"Decompression ceiling, cave or wreck, it’s all the same. If it comes to a problem you can’t just go up". How many times I’ve heard or read these words I’m not sure, but thinking back and scratching my head it actually amazes me to think that that I once accepted this as being true!
Re-evaluating that statement was one of the things that started to happen the moment my formal wreck training began. All of that open water deep diving experience, the notion that I’d got everything pretty well worked out and that there couldn’t be that much more to it than I was already accomplishing, that belief began to fall apart as soon as the course began taking shape. It opened the door on a vast new field of skills and techniques that one has no option but to get to grips with, and attempt to master. It forced a complete reappraisal of the "decompression and overhead are all the same philosophy". They are not.
My training was conducted with long time dive buddies as classmates, in the capable hands of Alex Santos of IANTD. It began with a dry dive. A line drill simulating a penetration around a children’s playground. Straightforward so far, a few minutes of work and we were advised that we’d reached thirds on our imaginary air supply and should head out. Simultaneously our instructor blindfolded us. The unthinkable had happened –a total light failure.
We groped sightless along our guideline until politely informed "Sorry lads, you’re dead" This was the first of many rude awakening’s. If it had taken five minutes to go in on a third of the available air, then ten minutes worth was available to exit. Simple math shouted that this was ample, and yet the time was up, we had drowned. The simple lesson, don’t ever, ever rush a penetration or you will be faced with having to rush out if in difficulty.
Beyond such starkly illustrated points, the four days and more than eleven hours spent inside wrecks served to highlight just how much better a supposedly polished technical diver has to become to be genuinely slick on a penetration dive. What did I begin to reflect on? Perfect buoyancy doesn’t give you much without perfect trim and perfect propulsion skills. As partners communications and awareness? An instinctive ability to assess another diver’s mental state and stress level by their body language comes easily with years of instructing. But real, effective, light signals, a range of clear and non-ambiguous hand signals, the decision to go to touch contact in a silt out, all were new and required a good degree of conscious effort.??
New motor skills where required and a heightened co-operation within the team. Cruising along a wall and eyeing the fish, watching each other shoot an SMB and doing gas switch — easy. Add clean, fuss free stage drops and retrievals, S-drills with all three lights, choice of primary and secondary tie offs and correctly placing oneself to illuminate for a buddy doing a line wrap or retrieving a reel.
Constant surveillance for line traps is essential, looking for and taking up slack line for the reel handler, checking valves for roll offs every time you have been near something. The wreck diver needs a general awareness of the position of the line, even when diving away from it.
Knowledge such as when reeling out of a wreck to never allow one of the team to be behind you. These techniques needed to be learned and simply knowing what is happening to everyone in your team at all times was now vital. These are all small things when taken in isolation, but for the big picture, they need to come together without thought. Seeing an experienced instructor monitor us so effortlessly was an eye opening experience.
Then we have equipment, funny how so much of mine went in the bin right after the course. All those things that were never a problem in open water, there they have or had no capability to distract or give trouble, those big plastic fins that catch line with their buckles. Then there was video of myself that persuaded me it wasn’t just my technique that was causing the mess. The SPG hose that was just four inches too long and hung up the gauge at every opportunity. Ditto the back up inflator. It was the last time I ever wore a double bladder. ??
Lights that burn less than a couple of hours? No help. Reels with handles and lock screws, or a simple un-jammable spool? That was no contest. Plastic manifold knobs — now I know they can break! In short it becomes apparent very quickly when something is not helping in the water usually at just the wrong moment.
Last of all I came back to that analysis of the situation in which I was now placing myself, four decks deep inside a battle cruiser versus decompressing in open water. The reality myself and others have found is, if someone is having a physiological emergency, a buoyancy blow up, gets tangled in their SMB, or has nothing left to breathe, then decompression or otherwise, you can go to the surface and fix it. Getting back down quick enough will then fix you too. Getting silted out and stuck under tons of steel, that choice and ability to buy time is absolutely not available. I felt how environmentally committed I was in ways I have never felt in open water. This realization clearly hammered home to me the need to do things properly. Good technique, good planning, a team you trust and the right gear.
That accepted, the thrill and reward of becoming a capable wreck diver are beyond measure. I’ve had the good fortune to since lay eyes on sights that I know nobody has ever seen before. All told I would recommend this to anyone with a desire to see them selves grow as a diver. It doesn’t have to be deep, it doesn’t have to start difficult, but it can be an enthralling activity and you will probably never look back.