Category Archives: Diary

A boat dive, and an interesting refresher

So yesterday I joined a boat dive. FreediveUK were taking out a couple of AIDA 2* students and they sometimes take previous students out to get a bit more practice. There were two main reasons why I joined the boat trip; firstly to get some depth experience. It is difficult to find deeper water shore diving where I live so since my course none of the dives I have done have been more than about 10m. Secondly I was sold on the great visibility they are getting down in Cornwall at the moment. I haven’t experienced more than about 5m since I qualified and I was looking forward to being wowed out by the clarity.

Unfortunately only one of these was achieved, I got some extra depth but the weather was atrocious and the viz was some of the worst I have seen (do you see poor viz, or not see it?), in fact it couldn’t have been worse, at the surface you could barely see your hand at arm’s length, beyond about 12m was darkness!

This trip was also an opportunity to get used to my new freediving watch, the Sporasub SP1, but more of that later.

The second site that the knowledgeable dive boat skipper (Mark from Atlantic Scuba) found was just calm enough, and deep enough to drop the rope to 16m. As soon as we got into the water and I saw how poor the viz was I had quite a deja vu for my own 2* course, over a year ago in that cold dark quarry. The first few free immersions down to about 10m were fine, but when it came to clipping on the leash and diving down the rope I got all tangled again and faced the embarrassment of not being able to achieve what the other two guys were about to do.

It is funny how a few extra things to think about make it so much more difficult. Where previously I have been building confidence with every dive, suddenly I felt like I was back to square one, a few seconds aligning myself with an almost invisible rope, trying to pinch my nose with the hand to which the leash was attached, and suddenly I hadn’t equalised properly. It all started feeling a bit alien and before you know it I had turned at 8m, a depth that last week I was doing without even thinking about it.

Luckily while they were going through their drills with the instructor I had a practice doing some variable weight dives with the dive-master. This is simply holding on to a heavy weight whilst he controls the descent of rope over the first critical couple of meters, then he lets it drop. The prospect of descending at rate over which you have almost no control is slightly daunting the first time, but as soon as you feel any discomfort you can just let go, the weight speeds to the bottom and you pull yourself up on the rope as usual. The advantage of this practice is that it removes all factors from the equation apart from equalisation. You don’t have to move, fin or worry about anything else. It came surprisingly easy and was a real confidence booster, especially at depth, when it suddenly became so dark you couldn’t see any contrast in the light at all, and the only way of knowing where was up was the direction of the rope.

My watch told me that I was mostly dropping the weight around 12 or 13m, I think this was due to slightly painful sinuses, and proved I needed to maybe descend more slowly. I’m not sure if this kind of descent is suitable for very new beginners, if you don’t know how well you equalise, or aren’t aware of the warning signs then you should probably be careful.

As soon as I got back on the other rope I finned straight down to 16.4m (couldn’t see the plate at all!) and came slowly back up all nice and comfy, no problems, relaxed descent, and much more relaxed in the darkness.

The things I learn’t from this trip were:-

1/ I have to admit I’m really not comfortable yet at depth in very low viz. My lungs give me all the time in the world, and in clear water I am happy to stop and hang around for 10 or 15 seconds to equalise, get my bearings, align to a rope, (or just look at fishes), then carry on. But as it gets darker I will turn at the slightest hint of a problem, I’ll overcome that and yesterday was a confidence booster.

2/ The first dive or two of the day beyond about 8m result in an immediate urge to breathe, my body subconsciously thinking I need to breathe because my lung capacity has quickly halved (nearly) these contractions, (just like when you do breath hold practice) interfere with equalisation and cause confusion. That feeling goes away after the first couple of dives and this helps with keeping calm and no longer interferes with equalisation.

The home made dive float – version 2

 

I knocked up version 1 of this in the autumn, and it was OK, but had a couple of design faults which I have rectified overwinter.

I don’t take credit for the initial idea, I got that from the Underwater Foraging book, but I love Wombling – getting something for free, making good use of redundant stuff, especially shed junk that should have gone to the tip long ago but will always come in handy. This dive float is very much in that category.

Don’t spend too much money on this, if you have to start buying bits and bobs then you can soon end up spending almost as much as a purpose made float with the canvas pockets and the polystyrene inside bit. I have a few tips as to how you save money on this.

Firstly if you are one of the tiny minority that doesn’t have a crappy bodyboard in your shed or a friend who wants to get rid of one, then go to a seaside campsite – they will have loads of them, especially at the end of the season. People arrive with an overflowing car, buy cheap boards for the kids, then, surprise surprise, no room at the end of the week to take them home. They only cost £8 each, it’s a no brainer, leave them by the big dumpster for the next family.

The other expensive thing I found is the If you have a single board you will still benefit from extra leash plugs. These are the screw in things that enable you to attach all sorts of other cool stuff to your board, speargun straps, drink bottles, nets, camera, etc. etc. If you buy them online then they are a few quid each, so again, try a seaside campsite, they will have loads.

I actually had a number of old boards which friends’ kids left when they visited on holiday, so I butchered these for the valuable leash plugs and velcro wrist bands. These are used to hold things like spearguns in place. The net is held in place by superglued plastic groundsheet pegs from GoOutdoors which are really cheap. These are a cheaper substitute for leash plugs if you have to buy them.

The hole in the middle was there from version 1, but the net within it was fixed in place, which meant that with fish in the bag it had too much drag and wasn’t easy to pull around (sorry Richard!). So I modified this so the net ring is held in place by bungee cords and at the end of the day you can unclip it to lay the net full of fish (hopefully) on top of the board, then swim back without it dragging in the water. (You can’t leave the fish on top for long or it will become a dinner table for seagulls.

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The net came from eBay. There was a guy selling an old stock of keep nets for £2 each (just the net, not the frame) so I made it worthwhile by buying 4 or 5 of them. They will come in useful in the future, and now I have taken a body board out there is space in the back of my shed for lots of other useful bits of stuff. The circular frame is from an old prawn net.

The only dedicated piece of diving equipment incorporated into all of this is the line and reel, that came from spearfishingstore.co.uk but I would have bought that anyway, and I sometimes use it on a smaller float if I am not out to catch anything. The reel is normally attached to a loop on the top, but the line can be fed through a loop on the underside so it doesn’t get tangled in any of the paraphernalia attached to the top-side.

I’d be interested if anyone else has a similar setup, or any tips and tricks that other people use on a bodyboard float like this.

 

A Long and Cloudy Spearfishing Dive – I Have a Lot to Learn

Yesterday I went out with my friend the freediving instructor for a long spearfishing jolly round a coastal island near us. This was a real eye opener for me, it really showed how the skilled spearfisherman can be successful even in the most demanding conditions. The current was pushing us around and the visibility was less than 6ft, which if you played it right was probably a bonus as the fish are at the same disadvantage.

He speared 8 pollack, and I got nothing, I only fired my gun twice, and both of those had probably missed before I even pulled the trigger. The reasons for this? he is calm, stealthy, economical in his movement, like a fish. I am cumbersome, splashy, noisy, like a bather. He is perfectly weighted and his calmness gives him time to steady himself on a rock, aim his gun and wait for a fish to swim past. I am inexperienced, I rush, I can’t handle the gun properly. He has a camouflaged suit, I have one with white flashes on it, complemented by a hood with a bright yellow stripe.

At least one of these problems can be rectified immediately and for a fairly small cash outlay. It is time to invest in some spearfishing kit. I’ll be warmer too. Watch this space.

A Trip to Dorset – And Still no Lobsters

Yesterday I visited a friend in Dorset and we went out on a diving / kayaking / fishing trip. There was one aim, and that was lobsters. It is prime lobster season, we had inside knowledge from someone who knows, and we went to a place called lobster point, renowned for its lobsters. What could possibly stand in our way?

We spent a good hour or so diving into chalk gullies and kelp beds, foraging around in all the likely places, but came up with nothing. Luckily we appeased our guilt by catching 4 mackerel off the kayak.

Again the water was cloudy with algal bloom and microscopic marine life. I seem to have picked the wrong summer to begin my freediving career, most outings have been blighted by poor visibility and all along the south coast of Britain people complain about the same. Rarely have I seen more than 6ft ahead and one one occasion with a bit of disturbance thrown in, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

 

 

 

Hallsands and Spider Crabs

A slightly deeper dive this time, but probably not more than about 8 or 9m, I’ve been peering into lobster pots, but still haven’t seen a lobster let alone caught one.

I realise now that despite the fact that the water is warm, I need some gloves. As well as the temperature I also need some protection from the hazards of underwater life. I know we should leave marine life alone and shouldn’t interfere with things too much, I remember my PADI diving course instructor many years ago said he thought divers shouldn’t wear gloves as it encouraged them to grab onto coral and break it, without gloves you would never do such a thing. Well today I made the mistake of tapping a spider crab on the back and paid the price, I got a thorn stuck right in the tip of my index finger and I can’t get it out. I don’t know how long it will cause me problems, but I think need to invest in gloves, definitely.

I also got a nose bleed, I think this is a repeat of the sinus problem I had on my AIDA course, but a bit more bloody, I did feel a little twinge in my sinuses so that was probably it. I generally have more of a problem equalising after a prolonged time in the water, or when I get water up my nose too much. This happens when I forget to shave and my mask doesn’t fit properly, it is all a big learning curve.

 

 

A Long Warm Dive – I Need to Catch Some Food

So yesterday I had my first adventurous dive session. I went with my friend the instructor to a spot we both know well, and one of his favourite spearfising locations. I am still in my Orca swimming suit, but it was a hot day and I survived quite well. I think one of the reasons for this is that I am moving a lot more than he does. My technique is improving, but I am doing a lot more splashing around, adjusting my mask, and generally spluttering than he is, so I am generating heat at the expense of saving oxygen, the better I get, the colder I will be. I borrowed a speargun and failed dismally at getting anything, partly because of the low visibility but mainly my own inadequacy.

I learned about dehydration the hard way. It was a hot day, we were captivated by the undersea world and before I knew it I had been diving away in the salty environment for a couple of hours, and hadn’t had a drink for 3. So I ended up headachy and struggled to drag all my kit back up the hill.

Dehydration is a problem for freedivers because of the number of descents they are likely to make in a day. As I undersatnd it every time your body gets under pressure the fluids are pushed from your extremities to your core, you kidneys think ‘hello! too much liquid, let’s have a wee’ and so the excess gets sent to your bladder, when you surface and the liquid floods back to your extremities again you are a bit more dehydrated. Over a period of time you will lose more liquid than if you were bobbing around the surface, and the deeper your dives the more you will lose.

Shallow Water Practice

I now need to put into practice what I have learn’t, so I have been a few times to my local beach with some swimming friends. Never dive alone, is what freedivers will always tell you, and they are right, one minute you can be all safe and calm, the next second stuck, or blacked out, and the next minute dead, so you do have to heed the warnings. I have a couple of freediving friends, but recently I have been with practicing with some swimming friends, which is stretching things a bit, they are scuba divers, competent swimmers and life savers, but not freediving so they aren’t keeping a watch all the time. Because of this I am limiting myself to pretty much duck-dive pracice, and shallow water stuff to perfect equalisation in the first 2 or 3 meters of water.

The water is warmer now, and I am diving in my orca swimming suit with a separate hood. It is really really warm considering it is only 3mm, but it was quite an expensive one so I am sure there is loads of technology that comes with it.

Duck-dives are becoming second nature, and equalisation in that vital first couple of meters is becoming second nature too, so now I need to go deeper.