The story you’re about to read is my personal view on the DSAC training weekend in Oban, the craziest and most exciting thing I’ve done since joining the club (yes, even more exciting than trying out my drysuit in the Tay river… and I really was overexcited for that, ask Alistair and Graham!) and also the story of how I passed from being afraid of regulators to doing 7 dives in 2.5 days.
Me and Kimon left work early on Friday afternoon, we picked up the car and drove the 3hrs from Dundee to Oban with only a little delay due to a truck deciding to take a stroll among the fields and getting stuck sideways on the road… I spent almost all the time mentally repeating how to assemble my kit and how to perform all the skills I practiced in the pool and asking myself over and over if it would be different in the sea, if it would be cold, how it would be to go down below 4m. I was excited to try, but also a bit scared, despite the little trial run in the Tay, of just panicking and not being able to overcome my fear. We followed Alistair’s detailed directions and we found him on the shore at Queeny Reef, looking out at sea where Beth was having her first ever open water dive with instructors Guy and Lindsay.
We got our drysuit on, prepared our kit and waited for our turn. As soon as Beth came out of the water with a big smile on her face, we were in (even if we had to convince poor instructor Guy, who just wanted to go back to the base and have his veggie chili!). Unfortunately, Kimon had to abandon the dive for buoyancy problems (his feet were like balloons full of air, making him turn upside-down every time he tried to go under the surface), so Guy took me out for my first open water dive by myself.
To answer the questions I had: it IS a lot different in the ocean! First, your kit is at least 12kg heavier than in the pool (it might not be a problem in the water, but it certainly is an issue when you get out!). Second, the water is bloody cold! Even if you only feel it on your face, mask clearing in the sea is a lot more challenging. And third: I didn’t even realise I was down at 6m until I checked my gauge on my wrist. I was too busy looking around at all the crabs, starfish and shells to be afraid of anything. That’s when all the residual fear disappeared for good and I knew it would be a challenge for people to keep me OUT of the water, instead of convincing me to go in!
Before I knew it, my first open water lesson was over and we were driving back to join the other divers for dinner, with me basically jumping up and down on the car seat and looking forward to the next day.
Arrived at Puffin Centre I learnt another rule of diving: going underwater makes you feel absolutely STARVING, so make sure you have food with you. Or some lovely people willing to cook! Big thanks to Lez, Beth, Alistair and Lindsay for the veggie chilli! Also, diving is tiring. I hadn’t slept as well as that Friday night in ages!
Day two started quite early (even if not as early as Alistair wished) with some proper Scottish breakfast, some last minute purchases from the Puffin Diving shop and tanks refilling. By mid-morning, all divers were in the water again, this time at Puffin Diving Centre: Katie and Lez with instructor Graham practising their skills for Sports Diver qualification; Beth with instructor Lindsay and me, Kimon and instructor Guy.
Unfortunately, we had to fight a lot of equipment problems: buoyancy problems and drysuit leakage for Kimon and multiple equipment failures for Beth, who still managed to complete the first two lessons (cheers for her!). I got quite lucky with my second-hand drysuit, which behaved perfectly in the water, but I had to repeat some the skills because they’re a lot more difficult to perform in colder and deeper water. After my afternoon dive, I had completed my second lesson and I was halfway through my third. I had also managed to see Graham’s beloved peacock worms!
While I was having a well deserved egg sandwich, Lindsay told me that she had organised to meet up with a friend of hers at Queeny Reef later that day for a night dive and she asked me if I wanted to go with her for a quick dive before that, so that I could finish up my third lesson and get started with my fourth. Of course I said yes (remember the part where I said it would be difficult to keep me out of the water?), packed my stuff and went to Queeny Reef for my third dive of the day. I had the pleasure to meet Becky and her lovely dog Loki, I completed lesson three with a much better performed AS ascent and saw some more of the beautiful Scottish sealife. Who would have thought there would be so much to see under the cold Scottish sea? This Country doesn’t cease to amaze me.
Despite being absolutely knackered, I was still jumping on the car seat for excitement all the way to Oban’s Wetherspoon where we met Ryan, Lewis and all the other divers and had dinner and beers together, talking about some crazy things these guys regularly do (like going down to 100.2m… just the thought scares me like hell).
On the morning of the third and last day we went back to Queeny Reef, where I completed my fourth lesson with Kimon, who finally managed to have a decent dive, and instructor Lindsay. This was the deepest dive I’ve done, touching the depth of 16m. Pretty dark down there! But not as scary as I thought it would be.
After a quick snack, I went in again with Lindsay for my fifth and final lesson. This dive was absolutely amazing! I had to plan it all by myself with the tables, to give the initial briefing to my buddy and then lead the dive following the plan underwater. I had a lot of fun, telling Lindsay what to do! I also tried to use a compass, which was easy on the way out, but not so much on the way back… luckily, Lindsay knows how to use one! By the time I got my head out of the water, I was officially an Ocean Diver! Cheers also for Katie, who completed her Sports Diver qualification, and for Lez, who has only one lesson to do!
Time to head home? Not yet, because Lewis and Ryan had the brilliant idea of telling me that, if I finished all my lessons in time, I could go with them, Alistair and Guy on my very first boat dive as a qualified diver. So, of course, I went. By the end of the dive they had to drag me onto the boat because I had no energy left, but it was all worth it! We followed a reef full of bright coloured algae, tons of crabs, sea urchins, starfish and even a tiny little bobtail squid (which made James very jealous, since he’s never seen one)! Too bad I didn’t have a camera with me!
It was the most incredible weekend and I can’t wait for the next diving trip! At last I’d like to use this space to publicly thank my instructors Graham, Guy, James, Alistair and Lindsay (sorry for taking you on so many dives!) for helping me to achieve this goal and to overcome my fear of regulators. And thank you to all the people of DSAC for making me feel part of the group and just for being awesome!