Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Being a Good Buddy

As is often the case, inspiration for a blog post comes from listening to the stories of other divers.In t The world of diving I came from there was a mixture of newbies with older, more experienced divers. This mix meant that individuals did not have to learn the hard way with the older divers adding a level of caution and responsibility to the group as a whole. These days active technical dive groups are few and far between and where they do exist they tend to comprise almost exclusively newbies. This means that the normal self regulating buddy influence is not as strong as it needs to be. Each member of the group is at the same level so there is a tendency for individuals to not take seriously the feedback or concerns of the rest of the group. Likewise iindividuals in the group are still finding their confidence so do not have a solid set of standards that they are prepared to enforce (like refusing to dive with a buddy who is drinking, or refusing to dive with a buddy who is piggy backing on your computers and has not done his own planning).
This sense of uncertainty extends to situations where a buddy pushes his limits to the point of being physically affected. He gets out the water looking a tad pale and then starts to throw up (discretely). What do you do ? There is a good chance that the buddy is not going to take kindly to being driven to the closest hospital just because he is throwing up. Do you leave him ? After all he is a grown up! Where does individual responsibility end ? Where do you draw your own personal line ?
I understand the dilemma having had a similar experience with a very close friend. He was doing support at 100 meters when i was doing one of my deep build ups (140 m if I remember correctly). By the time I was out the water he was already back at camp with a migraine and throwing up.
This raised alarm bells for me. Yes, he was prone to migraines, but one of the fundamental guidelines for making decisions on a diving trip is that all physical symptoms are first attributed to diving and a possible bend, then to normal day to day niggles. No-one wants to make something big out of something small, so our tendency as individuals is to mind our own business and do nothing. By 6 in the evening my buddy was worse and still throwing up. He was also belligerent and refusing help. We phoned Dan!
They recommended we take him to the closest hospital. We were loathe to do that, after all it was probably just a migraine and hospital sounded like over kill. We would also have to force our friend to go. By 8pm the situation had not changed and as a group we realized that we would rather look foolish on Sunday then have a good friend seriously and permanently injured. We dragged him kicking and screaming to the hospital. They were also unsure but sent him off to the chamber just I case and a good thing to, because it took a chamber treatment to recover his memory and get him better. We are still not sure what exactly happened. It was probably a cerebral bend which meant if we had done nothing our friend would have been permanently impaired.
What did I learn from this ? Two things, firstly you look more foolish when you do not react as if it is serious and secondly, I need to be able to live with myself and that I do not want to live with the guilt of having done nothing and seeing some-one die or become crippled. Most of the things I regret in diving involve not speaking up. You may not change anything by speaking up, but you at least offer the individual the opportunity to make a different choice.
This means that I am vocal about my expectations of a buddy because it is not only about them, I have to live with what happens as well. We agree before hand how we expect each other to behave. I expect my buddies to tell me if they are concerned about decisions I am or am not making. I expect them to keep an eye on me after a dive because I know that if I am not feeling well I probably will not mention anything and it will probably take someone making something of it before I go to hospital. I expect my buddy to have high standards and to care about his life and mine!
So next time you are on a trip and you see yoru buddy acting in a way that will endanger his life or your own, speak up! If you are still uncomfortable do not do the dive (or at least not with him). Keep an eye on your buddy after a dive and check up on him. If he seems to be ill call him on it. Phone DAN and ask for their advice.
Remember, life is too short for regrets and trust me, when something goes wrong you will regret doing nothing and ‘going along’ to keep the peace. I would rather have a buddy who is cross with me, than a dead or impaired one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Trusting an 'Experienced' Diver

How do you Define ‘Experienced ‘ ?
I was pondering the concept of an ‘experienced’ technical diver (or any diver for that matter.

The reason why I am curious is because associated with the word experienced comes a whole host of privileges. I routinely see or hear about so-called experienced divers who take it upon themselves to ‘break’ their agencies rules (sorry, the politically correct term is ‘make exceptions’). It seems that along with the label ‘experienced’ comes immunity (and in some cases an almost God like power). The really disturbing aspect is when (as apparently an experienced diver) I get asked by newbie technical divers to ‘take them’ outside of their training and experience. The implication is that my experience will keep them safe…which disturbs me greatly. Nothing in my experience has equipped me to be soley responsible for some-one else’s life.

What do we as a community mean by this rather vague yet powerful word, ‘experienced’ ?
If one looks at the different agencies they all have standards in place to define the level of experience a diver must have in order to get onto a course or to complete a course. Depending on the agency this is defined as a number of dives or a number of hours in the water (there are also a set of skills that need to be practiced a certain number of times to complete a course). But once you have finished with a course, how can you as a diver tell if the person you are about to dive with is really competent and experienced ? Or out another way, how do you know if you can trust this dude with your life ?

Often step one is to find out what agency they got their certification from the theory being that some agencies offer better training than others (which is mostly not the case these days).
Step two is to take a look at who his (sorry ladies, it is invariably a he) instructor was. There is a common belief that the quality of a diver is based more on the instructor than the agency, the theory going that a good instructor will make up for his agency’s ‘bad’ points and produce a diver that is more competent. I would like to believe that there is some truth to this belief and that even within an agency one can see a difference between competence in students that goes beyond the students individual ability.
But both of these mechanisms are qualitative. Just because a diver has had the best instructor from a highly credited agency with strict standards (that are actually enforced) does not mean that a diver is going to be competent and capable. So what next ?
Step three is normally to get an understanding of how many dives the dude has. Which is all well and good, but what we forget to ask is over how many years and when last he dived. What we also forget to ask is where those dives were been obtained ? An example perhaps…

Meet Jo Blogs. He is a certified Normoxic Diver with 250 dives to his name. Sounds good right ? What he forgot to tell you is that he started diving nine months ago and the first 150 of those dives were obtained thanks to a number of hectic weekends at Bass Lake. Now meet Bob Smith, he has 120 dives, has been diving almost two years and has less than 30 dives in Bass lake. Of his 120 dives less than 30 are shallower than20 meters or shorter than 30 minutes long. Which one would you prefer to dive with ?

Or what about Jim Green who has been diving for ten years, has 300 dives to his name but has not done anything other than the odd sea dive over the last 3 years and now wants to do a 60 meter dive with you ? Then there is Phil Black who has been diving for 5 years, has over 400 dives (most of which are deeper than 30 meters) but has bent himself stukkend (broken for the international readers) on several occasions (you later found out that he was not breaking the ‘rules’, but would it make a difference ? )?

Tricky isn’t it ? Most of us are fairly careful about who we end up underwater with. We surreptitiously institute ‘trial’ dives that allow us to gauge the person’s skills for ourselves, but what happens when it is not a buddy you are trying to gauge but an instructor ? Most instructors pride themselves on their reputations and their abilities (real or perceived) and most are not open to the concept of you the student trying them out.

We assume instructor competence and experience because of the pieces of paper they have - their certificates. These certificates carry with them some important assumptions. Each one means that the instructor has passed that agencies prerequisites. On paper these pre-requisites and standards are impressive. Instructors are required to have a certain number of dives, have assisted on courses, have practiced lectures, have demonstrated all the skills and have ‘bought into’ passing on the agencies standards and methods .

What we do not know is that agencies love to do paper cross over’s which do not require you to physically fulfill the course requirements from either a practical or theoretical perspective. Even more worrying is the concept of instructor and instructor trainer discretion, which means that once qualified an individual may effectively ignore his agencies rules because in his opinion the student is competent and capable. The student does not necessarily need to demonstrate this or any of the skills required for his certificate. In the worst case scenario instructors have been blessed with certification in a matter of hours.

All of which means that the pieces of paper we rely on so much to grade the divers around us are pretty meaningless.

So how do we define experienced ? My personal perspective is that the only way to gauge a diver’s ability is to dive with him and spend time with him, both above and below water. This is a much safer (and accurate) approach to determining the safety and reliability of a diver than either his logbook or his certificates can ever be.

So next time you hear the word ‘experienced’ look a bit deeper… and take the time to judge for yourself. After all, it could be your life on the line!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The New Hammer CCR

Well, some of you know that I decided to sell my inspiration new vision and go for the new Hammer CCR! Gerhard (my partner in crime....err diving:) ) is in the States at the moment fetching it and getting the training, so I thought I would post his comments after meeting Kevin Juergensen and personally getting a tour and picking up my new baby.

OK! This is the best piece of engineering I have seen so far. I had a nice meeting with Kevin Juergensen. Did you know the guy has mk15.5's coming out of his ear - (try 4 NEW ones still with labels and paperwork on them and yes, they are for sale at least 13 000 US with complete hammerheads etc. But in their boxes....too cool). I saw mk 16's for Carleton technologies for the military, anti magnetic with the newest displays etc, was not allowed to photograph it but Kevin showed me some amazing stuff. Those crazy compound plastic and carbon cylinders that weighs noting and rated 300 bar etc... he has infrared in the handsets and other things I am not allowed to mention. What i can mention is the fact that the new hammer handset will be as flat as the vision ones with ability to rotate the display 90 degrees at a time and all sorts of goodies (the wire will become ribbon type encased cable etc...).

One of the pluses of visiting in person (other than getting to drool over Kevin's workshop) is the that I will get a course on doing repairs to the Hammer handsets, so I can replace circuit boards, pressure transducers , lenses , displays etc without having to post the hammers back to the States (costs a small fortune). How cool is that? All approved by hammerhead, warranty NOT void....

Now for engineering, this is the BEST I have ever seen.(Kevin is a perfectionist - as he explained it was all out or bust,the best or nothing) Everything is made in Czechoslovakia and it is PERFECT - all hand machined, every part fits like a glove, solid delrin, high flow a.d.v. (similar to the meg/cis), anodized aluminum scrubber canister, axial/radial scrubber (takes 3.5kg sorb) AND I saw the first extend air cartridge that kevin had made, thing will give you easily 12+ hours! HUGE, looks like a little cylinder. I am attaching photos ( low resolution) for you of the the canister , locking lid, lungs, GOLEM Box (included). For those people in South Africa we have negotiated a special deal - the units will ship with the storm case AND cylinders for the same price and of course we get metalsub connectors for the cylinders, c+ handsets, a.d.v., flow stop, big canister (you can get a half one for baby dives if you want) etc etc.
I have to say I was a bit worried about the thing until I got it. Bloody hell, my inspo is up for free at this point. Its got nice manifolds, they use apex 1st stages. I have been promised 4 week turn around on the machines, 2-3 weeks on an inspo hammer head.

The worst was leaving there as I did not want to bugger off - the amount of spares that guys has! Cis lunar , mk15/15.5/16, his 1st circuit boards...was just crazy, a machine that looks like darth vader, an 800 liter a minute compressor... o yes, and they just landed a 15Milion dollar contract for the military....

A complete hammer is US $ 10 700 excl deco on secondary, and 3450 for an Inspo Hammer replacement excl deco. Also (much against kevins will, but me being a persistent) I can also now do a proper liquid fill off the handsets...

O yes, did I mention my machine is up for sale... 5 bucks :)

Will post pics on (and no, Verna's new hammer ccr is not for sale)