Night dive on the Aster

Goot, Tami, Tony, Clare, Gerard and Cecil, ready for a night dive on the Aster
Goot, Tami, Tony, Clare, Gerard and Cecil, ready for a night dive on the Aster

I’ve never done a night dive off a boat before, and never gone deeper than about 12 metres on a night dive, and so it was with mixed feelings that I signed up for a night dive on the MV Aster in Hout Bay, on the evening of 17 September. We’d spent the morning diving in Hout Bay harbour as part of an OMSAC-organised underwater cleanup, and in the afternoon Underwater Explorers was running some boat dives. The visibility on the 2.30pm dive we did on the Aster was passable – not midsummer Atlantic clarity, but a respectable 8-10 metres. I spent most of my time on the deck in the centre of the wreck, on top of the bridge, and around the base of the mast. A strong current was pushing into Hout Bay. The wreck is at about 30 metres on the sand, and the deck is at about 24 metres. The top of the bridge is at 19-20 metres.

A tube worm retracts into its shell
A tube worm retracts into its shell

We launched for the night dive just before 6.30pm. On the boat was Tony, who has done lots of night dives (many off a boat, too), me (who has done lots of night dives, but all shore entries close to the city lights), Tami (ditto), and Goot, Gerard and Cecil, who were all doing their first night dive EVER. I don’t think they realised how awesome they were… Descending 25 metres onto the deck of a wreck, into the 11 degree waters of the Atlantic, in the dark, is something quite special!

The Aster is eerily illuminated by our torches
The Aster is eerily illuminated by our torches

We rolled into the water just before 7.00pm, and descended on the shot line. The first few moments were quite disorienting – it was very dark, much darker than the surface conditions hinted it would be, and it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust and for me to figure out where I was on the wreck. Soon I was more relaxed, and I managed to hunt down the tiny basket stars I’d found on the afternoon dive so that I could show them to Tami. I was glad that I’d done an afternoon dive on the same site – it helped with orientation in the dark, and I enjoyed going back to places where I’d seen things a few hours earlier to check whether they were still there.

Basket star feeding at night
Basket star feeding at night

Tony and I were wearing our Christmas strobes – awesome little gadgets except that the gaps between the flashes can be a bit long when trying to do a quick head count. We also had multiple cyalumes and some rather old glow in the dark Bright Weights (weights is a misnomer here – they are in fact positively buoyant). Those didn’t work too well, but we’re not going to give up on them just yet – perhaps more time under a bright light and/or in the sun will charge them better.

The mast of the Aster at night
The mast of the Aster at night

Doing a safety stop in the dark is a challenge. I didn’t realise how much I rely on having a visual reference – even just watching the depth on my dive computer – to manage my buoyancy at the end of a dive. Using other divers as a reference is not ideal – what if they’re using ME for a reference too? This dive was the first time I’ve used the backlight on my Suunto D6 since I’ve had the computer (about 40 dives), and I realised that the default setting it’s on (illuminates for 5 seconds) is hopelessly and irritatingly too short for a safety stop in the dark. I was also wearing an unbelievably buoyant second wetsuit over my usual Mares Trilastic, which had me shooting towards the surface like a very large cork every time I broke the five metre mark. All this aside, we managed – all of us, together – a safety stop, and then we were on the surface around the buoy, looking for Richard and the Underwater Explorers boat.

The Underwater Explorers buoy on the surface
The Underwater Explorers buoy on the surface

It was very, very peaceful on the surface (until Gerard started on about the crotch strap of Cecil’s new Poseidon wing, purchased for his forthcoming cave diving adventures), and the air wasn’t cold at all. Getting on the boat was a bit of an exercise – dive gear being predominantly black. The boat was far enough from shore that there was very little ambient light to assist the skipper and us in stowing our kit properly, but Richard was organised and quick, and we managed. We had a wait of a couple of minutes for Alistair and his two buddies (all on twins) to surface, and then we headed back to dry land, a warm shower, and the deep sleep that always follows a day of diving.

Tami, Gerard and Cecil waiting to board the Underwater Explorers boat
Tami, Gerard and Cecil waiting to board the Underwater Explorers boat

Dive date: 17 September 2011

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 11 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.3 metres

Visibility: 10 metres (always tough to estimate on a night dive, but we did do a dive at the same site a few hours earlier)

Dive duration: 27 minutes

The divers back on the boat
The divers back on the boat

Newsletter: Ever had a bad Monday? Come diving on Tuesday!

Hello diving people

Anemone at Long Beach
Anemone at Long Beach

You will probably have heard about the shark bite that occurred at Clovelly this morning, at the far end of Fish Hoek beach. For a balanced description of the events, you can read what the NSRI says here. At this time of year sharks do move inshore from Seal Island, and as a swimmer or surfer it is essential to pay attention to the Shark Spotter sirens and flags. As divers we are less concerned about sharks, because it’s highly unlikely that a shark will mistake you for anything other than what you are: a noisy, neoprene-clad figure exhaling clouds of bubbles, unlike any other creature in its domain! I have dived extensively with sharks – when I was working in Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique, our first dive of the day was almost invariably to a reef called Pinnacles, where we saw hammerheads and Zambezi (bull) sharks almost daily, and sometimes tiger sharks. They just do not bug divers.

However, it is recommended to avoid flailing around on the surface too much at any time of the year in Cape Town’s waters, even if you’re in scuba gear. Controlled buoyancy and businesslike behaviour when you surface after a dive will contribute to your peace of mind. If you’d like to chat about sharks or are concerned about what to do if you see one while diving, please get in touch (my contact details are below or on the About page). You can also read this post in our Frequently Asked Questions section for more information, and my account of seeing a great white shark while diving. There is a follow-up on that sighting here.

Sharks are a reality of life lived close to and in the ocean, and we are privileged to reside in a country where great white sharks have been protected for nearly 20 years. Increased shark sightings in Cape Town are attributable both to population growth of great whites – back towards their natural levels before fishing for them was popular – and to increased efforts being put into minimising interactions between bathers and sharks, chiefly by the excellent Shark Spotters campaign. For a bit of background and some food for thought, you can read this post about the history of Shark Spotters, and this movie review.

Tony and Gerard on Tafelberg Reef
Tony and Gerard on Tafelberg Reef

Sharks aside, the ocean has been kind to us of late. We dived both the Atlantic side and the False Bay coastline this last weekend and had a good 12 metres visibility with 10 degrees at Tafelberg Reef, and at Long Beach we had 6 metres visibility and 15 degree water. Yesterday we dived Partridge Point with some tourists and had 15 degree water with 8 metre visibility, and some friendly and playful seals made the tourists extremely happy. On the way out we saw several whales from the boat, and then on our way back our skipper took us on a tour to see the penguins, oystercatchers, and some other tourists standing on the beach!

Bluefin gurnard at Long Beach
Bluefin gurnard at Long Beach

On Saturday ScubaPro will be holding a dive day. This is taking place at the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town and there will be five or so dive boats running dives at R100 each. Tonight was the deadline for booking a spot on the boat so hopefully you have all made a plan. We had 12 spots but they are all taken. If you are on the first launch on Saturday (8am), please be at the yacht club by 7am. Directions here.

Basket star on Tafelberg Reef
Basket star on Tafelberg Reef

ScubaPro will have gear available for testing on a dive so if you have finally saved up some hard earned cash to purchase a BCD for example, you could test the one you have had dreams of owning… Oh, no you can’t do that… You need to hand in your old one to test a new one. Or fork out some cash to hire one first so that you can hand it in. Once again the local dive gear suppliers show little or no concern for new divers getting into the sport except to take their money.

Anyway, this is how the day will look:

GOODIE BAGS for every diver booked on a dive with a participating Charter – Please note, only bookings received by Wednesday 28th September are eligible for Goodie Bags. Collect your Goodie bag on registration day.

DEMO GEAR: Hand in your gear and borrow the latest & greatest for a test dive!

SPIRIT of SEALIFE Photo Comp: A fun competition where the picture that best captures the fun & wonder of diving wins, not necessarily the picture that is technically best!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY at the Prize Giving Party! Great food and beverages will be available and there’ll be music and a slide show from the Sealife Photo Comp! Prize giving for the photo comp and the lucky draw will take place at 16h30.

WORLD CUP RUGBY on a BIG SCREEN:

Although there’s no Springbok match, we’ll be screening the World Cup matches in the morning (07h00 and 09h30).

WIN OVER R17 000-00 WORTH OF PRIZES: Try any item of demo gear to qualify for the Lucky Draw.

On Sunday I will spend the day at Long Beach as there are six people wanting to experience scuba diving for the first time, so it will be a DSD day.

Close up of a basket star at Tafelberg Reef
Close up of a basket star at Tafelberg Reef

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog

Diving is addictive!

Checking out the kink in the chain at Long Beach
Checking out the kink in the chain at Long Beach

Diver Code of Conduct

I had to dig around a bit to find this, but Underwater Africa put together a Diver Code of Conduct that all recreational scuba diver users of MPAs in South Africa are encouraged to follow. Here it is:

A Recreational Scuba Diver should:

  1. Avoid all unnecessary contact or interference with marine life and habitats.
  2. Strive to develop and maintain excellent buoyancy control skills.
  3. Not take or purchase any souvenirs such as corals or shells.
  4. Keep diving sites and launch areas clean.
  5. Support service providers that adopt environmentally friendly practices.
  6. Obey local laws and regulations.
  7. Learn about the underwater environment and the impact of humans on the environment.
  8. Dive within the limits of training and experience.
  9. Show consideration towards fellow divers and other users.
  10. Encourage other divers to follow this Code of Conduct.
  11. Help create conservation awareness amongst the local community, general public and diving community.

I think it’s good!

Top up my cylinder… and win a repeat customer

Your day’s diving is only over once you are home, equipment rinsed, dried and stored and your cylinders are full. If you own your own gear and live on a coastline like we have in Cape Town then diving is a very cheap sport or hobby. You only expense, other than the trip there and back, would be to fill your cylinders.

Popular cylinders are 10 litre and 12 litre cylinders and if you dived at one of the multitude of easy shore entries around the Cape Peninsula where depths vary from 3 m to 12 metres you can quite easily end up with 100 bar in your cylinder at the end of a 50 minute dive.

If you dived at home in your pool to test your gear or work on buoyancy you would likely have 150 bar after more than an hour in the water. The same cylinder on a 30 metre deep dive for a total dive time of 30-40 minutes including safety stops would be at around 50 bar if you followed your dive plan.

The whole thing is that if you arrived at a dive centre, with a tiny 7 litre cylinder that needs 50 bar (350 litres of air) or a huge 18 litre at 50 bar – requiring about 3000 litres of air to fill to 220 bar – most, but not all dive centres will charge the same flat fee for filling. I understand that everyone has their own business plan and set of procedures but in reality this does not bode well for customer retention

A dive centre that is quick at filling, or that charges less if you only have a “top up” will foster good relations with customers, and if you are happy in their space you will probably buy from that shop

The dive centre that is slow, or charges you full price in fact forces you away as you now go to a different centre to fill, and ultimately make other purchases there too. I drive past three dive centres on most diving days to end up at centre number 4 to fill my cylinders, why? Dive centre 4 is friendly (so are the others), but if I need a top up that’s what I pay for. The staff will always talk diving and show you the latest gadgets, and this fosters good relationships and this is where I shop.

As a diver with your own gear you will always attend to any faults with haste otherwise they spoil the diving experience. As an independent instructor I have eight sets of gear. The gear works harder than the average diver’s gear so a fair amount of maintenance is required. Almost weekly something needs to be fixed: reels wear out, torches get dropped, gloves become holed, fin straps break and the list goes on. Students need everything to work properly if they are to have a good experience so this constant expenditure is necessary.

Where do I buy all of these consumables? Often at the same centre that fills my cylinders. It’s the same place you will go when you need an expensive item such as a new BCD, a download cable for a dive computer, and it is most likely the place you will drop off your regulators for service when the time comes. It is also the place you will buy a bargain from as being a regular customer means the centre knows how you think, the type of stuff you most often buy, and what you do, so when a bargain arrives that they know is just what you need they will do their best to put you and the item in the same area, and hey presto they have a sale…

Like this one!

Baby air compressor
Baby air compressor

But more on the new compressor in another post…

Dive sites: Blue Rock Quarry

We have had a lot of lousy weather lately resulting in the boat diving being cancelled almost every week since the beginning of the year. With a Deep Specialty in progress this has been a huge setback. With the prospects of a deep boat dive diminishing we decided to do a deep dive in the quarry.

Blue Rock Quarry
Blue Rock Quarry

Blue Rock Quarry is situated just outside of Somerset West and is so named for the blue rock harvested there years ago. When it fell into disuse, it was filled up with water and now plays host to a range of watersports and recreational activities.

Blue Rock Quarry - looks inviting, yes?
Blue Rock Quarry - looks inviting, yes?

We chose a spot that had a depth of close to 50 metres as we were looking for a maximum depth of 40 metres. The water looks clean and inviting from the surface and in fact the visibility is very good despite the total darkness that surrounds you from around 30 metres.

Buoy line dropping to 25 metres
Buoy line dropping to 25 metres

Cecil, Clare and I entered the water here, where a line goes down the wall to a ledge at about 25 metres. The water is clear providing you do not rub a fin, finger or bubble on the walls as this results in a cascade of silt and fine rock rubble which takes a fair amount of time to clear.

Rocky slope
Rocky slope

We had planned to stop at 20 and again at 30 metres on the way down but due to the poor visiblity  we stopped a few more times just for me to make sure Clare and Cecil were still above me on the line.

Cecil descending down the buoy line
Cecil descending down the buoy line

At 30 metres we encountered a tree. The branches sticking out in all directions are a huge hazard in low visibility as entanglement is a real possibility. We moved away from the tree and picked up another cable that I reckon runs down to nearly 50 metres.

Dark diving in the quarry
Dark diving in the quarry

At 34 metres the water was very dark, and visibility was reduced to almost zero due to the silt dislodged by us on the cable. I stopped at 34 metres and shone my light down; directly below me was another tree.

The walls of Blue Rock quarry
The walls of Blue Rock quarry

We could move away from the line and descend further or turn the dive here. We did the skills required for the dive at this depth and started our ascent. Ascending was slow and deliberate, with planned stops at 20, 10 and 5 metres.

Tree stump at 5 metres
Tree stump at 5 metres

We did not see any life except for one small freshwater crab spotted by Clare. You don’t do this dive to sightsee!

Cecil doing his safety stop
Cecil doing his safety stop

Things to remember for a fresh water dive: weighting is critical, and you must remove weight for this dive. A good dive light, a back-up and cyalumes or strobes are also required plus a detailed dive plan. The quarry is also used for wake boarding and cable water skiing and a circular raised cable drags the skiiers around the perimeter so an ascent off the line is out of the question.

Dive date: 26 March 2011

Air temperature: 25 degrees

Water temperature: 12 degrees (much warmer on the surface, over 20 degrees)

Maximum depth: 34.4 metres (33.6 metres according to the dive computer, adjusted by 2.5% for fresh water)

Visibility: 4 metres

Dive duration: 23 minutes

As a facility for training the quarry is an option but having dived many quarries in my life I would much rather choose an angry dirty ocean to a quarry.

My favourite dive course

I am often asked to name the course I most like to teach and quite frankly it’s a very difficult question.

I must say that the Open Water course is possibly the most rewarding insomuch as the learning curve is so steep and watching people go from apprehensive nervousness initially to calm and capable divers in a matter of a few hours underwater is very satisfying.

The Advanced course can also be equally satisfying. Deep specialties, night diving and search and recovery also rate very high on my list, but in all honesty it is more about the person you are teaching than about what you are teaching them.

Students and buddies in Sodwana
Students and buddies in Sodwana

A recent student, her opening statement to me being “I am terrified of water,” was after six Open Water dives a competent, relaxed diver with exceptional buoyancy, excellent airway control and a desire to explore and investigate everything. Such a student is very satisfying.

Spending time in the sea is what I love to do: setting up lift bags, positioning hoops for buoyancy, navigating to specific features underwater, staying down after everyone has returned to the boat as you are diving on nitrox, hanging around an octopus for an entire dive with my camera, or just drifting across the ocean at a safety stop… It’s all a learning curve, and even though I teach someone something everyday about diving, so I learn something new each and every time I dive with a different person. I see something new every time I go diving and no matter how many times I dive the same dive site I will always encounter something different. That’s the ocean, that’s diving, and that’s why I love to dive.

Wetsuits and drysuits

Having done most of my diving in warm water I arrived in Cape Town armed with a 5 millimetre thick one piece wetsuit and a shorty to go over that, also in 5mm. This wetsuit had served me well and had done well over 700 dives. Being a custom-made suit it fits like a glove. The hoodie is attached to the shorty. I wanted it like that as I find a hood attached to the wetsuit makes my head feel spring loaded, and when turning your head it always feels like it wants to spring back.

It now has now done its time, has a few leaky holes and is fast becoming scruffy, as this photo Clare took on a dive we did on the BOS 400 demonstrates.

Glue on my knees in the Atlantic
Glue on my knees in the Atlantic

Neoprene also breaks down eventually, it becomes waterlogged and looses its density and insulation properties. It now feels like a 3mm wetsuit and I get cold.

So what next, a new wetsuit, or a dry suit? (Or both?!)

Drysuits

The idea of a drysuit is very appealing, aptly named, it keeps you dry and you could go for a dive dressed in your Sunday best. The right thing to wear under a drysuit is an undergarment designed for the job.

The drysuit undergarment
The drysuit undergarment

These garments are most often fleece-lined and keep you warm.

Inside the drysuit undergarment
Inside the drysuit undergarment

Neoprene or silicone rubber neck and wrist seals ensure no water enters the suit in these places and the boots are attached and part of the suit. A large watertight zipper opening allows you to step into the suit.

Full drysuit
Full drysuit

Drysuits have a few more tricks, an inflator on the chest (most often) allows you to trim your buoyancy by putting air into the suit. This also prevents the suit from squeezing you at depth.

Drysuit showing neck seal and air vents
Drysuit showing neck seal and air vents

An adjustable deflate button, sometimes several, allow you to vent air or, set correctly, will vent automatically. An extra hose is required for your first stage and a good idea is to do a course on drysuit diving before you head off to the ocean. Most drysuit suppliers will give you an orientation dive with the purchase.

We dived in the Atlantic the first time I tried a drysuit in Cape Town, a windy day with a long boat ride, 6 degrees celcius on the bottom and I was warm as toast.

Drysuit diving in the Atlantic
Drysuit diving in the Atlantic

Wetsuits

A decent wetsuit is also very good at keeping you warm and does not have the added buoyancy concerns of drysuits, nor does a small leak turn your dive into a freezing disaster.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5
Mares Flexa 8-6-5

Mares, a brand of dive gear, exceptional quality, not the cheapest, but most definitely one of the best, make this wetsuit. Called a Flexa 8-6-5 it has 8mm on the torso and on the upper legs and arms, 6mm on all the body joints, so your knees and elbows bend easily, and 5 mm on the rest. It has a built in back pad that give you extra padding where your BCD back plate sits against your body and very snug neck, wrist and ankle seals. I do like the front zip, but I don’t like the stiff velcro attachment on the neck and may have this removed.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5 showing neck seal
Mares Flexa 8-6-5 showing neck seal

The water on the first day I tested the suit was 14 degrees celcius and I did two dives back to back, spending just under an hour and a half in the water, without feeling cold at all. The subsequent dives I have done in it have been a pleasure.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5
Mares Flexa 8-6-5

I know there are a lot of very good wetsuits available and both Reef and Coral will custom make a suit perfectly, but personally I rate this suit as one of the best.

What it takes to be a Divemaster

Many divers dream of becoming a Divemaster or a Open Water scuba instructor. In reality it is a “dream job” as it is made up of 99% good stuff and only 1% of the bad. (More on this shortly.)

The Divemaster role requires hard work
The Divemaster role requires hard work

Sadly not everyone can be a Divemaster. Not because its difficult (it’s not – learning to be a Divemaster is easy and fun with the right mindset, and we can all learn something new if we want it) but something else needs to be there first, an intangible skill or demeanour for want of a better word.

There are lots of good Divemasters, people who scored 90% plus on all the exams, scored highly on their skill sets and have the right gear and proper diving habits. But there are fewer really exceptional Divemasters, who performed as well as the rest while in training but have that elusive ability to be exceptional Divemasters. These are people who you would be happy to trust in any situation. It is only in an emergency situation that this ability in a person shines through.

You need to be calm and authoritative to be a Divemaster
You need to be calm and authoritative to be a Divemaster

Being exceptionally good in the water is not all that is required. An active Divemaster will know the dive site, have exceptional buoyancy, keep divers together and ensure you all see the hidden beauty of the dive site. But will they cope when two people run out of air at the same time, or when half the group gets lost, or two people panic when their masks flood (90% of regular divers have not removed their masks since their Open Water course)? Will they make the right decision if the conditions are unsafe, or will they dive anyway because they need the money? What will they do if you see a shark and some of the group panic and some just freeze?

There is a lot more to being a Divemaster than completing the course. It is only once you have done the course and started working as a Divemaster that you start to learn, and only the right people stick it out. You need to have the ability to feel ”that was a good dive” despite a dive where things happen like an O ring pops on the boat, a regulator free flows, a diver loses a weight belt, someone gets lost , someone runs out of air and yanks your regulator out your mouth dislodging your teeth, the visiblity is lousy and the water is cold, the boat leaks and the weather sucks… Is this you? Yes? Then become a Divemaster and it will change your life… Diving is a way of life.

Seal Team

PADI has an amazing program for young kids. It is called Seal Team and it is a program in which 8 – 10 year olds can learn to dive.

Abby giving an OK sign
Abby giving an OK sign

My latest junior dive star is nine years old. Abby, on vacation from the UK, wanted to learn to dive with her older brother and sister plus mom and dad. The five of them spent two days in the pool and in these sessions Mom, dad and older brother and sister completed their confined skills for Junior Open Water and for the parents, Open Water diver.

Abby writes on a slate underwater - look at that buoyancy
Abby writes on a slate underwater - look at that buoyancy

Abby completed five dives and five Aqua Missions thus resulting in her being certified as a PADI Seal.
At the age of nine her buoyancy was excellent, she swam through hoops , cleared a flooded mask, recovered her regulator and used an alternate air source.

Writing on the wall
Writing on the wall

We also played games with hoops and slates and she used an underwater camera to take a whole lot of paparazzi photos of her family while they were all diving! The Seal Team crewpack contains a DVD and a manual/logbook with quizzes, puzzles and lots of information. It’s definitely not a Mickey Mouse course – and it’s a lot of fun both to teach and participate in.

Seal Team manual/logbook
Seal Team manual/logbook

FAQ: What can I expect on a deep dive?

I was very nervous before my first deep dive. It actually took a few deep dives before I was comfortable with them, and now I even look forward to them. Mental preparation for deep dives is something you might need to work on – it’s easy for one’s imagination to run wild when it’s an unfamiliar skill.

If you haven’t done a deep dive before, there are some things that you might want to know in advance:

  1. There will be a boat ride. You’ll roll over the side of the boat on the skipper’s count, along with the other divers. Don’t roll over late – rather stay on the boat and let the skipper drop you again when everyone has moved clear. If you land on another diver it’s a good way to ensure you won’t get invited for any more boat dives!
  2. You will probably descend on a shot line. This is a weighted line with a buoy on the end, and the skipper will drop it close to the  reef or wreck you plan to explore. You’ll use the line to make sure that you find your dive site – you’ll be descending through a large water column, and a current can easily carry you away from your destination. Circle the shot line gently with two fingers and use it as a guide while you descend. DO NOT grip it like a monkey!
  3. If you’re diving in Cape Town, it’ll be cold. And it’ll get colder the deeper you go. It might even be dark, too. The first 10-15 metres of water may be very murky and green, but down below that the visibility will probably improve, even if it’s dark.
  4. You will feel stupid. At about 25 metres, nitrogen narcosis becomes a noticeable issue. If you feel weird, ascend a bit, wait for it to dissipate, and then resume your descent – SLOWLY. But even if you don’t get it severely, your mental abilities WILL be limited. This is a fact of deep diving on air. You might find your field of vision narrows a bit, that you obsess over things, or that you are very conscious of only being able to do one thing at a time. All this means you need to take extra care, and don’t be reckless. Stay close to your buddy and watch each other carefully.
  5. You will feel heavy at the bottom – no matter how much or how little weight you are wearing. Don’t wait until you’re at 30 metres to start inflating your BCD. Stop at 10 metres, slow your ascent, and inflate your BCD slowly as you continue going down. This way you won’t rocket into the sand at the bottom (assuming there IS a bottom within the range of scuba – not the case if you’re diving a wall) like a cannonball, the chances of severe nitrogen narcosis are minimised, and you can be in control of your buoyancy all the way down.
  6. Colours will be dim and greyish. Take a torch – you may not think it’ll make a difference, but even at 20 metres the reds and oranges are significantly diminished and by 30 metres you just won’t see them at all without artificial light. One of the joys of deep diving is illuminating a very ordinary object and seeing the colours pop out at you.
  7. Swimming will be more of an effort than usual. The water will feel a bit like molasses – thick and viscous. You’re under tremendous pressure, and you simply won’t be able to dart around like a mosquito. Take it slow, don’t over-exert, and move at the speed of natural creatures.
  8. The dive will be short. This is for two reasons: first, you will use your air up very quickly at depth. If it is your first deep dive, this will be especially true – you’ll be nervous, or excited, and you won’t have the experience that enables you to reduce your air consumption. Second, your no-decompression time decreases the deeper you go. So even if you have lots of air, you will only be able to spend 20 minutes or so at the bottom before you have to ascend. If you can’t remember what no-decompression time is, it’s time to revise your dive tables!
  9. You will do a safety stop. Don’t be slack with this – it is absolutely vital. You’ll ascend slowly, maybe stop at 10 or 15 metres for a little bit, and then do a safety stop of at LEAST 3 minutes at 5 metres. Your cylinder will be quite empty, so you’ll be buoyant. Make sure that you control your buoyancy very carefully. Watch the Divemaster, your computer, or the reel on the DM’s buoy line (he may let it hang in the water next to him) to ensure that you stay at a constant depth. Your depth gauge will respond slowly to changes in depth, so it’s not hugely reliable at this stage of the dive.
  10. You might deploy a surface marker buoy (SMB). Your instructor may get you to do this yourself, for practice. An SMB (or as I like to call it, a safety sausage!) is a long tube on a line, usually orange or yellow, that you inflate with air from your octo (NOT your regulator). One end is closed (the top) and one end is open for you to put your octo into and press the purge button to fill it with air. It stands up straight in the water, and warns passing boats that there are divers about to surface. It also shows the skipper of your boat where you are, so that he can be nearby to fetch you. When inflating the SMB, hold onto the line attached to it – not the tube itself, or you might be pulled out of the water with it when you inflate it. Don’t fill it to capacity if you’re still at the safety stop – just a couple of purges of your octo will be enough. As it ascends the air will expand and when it reaches the surface the SMB will be sufficiently inflated to stand vertically out of the water.
    Gerard demonstrates correct safety stop technique in Sodwana
    Gerard demonstrates correct safety stop technique in Sodwana

    In the photo above, note how Gerard is watching his dive computer for depth and while it counts down his safety stop, hanging onto his SMB while he waits to ascend.

  11. There should be a hang tank for you to breathe off at the safety stop. A hang tank is a spare cylinder of air, with several regulators attached. It allows you to complete your safety stop without worrying about being low on air, if that’s the case. It also provides a useful reference for keeping yourself at a constant depth while you’re degassing!

    Divers breathing from a hang tank in Smitswinkel Bay
    Divers breathing from a hang tank in Smitswinkel Bay