Thursday, May 19, 2011

Diving Strife

THE primary source of conflict between Pedro and me was our disagreement over my weighting system. As it turns out, I’m glad we had this bit of strife because his stubborn insistence that he was right and I was wrong caused me to learn something extremely useful.

First of all, I do admit that Pedro WAS mostly right. Before starting my training under him I really believed that I needed to carry 24 pounds of lead to keep me from popping back up. When he saw how much I was using he made me cut that down to just 14 pounds. I was appalled—how would I ever keep my fat ass submerged once the air pressure in my tank got below 750 pounds? The tank becomes more buoyant as the air pressure in it decreases—something I became painfully aware of in one of my earlier dives with my original dive mentor. See this earlier post about that incident.

The lighter weight I carried mattered little for the first couple of dives. A useful thing I’ve picked up over the course of my previous pre-PADI dives has been my learned ability to control my air usage. The other less experienced trainees burned through their air a whole lot faster than I did, hundreds of pounds faster in fact. Even so, with my weight total only half of what I was used to, I could feel myself tending to float up. I constantly had to fight against it. I hate that feeling. I’d continually release air from my BCD until no more air would come out and still I could feel myself going positively buoyant.

So, I thought I’d outsmart old Pedro and sneak some extra weights into the pockets of my BCD. The only one I told was Jamie. I asked him not to tell Pedro but I don’t think it mattered. Pedro sees all and hears all. He never said anything to me during that dive but he sure did just before the very next one. As I prepped for it he informed me, “THIS time you will dive ONLY with your two 7 pounders and no more.” I looked over at Jamie and accused him, “YOU told him, DIDN’T you!” Jamie denied it.

Over the next two dives my enjoyment was much reduced; all because I was sure I was underweighted. On each dive, halfway through my time underwater I’d begin to go positive. Continually dumping air until there was no more air to dump, I found myself having to swim down to keep from popping up. It sucked.

It even affected my ability to descend. After flipping off the boat into the water I’d depress the deflator button and watch the bubbles come out, but without that extra weight I stayed firmly near the surface while the other divers were already well beneath me. I was desperate to figure out what I was doing wrong but I didn’t feel like I could speak to Pedro about it. I thought he’d just think I was being stubbornly resistant to him. Instead, I began asking the other master divers.

In trying to help me solve the descent problem Jamie suggested I go into the water with my vest already mostly deflated. He suggested it after I mentioned I was having a time just getting all the air out of my BCD. I would press the deflator button until no more air bubbles would come out, then I’d pull the handles to my vent releases, one at the top, the other at the bottom, and still I couldn’t get all the air out. It was befuddling, very frustrating, and it was happening BECAUSE I was carrying so little weight. Well, that was MY opinion anyway.

But I never got to try out Jamie’s suggestion to dive with an uninflated BCD though, because on the way out to the dive site Pedro noticed me going to great pains to squeeze out all the air. “What are you doing?” he asked. I told him what I wanted to try but he would have none of it, informing me, “No, that’s NOT how it’s done. You ALWAYS partially inflate your BCD before going into the water.”

‘So much for THAT idea,’ I thought glumly.

After that dive I finally approached Pedro about not being able to deflate my BCD. His first comment was to belittle the type of BCD I had, which is back inflated where the bladders are situated on the back on both sides of the tank. He called it a turtle vest. I told him, “Well, I need to learn how to use it, since that’s what I have.” He told me it didn’t matter what kind I used, that my problem was that I wasn’t properly deflating it because of my body position in the water. He said I needed to make sure the air was at the top of whichever release valve I was working with. He spent several minutes showing me how to do this. Not completely convinced, I asked him if I could add some weight nonetheless; but he held firm that THAT was NOT going to happen.

Going around Pedro made me feel disloyal as hell. I felt that doing so demonstrated very poor form on my part, but I did it because I needed answers. Jamie told me to gut it out and once I was certified I could wear as much weight as I wanted to.

Not stopping with just Jamie, I went to another master diver, an affable American guy, and asked him how much weight he dove with since he was closer to my size. I was shocked to find out he only carries a total of eight pounds. I couldn’t believe it. ‘What! How could that be?’ I marveled.

This diver, who approached my more buoyant rotundity, gave me a great clue as to what I was NOT doing—I wasn’t using lung volume to my advantage. He told me that he would simply empty his lungs and doing that caused him to drop to the bottom as fast as gravity would allow him to. Now THAT was something I could try.

The very next dive I gave it a shot. Pushing just half the air out of my chest while deflating my BCD a little, caused me to sink immediately. Yes! I actually went down faster than I wanted to and had to kick my flippers a bit to allow me time to clear my ears on the way down. It was a revelation. Anyway, that ONE problem was solved.

However, I was STILL sure that I was underweighted, because at the end of the dive I continued having to fight against popping to the surface as my tank emptied. There WAS one important difference from before though, NOW I could much more easily control the tendency to float upwards. All I had to do was empty my lungs and allow gravity to assist. Even so, having to work so hard at maintaining depth was destroying a lot of the pleasure of the dive.

I continued to ask around about my buoyancy problem and I’m sure it got back to Pedro because he called only me over to the dive hooch. As is his way, he did not let on as to his intentions. It made me nervous. He asked for my weight. As is my way I made a joke about it before telling him. At first he had me be the one to enter the numbers into a calculator, but not familiar with it, I botched it. He took over and in a few seconds had a result. The display along with some kind of chart came exactly to 14. In that slightly sardonic Aussie way of his he told me, “So you see, your weights should only be 14 pounds, and no more than that!”

At that we got into it again. I asked, “Okay, so WHY am I popping up at the end of all these dives? You’re KILL’N me man.”

Without hesitation he answered, “I told you before that you aren’t getting all the air out of your BCD.” He went on to repeat what he’d told me before, that I was not correctly positioning my body in the water as I attempted to vent the air. He explained that back inflated vests have a tendency to trap air, but that trapped air could STILL be released if I moved my body either vertically or horizontally in the water so that the air COULD vent. He was quite adamant. At that, motivated and mostly persuaded, I became determined that the next time, I WOULD make it happen! Or would I?

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