In October, per required by my course for a field trip in April, I got open water certified right here in the United Kingdom. My instructor was great, but man, the days were long and it was frigid on the open water dives.
There were two field trips on my course that required the certification: my trip (South Africa in April) and a different marine field course in the Red Sea that took place in November. During the course, the instructor shared so many amazing stories about her time on LiveAboard trips: an intensive week of diving where you live on board a boat that can take you to nearly two dozen dive sites. A combination of interest in the LiveAboard, jealousy of those going to the Red Sea for their course and wanting to get more experience before my field trip led me to booking a LiveAboard trip of my own based out of Hurghada, Egypt over Christmas (you can read about it here and see pictures here).
I specially chose my LiveAboard itinerary because it allowed divers with no logged dives (a.k.a. yours truly). Once I booked, I was informed at to dive a certain site (the Thistlegorm wreck), I needed a minimum of 20 logged dives. I waved that off and said I’d simply skip that dive instead of trying to cram a dozen dives in before my trip. No big deal.
However, once we were oriented with what kind of dives we will be doing, Tifa, the lead guide dive, informed Pri (a fellow newly certified diver) and me that our dives would be rather limited as we were only qualified to go down to 18 meters and may not be able to do the wreck or night dives, which leaves out most of the dives. We would be permitted to dive such sites as long as we were enrolled in the Advanced Open Water Diving course offered on the boat, though. Since the certification is good forever and I probably would have wanted to one-up eventually anyway, I took the deal.
Tifa gave us some learning materials and selected our “adventure dives” for us from several options: the required deep dive and underwater navigation specialties as well as a wreck, night and peak performance buoyancy. These aren’t to perfect our skills but rather get our toes wet in some other specialties and build our skills.
We were given a few days to read the materials and complete the knowledge reviews. Then before the general dive briefing, Tifa would review what we will do in the water for our training before a pleasure dive. Sometimes, we would even practice the exercises on land if necessary.
Peak performance buoyancy: This was the first of the skills we practiced on the very first dive. On the sandy bottom, we practiced making ourselves neutrally buoyant (don’t float, don’t sink) and controlling our buoyancy with just our breath. It was pretty straightforward. We enjoyed a pleasure dive after that. Here is the text from my blog post about the rest of the dive:
“On the reef, we encountered a lionfish, which we admired from a safe distance. In the same area, I took out my regulator per suggestion of Tifa and opened my mouth for service from a cleaner wrasse. The small fish came right up to my fish and apparently cleaned my lips, but I didn’t feel anything. I did, however, feel something when he cleaned my ears, a small little thump and he made his worked his magic!”
Deep dive: The Emperor Fraser wreck lies on the seabed at about 35 meters, so Tifa thought this would be a good opportunity to do our deep dive. He spoke to us briefly about what happened to our body (chemical composition and how we reprieve color) at those depths and what can be done to prevent decompression sickness. We spent little time at the maximum depth of 33.5 meters and the rest of the dive was largely uneventful.
Underwater navigation: Again, on the sandy bottom of Small Crack, we practiced our skills. Our exercises (first practiced on land) included natural landmark navigation, navigating in a straight line and navigating in a square. Although it took Pri a bit more time to get the last drill, we still had time to swim around the dive site.
Wreck diving: We practiced using penetration lines like we would in a wreck with rope on the boat above water before the dive. Pri and I had both done wreck dives on the trip and were both comfortable around the vessels. With Tifa leading the way, we penetrated the massive Thistlegorm wreck and boy, am I glad we got to dive it! There were total of four dives at Thistlegorm and although we didn’t have the 20 required dives, we were an exception as we were training with a guide. It turned out to be one of my favorite dives (and apparently others’ too as it’s one of the top wreck dives in the world) and I wish I had more time to explore inside!
Night diving: Finally, our night dive. Again, Pri and I had both done a night dive on the trip already, but not with each other. The dive was largely uneventful, but we came up certified!
I’m really glad I took this chance to get certified because I don’t think it would have been as easy or flexible in the U.K. With a flexible diving itinerary and four dives a day over a week, we were under no pressure to get our certifications done in a hurry. It was amazing to see all these amazing sites while meeting my qualifications where the Open Water just felt like work. There’s always so much to see on even training dives and it was always a pleasure getting in the warm water. Finally, it was half the price of the dive center I got my Open Water certification at. Talk about a deal!
That being said, it still wasn’t cheap (about £200), but it’s something that will keep on giving back to me and I’m sure I won’t regret it. But for now, I’m done with scuba qualifications for a while. Now to focus on gear…
Photo by Nik MacMillan.