Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“Bup. Bup. Bup. Bup. Bup…”

Once he recovered from his self-induced coughing fit it took less than five minutes for the electrician to return from the surface 20 feet above us. Dropping through the water he settled himself to his earlier position on the other side of his fireman buddy from me. This time when Pedro signaled for him to perform the tossed regulator exercise he did so with no problem.

On that dive one of the other more notable requisite undertakings we did at the instructor’s behest is actually a variation on the regulator toss. It is based on the scenario that a diver’s air supply has stopped, requiring immediate access to the dive buddy’s alternate air source. This very situation is a prime reason that smart divers always do so in pairs.

When it was time for me to practice what to do in case of the dreaded “out of air” emergency, instructor Pedro approached and parked himself directly to my front where he immediately indicated that I was to perform the “out of air” drill.

First, using my right hand, I sawed across my throat using the age old gesture for dead or kill. In diving however, the kill gesture means “out of air.” I then pointed at his spare regulator, which in his case was stowed right on the front of his vest at chest level, and then made as if I was putting a regulator in my mouth.

He made the okay signal signifying he understood and pointed at the spare regulator stowed on the middle of his chest. I removed my regulator, allowed it to fall, and then, taking Pedro’s extra Reg from its stowage clip on his front, I placed it in my mouth and cleared it.

As soon as I had Pedro’s extra Reg cleared and I was breathing okay, I grasped his forearm with my right hand in a Roman handshake and gave him the “up” signal by pointing upward with raised left thumb. Joined in this fashion facing each other, to conclude the scenario we swam slowly to the surface. All three of us students took turns accomplishing this.

Of course there is an important reason for going through all these at times uncomfortable sets of diving circumstances. It’s simple, one can know and understand intellectually what is supposed to be done IF something bad happens, but until the steps are actually tried in the real open water setting at depth, there is a good chance that when bad things ACTUALLY happen that panic WILL rear its ugly head.

Obviously, panic is NOT a good thing to experience, especially while diving, for once panic sets in the mind ceases to function rationally. The problem though is that being in trouble in the water will almost always brings on a case of the panics, UNLESS that person has trained for what to do in case of THAT specific problem.

Thus the dive problem exercises, because even better than thinking a problem through is being able to get through it using muscle memory, where the body goes into instinct mode once it’s assigned a task. But THE only way to establish these instinctive muscle memories is to put the body through its paces BEFORE the emergency so that later the mind doesn’t have to do much except to push the “go” button.

A buddy who did 25 years as a navy diver once told me that it was his experience that humans at depth, breathing compressed tank air, lose a quarter of their brainpower. He couldn’t explain WHY he knew this to be, but the longer I observe myself and others in the scuba environment, the more I am agreeing with him. Perhaps its because of the properties of the compressed air, or maybe it’s the effects of pressure on the brain. Personally, I think it has more to do with just being underwater. The primitive human down deep in each of us just can’t accept being submerged; so, an internal struggle goes on between this ancient primal us and the modern rational us, and it results in reduced acumen.

All that goes to help explain why so many of us tend to lose our minds when we find ourselves submerged in water; even with a breathing apparatus we can still “lose it.” Is it any wonder that water boarding has been found to be one of the most successful ways to crack even the toughest person’s will?

Therefore, the human tendency to react at the first hint of a problem underwater by going for where the air is, MUST be controlled. There really is only one way to do this and that is to place beginning divers into situations that MAKE them experience various types of discomfort, such as removing the air source from the mouth, or taking off the mask and forcing them to swim to the surface without it.

Once the trainee has gone through these unpleasant conditions however, and they’ve proven to themselves (to their inner primordial self) that they CAN go through them and survive, the battle is won. Well, hopefully it is. Sometimes, the only way to know if you will actually react properly is when a bad thing actually happens. In the meantime, all one can do is prepare and to continue to prepare. With me being the eternal pessimist, I ALWAYS assume that these bad things WILL happen, so I tend never to stop preparing.

For instance, let’s say a freak monster current smacks into you at depth plowing you ass over tea kettle into a pile of coral. Your mask comes off and your Reg becomes damaged and unusable. First of all, scuba diving with a mask is nothing like scuba without one. A mask does two things, it keeps the eyes free of water for clear vision, but even more importantly it keeps water from entering the airway through the nostrils. Just ask my classmate from my last post about how bad THAT can be!

So, two of the worst imaginable things have happened at more than 60 feet down—your mask is gone and you have no air! What do you do? Well, if you’ve been trained for these things as all basically certified PADI open water divers are, it really should be no problem. You think it through step by step.

The first thing is to get some air, either your own spare source, IF it’s still okay; or hopefully, your dive buddy is right there waiting to give you his spare Reg.

But what do you do if that crazy current has swept your buddy too far away to be of any help and the collision with the coral has wrecked the air valve on your tank so that even your spare is no good? Of course, you must head to the surface so you can breathe again, but, you must avoid panic and remember your training.

A mad dash for the surface could well kill you if you forget what you’ve learned, the primary thing being that air breathed into your lungs from a tank at 60 feet down will expand the lungs almost twice their size by the time the surface is reached. At that point you will likely die from burst blood vessels in your lungs, and it won’t feel good either.

But I don’t have to wonder what it feels like to lose my mask or to be at depth with no regulator because my instructor had us practice responding to all the variations of that very realistic scenario. Aside from having us ascend using another diver’s alternate air source, Pedro had us try on for size several other emergency possibilities. For instance, we had to swim with no mask, a very strange feeling indeed, since you have to consciously keep positive air pressure in the nose to keep water from entering the nostrils. (I suppose you could also just hold your nose, but I never did find that to be necessary using positive nose pressure).

We also had to demonstrate the learned ability to ascend from depth without suffering lung injuries. It’s actually quite simple, as the diver rises he releases air. I liked Pedro’s preferred method of doing this much more than the way it’s demonstrated in the PADI video clips where the ascending diver makes a continuous “ahhhhh” noise. Instead of doing that, which might cause a diver to run out of air, Pedro had us make a “Bup” sound repetitively. “Bup. Bup. Bup. Bup. Bup…” This allows the expanding air to escape from the lungs while also giving the diver more control over the air’s release.

Smart guy that Pedro.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Choking and Coughing

That first day of scuba training in open water was also my first time not in a pool with a group of other divers. It had a different visual feel from all my previous dives in the sea with just one fellow diver. Seeing all the other divers in front, around and behind caused my head to move as if on a swivel. I know I wasn’t really responsible for all my other dive mates but that’s what I’d been used to, so that’s how I operated, out of habit.

Instructor Peter led the way, with the three of us trainees following in a loose single file. Master diver Jamie watched over us from the rear while dragging along the “diver down” buoy to keep boats away. I noticed we were heading a bit to the right from our departure direction from the beach, toward the floating bar to the east.

Jamie had a bungee cord with a heavy washer through it strapped around the bottom of his aluminum tank. To get our attention he repeatedly rapped the washer against his tank. “Tink! Tink! Tink!” The noise carried for quite a distance. On our way out on this particular dive he began the metal on metal clatter. I jerked around to see why. We all did. Jamie had spotted a large sea turtle whose swimming path had intersected our course of travel behind all of us but Jamie. We took a short break from our intended track and checked out the slowly swimming turtle.

This one wasn’t as long or as bulky as the Hawksbill I had seen last year but it was still pretty big, probably just over three feet long. What made this new sighting even more exceptional for me though were the two amazing ribbon-like fish riding along as passengers. These long slender fish were colorful, I think bright blue or green. Their bodies snapped through the water like when female gymnasts snap their fluttering ribbons on a stick.

Mostly the two “turtle fish” kept themselves attached to the top forward bit of their transport’s shell, flickering along in parallel to each other, looking exactly like a pair of living gleaming banners snapping in the wind. But every so often one of the fish would dart a short distance from the shell for a second or two, perhaps six or seven feet away, before doubling its super flexible body almost in half and darting back to its spot on top of the shell. I really wish I could have had my camera with me, but carrying my Canon during training dives was out of the question.

I would have loved continuing to check out the turtle and its retinue but Peter only gave us a short time on this little side escapade. After less than a minute we were back on our merry way to the intended training site. I figured we were probably pretty close to it when Peter stopped ahead of us and just floated there. My God, but he is good at that. As I neared he released air from his BCD and settled to the bottom where he took up a position on his knees on the edge of a large open sandy area and motioned for us all to join him on our knees to his front right in the middle of the open sand.

I made my way over to Peter’s far left and expelled the last of the air from my buoyancy compensator to allow me to settle fully to the sea floor. The other two fellows also took up their positions in front of Peter, but not quite to his satisfaction. He wanted them full on their knees, not standing, crouching or floating. Once we were all in place the way he wanted, our period of testing began. Well, it was more a combination of testing AND instruction the way it turned out.

For the next 25 minutes he had each of us in turn perform a series of exercises. Our depth there at the bottom was right around 20 feet. Most of what he wanted us to do we had already done in the pool, but it’s always different, more daunting for some reason, in open salty sea water at depth.

None of what he asked us to carry out was particularly difficult; at least I didn’t think so, perhaps because of all my previous hours in open water. We executed each event one at a time observing each other’s performance. I admit that knowing I had an audience of my peers made me want to be as perfect and as in control as possible. It’s that macho thing I guess.

One of the first things he had us do, to me, was THE most unsettling. We had to remove the regulator, literally our very lifeline, from our mouth and toss it away, with authority, behind us over our right shoulder. We had done this in the pool and it had taken me two tries to retrieve it the way he wanted it done.

Here’s the drill: remove the regulator from the mouth and toss it over the shoulder; bend forward and to the right, placing the right hand on the right thigh; the next step being to sweep the hand behind the leg and then up. At this point the regulator SHOULD fall naturally in such a place that the regulator hose is caught up against the right arm as it moves upward. The regulator and hose is scooped directly to the front where it can be grabbed and replaced in the mouth; and sure enough, after my first failure (I had moved my arm up instead of behind), every time I tried it this way in the pool it worked as advertised.

After seeing how well that method succeeded in the pool I was confident I could do the same thing in open water. Peter pointed at me first and then mimed throwing away his regulator. I braced myself, took a breath, grabbed the regulator from my mouth and tossed it over my shoulder. Without waiting to see how it worked out for me Peter then pointed to the fellow next to me. I went through my regulator retrieval drill expecting the same results as from the pool, but to my consternation the reg was NOT there. ‘Damn!’ I went through it again and STILL it wasn’t there.

At that point I figured the reg must have gotten caught up on the back of my tank somehow. A touch of panic began to creep in around the edges which I resisted mightily.

‘Well, I’ll just reach down and grab my alternate regulator’ was my next thought.

Lifting my head to see if Peter or Jamie had a reaction to my problem, something caught my eye off to the right. I glanced up to see more closely and to my great relief found it to be my wayward regulator.

‘There you are! Get over here!’

I snatched it up and crammed it back into my mouth. “AIR! Yes!” I realized then that only a few seconds had elapsed from when I tossed the Reg. As I cleared it I watched the second guy throw his Reg away as I had just done. It was then that I saw that his regulator didn’t drop the way it does in the pool, instead, it floated up for a second and then hovered right around eye level. Sea water of course is more buoyant than pool water, and the residual air trapped in the regulator was enough to make it float in the sea water. ‘Eureka! Another lesson learned, the hard way.

From my conversations with them I learned that what really bothered the other two students was not the regulator coming out; no, it was the idea of having to pull off the mask, or even just having to partially flood it. The electrician told me he could take his mask off underwater all day long in the pool, but the salty water of the sea was so uncomfortable that he became completely unnerved he confessed. Both he and his fireman buddy dreaded having to clear their masks of seawater almost to the point of terror it seemed to me.

I took on the role of sympathetic comrade. “I know what you mean man. Once my eyes come into contact with that salty sea water, and they start to burn, I can’t see for squat.”

Now, what I was REALLY thinking was quite different. It was more like, ‘Come on man, buck up! It’s not THAT bad.’ I didn’t say it though. I really liked these two fellow Americans from Texas. They were good guys and no way was I going to say something that might come off as arrogant, especially since I was still relatively new at this stuff myself.

Peter pointed at the electrician last to have him throw his Reg. In fact, the instructor had to act out throwing it twice to get a response. It looked to me like the guy had gone into freeze mode. He kept taking deep breaths and then not doing anything. Finally he took one final breath but instead of throwing his regulator from his mouth, inexplicably, he grabbed his mask and violently pulled it off. I was totally perplexed as were we all.

I could hear Peter yelling into his regulator (He was REALLY good at doing that), “NO! NO! NO! Your regulatah!” Believe it or not, I could actually hear his Australian accent through the water.

The big electrician struggled to put his mask back on and began to try to clear it by blowing air into it through his nose while pulling it away slightly at the bottom to allow the air to push out the water. He did this three times but he was obviously having some kind of problem. He shook his head and took off like a shot for the surface. We all looked up, following him visually. Jamie did his job and went up to check on him while Peter continued with putting the other two of us through our paces.

Later, out of the water, the shaven headed electrical contractor said that he had become confused which is why he had removed the mask instead of the Reg. I’m certain it’s because he was so dreading having to remove his mask that he had become fixated on it. That still shouldn’t have caused him problems, except that water had entered his airway through his exposed nostrils and he began to choke and cough. He felt like he had no choice except to go up.

I remember when he had done that boneheaded thing that my main thought was, ‘Man oh man, I hope I don’t lose my mind down here like that. Please God, don’t let me screw up.’ Funny thing is, I wasn’t worried about the dangers of what we were doing; I just didn’t want to look stupidly incompetent. Guys are weird, aren’t we?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'I'm Ba-ack!'

It’s an extraordinary experience, something ever awesomely new and different, to walk straight out from a sandy beach, in this case, through the line of moored bangka boats, or at other times past swimsuit-wearing air-breathing dogpaddling mortals, into the deep blue sea; to keep going, deeper ever deeper, until rippling wavelets close over your masked and snorkeled head as you enter a totally alien, yet wonderful world of enveloping water.

For a non scuba diver, an unaware untrained mere human being, doing such a thing means a gasping choking death, but to scuba divers, it’s an experience that never gets old; each time it happens it’s fresh and exciting; it’s literally death defying and therefore electrifying.

You do it one time and you are inextricably hooked; especially here in the tropics, where fish and fauna in colors shapes and forms beyond the wildest imagination lurk behind and around every rock and coral mound. As soon as you climb out of the water and try to take in what you just saw, all you want to do is get back in and see it again.

Of course, no one who has never experienced it actually believes how supreme the experience actually is. I had come only close over the years with all my time near the surface as a snorkeler, but it’s not the same; not at all.

A navy diver friend, a fellow US military retiree, finally got through to me last year when he returned from diving in Palawan, where he saw things that “could not possibly exist,” as he put it. This from a man who has more hours underwater than he can count; yet he practically bubbled with the excitement of what he had witnessed in the waters near Puerto Princessa. After that, I KNEW that I too MUST try it. So, I owe it all to him. So thanks Tom. (And to Don as well of course, the guy who actually put me underwater on a regulator and forever changed my life).

Reading back what I just wrote above, it dawns on me how much I sound like a religious zealot. I ask myself, am I really that excited over this stuff? I have to say yes, I am. Beyond a doubt, from a fellow who has tried a lot of stuff in this world, there is nothing else like it. It is a totally unique experience. If I come off as a raving lunatic, it’s probably because you’ve never done it. A fellow diver knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So, pursuant to finally becoming certified in practicing the "religious experience" called scuba diving, along with my two classmates and two instructors, I walked into the pleasantly cool waters that softly lapped the shores directly fronting The Big Apple dive resort. Funny enough, Big Apple sits directly ashore between Sabang’s two floating bars; it occurred to me that I was walking out of one bar and out towards two more. If you like barhopping ya gotta love that.

The water stays shallow for quite a ways out into the cove fronting the town of Sabang. We were about half way out to the floating bars before it was deep enough for the instructor to stop and have us put on our fins and masks. He still wasn’t quite ready for us to go on regulators and submerge yet though.

First, he briefed us one more time on where we were going and what we’d be doing once we got there. But first, he tasked me, and only me, to perform what’s called a rescue tow on Jamie. Evidently, the other two trainees had already accomplished this prerequisite. My job was to grab the back of his tank by the valve assembly and swim him backwards as if he was in need of assistance.

Performing this basic rescue function was fairly easy, although Pedro continually had me look for him over my shoulder as he continually shifted his position; each time I was to change my direction of swim towards him as I pulled along my rescue charge. Simple actually, but by the time he was satisfied with my performance I was breathing a little hard from my efforts. Nonetheless, Pedro immediately gave gave the order to use our regulators and did the thumbs down signal for dive.

‘Oh man! Give me a break dude. I’m still huffing here!’

I didn’t say that but I sure thought it at him hard.

‘Oh well, I’m tough; I can do it.’

Is what I told myself as I released air from my BCD and headed towards the bottom with the rest of my dive mates. I needn’t have been concerned. Scuba diving, when done recreationally, is supposed to be done in an easygoing and therefore pleasurable fashion. In no time at all my breathing was slow and measured. I was back where I love to be the most.

‘I’m BA-ACK!’

That’s my thought bubble every time I find myself settling down to a point just a few feet from the bottom where I then seek to attain that perfect floating position called neutral buoyancy. THAT place is where a properly trained and experienced diver lives.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our date with the Sea

The next morning was sunny, paired with a bright blue tropical sky. I wouldn’t usually mention something so meteorologically common to these parts except that Jamie, the dive instructor assistant, commented that it had been weeks since anyone had even seen the sun above the usually brightly lit town of Sabang. Evidently, the weather had been overcast and hazy for quite some time. Why would that be something worthy to note? Well, cloudy skies mean murky water conditions. Being able to see well what’s “down there” is always a prime concern.

Feeling delightfully nervous, like the first day at school, which for me it more or less was, I headed out the door down the porch steps and to the left. It was 8:15 am. Self-conscious in my wetsuit I ambled the short distance from our room and up the semicircular red tile steps to the dive shack patio near the pool. Peter and Jamie, along with two other Big Apple master divers, were already going about their business in the dive shack area as I approached.

For a short time, a very short time, I went into observation mode choosing to hang back to watch the interactions between all these interesting fellows, some busily preparing to dive, with others just kind of hanging out and making small talk. Everyone was friendly, forthcoming and welcoming. I was immediately comfortable around them.

In short order I learned which of the guys the dive masters were, and which were hotel guests like me, except that they were alreadydive certified and there to go out on an adventure dive, as they call them. Soon I stopped studying everyone silently and took any opportunity I could to question everyone I came in conversational contact with. I am an inveterate interviewer. If I meet you, I can’t help myself, I begin to find out who you are, what you do, and what you know. Most people like talking about themselves, but sometimes they are wary of questioning asking folks like me. I’ve learned to identify the resistant ones and quickly back off.

Watching Jamie, a fellow retired Air Force guy, interact with his Dive Instructor mentor, Peter, I soon learned that folks didn’t normally call him Peter or Pete, but Pedro. That was cool. I liked that. I was thinking of telling everyone to call me Felipe to match his EspaƱol Pedro, but I thought that would be just a little too obnoxious, even for a wiseass like me.

Jamie had already told me a little bit about my two new classmates. I don’t remember their names already, but both were close friends from Houston, Texas. One fellow was a fireman crane operator, the other an electrician working as a contractor for the Americans in Afghanistan. Jamie mentioned that the fireman hadn’t been able to negotiate a boat egress into the water the day before; he just couldn’t quite come to grips with the uncomfortable feeling of throwing oneself straight backwards out of the boat into the water. Although, by the time I did a boat dive with him later that day he was good to go. Sometimes people just need some time to steel themselves, gird their loins, take a deep breath and go for it.

The electrician Houstonian was on a work break from Afghanistan. At first, when he said he had come here directly from there I assumed he was active duty military, but no, he said he was a contractor. With shaved head and robust build I then assumed he was involved with security, but eventually I learned he was building inside American compounds and NEVER left those compounds, always staying on the inside of the wire. Smart move that.

Pedro gave the three of us a short briefing on what he would have us do that morning on our first training dive of the day. We would walk straight into the water and once we were deep enough to submerge we’d head down and then out beyond the floating bars to the deeper water.

We all tanked up. With fins in hand we trooped single file down the lane passing by my room through the bar and restaurant. I was the last one of the group as I always was for the rest of my training. What’s up with that? I have no idea. I just liked lagging behind, I guess so I could see everything and everyone. Oh, and I’d always stop for a moment at our room to drop off my baseball cap; so maybe THAT was the primary reason, or perhaps just the mechanism I used to be last.

Water, sky and boats are what you see through the far opening as you walk down the central pathway toward the beach. It felt a bit like being part of a parade, with all of us in our wetsuits and dive gear, trooping along, almost like a military unit, on our way to our date with the sea.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Aussie Pete

Long before I actually met him I had heard “things” about Big Apple’s dive instructor Peter. The word was that he could be impatient, didn’t suffer fools and tended on the grumpy side. Just the same, by the time I finally got the chance to meet the infamous "Big Apple Pete" I was actually looking forward to the experience.

Peter’s “meanie” reputation was not off-putting for me at all. In fact, as I said, I was looking forward to it. After all, I had, during my 27 glorious years in the military, survived and thrived under the most menacing of instructor type meanies the Marines and Air Force could throw at me.

But, instead of even worrying about any of that stuff I decided I would do what I always do when in an important "school house" situation, I would defer completely to the instructor in a professional military way. It would be “yes sir” and “no sir.” I would do everything in my power to give my complete attention, to follow every order with all seriousness and enthusiasm.

When I first spoke to him though, I saw nothing of the supposed Peter meanness. He was polite and downright nice even. He wasn’t a meanie at all. No, not mean, but perhaps a little difficult to understand? From the moment I met him I found myself continuously questioning what he said. You see, he doesn't exactly speak English, he speaks "Aussie," a decidedly different way of verbal communication. Sometimes I’d ask him to repeat what he just said, or I’d repeat out loud what I THOUGHT he said and give him or one of the other students or assistant instructor the opportunity to correct me. Or I should say interpret for me. And yes, I'm only half serious; but belive me, there's a definite grain of truth to that serious half.

The first thing he had me do was to take the verification test. I had handed over my online completion certificate but I still needed to prove that I was the one who had actually taken the course. Truth be known, this test, which must be passed with at least a 75% correct score, had given me a case of the nerves for the day leading up to it. When Neil, the manager of Big Apple, had told me in an email only a few days before my arrival that I would have to take this test I began to worriedly review the course material. I did so right up until I went to sleep the night before we left.

I noticed immediately that the test was only 18 questions long. ‘Oh great, that means I can only miss 4 and still pass. (Gulp!)’

Setting right to work on the test, I successfully mowed the questions down like plastic bowling pins. I found them extremely easy UNTIL the final three, which were on dive planning math. Dive planning is all about how deep the dive, and how long at that depth the diver can stay without requiring decompression time before surfacing. PADI has come up with a Recreational Dive Planner (RDP), which is a chart consisting of three associated tables, and I must say it’s pretty ingenious. It doesn’t just allow planning for a single dive, but to safely plan for multiple dives.

I labored mightily over the three RDP multiple choice questions and ended up scratching out my initial answers for each before settling on entirely different choices. Even though I knew I already had enough correct to pass the test, I guess I just can’t help myself; I wanted to try to get them ALL right. And I did.

Paperwork completed and test requirements passed I reported back up to the poolside dive shack where Peter told me that he would immediately catch me up with his ongoing class consisting of two other basic students already two days into the course. That was just what I wanted to hear. I jogged back down to the room and suited up.

A few minutes later, attired in my diveskin and booties, I made a rolling bumping entrance back up the stairs to the dive shack area next to the pool pulling along my heavy wheeled equipment bag. The local Filipino fellows working there were surprised that a basic student would show up with all his own dive stuff. I found out later from my wife that they were even more surprised as I went through each of the tasks in the pool one after another without hesitation or trepidation. Basic students just aren’t able to do that usually. (Not that I was the run of the mill new guy basic student).

Later that night my wife related to me how the Filipino dive boys asked her who I was and why I did all the tasks so fearlessly and easily. Like she always does she told them I had been a US Marine. “Ohhh! THAT’S why!” was their response. “Those guys aren’t afraid of ANYTHING!” they told her.

I've found that Filipinos have an almost breathless respect for US Marines, referring to them as “matapang” or brave. And actually, they are probably mostly right. Being able to suppress fear and staying calm, focused and rational no matter what is a gift that I entirely attribute to my time in the Corps.

Regardless how or why I was able to do it, I finished all the task criteria that had taken the other fellows hours to get through in just over a half hour. I was almost disappointed when it was over. I really love the challenge of operating under and in the water, thus scuba diving is a natural fit for me.

While I rinsed the pool water chlorine out of my gear in the dive tubs, Peter let me know that I should report back to the pool area at 8:30 am the next morning. I would meet my classmates and continue my training with a dive out in the waters directly out from the resort. ‘Good stuff!’

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A trip of culmination begins

A trip of culmination, that's what we returned from just the day before yesterday. I say culmination since a primary accomplishment of this particular ten day foray is that I am now a certified diver with PADI.

It all actually began last January during a trip to Mindoro when I stopped by The Big Apple Dive Resort in the resort town of Sabang where I had the good fortune to meet Neil, a primary manager of the place. I told him that I’d been diving casually for several months as a trainee with an advanced diver buddy and after more than 40 training dives with him my appetite was whetted for official certification, perhaps through The Big Apple.

Neil told me that that would be no problem, that his people at The Big Apple could indeed help me get it done. In response to my request to purchase preparatory reading material until I could return for training he suggested I take the PADI online open water recreational dive course. In hindsight it was THE best advice he could have given me.
PADI’s online open water scuba diving course is worth every penny. A person with no absolutely no knowledge of scuba diving can take this course, which is completely self paced, and come out the other end with a very credible certificate of knowledge. Armed with this know-how all one needs is a few days of in-water time with a PADI instructor and student becomes diver.

The online part of the course is divided into six sections; each must be completed in sequence which means passing the corresponding quiz before proceeding to the section. A course taker is given one year to get through the material and passing the final test. I really don’t know how anyone could possibly take that long though. I went through the whole thing in about two weeks and I was taking my time.
I passed the final test with a perfect score, which is no big deal since it is open book.

Happily, I printed the completion certificate. I was glad to have it done. After that I looked forward to when I could make it back out to Sabang so I could start “the wet work.” Not quite two months later and dive mentor Don and I rolled off the RoRo (roll-on roll-off) ferry onto the Balatero Pier for the short ride through Puerto Galera before turning left up the scenic spine of the peninsula to the seaside town of Sabang.

Days before I had tried to make online reservations at Big Apple but it showed no vacancies up through the middle of April. The girl at the counter informed me that there had been cancellations. Yes! Staying right there at the place I’d be training was best so we snapped up a deluxe room halfway between the beach entrance and the pool. I couldn’t have been happier.

The Big Apple takes credit cards, which I really love. Oh, but only thing, they want cash only for the part of the PADI training part of the bill. I have no idea why, but it sucks. I hate carrying money in this country, or any country for that matter.

While the girls got situated in the room I went looking for the dive instructor. I soon met Peter, the guy now responsible for my training. He was surprised to see me, not expecting my arrival until the next day. I explained that we were able to catch the 8 am ferry from Batangas, one that we didn’t even know existed. Before, the only ferry to Balatero didn't leave until noon.

I was happy when he told me that he would go ahead and get me caught up with his current group of basic open water trainees. Yes! Things were moving right along.