5 years ago in Plakias I took a PADI Open Water diver course. It was heaps of fun (apart from the classroom bits and exams, too many bad memories of school were conjured up) and I was then certified to dive to 18 metres.
2 years later I came back and took the Advanced Open Water certificate. This meant I was eligible to dive down to 30 metres with a scuba tank. At this depth they make you do basic mathematics on a plastic slate attached to your wrist by a strap, with a pencil. Very surreal being on your knees at 30 metres, doing “1=3-2= ?” while a sea turtle swims past.
This year I decided to go for the next level which is Rescue Diver.
This is where the “fun” aspect of the diving vanishes and the serious stuff begins. You are required to be a certified First Aider before you start, due to the necessity to administer CPR and rescue breaths to someone who’s been inhaling sea water for too long. You are also required to be totally focussed on what you’re doing.
I did all 3 courses with the Phoenix dive club in Plakias, under the tutelage of a woman named Isabella. Isabella is a Greek woman, about 5 feet 4 inches tall but one of the most intense and professional people you can ever meet. She has apparently trained soldiers how to dive and told me she gave up counting how many dives she has done “after I got to 2000.” The expression “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” really doesn’t do justice to her attitude which is basically “gives fools their money back and tells them to fuck off.”
She made me promise that I wouldn’t drink ANY alcohol for the 5 days of the course (and covered the obvious loophole by saying “and that includes the sentence ‘but I only had one with my dinner!”). She also told me to take this with utter seriousness and that I would have extensive homework and that I should get in tune with being a diver.
Heavy, these things.
The diving was very intense from the start. I had to have a Refresher dive, due to being outside a wetsuit for 3 years. This basically proves you know a BCD from an Octopus and can be embarrassing if you forget kit and turn around to find Isabella glaring at you going “you want to be Rescue?!!!”
The basics weren’t too bad but every night I’d go to the pub with my Dad for a glass of fucking coke and then settle into learning about stuff that I desperately wished I could simply download into my brain like in The Matrix.
During “rescue breaths while in the water” I forgot to take my mask off before pretending to give the “victim” the breaths. Isabella was assessing while treading water next to me and when she saw this she hit me 3 or 4 times on the side of my head with the flat of her hand, shouting “YOU DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT! HOW WILL YOU EVER GIVE HIM BREATHS WITH YOUR MASK ON YOUR FACE?!!!”
Another time she got me to approach her as if she was a “panicking diver” and warned me NOT to approach from the front. The idea is that you swim to the diver from underneath and behind. You pull them down under the water for a second to release their weight belt and then try to calm them by putting yourself in a position where you can tow them back to shore via their scuba tank (i.e. they cannot reach you and pull you under).
I followed the drill perfectly with regard to approach but at the last second Isabella span round and ripped my mask off my face. She then smiled and went “hey, a diver panics. Think of everything!”
Second attempt and I did better but she still managed (after a struggle) to get my mask off, saying afterwards “still too slow, you are too much of a gentleman. Be fast!”
Final attempt and I ripped the lead belt off, tipped her back and as I came up she was giggling loudly and saying “oh my God! Your hands were shaking!”
After 3 days of relatively testing stuff I then had The Scenario.
I had just practiced bringing up an “unconscious diver” who is on the sea bottom but with their mouthpiece in (i.e. has oxygen but has still passed out). When we got back to shore Isabella said “you have 5 minutes then it is your final test”.
I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I replied “can I have 10 minutes, I’m in no state right now?”
She agreed but then got me to organise 4 guys into duty roles. The little kid with binoculars would be the lookout on the roof. The lifeguard would have the oxygen ready. The Dive Master (grade above Rescue) would lead the search and the random bloke would look from the beach for the “missing” diver.
L-R: The Victim, The Beach Dude, The Lifeguard, The Little Kid, The Rescue Diver, The Dive Master.
As me and the Dive Master hid round the back of the shed, Isabella got everyone together then came round to see me pretending to cry, wailing “help me, I’ve lost my diver!”
I asked her where and tried to get her to point. She unhelpfully went “somewhere over there” and pointed at the whole ocean. I got my lead belt on , grabbed a scuba tank and the gear, plus flippers and a mask and then waddled down to the beach. Isabella had now switched to Assessor mode and I couldn’t get my fucking right flipper on. After about a minute of struggling she shouted “YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO RESCUE THIS GUY, YOU HAVE WASTED ONE ALREADY!!!”
Eventually in desperation I reached out and shouted back “give me yours” to which she glared at me and handed me her flipper.
I got the diver up, got his tank and belt off (in between rescue breaths and a mantra of “one, one thousand, two, two thousand” up to 4000) and then me and the Dive Master dragged him to the shore where the lifeguard had the oxygen bottle ready.
Isabella smiled and asked “do you know how to administer oxygen?”
I honestly replied “no” and she glared at me and was about to say something when I pointed to the lifeguard and went “but he does!”
She grinned and let us continue and after I’d pulled off my wetsuit and finally relaxed she shook my hand and said congratulations. She then gave me a high five and said “that’s for thinking laterally” about using the lifeguard’s experience to counter balance my lack of it.
My face just after I'd been told I'd passed.
That night I took her, the Assistant Instructor Sonja and the victim Joseph out for dinner.
Much raki was imbued.
Next year Dive Master. Bring it on!!!