Imagine being told that the world is round, when you had always thought it was flat. Your first response would be to defend your long-held beliefs; you would be unlikely to give these up without convincing evidence.The GUE Recreational Triox course costs £300. The full Tec1 course costs £600 and Triox knocks two days off Tec 1. Qualification entitles students to obtain nitrox and trimix fills from 21% oxygen up. Maximum depth is 36m. All GUE certification lasts two years, when a fitness and skills review is required for renewal. Visit www.GUE.com, where an instructor database and class schedule is available, or contact Andy Kerslake on 0778 9797 460, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Many in the diving community harbour considerable hostility towards Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), possibly because of its Doing It Right catchphrase, so a degree of open-mindedness is needed before you sign up for one of its courses.
Our voyage of enlightenment started on the edge of the Lake District, at Capernwray Dive Centre. My fellow-travellers were two of Capernwrays dive team. Adam Hanlon, the dive school manager, has been diving for 20 years, while Dave Smith has been in the sport for only two years. At just 18, he was far the youngest member of our little group.
The Recreational Triox course for which we had signed up follows on from GUEs Fundamentals class (Stripped to the Essence, June 2003) and, despite the inclusion of helium gas, is still classed as its only other recreational offering.
It can be taken in one of two formats: with single cylinders as a stand-alone, no-decompression diving course; or as part one of GUEs first truly technical course, Tec I. All three of us had elected to do the latter, meaning that many more topics would now be included in an already packed agenda.
The class was again to be conducted by Andrew Georgitsis, supported by Andy Kerslake, two characters who could hardly be less alike. Andrew G, based in Seattle, is GUEs Technical Training Director and has trained more than 3000 divers in his time. His bold, confident teaching style is born of many years of experience, both in education and in the field.
Andy K, GUEs UK representative, has a much quieter manner. Less confident pupils may find him more approachable and less intimidating than Andy G.
At 9am sharp, we assembled in Capernwrays spacious lecture room, where Andrew G ran us through the itinerary.
The days programme would consist of four dives, interspersed by three classroom sessions, a video review and a fitness test at the local pool.
Without pausing for breath, Andrew showed us a ton of new reel techniques we were going to have to use on dives two and four. It was like someone spending five minutes showing a non-driver how a car works, then handing them the keys and saying: Id now like you to take us through central London.
A few minutes later, we descended in the 10Ã‚C water to find ourselves surrounded by shoals of tame, hungry trout. The 10m viz of Jackdaw Quarry was a stark contrast to the 1m we had endured in Portland Harbour last March.
In addition, the rocky bottom composition meant that touching down did not mean clouds of silt, so it was perfect for both learning and filming (all GUE classes are videoed for post-dive critique).
Dive one was a review of skills learned at Fundamentals level. Many are well-known, but most now had a distinctly different slant on them. An example is shut-down procedures.
Unlike on other courses, step one was not to close the central isolator, instantly saving half the available gas, but to shut down the most likely offending regulators while simultaneously using the light to signal to the rest of the team.
Another skill we practised was the team ascent, again a little different. One diver is always designated captain, and generally it is he who controls the ascent (time, depth, etc.) This certainly helped unity. The team ascends in a circular formation with all divers horizontal in the water, and tasks such as DSMB deployment are split among the group.
Line-laying forms part of GUE Tec 1, though not Triox as a standalone course, but on both training days we would be using this tool a lot.
I suspect that its primary value on this course is that it encourages perceptual narrowing and, consequently, highlights a teams weaknesses - as we found out.
A few stressful hours of entanglements, barely controlled buoyancy and regulator failures later, a sombre group headed for the classroom and our first video review. This was to prove both hugely embarrassing and incredibly educational.
I have to admit that I had been sceptical about the value of such made-up exercises, where more things go wrong than are ever feasibly going to occur in the real world. However, after seeing the scene on the video, I grasped the point.
We had been assigned a seemingly simple job; lay some line for a given time/distance and come back.
I cringed as I watched the image of Adam struggling with some slack that had developed in the line. Remembering the adage slack kills, I had proceeded to keep it taut while he reeled in. After about a minute of cheerfully winding in the limp nylon cord, we pulled the severed end of our guideline into view.
It was our route out; we had just reeled in our only means of getting home and, in doing so, killed ourselves for the third time in less than two hours. Knowing that we were task-loaded and that our teams situational awareness was poor, Andrew had cut the line to illustrate the point.
The video revealed something else that we hadnt seen in the water. On one occasion, when we experienced simultaneous failures, we had forgotten to check that Adams frozen regulator had been turned back on, so when he was then forced to share air with another diver and switched to his back-up reg, it didnt work.
Andrew G had seen this (which is why he gave us the second failure!) and had a regulator 15cm above Adams head just in case.
Another revelation from these first dives was how useful a dive light is for communication, even in daylight. By parking their torch beams in front of the lead diver, the position and status of the two trailing team-members was always clear.
A circled OK signal or a rapidly moving light that indicates a problem was instantly conveyed to the rest of the team, even when in single file or some distance apart.
As we continued our roller-coaster ride through the masses of theory, a theme began to emerge in Andy Gs teaching method. He would often present a common scenario and ask questions until we discovered answers for ourselves.
Hey, Dave exclaimed as he looked up from his notepad, a single 12 isnt really enough for a decent dive at 30m. Andrew just smiled.
In this fashion, we learned an awful lot. Why there is a stronger rationale for doing the deepest dive of the day last (contradicting a sacred cow of the dive industry), why the use of helium does not in fact lengthen decompression at all, and why the rule of thirds (so often referred to as super-conservative) is often insufficient even in open-water diving. Sorry, youll just have to do the course!
But I was beginning to find this class frustrating. We were covering far too much ground to commit it all to memory. That would not have been a problem but for the lack of support material.
At 4.30pm, we trailed brain-dead from the classroom and headed for the local pool for our swim tests.
Every level of GUE course has a modest fitness requirement; a 275m swim in less than 14 minutes and at least 15m on a breath-hold. If a student cannot do this, he or she fails the course.
This bar is set progressively higher as the training becomes more advanced.
Even GUEs instructors have a mandatory fitness test every two years.
After another two hours in class, the day eventually ended at 7.30.
The day started bright and early on the balcony overlooking the site. Andrew had already laid 40m of criss-crossing guideline when we got there.
As soon as we had assembled, he dived straight into no-visibility protocols: how we should position ourselves in relation to the line and each other, how to communicate by touch, where we should place divers with problems and methods for negotiating tie-off points.
Blindfolded, we then navigated our way back around the course (that had taken about three minutes to lay) while Andrew timed us. It took 13 minutes! If you had been using the rule of thirds on that dive, even with no failures, I dont think youd have got out alive, boys, said Andrew. It was a very powerful lesson.
Back in the water, I had a pretty good idea that our simulated dive was going to be based around having no visibility, so when I lost my mask while reeling out, I was not entirely surprised.
The fiasco that followed, however, was not as I would have predicted.
Like a good team-player, I locked off the reel and floated patiently for one of my team-mates to sort me out. It simply hadnt occurred to me that the others might be in the same position as I was! After a very cold four minutes, during which we must have looked ridiculous just floating there, it clicked.
We started to sort ourselves out and head back out, which is when the slack in the line came back to haunt us. We could feel the line, but it was not giving us any directional information.
We went on in this fashion for another 15 minutes before we eventually relocated the upline and surfaced.
Later, the video review would highlight just how unprepared we had been for communication in zero visibility, and how a small detail become catastrophic when the situation changed.
Last dive of a very long day was the toxing diver drill. A hazard of enriched air diving is the possibility of Central Nervous System Toxicity (CNS). A diver who succumbs to one of these hits is in real trouble, as the accompanying convulsions almost always result in the casualty spitting out the regulator and drowning.
GUEs rescue technique was really quite different. First, the regulator in the divers mouth being the likely cause of the problem, it is removed and replaced with a known, breathable gas.
The rescuing diver then dumps his own buoyancy and lies on top of the casualty, using his wing to control the buoyancy of both divers. This way, it is possible to hold in his regulator while leaving the left hand free to manipulate both wing inflators.
It was like riding a scooter. When it was time to ascend, the rescuing diver flips the casualty into a horizontal position, while remaining slightly above and behind, so both wings and suits can still be dumped using the left hand.
Back in the classroom, the information overload continued. This time the focus was on decompression strategies, ascent profiles and how to work out no-decompression limits - in our heads! Now this was truly new material.
To ensure that we understood the principles behind these methods, Andrew spent 90 minutes showing us how GUE had arrived at these conclusions.
We learned how important the shape of the ascent was, and that pauses must be introduced in the right places, so I would strongly recommend divers not to try this without having first seen the whole picture.
It boiled down to my having to remember just three things:
Ã‚ The no-decompression limit for 30m using air is 20 minutes.
Ã‚ For every 3m either way, add or subtract 5 minutes.
Ã‚ If using one of GUEs standard gases (ie, with the working ppO2 always between 1.2 and 1.4), apply step one, but use the number for 6m shallower.
We went on to discuss how to work out decompression in the 20-50m ranges in a similar fashion. It was fascinating stuff but, again, the lack of official support materials was massively frustrating.
As on day one, work didnt finish until after 7pm and we still had the 50-question exam with which to contend.
Fortunately Adam was putting us up, so we took the paper home and got stuck in after dinner. It was nearly midnight before we were finished.
This was our Triox day. To get the extra depth needed (36m), we were forced to head over to Wastwater in the west of the Lake District, an extremely arduous 90-minute drive from Capernwray.
We had been blessed with clear, blue skies and although the roads looked like those used by Postman Pat, the scenery was spectacular - it was only a shame that we didnt have time to enjoy it.
Today was about us putting all of our experiences into practice. We had to plan and run two dives as a team, while both Andys watched, videoed - and introduced problems.
On both dives we would head down a slope, following a permanent line for 10 minutes before dropping over a cliff to our maximum depth of 30m.
We would turn the dive at 15 minutes or when the first diver hit 150 bar remaining. Sounded easy enough.
Unfortunately, the theme of the past two days continued and we looked anything but slick. At one point, as we made our way towards the cliff, Andy G spotted some loose line on a spool attached to my rear D-ring.
No-one else in the team saw it, so he promptly attached it to an object and watched as I continued to swim on - until I couldnt.
After wasting five precious minutes back-tracking and reeling, I stowed the offending spool in my pocket, where it should have been all along.
On the bottom, we encountered numerous failures, such as out-of-gas divers and free-flowing regulators. We handled these problems - just - but it wasnt pretty and, as in the quarry, we prioritised tasks poorly.
I didnt want to get back in the water for the last dive, as by now I was convinced that I should be taking up some other sport like chess. But as it turned out, Im glad I did get back in.
We experienced the same kind of problems on this dive, but at last some of the experiences were sinking in.
We handled them better - not great, but there was a definite improvement. It was a good way to finish the diving.
Debrief over, it was back to the ranch for a review of the exam, a video critique and finish. Amazingly, we had passed the Triox course - although, I suspect, only just.
Did I enjoy the course No, feeling incompetent is not fun, but then I never used to relish cycling training in the rain for up to eight hours either, but did enjoy the results that the exercise brought.
The fact that I have been able to describe fewer than 5% of the topics we covered forms the basis of my major criticism; with no support materials, there was just too much information for a three-day course.
It was like being taken on a whistle-stop tour, never quite getting to see the whole picture before being whisked off to the next destination. The whole experience left me feeling enlightened but also frustrated.
I contacted GUE about this. To its credit, it held up its hands and said Guilty. However, it was pretty hazy as to when this problem would be addressed.
I would not recommend signing up for any GUE course unless you are prepared to consider that there might be better ways than those you currently practise.
This is not to say that GUE = better, but it did produce by far the most convincing rationales I have heard.
Open-mindedness is an easy philosophy to preach but a hard one to practise. Many will continue to dismiss GUE as a one-rule organisation which wont tolerate free-thinking. Yet to date, I havent come across a critic who has gone to the trouble of attending a course.
I have, and despite the lack of student support material, it still ranked as one of the very best I have reviewed so far.