A Travellerspoint blog

Learning to Scuba

overcast 28 °C

Sorry, not many pictures with this one, and if you're not interesting in diving you'll probably want to skip a few sections as they could be a bit dry. We should hopefully be able to put up a few more updates now that we've landed a sweet gig picking cherries for the next undetermined little while, two weeks if we're lucky. Crikey!!

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The ride to Koh Tao had been rough due to windy weather. The windows would show sky one minute then our view would plunge into ocean waves the nest as we rocked our way there. Walking to the water closet was a challenge of its own as we gripped each bunk bed pole to avoid toppling over. I had to sit outside for awhile in the morning to calm my unsettled stomach. Sleeping on boats is not for me. Finally, two hours past the expected time of arrival, we arrived in Koh Tao and made haste to get to Impian Divers, past the dozens of other souvenir, food and dive shops down the road.

The owner Robert welcomed us by name, and the staff were surprised the boat had taken so long. They set us up with our hotel room next door after we signed our paperwork The room had A/C and a patio set.

When we returned to the shop to get started, the German girls in our group weren't around yet but we started the lessons anyway. Our instructor went through the importance of breathing and how water pressure would compress air, lungs and objects. Equalizing allowed us to dive effectively without injury. Just plug your nose and blow on the way down. We reviewed the equipment and procedures to follow as well as helped us get all geared up with wetsuits, fins, masks, weight belts, and a BCD. This time I'd get to use the buoyancy control device (BCD) myself.

We got out of class early enough to grab lunch at the cappuccino place next door that sold great sandwiches, baguettes and baked goods. It was a bit pricey for Thailand as all the touristy restaurants that line the streets were here, but had tasty pesto sauce.

Our boat left at 12:30 and we grabbed our dive gear just before that. Our first site was Buddha point and we hopped in to do our swimming proficiency test: three laps around the boat and a 10 minute tread which all of us passed.

After all the other groups had gone, we learned the steps to set up our gear. Before using the oxygen, we checked the bottle. A sticker valid for one year showed the bottle had been visually inspected. A stamped date on the neck valid for 4 years indicated the bottle had been pressure tested and could be used safely. If there was a plastic cap on the top, it showed that the bottle had been refilled with air.

To start, we attached our BCD to the bottle using a large strap, four fingers down from the stamped area. A smaller safety strap held the top part in place too. Then we removed the plastic cap from the oxygen bottle and made sure the O-ring was there. It helped form a seal with the regulator to allow air to flow. Then we cracked the bottle open to let out a bit of air for a second before closing it. We unscrewed the dust cap from the regulator and attached it to the bottle so the screw lined up at the back.

Next, we checked the pressure gauge which should be zero if no air is flowing before placing it in a pocket of the BCD. We attached the inflator hose to the BCD so we could fill it with air should we need to be more buoyant. The lines all had to be snapped into place so they didn't drag when we dived. To crack the oxygen bottle, we pressed the regulator breathing piece to release the pressure, then opened the tank all the way, plus half a turn back. Then we needed to secure the alternate regulator, bright yellow so it was easy to see should our buddy have an emergency, somewhere in the life triangle: from the chin to where the rib cage ended.

Then we started our checks. Air should be between 180 and 220 bar for a full bottle. Mine was 10 bar short, but our instructor said it was fine. They were just short training dives anyway. BCD was checked by inflating it fully with the button then releasing all the air through the hose. Next we orally inflated it and then used the emergency release to let it out. With our regulators, which we used to breathe, we smelled of the air to make sure no contaminants made their way in, then took 3 breaths watching our pressure gauge to make sure the needle wasn't moving too much otherwise our bottle might not be open properly.

Then we were ready to strap in to the BCD with a Velcro waist strap and clips across the shoulders and stomach. The pressure gauge got clipped in too so it would be easier to access and wouldn't drag. Our flippers went in a spot that was easy to reach for later, mask around the neck and our weight belts and wet suits had gone on right at the beginning. Once the flipper went on at the edge of the boat, we had our right hand over our regulator and mask and left on the weight belt in case it released. One big stride forward and we were off!

Once in the water, we inflated our BCDs completely to float then could take out the regulator to swim to the right spot. We made it to a sand bar, shallow enough to stand but we sunk to our knees so we were underwater. We practised our breathing along with throwing the regulator away only to put it back in place. We practised clearing our mask should it get foggy by pulling it away from our face slightly to let water in then pressing on the top and blowing out our nose while lifting our head up toward the surface.

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One of the German sisters was having a lot of trouble so our instructor spent most of his time on the surface with her. While we waited there kneeling and breathing, the three of us got to see some neat fish: groupers, yellow angelfish, colourful parrotfish and even small neon blue ones. Most of the coral had died out. Once everyone was down again we practised hand signals for okay, problem (then point at the problem: ear, mask, fin etc.), how much air, ascend, descend, swim, stay close to your buddy.

Back on the boat we had water and dive biscuits from an enormous tin while the other groups did their second dive. At the center we got three chapters of assigned reading and few pages to complete. It would be a busy night. The wifi back at the hotel was patchy, but I did make it work for a bit before tackling our homework.

For supper, we found, surprise surprise, a Thai place up the main road and had cheap tasty shakes, pad thai with tofu and a stir-fry with beans, mushrooms and tofu and red curry with rice and pork. Ryan was quite jealous of my coconut shake as his pineapple just wasn't cutting it after a long day diving. He'd order one tomorrow for sure.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish boat padi scuba dive koh tao open_water rough_ocean

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