The fun they had at TEKCamp

An awesome week of meeting the best UK technical divers and learning from them

Diving in The Red Sea

Warm water, clear visibility makes for a great holiday!

Malinbeg Harbour

Often, the simplest local dives are the best.

TekCamp – The Aftermath...

I appreciate that TekCamp is well and truly over, but I felt one final instalment was required, an epilogue so to speak; hence this post.

If you have read my previous reports on TekCamp you should have a pretty good understanding of what was involved and the format of the week. However I thought I would conclude the series with a summary of what I personally got from my speed dating with 10 of the top scuba instructors at Vobster Quay July 2011.




FUN

Ultimately, I bloody enjoyed myself. In my pre-scuba years a fun day out usually revolved around 12 pints, 20 Regal Filter and a Kebab. Since I discovered the joys of scuba diving most of that has been binned, in favour of healthy living and an active lifestyle; well … kind of.

I don’t smoke anymore at least.


The atmosphere at TekCamp was brilliant; we didn’t stop laughing all week. It was fun to dive with the instructors and attendees as well as my regular Wifebuddy; everyone involved kept the whole thing light hearted. There were some quality moments too – like trying to get into a pub with Paul Toomer and Howard Payne.



NEW FRIENDS

As i am sure you can imagine I have lots of friends and have become tremendously popular as I grew older, I think I even have a facebook group: “Andy is Awesome.”

Perhaps.

Back in reality, the diving community at my home planet is pretty small, and as a result I don’t have many scuba mates. TekCamp brought a collective of obsessed divers together in one place, and with so much in common it was inevitable new friendships would be made.

I definitely left with a few new friends; attendees and instructors alike. It has been very amusing to watch the facebook and twitter updates as everyone “connected” upon returning home.

Living in Northern Ireland can feel quite isolated, but TekCamp has made us both feel part of the international diving community, more so within the smaller tech diving circle.

We just want to be loved…



NEW SKILLS

Obviously the main goal of TekCamp was to improve diving skills. My diving has certainly changed, and it has only been since I got back to my regular dives that it became truly apparent.

I was attempting some of my atrocious photography on my last dive and found myself back kicking instinctively away from my subject to get a better shot. The photo was balls as usual, but the back kick was phenomenal!



On a boat dive I turned to signal Kerri it was time to ascend, just in time to witness her rigging and deploying her smb within 60 seconds. Previously we would have had our blobs pre-rigged and buoyancy would have been amusing if nothing else, as we struggled to shoot them from depth.

TekCamp taught us real skills of real use during real dives.



CLUB

Kerri and I dive alone pretty much all of the time. We are not part of regular dive club, and don’t intend to join one, as per Scuba Diver Beaten with Club.

However, as a result of our new found TekCamp friends we have finally found members for The Great Big Scuba Club (TGBSC). For those of you who are unaware of The Great Big Scuba Club it is basically a club I have conceived in my tiny brain of ‘agency free’ divers.

All is explained in ‘Burn Your Certification Cards.’


A month post-TekCamp it has transpired that Kerri is the Diving Officer of TGBSC and is intent on arranging all the scuba trips from now until the end of time. So far Scapa Flow has been booked for 2013 consisting of only TekCamp attendees and even one of the instructors. How cool is that?

Other trips are provisionally arranged, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Watch this space.



TRAINING

Previously when it came to dive training I googled it, picked a school at random and did the course. This was an acceptable system, but I never knew what instructor or agency I would be getting. As a result of TekCamp I have a clear understanding of how different instructors operate and associated agencies.



The agency thing doesn’t really feature to be honest, but actually meeting instructors face to face prior to handing over cash is invaluable. I know how certain instructors teach, and just as importantly, how I get on with them on a personal level.

Since returning home Kerri and I have booked 2 courses with different instructors and subsequently differing agencies. I would never have thought this was an option, but it is possible to train at the next level using a certification from another agency.



CONFIDENCE

I am qualified for decompression diving to a max depth of 45m. That said, when it actually comes to planning those dives I become a little anxious. I have the training, I am a cautious divers, I don’t take risks; but previously I felt I needed some extra experience or training before taking on the added risks associated with the virtual ceiling.

TekCamp gave me the skills and confidence I need to do the diving I want to do.


It can be difficult to gauge your ability when you don’t dive regularly with other divers. Kerri and I don’t dive with other divers; we only have each other as a benchmark. That system doesn’t really work very well, so it was excellent to receive feedback from the instructors at TekCamp – both positive and negative.





We are now awesome – Paul Toomer says so!



TEKCAMP 2012

TekCamp 2012 has been confirmed and I highly recommend any prospective tech diver, or anyone even considering tech diving, to attend. Just go, you won’t regret it. It is a fantastic resource, and UK divers are lucky to have it at their back door.

Yes, that is Wifebuddy and I Are Diver...


Book your tickets now and I’ll see you at the campsite for ‘The Breakfast Club.’


Bring beer.

TekCamp Part #5 – Wacky Races and a dodgy starter

Day 5

Awaking on the final day of TekCamp was a bit depressing. I figured by the 5th day I would be done with scuba diving and be ready for home, but that really wasn’t the case; I loved it and didn’t want to leave.




Only Trudy joined us for ‘The Breakfast Club,’ which was ironic as she was the only one that actually had anything to eat. By this stage our milk was sour which removed cereal from the equation; so we settled for bacon baps later at Vobster.

Trudy was in rather a good mood.

30 minutes previous there had been a rumour around TekCamp that the golden ticket for the VR diving computer hadn’t been claimed – it was still inside one of the goodie bags we received at the beginning of the week.



No one knew that was where it was hidden. No one had checked.

Immediately we all began rummaging through our bags, tearing pages from the free dive magazines, basically pulling everything apart in search of the elusive ticket.



Trudy found it. It had been lying in her tent all week. I hate her.



Due to Frieda’s minor breakdown the previous evening, Kerri and I had turned motor homing into an extreme sport, as we had absolutely no idea if the van would start. Thankfully, Finn the safety diver had taken an auxiliary role of breakdown recovery. He drove the only other heavy vehicle at the camp so I was relying on his LDV to tow us out of the field if we couldn’t get going.

As Trudy sat in the back, munching a random cereal that looked like rabbit poo, I twisted the ignition key …

It’s alive!” I cried, over the drone of the engine. We all celebrated, Finn lumbered his LDV out of the camp site and we followed close behind; minus Trudy of course, she took her own car – travelling in the back of Frieda at speed is not recommended.



We arrived at Vobster to a sombre mood; it was clear everyone was a bit sad the week was coming to a close. However, we focused on the festivities and diving that lay ahead and got some teas in, as Kerri went in search of an iphone charger. Iphones are so crap.


5 mins later as I was enjoying my brew, Kerri bounded over,

I’ve seen the whiteboard – we're diving with Paul Toomer again!


This was excellent news.


I spied Paul and dutifully explained we would be ruining his day. He laughed and agreed it was a brilliant finale to the weeks diving.

Martin gave his daily briefing and the camp gravitated towards their scuba instructor for the morning. Kerri and I got our kit and joined Paul by the quarry for our last ever dive at TekCamp. Roz, the PR person and accomplished technical diver, would be coming along for the ride.



We had been working really hard all week, as had the instructors, and the tiredness was definitely taking its toll; I wasn’t totally convinced I could digest any more training.


Paul: “What do you want to do today guys?

Kerri: “Let’s just go for a dive.

Paul: “That’s a fucking brilliant idea.



So we planned the dive and dived the plan; and the plan was ‘go diving.’

It was a fucking brilliant idea.


We descended slowly into the deteriorating visibility that was Vobster, and followed Paul on our exploration of the quarry. None of us knew the layout of the site particularly well, so Paul randomly finned around various sunken things to a depth of about 26m until it became ridiculously chilly.

When the temperature bottomed out at 6C the man from Del Malta obviously decided we needed to head back to the shallows, which was great, as my nuts were receding at an alarming rate.

We had discussed the tunnel, but armed only with a Chinese torch from ebay as a primary light between 4 divers; we thought better of it and remained in open water.

Upon reaching a bit of plane wreckage Paul signalled we should frog kick into the fuselage, helicopter turn, and back kick out the other side. This was great. I hadn’t had a chance to actually use any of my new skills in anger, and this was as good a test as any.


‘Lead the way Tall Poomer!’


As instructed I frog kicked into the wreck, stopped, conducted a stunning helicopter turn and back kicked out. It was text book. Kerri followed and repeated the process, again to a very high standard.

Just as Wifebuddy was backing out of the wreck I heard a deep bellow;

A  HA  HA    HA    HA    HA!

Dear God. You could actually hear the big South African laughing underwater. He was obviously tickled by our improved performance throughout the week.


After an hour we found our way back to shore and headed for lunch.


It was my 100th dive. What a way to do it.





I subsequently learned that it was to my advantage, and even personal safety, that my 100th dive had been kept quiet. I was unaware of the ‘unwritten rule’ requiring said scuba dive to be conducted naked. I have a feeling if Jim Dowling had of known at the time it may have happened…



After lunch we attended our first talk of the day; Gareth Lock presenting Human Factors in Diver Safety. Gareth is an accomplished technical diver and published underwater photographer who has a desire to improve diver safety by challenging current practices; bringing his knowledge and experience from military and commercial aviation to the world of sport scuba diving.


His talk focused on how incidents develop, and, in the main, they have human error at their root cause. His case study was quite frightening and, like Howard Payne’s talk earlier in the week, was something every diver could associate with.

*Visit DISRC for more info or to contact Gareth for any relevant information.*



During the break we annoyed Paul Toomer a little further and got our log books signed. This led to Paul having a flick though Kerri’s log book and noticing our PADI instructors comment on her open water dives:


'Kerri – amazing diver should be staff,' as opposed to my log book from the same dive: 'It wasn't cold – you need to eat more pies you skinny git.'


This proceeded to Paul creating his own little game for the day; “Kerri is a better diver than Andy.”



The game began when Kerri feigned disappointment regarding the lack of “certification” at the close of TekCamp. To alleviate this Paul produced one of his business cards and certified her “Better Than Andy Diver” by scrawling it around the edge.

Kerri being presented her certification

'Better Than Andy Diver' cert card


Funny guy.


However, as with all good games, it wasn’t over.


Kerri bought Mark Powell’s “Deco For Divers” book and wanted it signed. Paul saw this as a wonderful opportunity, and got it signed with a special message just for her.






He also attempted to nab Kevin Gurr and get him to apply the same courtesy. Thankfully Kevin is a gentleman, well; I mean Paul didn’t get to him in time.


As if that indignity wasn’t enough, Kerri’s log book also contained a clear description of her diving across the week, through the eyes of Mr Toomer.


The game was finally over.


As I wandered around the camp nursing my new diving complex I noticed Rich Walker and John Kendall semi naked by the quarry side. I pondered what GUE madness it could have been.



It turned out they were taking part in a swimming race.

Martin Stanton had offered a 400m wreck reel as the grand prize to the first instructor to reach the rhib on the far side of Vobster.


Paul Toomer was next to join the competitors losing his t-shirt, shoes and stepping up to the drink. Martin Robson appeared shortly sporting a fancy shortie he had stolen from the Vosbter shop in a vain attempt to protect himself from the frigid water temperature.




As I laughed along with the rest of TekCamp I noticed Phil Short was standing beside me, tucking into a bap full of lots of fried things. I asked him;


You not having a go mate?


His reply took me a little by surprise;


Do you think i’m mad? – it’s bloody freezing in there!


I refrained from relaying some of his own caving diving stories back to him, confirming that I did indeed think he was mad. Bemused we continued to watch the spectacle unfurl.


Just as the race was about to commence, Howard Payne appeared.



He was fully kitted in drysuit, backplate, mask, fins and a battery operated scooter! The race started abruptly as he jumped in barking;


You’ll never take me alive!


Immediately the 4 other competitors dived in.


  • John Kendall lost his googles and shorts almost immediately. He was out.
  • Martin Robson attacked Paul Toomer. He was out.
  • Paul jumped onto the back of Howard and his scooter. That was the 2 of them out.
  • Rich Walker was powering ahead.
  • Martin Robson closed in behind…





Martin Robson snatched the title from Rich Walker by a hair, reaching the rhib first and celebrated with his new reel.

It was a fix i tell ya!

Howard Payne remarkably finished last and was forced to wear a pee-valve on his head as consolation. It seemed fitting.


The whole event was extremely funny and fair play to the instructors that took part!



As the instructors dried off and coaxed their man tackle back out, I wandered into the tent where Kevin Gurr led the next talk discussing some of the myths surrounding closed circuit rebreather diving; Rebreather Fact, Fiction and Voodoo (and other adventures).


(c) BARDO creative
A pioneer in rebreather design and development, Kevin's presentation considered many of the fears, concerns and misconceptions that some divers have regarding rebreathers.




 As an open circuit diver I found it very interesting as my knowledge of rebreathers is minimal. Kevin was a very engaging speaker and I would strongly recommend attending one of his talks if you get the chance.


After Kevin was done, Martin took the floor and all attention was sharply focused on him as he announced the competition winners. A raffle bucket was presented and, one by one, names were drawn and allocated a prize.


It was surprisingly tense!


It was soon apparent I was at the winning table.

  • Richard won the first prize for best blogger of the week; a set of Apeks regs. A well earned prize as he dutifully updated his blog every day; unlike me – I was much too lazy. Fair play mate.
  • Tara was next; she picked up the Halcyon Stage reg set. I hate her.
  • Trudy was presented her VR computer by Kevin himself. I already hated her.
  • Finn the safety diver and breakdown recovery man won the Halo 3D. Dam him to hell.
  • Linda picked up the signed Wookey Hole book, which having heard Duncans talk I would really like to read.
  • Our pleasant camping neighbour John won dive rite vouchers. He was much too nice a guy to hate.
  • Safety diver Adrian Smith won the second of the VR computers. This was more amusing as he was sporting his GUE shirt. I would have taken it off his hands to keep him in the good graces of the dark side.
  • Gemma was awarded a BSAC book and wetnotes. Always useful.
  • Even Kerri won a prize. A very large O’Neill coat. We both wear it… together. It’s huge. We hate it.
(c) BARDO creative


With the prizes all gone, the last BBQ was demolished and diver by diver TekCamp dwindled down to the hardcore few. Many hugs and handshakes followed, Frieda started, third time, and we headed back to the camp site.


The last night was really good fun. We parked the big camper for the night beside the remaining tents, the occupants that remained produced chairs, candles, a table, nibbles and booze! We shared diving stories, experiences, reflected on the week and drank quite a few beers.



It was a brilliant conclusion to a phenomenal week.


The morning came too soon and by 7.30am ‘The Breakfast Club’ assembled for a final briefing. Trudy, Tara, Richard, Kerri and I sat around the table enjoying cereals before attempting the arduous journey home.

More hugs and handshakes preceded a tear filled departure as we finally hit the road.

The TekCamp family

(L-R) Linda, Tara, Trudy, Me, Kerri, Richard

TekCamp was over.


The 389 mile journey to the ferry terminal was littered with extreme motor homing. When we had to stop for fuel, Frieda wouldn’t start. When we finally got her going again, with only 11 miles to the port, we got a blow out. That was an experience in itself as I couldn’t risk turning the ignition off for fear of her not starting again.

Lying under a 3.5tonne van with the engine running is not recommended.




Once we reached the terminal the ferry was delayed, which meant we had to turn Frieda off again. Thankfully she did start eventually; we boarded the ferry hassle free, and spent the 3 hour crossing panicking as to whether she would start once we got to Belfast.

Arrival at Belfast was later than scheduled, we boarded Frieda and for the only time all week she started first go! Thank fuck.

16 hours after leaving TekCamp we finally arrived home, absolutely shattered.



TekCamp was most definitely over.



I Are Sad.

TekCamp - The Aftermath

TekCamp Part #4 – Did you hear the one about the Englishman, The Irishman and the South African?

Day 4

The fourth day of TekCamp began with the standard routine. ‘The Breakfast Club’ gathered, discussed the plan for the day, then ventured down to Vobster for the mornings debrief and a day’s diving.

Over cups of tea the brief unfolded and we duly awaited our instructor for the day.

The names were rattled off and Martin declared; “By popular demand Rich Walker has ‘The Clarkesand Tara.



An undecipherable source sharply stated; “That’s because no one else would take them.


Charming.


In theory each day would bring a lesson from a different instructor, yet Tara, Kerri and I were standing, yet again, with Rich Walker; a clerical error perhaps?


Not exactly.


At the close of day 3 Kerri and I had decided TekCamp had been arranged solely for us, and it was critical to the event success that we were kept as happy as possible.

One of the things we hoped to get out of TekCamp was an improvement on our buoyancy and trim, Kerri’s trim in particular, which she had become quite obsessed with. Throughout day 3 we had been torturing Rich to help, but it was clear there just wasn’t enough time.

Not a reflection of our ability you understand, simply a time constraint… ahem. 


As a result we decided to keep him. 










We nabbed Martin and asked him if it was possible to stay with Rich for an additional day and forgo the rebreather or scooter try dives. It was a totally selfish and unreasonable request, but even still he managed to shuffle things around without upsetting anyone, excluding Rich perhaps, and gave us exactly what we wanted.

So, we binned the rebreathers and agreed to make Rich spend the entire next day working on our trim and buoyancy. Kerri explained what she wanted to achieve and Rich said he’d work out a plan. Tara wanted to improve her back kick, and I needed stage handling help.

We owned him, and he knew it…



Flash forward to day 4.



By the time we got our kit together Rich had his whiteboard set up with a huge list of the skills we would be undertaking.



I made a joke; “You know Kerri thinks you’ve been up all night calculating her trim problem!

Rich nodded thoughtfully, “I have been thinking about it.



Oh Jesus.



Rich really had been thinking hard about how we performed in the water and was convinced he knew what Kerri’s problem was. He explained what he would be doing with Kerri in water and how he was going to correct areas that needed fine tuning. 


It was quite frightening to watch his mind work. He had it absolutely nailed. Once we were in the water I witnessed him move Kerri about, stretch her legs, move her arms, add air, dump air, add air, dump air, it was boggling. I’m not usually fussed when another man interferes with my wife, more so when I’m not included, but she seemed happy, so I let it go.


Rich had an uncanny way of getting instructions across;

STOP – THINK – ACT.’

He was able to communicate this very effectively underwater with hand signals, which subsequently Kerri and I found very amusing and do it all the time now.




It certainly wasn’t an immediate fix, but it gave us a greater understanding of why we behaved the way we did underwater. It became apparent it was a combination of breathing, fining and a tendency to prefer negative buoyancy. How he was able to work that out from only a few hours in water, while doing reel work, the previous day is a testament to the level of instruction these guys have. It was very impressive.



The back kick was next on the list.



It seems that when a diver decides to move into the technical arena it is essential they learn to swim backwards. I know there are plenty of tech divers who survive without going backwards, but it is definitely a useful tool. I recall diving in Egypt and looking closely at a ‘Nemo fish’ and thinking; ‘Oh shit, i’m about to bump into that fire coral!’ If I had been able to fin backwards, just a little, I would have been safer in the water, and so would the reef. 


Paul Toomer had already spent time during day 1 working on my back kick, so I knew the technique and Rich told me it just needed polished a bit. I decided to take that as a huge compliment as before arriving at TekCamp I could barely struggle forwards.



The three of us lined up over the platform and were scrutinised as we attempted to fin backwards.



I was first. It was ok, then Rich gave a few directions; ‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ and I had another go. Big improvement – keep my head up was the way forward… or backwards… you know what I mean.

Kerri had a tendency to fin too quickly. Rich signalled, ‘STOP – THINK – ACT’ asking her to slow down and she began to creep back. Jeez, the guy was good.

Tara was up next.

What followed was probably best kept for tales around the campfire. What Tara managed to accomplish underwater was horrifying. It wasn’t forwards, or backwards… it was more like a sideways convulsion of some kind.

STOP – THINK – ACT’ was no good here.


Back on land Rich described it as ‘The Crinoid Manoeuvre’ and doubted he could re-create it.



No one needs to see that again mate.





However, with a little encouragement and some manipulation of the lower legs he did get her to move back eventually; impressive. The real question was could he keep her quiet?



S-Drills were an area that clearly needed some work. They were ok at best, until Tara and I conducted an out of gas scenario. 


Tara signalled out of air, and like a good buddy I donated my primary reg. I then stared down at my light cord immediately realising I had no clue as to where to move it. Tara watched eagerly awaiting my decision. I moved the cord over the long hose; she shook her head and helped me sort it out. It wasn’t going according to plan at all.

By this stage the two of us had become totally focussed on routing problems and our buoyancy control had completely collapsed. I think my ears finally gave me the good news.


Tara and I simultaneously decided we could talk, underwater, through a regulator, whilst sharing air and descending quite horribly into the gloom of a quarry.









Me: “hara - i - heed - ure - ahenhun” (Tara, I need your attention)

Tara: “ess” (yes)

Me: “ugh - oh - ear - inking?” (you know we’re sinking?)

Tara: “eye - oh” (I know)

Me: “ear - it” (we’re shit)


Tara: “eye - oh” (I know)


At that point Rich had obviously decided we needed a live demo of how an S-Drill should be done. He waved a hand, and as if by magic Jim Dowling appeared. I didn't even know he was there, it turned out he was our safety diver and had been lurking the entire dive. It was creepy. He slid in from the gloom, demonstrated a perfect drill with Rich then back kicked out of sight.

Another stealthy bastard.

We made another lame effort but as the dive hit 105 mins the ladies really needed a toilet break.

The exercise was binned and we retired for lunch, and proceeded to discuss pee valves. Delightful s



Over lunch Martin Robson gave a very sobering talk on You Are What You Breathe. It basically outlined the extreme importance of analysing your gas before diving. Kerri and I recoiled a little as we don’t own an analyser and it has since become a priority item for us, as we are a statistic waiting to happen.

It was especially sad as Martin had lost a close friend to carbon monoxide poisoning; something that I would never have considered a threat.



Cave diver extraordinaire Phil Short followed with a talk on CCR Design, Testing and Safety. This included looking into the design process and vital tests such as Canister duration and work of breathing. He also touched on introducing the concept of a true 'Sport/Recreational' rebreather to serve the mass recreational diving market safely.

I have to be honest I got caught up talking to the Apeks guys about their new drysuit, missed the beginning of Phil’s talk, and spent the remainder hiding until he finished in case he saw me; Dark Lord and all that.



Kerri attended, but fell asleep a bit and also spent the rest of the day in fear.



After lunch Rich produced ali 80’s and talked us through stage bottle set up, gas switching procedure, as well as how to rig a spool correctly. This included showing us his ‘woody;’ Tara, Kerri and I found this especially funny.



Yes, I am 34 years old, but funny’s funny.



‘Woody.’



Once in water boot camp returned and we conducted a million S-Drills, which were improving steadily, stage handling, gas switching, valve drills, smb deployment and ascents. I felt the day was going quite well, up until the smb bit.

We got the bags launched ok, but the ascents were a bit enthusiastic. The smbs ended up like a maypole and I recall just seeing Rich shaking his head as we floated off leaving him in the darkness below.

STOP – THINK – ACT’ that mate! 


It was a really fun day out and it was brilliant of Rich to tailor a class specifically for our needs.



After dinner we jumped back in Frieda to get back to the campsite in time for beer and the evening talk. I turned the ignition. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. The van was dead.


Oh Frieda – what have you done?



By this stage everyone had more or less gone, including John Kendall who possessed the only vehicle capable of towing our ageing motorhome up the hill. Undeterred I frantically beat the starter motor with a v-weight in the hope of un-sticking it, but to no avail.

I now have a 'w-shaped' v-weight.

Thankfully Tim from Vobster was still about and his trusty transit was able to give Frieda the bump start she needed; another fine display from the Vobster staff.



It was 8pm by the time we finally got back to camp. Kerri and I looked at each other; "Oh shit - we’re gonna miss Phil Short’s talk… again!"



We quickly grabbed beers and ran to the barn, hoping we could sneak in the back without being noticed. Just as we rounded the corner we practically bumped into Phil walking right towards us.

We slowed down and acted all casual like. 


He beamed; “Don’t panic guys, I haven’t started yet.

Like rabbits in car headlights we managed, “Oh.. em… yes. We knew that… sir… I mean Phil…

We then scarpered off to the barn laughing our heads off.



Phil Short gave an amazing recount of A Cave Diver Journey. He had some awesome photos and video to go along with his mental accounts of his experiences cave diving. It was soon apparent Phil refused to acknowledge fear, and his ability to problem solve under extreme pressure was mind blowing, if not terrifying. I still can’t decide if the man has something missing, or something extra.



As the talk progressed Paul Toomer and I had been enjoying the remaining Carlsberg from the cool bag. Upon its conclusion he turned to me and simply asked “Pub?


That was a splendid idea and Paul quickly designated Howard Payne the honour of driving us.







Kerri looked perplexed as she and Trudy retired to the motor home for hot chocolate. Kerri is fully aware of my behaviour when inebriated, and the addition of Paul Toomer / Howard Payne to the mix didn’t bode well in her mind.


Oh, the irony.


A stunning hand brake turn brought Howard Payne’s Vectra to where we stood; Paul and I jumped in. I decided a seat belt was a wise option and fought to bring it home as we bounded down the country lane, hand braking yet again, around the first corner. I decided it was going to be a great night out.


As we roared into the pub car park Toomer spied Phil Short’s little Ford Fiesta van innocently resting on the gravel area.

Toomer exclaimed; “Hand brake turn mate! – Throw some dust up Shorty’s car!

To watch grown men so easily led was phenomenal. By this stage I too was completely sucked into the shenanigans, and was consequently laughing my royal balls off in the back seat.





The manoeuvre was a superb display and Howard closed down the engine as the dust began to settle over Phil Shorts van.


Paul was still enjoying a can of Carslberg at this point;


Paul: “Hold on lads, - I’m still drinking this can

Me: “Leave it under the wheel arch; finish it when we come out.

Howard: “You pikey bastards!



Literally as we were about to walk into the pub a figure loomed out of the settling dust.

Who’s the driver?” he demanded in a clich├ęd Somerset accent.



Toomer and I quickly abandoned all loyalty pointing at Howard.



Does this look like Brands Hatch?



Paul later stated he was considering explaining to the man Brands Hatch wasn’t gravel, but thought better of it.



I don’t think I want to serve you lot. In fact I don’t. You three are barred.


Toomer reclaimed his can at the wheel arch, and the three of us laughed our way back to the campsite.




Did you hear the one about the Englishman, The Irishman and the South African? ….



That was the best pint I’ve never had and day 4 was most definitely over.

TekCamp Part #5 - What about a race?

TekCamp Part #3 – Rich Walker’s Human Centipede

Day 3


By Day 3 of TekCamp there was a definite routine forming. As per usual I awoke in Frieda (the motor home) to the sound of the kettle boiling and Kerri preparing breakfast.

That was fine. What I hadn’t realised was ‘The Breakfast Club’ had also become part of the morning ritual.


So, as my sleepy eyes began to focus I was told;

“Get up – Trudy and Tara can’t come in until you’re dressed.”

“Uh?”

This obviously led me to picturing myself semi naked with 3 women in a confined space; pleasant thought, but dutifully I pulled on some clothes so ‘The Breakfast Club’ could convene.

Once dressed, the van quickly filled with chatty women and I was handed Trudy’s new Turtle Fins while being kindly asked to put her new spring straps together as well. So I got to work while the women had breakfast.

I didn’t get breakfast. The new routine was crap.

Freida led the convoy down to Vobster just in time for Martin’s morning briefing.



Like a school assembly we sat patiently drinking tea, and I finally got a bacon sandwich down my neck, as the instructors were allocated their team for the day. Amongst the list Rich Walker was allocated ‘The Clarkes’ for the day, along with Tara.

It was now clear that Kerri and I had become a single entity; ‘The Clarkes.’

That was fine, but it also transpired to be amusing, as the announcement was met with a group chuckle from the remainder of TekCamp. Rich appeared bemused, then concerned as it was followed by the statement;

“Congratulations Rich – you’ve ended up with the 3 loudest people at TekCamp.”

Charming.


Before our collective had time to accost Rich, it was announced the whole camp would be conducting an experiment with Phil Short in the car park.

Initially I was concerned he was just going to challenge the rest of us to get past him; he is the Dark Lord after all, but it transpired we would be trying some breathing exercises.






Phil led us to the car park where an 18m length of cave line was tied between two cones and proceeded to demonstrate how breathing techniques improved how long you could hold your breath. It was quite bizarre.


Initially Phil raised his heart rate with a 60 second jog, held his breath and, as per Johnny Cash, walked the line, noting the distance he could travel before he fell unconscious… well, until he felt uncomfortable. The process was then repeated after rest, again noting the distance travelled. Finally Phil showed us a breathing exercise and had another go.

It was quite fascinating witnessing Phil walk further and further along the line having completed the 60 second deep breath exercise.



Demonstration completed, we were broken into groups, paired off with an instructor and given the opportunity to conduct the experiment ourselves.




We were quite close to Phil, so we nabbed him, and he talked us through the exercise. As per his example, at every stage of the drill we all walked further along the line, reaching our farthest having concluded the breathing exercise.

(c) Jason Brown :: BARDO creative

Disclaimer: I would like to point out that i was not eying up my fellow campers, merely looking for Kerri across the car park - honest!

Ultimately, this demonstrated controlling breathing at all times while diving would enable an out of gas diver swim to greater distances. 18m is the standard distance used on training courses for an out of gas emergency, and it was comforting to know it was possible to cover twice the distance after Phil’s breathing exercise.

Phil Short is Zen diver.


Kerri, Tara and I then proceeded to ruin Rich Walkers line laying class.


Rich introduced himself and explained we would be laying line for the morning session. I had spoken to Rich via email a bit and it was great to finally meet him in person. I also have an interest in GUE training so I was looking forward to learning from him.

We were shown primary ties, secondary ties, ordinary tie off’s and how to secure the reel at the end. Rich was very into his lovely Halcyon reel and talked us though all the aspects that made it such a wonderful, valuable tool.




Tara then announced she too had a beloved Halcyon reel.

“Great!” declared Rich.

“Go and get it.”

What Tara returned with was horrifying. It was a Frankenstein-bastard of a reel. It had a permanent bolt snap attached, a plastic bobble on the end of the line, barnacles on the casing and had possibly been used to hammer in tent pegs at least once in its life.

I thought Rich was going to go down.

We consoled our poor instructor, got his breathing back under control, assuring him;

“It’s ok Richard - we will send the reel home. Halcyon will make it all o-kay…”

A ‘dry run’ of line-laying was good fun, especially following the line with our eyes closed over bars and picnic tables; simulating loss of vis. Rich taught us touch contact communication and how to securely follow the line without being able to see; a valuable skill but not one I’d care to experience underwater inside a wreck.



Then it was time to do the same underwater. As we kitted up I noted on Rich’s whiteboard (he’s so efficient) the statement, ‘mask off following line. ‘


Holy shit.

I hate mask removals. I hate water up my nose. I hate the cold on my face. I hate water in my eyes. I hate Rich Walker and his fucking whiteboard.

I can do the removal skill; I don’t enjoy it very much, but I can do it. I don’t however pay £300 to have some GUE fella take my mask and make me swim up a bloody line. I really began to sweat. I had been telling Paul Toomer not 2 days previous how much I hated mask off stuff, I couldn’t believe what was about to happen.


I knew I was going to have to tell Rich how amazingly unhappy I was at the prospect. I told the ‘loud team’ about my concerns and finally admitted to Rich I wasn’t great with mask removal.

He was brilliant. He talked me through a few tips on breathing, explained if I didn’t want to do it at the time that was grand, and if I freaked out doing the skill all I had to do was put my hand up then a mask would amazingly appear.




Settled, I donned my kit and jumped in.

We reeled about, forgetting everything Rich taught us; catching the line on pieces of debris, cars, each other and the reel itself. This was a lot of fun, but quickly demonstrated how difficult it was to lay line properly and efficiently.

Then it was time.

The loud team lined up, fingers firmly hooked on the line in preparation for the simulated zero visibility – i.e. I was losing my mask.

Working his way down the line Rich gently tapped the mask of each diver. Tara handed over her mask. Kerri handed over her mask. Rich tapped the lens in front of my face. I stared at him. I knew my team were floating in complete darkness, with no masks, clinging to the line. I had to decide. Rich hovered closely in front of me. It wasn’t fair on my team to leave them hanging; I had to decide.

I ripped my mask from my face. The cold water rushed against my skin. Water trickled up my nose.



...

I did what Rich instructed; applied positive pressure to my nose and breathed through my mouth, nice and slow.

I was fine. I was definitely fine. I was doing it and not going bananas.

Jurassic Park!

The three of us were in close proximity to each other to allow communication through constant arm squeezes. I finally remembered I was in last place and it was my job to move the team. I gave Kerri two squeezes which sent the message up the chain to progress down the line. I could feel Kerri moving off and I pockled after her.

Diving with no mask, in constant contact with a line, holding another diver by the arm and maintaining even reasonable buoyancy is nigh impossible. Very funny though.

I was quite at ease now with no mask, and even managed a slight chuckle picturing how it must have looked to Rich fining along beside, as Kerri later dubbed, “The Human Centipede.”



For those who aren’t familiar, “The Human Centipede” is a b-movie horror movie about a crazy ex-Nazi scientist who surgically sews three unsuspecting victims together; mouth to butt and so on, forming a human centipede. It’s an awesome film. Honest.

My team of three, at that point, were now floundering along the floor of Vobster almost atop of one another making us “The Human Centipede,” and therefore Rich a mad Nazi scientist with a thirst for creating abominations of nature, hence the whiteboard.



Kerri was the middle section. Poor Kerri.

20 mins later we had our masks returned and moved once again to the beginning of the line. I was designated out of gas and Kerri donated her long hose while we all maintained contact with the line. It was then ‘switch to blacked out mask’ time which we had stowed in our pockets.

We began switching our masks, but the tape had fallen off mine so I didn’t have a blacked out mask. I thought that was fine, I’ll just do it with eyes open – great!

Rich gently tapped the lens of my mask.


Oh you twisted bastard.


No mask was becoming part of the routine.

Dutifully I lost my mask again, whilst sharing air, whilst maintaining contact with a line, whilst keeping touch contact with my team. I was actually quite happy with the skill now. I was the mid-section of the centipede and with Tara in front and Kerri behind I felt quite secure.


We completed the task, I got a mask back and we ascended. Nearly 90 mins spent in the water and I had my mask off for about half of it. I rock.

I now have absolutely no fear of mask removal, which was a big thing for me to finally get over. As a technical diver I felt it was something I should be comfortable with. Rich explained I did a fantastic job and congratulated me accordingly.

Too bloody right mate, I’m a fucking superstar.

After lunch we were treated to a talk from Mark Powell. Mark had just got back from Sri Lanka where he had been diving HMS Hermes, the world's first custom built aircraft carrier. The 170m long wreck is intact and lies in 53m of water. Mark led the first ever liveaboard expedition to dive the wreck using a combination of open circuit and rebreathers. It was an excellent talk and gave me a new reason to become trimix certified. (cue sales pitch from Paul Toomer…)



Crazy Jim Dowling (Jim Downling Technical Instructor) was up next describing the Deep Caves of Ras Mohamed. I knew the guy was a technical diving instructor by that stage, as I had spoken him quite a bit, but I had no idea he was an explorer and pioneer. He and his team have ventured 100’s of meters into unknown territory on open circuit to map out the cave systems of Ras Mohamed. It was an excellent talk with some brilliant photos and even some video footage.

Triple back mounted 20 litre cylinders you say? Dead on mate - let me know how you get on with that.



Lunch done our little GUE team headed back to check the whiteboard to see what we would be doing on the afternoon dive. Technical Rescue was on the list and we would be working alongside John Kendall and his students.



The dive consisted of buddy rescue whilst wearing twinsets and a stage bottle. It was difficult, but I really enjoyed the challenge of maintaining buoyancy and trim whilst carrying a dead team mate. The point of the exercise was that you may have to rescue a diver from a wreck or cave where maintaining control was paramount. If I ever have that problem, I’ll just go and get Rich.

The routine debrief, BBQ, back to the campsite for beer and talks followed.

Richie Stevenson and Martin Robson provide a fascinating insight into the logistics and procedures that form the foundations of Expedition Planning. Richie looked at deep wreck exploration whilst acclaimed cave explorer Martin Robson approached the subject from a slightly different angle with an overview of what was involved in the planning and execution of an expedition to explore a virgin cave system in a remote location.



Both talks were excellent, again with some brilliant photos from their adventures. I especially enjoyed Martin Robson drinking red wine in a decompression habitat.

Throughout the talks I had been enjoying the Carlsberg, slipping the odd can to Jim Dowling, who I felt, had earned it for his talk earlier in the day. It also seemed quite rude not to have a few more afterwards. Everyone was really getting to know one another and it was great fun chatting to other enthusiastic divers. I enjoyed a couple more beers, pestering Paul Toomer and Mark Powell mostly; it was rather entertaining.

Kerri and Trudy began a new routine of heading back to the motor home for hot chocolate instead.

Hot chocolate over beer? - Uh?



An hour later the bag of beer and I retired to get some much needed sleep in preparation for Day 4.


I liked the routine.

TekCamp Part #4 - Fancy a pint?