A Personal Diary by Mark Culwick
Well, the time finally arrived, something I have wanted to do for years has finally come to fruition. An opportunity that only came about due to Covid (about the only fortuitous thing to attribute to this mess). So, it was time to say goodbye to the family for three weeks and start the journey to Fowey in Cornwall courtesy of my good friend Gareth who providing the company and the transport. We arrived in the pretty-much-one-horse (though picturesque) town at 18:00 after a 3-hour drive.
I was met on the slipway by Charlie, one of the training team, in a small red boat – which caused Gareth endless mirth as I had told him I would be on a red boat for three weeks – but thankfully not that one! Shortly after I arrived at my temporary home, the DSV (Dive Support Vessel) Hambledon, to start my full HSE Commercial Surface Supplied Diver course with Commercial Diver Training.
Get on board, stow the kit in my cabin that I had accrued during the past three weeks since I found out I had secured a place on the course. Only 48 divers get the opportunity a year and I was very lucky to get a cancellation. Next, was boat safety briefings and walkarounds of the escape options, shower and toilet (singular) and galley. We were then fed and left to our own devices being informed we would be called at 07:00 to start the day. All in all a whirlwind few hours and off to bed to try and get some sleep, which was hard to come by due to the excitement and the nervousness of what tomorrow would bring.
Awake at 07:00, ablutions, self-service breakfast and coffee before the staff arrived at 08:00, we were given all our training materials for the week, instructions on Covid compliance insofar as possible and the rest of our clothing (a fetching set of red overalls and a hoody…) then it was game on.
First things first – our medical forms were scrutinised as were our commercial logbooks, once satisfied we were given the dive brief for the day and the running order. I was in a group of three, so the order was diver, tender and panel operator. We were then given a 30-minute briefing on the equipment we were going to use that day which was a Kirby Morgan Band Mask, Mark 28. We were taken to the dive deck and shown how it fitted in with the rest of the system. This comprised of the low- and high-pressure gas supply system equipment and how this linked into the control panels and then, believe it or not, it was go time.
My first job along with two others was as panel operator – this is to ensure gas is going to the diver and diver and tender communications. To say it was full on is an understatement and an old radio habit surfaced from the military whereby I said ‘over’ at the end of every transmission much to the amusement of the dive supervisor, Graham. I must try to stop, but easier said than done!
Then it was my turn to tender, learning how to kit the working diver up who essentially sits there and lets you dress them. Think buddy check, only ON STEROIDS..!! Then it was my job to get the diver in the water and work on the panel operators instructions, get the diver out of the water, covid clean the mask and then 5 minutes to get out of coveralls and into my drysuit, my turn..!!
Kitting up is strange, as I’ve said – you let the tender get on with it and think about your job for the dive. There are checks to complete such as bail out and comms checks but primary you just sit there.
Time to enter the water – usual drill and nothing new apart from no computers, no buddies, just your brand-new-to-the-job panel operator telling you what to do, so it is a leap of faith. Make bottom, then low and behold, gas gets turned off and a bailout drill (it happens frequently). The dive time passes quickly, not too cold at 9 degrees and you are busy, so no drama. Then to follow instructions and find the shot line in near zero visibility – laughs and giggles there I can assure you!
Out of the water and a few more close-down drills and out of the kit. Out of drysuit in less than 5 minutes, 5 minutes for a sandwich and back on the panel for the second series – did someone lie when they mentioned lunchbreak?! The course is run like a commercial operation, if divers are not in the water, then it is money wasted.
Freddie the Fowey seal made an appearance (he isn’t called Freddie ‘obviously’ but he is a regular visitor to the centre), he played with the air lift bubbles for a short while then did one no doubt to something more exciting (for him) as I was having a ball.
Back to the instructor who then gave us a lecture on chain and mooring surveys (tomorrows tasks) and then logbooks. Finally, it was lectures on panel systems and US Navy Dive Tables. And that was it (or so we thought). It was now 18:45 and it had been a whirlwind day and the staff then give us homework on chamber systems and US Navy Deco Schedules so a long night trying to stay awake and trying to learn. It has been full on to say the least and the staff although have great humour take no prisoners either. First assessment day is on Wednesday.
Not for the faint of heart who like to gradually ease themselves into learning, we were warned to arrive with ‘your game-faces on’, they were not kidding. Let us see what tomorrow brings.
Day 2 started much the same as day one 07:00 and personal care before the supervisor came and gave us our briefings for the day. Diving task one was diver rescue, the speed the standby diver gets in the water is explosive, we are in the water in less than 30 seconds from given the shout by the supervisor then there are drills and callouts on the way down the line as the diver is approached, assessed, switched to an alternate gas supply and made ready to lift. Slightly more sedate than recreational rescue as your tender pulls you to the surface, another leap of faith. Then on to fingertip searches on a specified bearing in zero visibility (I am sure the compass was dodgy or the ere was a lot of metal at the bottom of the Fowey) but task completed.
A rapid bit of lunch and then another rescue scenario all the while having loss of gas drills. Then more searching, never did get to find what we were looking for and that was day two complete from a diving perspective anyway. We then had a presentation on gas lifts that is a contraption used to remove silt and debris from the seabed using compressed gas and the venturi effect. We will be using this piece of kit tomorrow. Homework from the night before was marked and logbooks completed. We then had a lecture on USN deco dive tables before being given the homework for the night on dive tables and chamber schematics. That is it for the Kirby Morgan Band Mask Mk 28. Tomorrow we move on to the Kirby Morgan Mk 37 hard helmet and more skills to learn. It has only been two days, but it’s been incredibly hard work, no relaxing in the day and an avalanche of knowledge.
First thing, well you get the picture, though the surprise was it was yet another sunny day which was welcome. Some testing on US Navy dive tables and then straight into the dive briefings. Then it was out on deck and time to be instructed and to play with the big toys, the Kirby Morgan Mk.17B and the Kirby Morgan Mk.37, these are the breathing helmets you typically associate with commercial divers.
Once this was complete it was time to kit up, put the helmet on (it weighs upwards of 15kg) and go through checks, due to the weight your neck starts to hurt after 10-15 minutes so getting in the water is welcome relief. Straight into the water and task number one was air lifting. For those of you that have ever seen Gold Divers on Discovery Channel, it is the tube that picks up silt and rocks under compressed air pressure and dumps them to allow you to clear an area or excavate a space for construction (only much more powerful than the Gold Diver ones). Hard work in unfamiliar kit but brilliant fun. Next a move on to lift bagging, as the name suggests it is rigging lift bags to heavy equipment and moving them around while not getting your umbilical snagged. Finally, it was ten minutes of cleaning the underside of the pontoon which is encrusted with mussels. Again, hard graft due to buoyancy in mid-water whilst working and immediately being in zero vis the moment you start but the training is starting to come together now.
A few hours in dive control and tendering and then back to the water, kit up and get back in to do a chain survey, who knew there were so many different types of chain and names for different rigging, Wire gauge, thrasher zones and do not get me started on shackle pin types and orientations.
Back to the classroom (galley) and US Navy surface decompression tables presentation and logbooks. Surface decompression gives you 1:30 seconds to get from 40ft to the surface and then 3:30 to get out of the equipment, remove your wet drysuit/clothing and into the recompression chamber and blown down to 50 feet or bad things can start to happen, you must rely on your team to make it happen.
Phew, then done for the day. At 20:08 we got to see the ISS fly over in pitch black conditions, stunning.
After breakfast, it was briefings and then straight to it. I was in control first. Control is where the working diver gets all their instructions from, gas checks, when to leave surface, how deep they are (no computers used) when to start work, when to stop, when to leave bottom and where to stop for decompression, the diver just follows instruction and does their job of work until told to stop.
Then it was my turn to go to work. 1 hour of airlifting, digging a trench in hefty current, not at all easy but made good progress with the airlift. Time complete it was time to go to the surface and swop out with the next diver.
Tendering is where you prepare the diver for the water and monitor their umbilical, which is a commercial diver’s lifeline. Gas, communications, hot water for hot water suits and pneumofathometer (depth measurement for topside) are all included, losing it could easily ruin your day although divers also have a minimum 7 ltr cylinder rigged into the helmet and this gas can not be lost in the event of a broken umbilical due to the all-important Non-Return Valve (NRV) that is tested every dive.
Back to the water to do zero visibility compass bearing searches for a specified distance in strong current.
Nearly the end of the day and a 90-minute lecture on ship hull surveys which was fascinating and then logbooks and homework given. Tonight, is being able to draw a schematic of both air and oxygen decompression chambers and a pressure relief valve!
After early briefings it was a presentation outside on pneumatic and hydraulic tools. The first tool we got to play with was the hydraulic angle grinder. We had a tube of steel clamped to a bench and we had to make ourselves steady, in moderate current and cut anything from 2 to 10mm rings of tubing. I have never used an angle grinder to cut or to grind so this could prove interesting.
I was the second into the kit. My first tasking was continuing to use the air lift to continue the trench we were digging. The vis was less than a meter, the current was running relatively fast and as soon as the air lift was switched on it was 20 minutes of pure dark work all done by touch, great practice but not easy to accomplish controlling a heavy piece of machinery that has a mind of its own in current.
I then moved to the hydraulic station and started cutting with the grinder, the kit again is heavy and as you are standing on the bottom (you trim nerds would have a fit) the current has a lot of surface area to push against, the angle grinder also generates centrifugal force so not only is the current trying to push you back, the tool is trying to push you to one side all whilst trying to make a straight and accurate cut. I soon managed to anchor myself and make good accurate cuts to the lengths requested. Lastly it was manual hull clearing (think wallpaper scraper with longer handle) removing barnacles, marine growth and rust from the hull, hard and tiring work.
Then it was lunch on the hoof and a real Cornish pasty in Cornwall eaten in the intermittent rain, how very local.
Directly after lunch it was dive 2 and I had to complete a ground sweep on bearings, easy I thought! However, the current was now ripping and moving on an arc using the umbilical as a pendulum was so difficult that it ended up being a battle of wills pulling yourself along the bottom using your divers’ knife as an anchor whilst trying to maintain bearings and manage a tape measure. I had to apologise on comms a few times as the pasty was intent on making a guest star appearance, a difficult dive, made more so by some very lairy crabs who did not appreciate my intrusion as I dragged myself across the bottom. Speaking of appearances, Freddie the Seal came for another visit.
We had a covid test today and we were all negative so we could operate without such strict covid protocols as we were quarantined on the boat for the full 3 weeks of the course. With no significant homework tonight, we had a treat as it was fish and chip night, the crew ordered from a takeaway which was a nice way to end the day.
Today was work on constructing scaffolding in 1m visibility, 5.2m tidal range and moderate to heavy current, weather was overcast with little wind and the dive kit for the day was the Kirby Morgan Mk17b.
The diver had to work to a schedule laid down by the supervisor, in relation to colour coded scaffolding bars. It was relatively difficult work due to limited visibility and the current pushing hard against you, fins came off and I anchored myself into the mud and silt to give myself a platform to work off. It was a relatively intensive task as the scaffolding had to be constructed to a plan that was communicated through comms system, so listening to topside and interpreting what they wanted then executing it, I loved it.
Second dive of the day was angle grinding a large diameter metal tube to a polished finish ready for Broco arc cutting on Monday (Oxygen Arc cutting). The River Fowie had risen 4m since the first dive so the pontoon had moved. My first job was to manhandle the 200kg workstation closer to the pontoon so the hydraulic grinder line could reach in the current, which was now ripping. With topside help I managed to shift the table the 7m closer to the pontoon and the tool was sent down. The difficulty with the grinding tool is the disc is very large and has a lot of centrifugal force so with the current, it was hard to maintain a position and exert pressure onto the job. However, I managed to work some of the heavy rust off the job ready for Monday.
Our special guests today were a Border Force cutter and Kirby and Morgan (named by John, a member of the staff who feeds them when he sees them, I am convinced, as is he, that they seek him out) that are a pair of Swans that regularly visit for treats of bread (Border Force did not want bread as far too cool looking in their paramilitary style black uniforms).
Back to the classroom to complete logbooks and work on schematics of control panels, oxygen and air recompression chambers and pressure relief valves. Last but no means least was a presentation on cage operations that we will use later next week when the work gets progressively deeper and we descend and ascend in cages from the deck of the boat.
Today was billed as a non-diving day, and insofar as diving was concerned, this was the truth. However, it was anything but a day off. There was a significant amount of study in surface decompression and then hours of tying knots, We had to learn 15 to the point we can tie them blindfold (when the only thing I have ever tied is my shoelaces and a Bowline, Sheet bend and Hitch on my PADI instructors), it was a baptism of fire, such exotic names such as alpine butterfly, double bowline and running hitch to name a few, not to mention rope splicing which is an art form all of its own.
Back to water tomorrow.
Morning briefs over, now everyone is covid tested and clear we are a bubble but no longer have to wear masks between dives which is such a relief. Briefings complete its down to it.
First up was a briefing on Broco cutting. Broco cutting is exothermic cutting using DC electric current to form an arc and then firing oxygen into the mix at about 8-9 bar to make a heat source burning at more than 4-5000 degrees celcius. Bearing in mind I have never done anything like this on the surface, never mind underwater and you can imagine the presentation was carefully listened to. We all got a shot at the surface with welding masks with varying success in getting the thermal reaction and then it was into dive kit.
In the water the tide was low and turning but the visibility was bad and exacerbated by the china clay works doing some cleaning and turning the water milky with visibility measured in inches, not to mention the current which was moderately heavy. First job was to anchor myself against the current and make sure nothing of me was under the work so molten steel did not drip onto my drysuit (that would have ruined the day in more ways than one). Then time to light up the job, it took a few minutes practice to get the arc and the amount of oxygen right to promote proper combustion then I was away. The light was unreal, and the heat generated made the water boil around the job, molten metal dripped away but because of the poor vis and the welding visor on the diving helmet it meant you had to get your face very close to the job to see anything, unnerving to say the least and no doubt I should have got closer. Your hand can start to quiver and flex due to the electricity, which is weird and worrying at the same time, more practice needed at this I think, definitely a confidence task.
Second dive was a fingertip search for me to find some kit previous divers had dropped. I found 2 of the 3 bits of kit and it really was fingertips as the viz had dropped to zero, rather chuffed with the outcome thought the army of crabs were less so. As divers regularly scrape mussels there really are thousands of them and they can get a bit lairy of you kneel or tread on them. Unbeknownst to me, the generator had gone offline which meant the compressor and comms went down. Topside linked me into another comms line and put me on backup HP gas (not to be confused with bailout) and I never knew a thing as the diving trainer / supervisor here is absolutely top drawer.
Diving complete and it was then recompression chamber operations. How they work, how to flush them, how to bring them up from depth etc. which was interesting and something we will both operate and be inside in the coming weeks.
Today I was the first diver using the Kirby Morgan Mk.37 and therefore my job to set up the task. I descended then had to right the heavy workbench that blew over in the current last night and then return to the shot line for a chain which we all had to cut at least a link of with the broco cutting torch and surface with a full link each. After I set the task I was short on time so set to work cutting, I went through the first side like a knife through butter but had to change the rod. After that I could not get ignition which was a bit frustrating as I only had to cut about 2mm of the link to get through but my time was up. I then went to the airlift and started to dig a hole in the seabed and all too soon my time was up on this task also.
90 minutes later I completed my second dive which was a pitch-black chain survey using verniers, I really enjoyed the dive and the task. We were going to night dive tonight, but this was cancelled as we now need deeper water to do the 30, 40 and 50m dives and as the weather is not suitable for the whole week we are going to relocate to Mayflower Marina in Plymouth where we can get the depths we need so the boat has to be made ready for sea.
We then had a lecture on the recompression chamber and got inside and were shown how to use the BIBS (built in breathing system) which deliver 02 to the divers as per the schedule. We were also taught how to pressurise the chamber, (blow it down) and flush it. All of this is in readiness for the Serd02 (Surface Decompression 02) drills where we have 5 minutes to get from 40 feet in the water, be recovered by the LARS (Launch And Recovery System, which is like a big lift) get out of all the commercial kit and drysuit with the help of your tender, climb in to a very small chamber and be blown down to at least 20ft in the chamber or you can get a bend as you are purposefully omitting decompression stops. This could be hilarious.
The last order of the day was the HSE Surface Decompression Exam and I aced it, which I was obviously pleased about.
All the kit then had to be bought off the pontoon to the boat as we are sailing first thing in the morning so that was an hour of organising ready to make a move.
After breakfast we completed the switch of the divers from DSV Loyal Watcher to DSV Hambledon and made ready to depart. Believe it or not, Kirby and Morgan came to see us off and did not look impressed that we were taking their stash of bread with us. We left the pontoon under the company’s owner Sal who is a Fowey RNLI lifeboat coxswain and Cal who is a fourth generation RNLI lifeboatman and the lifeboats helm. Cal has been on the lifeboats since he was 17 and his boat handling skills are amazing.
We left the River Fowey and entered the sea (past Dawn French’s house no less). The sea state was mirror smooth and hardly a breath of wind on the way. It was a nice easy crossing and went past old favourite dive sites on the way such as The James Eagan Lane and HMS Scylla and we had more visitors with three dolphins paying a brief visit to the bow wave.
The sun then came out as we pulled into Mayflower Marina and started to set up for diving operations. The kits were re-assembled, and the LARS and recompression chamber was made ready for use.
The rest of the time we were left with rope skills and preparation for the surface supply exam which is next Wednesday. Looking forward to starting some deep diving and associated work as well as using LARS and SERD02 procedures.
Today was about putting all our training into practice on the diving side, as well as LARS and Serd02. My first task of the day was control operator, so I assisted my diver through the communications of the task.
My next task on dive 2 was as a tender so the major difference from all the dives before this was to ensure the diver was in the recompression chamber within 3½ minutes of making surface, which we managed, no problem.
Next was the diving task so into the kit and into the LARS. Being lowered into water is the strangest feeling as you are in a cage with another diver, back-to-back, me looking outboard and him looking inboard and the water slowly pushes the air up your suit. We then half turn and bubble check each other and then its face away again and get ready for the ride to the bottom. Again this was strange as usually (as you know) you control your descent rate and clear your ears as you go, when you are being dropped in a cage that element of control is gone and it’s a 20m a minute drop to the bottom, get on with it. I then left the cage and measured the height from the cage to the clump weight (incredibly heavy weight that stops the cage twisting on ascent and descent) and from the weight to the bottom. My task was to orientate myself to the area for 25 minutes before it was my turn to return to the cage and tender diver 2 who did the same. All too soon we were back in the cage and winched up to 20 feet and a simulated deco stop for 3 minutes. After this we had 5 minutes from 20m, get to surface, get out of the cage, get out of kit and get into the recompression chamber and get blown down to 20ft. Then we had to enter the inner chamber, lock out the outer chamber, go on the Built In Breathing System (BIBS) which are demand valve masks that pump out pure 02 and then finally we could relax. Drinks were sent in through the medilock as a demonstration of how it works and after 1 half period on 02 (15 minutes), we were brought back up to surface and exited the chamber.
My next job was running the chamber which was extremely interesting and felt I got the hang of it relatively quickly. There are a fair few valves and dials but once you understand the flow it has some structure (hence the schematics we have drawn several times).
I then went on to operate the LARS. My number 2 did the launch and I was responsible for the recovery. I was imperative that we brought the divers up at 30ft a minute so the supervisor coached us in the use of LARS and the tips and tricks of the task.
We then had an hour theory on schematics for control panels, Pressure Relief Valves (PRV’s) and air and 02 recompression chambers plus some theory around chamber fires and pre and post dive system checks.
All in all, a good and productive learning day.
Today was another dive using the LARS system. We descended to 20m then left the cage which rests about 2m from the seabed. My first job was to walk across the seabed 15m then play unconscious. My in-water tender then followed my umbilical reporting no leaks cuts or fouls as he is going and counting the meters to control until he finds me. His next job is to do an assessment and report to surface, the tender then flushes the hood with fresh gas (Supervisor may have switched the air source at this point to the redundant HP system to both divers as the original gas may be bad). The tender then faces the casualty, puts my arm on his shoulders, opens my drysuit dump and then locks his arms over mine and pushes up on the helmet opening the airway. Tender then gives surface the command to hoist away. The surface tenders then have the unenviable task of dragging the divers back to LARS and get the divers in the cage which is harder than it looks without fins on. We then switched roles and I became the rescuer. Really interesting and slick rescue exercise and considering some of the lads had only done 6 open water dives before their pro scuba we all managed the task well. On surfacing it was surface decompression again and back in the chamber, all of us took less than 4 minutes 30 seconds.
After our evening meal we had a night dive to complete. The dive was a chain survey in the dark. Actually, it was not that difficult due to the torch on the helmet. What was difficult was guestimating depths given by control and the fact the chain had significant marine fouling (primarily mussels in this case). So on arrival at the job I was given the first depth to survey and sure enough, it had a mussel hotel on the links. I commenced operation Mayflower Marina Mussel Massacre to clear the chain of fouling with my hands and knife and got to work with the verniers. We ended dive ops at 22:30 after some slick changeovers and got off to bed as we start at 08:00 tomorrow.
First thing we had to manually move DSV Hambledon as we needed to clear pontoon chain and get closer to the deep water channel for the main part of the dive, depth progression.
I was first in the water as the in-water tender and my colleague for the dive was Jim who was the first diver. Once the LARS had made bottom at 20m we had to leave the cage and run (more an ungainly stagger) across the bottom and down a cliff edge to 30m where we stopped and surveyed the bottom before returning to LARS and switching positions. I ran out to 30m in depth and felt good, I reported to topside that there was more depth to be had and returned to LARS. We were then hoisted to 6m where we were told there was multiple gas failures and to go on emergency gas. To do this you turn on a large cylinder housed in the LARS and a tube is connected to this. You push the tube past the neck dam into the helmet and open the needle valve and hey presto, free flowing emergency gas. Again not easy as the space between the neck dam and helmet is tiny. We then secured the equipment and returned to surface and back in the chamber in 4 minutes 01 seconds so all in all a positive dive.
Today was a day off of sorts. First thing I got up and did a revision of the 15 knots I need to know and happily, I appeared to know them all except one, a fishermans bend, which I will work on. Each knot has a purpose, and not only do you need to know how to tie them, but you also need to understand where and when to employ them. We then had some brunch and I started doing some revision, whilst looking at the phone I saw tomorrow’s weather report and saw an 8–10-degree temperature swing in the negative so thought why not go for a walk! It appeared a few of us had the same thought so we went for a pleasant stroll around the batteries and barracks in the lovely sunshine with Gaz, a locally based Royal Marine giving us a tour. It was then back to the boat for KFC (Friday or Sunday is takeaway day) and then to some hardcore studying before the exam on Tuesday.
Today was further depth progression with decompression and SERD02 procedures and my decompression chamber assessment. My first task was to dive. We descended in the LARS to 22m and then I tended my diver out and he had to run on a bearing and find as much depth as he could in the time available while I payed out his umbilical. Then it was my turn, I ran out and it felt like a relatively gentle slope but on reaching 37m and turning round I had actually run virtually down a cliff, it was much harder getting back to the LARS. Once we were both secure in the LARS we ascended to 20ft and completed a 25 minute decompression stop. On the stop, Jim who was with me produced a length of rope from his pocket. We proceeded to do the knots we are trained on for over 15 minutes, completing 13 each, I was chuffed I got all mine correct. Jim is a mountaineer and is awesome with knots so felt good about the feedback. Then it was all over and back to the surface and in the chamber in 3 minutes 48 seconds, practice makes perfect.
The second job was my decompression chamber assessment. I completed the assessment and Graham, the supervisor appeared satisfied I could competently operate the chamber so that was good to know.
Last but not least was logbooks and a quiz to make sure we were on top of our revision as they suggested. All done now so time to spend working on exam revision ready for tomorrow.
Today was\further depth progression. First off we had to pull the boat to a different mooring so a tug of war with the boat was the starter for the day. I was diver team four in the rotation of six so operated LARS and ran the chamber before undertaking tender duties before it was my turn to dive. Due to the rising tide, during the descent a mooring chain came into play and was in the way of the LARS so Si and I had to depart the LARS from 20m and get to seabed at 29m, all well and good on the way down but was going to be an uphill climb on the way back. Eventually it was my turn and I left the LARS and descended to the seabed. I then had to run out on a bearing of 220 degrees and look for depth. I got to 42m and breathing and narcosis seemed ok. On the way out I clanged the chain with my helmet that we were meant to miss on the LARS descent and on the way back my umbilical got fouled on the chain but it didn’t take more than 20 seconds to free myself. I then pulled myself up into the LARS (the chain proved to be a pain) and we secured ourselves ready to leave bottom. On ascent we stopped at 20 feet for 13 minutes decompression then it was the SERD02 dash to the chamber, from 20 feet Si and I were in the chamber and at 20 feet in 3 minutes 32 seconds which was the course record. That was it for the LARS and SERD02 for the course, ascending and descending will never be the same again. Both were cool bits of kit that I enjoyed using and a great learning experience (I wouldn’t mind operating a chamber in recreational/technical but will leave being a patient to others thank you)!
The it was time for the surface supplied exam, 10 multiple choice questions and 10 freeform answer questions. I aced this exam also so was really chuffed with that and showed the studying had paid off.
The last of the night dives was tonight, I was to move to the stern of the boat, identify the pontoon chain, descend to 7m and start a chain survey. It was going to be muscle massacre time again as the chain was subject to heavy marine fouling. I cleaned the 7m links and recorded the chain information (wire width, inter link diameter and level of corrosion) and moved to 6.5m. Dilemma time, there was a strange thin type fish on the chain, it was golden yellow and did not appear to want to move so took pity on him and the muscles (as it was an exercise) and went to 6m (this did not escape control). And carried on with the task. I have always loved recreational night diving and some of the most memorable dives in my life (Thistlegorm is one) have been in the dark. I was seriously chilled out and enjoyed the job.
To coin a Top Gun phrase, Final Hop. I was to be our last dive and we were to undertake rigging using strops, chain and pulley systems and shackles, chain surveys and hull surveys. I was first in the water and got to it. I ratcheted up the first strop attached to a 20kg weight, got topside to secure the slack, and ratcheted the chain down again to remove the first strop. This I managed but when I went to ratchet up again, I noticed I had put the chain through the strop. I took the shackle pin out and removed the strop and put it over my arm. I replaced the shackle pin and looked for the messenger line to return the strop to the surface, but it was not there. I was told by control it was probably stuck near the top of the shot so to go and get it. As I started the climb I inadvertently let go of the strop and it started its descent to the seabed, the first bit of kit lost on the course by me. I watched it swirl away and thought ‘this is going to be a tough conversation with the supervisor’. I told Graham what I had done and he responded “Mark I am not angry with you, just disappointed”, luckily he started laughing but I still felt an idiot, yet the task does demand more than 2 hands and he told me later he has regularly dropped them in the past, PHEW..!!
Then on to the boat survey and I was the only one to find an anode that no one else could find so I partially redeemed myself on that one.
Last dive of the course was a chain survey which was now relatively routine and 68 minutes after jumping in, it was time to get out and my time as a commercial diver trainee was at an end.
I was given a final debrief by Graham and John and Graham said he would have me working with him anytime, I really appreciated that. There is so much training that goes into a fully working commercial diver, I have scratched the surface and loved what I have seen.
Commercial Diver Training really know what they are about. It is a no nonsense outfit so if of a sensitive disposition, maybe it is not for you. You must adapt quickly, use initiative all the while being a team player. If you have ever thought of commercial diving as a career then recreational/technical diving is a great start, then go for it. You may need to plan a year or two in advance as there are not many courses in the UK availability wise. It is a tough world and you do have to be mentally tough to function in it but if you can, it offers so many rewards, I wish I had not been talked out of it 14 years ago. Mission Accomplished..!!