I used to think that technical diving was bulky, heavy, exhausting and dangerous. That it means to hang in the blue water for 60 minutes to finish required deco stops after a 20 minutes dive. Reading a book where the words “risk“ “danger“ “responsibility“ and “don’t do this or that“ come up every second page wasn’t really encouraging either.
Why exactly am I doing this again?
Theory sessions, extensive dive planning, limited Open Water dives and two dives at the end in Sipadan, that’s what I was signing up for with Course Director and Tec Deep Instructor Trainer Christopher Hailey at Seaventures Dive Rig. The limited open water dives were a fun way to get used to the new equipment: Twin tanks on my back and a small cylinder with Oxygen as a deco gas. Gas shutdown drills, staging and retrieving deco cylinders, long hose gas sharing and swimming with my buddy were some of the skills I had to learn and practice over and over again, not to forget the countless SAC (surface air consumption) swims. Here you find out how much gas you use when resting or during the working part of the dive.
But first there’s theory and dive planning to do. Hours spend in the classroom, countless questions asked and answered to make our dive plan as safe as possible. During this segment I learnt a lot more about technical diving and how to do it safely. Then there is the gear set-up. It’s exactly as imagined: bulky and heavy. But all is forgotten when you’re in the water. Horizontal buoyance is important and was at first difficult for me to stay in horizontal trim as I’m used to looking behind me after divers and students and usually swimming in a semi upright position. We practiced the motor skills with Chris presenting them and me copying. Easy in a controlled environment. Not so easy when you don’t expect them. During the Tec 40 and Tec 45 dives Chris would surprise me with impromptu drills. After learning a skill in limited open water it is then fair game to be practiced on any oft he other technical dives so on the training dives everything that could go wrong went wrong of course. This is all simulated by Chris and is done in a way that simulates real emergencies. My first reaction to a simulated free flowing first stage was of course wrong. The second time it happened: wrong again. I always forgot to close the insulator valve between my tanks. But then the forth or fifth time I heard the bubbles behind my back I got it right. Smiling I got the well done fist bump from Chris. As there are not many new skills to learn there was a lot of time for swimming around, practicing buoyancy and emergency procedures. Confident we made our way to Sipadan for some deep technical diving.
I have dived here countless times, but never in this depth. The mission was to finish my courses and to find the Hammerheads at South Point, Sipadan. We had an own boat so time wasn’t an issue as we geared up. Bubble checks, S-drills and descent checks before the dives were the final things to do before descending into the depths of South Point looking for hammerhead sharks. The two Tec 40 final dives went without any sightings of the famous sharks but were nevertheless amazing dives. You see the deco times on your computers go up and yet you know in the end that everything is going to be just fine. Chris always kept an eye on me and the dive plan and everything went perfect. A flawless 40m technical dive using 50% Nitrox for a conservative decompression schedule was a product of solid training.
Three days later: deep technical diving Sipadan again, for the final dives of the course. PADI Tec 45 this time. Plan is made, 27 minutes bottom time followed by a long ascent. We reached 45m, for a last time I had to do the gas shutdown drill and then we went off into the blue. And then it came, out of the deep, close and big. A Hammerhead Shark is always an amazing sight, even if you have seen one before. It passed by, levelled off with us and swam slowly away.
After 70 minutes and back on the surface I can’t stop smiling: course finished, mission complete. One more dive to do, a fun dive this time. Same profile, same plan, same mission: find the Hammerhead. After 20 minutes at 45 meters and only blue water we were about to give up and head back to the reef when it showed up again. A single hammerhead shark. Of course we followed it into the blue but reaching our planed bottom time we had to start our ascent. I can’t tell when we gave up to find back to the reef and decided on a blue hang, but despite everything what I thought about the blue water it was a fun hang, full with weird, tiny creatures floating around us, three grey reef sharks and a Turtle visiting during our final stop at 3 meters. When my head breaks the surface after 80 minutes I’m tired and exhausted. While Chris is looking forward to lunch I take a nap, hugging my deco tank on the way back home to Seaventures.
During this week’s PADI Tec Course, Chris pushed me to my limits and in some cases beyond them, making me leave my comfort zone and finding out that I can get narced at 25meters.
I think now that technical diving is bulky, heavy and exhausting but also thrilling, rewarding and challenging in an awesome way I never expected. And above all it’s fun. I’ll be back for the Tec50 course where I will get to extend my limits in Techincal Diving to 50m as well as increasing the amount of deco cylinders carried on each dive. Technical Diving at Sipadan is an amazing experience and to anyone thinking about Technical Diving then Seaventures is the perfect place train easy logistics and excellent training.
Written by Brigitte Zintz (PADI Staff Instructor Seaventures Dive Rig) completing her PADI Tec 40 & Tec 45