eDiveSoftware blogs

Keep breathing......Those were the first thoughts when I bottomed out at close to 40m in the darkness in a spot of bother.

The diving day started just like any other. Steve and I had planned the dive for over two weeks and knew what to expect for a brisk and cold January morning. High possibility of free-flowing regulators, chances of immediate binning of the dive through dry suit seepage, possible 'switching off' due to the cold.....the list when on and on. We were well seasoned divers totally used to the underwater world, both in a dive school teaching and looking after newbie's and those wanting advanced instruction and both chasing challenges to stop our diving becoming 'boring' (which usually ends in complacency and injuries!!!). I'd decided to take the full technical setup of twin faber 300's, two side slung 7's containing 50% Nitrox and 80% Nitrox both for gas wash-outs at different depths. Wearing a woolly bear, thick socks and A DUI 300 dry suit accompanied by a custom divers TDB and twin Poseidon 5000's.......I was kitted out with a great setup.....a tried and tested setup. Weighting was as usual except for the twin 7's but nothing I couldn't handle. Steve had a single 18, Cressie wing, Apex Regs environmentally setup for Ice diving and was equally setup with warm fluffy stuff beneath his dry suit to keep his extremities from freezing. Each had torches, back-up torches, glow sticks and spare Mares masks.

The plan was a simple dive to continue getting used to kit. Drop of the sides into the lake and sink to the top of the shelf at about 9 meters. Swim to the side of the shelf, last minute check that each others kit was fine (no tell-tail bubble trails leading from places they shouldn't) and gradually drop to 40 meters turning torches on as we descend. No serious task loading and all should go to plan apart from the cold and lack of light. At the bottom head on a bearing of 220 degrees for approx 2 minutes whereby, in the complete darkness we'd come across an old cargo container. Check air supply, locate rope and follow rope to plane, approximately 5 minutes away. At plane, check all is well, spend approx 5 minutes looking at its parts and off to the next destination. We'd pretty much drilled into each other that we'd always dive side by side (an offshoot from my military days) so no real need to continually check where each other was, always within arms distance, always check air supply at the arrival of each location, always check air supply every five minutes and periodically check each others kit for potential issues.

We dropped in from the side as planned and gave a quick check of all our gear.

I was slightly low in the water probably due to the extra 7's I had but nothing of an issue. Steve was slightly lower in the water due to the 18 litre but again nothing unusual. We did last minutes checks, gave the OK, gave the thumbs down and started our decent. On the way down and knowing the first 5 or so meters give some of the biggest pressure differentials in diving we gave 360 degree turns whilst descending checking each others kit. No problems. Within a very short period of time we arrived at the shelf at 9 meters both producing our torches ready for the pitch black below. I hit the dirt, kicked up some gloom but nothing more than an embarrassment. Something I religiously never try an do but we all have bad days. Steve signalled all was OK, we both flashed our torches at each other and threw ourselves of the shelf into the void below. At about 15 meters Steve signalled he had a problem - free flow. At 20 meters Steve signalled abort the dive, hit the inflate button on his suit to stop his decent, added extra air in his wing and before I could grab him bolted for the surface with reg in place. I hit inflate on my suit and promptly bottomed out at around 38 meters in a cloud of silt! In the short few seconds that Steve had signalled and due to the weight of two 7's in conjunction with the 20m waters pressure making my buoyancy less efficient I'd inadvertently plummeted to the bottom. A complete miscalculation that would prove a potential life threatening encounter. Wrestling with my thoughts at the bottom my torch failed.

Training then thankfully kicked in.....What's the problem? Can I breath....Yes.....Just Breath. I had twin 300's on my back so, assuming I could continue breathing I had a huge amount of gas supply to sort out most of the issues. Locate secondary torch and turn on......Torch flicked into life and promptly went out. OK....so now I'm stuck in the gloom, with no lights at around 40 meters with no buddy and for some reason I can't leave the bottom. My thoughts went out to Steve who was hopefully OK on the surface. If he was, he was now probably wondering where the hell I was. If a rescue boat had come out to get him they'd be asking the same.

It was a bad situation to be in but not as bad as it could have been. I had gas, I was warm, but I didn't have a game plan.

It was a simple mathematical equation. Too much weight = stay on bottom. Either I kept all my kit in place, stayed on the bottom and continued breathing until hopefully someone found me before I ran out of gas or ditched some of the weight and tried to ascend. No kit was worth saving over my life. The plan was set - try and get of the bottom with all my might, wing partially inflated, suit inflated and finning like mad. If that failed, drop one of the 7's and try again. If that failed, drop the other 7 and try again. Then ditch the little weight I had on my waist. They're was no other plan beyond that. I'd dived 100's of dives on just a twinset with much heavier weight around my waist so there was no reason whatsoever that I would not be able to leave the bottom unless stuck in concrete.

Then I remembered my VR3......the screen lights up in an eerie green glow and clicking that button literally put a little light in my life at the bottom of this void. I kicked of the bottom and swam like a man possessed. If Usain Bolt was a sprint swimmer I'd have left him in the blocks wondering where the hell I'd gone. Finning like mad I check my VR3 - 38.2.......38.2........38.2......38.1......38.1.......38.........38........38.1.........37.9........38.......37.9........37.7......bit by bit I was making progress. I added more air to my wing, got greater lift and slowly as I ascended up the depths the ambient pressure about me took less of a toll. At 30 meters I was buggered but the had bit had passed. Within minutes I had made 25 and shortly thereafter 20 meters.....I ditched some of the air from the wing, slowed my ascent and at about 15 meters realised that all was now well. I was comfortable in the water, could gradually ascend without kicking and slowed to a stop. I checked my 7 on my left, read "50% N2 / 18M" opened the valve, checked the pressure gauge and swapped regs. I stayed there motionless for about 4 minutes just to pull back my thoughts and to relieve myself of some of the nitrogen built up further below me. I checked the gauge for the 7 I was breathing off check my back gas gauge and had more than enough to go back to the bottom and do the whole operation again if everything went pear shaped. All was now well. I started my ascent and at 10m stopped for a further 3 minutes. I was great to have light above me again. Shortly thereafter I slowly ascended to the surface, fully inflated my wing, added more air to my suit and looked around for Steve who was waving like a schoolgirl on the shoreline.

So...what happened? It was a simple mathematical error of not taking into account 2 300 bar 7 litre cylinders. 300 bar cylinders are considerably heavier than normal 232 bar cylinders. I also had taken with my teaching belt which is overburdened with weight for students. Adding these two factors plus the weight of water above me at 15 or 20 meters was the tipping point of my buoyancy - The point at which all three factors contributed to a rapid descent. Had I been in Chepstow over the 80m coffin or worse still in the Canyons of Jamaica which drop to 3000+m the story would have been considerably different.

My instructor's belt is now black, has pockets on it for adding the usual square weights that are threaded onto weight belts and has a yellow spray painted web belt making it completely different in both colour and style from my 'personal' weight belt - which is a bright purple shot belt. The 7's have an additional marker on it stating 'HEAVY' - very obvious to anyone looking at it but a VERY clear reminder to me. My planning now lists weights and colours of all kit being taken. Steve and i also changed our diving routines - he checks my kit and asks me why I am taking it and vice versa. If neither of us can give credible reasons for taking it the other has the right to either request it isn't taken or to bin the dive.

My silly mistake....and it was a silly mistake almost cost me my life. My training drilled into me that breathing is good. My DDS Instructors told me one thing that always stuck in my mind - "regardless of how much shit your in, if you are breathing; you can work the rest out".

So, just remember - Breathe.....Just Breathe!!!!

Plans are under way to get us to Silfra in Iceland at some point, so Gaz and I are now putting together the kit that will work well for us there and the UK. I'm now doing twin set diving and helping Gaz out as he gets back into rebreathers again.

Gaz - One of the founders of eDiveSoftware Ltd