point, my apprehension was actually magnified at least three fold! If I had been terrified of the sea before I started this gig – thank you JAWS! – I was absolutely petrified by now.
The instruction was very clear and specific on the various things that could go wrong in a dive and how those dangers must be mitigated with good habits, the adoption of specific systems and very strict safety measures which must be adhered to at all times. Familiarity with basic diving equipment was required. We had to assemble and then dis-assemble all the gear under the watchful eyes of the instructor and her assistant and we had to do this several times. Once that was done, off to the swimming pool I went to start the practical side of things.
The very first thing I needed to do was prove that I was an adequate enough swimmer. I think “adequate” is a good word to describe my swimming acumen. The way I learnt to swim was a dream that I could do so when I was a child, and plunging into the deep end of the Athari natural spring based on that conviction, only to drown, save for the kind gentlemen who recognised my flailing arms and disappearing form underwater was anything but swimming and decided to intervene by dragging me into the shallow end. I couldn’t fail now though! I had to do it! So through a combination of bravado and every combination of swimming style I had, I managed to do the required length to the satisfaction of the instructor. Elegance aside.
The moment I was waiting for had finally come. We were instructed to strap on the BCD (see, I’m even talking the lingo now!) which is the Buoyancy Control Device, put the regulator in our mouths and put our heads into the water and try to breathe. To say that was awkward at first is an understatement. The realisation after a while that one can actually breathe underwater was shocking! Yes, I know that’s what the equipment was supposed to do, but physical experience is a different thing. By the end of the session – and guzzling two full cylinders worth of air – I was getting more comfortable with the breathing apparatus and my continuous presence under water.
We conducted many exercises which will actually be repeated in the open sea. I found a number of those exercises easy enough to do but had considerable difficulty in others. I couldn’t get my balance, for instance, although I strapped on a number of weights and got help adjusting them. I don’t know if people get to be naturally more buoyant one way or the other, but I experienced continuously tipping forward or backwards. By the end of the lesson I felt better about my balance and buoyancy and realise without a doubt that there is considerable room for improvement.
The exercise of removing the re-wearing the BCD on the surface was difficult and I couldn’t do it. Fortunately, Alex was patient enough to demonstrate other methods of achieving the same result which I was able to follow. Having a professional there to demonstrate how those could be done, calmly, was invaluable and reassuring.
Of course, we were required to do those exercises both on the surface and underwater. I found the underwater iterations easier to accomplish and will become easier with experience. It will be very interesting to re-do those exercises in the open water as the buoyancy will be much different at sea than it was in the pool.
By the end of the pool session my confidence grew, and with that confidence the level of terror I had started with has certainly lessened considerably. I’m actually looking forward to experience diving in the open sea to discover a completely new and different world.
The major insight I gained during the training is this simple fact which I absolutely didn’t know before I started: the BCD is key to a safe dive. It can be inflated when at the surface to help you stay afloat, and that inflation quantity can be minutely adjusted to get the level of buoyancy one requires to float in the water, reducing the amount of exertion one needs to enjoy the underwater world.
It’s too early to decide whether I’ll make open water diving a hobby and seek opportunities to go diving whenever I can; what I can tell you is that after only one day of training, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone, especially if done with friends and under professional instruction and guidance.