Finally they day had arrived. We were about to start our GUE training and we were both beyond excited but also pretty nervous. Mer had told us that the first day’s schedule would be lecture in the morning then head over to Ginnie Springs for the swim test. We needed to be at EE at 9am. The dreaded swim test would be in 72° water and Tina was anxious. Because we were both starving, we packed our swim suits and towels in a bag and went out to grab some food. We went into High Springs and ate at the High Springs Diner. I tried to get her mind off of it during breakfast but it didn’t really help. We both had a nice big plate of greasy spoon food and it was delicious. Then at about 8:40 we finished up eating; and drove over to EE. We met Mer in the parking lot and she let us in the building. Both Tina and I love EE. It’s got every piece of scuba gear I could possibly want and more. My wallet starts to heat up the moment I walk in the door. This is only our second time being there (the first was the dry suit fitting) and it’s just a really cool store. They have a separate room in the back for lectures that has a projector and white board. I think the room often acts as a staging room for some of the cave expeditions because there are cave maps all over the wall. You can’t help but feel like you are part of something bigger the moment you walk into EE. We met Stretch whom was an instructor intern and this was his first fundamentals class. Mer Began her lecture and we learned about GUE, some of the history behind GUE and we talked about some of the requirements of the instructor and students as well as the tentative schedule for the class.
The lectures lasted for a few hours and then it was time for us to head over to Ginnie for the swim test. We had the option to eat lunch before the swim test but Tina felt like she would just throw up anything she ate at this point so we opted for a working lunch afterwards. One good thing about doing the lecture first was that Tina had a chance to chill out and get to know Mer. I think this helped calm her down some. So we hopped in the truck and followed Mer to Ginnie. Stretch was meeting us there because he needed to grab a towel or something. One thing that is cool about the instructor interns is that they have to do the swim test with the students. We arrived at Ginnie after a short drive from EE and Mer basically had all the paper work ready to go so we were checked in very quickly. We went down to the Devils Spring system and grabbed a picnic table. Mer showed the kicking techniques that we would be working on throughout the course and we had to do our best trying to mimic them while laying flat on a picnic table. I realized very quickly that I’d be having trouble with the flutter kicks. I’ve been frog kicking so long that my feet seem to have a mind of their own and would not do the flutter. The time came for the swim test. Mer said that we would swim down the run to the Devils Ear and back a few times and then we would swim from the steps that the tubers across the run to the other side. She said that the “Tree” about 2/3’s of the way across was 50ft and this was the distance we needed to swim under water. Tina was really nervous now. Mer gave us the option to do the underwater swim first or the distance swim. We both decided to try the underwater swim first so we walked over to the steps and slowly waded into the water. The cold was shocking! The kind of cold that takes the breath away from you. Tina gets cold in 80° water and this was way colder then that. We both finally just dunked our heads and tried to let our breathing calm down. I was thinking to myself “man I may not be able to do this underwater swim if I can’t stop hyperventilating” . But after a few minutes we started to get used to the water.
The moment of truth was here and Mer said we could go whenever we were ready. I think stretch went first and swam across to the other side and had no problem. Next Tina was going to give it a shot. I don’t know what she was thinking at this point, but the look on her face was pretty focused. She took three calming breaths and just went for it. I turned to Mer and said that this is Tina’s crux. I watched as Tina took nice long strokes an within a few seconds she had passed the 50′ mark and was heading to the steps. She surfaced with a huge grin on her face and made her way over to where Stretch was standing. Finally it was my turn. I took a big breath and went for it. I swam calmly over to the steps where I could see two sets of legs in the water. My goggles were fogged up and I really couldn’t tell who’s legs were Tina’s and I started to reach out underwater to grab Tina’s legs only to suddenly realize they belonged to Stretch. Fortunately I stopped just in the nick of time. Unfortunately I would be teased about trying to grab Stretches legs for the rest of fundies.
The hard part was over, Tina had completed the 50′ underwater swim and she was beaming. Next came the distance swim of 300 yards in 14 minutes. We swam the length of the run maybe 3 times and Tina had no problems with that. We finished up at Ginnie Springs by practicing our kicks in the water on the surface while holding an inflated SMB for stability. This was really fun and it was nice to relax and try kicks at the surface.
Finally we went back to EE and Mer finished the day with more lectures and did a tour of the shop. This tour included going over the GUE standard equipment, the history of the equipment and why they configure things the way they do. This helped solidify certain things in our minds that we had read or seen other divers do. Our understanding of the GUE standard gear configuration was based strictly on my research online from forums and reading the “Beginning With the End In Mind” book.
After the shop tour and lecture on gear we were asked to bring all of our gear in to the class and lay it out for inspection. Mer went over various things about what pocket certain items go in and why. She had us remove our hose protectors (if we wanted) and we tied a bungee loop on our can lights. We were basically in compliance and didn’t need to change much. By this time the day was getting late and we both had eaten a late lunch but were tired and hungry. I think Mer did one more lecture and gave us the schedule for the next day. Mer was going to meet us at the Dive House in the morning and we had to have our wings, regs and back plates out laid out. Before we left EE we had our tanks filled with Nitrox and Mer showed us the GUE gas analysis procedure. This was the first time we’ve ever gotten an honest to goodness “Cave Fill” and I have to say it was pretty cool to see those little LP85’s cranked up to 3800psi. We finished analyzing our tanks, marking them following GUE procedures and loaded up the truck.
Finally we ended for the day and went back to the Dive House for some dinner. We ate a box of mac and cheese for a late dinner and relaxed some before bed. Day 1 of GUE Fundamentals was over and I know that Tina felt a huge relief and a sense of accomplishment that she had passed the swim test.