All Knotted Up.

Classic Square Knot. An oldie and a goodie, easy to tie, best used for securing two lines together.

Last night I took part in a  knot tying class that was being offered by Eco Dive Center.

The class was taught by a retired Navy Admiral from the US Coast Guard school.

Our fearless instructor, whose name I didn't catch. 😦

While I knew most of the knots he covered, the gentleman himself made the class entertaining and fun. He started off by reviewing parts of a line, such as the dead end, or the end that is tied off to something, the bitter end…a loose untied end (think how bitter it would be if you toss your anchor over the edge and didn’t secure the “bitter end”!). If you put a loop in the middle of a line, thats known as a bight or bite in the line. From there, in his casual and often “old man” meandering fashion we moved into tying several different knots. I wouldn’t say it was really an “advanced” knot tying class, he reviewed mostly the basic knots that are useful in any ocean related activity, such as diving, sailing, etc.

We started with simple overhand knots, then expounded that into the figure 8 knot, one I was familiar with from rock climbing. Both those knots are useful as quick and simple ways to tie a looped end that can be secured around anything. You can also use a longer line with several looped “bites” to create a quick makeshift ladder out of a single line.

A figure 8 knot tied into the bight of the line. I learned that the "bight" is the looped end.

Moving on from there he went into more knots such as the square knot, one that I’ve used many times, though often I just think of it as the “over – under” knot since its quickly tied correctly by remembering that you place the right end over the left, then the left over the right. Otherwise you can end up with a granny knot that will start to slip once tension is applied. We reviewed the sheet bend, another knot primarily used for tying two lines together. Its stronger than the square knot, and you can modify it by adding in additional loops which adds even more strength.

When it came to the bowline, the real fun began. This is a knot that is often used in diving for rigging lift bags, or tying off to different objects. Our instructor attempted to teach us a way to tie this knot one handed, which is quite complicated, and led to much amusement as everyone worked at it.

Triple Sheet Bend. A modification upon a regular sheet bend, the additional loops add strength to the knot

He also wowed everyone by swinging the rope around a few times then pulling it taught revealing a perfect bowline, then garnered laughter by teaching us the very difficult knot, a “Dragon Bowline” (or so I thought he said). Turns out it’s a play on words as he set his bowline on the ground and pulled it along…get it? A dragging bowline!

The night ended with adrenaline rushing as we all competed to be the first to tie which ever knot he called out to the group. I’ll admit I held my own, coming in first on several knots and earning myself a nice Eco Dive ball cap (which is good, because I didn’t have one yet!).

Hello OWSI!

I did it! Last weekend I went up to Monterey and kicked butt at the PADI Instructor Examination. Shane and I both passed spectacularily and are now officially (well officially once we get the email from PADI in about a week) OWSI! (Open Water Scuba Instructor). Pretty soon I’ll be able to spread my knowledge and love of the underwater world with all the new folks looking to get certified! I’m very excited and extremely happy. I’ll have a full write up of the weekend and the tests once I have some time, but just wanted to get the word out! Hooray!

A day as the Dive Master

Last weekend I drove down to the Sand Dollar dive boat with much anticipation. I wasn’t heading out to dive as usual, but for my first true training day as Dive Master. I was shadowing the awesome Kendra, who tends to be the usual DM aboard the Sand Dollar and is fantastic at keeping people safe and smiling. The destination that weekend was Santa Barbara Island, known for several sea lion rookeries where the animals are abundant and friendly, allowing divers get up close and personal. I’d not yet had the chance to get out on this trip but had been looking forward to it. If things went well I would even be able to duck under the water for a few minutes.

I definitely wasn’t the only one excited for the weekend, the boat was over sold with 31 divers, plus Kendra and I, making 33 on a 30 diver boat. We had assigned bunks, something different than usual on this boat, and one couple assigned to a single bunk that just was not going to work. The scheduled check in time was 9:00pm, so I arrived just before 8:30p. Kendra was not there yet, but the bag area was full, tanks were laden with gear and people were milling around. Luckily I had the shop waivers with me and the boat waivers were already on the table. I greeted several of the people on the boat, then laid out the waivers and started organizing the boat ones that some folks had already signed. The line started forming as everyone came up to sign waivers and get checked in. As I was giving out bunk assignments we had a little chaos because some of the earlier people had put their stuff on bunks since its typically first come first served so we had to wait for them to get back so we could shuffle gear around the bunks. I had half the people checked on before the official 9:00p. Tank space became an issue as we were already full, then had a couple with twin tanks which meant they each took up two spots. Kendra and I put our gear on the floor and were able to get two others to as well. Around 10:00pm I gave my first ever boat briefing; reviewing the rules of the Sand Dollar, where the head is located, how food worked the next day, safety, etc. I was nervous as hell, and stumbed over a few points, but everyone was listening and Kendra  backed me up when I missed something. After that I sat and chatted with various divers while Kendra and I filled in the roster slate. Then I brushed my teeth and was in bed around 12:45a just a few minutes after we started under way.

Sunday morning broke grey and cloudy, another typical California day. We could hear the sea lions barking just on shore and splashing through the water. Luckily it was not an overly anxious crowd and people woke up slowly, eating breakfast before jumping in. This gave Kendra and I some time to go over a few things, and start to suit up. I assisted one diver with a bad tank o-ring, answered as many questions as I could about a site I’d never been to before and then gave a quick safety briefing regarding proper boat exit and entry techniques, gear safety, flow, etc. I ducked and weaved through the divers to the stern and started helping Kendra get everyone into the water. We had the usual surface ballet as people discovered weight issues (these usually occur when people are used to diving in warmer water). One pair stands out, they swam back to boat to request more weight. I gave the guy four pounds, then he tried to descend again; coming back again we asked how much weight he was wearing. His answer, “um…with what you gave me I have 12” Yikes! I quickly grabbed two 5 pounders, giving him 22 total and he was on his way. We had one pair discover she had no weight in after jumping in the water. Her husband was surprised because he filled her weight pockets the night before. We discovered later that she and her son had the same BCD, and dad filled the son’s BC not the wifes. So she was trying to get down with zero weight and the son had close to 40 pounds on. Luckily it didn’t glue him to the bottom and they sorted it all out during the surface interval.

We had a couple divers not used to the colder water and hoping to have a guide for the first dive. This is where I got lucky. Kendra asked if I would take them on a guided dive, of course I said yes! They waited for us to get everyone else in, then as the last few divers were jumping in we geared up and were on our way. Let me tell you, sea lions and little kelp or rocks sure make a dive disorienting. I had to check our location a couple times on the surface a and each time ended up different from where I thought we were. We ran into a small group of sea lions frolicking, as well as several individuals who would zoom by to check you out a few times. Their speed and swirling grace through the water definitely made me, clad in my 7mm wetsuit, scuba gear, hood, gloves and fins, feel big, slow and bulky! Focusing mostly on keeping the group together I only tried to snap a few pictures, and learned just how quick the sea lions were as half my pics are just the flippers in frame!

Once everyone was safely back on board we went through roll call and pulled anchor to head to a new location. We anchored off the twin sisters, two rock outcroppings that pop out of the water off the main island. Capt. George warned that there could be a bit of a current around the sisters and to be careful. I checked divers off with Kendra and we took notice as the first pair to enter the water started slowly drifting towards the rocks. It wasn’t too long after all the divers were out exploring that two tiny black dots popped up between the sisters one arm slowly waving in the air. We waved back to acknowledge that we saw them. The choices were to get in and snorkel out to them, or send the boat out to pick them up. Both divers looked calm and had not panicked so we choose to send out the boat deciding that the current must have been stronger than anticipated and they were merely tired. This became the trend of dive #2, the boat would swing out to pick someone up, and by the time it was back someone else was waving as they drifted away. Gear was left in the boat between pick ups to help speed things along and only several divers made it back to the platform under their own power. It was a hectic and interesting dive, and a great learning experience to see how smoothly Kendra and the boat crew handled what could have been a stressful situation.

The gear was left in the skiff as we moved locations for the final dive.  We were at another rookery with a large open and calm dive area. There were sea lions all over, bouncing out of the water and barking from the rocks. There was a bit of a scramble to get all the tanks from the skiff off and filled, but everyone got in pretty quickly. Kendra was able to head out for a quick dive while I kept watch from the boat for the first few people to come back. I helped pull up cameras and fins, checked names and wrote down exit times from the roster as each diver clambered up the ladder. Kendra popped up right by the boat exactly at her 20 minute mark and helped me as more divers popped up. Sadly she didn’t run into a single sea lion, while from the stern I’d watched several dance around the boat! The flow slowed a bit and she told me to jump in and snorkel around to see if I could see any action. I wandered near the kelp and swam around with no luck. As I swam back to the boat though one curious little sea lion swam up and around and I was able to capture a little video as he curiously came up and darted away.

After all the divers were out and roll call was taken the crew pulled anchor and we headed back towards home. I was exhausted from the busy day, and started to fade about half way back (next time, more caffeine!). Kendra told me to go get some sleep and that she’d get me up before we got back so I could help get things organized and do the final announcements. I was out right after crawling into my bunk and got a short nap. As the boat pulled into the harbor I gave the group the final annoucements, thanking them for joining us, upcoming eco events, rental reminders, etc then joined Kendra in saying good bye as people filed off. All that was left was a quick check to gather anything that had been left. We had two pair of guys underwear, a mesh bag and a brand new looking regulator bag (that luckily the diver had labeled, so I dropped it off at the shop for him the next day). Kendra was amazing and split her tips with me since I had spent the whole day working with her. I walked away with a good chunk of change, exhausted after an amazing and eventful day of divemaster training!

Pool Session

I’m working to finish off my Dive Master certification by the end of June. After getting back from Hawaii, I jumped into the pool on Saturday to assist with Jessica’s second weekend Open Water class. The class went really smoothly and I mainly was in charge of crowd control, keeping the students in line and together (they tend to drift across the pool if you don’t keep tabs on them). I helped Jessica demonstrate mask removal and swimming with no mask, one of the skills the students had to perform. Lou was there with a new toy, the BladeFish which is a new fancy DPV that is compact (really it looks just like my house fan, only without the base!). It was fun to watch him scooting around in the water, but with the noises echoing off the pool walls that thing was LOUD!

Lawrence was also there helping Lou make a video of the new toy, and he put together a little video of the various instructors working with students. Take a look and get an idea of what the SCUBA pool sessions are all about!

Stamina and Skills Test

Okay, wow. I have been so busy these last few weeks that I have a small and slowly building list of blog posts to get through! While its not the end of the world, my stats page shows that a few people out there have been checking, sadly in vain, over these few weeks for new posts. Well, now the problem will be rectified! I have a slow day at work, and managed to put down my book to get some writing done! Here goes:

April 10th & 11th: Saturday marked another important day in my Divemaster Training. It was Stamina and Skills day where we had to prove that yes we can swim pretty well and that we know and can demonstrate the 20 basic Scuba skills. Each stamina effort and skill demonstration is graded based on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best.

Here’s the Good/Bad list for each:

Stamina:

  • It was a good day for having generally good fitness. I breezed through the 15 minute tread earning a 5 with my hands out  of the water for the last 2 minutes.
  • It was a good day for a swimming background. Even though I had been in the pool 1 time since my November race I knew that I’d be able to reasonable complete the 400yd swim and 800yd snorkel.
  • It was a good day for jumping into DM right after Rescue. All my rescue skills were still fresh in my mind and I did well on the Rescue scenario test. Only problem was when I realized that Shane was not wearing a thick wetsuit, but merely a 2/3mm skin which didn’t give him alot of buoyancy. But I got through it without “killing” him.
  • It was a bad day for not having been in the pool for about 4 months. The times for different grades were much steeper than I had anticipated, with a 5 requiring a 6 minute 400 yd swim. Thats faster than my best time, so I settled for aiming for a 4 (max 8 minutes) which I knew being out of shape would be difficult. I managed to hit the wall just in time earning a 4.
  • It was a bad day for crappy fins. I got a 4 on the snorkel swim as well, but damn was it an effort. I have some pretty old, fairly crappy fins that barely make the “good enough to dive with” limit in my mind. They sure didn’t help me any on the snorkel swim but I got through it.
  • It was a bad day for crappy fins. Wait have I said that already? Well again, poor fins meant that trying to do a 100yd tired diver tow is quite an exhausting effort. Pulling classmate Shane I pretty much felt like I wasn’t even wearing fins. Got a 3..but at this point it was fine, I’d already made the passing grade.

Overall I was happy with the stamina efforts, and how I performed. It did make me realize that its time to get back in the pool though. I’m planning on completing a 4.8 mile ocean swim this October, so I better get back some of that fitness! After the morning Stamina tests I stuck around and got a confined water intern spot checked off by helping Ron with his IDC (instructor devolopment course) student. I got to play student while they worked on demonstrating and teaching the skills required in Open Water certifications to us. Ron gave us things to make sure we did wrong in hopes that the IDC guys would catch and correct our mistakes as any good teacher should.

That afternoon I headed to a different pool for the skills circuit. Again, it was over all successful with some ups and downs throughout.

  • It was a good day for having practiced some of my skills and interned with an Open water class the weekend before. My personal review and the chance at getting to really demonstrate skills for others helped me be prepared to demonstrate the skills for our instructor Beth.
  • It was a good day for ANKLE WEIGHTS. I realized last weekend that my feet are slightly positively buoyant and start to float off the bottom of the pool while trying to do some skills like the fin pivot. So I bought a pair of ankle weights to keep those feet down and they worked like a charm. Not only that, but they worked well for half the class too when I passed them around to others having some difficulty with buoyant feet.
  • It was a bad day for my low pressure inflator hose. One of the skills is being able to disconnect the low pressure inflator underwater in the event that your BCD starts to free fill and you have to stop the air flowing into it. Well, my hose is pretty much brand new, and quite stiff, so I could not get it undone. It wasn’t until Beth swam over and showed me a neat trick (also easily disconnecting the hose in seconds making me feel silly) that I was able to do it. That trick? Push the hose in towards the connector then pull back the quick release and it should pop right off! Amazing.
  • It was a bad day for… well there really wasn’t any other bad stuff. I successfully compleeted all the skills, and only had a few minor issues with some (forgetting one critical attribute on a few, but learning and overall doing well.) I finished off the day feeling pretty good.

Do you know how to respond?

The craze of training has begun.

For the next few months my brain is going to be overloaded with all things SCUBA.

Tonight was the first step towards Rescue Diver with the Emergency First Response/CPR certification class. The class covers all your basics on responding to an emergency and teaches the skills required for taking action.

As is typical with these types of classes, the first part of the evening involved watching a film probably made in the early 90’s (judging by the brick of a cell phone one “rescuer” pulled from her pocket). The film helps to ingrain all the skills we had read about in the manual and is able to give us the idea of what responding is really like. Of course the fact that every rescuer, whether driving their car or out for an afternoon jog had latex gloves in their pocket seemed a bit unlikely, but barrier protection is an important aspect of keeping yourself safe while helping others, so I get why everyone miraculously had gloves. A bit corny, but the video definitely wasn’t the worst instructional film I’ve ever seen.

After the video it was a bit of review then right into the Final Exam. I only missed 2 on each part of the exam, both of which were questions with multiple answers to check off and I missed one small part of a whole question (for examples, headaches are a sign of shock or poisoning is not an injury but an illness). Overall I felt pretty good with the material, mostly because it’s pretty simple stuff and the book and video are very repetitive to cement the facts and steps in your head.

Instructor Jessica demonstrates CPR - Checking for breathing by looking, listening and feeling for breath.

The final portion of the class was the practical scenarios. We practiced the log roll – turning an unresponsive victim while being wary of and supporting their head in case of a spinal injury. I was paired up with a guy larger than myself, so this was tougher than it looked, but I rolled him over successfully! Next, the CPR dummies were pulled out, and after watching Jessica demonstrate, we paired up and started trying to resuscitate our dummies. 2 breaths followed by 30 chest compressions, at 100 compressions per minute seems somewhat daunting, but a nice little tip offered by Jessica was helpful for keeping compressions at a good speed. Ironically, the song “Stayin’ Alive” is at a pace of 100 beats per minute, so if you sing that (better safe to sing in your head) while giving compressions you’ll stay on track!

Instructor Jessica demonstrates the back thrust method of choking aid.

After CPR, was choking and I was amazed at even without any force behind the movements you could definitely feel the pressure on your lungs trying to force air up and out during the Heimlich abdominal thrust maneuver. Here’s a tip I learned tonight. If you’re ever alone and start to choke, you can perform an abdominal thrust on yourself by leaning over a chair or counter and ramming it into the area a rescuer would apply the thrust.

Acting out the scenarios definitely felt funny with no sense of urgency or rush to work to save someone’s life. We were laughing at parts, and may have felt odd yelling out into the empty SCUBA shop, but I know that practicing these skills is what helps us to remember, and that if I’m ever in an emergency situation I will be able to stop, think and act.