You can’t go into any of the the local High Springs dive shops and not see a DPV (DIver Propulsion Vehicle or a scooter as they are commonly called), sitting, waiting, begging to to be fondled inappropriately. Scooters represent a level of diving that we just didn’t think we would be at a few short years ago. Not to mention that the technology is fascinating and sexy. All my favorite dive videos on YouTube have divers using scooters to reach some amazing part of a cave, or zooming around a wreck. And of course the hundreds of times we’ve seen them at various dive sites. Yeah, I’ve drooled on more than one occasion, so when the idea to finally get trained to use scooters came up, Tina, myself and Braxton, decided it was time to get the band (Team Ginger) back together and do another class. Braxton was our original GUE Fundamentals buddy and we have been actively cave diving with him. We have gotten to know Braxton like a brother over the past few years. He’s a solid diver and we really enjoy diving with him. We also share similar goals and ambitions, so the timing was right to get GUE DPV 1 under our belts.
GUE DPV 1 is the first level of training that GUE offers on a scooter. It’s all done in open water and the training does not certify one to go into an overhead environment. In fact you can take this class once you have a Fundies rec pass. We put off the training until now because we didn’t really need it. Scooters are rather expensive and it would have been a waste to take the class until we are getting closer to actually using/needing a scooter. Tina and I would like to begin to use scooters in the ocean for fun and if possible for science coupled with various projects. Eventually once we build a solid experience base handling scooters, we will begin to incorporate them into our cave diving.
We decided to contact Doug Mudry for the class. We have gotten to know Doug and many of the other GUE instructors around high springs by virtue of being somewhat local. He also was a huge help in fitting us for our latest drysuits. Not to mention, that he has been involved in the WKPP, and various other forms of exploration for a long time. He’s a great resource for DPV’s and GUE diving in general. He can teach up to Cave 2. And although there are tons of extremely qualified instructors to teach DPV out there, we chose Doug because we wanted his perspective. I’m a big fan of seeking out training from many qualified professionals if you can. If you see something through a different lens on occasion, it can help build an even stronger foundation. And since he had never been in the water with us, we thought it would be good to get his constructive criticism on where we were buoyancy, trim and skill wise. Plus we like Doug a lot as a person.
The class was scheduled to begin Friday May 4th 2018 and go till Sunday. The first day is lectures, followed by in water skills and an extra day if needed. We called and reserved a pair of XJoy 37s from Extreme Exposure for the weekend. Braxton also has 2 Gavins and a Halcyon T-16 (made my suex and similar to the XJoy 37). In other words, we had plenty of scooters to play with. The Gavin scooters are some of the older scooters, basically made in a garage with fairly simple technology. They are heavy but pretty darn reliable. They are also responsible for some of the most well known cave explorations during the late 90’s and early 2000’s with the WKPP, including some world records. They certainly have earned their place in the cave diving world.
On Friday, we all met at EE to begin lecture at around 8am. Much of the morning was going over presentations, discussing the different types of scooters and some basic maintenance. Braxton brought his Gavin scooters in and it was great to see all the different elements that make a scooter go zoom. After lunch we spent a few hours tearing down the Gavin scooters, going over the finer points. We really learned a lot. There is no way I’d begin to think about all the little details that make up a scooter and what to look for when buying one. Doug did a great job explaining the pros and cons of the newer scooters and the old (mostly the Gavins). He also gave us some stories and history behind some of the bigger WKPP dives, which was a lot of fun.
When we got to the maintenance of the Gavin, I’ll admit I was little smitten by the simplicity of those old scooters. Almost all the parts can be purchased from mcmaster. They are pretty darn easy to work on. Although the Gavin scooter weighs anywhere between 90 and 120 pounds so they are a horse to move around on land. By comparison the XJoy 37 weighs less than 40 pounds. Most of the mass of the scooter is from the batteries. Old Gavins basically have 2 to 3 motorcycle batteries wired in series to a sealed electric motor. If you put the Gavin into car/motorcycle terms, it’s the Harley, Cadillac or maybe a Ford F-150. The new Suex scooters are Ferrari’s or Ducati’s (all of them are made in Italy).
By the end of the day on Friday, we had learned so much. We basically had an impromptu scooter repair class. I’m a very hands-on learner so this was perfect for me. Plus being an engineer, I like to take things apart. It was also really good for Tina, because she was admittedly a little intimidated by the repair and maintenance of the scooter at first, but after Friday, she was right there digging in to them with both hands. The last thing we did before getting dinner was to all run over to Ginnie Springs to get our wrist bands for the morning. We wanted to be able to get into the park before all the swimmers showed up. Tina, myself and Braxton decided which scooters we would try first. Tina called an XJ37, Braxton wanted to try his T16 and I was also pretty excited about using the Gavin in the morning for my first DPV experience.
The following morning we all met at EE to pick up the scooters. We loaded them into the truck and headed over to Ginnie. The only place that Ginnie Springs allows open water divers with scooters is in the run of the area actually known as Ginnie springs, not the other areas where there are caves. Those are called “The Devils Springs” . They don’t want people going in the caves untrained (understandably). We parked and took turns hauling the scooters to the water. Once we were geared up, we did our dive brief and got into the water. I have to admit I was pretty excited to try the scooter finally. Doug took us one by one and adjusted the leash of our respective scooters, starting with Tina. then Braxton and finally me. I had the Gavin, Tina had an Xjoy 37 and Braxton had his T16.
My first squeeze of the trigger made the scooter surge forward and I felt my harness tighten as the scooter pulled on my harness D ring. Away I went. Doug had us set the speed on the scooters to a really low setting. I had a hard time keeping the nose of the Gavin down and it turns out it was just a little too floaty on the surface. Gavins have this quirk that they compress slightly at depth because they are sealed at both ends with a plug. So to balance them you actually need 30 feet or so of water. Tina picked up the scooter rather quickly. Braxton had experience so he was pretty good too. I on other hand, struggled with the Gavin. I could turn it just fine but keeping it down was just and arm wrestle. Doug gave us about 10 minutes to play and get the scooters figured out before we did skills.
Our first basic skills were things like: how to stop the scooter by releasing the trigger, and doing a strong back kick. Next we did lots of turns and maneuvers. I think Doug had enough of me struggling with the Gavin and he finally came over to me and handed me the scooter he was using. It was the top of the line Suex XK1. I went from the old Ford truck to the Ferrari, just like that. It was also much easier to use because it was more balanced in shallow water. I started finding my groove with the turns. Tina and Braxton were doing really well too. Just like all GUE courses, we continued to build on each skill. Gradually we increased the speed of things. We got to scooter down the run dodging people and flying around. It was an absolute blast.
After lunch we worked on more skills, and each of us were feeling more confident with our scooters. At one point we began learning to tow a backup scooter and take faster turns. We would fly down the run and back at full speed. It’s amazing how fast you go on those things. The in water part of the day ended around 4 and we went back to the shop for our video review. It’s funny to see yourself on video. Some things I thought I did good at looked pretty bad, other’s I thought I did bad at,
The following morning (Sunday) was much the same, meeting at EE to grab scooters and then head over to Ginnie. Our plan for that day was to work on s drills, runaway scooter and towing a buddy, as well as recap what we learned on Saturday. Running through s drills was good for us since we hadn’t done any since cave 2. On a scooter everything happens much faster and you are dealing with more gear. We spent quite a long time doing a drills where one diver would be moving and the other was still, followed by both divers moving. It was pretty fun.
Probably the most challenging thing for me was the runaway scooter. This drill simulated the scooter stuck on full throttle and you have to use a special technique to control the scooter enough to turn it off . Basically you pull the scooter up to your chest, breaking trim, getting totally vertical in the water column, from there you can gently steer (see what I did there) the scooter into a wall or your buddy to get control enough to turn it off.
Before we knew it, we had been in the water for 6 or more hours and the class was wrapping up. We all really learned a lot. It’s funny because one of the most important skills I took away from DPV 1 wasn’t even a DPV 1 skill at all. Something during this class clicked with me. I just relaxed. And I mean really really relaxed. We had some much in water time just being stationary in the water column that I had to stop thinking about actually being in the water. I stopped moving my feet. I focused on relaxing my body from my head to my toes. I was at peace, having fun with great friends. This was what it was all about.
After we got out of the water, it was time to go back to EE for the typical GUE class debrief. We watched our videos for the day and each received constructive critiques on how we could improve. We all had things we could work on. Finally it was time for our individual debrief with Doug. One by one we took our turns talking to him about the class and he gave us more feedback on where we were at in regards to our diving. Of course by now we have been in this situation many times before and we were just happy to have the expert eyes of Doug telling us what we could work on to get better.
Overall the class was excellent and we had so much fun. I’m really looking forward to doing some scooter diving in the ocean soon.