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.

REDTEC PART 5: Considerably Sicker Than Andy



Routine was well and truly established as we approached the midpoint of the RedTec adventure. Samir was bringing me tea every morning, gases were checked, and then we enjoyed a healthy breakfast in the dining room before the first dive.





Our group of tech divers was really getting to know each other, and as a result the banter was flowing splendidly. I especially enjoyed the breakfast discussions between bunkmates Laura and Geoff. The pair had obviously dived together previous to RedTec, although perhaps not operated in confined quarters, such as our posh cabins.

It was soon apparent the completely 'laid back' Geoff, was prone to irritating the slightly more 'efficient' Laura. I especially enjoyed the tales of pee-valves decorating the sink, pants on lamps, and the crème de la crème; Geoff used the final square of bog roll, leaving a bare cardboard tube in his wake. 



All of these crimes were addressed over breakfast, much to the amusement of our table. Geoff appeared no more concerned, and simply beamed unapologetically to the dismayed Laura; the man is a legend.   





Paul Toomer always appeared slightly later than everyone else, seemed mildly disappointed as his boiled egg solidified in front of him, and promptly smeared it over himself; and most of the table. Despite being a world-class scuba instructor, the man reverts to the missing link when confronted with a boiled egg. 

Go figure? 
TRIMIX DIVING

I was extremely excited about the pending trimix dive. I knew all the theory required, but was completely curious about sucking on the squeaky stuff at depth. I learned the term "squeaky stuff" from other trimix divers; I use it a lot now, I think it makes me sound very "tech" and hardcore.

Paul talked us through the trimix analyser and as directed, Kerri went first, me following. There wasn't much to it really, pretty much the same as a nitrox jobbie, only with an extra button, for the helium ... apparently.



The twinsets were marked up as 20/20 and all was set.





DIVE 1: THE LARA


The Lara on the surface

Jim delivered the briefing on The Lara, the wreck that was the focus of the first dive. 



The Lara was a peculiar wreck. It was constructed in Germany in 1956 and struck Jackson Reef in 1982, but didn't sink in the traditional sense. As it sat on the reef, attempts of salvage were made. Somewhere along the operation, someone made wrong cuts in wrong places; this resulted in the middle falling out of her. To be honest, I still can't get my head around it.




In short, half the wreck is visible from the surface; the remaining half is lying 70m below.


The Lara was the only dive where our tech training, or lack thereof, was restricting what we got to see. 45m was the deepest we could go, which meant we could just reach the top of the mast, but that was it. The dive plan was just that; follow Jim to the top of the mast, skulk around for 25mins and deco on the reef.





Twinsets on our back, we made our way down to the dive deck and the helpful crew clipped our deco bottles onto us. The Blue Voyager was positioned in such a way that it had to reverse to the entry point, Jim having already jumped in and got a visual on where we needed to go.


By that stage we were standing upright on the dive deck, in twinsets, with stages, wearing dry suits, in the 30C morning sun. Somewhere along the line the big ship was having problems maneuvering, and we had no choice but to continue waiting ... standing.



Initially a few of us made some jokes to lighten the situation, "It's good we're not wearing steel tanks" and the like. 




A few minutes later it was silent. 




I am not completely sure how long the ship took to park, but as time progressed, oh so slowly, we all moved into our own private hell. 

The weight of the tanks was taking its toll. I had to reach and hold onto the side rail, almost doubling over, in a vain attempt to alleviate the weight on my legs. 





I failed miserably, and I began to wonder if I could cope much longer, at which point 2 things crossed my mind:



1. How the hell was Kerri still on her feet?

2. How the hell were the guys with 2 stage bottles still on their feet?



I raised my head and stared through the stinging sweat as it ran into my eyes to see Kerri standing in the middle of the deck. I was bloody impressed; she seemed in good shape, slightly bent forwards, but appeared to be coping.

I then noticed Andy with his 2 stages; he didn't seem happy at all, and was in fact making his way towards the side rail as he dripped with sweat. 




Finally we got the OK, chivalry went out the window, and everyone fought to get into the cool water that had been taunting us; obsessed with anticipation of weightlessness that would follow.



I think Andy summed it up best as we bobbed on the surface: "That's better than a shag."







The decent was pretty quick, and we were soon at 40m and finning towards the wreck. When I say 'finning towards the wreck' I of course mean following Jim towards where we hoped he knew the wreck was. 



To be honest, it was a bit of a swim. After 10 mins or so I was getting a little tired, but thankfully the wreck came into view. Kerri and I made our way to the tip of the mast, looked down to see the back of twinsets and rebreathers as they descend into the dark blue, as pangs of envy ensued.


The mast was cool though, so we hung around until our bottom time ran out, and then slowly began our ascent. Gas switches were completed at the 21m mark and all was well with the world. The best thing about technical dives in Egypt is there is something to look at on deco. The 25min obligation went in nicely as we gently drifted alongside the awesome reef, which caused the demise of The Lara.



We also met up with all the "deep divers" who had made it onto the wreck, and decompressed alongside Pat, Andy and Keith. I later learned they had quite an exciting dive of their own - something about 50 bar at 60m ... I dare not comment, but they 'Survived The Lara' shall we say ... ahem.




The trimix had been a great experience. It definitely felt like my head was clearer, but I found the biggest thing was work of breathing. Helium is less dense than regular air, which makes it easier to breathe, and so the big swim to the wreck was possible; I don’t think I would have made it on air.



For some reason when we reached the 6m stop my ears began to really annoy me. 



In hindsight I was dehydrated initially, and as the dive progressed the problem amplified. Jim and Kerri closed in around me when I signaled I was rather unhappy; especially when my head began to hurt. Jim shot up his smb, handed me the spool, and instructed I was to ascend 10cm at a time.



At 3m my stupid ears finally gave in and equalised to the reducing pressure around me. Thank Christ. 
Later Kerri explained she too was having ear issues, and we made a mental note to improve our hydration levels.



The rib picked us up and we were soon around the lunch table.




DIVE 2: THE EEL GARDEN


Our second dive was conducted on 'shit mix.' This was basically the dregs of the 20/20 with an air top, it was still a little squeaky, and I like to consider it another trimix dive; so there. 



It was quite a difficult site to locate, but thankfully Jim and Paul had scouted the area, attaching an smb to mark the spot. Kerri and I stuck to our established dive plan of "follow Jim" and descended 40m into the canyon.

The canyon was fantastic. Jim had stalled by the entrance, allowing Kerri and I to catch up. As I finned gently over I could see Jim pointing at something along the canyon wall.



My eyes fixed on a lead weight block, attached was a cable tie, which in turn trailed off to a slate; a slate with something written on it...





"KERRI IS CONSIDERABLY BETTER THAN ANDY"





Oh for fuck sake.





Of course Kerri and Jim found this hilarious, of course I gave Jim the fingers, then promptly swam off to enjoy the canyon.


Slate No. 2


The remainder of the dive was very relaxed and highly enjoyable, what little deco we accrued was off gassed along the picturesque reef.




I surfaced to find Jim and Kerri laughing, at my expense of course, and the rib scuttled over to pick us up. I merely sighed, and shook my head at Pat, who bobbed alongside me.

The crew of the rib soon had our twinsets secured, allowing Kerri, Jim and I to hop in. As Pat was preparing to lunge over the inflatable hull, those aboard thought it appropriate to poke fun at the giant South African.




BIG PAT

Me and Pat

Be under no illusion, Pat is big, and I mean really big.

I don’t think I saw him upright on the ship the entire trip; he was always doubled over to avoid doorways, overhangs, the ceiling, and the sun.

Not only tall, Pat also casts a decent shadow, for which reason I often sat beside him on the upper deck; as he made a smashing wind breaker.



BACK ON THE DIVE


Anyway, on the rib there were various comments about whales coming over the boat, walrus jokes, and if he would ever make it over the side. As Kerri, Jim and I sat on the far side of the boat, to act as a "counterbalance" to the big man, laughing heartedly at our continued comedy, Pat appeared to bend the matrix.



He was up and over the side of the rib in a heartbeat, and growled as he followed through in our direction. 



Jim squealed like a bitch, Kerri cried to the heavens, I simply gawked in amazement as the monolithic South African bear hugged us 3 little tech divers, lifting us clear off the rib, and sent us all crashing into the ocean.



It was very funny, and we made no further comments about the big whale with a dive school. (You can't get me now wind-breaker!)




For the second time we all boarded the rib and chuckled our way back to the ship.





DO YOU FEEL OK?


After dinner Kerri was especially tired, and retired to our posh cabin to read inappropriate holiday books, focusing mainly on concentration camps. She does worry me from time to time.

I used the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing beer in the comforts of the sky lounge with some of the guys and gals. Big Pat was reading, Phil and Morty were enjoying a bottle of wine, Laura, Geoff, Ben and I chatted over beers.



A while later the ship began, for only the second time on the trip, to display signs it was actually on the open ocean. A little rocking soon turned into very obvious swells. I decided beer was no longer an option, but continued to chat away to Ben about GUE and stuff.



10 minutes later the deck was silent. I hadn't experienced seasickness too often, and missed the early warnings that should have signaled an early retirement. A further 10 mins and various items were clattering around the deck, and I began to feel extremely ill.



Laura had already made a dash for her room, whereas Ben and I were trapped.

It was awful.

I wanted to go to bed, but couldn't face movement of any kind. I couldn't even distract myself by talking, as Ben had gone rather pale, and rather silent.







I didn't even care that my precious new iPad was dancing around the deck of it's own accord.



Irritatingly, Pat continued to read, unaffected, and Phil polished off the bottle of red wine ... legendary behavior. His son Morty was less than happy, sharing my concerns as we both began to experience pins and needles in our hands. It was very peculiar, and very unpleasant. 

Generously, Pat also explained why i was feeling sick, along with a visual demonstration of a pendulum.




Another concern was Wifebuddy. Kerri is prone to seasickness at the best of times, and the fact that I was suffering, suggested she might in fact have been dead.



Finally the ship began to show signs of steadying, just as Jim stuck his stupid red face around the door, took a swig of beer, and explained the rough bit was over. Git.



I rose on my wobbly legs, spoke to no one, and sauntered off to find what was left of my wife.





When I entered our posh cabin the lights were out and it was dead silent.





"Kerri?"



Nothing.



I hit the lights, the room was empty. I was confused.



"Halp..." whimpered from behind the bathroom door.



I switched on the bathroom light to find Kerri wedged between the toilet and the wall, puke soaked towels gently folded in the corner; she always managed to tidy up.





Moments from death I managed to get Kerri, and myself, into bed and sleep finally took over.





Thank Christ.



Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

REDTEC PART 4: Considerably Better Than Andy



I had completely lost track of the days; but I cared not. Samir had installed a new morning procedure, and a splendid one at that. Rather than relying on the annoying alarm of my rather unreliable Blackberry; Samir was kind enough to gently knock on our cabin door, easing me from slumber, offering tea or coffee from his little tray.

I have to admit, I warmed to this procedure almost immediately, and from that point we enjoyed morning tea in bed; awesome.



The crew on The Blue Voyager were astounding. As I stated in my last post, our room suffered from some mild flooding due to the rough seas experienced on our journey to The Thistlegorm. By the time our first dive was completed, our room was free of water, floor dried, and what little clothing got wet, was hung out to dry.

Now Samir was bringing me tea to bed; and yes, I considered kidnapping him.



BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Before I launch into another remarkable post for today, a brief history lesson is required.

Regular readers, of my rather fine blog, will be aware Wifebuddy and I have met Paul Toomer before; at TekCamp 2011. Jim Dowling was also present, but was a mere ‘safety diver’ at the time, so we paid him little attention; he has moved up a notch in my book, but I will discuss that in a future post. He then moved swiftly back down again, but … later.

Kerri, Paul and I at TekCamp 2011


Anyway, back to the history lesson.



At the close of TekCamp, Wifebuddy explained to Paul it was a pity the TekCamp-ers didn’t receive a certification of sorts; to quantify all the skills learned from the week’s tutelage. Of course Tall Poomer saw this as an ample opportunity to take the piss … primarily at my expense.

A certification card was drafted, and the Diving Matrix speciality cert; “Better Than Andy Diver” was born. [see this post]




Like the legs of a drunken slut at a frat party, it spread immediately; Kerri was certified by technical instructor Paul Toomer as a “Better Than Andy Diver,” and so it became common knowledge across camp.


Even the nice Mark Powell stuck his oar in; that’ll be the last book of his I buy I can tell you. 



Post-TekCamp, that ‘Amateur ‘photographer fellow Jason Brown [BARDO Creative] also got involved in the fray, regularly plaguing my facebook status updates, referring to just how ‘CONSIDERABLY' better than Andy, Kerri actually was.



And so, my tortured, bullied, life continues…






DIVE 1 - THOMAS CANYON

A fine breakfast of pancakes and fresh cold meat selection (minus pig), set me up for the first dive: Thomas Canyon.

Thomas Canyon is a large, eh … canyon, funnily enough; located in The Straits of Tiran at Thomas Reef. It’s deep. Really deep; like, 100m deep.


Jim gave a thorough briefing, explaining the different dives that could be accomplished, depending on certification level. Large boulders that became trapped in the canyon provided cool swim through areas at various depths; which suited our mixed bag of tech divers perfectly. Kerri and I, restricted to 45m, opted for the first boulder.



Briefing done, we kitted up and performed our GUE EDGE check thingy. The initial ‘G’ from our check stands for ‘Goal,’ as per our GUE training, and was supposed to be a recap of the (thorough) dive objectives we set in the initial plan.

By that stage of RedTec our Goal simply became “Follow Jim,” and continued to do so for the remainder of the trip. [Rich Walker would turn in his grave; if he were dead]



The crew kindly loaded our stages onto the zodiac, helped waddle our twinsets over, and once seated, donned our fins for us. It was a process I got familiar with much too quickly, and miss it dearly.

Jim did some weird Jedi thing, using the Sun to locate the exact entry point; he could be very weird. Once there, we rolled off the rib and descended into the canyon.



The visibility was phenomenal. Before we knew it, we had bottomed out at 45m, deep into the dark canyon. It was breath taking. I flicked on my trusty can light to investigate.



Scanning the rocky formations with the wide beam of my EOS, I noticed Jim at the rear of the group waving to me. I finned across to the darker area of the canyon, presuming he wanted me to shine my posh light on something for him.



I was half right.



Wifebuddy also noticed the signal, and was soon beside Jim and me. Jim was pointing at a specific part of the canyon wall. At 45m deep, on air, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on; neither was the rest of the group who were hovering about in front, waiting for Jim to take the lead.


Looking closely at the Canyon wall I could see something … something white, a slate perhaps? 


It was indeed a slate, quite a large arm slate … with something written on it …


I took my posh light, and bathed the slate in 600 lumens of LED goodness.







KERRI IS CONSIDERABLY BETTER THAN ANDY” 








Oh, what a cunny funt. It was immediately apparent Chief Dowling had planted it; although I have to admit I wasn’t exactly sure how.

Jim thought this was absolutely hilarious, squeals of laughter from his girly voice filtered through the regulator. Kerri also giggled in glee, flooding her mask entirely.



I merely gave Jim the fingers and swam off to enjoy my dive.



The remainder of the dive was brilliant, and slate free.


Our planned 25 minute bottom time came too fast, we ascended, albeit a little awkwardly, between the canyon walls, switched to the deco bottles, and enjoyed quite a vigorous drift to the end of the reef.


As the currents settled down, Jim signalled for Kerri and I to bag off. Dutifully Kerri led, and I followed, in a fairly decent display of smb deployment from our 6m stop. It transpired Jim videoed the task, and debriefed us accordingly.



We surfaced to find the zodiac waiting; Jim continued to laugh, I continued to give him the fingers, and we scuttled back to The Blue Voyager.





LUNCH AND DEBRIEF

Once aboard, news of ‘the find’ in Thomas Canyon circled throughout the group, and I was persecuted by my fellow tech divers. It was all very unfair if you asked me; being ganged up on whilst on holiday. I cried in private later.




After an exquisite lunch Jim, Kerri and I huddled around the iPad; in a vain attempt to view the smb deployments’ past the glare of the screen. The first viewing seemed pretty good to me, but Jim was able to point out a few things that needed tidied up. Bloody safety diver.

I also got abuse for not stowing my light cord correctly, which continued throughout all the photos. In my defence I attempted to explain it was temporarily stowed, the cord did not prohibit the long hose, and therefore was not a hazard; and anyway, Rich Walker said it was fine to do it that way - so there.



It fell on deaf ears and Jim assured me I would be extruded from ‘The Tufty Club.’



Kerri also nursed her "tech divers thumb," providing further evidence that brass bolt snaps have no place in scuba diving.








DIVE 2: JACKSON REEF

Licking my wounds from the morning’s attack on my delicate disposition, we attended the brief for the Jackon Reef dive.

Kevin, the Blue O Two guide, gave an excellent briefing in the Sky Lounge on how to approach the reef, and where all the good stuff was. Kerri and I merely glanced at each other and whispered; “We’ll just follow Jim.”



Prepping for the second dive of the day led to meeting ‘The Greek.’



The Greek, Dimitris Papakonstantis [how Greek can a man get?!!], approached and asked if it was ok for him to join us on the next dive. He proceeded to explain his previous group were conducting a training dive and he had no desire to “watch them twiddle their knobs. “


Happy to oblige we gave the full trimix diving Greek a quick rundown of the plan; which was basically; “We’re going to follow Jim.”




Dimitris was an entertaining character, and I must admit, amused me greatly. I especially enjoyed his mentally thick Greek accent, united with perfect English, and a cracking sense of humour that slotted in well with our Irish wit.


He was very grateful that we would buddy up with him, and observed it would be nice to write another buddy name in his log book, besides “JC.”



JC?” I enquired.

Yes.” The Greek proceed to explain, standing tall.

I don’t like to think of myself as a solo diver, so I dive with Jesus Christ; or as he prefers - J.C.



So, Jim, Kerri, Dimitris, JC and I strode from the dive deck, and drifted onto Jackson Reef.



It was a lovely, relaxing dive. Stage bottles were left aboard, so we simply bounced to 40m for a while, and slowly ascended along the reef; snapping a few photos, clearing any deco as we went along.





Towards the end of the dive Kerri, Jim and I mucked about in a GUE triangle formation, practicing buoyancy, control and trim. The climax was another filmed smb deployment by me; adding in Chief Dowling’s suggestions.


We soon realised Dimitris had (accidentally of course) been excluded from the triangle, and was encircling us in a vain attempt to find a way in. No such luck, we were locked tight.



It appeared Drimitris was destined to dive with JC once more.

JC and Dimitris



The zodiac was parked by my smb when we surfaced, and our team of three (plus The Greek) were hauled aboard. Our little inflatable managed 50m travel before coughing to a halt. We had an OOG situation. As per the GUE EDGE plan, we turned to Jim. 


He stared blankly back; “What do you want me to do, paddle?

Yes Jim. Yes we do,” was the reply. 


Submissively, he grabbed a jet fin, and paddled us back to the ship, single handed; or single fin-ded.




Some would pronounce another zodiac was sent over with an extra fuel can, but that would be a lie.





DON’T LECTURE ME!

Diving done for the day; we lazed about a bit, chatted some more with The Greek, and finally, were treated to a fantastic dinner; following some more of the phenomenal soup. I know it’s weird to go on about soup, but that stuff was bloody divine. Yum!


After dinner, Paul Toomer nabbed us, and suggested we listen in on his Trimix lecture. Paul was conducting a Normox Trimix course aboard, and explained it would be beneficial for Kerri and I to sit in. The 30min “chat” turned into a 2 hour trimix marathon.


We learned all about the devil gas, its properties, advantages, concerns and how to calculate the correct mix for a particular dive. This in turn led to dive planning, decompression gas choices, narcosis, along with a million other diving related choices.



It was a fascinating, and very educational “chat” which has left me with a pretty good grasp of trimix diving, despite being learned from the back of a tissue box.



What can I say; I forgot to bring my file block to class.



BEDTIME

It was around 11.30pm when Paul finally wrapped it up.

My mind was swimming with Trimix combinations, but more dominantly; how the hell did Jim Dowling get a slate with, “KERRI IS CONSIDERABLY BETTER THAN ANDY” 45m deep in a canyon, in the middle of The Red Sea, without any of us noticing.


Stealthy bastard.



Shattered and educated we sloped off to bed, in anticipation of our first ever Trimix dive on “The Lara.”