On the second day of Open Water weekend (read about Day One here), I awoke to the alarm feeling a lot more confident. We were halfway through, with two dives down and two to go. The weather had deteriorated slightly and as I waited for the morning briefing it began to drizzle, but hopefully that meant the day would be slightly warmer (I was clinging to any silver lining).
My wetsuit was still damp from yesterday, so dragging it up my legs was even more impossible than usual. It was the reverse of a snake shedding its skin, and as I hopped about and contorted my limbs I couldn’t help feeling extremely silly. Finally it was on, and I doused myself in hot shower water in a vain attempt to warm up before facing the quarry.
Dive three was the most daunting, as it required a longer list of skills, including the dreaded mask removal. Perhaps I was jittery from nerves, because as I began my descent pain shot through my right ear and I hovered, trying and failing to equalise my ears. As you descend, the increased pressure compresses air spaces in your ears, sinuses and mask. Failing to add air to these spaces can cause serious injuries. I eventually had to resurface until I could equalise, then made my way back down. It was a setback that I tried not to concentrate on, especially with my least favourite skill coming up.
We gathered on the platform and took it in turns to fully flood our mask and take it off. I disliked this skill so much because the air bubbles that gather underneath the nostrils feel like water shooting up your nose. When I attempted this in the pool I had the sensation of not being able to breathe; quite a daunting prospect when you’re seven metres underwater and definitely cannot shoot up like a cork to the surface. In preparation, I’d been putting my face underwater in the bath and breathing through a snorkel, and although it triggered several involuntary swallows I could just about manage it.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled the strap over my head and held my mask away from my face, placing it back over as soon as I was allowed. Feeling very pleased with myself, I ran a finger around my hood to check the seal and cleared the water out ready for the next skill. But as we made to swim off the platform, the mask flooded again. I cleared it, and water immediately trickled back in. I signalled to the instructor who checked the seal and couldn’t find the cause of the problem, so once again we surfaced and I made absolute sure I’d sorted it out.
As I descended for the third time on the same dive, I reflected that I’d encountered an unforeseen problem and dealt with it without panicking; I had made serious progress since my first session in the pool. The rest of the dive passed with no further mishaps, and as I had my fifth hot shower of the day I finally began to relax. Our fourth and final dive wouldn’t be full of tests and I could enjoy the experience of feeling weightless in water and exploring Stoney Cove.
After a brief time on the surface and a delicious cheeseburger at Nemo’s, we took a giant stride back into the quarry. We’d planned dive four ourselves, and led the instructors down to the aircraft cockpit and along the shelf that tumbled down to 22m on the other side. Staying firmly away from the edge, we swam across to the Nautilus again and back to the platform, where we gathered for the last time. Alan, the instructor, had an underwater notebook with him, and one by one turned it to face us. I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to read the words:
“You’ve passed. Congratulations!”