IANTD Trimix with Diving Matrix in Malta – Sept 2011

Prelude

It has been a while we (myself, Andris, Dave Lau Kee and a few others) have been discussing about diving to 100 m. On one hand it was scary but really exciting on the other there were the logistics How, Who, Where, When and sometimes Why? Although I will admit that the last one was less of an issue!!! We all wanted to do it hopefully to see the mysterious Cargo ship that has yet to be identified and the name still remains a mystery or just for doing it and going where few have gone before…

Day 0 – 09/09/2011

And so we did. Sensibly I decided to take Friday off and sort out my kit. Pack and go to the airport in peace rather than running like mad to the airport after work. I Picked up my dry suit from my dive shop where it was left for minor alterations and took it to another dive shop to get a p-valve fitted (last minute addition). Then leisurly finished off packing and headed to the airport.

Flying with Air Malta is always a good idea and with a sports coupon (which costed nearly nothing) I managed to take with me all of my gear and loads of spares (no good at leaving them home me thinks!!!). The flight was easy and everything went to plan. On arrival to Malta got a taxi that took me straight to the hotel the infamous Alexandra. A bit of A surprise there since the employee that booked my room did not read all of my e-mail and he was not waiting for me until tomorrow! Luckily there was another vacant room and the catastrophe was averted!!! Quickly I went to my room dropped all of my (quite a lot of) stuff and straight to Huggins!!! Now by that time of course it was well late (around 01:00 in the morning) and all I could expect was a quick pint of CISK before I head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep!!!

Now that never happened because as I was getting closer to the pub I could see very familiar faces Paul and Danny were there and by the looks of them they have been there for some time!!! Delighted to see my mates there I order a round of drinks and promptly another and another!!! My memories after this point are rather sketchy and am not sure I remember the details other than that I did made it back to my hotel room for a couple of hours (or less) of sleep!!! A Massive Course was about to begin…

Day 1: Theory – 10/09/2011

Bright and early (a bit too early for my liking)  we met at the Tek-Lab and after the necessary introductions Richard and Michael were the other two divers joining myself, Andris and Dave and once we sorted out the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT issue “Who is going for a Coffee run???” we started with the paperwork and eventually made our way to the theory. Partly the fact that I found myself in a classroom after a VERY long time partly last nights atrocities needles too say I was not feeling too rosy!!!

None the less we made it and and continued with theory and classroom work until lunch when we had to break for the customary lunch at Wagamama!!! That I very much enjoyed and definitely made me feel A LOT better.

Back to the classroom we continued with more theory lessons planning, gas selection, physiology, DCI and a little bit more about DCI since both Andris and Dave have done a lot of reading on the subject and had loads of interesting anecdotes and questions to contribute to the presentation.

Once all the theory part was over we started assembling our gear and of of course started the drill that we would repeat many many many but like many times in the future of loading the Warrior (resident Diving Matrix truck) only to unload it a few minutes later at the filling station 🙂

Having sorted out our kit for the next day we went to Divewise to drop our cylinders for filling. Just for the record a listing of the cylinders

1 twinset

1 travel gas stage

1 lean deco stage

1 rich deco stage

1 suit inflation bottle

PER DIVER

yes 6 bottles per diver now if you are quick with maths and you know it was 5 of us on the course (myself, Andris, Dave, Richard and Michael) that makes for 30 cylinders!!! ha! not only! we should not forget our instructor and his kit so pretty much 35 cylinders!!! Now that is quite a lot I think!!!

Having dropped of the cylinders to the Divewise we were on our way to Huggins for beer and dinner. Of course the prospect of diving the next day and the copious amounts of alcohol consumed the night before meant that we had a quiet and very civilised night!

Day 2: Simulated Deco Dive & Skill Circuit – 11/09/2011

Sunday morning we loaded the truck and headed out to Chikawwa to dive the P29. That was more of a warm up dive and the plan was to have a bit of fun and do a few skills before we go in the water again for one Monster sized Skill Circuit session. After a lot of sweating because of the high temperatures, the dry suits the stairs we had to climb carrying 1 twinset (or one rebreather) and 3 stages (11 lt  each) we managed to get in the water and “help” Andris with his stages!!! An operation that did not run exactly smoothly but we did manage to get under water eventually :).

The dive generally went well without any incidents although because we were running a bit behind schedule with our run time it was more of a “touch and go” dive as we had to turn and go pretty much as soon as we saw the wreck which was a bit unfortunate  but I did not mind it at all as I was having a really really bad time with my kit and I was really looking forward to get out of it asap!!!

For the whole time of the dive I was fighting against my kit! My rig wanted to tilt me to port side and I had to fight for the whole dive to stay upright. NOT FUNNY. Needless to say came out and I was not happy I knew that there was no way I could go to 100 m with kit like that.

That is the point where Paul Toomer took over. And in his typical calm style he started: “Right lets see what  can we do about this!”. We went through the whole of the rig and removed a fair few useless stuff that shouldn’t be there in the first place like a thigh pocket, an air gun, a few random bits of bungee and identified the culprit for my balance issues!!!

Now As soon as I got in the water I could tell that the three stages I was carying with me were the cause for my balance problems but I also knew that I should be able to carry with me a lot more stages (than 3) without any problems so I had to find what was wrong. It turns out that my drastic diet, the new much thinner (changed from a very old neoprene to a membrane) dry suit and the luck of weight retainers behind my waist billie rings resulted in a ridicilusly loose harness with loads of play and sliding d-rings!. Of course Mr Toomer was quick to spot that and during the surface interval I successfully took apart my rig and put it back together from scratch. Sure enough that did the trick and as soon as I went back in the water for the skill Circuit I was a really very Happy Bunny again!!!

During the surface interval and after we managed to sort out kit issues we did breath control drills and Paul demonstrated the effect of stress on our breath control and pattern with a pretty cool drill that had us look a bit retarded as we were spot jogging while wearing our dry suits! but was definitely worth it!!!!

The Skill Circuit was challenging and a lot of fun! We did out of air drills with no mask, no regulator in the mouth and we had to pull and glide to our buddy, we did lost buoyancy drills including: try to maintain depth, ascent and remain in the surface without any buoyancy aids and of course the usual shut downs, dsmb deployments and a lot of stage swapping which was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed (that sound geeky probably but it was fun!!!)

After that we had to race back to drop our cylinders off to get them filled with exotic gases for the first of our big dives.

With the cylinders left for filling we went back to Tek-Lab to plan our dive and then to Huggins for dinner (as you do when in Malta!)

Day 3: 63 m Dive – The Polynesien – 12/09/2011

I really really wanted to do the schnellboot because I had heard so much about it but it was not going to happen this time. We decided to dive the Poly again. Now anyone who has dived the Poly before knows better than complain about it because it is an absolutely stunning wreck standing pretty much upright and quite intact. It is massive  152 m long with loads of entry points for penetration. So I was not exactly gutted to miss the schnellboot instead I was really very excited about it 🙂

We went to Marsa Scala where we met Danny the skipper and the latest addition to the crew of Diversity young Phil. On this trip Hanna girlfriend would join us practising as a support diver for our 100 m dive on her first technical try dive!

We got to the jetty and started kitting up. I decided that I would wear my Arctic as I did not had any other “lighter” undersuit. Not a great Idea but not disastrous either as I had to wait until the very last minute to put my dry suit on but other than that all was good and we quickly found ourselves descending to the wreck. Visibility was great and early we managed to get a good look at a very big part of the boat.

Following the shot line we reached the wreck and started heading towards the stern from the port side of the wreck.

As we were approaching the stern I could clearly see my instructor and my buddies swimming over the propeller and under the hull to the starboard side of the wreck. Obviously at that point I had switched back to the good old recreational diver mode and I could only think: “Jee what is wrong with them? there is LOADS of space to go UNDER the propeller!!!”. I will show them how to do things properly and off I am descending to the seabed and squeezing myself between the seabed and under the propeller blades!!! Of course at that point I am really very excited and terribly pleased with myself. At the same time I can see Paul who is not (at all) impressed with my antics shaking his head in disapproval and with that very familiar “You Muppet” look in his eyes. Of course the reason everyone else went OVER the propeller rather than UNDER the propeller was that the top of the propeller was out TOD (Target Operating Depth) and by going UNDER the propeller I exceeded my TOD and effectively invalidated my dive plan (elementary Dr Watson).

Needless to say I didn’t found out about until on the boat when Paul explained exactly the same but in a more “polite” manner.

OK. UNDERSTOOD. NOT DOING THIS AGAIN!!! EVER.

Apart from that the rest of the dive went smoothly and Hannah on Paul’s twinset Rig jumped in the water in time to meet us at our 21 m stop as planned!!!

On return to Marsa Scala off loaded the boat and headed to the familiar restaurant just round the corner from the marina with the very rude and grumpy waiter who (as expected) offended everyone with his rather odd sense of humour that none of us thought that it was particularly funny or funny at all for that matter which is a bit unfortunate as the food was actually quite nice!

Back to St Julians only to find out that the boat is fully booked and we can not dive the HMS Southwold!!! Bah. That is another wreck that I really wanted to dive and have not dived ever before although I have heard so much about it 😦

And as if that was not enough the island’s Helium (He) supply has been disrupted and our filling station was running out of helium!!!

Trying not to go back to Huggins AGAIN myself, Paul, Andris and Dave  decided to go to Avenue and of course order a Full Rack of Ribs!!!

Day 4: 80 m Dive – Ras – Il – Hobz – 13/09/2011

With the boat fully booked and no Helium for our 80 m dive things looked dire. The issue of the boat could be addressed by going for a shore based dive out of Gozo. Ras-Il-Hobz (which apparently translates to head of the Bread as my Maltese friends informed me!!!) is a popular destination amongst recreational divers because it is a relatively easy dive with a very impressive pinnacle and loads of life. The recreational divers are limited to around 40 m but the pinnacle goes all the way to 100 plus (or minus I should say).

Having solved the dive site issue we had to look at finding some Helium because although I am happy to dive deep air going to 80 m without A LOT of He was not going to happen!

Luckily another dive centre The Strand in St Paul’s Bay had some Helium left so we loaded the truck and went there to get our cylinders filled. Of course while waiting we had breakfast at a lovely cafe by St Paul’s Bay and we started preparing our dive plan.

Eventually we got a call that all our cylinders were filled and we headed back to The Strand and collect our cylinders. Once analysed loaded the truck and headed to the Gozo Ferry.

The drive from the ferry terminal in Gozo to the dive site is very short although not particularly friendly for any car and even less for our heavily loaded Matiz!!! The rather unfortunate hire car that was tasked with carrying me, Andris and Michael around. The steep climbs and descents and the lack of any road made it for a really difficult day for the Matiz compared to Paul’s Warrior that casually drove off road and at twice (or five times) the speed of the Matiz!!!

Once on site (what looked more like the surface of the moon rather than any place in the Earth!!!) we started off loading the truck and preparing our rigs for our biggest dive until that day!!!.

When we got everything ready we got into our suits and quickly went into the water. Due to the excessive heat we decided to have our briefing and our gas and equipment matching in the water to cool us down.

Having completed the gas & equipment matching we started a short surface swim to the edge of the reef to minimise potential disturbances in our descent. The descent felt like a long journey down with what felt like an even longer journey up!!! Paul had warned us that it is very likely that something may happen in this dive and we would have to act accordingly and sure enough on our ascent Paul signalled to Andris that he had a catastrophic failure on his rebreather and he had to bail out. The team worked well with all Open Circuit divers assisting and successfully managing the tasks required to be completed. Richard was responsible for re profiling our dive based on the bail out scenario and the rest of us helping by shuffling stages around and monitoring the incident.

The dive not only was a success but it was also loads of fun! Coming out of it it felt great! 🙂 we had completed a very challenging dive, the deepest dive of our careers so far and we had responded successfully to an incident!!! in one word Success!!!

Under any other circumstances after that we would go to the pub to drink and celebrate the occasion but no not this time we hadn’t finished yet…

We did loaded all the equipment and ourselves into the Warrior and the poor Matiz and headed back to the ferry terminal where as our luck would have it we just missed the ferry!!!

This would not have been a disaster if we were not in a hurry to get back in time to the dive shop (Strand Divers) to get gas fills for the next day!!! And as if that was not enough we found out that the boat which we were planning to book to dive the Cargo ship had broken down and we would not be able to dive the cargo ship which I was really looking forward to dive as apart from the fact that it would make for my first wreck dive at 100 m I also think that there is nothing more exciting than diving a wreck that has not yet been identified!!!

Alas! it was not meant to happen and considering the circumstances and the fact that we would have to get gas fills the next day it was probably just as well. Trying to make it to a boat when you haven’t got cylinders filled is not fun!!!

On the plus side that meant we could have an early night and get ourselves ready for the big day!

A very modest dinner at Huggins and a tuna salad followed. Now as you can imagine my plan for a light dinner did not worked and I had to supplement it with a banana, nutella and nuts creppe from  Chequers. MUCH BETTER!!!

Day 5: 100 m dive!!! – 14/09/2011

As planned we met at Tek Lab and loaded the Warrior wit our diving gear and went to Divewise in St Julians to get our Nitrox cylinders and headed to St Paul’s Bay to get our Trimix fills from Strand Divers. We got there off loaded the cylinders and went back to the cafe to prepare our dive plan. Things were not going to run smoothly and sure enough before we even finished our coffee the phone rang. The Strand had run out of Helium. They had managed to fill only one twinset. Disaster.

That was rather unexpected and stressful. None of us wanted to miss on the 100 m dive and the second dive shop in Malta had just run out of Helium!!! Andris and Dave had booked flights for the next day and Paul was booked to start another PADI Instructor Speciality course so we could not really just postpone the dive untill Helium supply is restored! We had no time!!!

A few (or quite a few I should say) phone calls later Paul is excited we can get Trimix Fills from Malta Aqua. Luckily they were in the same area so it was not long before we loaded / offloaded cylinders once more and we focused on sorting out the dive plan as we know were sure that we would get our gas and we would go diving!!! 🙂

Planning was quite a challenge as we had to match the Open Circuit Profile with Paul’s and Andris CCR profile for the dive and try to avoid Isobaric Counter Diffusion (if possible)! And sure enough we did it. It was a pretty long plan but we had a plan and we had gas too!!! Off to Gozo!!!

Back to Gozo and Ras-Il-Hobs the scenery was now familiar and we knew the site. The Matiz still had a bad time but that did not stopped us from getting where we wanted 🙂 Nothing would :).

Everyone was very excited albeit quite nervous. Got kitted up and in the water for our gas/gear matching same as before. This time we decided to go for a short surface swim and then a shallow dive to get us away from the reef and in position for the long descent.

That worked well and we soon found ourselves switching from our 20/30 that we used for the beginning of the dive to our hypoxic mixture for the bottom part of our dive. From that moment onwards it was a race to descent. A controlled but fast descent was necessary to make it in time to the bottom and ensure that we all hit our target the 100 m!!!

Everything went to plan and we did made it to the bottom although as expected I was running low on gas and when at the bottom was not in any mood to sing OASIS Wonderwall which was the agreed 100 m tune while I could clearly hear Andris singing through his rebreather!!! J

I didn’t managed to do anything while down there. I know people turn around to look at the surface and how far away it looks or look at the contents gauge to see the needle moving but the only thing I was interested in was to get my UEMIS to show 100 m !!! and I did it and it was already time to turn back! At that point we had about an hour of ascent and of course I was focusing to get it right. There was no space for mistakes or errors this was a serious dive and any mistake would be painful at best. We switched to out travelling gas 20/30 and then to the light Nitrox (32%) and at about 40 m we met with a group of recreational single cylinders diving around the pinnacle. To which we must have looked quite exotic carrying 5-6 cylinders each compared to the one they had!!! Only at that point I managed to relax and think yes we made it got still time to mess up but I made it this far and I have been here before again and again. There is no reason to worry now. Relax and enjoy the rest of the dive!!!

The rest of the deco was spent on the shallows playing with fish and exchanging congratulations. As planned Hannah made it in time and Richard and Paul passed some of their stages which made up for a very entertaining sight of a lot of stages diving attached to a massive wing with a tiny diver lost behind them!!!

And then the surface!!! And everyone was excited going on about this and that and you could see excitement in the eyes of Andris, Richard, Michael and Dave and relief at the eyes of Paul who did got us to 100 m and back up again. SAFE.

MANY THANKS Paul.

Needless to say the trip back was full of excitement and as soon as we off loaded the equipment we went back to the hotel to get a shower and get ready to PARTY. And we had all reasons to want to celebrate! We managed to complete a very challenging dive in spite the few minor glitses (running out of Helium and the boat breaking down).

Back at Huggins with Loads of CISK and more CISK, SAMBUCAS and shisha we met the PADI Instructors that had just arrived in the island for the Instructor Speciality Course with Paul and joined in our celebrations 🙂

Epilogue

Needless to say the day after was a very slow and quiet one. I only got out of my hotel room around lunch and having nothing else to do went straight to where I knew I would find friends. The Tek Lab. Luckily that was the time that they were about to go for lunch so we all headed to Wagamama !!! Needless to say after lunch they went back to continue their course and I went back to my hotel room to continue sleeping!!! Of course there could be no diving that day and I did started feeling better later in the evening as I was getting ready to go back to my room and sleep for the night!

The next couple of days went by quietly with Richard, Hannah and Michael showing up and going for fun dives at the Faroud, my first photo session and a BBQ!!!

Sunday much to my disappointment I had to go back to the Luqa Airport and fly back to the UK.

This was a great holiday not only because I did my 100 m (which was pretty cool) but also because I was around my friends and we did it together! The fact that I also made some new friends also helped 😉

Thanks guys looking forward to see you and dive with you again soon