RedTek December 2012 – Diving The Red Sea with Diving Matrix

Disclaimer: As much as I tried to keep this post shorter than the Mexico one (see here) it is still long enough, if anything too long, and to make things worst it is quite technical with technical scuba diving terminology used throughout. I can only apologise but as other posts have covered the fun part of redtec trips and the excellent service by Blue O two I decided to go for something more hardcore (and less touristy) on this post. For more information of RedTec and Blue O two read “I are Diver“‘s blog which is much shorter and funnier too!!! On the plus side if you choose to go ahead and read this post you will get the chance to read about me getting into trouble again and again!!! So redtec December 2012!!! Following last redtec’s phenomenal success (read more about it on I Are Diver’s excellent blog)

Paul Toomer from Diving Matrix decided to organise another redtec. Somehow I missed the announcement and I only picked it up in September when I was visiting London to celebrate my mates Maxim’s wedding! As the conversation was around diving I found out about the trip and most importantly that a group of very good friends had already signed up for it! David and Aidan (who were also on the last redtec) and Aileen as well. At the time my diving buddy Andris was contemplating joining. Having had a few drinks it was very easy for me to declare that if Andris decided to go I would go as well. There has not been known a single case in the history of mankind where Andris has said no to a diving trip ever in his life, he agreed and so did I!!! As soon as I was back in Aberdeen all the paperwork was done and we were good to go! Good to go…

Well not quite…

You see back in August I did something really very stupid. I bought a rebreather. For those of you who do not know what a rebreather is I will just say that it is one more diving related shiny toy. In particular mine is not shiny but bright yellow!!!

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Photo of a “Box Standard” APD Inspiration rebreather (photo courtesy of Ambient Pressure Diving) Now them things rebreathers are known to be really very clever but on the downside they are not forgiving. They have a reputation for killing divers 😦 This reputation is rather unfair because most accidents are attributed to human error rather than equipment failure but the reality is that they require special training. When I signed up for the trip I had bought the rebreather and I had planned and booked a course.

Sadly due to work commitments and other unforeseen circumstances (helicopter reliability issues, bad weather, leaking dry suits a flue etc) I did not managed to finish my course on time (see MOD1 blog post). This was pretty bad because I did not want to go to the Red Sea and dive open circuit. I mean I have done that before and it is very cool and great fun but I had a new toy and I wanted to go out and play with my rebreather!!!

A panic call to Mr Toomer and all was good. Toomer agreed to take over the course from my instructor and help me finish it off with him in the Red Sea!!!

Fast forward a couple of months to the much anticipated 6th of December. I finished work and my and my rebreather got the plane to Gatwick. The usual panic of trying to fit 50kg+ of diving gear into a 40kg allowance made for a stressful couple of nights before but in the end everything was distributed nicely amongst two hold luggage bags and one hand luggage. The Morning of the 7th we made our way to Gatwick to meet Paul, David, Aidan, Myself, Roger, John, Valerie and Andy, (all members of the last redtec), Sam, Andy, Aileen, Arthour, David and Julius. Sadly Andris could not make it because of work commitments. After a short flight to Hurghada we arrived at the airport where Blue O Two reps were waiting for us and got us to the marina by coach. Easy. Efficient, Trouble Free, Nice – Just the way I like it!!! blue_melody

Our boat: Blue Melody (photo courtesy of Blue O two)

As soon as we arrived at the marina the mad panic of loading the boat started and with only a quick break for dinner most of the equipment was set up and we were on our way… …to the local shisha bar (surely when in Egypt!!!!) After a few (well it was probably more than just a few) drinks and shisha accompanied by susbstantial amounts of local Lupin Beans we made our way back to the boat to get some sleep before we start our journey.

Day 1 – Saturday 08/12/2012

It was almost mid day by the time preparations were completed, coastguard checked our documents and we were ready to set sail for Poseidon Reef for our check dive and skill circuit. Last time I was on a redtec I watched those on the skill circuit for about five minutes, laughed at them and left for a 1 hour long solo dive around the reef. Bliss! This time I was one of those in a course and as a matter of fact I was about to do two courses!!! To start with I was going to finish off my MOD 1. Luckily all I had to do was a DSMB deployment and a bail-out for 20m. During this dive I did practiced these skills and also high and low ppO2 drills, shutdown drills, bailouts and running the unit on manual. Fun Fun Fun!!! – NOT

After the check out dive we made our way Abu Nuhas to dive Giannis D, a very atmospheric wreck lying at 21m of water making it an excellent dive for the first day. Because of our late departure we arrived at the site near dusk and pretty much it was a night dive as soon as we descended.

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Getting ready to splash (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

The dingy was there to pick us up in pitch darkness which made it feel like some great adventure but in reality it was not! Back on the boat and for food and to meet the rest of the group, which was made up of Jim Dowling who was with us on the last redtec and it was great to see again, Dinky a JJ instructor with a Mohican and loads of tattoos, Marko a professional diver, reporter, author and photographer and Analeesa flying all the way from South Africa!!!

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Our guides / instructors Jim and Dinky (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

Day 2 Sunday 09/12/2012

The plan for the second day was to dive the iconic wreck of Thistlegorm, and probably the most famous wreck in the Red Sea. As we were ready to jump in the water for the first dive, the hose feeding my Oxygen Manual Addition Valve (MAV) pulled out the steel fitting of the valve leaving me with not only a leak in the loop but a spectacular free flow of O2!!! Having fully opened the oxygen cylinder was probably not such a great idea as it took me ages to close it and lost substantial amount of oxygen. Luckily the fitting had just become loose rather than shred the valve and quickly I fitted it back and joined the rest of the team for the dive!!!

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SS Thistlegorm stern gun (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

In order to complete my MOD 1 course I was budded up with Paul for the first dive. Having been into the holds with the motorbikes and trucks we made our way back and Paul signalled me to bail out, ie get off the loop, grab my bail out cylinder regulator stick it in my mouth and ascent as I would normally do on open circuit. Having successfully completed my bail out ascent we surfaced and went straight up to the sun deck for some sunbathing!!! Nice 🙂 For the second dive I budded up with Jim Dowling and Analeesa. This time Jim decided to go out and investigate the debris field, the steam engines either side of the wreck and the bows anchor, which was massive and very much anchor admiralty shaped.

Day 3 Monday 10/12/2012

Last time we were in the area we decided that there is not much point in diving the wreck and ventured to dive the reef instead. Some say our guide got lost, others say that The Lara actually moved from its last known location. You can choose whichever version you like, but the result was that I didn’t got to dive The Lara.

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Myself, Marko and Aidan at the mast of The Lata (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

We all splashed together and Jim guided us to the wreck. At the mast and myself, Marko and Analeesa hovered happily taking photos while the others descended below us. Getting borred at 45m I popped down to 50m which on was not such a great idea especially considering that I had not switched my set point to high (1.3). Quickly I moved up to 45m and joined the rest of my team before anyone noticed 🙂

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Myself behind a coral (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

The rest of the dive was uneventful with the current taking us by the reef and deco at the little cove at the north end of the reef.

Day 4 Tuesday 11/12/2012 Tuesday

Back in Thomas Canyon. I really enjoyed diving Thomas Canyon last time and I was looking forward to dive it again. Being a canyon the entry is hard to locate and to make sure we didn’t miss it we decided to jump in the water all together and follow Jim (this is a plan that worked well last time too!).

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Myself in Thomas Canyon (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

The dingy took us from the boat to the entry point and we started our descent following Jim. As soon as we saw the canyon below us we split to buddy pairs as per the plan some to stay shallow, some go deep and a few others to go seriously deep!!! Jim hovered at the entrance of the canyon before the first arch to watch (like a hawk) those about to break their depth limits or fail their rebreathers!

Myself and Marko spent most of the time under the first arch taking photos and while we were approaching the second arc we bumped into a group of divers that had turned their dive and were heading out of the canyon. As we were not allowed more than 15 min of deco it was almost a good time to turn our dive. Jim had already got to the group of divers that had turned because of a failed rebreather and a rather unexpected bailout failure but that is someone else’s story to tell… We, for our part, followed on the way up and once on the reef I decided to let the current take us and do a drift dive as the situation seemed to be under control and enough rescuers were involved.

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Sam ascending by the wall (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

Our second dive was uneventful with me and Marko staying by the first arch to take more photos as agreed. When we had enough we turned the dive and headed to the reef without going as far as the second arch or indeed the deep end of the canyon. This time on the reef we headed the opposite way to a known shark observatory and we did spotted a Reef shark (most likely) lying and enjoying his time quietly. Not impressed by our approach he moved away from the annoying intruders.

Day 5 Wednesday 12/12/2012

Crossing the straights of Tiran has never been fun and this time it wasn’t easy although it did seemed to me that it was better than last time. Maybe the drinks and shisha combination had something to do with it or maybe not! Yes Paul found out that the crew had a shisha on the boat (brought for their own amusement) and he got them to make us a shisha every night 🙂 That was definitely an added bonus to the last trip and I believe that Blue O two should make shishas mandatory equipment on all Blue O two boats!!!

Once safely on anchorage we all went to bed exhausted and excited about diving the Rosalind Moller the next day. For both dives I budded up with Marko and Toomer as I was going to complete my ART course for my rebreather. The wreck was absolutely full of life and we were diving surrounded by fish. I found it hard to believe how often I lost contact with my buddies because of the wall of fish!!! The dives went to plan and we managed to get some stunning photos over the iconic broken funnel and the galley illuminated by the skylights, the glasses of which were still in place!!!

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Stunning photo of the Rosalind Moller galley with the sky light glass still in place (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

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Dave Lau Kee behind (A lot of) fish on the Rosalind Moller (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

As everyone was excited with todays dive it was decided to spend the night moored on Rosalin Moller and dive her again the morning after.

Day 6 Thursday 13/12/2012

The captain wanted to leave the wreck by 09:00 the latest so not being a morning person and being limited to 15 minutes of deco me and Marco agreed to be ready to jump in the water for 07:50. The rest of the group which was allowed to do longer dives got up much much earlier for the 3 hr plus runtime dives!!!

Apart from a minor incident (me diving with my O2 reg partly fitted, ie: pretty serious O2 leak).  The dive was more of a photo session with Marko the photographer and me a “wanna be” photo model with very poor buoyancy skills!!!

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Me at the stern or the Rosalind Moller (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

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Hovering over the iconic funnel (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

When our Time To Surface (TTS) reached the agreed 15 minutes we made our way back to the shot line and started our ascent. On our way to the shot line I heard a distinct noise the one I had heard before when a High Pressure hose fails and I was immediately looking around me for the familiar Jacuzzi effect that it creates. Surprisingly there was nothing to be seen. Arriving to the shot line I could see that the winch we had attached the end of the shot line was being lifted and then dropped again. That was a sign that conditions topsides had deteriorated and we were in for a rough ride!!! As we were ascending we noticed a couple of things: a. folk at the 6m were hanging to the shot line for dear life b. On our descent there was a bow line and a stern line to the shot line now there was only one and a lot of broken line, which explained the loud noise! The stern line had snapped!!!

After 15 minutes of holding to the shot line and being tossed around by the current that was changing directions and banging against other divers me and Marko signalled to each other that it was time to surface. On the way up I realised that we were going up the bows shot line but decide to keep going, thinking that a surface swim to the stern under a rocking boat was less dangerous that a swim under the boat on my unit in very strong current which could result in over excersion and potentially carbon dioxide poisoning. Finally we made it back to the boat and after the customary hot chocolate I started to wash and take my kit apart to dry. A rather unpleasant process as it signifies the end of the holiday and the beginning of the return trip to home. Back at the marina I got my kit out of the boat and along with Paul, David and Aileen we made our way to the hotel where I hang my stuff to dry, had a long shower and headed out to meet the rest of the team for dinner and end of trip shenanigans!!! We started drinking at our local shisha bar and we soon made our way to the new Hurghada Marina and the PAPAS Bar where se had dinner. Not a life changing experience but hearty divers food.

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This time unlike last time the place was really very busy and there was a stage hinting that we were going to get live music too!!! It was more down to my bad taste of music rather than the alcohol in me but I enjoyed the and was well pleased with how busy this place was. Sadly the program came to an end and despite all of my efforts I could not get Toomer and company to join me to PAPAS Beach Club Instead we headed to the cafe next door for one last shisha before making our way back to the hotel. Photo of the team before we head to the bar for some serious drinking!

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Day 7 Friday 14/12/2012

I woke up well late and not looking too rosy after all that drinking and sisha. I headed down to the restaurant for breakfast which left a lot to be desired. The rest of the day was spent around the swimming pool until the time came to get back on the coach to take us to the airport and eventually back to Aberdeen.

Fun Diving with Diving Matrix in Malta – May 2011

Day 0: Back to Malta – 20/05/2011

Took the day off work and very leisurly started sorting out my diving equipment. As much as it is really very easy for me to fly from Gatwick because it is only a short direct trip away I booked my flightsfrom Heathrow instead. I checked – in and proceeded to the Departure Lounge Bar where I ordered a drink while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Sure enough not before long Maxim, Clare, Tom, Paul, Hayden and Clarissa arrived and we boarded the plane very excited!!!

We arrived late at night and checked in at the Alexandra as our apartment was not available until the next day. Of course once we dropped off our stuff we headed straight to Huggins for a Welcome / Start of the Dive Trip pint of CISK as the tradition requires!!!

Day 1: Um El Faroud – 21/05/2011

In the morning refurbishment works started and the drilling, hammering and other demolition related works commenced as well waking me up well before my alarm or my liking! Likily we were scheduled to stay in the Alexandra for only one night because our apartment was not yet available so we had already checked out and we were delighted to go and not have to deal with this for the rest of our trip!!!

Paul Toomer arrived as agreed with the Diving Matrix Warrior and loaded our gear to take it to the Diving Matrix Malta – Tek-Lab. Once there Tom, Clare, Volker and Carl started their IANTD Advanced Recreational Trimix (ART) Course with Maxim tagging along while myself and Hayden sorted out our kit and Clarissa gave us a lift to Hayden’s parents who were kind enough to give Hayden their car to carry us and our diving gear around !!!

Myself and Hayden then left Clarissa to visit friends and family and went to Zurrieq to dive my favourite wreck “The Faroud” a dive that I was going to repeat again and again on that trip and I loved it more each time!!!

Our dive was pretty easy with Hayden leading and me following as a tourist (my favourite!!!) We went It is pretty awesome to dive with a local that knows the dive sites so well because I am not sure I could navigate to it or back!!! And the last thing I wanted was to start swimming to Libya!!!

Having completed our dive we headed back very happily to Huggins for a Cheeky Half before we went back to Diving Matrix and meet the others. Once back at Diving Matrix our Landlord arrived and took us to the apartment that we had hired for our trip. Although we were not exactly sure where it was and the drive there seemed endless partly due to the traffic and partly due to one way systems we were delighted to find out that our apartment was a VERY spacious 3 bedroom flat with a MASSIVE living room, kitchen and three well sized rooms. The bedrooms had a few spare folding beds (so we could accommodate even more if we wanted to) and the living room was overlooking the bay! One of the bedrooms even had an en-suite bathroom with a Jacuzzi and to top it up it was only a couple of minutes walk away from Huggins and Divewise. In one word: Awesome!!!

Once we got sorted, selected rooms and all we headed (where else) back to Huggins for dinner and of course more drinks!!!

Day 2: P29 – 22/05/2011

In the morning we met up with Adam, who arrived late last night, at Diving Matrix and with the rest of the group that was going to Chikawa for their skill circuit and since the weather was not great and pretty much every other dive site was blown out we decided to tag along. The plan was to dive in two different groups. One group would be Paul Toomer and his IANTD ART students and the other group would be the fun divers, myself and Adam, Clarissa and Hayden. As expected without any drills or any theory our group was ready to jump in the water well ahead of Paul’s group and so we went in the water. The plan was basic and simple. The four of us myself and Adam, Hayden and Clarissa would dive as two buddy pairs. Hayden would lead in the way in and take us to the wreck but because Clarissa was in a single cylinder they would turn their dive according to Clarissa’s gas. Myself and Adam being on twinsets and a stage each we would stay in the wreck a bit longer and then make our way back. As expected everything went to plan…

…Later Paul surfaced and we made our way back to Diving Matrix, the apartment and eventually the pub…

Day 3: Um El Faroud – 23/05/2011

The bad weather limited our selection of dive sites and having had enough excitement the day before we decided to play safe and go back to Zurieq and dive the Faroud. This time the composition of the team would be pretty much the same with the addition of Matt. Matt arrived the night before and he was scheduled to do the IANTD Normoxic course that Paul Toomer had programmed to start as soon as the IANTD ART course finished, until then Matt was going to fun dive with the rest of us.

Having learnt a lot from the last dive we split again into groups with Hayden and Clarissa one buddy pair and myself, Adam and Matt another. The plan was simple we would all go in together and Hayden would navigate. Their turn point would depend on Clarissa’s gas as she was on a single cylinder. The rest of us would stay a bit longer and make our way back when the first of us hit 100 bar. To avoid any incidents we discussed the positioning of the wreck, bearings and distance from the reef and Hayden even made a nice sketch on my wet notes (just tin case…). Once we were all ready we jumped in the water and headed out. This time Paul’s team was not far behind with them getting kitted up with us and splashing in at about the same time.

All went to plan and all four of us followed Hayden to the Faroud. On arrival we went over the propeller and under the hull as it is my favourite part of the wreck and at that point I looked back and I could see a diver so I thought that it mush have been another group of divers coming…

On the Port side of the wreck we found our entry point and as discussed during planning we were ready to penetrate. Only that at this point I noticed a couple of odd thing’s happening:

  1. Matt was refusing to enter the wreck
  2. The diver that I saw earlier had made it to the wreck and he was diving with Diving Matrix stickers on his stage bottles

Both of these came as a surprise because:

  1. We went through the bit of the penetration a number of times during the planning of our dive and
  2. Paul was not meant to be taking his student’s to the Faroud today. The plan was that they would stay at the shallows to complete their skill circuit.

At that point I was getting a bit annoyed because things were not exactly going to plan although clearly there was no cause for concern. If I could see a Paul’s student that meant that Paul was around an Matt was experienced enough to cope with being left outside the wreck for a bit while the rest of us went in for a quick peak!!!

Having said that I decided that we were not going to do any deep penetration and I would just stick outside the wreck and have fun so that I can keep an eye on Matt (not because I doubted his skills or competence but because I do not like leaving people alone!) and also see if I can find Paul. By doing so I realise that the newly arrived diver had joined our team and buddied up with us and Paul was nowhere to be seen!!! That was alarming and altogether wrong in many different levels. By that time we had reached the superstructure facing the bows when I begun to realise what was going on and I didn’t like it. This guy had ended up alone in the wreck with us and probably Paul and the rest of the group were looking for him!!! Luckily at that time I saw Hayden and Clarissa coming to tell me that they were about to head out and leave us and of course at that point I was thinking “Nah, We are not staying we are coming out with you guys”. So I signalled to Hayden who looked a bit perplexed by the increase in our numbers and Adam that we were going out with Hayden NOW!!! To make things more entertaining The other two Matt and the Guest Star diver had engaged into a conversation about their dive plan and where they should ascent and for how long without paying any attention to my signals which seems amusing now but not at the time…

Eventually I grabbed them and signalled to follow me which they did. Within seconds and before we even left the boat behind us I saw Paul coming towards my group at Mach 5!!! I doo not think I have ever seen a diver moving so fast underwater and I do not think I have seen any one more ungry underwater!!! Didn’t had time to do much but I knew what was going on so I moved out of Paul’s way and pointed towards the back and left. There would be fireworks!!!

Having left our guest behind we made our way back to the shore and out of the water. The minor issue with the miscommunication regarding the penetration of the wreck was soon forgotten since the guest diver incident dominated the conversation.

Paul and all of his students surfaced soon afterwards and we left Paul to have a chat with his student while the rest of us went for lunch!!!

Apparently the poor guy jumped in the water saw our group heading to sea at a distance and thinking that it is his group he started fining frantically to catch up with us!!! By the time he caught up with us he had figured out his mistake but it was too late because he was at the wreck with us and missing from Paul’s group!!!

Having sorted all of that out they went in for another dive while we enjoyed the sun shine in Zurieq.

Later in the evening we met at the pub and gave the poor guy even more grief for his incident and Paul a few drinks to get over and celebrate the near miss he had that day…

Day 4: Um El Faroud – 24/05/2011

The weather held and it was not great for diving in any other spot apart from Zurieq and the Faroud. As I said this is one of my favourite dives and besides the last dive on that wasn’t exactly what I was after so I was delighted to hear that we were going back there!!! This time Richard who just arrived in Malta, joined us and after loading all our equipment in to his big VERY YELLOW van we headed to Zurieq. We were all of us looking to an easy fun dive and diving on air with a 50% NOx stage meant that we could dive off our computers!!!. Richard lead that dive and after a small detour took us to the Faroud on the Port side and after we swam under the hull and over the propeller we headed to the bows following the starboard side of the wreck. We then moved back to the inside of the wreck from the breach and went straight into the engine room where we staged off and proceeded further down to the machinery room. That was a new experience because I have never had to stage off to get anywhere that narrow before and as expected the clipped together stages were not too keen to stay down!!! Torches came in handy and we decided to leave the corridors at the sided of the wreck for another visit!!!

Having had a great dive we headed back to Sliem to find the others end eventually the pub to wait for Alex who was arriving that night.

Day 5: Karwella – 25/05/2011

As much as we wanted to stay up wand wait for Alex at the pub that didn’t happened because he had to go to bed early for a good night’s sleep before the ART students qualifying dive. The decision was made to dive the Gozo wrecks so it would be either Cominoland or the Karwella but that was a decision to be made when we got there as both were at the same place.

We met up with Alex in the morning and we all went to Diving Matrix Tek-Lab together. Loaded all our kit and headed off to the Cirkawwa to get the Gozo ferry.

Once in Gozo the wrecks are well sign posted soon we were at the dive site and we were preparing our equipment. This time Richard, myself, Alex and Adam would dive as one group and Paul with his IANTD ART students, Maxim and Matt as another. Karwella is a purposely sunk ferry that used to carry passengers between Malta and Gozo. It is one of my favourite wrecks because unlike all other wrecks this one being a passenger ferry feels a lot more familiar. There are wide staircases, restaurant rooms and because it is in such a good condition offers loads of opportunities for penetration. The maximum depth of 40 m meant that we didn’t really needed Trimix for this dive and as soon as we calculated gas consumptions and turn around points we were good to dive off our computers.

Everything went to plan and we made it back to the surface along with the qualified now ART divers!!! Drinks and Dinner at Huggins as the Standard Operating Procedure dictates followed with shisha to celebrate!!!

Later that evening the rest of Diving Leisure London crew descended to Malta and many familiar faces and a few new ones!

Day 6: P29 & Rozy – 26/05/2011

With Paul having started his IANTD Normixic course, Alex taking Diving Leisure London diving with Divewise Malta we (myself, Hayden, Richard and Adam) decided to head to Cirkawwa and dive the wrecks in style! Usually single cylinder divers manage a pretty short dive on either the P29 ot the Rozy so we figured that having a twinset and a stage we had more than enough gas do dive both wrecks in one go!!! Again Hayden took the lead as he was the one who could navigate from the Rozy to the P29 and the rest of us follwed!!! The dive was pretty cool because it was the first time that I dived the Rozy not on a single cylinder and I had plenty of gas to look around. Then when we thought we had enough and only after a well sized conger eel prevented us from going further in we set out to find the P29. Hayden’s navigation got us there and back to the shore having done an excellent and most importantly trouble free dive!!!

Day 7: HMS Stubborn – 27/05/2011

With the Normoxic course divers preparing for their big dive we planned to dive the HMS Stubborn a submarine that was purposely sank after it suffered substantial damage in WWII for allied forces to practice in the use of ASDIC. The Stubborn is a dive I wanted to do for a long time so much not only because I like diving submarines but also because he did tried diving her in the past and failed quite a few times!!! This time we were diving of Danny’s boat Diversity. We were picked up by Danny at the jetty close to St Juian’s Bay and headed out to our dive site. We would dive as two teams Paul’s course team and Myself, Adam and Hayden. My team went in first and jumped in the sea. The conditions in the surface were pretty good but nothing prepared us for the conditions under the surface!!! Visibility was endless We started following the shot line to the wreck but I quickly dropped off it because not only there was no current at all but also I could see the whole of the submarine below me!!! It felt as if I was in a swimming pool !!! Albeit a big swimming pool but still a big big swimming pool with a real sized submarine in it!!! We descended to the stern and from there followed the wreck to the bows and back to the coning tower. Having reached our bottom time reluctantly we decided to begin our ascent. At that point again a few things happened!!!

  1. Paul had made it to the bottom with his students and
  2. at the same time Hayden’s high pressure hose (the feed to the submersible pressure gauge – spg) burst

That was an interesting development as it effectively meant that we would have to find a way around potentially a lost gas scenario

Luckily Paul decided to swap his bailout cylinders with Haydens and with a small delay Hayden started his ascent. During all this time myself and Adam stayed a bit further up trying to follow our plan and Hayden was about 6 meters below us following his trimix computer. We met again at 6 meters and we left him to finish his deco along with Paul’s group of students that had caught up with them.

An absolutely awesome dive that I really loved although I was not particularly impressed with the Miflex High Pressure hose burst which resulted in my team getting separated.

On return to the marina I got Paul to let me have a go at his JJ CCR and so we jumped back in the water for one quiet bubble less dive.

Day 8: Le Polynesien – 28/05/2011

The big day for the IANTD Normoxic course students finally arrived after a lot of classroom theory lessons, skill circuits, dry runs and all the time came for their 60 m qualifying dive! Just like the year before it was decided to dive the Polynesia as it is an awesome wreck and it is nearly impossible to manage and dive all of it in one Open Circuit dive!

Having sorted out gasses and kit we headed out to Marsa Scala to rendez-vous with Danny that would take us to the wreck with his boat Diversity. We were warned that the trip out would be a bit choppy and it was which is rather unusual for diving in Malta. Having said that it was choppy for Maltese standards I would be ecstatic if I got to dive in these conditions once a year in the UK!!!

Danny found the wreck using his GPS and then dropped the shot line which almost immediately disappeared under the boat!!! All efforts to remove the buoy by moving the boat proved fruitless and Paul decided he would go in, dive under the boat find out what is wrong with it and sort it out! Paul jumped in the water and then started to fin to the stern of the boat. We were watching him finning frantically but to no avail!!! We started dragging Paul to the stern and with a lot of effort he made it there and dived under the boat. A few minutes later we saw the buoy popping up and moved over to help Paul climb back up the ladder. In the mean time the buoy was moving further and further away from the boat really very fast!!! Of course the buoy wasn’t going anywhere it is just that the current was so strong that the boat ended up 0.5 mile away from the buoy in no time!!!

Once ready we decided to go in as two groups again. Me and Adam and Paul and his students. We jumped in the water and made every effort to make it to the buoy and grab the line. The current was fearsome and it was obvious that it was going to be a challenging dive. We exchange signals with Adam and confirmed that we were good to go. The decent was painful with both of us having to pull down the shot line to beat the current and meet our 15 m / min descent rate which we managed to keep with a lot of effort. Once on the bottom I assumed the lead and started heading towards the bows until I started noticing Adam getting stresses. I think that our fight against the strong current and to meet our 15 m / minute had him a bit to exerted and stressed. Noticing obvious signs of distress started to ask him if he was OK and he signalled back that he was not. So immediately we turned around and started heading for the shot line. Approaching the shot line I got very excited for two reasons firstly because we had found the shot line and our ascent was imminent and secondly because Paul had made it to the bottom of the shot line so he could also help if Adam got into difficulties. Of course by that point Adam had caught up his breath and was again happy and relaxed. None the less we decided to abort the dive and continue our ascent.

In the mean time Paul and his students were trying really hard to untangle the buoy’s led weight which was so badly tangled to the wreckage that there was no chance to pull it up by the boat and actually it was just as well because if it was not that badly tangled to the wreck it would have never stayed attached to it when all of us were pulling down to descent. Although me and Adam were a bit up we felt that the shot line was made loose from the wreckage because it immediately escaped our grasp and we had to fin hard to catch it again. Once got hold of the shot line again the rest of the ascent was uneventful and apart from making sure that we held the shot line tight (but like really very tight) all went to plan until the 6 m stop when the second group caught up with us and it got a bit crowded!!! John lines were deployed and soon we left them finishing their deco in peace! On the surface the strong current was still present and Danny had to do his best to pick us up against the howling current.

Having got everyone back on the boat we headed back to Marsa Scala and the nearby restaurant for lunch with the very rude and not funny waiter who as his custom is managed to offend everyone including Danny!!!

Although we did went to Huggins for a cheeky half that night we decided to be a bit more brave and try the Brazilian restaurant called “Do Brazil” in the Hilton Marina which proved very very popular with the fanatically carnivorous Diving Leisure London crew who probably had enough of Huggins delicatessen cuisine!!!

Day 9: Last Dive – 29/05/2011

The last dive of our trip had to be the Faroud! The few remaining divers including myself and Tom went back with Richard to Zurieq for a fun dive on my favourite wreck! It was probably Tom’s first fun dive with a twinset on  and he enjoyed it as much as the rest of us although I did not penetrated deep in the machinery room because my torch was playing up I had a great dive and it was the perfect round up for this awesome trip!!!

Back at Paceville and after we went for a pizza at an Italian restaurant tha came highly recommended to us by our very own Fran we returned to Huggings for a night of festivities according to the DLL Malta protocol which ensured that we had copious amounts of alcohol until the early hours of the morning (04:00) and in spite Carl’s efforts we did managed to have a shisha or two!!!

Day 10: The End – 30/05/2011

The next morning was painful as expected with a massive hungover none the less we were back at Huggins for a breakfast although myself I opted for Mr Maxim’s pies an old tradition that I refuse to brake!!! We prepared our stuff and prepared the flat for our departure (removed bedding for cleaning, moving beds to their original position etc). After a short visit to Divewise for DLL divers to collect their equipment we went back to Huggins until the time came to go back to our apartment load our stuff in the truck and go to the airport. The rest went according to plan and late that night I was back in London having had a great holiday with awesome diving Many thanks to Diving Matrix, Diving Leisure London, Divewise Malta and of course Huggins!!!

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

IANTD Advanced Recreational Trimix (ART) with Diving Matrix in Malta – May 2010

Day 0 – Thu 20 May 2010

Myself, Mike, Maxim and Sean arrived in Malta around the 20th of May 2010. Now the first thing we did as soon as we dropped our kit at the Hotel was to go to Huggins for a pint of CISK!!! That is clearly the proper way to start a diving holiday. Huggins was the meeting point because apart from us (the four that went for technical diving training) 35 more recreational divers of Diving Leisure London had arrived the day before and started their diving holiday. It was going to be a MEGA big holiday and we knew it from the first moment. You could feel it in the air everyone was in for diving and even more for partying !!!

At some point we met up with our instructor who was very pleased to see us all there and of course advised us to make sure we have a good night’s sleep so that we are fresh and happy to start our IANTD Advanced Recreational Trimix course tomorrow morning.

A few hours later and after the last one of us arrived (I think it was Mike with the 01:00 flight) and had the celebrating pint(s) we decided to head to our hotels…

Day 1 – Fri 21 May 2010

Since we had waited for Mike to have his first (the celebrating) pint at 01:30 and we didn’t make it back to our hotel until well past 04:00 the morning after was Painful!!! None the less we managed to crawl to the TEC LAB with a massive hangover and in desperate need of coffee!!!

Once Paul arrived and we got in to the TEC LAB things like headache and hangover seemed to disappear very quickly because the place is awesome filled with toys everywhere!!! As soon as we walked in were welcomed by Paul’s and Stuart’s Rebreathers and the cave line guiding us further into what it looked like the Tech-Divers Dream room!!! Twinsets, Wings, Backplates, Aluminium Stages everywhere!, Diving Computers / Timers and regulators at the walls completed the scenery and immediately we knew we wanted to be here!!!

At that time Paul decided to start with the most exciting work that had to be done: sorting out kit (Yeeeey!!!) This is definitely my favourite part of the course this is where he went through our Recreational diving equipment and slated pretty much the vast majority it. My amber / yellow DSMB!, Split fins, Reels, Random bits of bunge cord on the reel, knives, snorkels, stupidly long instrument consols and other bits of kit were thrown away. Once that was done we got issued with proper technical divers gear J wings backplates, twinsets and other techie stuff that we needed for our course.

Once the kit was sorted we started the less thrilling part of the course the paperwork and the slide presentations. Now on of the problems of the Tec-Lab is that the chairs are a bit too comfortable J Yes I was more than happy to sit there and have my much needed siesta than do anything else!!! Fortunately the massive screen used to display the slides was bright enough and there was no need to deem the light because that would be the end of it for me…

Paul managed to deal with Death by Presentation, which many diving schools employ nowdays in an effort to kill their students by boredom, by breaking the slides and the presentation regularly and running examples with us and primarily Mike who from the very beginning expressed his KEEN interest in mathematics (NOT) and also by taking the mick of us and our hangover (nice!)

Fortunately that did not last for long and we had to break for lunch. Lunch was served at Tony’s and apart from a great steak and egg sandwich in Maltese BREAD (see we went for the healthy option) we got to meet the friendly locals a guy with a very very mean Harley Davidson and a proper German WWII helmet but a very (oh so gay) alarm!!!

After lunch we headed back to TEC LAB for the kit configuration part. Now again that was an adrenaline rush! Moved from the table and the presentations and Paul grabbed his gear and started setting up his rig. From the cylinders (manifold, valves, bands) to the backplate, harness regs everything what do we need, why do we need them how to use them and how not to abuse them. In one word: Awesome!!!

At last having completed all the introductory stuff we headed for the water!!! And I have to say on one hand I was looking for ward to it but on the other hand I was terrified because although I had dived with a twinset before (manifolded and not) but had never tried to isolate it or do any shut down drills L I was scared!!! For our first skills circuit we (Paul) decided to dive the “house reef” it is nothing like a reef since there is no such thing a reef in the Mediterranean (not a coral reef) any way!!! but it is very conveniently located by the sea front of Dive Wise a dive centre that we were using for our gas fills.

After a fair bit of fuff (getting into that kit was a new experience!!!) and me carrying my twinset for around 100 m without any good reason at all we got in the water (woo hoo!!!)

Now surprise Number 1. Never ever before in my life had I dived with 4 kg of weight and a dry suit now actually I had never dived with 4 kg of weight anyway!!!

Surprise number 2. An 11 (80 cf) cylinder is quite easy to deal with underwater!!!

Surprise Number 3. Shut down drills are a bit over ratted. I must admit think they were a lot easier to perform than I originally thought of and actually every time I had trouble with them it was because I was looking for the manifold far lower than it was!!!

Surprise Number 4. no many how many dives I had done my buoyancy was all over the place. The rig was pushing my head down and I was trying to balance it desperately!!!

After a few shut downs, out of air drills and taking off / putting on our stages we decided to call the day and go to Huggins (of course!!!) for a very hearty meal (think mine was a Huggins Mixed Grill) and a few drinks with the Diving Leisure London divers. Past experience suggested that we should behave (unlike last night) and retire early to avoid this mornings pain J and surprisingly enough we did!

And that Was the end of Day 1!!!

Day 2 – Sat 22 May 2010

We met at the TEC LAB with Paul, loaded our kit to the WARRIOR and headed off to Dive Wise to pick up our cylinders which we left there the night before for them to fill. Once we got our cylinders we went to Wied Iz Zurrieq (Blue Grotto) to dive the reef (much to my disappointment) rather than dive The Um El Faroud

But of course Mr Toomer was right we were not ready to dive Faroud yet! Well we had dived her as recreational divers before but not as Technical divers!!! We prepared our dive plans with loads of simulated decompression stops and after a very long (Toomer style) dive brief we got in the water. I was a bit surprised that Paul gave the return signal before we reached our planned target depth but that was because we had reached our turn around point according to our dive (time) plan (OUPS!!!). After a few “entertaining” gas switching exercises and loads of buoyancy troubles we returned back to the shore for our break before the next dive.

After the debrief of the first dive, a very light lunch (realising that I desperately need a diet) further planning for the next dives the second and the third dive went along in similar lines with more circuit training and more drills.

While we were training (in the classroom or circuit training in the open water) Stuart was always with us and he was filming or taking photos all the time trying in order to create a promotion video for Diving Matrix.

Now at this point I am sure you know what we did next? Yes! we dropped the cylinders for filling, the kit at the TEC LAB and we went to Huggins for a few pre Curry drinks with the Diving Leisure London crew. The curry place was a bit overwhelmed by us since they probably never ever had to serve one 35 person table before with only 20 minutes notice!!! And as you can imagine it did not go perfectly well (think starters started coming at around 23:00!!!) Having said that the food was great! and I would very much like to go again!

Day 3 – Sun 23 May 2010

Having behaved the night before and knowing that today we are actually diving the Faroud (rather than the reef near Faroud) we met at the shop early and after a quick stop at Divewise (to get our air fills) we went to Wied Iz Zurrieq were we had a very pleasant conversation with the local Car Park Manager who was thrilled to see us and our diving kit lying around in the car park. Having said that I must admit that he was really helpful although most of the time he was speaking in a bizarre mixture of English / Maltese that we could not understand!!!

You probably know that I do not believe in sun screen on any sort of creams in general. BIG mistake. While out on a lovely day like this I could feel my scalp frying and that was not fun! Once we got our first real decompression dive plan ready and Paul briefed us on what was the purpose of the dive and what was further skill circuit training we had to do, we got into our kit, did our pre dive checks and jumped in the water. Well some of us jumped in the water (myself, Sean, Stuart, Kirsten and Andris) Mike and Maxim were no where to be seen!!! As we are waiting about 5 minutes in the water floating in the surface hapilly like seals Paul comes to site and very very excited he announces to us that the reason behind Mikes and Maxims delay is two blond girls that Mike and Maxim were chatting up!!! After about 15 minutes they both made it to the quay side and decide that it was time to dive J

Once in the water everything went to plan. We descended according to plan found the Faroud and had a very nice dive around it. I think this is the first time EVER I dived the Faroud without any penetration! But it was still a great dive (who would have thought!!!) As agreed in our dive plan we started our ascent and our journey back. This is where things got slightly more exciting with myself and Sean suffering with Buoyancy problems and Maxim doing a very “hasty” gas switch and switching to his decompression gas only to find it OFF!!!

Once we got over these “minor” issues we were again in control and headed back to our exit point. Rather than surfacing though we went at the back end of the gulf and finished our circuit training after a fairly long 90 minute dive (new personal record!!!)

Having completed our circuit training we dropped off the cylinders for filling and then back to TEC LAB to finish off the remaining theory of our ART course.

Not too late we left the TEC LAB and headed to Huggins where we had dinner without the Diving Leisure London crew who were having dinner at the Avenue to celebrate their last night in Malta with a great meal! We would have joined in that but we were delayed by best trimix and other similar trivial calculations unfortunately! Of course as soon as they finished they came to find us and party! After a few sensible drinks I had to leave and go to bed just when they were working on the Karaoke list!!! There are many photos of that night (and the part that I missed) on Diving Leisure London facebook page and other profiles and you can see the first light of the dawn on them…

Day 4 – Mon 24 May 2010

Gutted because we had missed a great night out but SUPER excited to dive the Imperial Eagle a car ferry at 40 m deep we were up bright and early!!! This was our first technical dive. The first dive on trimix (26/23 and 50) and for me a new dive site!!! A new wreck that I had not dived ever before! And needless to say I was really really excited about it. Once we got everything ready we went to the coast to meet with Danny and his friendly Maltese skipper Owen. These two made Statler and Waldorf look like a friendly couple of old friends!!!

After quite a few near misses (very slippery jetty) we boarded on Dannys RIB and headed out to the Eagle. Once Owen shot the wreck Mike, Maxim, Sean, myself, Andris, Alex, Adam, Stuart and Paul jumped into the water and started our descent to the Statue of Jesus Christ. From the statue the wreck was visible and we made our way to the bows. When we reached the wreck we descended (well I did) to the seabed which much to my disappointment was only at 38 m trying to get 40 m on my computer. Soon I realised that that was not working and I lifted my self up and started enjoying my dive. The Imperial Eagle is a very beautiful wreck and it looks like there is a fair bit to penetrate. This is what Alex and Andris did and we saw their stages left outside one opening, that they decided to penetrate. Moving to the stern I could see that the bottom had formed a trench and the propellers were still visible and immediately I dived down and got my UEMIS to record 40 m!!!

After that we reached our turn around point and headed back to the statue of JC and the shot line. After an ascent that went exactly as planned our heads popped out in the surface and Owen brought the boat to pick us up.

One of the things I had not got used to was my stage and as I tried to climb the ladder Danny kindly volunteered to help me an relieve me of my stage cylinder. Only problem was that my stage was still connected to my dry suit!!! (more OUPS) I think this is where I earned the “Zorba The Greek” nickname although Zorba was never known to be a dumbass like me!!!

Once back in shore we had a great lunch at the café next to the quay and made our way back to the hotel having of course agreed the time that we will meet at Haggins to celebrate!!! Back at Huggins with Andris, Alex, Mike and Sean ready to celebrate their last night in Malta and myself and Maxim always up for a drink and looking forward to celebrate our qualification what followed can be described very well by one word: CARNAGE !

We started with CISK of course and gradually went through to jags of Vodka & Red Bull, Gin & Kinnie, Southern Comfort & Kinnie, Jager Bombs, Sambuca Shots averything really it didn’t matter what it was we would drink it! At any point in front of us we would have at least a pint of CISK and a long drink and a shot on its way J. When we had enough of that we moved on to PLUSH for shisha (as any good diver who respects his / hers lungs would do!!!) After that a tour to Havana and Fuego followed and it was about sunrise when we decided to get back to our hotel.

Normoxic Trimix with Diving Matrix in Malta – May 2010

Day 5 – Tue 25 May 2010

Now needless to say that the mother of all hangovers followed and the next morning was painful and Unpleasant altogether. Our plan to meet at 8 at the TEC LAB to sort out the kit of those who were leaving that day (Mike, Alex, Andris and Sean) clearly didn’t happen. I vaguely remember having this conversation with our gracious leader (Mr Toomer) and suggesting that we should move our start time to something later and Paul was like: “Yes how about 9 o clock?” hm…

Well we did met sometime later that morning and after a hearty brunch (no one of us made it up in time for breakfast at the hotel) we got to the TEC LAB feeling quite BROKEN!

As soon as the guys that were leaving got their kit sorted myself and Adam started the IANTD Normoxic Trimix powerpoint presentation Marathon. Paul was trying really hard to stimulate our interest with complicated maths and perplexing physiology for 3rd year medicine students!!! Now that is probably just me being a geek but I loved it!!! And honestly I can not understand why they do not teach that stuff from the beginning I mean I dive because I love diving and yes I want to know more about what is going on down there from what happens to my body to how to plan my dives. But it is probably just me…

Having finished with the coursework we decided that that was enough for a day and myself and Adam (the only ones left) went to back to Huggins for a very large glass of Orange Juice and Lemonade!!!

Day 6 – Wed 26 May 2010

Bright and early and feeling very healthy (unlike yesterday morning) we met Paul at the TEC LAB and went to Divewise to get our cylinders and go diving!!! Once we got there Paul had a quick chat with the Alex who was going to dive the Bristol Beaufighter and came up with a “Fancy a Boat Dive today lads???” to which of course there was a unanimous YEEEES!!!!

Got our kit ready and waited for the boat to arrive listening to an UBER hot Maltese singing in what looked like a rehearsal for a wedding reception at Dragonara (memo: find out more about singer!!!)

Once the boat was on site we jumped in the water and swam to it (the rock reef did not allow the boat to approach any closer) and boarded the boat. This time I had learned my lesson and my dry suit hose was not connected to the dry suit saving me the embarrassment (not for long though). Within minutes we were given the OK to dive and jumped in. Hasty as usual when Owen said Toomer in for some bizarre reason I thought: “Fine I am going in!” and as you can guess I found myself with my head under Paul’s Rebreather (Big painful boom followed) and can safely confirm that my (empty otherwise) skull survived the collision against the Sentinel!!!

Once back on surface with Danny and Owen commenting on my fantastic entry (no I am not going to write it here what they said) we started our descent. Although there is not much of the plane left the view is spectacular visibility was endless and it is really nice to be able to see it from above and slowly descent to it. We had a look around the fuselage, found a morey eel and a look inside the gun and with loads of bottom time to go we decided to go and have a look around the wreck for anything else… Didn’t found anything exciting and we made our way back.

With all the party people gone and Maxim enjoying his romantic holiday with Clare that left me and Adam (whom I don’t think he shares my enthusiasm for booze!) at Huggings working through our exam papers (fun times). Although situation looked a bit desperate the arrival of GLUG in Divewise helped things to get back to normal!

Day 7 – Thu 27 May 2010

There were a few people having a pleasant stroll at the quay at Poppay Village that Thursday morning and a few divers as well. And I bet you that when they saw us arriving they all though “BLOODY HELL!!!” how deep are these guys going??? We were going diving in full combat dress twin 12s and two 11 lt aluminium stages each!!! Yeah we looked COOL!!!

What they didn’t know is that we were kitted up and planned to dive for one hour at 6 meters!!! Yes more skill circuit! and although it was a bit silly having all that kit on to dive at six meters it was also really cool J Shut downs, gas switching, out of air drills, out of air drills with no mask and my buddy fining away from me!, Buoyancy Control Device failures, trying to maintain neutral buoyancy with all forms of buoyancy control lost and Paul dropping cylinders to us from the surface!!! Pretty cool stuff and I loved every minute of it! Apart from my exit when I got stuck in the ladder because I just couldn’t get through with my stages hanging from my sides J (Everyone else thought it was funny!!!)

Having completed all our training we were ready to go diving again and the plan was to dive “The Stubborn”! Now the HMS Stubborn is a notorious dive because I do not think that I know any diver who managed to dive it the first time they set out to do it. This may sound strange but something happens every time. I know divers who had to try three times and still failed to dive her. Suppose it goes with the name you have to be Stubborn to let you dive her. Anyway we planned our dive and our best Trimix and left the cylinders for filling. That night we decided to go for dinner at Huggins (for a change J). Now partly because of the presence of GLAG, partly because as Paceville approaches the weekend more groups arrive studying, revising or doing any exam papers was not the option and I believe that at that point having all of our course notes and exam papers we said that’s it! Time to close the books and order a well deserved pint of CISK!!!

Day 8 – Fri 28 May 2010

Friday’s morning was rather stressful because although our plan was ready and we were early to collect the gas and we had plenty of time to go to meet the boat our gases were off! We were expecting something around 20/30 for back gas and 30, 70 for our stages and instead of that we got hypoxic trimix on our back gas and 26, 50 for our stages. No one was particularly amused and although the guys at the filling station did their best to sort it out it was just not happening so we had to call Danny and tell him that we can not make it in time and that they should leave without us L

Quite disappointed we got back our cylinders filled with Normoxic (20/22 and 32, 70) mixtures this time and decided to head off to Gozo and dive there instead. Call me superstitious if you like but I was not upset I was a bit disappointed but I was not surprised You can not dive the Stubborn first time! It is the norm. It is the way of things in life. We will go back there again and we will dive her another time when she is happy with us!

While we were on the jetty waiting the ferry to board getting quite excited about diving the deep wrecks in Gozo the Paul’s phone rang and within seconds Paul was seriously agitated and he was looking at a way out of there (Mind you at the time we were in the queue waiting to board the ferry that has just got to the port and card were disembarking!!!). Having completed the call with Danny he turned around and said: “do you want to dive a new dive site?!” There was no thinking behind that!!! Myself, Adam and Hayden were like: F*&£! yes!!! Apparently the sonar at Danny and Owens boat picked up something on their way back from the Stubborn and they were wondering what could it be! So there we are thinking We are going to find a new wreck (although Paul hinted that we may end up diving over rocks…).

Quick u-turn and we are all very excited about diving a new site and by that time the mornings grief and stubborn were a distant memory!!! Once we arrived at the jetty Danny and Owen were already there waiting for us and quickly loaded everything and went out to find our new wreck!!! Owen dropped the shot and soon we were in the water. Visibility was great and it didn’t took long to see the bottom. Inspite the fact that we couldn’t see anything all our attention was focused on the sea bed trying to find something, anything. Paul took his spool out and started reeling off the shot line. We managed to do a half circle search at a 30 m radius (we know it was 30 m because Pauls reel run out of line!!!) and according to our schedule we started our ascent. Although we didn’t find anything it was a really really bizarre site because although there was sea weed at the sea bed there was nothing around the shot line for some reason there was a circle (about 30 m) around the shot line where nothing grew and outside that there was sea weed. Also loads of pieces of cloth or fabric.

Although I was disappointed because we didn’t find anything I was oh so excited about this was my first exploration dive and one of my best dives EVER! I am up for doing it again and again and again anytime!!!

Having had a great day out we went back to the TEC LAB and sorted out kit for tomorrow. The filling station guys made sure that our gases and for tomorrow were ready and were also kind enough not to charge for any gases we used that day which was very nice of them J. We agreed to meet at Huggins for dinner and for a last drink since Maxim and Clare were flying the next day and that would be their last night in Malta.

Day 9 – Sat 28 May 2010

Having had only a couple of drinks the night before and an early night and a massive Nutella and Banana crepe!!! we met at the TEC LAB, picked up our (19/29 twinset and 32 and 64 stages) and headed off to Marsa Scala to meet with Danny and Owen. The weather was a bit overcast and choppy and that got Adam very worried because he does not enjoy rough seas!!! Fortunately things were not that bad and the reason Danny and Owen were wearing their lifejackets had more to do with the coastguard patrol boat they encountered earlier rather than the rough sea!!! Still by the time we got to the dive site Adam was rather pale!

Owen had a bit of a trouble shooting the wreck (but more details on that later) and that didn’t help Adam who was turning paler and paler!!! As soon as Owen was happy with the shot we got in the water and started our long descent (my longest decent definitely!) Visibility was fairly good and I believe that the wreck revealed herself to us at around 30 meters and at that point I new I my heart beat had gone up, my breathing rate was off the scale I was overwhelmed with owe from what I saw!!! Le Polynesien is about 150 m long and lies slightly listed on her port side, with the masts lying in the same direction. Loads of openings that were crying to me “come in… come in…” and the bottom was at least 5-10 meters further down!!! As soon as we got to 60 m we could see what gave Owen so much grief when he was trying to soot the wreck. The shot line had gone through a handrail and got tangled up pretty badly. This is why he was feeling the line to be loose but in fact he would have never managed to lift it (unless he brought up the wreck with him!!!) So as soon as we untangled the shot line we headed to the stern section and continued our dive. Sixteen minutes later we started our ascent and swiched to 30% Nitrox at 30 m and then to 70% Nitrox at 20 completed our decompression stops at the trapeze that Owen and Danny had very kindly deployed for us. At that trapeze and while at deco I saw Paul pulling out his wet notes and writing something and I was like “what is it now???” but he turned the slate round and then much to my delight I saw:

“WELCOME TO THE TRIMIX CLUB”

Yes at that point I was a very but really very happy bunny !!!

Once back on the boat I was an uber happy technical diver who had just returned from my most challenging and advanced dive ever and by far the best wreck dive I have dived so far!!!

After many congratulations and handshakes we made it back to Marsa Scala were we waved good bye to Owen and agreed with Danny to come and meet us at Huggins for dinner to celebrate our first day in the Trimix Club!!!

In the evening the whole gang met up at Huggins and the usual festivities commenced loads of (fairly average but reasonable priced food) and CISK to be followed by more CISK, shots and shisha at PLUSH (which I successfully managed to dodge!) and not too late went to bed.

Day 10 – Sun 29 May 2010

The plan for Sunday was that we would go for a fun dive an nice shallow dive around the caverns of Poppey Village now primarily because it was pissing down with rain, it was windy and we were substantially hangover we decided to abort mission and take it easy. So under heavy rain went to Divewise to say goodbye to them and then to Huggins for a drink (more orange juice and lemonade).

Late enough headed to the TEC LAB to sort out my kit and return Paul’s kit and also sign my name on the TEC LAB WALL OF FAME!!! which was probably the coolest part of the whole trip!!! I mean my name goes on the wall next to serious divers that I have seen diving and thought “When I grow up I want to be like him” !!!

After that and on my way back to the hotel I stopped and got my lunch for Mr Maxims because no one should leave Malta without trying a pea-pie from Mr Maxims!!!

Surprisingly I did not spent my last night at Huggins drinking CISK but instead found myself with very good company in cinema watching Russell Crow failing miserable to convince as Robin Hood!!! and went back to the hotel early because I had a silly early flight to catch.

All and all it was a great 11 days. Did the most intensive diving training I have ever done in my life and I did actually got away having learned what I always wanted how to dive deeper and longer, how to plan and execute dives and how to have fun with my mates.

At the same time it was a great holiday with my mates with loads of drinking and loads of fun (hangovers and very embarrassing very drunken dancing antiques!) I made new friends and now I am only looking forward to go back and do it again!!!

Many thanks to Divewise for sorting out accommodation and transport

to Danny and Owen for the great boat trips

to Diving Leisure London Crew for making diving fun

to Alex for bringing DLL in Malta at the same time with me and being a great dive buddy

to Mike, Maxim, Sean and Adam for being the coolest course mates anyone could hope for (& guys I will dive with you guys again anytime!!!)

and of course many thanks to Paul Toomer and Diving Matrix for an awesome experience