Below are some articles I have written and have subsequently been published in the NACD Journal.
of Maintaining Skills
Published in the NACD Journal, Volume 38, 3rd Quarter, 2005
All divers are encouraged to keep their skills up to speed no matter if diving on a 20 foot deep reef, a 250 foot deep wreck or a couple of thousand feet back in a cave. Maintaining skill levels not only helps you enjoy your dives more but more importantly keeps you safer as a diver, and more specifically as a cave diver.
After cave divers are certified as "full" cave divers they are left to maintain their skill sets and recognize the importance of maintaining those skills. Part of the scuba instructors job is to ensure that divers understand this concept.
I became certified as an NACD instructor in 1975 and was an active cave diver several years before & after that time. I have continued diving over all the years and continued teaching diving, but not cave diving because I was no where near diveable caves.
Recently I have moved to High Springs and am cave diving again & working toward regaining my NACD instructor status. In order to do that I am interning with various NACD instructors & team teaching cavern through full cave classes.
One class I assisted with recently was an apprentice course followed by a full cave course. The course was scheduled to take 4 days of diving & classroom work. It promised to be a very full schedule for instructors & students alike.
The cave divers showed up for the classroom portion well prepared. They recalled how to accomplish gas matching, they could calculate SAC rates, figure decompression problems, and understood the nitrox mixes they were planning to dive. Just because divers have passed classes in the past is no reason to assume the divers have maintained that knowledge and have not lost it from lack of use.
Once the full cave instructor completed the classroom work we headed to the dive site. We were all eager to enter the water & do a cave dive. But first things first. It was time to inspect the students' gear and how they had it configured.
Several problems were found. Some not a big deal, but a couple that were pretty bad and reflected very poor preparation for the cave diving class. The instructor pointed out these deficiencies and caused them to be corrected before we could make the first dive. This took an 60-90 minutes to accomplish. There were also a couple of missing pieces of gear. One diver had no safety reel. One diver had their wing on the backplate upside down and no way to secure the spg, and had always left it to dangle. There were several issues of this nature, none that were life threatening, but nonetheless problematic.
The gear issues were resolved, the configurations were made to meet NACD standards and now it was time to finally go dive in the Devils' system.
The students, instructor & I sat down at a picnic table and made a plan. The plan was to enter the cave at the ear and place a reel in open water for the primary tie off, then a secondary tie off. We were planning to swim to the junction room and one of the divers was to place a cookie on the main line there at the park bench. Then swim down the main line and the cave divers were to place a jump reel and start running the expressway circuit.
The divers entered the water and attempted to do S-drills. One diver was unable to completely deploy the long hose as it was stuck under a strap. The divers had also to be instructed how exactly to position one another during the gas sharing phase of the S-drill.
On the way in the ear the reel jammed and had to be cleared. The cave diver running the reel had dived the ear before in the intro to cave course but did not know where to place the line that day. The other cave diver was trained at the intro to cave level at Devils Ear also.
We swam into the cave, right smack dab down the middle against the flow. The flow was typical flow for the Devils' system and the cave divers were working hard to get to the lips.
We made it to the junction room when the cave divers first task was to stop and place the cookie. One diver went completely vertical and was power kicking the bottom, while the other decided to work on their knees. Visibility went to less than 5 feet. I was beginning to wonder if these divers really had a intro to cave card.
The cave divers found the jump, one cave diver attached the line to the main line, while the other diver was sightseeing, and fairly oblivious. That divers' job was to help find the jump, illuminate the line where the other diver was tying off and then to illuminate the other line we were jumping on to, that diver did none of that, even though it had been planned.
The rest of the dive was uneventful. We both noted poor body positioning & poor posture & lack of proper trim on the way in & the way out of the cave. I was thinking to myself" Its going to be a LONG week".
There was a detailed debriefing and the divers were told of all the deficiencies and things they had to do to complete gear setup for tomorrow as well as what they were going to have to do in order to pass this course. The divers left not as happy campers. They knew they had performed poorly in the water, and knew that they showed up ill-prepared for this course.
We had planned to do a second dive but the delay in getting gear squared away and reviewing line/reel procedures that should have been accomplished previously required that the instructor call the second dive off.
Now, you may ask how does the story end ? The divers passed the course and both now hold NACD full cave certifications. They worked hard, paid attention and generally worked their tails off and accomplished the rest of the dives well beyond standards. One of the main reasons they passed is due to the patience of the instructor, as well as his ability to effectively relate to the cave divers what they need to do. They could visualize what they had to do.
The point of this story is about maintaining skills. If you are intro to cave certified and plan to take an apprentice or full cave course make sure you show up ready. Make sure your gear is ready. A good idea is to arrive a day or 2 early, get in some warm-up dives, get the rust off. If you are not sure about your gear, or the configuration of your gear call your instructor, ask him/her about the gear or the configuration of that gear. I guarantee you the instructor would rather fix it ahead of time via a short phone call, than during the class itself.
The other point is to those cave divers who are already certified. Practice your skills. Run reels, do valve shutdowns on your safety or deco stops, do S-drills before your dives. Especially with new buddies.
What is a trust
Published in the NACD Journal, Volume 38, 4th Quarter, 2005
When divers are being trained, particularly at more advanced levels of diving, such as cave diving the phrase "Trust Me Dive" often comes up as a matter of discussion. We, as instructors, students and certified divers need to realize when we are planning a "Trust Me Dive" so we can avoid doing so.
Students in training as well as divers already certified should be able to dive independently of their instructor/buddy even though they are diving within a buddy team. It is important to establish what this term "independent" means in this particular context. I think a good way to establish this meaning is through some examples of buddy teams and their dive plans.
Scenario #1: Tom is a full cave instructor and Ed, his student is an intro cave diver enrolled in a full cave course. They are diving at one of the popular cave systems that have a gold line in it and lots of jumps/off shooting passages. Tom tells Ed, we are going to install a temporary line from open water, tie into the gold line and swim up the main line until we reach the second set of double arrows, tie in a jump line and swim up that line until one of us reaches thirds.
Ed has never been in this cave, he has looked at the map and understands generally the navigation, the depth, cave configuration and other specific characteristics relayed to him by Tom.
Is Ed doing a Trust me dive? He is trusting that Tom knows where the entrance is, where the main line starts, where the jumps are, and trusts that the general characteristics and depth of the cave is accurate. In my opinion this is not a trust me dive.
Ed has not given up any of his independence. If at the point of maximum penetration Tom becomes incapacitated Ed can safely exit the cave because the route out is laid out, memory of the route sequence plays very little role in Ed making a safe exit. Ed can independently exit the cave without relying on Tom to show him which way to go at the jumps and how to exit where the gold line begins, because he has a reel tied to the gold line leading him to open water.
Scenario #2: Same divers, same cave. Tom tells Ed "we don't really need to install a temporary line to the gold line because it starts in the cavern zone & you can see daylight, and the flow will push you out of the cave from there.
Tom also says "when we do the jumps all we have to remember is that the sequence of jumps is right, left then right, so just do the opposite upon exiting." Tom goes on to say "the jumps are only 4 or 5 feet and there are line arrows on the line pointing the way out." Tom goes on to explain that he has done the dive this way a 100 times, and he knows the cave like the back of his hand. In my opinion this is a trust me dive.
Ed has given up his independence and will depend upon things such as his own memory of the entrance and the jumps if Tom can't make it out with him. If Tom does make it out with him he has still given up his independence because he needs to follow Tom out of the cave since there is not a continuous guideline to the surface.
Independence is the
key factor. If after making a dive plan you can honestly say to yourself that
you are maintaining your personal independence then you are not planning a trust
me dive. If, however there is one facet of the dive where you are totally relying
on your buddy to guide or navigate you out then you are planning a trust me