We woke up early and got some cereal that Tina was smart enough to bring with us from Texas. Mer and Stretch were going to meet us at the dive house to go over land drills. She told us to have our BC’s, lights and regs available for drills so that we could do the drills at the dive house to avoid the humid heat. Mer and Strech arrived right on time and Mer seemed way too excited for how early it was.
Mer showed us the GUE basic 5, the S-Drill and traveling during the S-Drill. Tina and I got a chance to do this at least a dozen times each. At first it was hard to remember all the steps and I had to really stop and think between each step. But after many repetitions it was finally sort of in muscle memory. Once we finished all the land drills it was off to Blue Grotto. The drive from High Springs to Blue Grotto is about 45 minutes and if I wasn’t following Mer, I’d never find it. The sign from the highway is tiny. We arrived probably around 9am and Mer went into the office to check us in. After just a few minutes, she told us to drive to one of the pavilions at the far end of the parking lot. I think both Tina and I were anxious and nervous about diving with real GUE divers for the first time. Tina had never dove with anyone else in the GUE standard configuration let alone someone in doubles.
We pulled the truck up to the picnic tables and began unloading our gear. Mer gave a quick briefing of the site by walking us down to the water, pointing out all the hazards and giving some history of the place. Apparently we had it lucky, because the new owners have really upgraded the stairs and deck. After the briefing we began assembling gear. Both Tina and I have separate totes for our gear and in the past after each dive we would break down all of our gear, clean it and put it back in the totes. We wouldn’t put our kits together again until we arrived at the dive site. This time was no different so we took a little while to assemble everything and analyzing our gas, marking our tanks etc etc. Mer and Stretch on the other hand basically had everything assembled and ready to go. After 20 minutes or so we were ready for the dive. Mer said she would meet us in the water because it would take her a little while to walk to the water. She was diving double LP104’s that looked massive on her and she understandably likes to take her time walking in them. I couldn’t wait to get into the water at this point because I was sweating like crazy in my dry suit. Tina and I normally do a land buddy check and we have a routine where we go head to toe making sure hoses and gear aren’t tangled. However we skipped our normal routine thinking we’d do a land buddy check near the water.
Stretch Tina and I all walked to the water together and Mer was already waiting for us. The water looked beautiful, Blue grotto is clear and blue with a wonderful little waterfall coming into the basin. So instead of doing our buddy check both Tina and I got into the water. Mer said she would go over our predive check (GUE EDGE) for us this time but we were responsible for it for the rest of the dives. The GUE EDGE is a way for us to remember all the steps in the pre dive briefing to make sure everyone is squared away before beginning the dive.
Virgil The Turtle is the local resident of Blue Grotto and he’s super cool and friendly.
With our GUE EDGE completed, it was time for the dive. We all gave the thumbs down and descended to the shallow platform. We spent a few minutes touring the basin and of course Virgil the local soft shell turtle was very interested in us. I felt pretty good in the water for the first few minutes until we did a loop to the deeper section. I started getting air in my feet and was having a hard time getting the air out of my dry suit. From there we started working on kicks back at the shallow platform but I felt totally off. I felt super foot light and just couldn’t get balanced out. I did get very frustrated because I felt like I should be doing better. Tina was having issues as well. We both just felt off. The kicks went ok in my opinion. Both Tina and I have had the back kick and helicopter turn for a while. Mer did a great job tweaking it and giving us tips to get it perfect. I tried the flutter and modified flutter and it looked like a train wreck. So apparently I forgot how to flutter kick. My legs cramped up every time I tried it.
We hit our half hour dive time well within our min gas and Mer rolled the dive to have us work on skills. My first attempt at the basic 5 was not pretty. From not being balanced in the water, I was just fighting everything. Tina was up and down with her buoyancy and it was a little surprising because I’d not seen here that off in quite a while. She also got visibly nervous when she got to basic 5 #4 (The Mask Removal). She has always felt anxious about taking off her mask. She can do it just fine and I’ve watched her do it a million times but this was the first time she had to do it in front of Mer. After more basic 5 and S-Drills, we finally ended the dive and began our ascent. I was deco captain and tried to make a stop at 20 and 10 ft. I couldn’t stop at the 20 and and blew past 10 and finally managed to stop at 5ft. I broke trim and dumped air anyway I could then sunk back to 10. It wasn’t pretty.
Tina and I quickly changed tanks and realized the value of diving big doubles overfilled to 3600psi. Mer and Stretch could simply relax on the surface floating in nice cool water while We had to get out and mess with gear to change our single LP85’s. Tina got a chance to yell at me some for not doing our land buddy check and we talked briefly about how the dive went. Both of us agreed that we sucked at the skills and it really frustrated us.
We were back in the water fairly quickly but this time we did our land buddy check and made sure all gear was connected, untangled and in the right spot. Mer let Tina do the GUE EDGE and it was basically the same dive plan as before only this time Mer was going to work on us changing levels from one platform to the next. She quickly realized that I have a problem with stopping and venting gas from my suit and we were going to see if we could figure out why. Tina was doing fine changing levels but she was off balance. So Mer also said she would do our balance check and shift weight around if needed. Also on this dive we were to do a controlled descent and stop every 10 feet on the way down.
We all gave the thumbs down and started the descent. Neither of us really had a problem with the descent drill. Although our target depth was missed by more then 3 feet we could sort of manage a stop every 10 feet for a few seconds or so. It wasn’t great but at least we felt we had some control. We hit the platform again and then did a circuit to the deep platforms. Mer had laid a line out for us to follow each time so it was basically a loop that tested our ability to maintain control when moving from one depth to the next. Again, I got air in my feet, and felt out of control and foot light. Tina also felt foot light. So we did a balance check. Mer shifted some weight from the top cam bands to our lower cam bands and she also moved our tanks down. This did help some and we did another loop on the depth change circuit. I was still feeling somewhat foot light but it was manageable. We did another round of basic 5 and s drills and Mer was giving us individual basic 5 tasks. We both had this crazy sensation of falling off the platform. The platform was angled some but we just couldn’t stay on the platform to save our lives. This was really screwing with us trying to maintain some sense of team formation while doing S-Drills. Finally it was time to end the dive and Mer had us go to the deep platform to begin our min deco ascent. She also wanted us to stop every 10 feet. You will notice that in the dive profile that didn’t happen. I lost control but managed to stop at 15 instead of 20, then because I dumped so much air, I dropped back down to about 22ft. From there I missed the 10ft stop. Again It was very frustrating and it was very clear that my main issue was with buoyancy.
So for our last dive we still had a bunch of gas in our tanks and Mer wanted to just do ascents and descent drills. Both Tina and I had the kicks down for the most part (except for the modified flutter which I still struggle with). But the back kicks, frog, helicopter etc were all ok. The dive was short but we tried the ascent from the deep platform and do stops every 10 feet. As you can see from the profile it was getting a little better until the last and final ascent. At this point it was becoming all mental for me. If I knew I wasn’t going to go all the way to the surface I’d be ok stopping but the moment It was time to end the dive. I missed every stop.
Out of gas for the day we got out of the water. I was feeling pretty beaten and I know Tina felt the same. She was miles ahead of me on the ascent drills but we both had our weaknesses. We packed our gear up and headed back to EE for lectures. The drive to EE was quiet. I think we both were just reflecting internally on the day. And once we got to EE, we did our lectures for another hour or two. During our lecture we had decided to get our burst disks changed out to something higher. We only had 4000psi burst disks and we were getting cave fills pretty damn close to that. To error on the side of caution we had them changed. Everyone we have met at EE has always been extremely helpful and they had our tanks drained, and disks changed in very short time. Tina and I joked that; here we were, these two new Fundies students, learning how to dive with our little single tanks and little 30# wings, and the staff at EE treated us like we were on some deep world record cave dive expedition. We both felt like impostors a little bit.
The day ended at probably 6 or 7pm and we were exhausted. Our tanks with the fresh burst disks had been filled and were waiting for us to Analyze once our lecture was done. We quickly Analyzed and loaded the tanks in the truck. I was sore, tired and I felt like I had been wrestling a bear all day. We got back to the house hungry and e had a quick bite to eat before we crashed. Day 2 of GUE Fundamentals was in the books.