Friday, November 26th dawned bright and clear; an excellent day for diving. Martin and I finished off our Open Water course and officially became qualified divers. We returned to Sandy Cove for our final two dives of the course.
The first dive went mostly well . . . we had to do our brief ‘out and back’ navigation with the compass, and the dreaded CESA – Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. Since recreational diving is meant as no-stop, or no decompression diving, the idea is that you should be able to ascend to the surface at any time, without stopping, and still be relatively safe from decompression sickness. To make sure that we newbie divers understand this and can put it into practice, we had to practice our CESA’s in the pool and now in a ‘real life’ environment. Basically, in an out-of-air situation, the CESA would allow you to safely ascend to the surface on one breath of air, should your buddy not be around to provide you with an alternate air source. To simulate this situation, Steve told Martin and I that we were out of air, and gave us the thumbs up sign, indicating we must ascend. One big breath in, and up we go. Look, up, hands up, and you have to say ‘ahhhhhhhh’ all the way to the surface. Now, I’ve been singing for 20 years and pride myself on my ability to sing long phrases of music without taking a breath, using my diaphragm as a means of controlling my air usage – do you think I could get to the surface without feeling like I was going to die and needing to take a breath? Not a chance. After three failed attempts it was Martin’s turn, and up he went, no problem, with smokers lungs no less!! I eventually beat the dreaded CESA and lay floundering at the surface while the ever patient and calm Steven reminded me that I was out of air (no shit Sherlock, I just ascended 7 metres on one breath) and that I had to orally inflate my BCD so that I could float at the surface. If looks could kill, I tell you that man would be dead.
The repeated CESA attempts also seemed to take up a lot of my air. Repeated deep(er) breaths than normal and then failing and having to slowly descend again, as well as trying to follow the jumpy compass needle, and being really, really cold nearly resulted in an actual out of air situation.
After the first dive, as we lay sunning ourselves on the blacktop between our cars to try and absorb the heat from the road (I think probably more than a few motorists wondered how the hell 5 apparently dead scuba divers made it back on land) I started thinking about my air, so that I could write it in my book . . . I remembered having 60 BAR left at some point while we were swimming back to shore, and thinking “That’s not very much air”, but being way to cold to give a crap. I checked my pressure guage, and sure enough, I only had 35 BAR left. That’s bad, very bad. At probably almost any resort or dive centre you will ever go to, 50 BAR is out-of-air, and the least respectable and acceptable amount of air you should have left in your tank once you are safely back on the boat or dry land. 35 is a bare minimum if you are going to store your tank, and even then, that’s only so it doesn’t rust or corrode. Eek! If looks could kill, this time I’d be dead from the glance Steven shot me.
We exchanged cylinders and prepared to go back in the water. As my fingers were still not fully functional, I was taking a bit longer and Martin and Steve started talking about our next dives itinerary, removing and replacing our weight belts and scubas both at the surface and underwater. Steve explained to Martin what we would be doing, and then they both guiltily looked my way . . . they had unintentionally done our dive briefing in Afrikaans. I, however, had understood exactly what was going on (the fact that there are no Afrikaans versions of ‘weight belt’ and ‘BCD’ helped) and just nodded and smiled at them: “Sounds good to me!”
Though I still can’t say more than ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’, ‘Good’, ‘Good, and you?’, and ‘Thank you’ I can get the gist of most conversations. Since all of my friends in Cape Town (all 7 of them) speak Afrikaans and most as a first language, chatter eventually ends up in the language newest to me. I just listen and put my two cents in in English and we carry on quite happily that way for a few hours on end. I don’t think I will get a chance to really speak it, as I need to see languages written out, and alphabets and sound combinations explained to me (unfortunately none of my new friends are Afrikaans teachers), but it’s nice to be able to understand another language.
I have noticed though, that shop keepers think it’s very strange that I can answer their perfect Afrikaans questions in perfect English. No, I don’t speak Afrikaans, but I can understand what you’re saying!