I did my third and fourth dives this morning, and they're the final dives that I need to do as part of my Open Water course. Today's drill was pretty similar to that of the diving yesterday morning: on the boat by 7:30am; one dive at The Twins, then over to White Rock; and completion of the remaining handful of PADI-required underwater exercises. My group had Ber as our instructor today, instead of Flav, and we descended a bit deeper than we've done previously: we made it to 18m, which is the maximum depth permitted for an Open Water certified diver.
Abbie's a cheerful English girl, who's been travelling around the world for several months, and who's recently completed a long volunteering stint down in southern Africa. Abbie's currently undertaking her DMT (Divemaster Training) course with Ban's, which means that she's living and working here on Ko Tao for a few months. Abbie's been with my Open Water group over the past several days, and this is her first time as an instructor's assistant to a group of Open Water students. Great girl, and quite committed to her diving.
Ber's an English bloke, and he's another one of the devoted, dedicated and — let's face it — addicted diving instructors at Ban's, here in Ko Tao. As well as being a full-time instructor, Ber is also now the proud owner of the Hippo bar, which is just off from the main drag of Sairee. Ber took me for my second round of dives today; and like his colleague Flav, he did a great job of showing me around below the surface.
We completed the theory component of our Open Water course this afternoon, with a final class (held by Lucy, another one of the instructors) teaching us about the use of dive tables. When you go diving, your body absorbs a higher-than-usual amount of nitrogen (depending on depth and time); and dive tables are used to calculate how much nitrogen you've absorbed (approximately), and to help you keep within safe nitrogen level limits. Lots of theory about such things as: pressure groups; nitrogen quantity; minimum surface intervals; and total bottom times. Once the class was done, we'd been taught all the required theory for the course, and so we were ready to undertake the final exam.
The pool dive yesterday was just practice. Today was the real thing: at 7:30am we were on the boat (little dinghy from Sairee beach, then we transferred to a big boat for the actual diving); and by 9am, my first ever scuba dive had begun. All scuba diving must be done with a buddy — and for today, my buddy was Alex. Once again, the deep-sea Dutchman Flav was my instructor. By midday, we'd completed two dives — to a depth of 12m, and at the sites of The Twins and White Rock. Contrary to my tip-top expectations, real diving proved to be quite a challenge: but I survived the ordeal, and I'm ready for whatever the next day holds in store.
The second day of our PADI Open Water course began quite similarly to the first day: with more theory, and more boring educational diving videos. We revised yesterday's material, and went over our "homework", before finishing off the 5-part video series. The theory is a total joke — the instructors don't take it seriously, the material is largely common-sense stuff, and it's all done simply "for the record" — but at least we're now through most of it. Then, in the afternoon, our practical tuition began: for the first time, we got fitted up with scuba gear, and we jumped in the swimming pool at Ban's for our introductory "simulation dive".
This afternoon, I commenced the first session of my PADI Open Water diving course. We're a big group: 16 people in all (although 1 person dropped out the following day) — but we're being split into two groups for the actual diving. This afternoon, the course's introduction consisted largely of boring but essential theory information: we had a short lecture from Flav, and then we sat and watched parts I-III of the PADI instructional video series. Not the most boring educational videos I've ever been subjected to in my time: but then again, not far off it. One thing I couldn't help but observe: never before in my life have I been in a classroom with such an amazing view :P.
There are divers. And then there are fanatical divers. And then there's Flav. Originally from the Netherlands, Flavius is one of the longest-serving instructors at Ban's: he's married to a local woman, and he's been living here on Ko Tao for no less than 14 years! Hasn't even gone home once, in all that time. Flav's a part of the furniture around here, and diving is his life. I was lucky enough to have Flav as my instructor during my Open Water course this week: and despite my utter lack of natural suitability for the submarine world, he did an amazing job of getting me down and of bringing me back up.