Deeper, Darker and Scarier - PADI Tec45

When I started diving five years ago I never could have imagined that I would certify this far on the PADI tree. Passing my Tec45 has taken a lot of effort, the knowledge reviews and exams really do require some serious investment and the training and certification dives require confidence, practice and second-nature ability in the water. That’s before I even considered the equipment requirements! But, by the skin of my teeth (and with a very good instructor!), I managed to get through it all inside of 2019, with a final and very chilly dive at Vobster in late December.

It certainly hasn’t been without challenge, there have been several embarrassing SMB launches - it’s a whole lot more difficult to launch an SMB with a frozen face while wearing dry gloves than it is in the Maldives!! And during an early (and shallow) training dive I managed to ‘kill’ my instructor, Tony by dragging him out of an underwater plane (while he was acting as an unconscious diver), I got him out, but over-inflating his wing sent him straight to the surface, which of course is a huge no-no in technical diving. Thankfully he forgave me and repeating the skill again we succeeded in saving his life! Frankly, the amount of times I’ve stopped him trying (acting) to breath a gas he shouldn’t be at depth, he should be the one thanking me!

The final certification dives were very cold indeed, it’s the first time I’ve ended up shivering while on a decompression stop despite wearing my typically warm and cosy dry suit. Perhaps next year I will invest in the fancy Santi Heated Under-suit. Speaking of expensive investments, I am now the proud owner of a brand new 12l twinset, an XDeep Project Wing, Apeks Tek3 Regulators, a Luxfer 11l stage cylinder, Apeks XL4 Stage Regulators, a Suunto D5 Computer and a rather fancy torch too. All of which certainly wasn’t in this year’s budget! While not cheap, I absolutely love my setup and diving with it on the HMS M2 earlier in the year was an absolute dream. I’m sure too that it will all see plenty of use over the next few years.

My shiny new certification card permits me a few more things; I can now dive with a mix up to 100% oxygen(!) to a maximum depth of 45m with unlimited decompression time. Principally though, I set it as my baseline ahead of diving Scapa Flow in Scotland. Scapa is the UK’s Wreck mecca, I won’t do the story an injustice by trying to tell it here, but if you don’t why Scapa is so important, please do read this… Now that Tec45 is out of the way, I need to get myself a ticket to the Orkey Islands because I cannot wait to see those huge ships underwater.

A big thank you to Tony and Janine at Southern Scuba for everything and a thank you to Aaron Hogg as my fellow student and Luke Tanner for diving with us too.

Diving the HMS M2

The Maldives were lovely, but there were no wrecks. It was time to do some real diving… The M2 is WW2 submarine with the unique feature of a hangar and her own sea plane, a kind of submersible aircraft carrier. She was one of three M-class submarines built for the Royal Navy and after the accidental sinking of her sister, the M1 she was pulled from service and retrofitted with the hangar. Sadly the M2 also sunk shortly after in 1932 after what is believed to have been a failed launch exercise off Chesil beach in Dorset. The wreck lies in around 32 meters of water and sits perfectly upright making it very easy to make out key components of the boat.

We launched around 9am on Saturday morning in pouring rain, of the many dive boats in Portland Harbour we were the only dive boat going out - which was a little alarming. The journey out wasn’t too bad, there was some swell as we travelled down the eastern part of Portland Bill. The sea picked up considerably once we were unprotected from the south-westerly winds and everyone including me got a little bit sick!

This was a big dive for me, since passing my PADI Tec45 I have bought my own twinset, regulators and wing, a significant equipment investment. It had taken quite a lot of logistics to make sure that I had everything for this particular dive, but thankfully everything arrived in time. I was a little apprehensive since I had not dived this particular rig before, but confident that everything was working as it should.

Once we were above the wreck the skipper threw the shot and a short while later we were getting kitted up. I buddied with Art, a technical trained diver who I had dived with before at Vobster Quay in the UK. We were planning for a 30 minute bottom time before heading back up the shot which should take around 20 minutes, giving us a planned 45/50minute run time. Art was to run against his deco plan I was to copy, relying on my computers for if I were to lose Art. Art was running 21% back gas plus a 50% deco mix and I was on 21% back gas for the entire dive.

We dropped down to about 5 meters where I checked my equipment was all in order, Art hung slightly above to confirm. We reached the wreck in just a few minutes after a steady decent, the visibility at the bottom was good, at least 5 meters, which given the weather was surprising. There was some current but this dropped away once we reached the bottom.

At the bottom of the shot the submarine emerged, the hangar was right on the line. I adjusted my equipment and buoyancy and checked my backup regulator was still working correctly. We headed off towards the bow on the starboard side, the wreck has deteriorated after all these years and there were a number of holes on the side of the hull. On the top of the boat there were the visible catapult tracks for the aircraft, leading out of the hangar and steel chains could be seen through the tracks. At the bow there was a lot of sea life, all cosied inside the wreck, protected from the elements.

We headed round to the port side and swam back towards the stern. A number of crabs were crawling on the side covered in barnacles, experienced in evading fishermen! We reached the hangar and swam around the conning tower. This was my favourite part, the ridges on the circular tower just above the hangar can be made out in the picture, looked identical underwater. The tower still had many of the antenna and steel masts, many of these had remnants of lines tied on by boats or other divers. Rounding the tower we descended slightly again and went inside the hangar, we penetrated maybe 3 or 4 meters before being faced with a huge bank of silt which I didn’t want to go near(!).

Backing out of the hangar we called the dive and agreed to head back up the line. We followed Art’s deco plan well and at 20 meters he switched to his 50% mix. Ascending slowly we worked our way up and at 6 meters Art threw up an SMB. We both continued up and after a slow ascent I was left with only a few minutes at 3 meters. We surfaced just off the shot line to a choppy sea and all other divers on the boat. I had about 108 bar left in my twins with a consumption of 17.3l/min so probably could have extended the dive but was happy to keep it short and safe.

Back on board we all spent the next half hour talking about the dive and what we saw. Brett and Jayne had followed around to the stern and were able to see the two horizontal stabilisers, which would have been an interesting sight - perhaps next time! We powered back to harbour and were relieved to reach calmer waters on the eastern side of the bill. A fantastic dive, my new equipment worked a treat and I don’t think I can recall a more comfortable dive. I was warm, had good natural trim, perfect buoyancy and had enough movement to reach valves and gauges. I was far, far more comfortable at 32 meters than I was sitting on the boat!