Sunday, May 22, 2011

...up in a puff of smoke.

The quest for a dive card continued. Three decades in the U.S. military can make one extremely task oriented; so, once I decided I HAD to have an advanced open water card, earning one was inevitable. To make that happen, the curriculum called for us to hit the water three times a day, mostly in the open water, but sometimes in the pool. Of course the open water is where I prefer to be. Regardless of where, the PADI training is challenging and fun; not extremely difficult, not physically, but to do the tasks correctly does take focus.

Watching my two training buddies occasionally struggle with some of the drills made me appreciate my previous hours in the water. I’m pretty sure experience counts for the greatest percentage of how a good diver is made.

As for me, I’m still on my way to becoming a passably good diver; meaning one that dives safe, is competent and confident. Even though I now have my advanced openwater card I still don’t FEEL advanced—far from it. I’m on the way though; experience will get me there.

On our second to the last dive of the basic course Pedro informed us that THIS time we’d be required to completely remove our masks, then put them back on and clear them of water. I’d done that many times by then so I didn’t sweat it. My two classmates, now that was another story. Hearing what was in store immediately started up the anxiety. I think they thought they were all finished with the mask removal drills. The earlier drill we had only flooded the mask, this time Pedro wanted it all the way off. I was amazed how doing something so simple could be such a bugaboo for the new guys. It’s that experience thing again I suppose. The idea SHOULD be to keep doing that which causes discomfort until it no longer has that effect.

Pedro had me do it first, pointing at me while acting out the removal of his own mask. Showing a little bravado I snatched mine off and held it out for a moment before stretching the strap back around the back of my head. I didn’t worry about keeping my eyes closed and was pleasantly surprised that I could still see, although a bit blurrily, and better yet, there was no sting. Even after I had my mask mostly free of water I continued to experience no eye pain. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the moment that kept the usual discomfort from the salt water at bay; whatever it was, it was just fine by me.

The other two fellows needn’t have fretted. With only a hint of hesitation, each easily complied with the requirements of the task. Although I believe it was the electrician that didn’t pull the mask off enough at first. He tried to get away with a bit of cheat by just pulling it away from his face. Pedro had him completely remove it before he was satisfied. I chuckled into my regulator watching it.

While still on land in the open area between the pool and the rinse basins, Pedro had provided quite a bit of instruction on how to navigate with our compasses. It was all about how to line up the lubberline with north, moving the compass bezel around to the desired azimuth, and finally how to use landmarks to keep to our desired course of travel, all while gauging distance by counting number of fin pumps. It was quite thorough; I think Pedro actually teaches navigation better even than the PADI video clips. His advice on using underwater references to swim to as “way marks” instead of strictly relying full time on the compass is especially useful.

Ah, but the navigation subject matter became another source of a “frictional moment” between Pedro and I. I really don’t think I did anything all that provocative, but there were times that I just seemed to get under Pedro Man's skin. This time it was while he was showing me how to use the compass on my regulator console. It has a few differences from how the wrist compasses provided by the Big Apple are used.

We were doing fine during his spiel. I followed his commentary with complete attention, appreciative of the extra time he took to explain the nuances of my particular compass. When he got to the end of his teaching moment though, THAT’S when I did it. I didn’t mean to, but basically I seemed to blow off ALL of his “how to” pointers when I questioned him, “Okay, NOW, how about if I just use this window on the side of my compass to find and maintain my direction of travel?”

He looked away in exasperation and responded in a huff, “Yeah, YOU do that. YOU use the cheater window!”

At that he was done with me on THAT subject. My heart sank. I tried to explain why I asked the question. “Peter, I’m not TRYING to piss you off dude. It’s just that my console high pressure line isn’t quite long enough to allow me to hold it directly in front of me and still look directly down at the compass face. You know? That’s why I’ve been using the little viewing window on the side. Is there a problem with just doing it that way? That's ALL I'm asking.”

I couldn’t tell if he was peeved, bemused or both. He curtly repeated his reply to go ahead and use the window. At the time, when we went through what became a terse little tête-à-tête, we were in the boat sitting at anchor having just returned from a dive. Without another word or look back, Pedro jumped into the water and splashed up to the beach and into the resort area.

Carefully choosing my own footing while going down the gang plank I reflected on what just happened, ‘Dang it. I did it AGAIN! I GOT to stop making a habit out of pissing off Pedro.’

The next dive we tested our newly learned nav skills—it took us down around the bend from the Sabang cove to the east—actually, we always went east. The boat dropped us off near the shoreline where we grouped together in an impromptu underwater “classroom” somewhere around 15 feet down. Pedro had told us topside that one at a time we were to find 90 degrees or east on our compasses, swim 25 fin pumps in that direction and then turn around and follow the reverse heading of 270 back. It sounds simple, and it is, but remember, we were still doing the basic course.

My two classmates each had their turns ahead of me. I already 90 lined up on my compass and was ready to go for when my turn came. Pedro pointed first at the fireman and then motioned for him to go—off he went and soon he came back, strongly pumping his fins. Then his buddy took off and returned. By this time I was totally perplexed, because both of them had simply taken off in the direction that Pedro had pointed, which according to my compass was almost due south. Anyway, by no stretch of the imagination did they go east.

I told myself, ‘Eh? Oh well, I’ll just go East, the way he TOLD us to.’ Ever mindful of trying to comply with “orders,” I’ll always suffer from that “military” state of mind, where everything MUST be accomplished literally, not interpretively—insistence on precision is a disease I’ll always proudly suffer from I think.

Later, on the surface, while waiting for the boat to pick us up, I asked them why they all went in the wrong direction. Pedro just shrugged and smiled saying that he didn’t know what direction was what, he was just telling them to go. He thought it was funny, and as long as HE did, so did I.

My classmates sheepishly admitted that they couldn’t really see the heading on their compasses, so they just took off, did their 25 pumps and returned figuring Pedro would either correct them or make them do it again if he wasn’t happy with it.

I nodded thinking smugly, ‘So, it seems my cheater window works pretty well!’ Not wanting to provoke, I kept my self-satisfied thoughts to myself. But I couldn’t help but to shake my head, thinking back to all that great training we’d just had on navigation that just seemed to go up in a puff of smoke.


Ed said...

I was expecting the rest of the story as to if you were able to remove the air out of your BCD. I guess you are going to leave us/me hanging for a while longer.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Sorry about that, getting to that next. You used to complain about the excessive length of my novel-like posts. I'm keeping to bite sized now just for you.

Ed said...

When I get too tired, I just don't come back but that hasn't happened yet.