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Diary of a Dive Novice


Charlotte Wilson

So the final morning of my Open Water training had arrived, wracked with nerves from yesterdays non- starter dive, it was safe to say I was not feeling overly confident about getting back in the water.

Still a miserable grey morning in June we headed off to Wraysbury (wraysbury.ws) once more to meet our Scuba Zone instructors (scuba-zone.co.uk) and our fellow trainees. The instructors had agreed that I could do the skills that I missed on the second dive yesterday during the third one, by going down slightly earlier than the rest of the group. Then, fingers crossed, I would be all up to speed. Sounded easy enough. But if I messed up the third dive like I had done the second one, time would

fast be running out and I would be going home soggy and unqualified and having to face the ribbing that the chamber guys would give me come Monday morning. This in itself managed to revive my motivation and I began the descent with a steely determination.

Back on the murky platform at a mere 6m, shivering and staring into the silt, I began playing catch up while my friends began their entry into the water above. To my own surprise, I whizzed through the skills I’d missed. Relieved and reassured I felt confident again and the enjoyment that I’d started to feel yesterday quickly came flooding back. That was until – mask clearing.

In the pool sessions the instructor had banged on about how difficult mask clearing was. ‘Really?’ I thought,

‘but it’s so easy’ - easy in the pool that was. I don’t know if it was the muddy lake water, which rendered you temporarily blind when it flooded the mask, which caused me so much panic, but for some reason the minute the water clouded my mask I had the irrational feeling that I could no longer breathe. No matter how much the sensible part of my brain was telling me ‘it’s just your eyes dumb ass!’ It took a good few attempts before I managed to half clear the water without thrashing about and acting like I was going to drown. The most insane part was that my mask had been flooding slightly throughout the entire dive and I had been nonchalantly clearing it every so often without so much as a twitch.

I was really struggling with the skill and the instructor was not satisfied that I could do it properly. Even kneeling in freezing cold water I could feel my eyes welling up in frustration at myself. Moving on from the unsuccessful mask clearing for the time being, the rest of the team joined us to complete the skills required for the third dive. Fin pivots and buoyancy techniques went by in a flash, all passed with flying colours and I secretly hoped that the instructor might have forgotten about the mask clearing fandango so we could all jolly on up to the surface and enjoy a soggy luncheon. But alas! No, he came back to me and signaled that I try again. This was it – now or never – if I had any chance of getting through dive number four later I had to man up and clear this flippin’ mask. In my head it was all very dramatic.

I’m sure chariots of fire was wailing somewhere in the background, everyone else, on the other hand, must have been thinking “get the hell on with it woman, it’s like 3 degrees and we’re in wetsuits!” So, for the team, and me, I steadied myself, took a few moments, let the cloudy water in and blew away. It was glorious, my nose blew the s**t out of that mask and I finally passed the skill. I even got a high five from the instructor which only added to the Hollywood-inspired elation I was feeling.

After that there was no stopping me, none of the anxiety issues of the previous day resurfaced to stop me from getting back in the water for dive number four. This was it, the final straight, and then I was no longer contractually obliged to plunge into a muddy lake again. This time, instead of splitting up the two groups, we all went down together as one big happy family. Group A would start their skills first and end with a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA) while we on the other hand would do the CESA as a penultimate skill and finish off with the mask removal and clearing. It somehow seemed apt that we would end on the evil mask clear, but little did I know that that would be the least of our worries...

The emergency ascents were going swimmingly, group A had already completed and were clambering out of the lake ready to celebrate their achievements. I nearly ran out of breath mid CESA but found a new vigour when I could see that the usually shy English sun had come out to say “hello” over the lake. Inflating my BCD manually

at the surface however was akin to blowing ice cream through a straw. Thankfully we were heading straight back down for the grand finale.

Waiting on the platform for my buddy (and other half) to return from his CESA we started to worry what the hold up was. Soon the DM floated gracefully down, made

some complicated hand gestures and floated off again. What? Can anyone speak scuba? Apparently not, the three of us left just stared bewilderedly at each other.

No further explanation was given and we were instructed to remove the mask, replace it and, yep you guessed it, clear it. So concerned was I as to the whereabouts of my buddy-boyfriend that I barely noticed the efficiency with which I completed my last skill, more high fives

all round and then we were allowed to swim back to

the exit underwater and take in the, er, ‘picturesque’ underwater sights of Wraysbury... This was our first taste of real diving, exploring the unknown underwater world...apparently someone saw a fish but all I got was a collection of willowy weeds swaying eerily in the gloom.

Anyway all of the excitement and sense of achievement at getting through it (which at one point looked a little bleak for me) was somewhat marred by the fact that

my buddy didn’t complete his final skill. Upon trying to descend after the controlled emergency ascent he got a severe searing pain in one of his teeth which stopped him from going any further, the squeeze was so painful that the instructor feared that the tooth would explode if we pushed it any further. Unable to complete the mask removal and clearing at depth we had one unqualified team member. So cruel is the irony that where I had struggled over the weekend, he had found everything so unnecessarily easy. I felt really disappointed for him but then - oh well, better him than me hey, I’m qualified!

To find out how I fared in my first diving trip abroad, and to see if I braved doing my Advanced Open Water, make sure you pick up the next copy of Tanked Up available this summer.

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