Technical Diver Testimonials

what the students have to say

I feel it is always important to get recommendations about the diving Instructor you will put your faith into to help you achieve your goals, ultimately you will never know if it will be the best method of training for you until you have tried it but it does help if you can obtain a little feedback from past students and customers so here is a few I seem to have made happy.

Howard JJ

I recently completed the JJ-CCR level 2 course, with Mathew Partridge of Pro-Tech Dive College, Phuket. My initial feelings when I saw the shop were positive. From the road you can see a large billboard, advertising the onsite recompression chamber, a sight that will always put the travelling technical diver at ease. In side the show room was a wall full of Halcyon products, a Megalodon, a Sentinel and a couple of serious dpvs. Clearly, I was in the right place. I met Matt, who seemed like a pretty decent bloke and got a look at the classroom, which was chock full of pelican cases, multiple primary lights, more wings, backplates and webbing than anyone could dream of and another serious looking scooter. "I'm definitely in the right place," I thought to myself. I picked up my JJ-CCR level 2 course materials and retired to Happy Days guesthouse to digest the literature.

The course started on Monday, 21st April 2014, with a day of trimix theory in the classroom. It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a well-rehearsed and professional course. Matt had written his own slide show for the material and covered the history and contemporary reality of using helium as a breathing gas, all supplemented with examples from his own, clearly extensive, experiences.

The second day began with me building my rebreather and Matt over-seeing my setup and pre-dive routine. The only thing added to my pre-dive was a cell linearity check and calibration verification. After calibration, I am now to place my hand over the open mouthpiece and select high setpoint. The ccr will then inject gas in an attempt to reach 1.2ata. It will only be able to get as high as ambient pressure. If after two minutes you cells are reading anything other than ambient pressure, you have not calibrated the unit correctly. Once all the kit was assembled and checked, there was another brief theory session and then it was off to the pool.

The objective of the session was to go through my level 1 skills, in order to discover any discrepancies in my level of competence. Naturally, with any scrutinizing of ones abilities, stress levels begin to rise. Combine that with wearing a drysuit, 34 degrees Celsius and 95% humidity, and you have one uncomfortable diver. This stress prompted an immediate and rudimentary error, as I forgot, amongst other things, to check my wing inflator during my team equipment matching. Off to a good start! Matt also pointed out that I had not discussed the settings of my controller or backup computer, so suggested a change to my pre-dive approach. My new team pre-dive follows the M-O-N-A L-I-S-A protocol:

M – Mission
O – Organization
N – Navigation
A – Ascent Profile
L – Linearity Check
I – Inert Gas Mixtures
S – Setpoint
A – Apparatus

The equipment check is to be a head-to-toe check, starting with the mask and hood, cylinder contents and valves, and then working down the body methodically.

After the initial flapping, I was given 5 minutes to get comfortable in the pool, to just float around and get my head in the right place. Then Matt got me to work through the level 1 skills. The main difference between what I had learnt and what Matt Partridge teaches is that, at all stages of the dive, team communication is key. For example, I was taught that if you need to bailout, you close the loop and deploy your bailout. Once you're on open circuit, you inform your buddy. The Pro-Tech way, is to signal your team with your light, whilst isolating your O2 supply. Once you have your teams' attention, indicate that you intend to bailout and then switch to your OC supply. This predominance towards communication and team unity is a crucial theme in Pro-Tech's approach to diver education. The benefits are obvious. If you communicate your issue immediately, your team is in a better position to assist, if, for example, your bailout regulator malfunctions. If you have already attempted to bailout and then discover your bailout regulator is broken, you face, either, returning to an unsafe loop, or a stressed, breath-hold swim to an unsuspecting teammate and an anxious out-of-gas scenario – not a pleasant thought. The remainder of the pool session passed without drama. Occasionally, I'd have a bit of a flap, but, on the hole, I performed well. The addition of a second bailout tank was no great drama and all vibes were positive as we drove back to the shop.

After another day of dive planning theory, we packed the truck with al our necessaries and headed of for the Kao Sok National Park. Located in the SuratThani province of Thailand, this stunning national park comprises jungle clad limestone monoliths and a maze like 168 square kilometer lake. Originally a jungle valley between the karst mountains, the lake was formed in 1988 by the construction of the Rajjaprabha hydroelectric dam. As the waters rose, entire villages were lost. Somewhere beneath the green surface lie, a school, village huts and a sunken Buddhist temple, amongst other things. There are numerous flooded caves and caverns hidden amongst the labyrinth of meandering water tendrils, and everywhere the eye falls are vast towers of rock that used to be seabed, but now form lush green watchtowers for the gibbons. The lake goes on for miles and is, in some places, over 100metres deep. Its depths are almost entirely unexplored. To dive in such a place is beyond a privilege; it is a life-changing experience.

We arrived at the main jetty, from which long-tails ferry tourists on scenic excursions through the park. Our gear-laden truck attracted the usual looks of curiosity and incredulity and we got a bite to eat, whilst waiting for our skipper. As expected, he was quite late and then it transpired that we were waiting at the wrong jetty, so it was back in the truck and off to the alternate, much less appealing jetty, with its treacherous rock slipway and piles of rotting garbage. As promised, our long-tail driver was waiting and we loaded our gear in the scorching midday heat of southern Thailand.

It took us about 20 minutes to get to the first dive site, an area underneath a sheer cliff, at the mouth of a cavern called Red Cave. After receiving our briefing, we all started to get kitted up. This involved me slithering into my drysuit in 33-degree heat and 95% humidity. Matt, Max and Jackie had already entered the water as I tried to keep my cool and work my way methodically through my unit's pre-dive checks. My relief on getting into the water was only partial as the surface temperature was around 30-degrees. I was beginning to boil in the bag. Our surface checks gave me time to regain my composure and, after my head-to-toe checks, I was ready to rock. We began with a descent to 3m to complete and S-drill. This involved the deployment of my bottom bailout reg, as if I was donating gas, breathing from my bottom bailout, getting my teammate to check to position of my bailout tanks and a bubble check. An adjustment I made was to dive with my bailout reg deployed, routed around my head and clipped of to my right chest d-ring. As such, my S-drill involved my coming off the loop, deploying the reg towards my team-mate and going back on the loop, then reversing the process, taking a couple of breathes off the reg and again going back on the loop. All this whilst wrestling with shallow water rebreather buoyancy – no mean feat after two weeks out of the water. S-drill complete, we descended to 20m and ran through a series of skills, such as bailouts, manual O2 control and a bailout ascent. Whilst these skills presented no problems in themselves, remembering the importance of team communication was a real challenge.

Dive two was much the same, but with a solenoid stuck open drill thrown in. The major difference between the method taught on this course compared to my Mod 1 course was to stay on the loop and flush with diluent immediately, as opposed to bailing out and then flushing the loop. The benefit is a quicker reduction of loop PO2 and, by eliminating the bailout procedure, a simpler response. Once the loop is safe to breath, you then have time to make a decision: manually control the PO2 by feathering the O2 valve, swim to ascent point on pSCR, plug in an off-board gas (such as O2 or 50%) or bailout to open circuit. This concept illustrates the step up between level one and level 2 ccr. At level I was taught one response to a problem and, more often than not, that response was to bailout. On this course, much of the training was about the variety of options you have at your disposal and when it might be suitable to chose one over the other. In the context of extended range diving, where decompression obligations prevent a direct ascent, being able to utilize your rebreather in the most efficient manner becomes all the more important.

Day 2 began with a bit of drama, another student taking an OC trimix course dropped his oxygen bottle, which promptly rocketed into the murky depths; an expensive disaster. Lucky for him, we located it on the second dive of the day and he was thrilled, momentarily, right up to the point where he dropped it again during his cylinder rotation. You have good days and bad, and this guy was having a bad day. I was slowly improving however and, by the end of the day, I had added plugging in off-board O2 and a no O2 closed circuit ascent, the latter being the most surprising. Throughout the ascent, the PO2 is dropping, but it is still life supporting for quite some way through the ascent. There will be some change in the decompression obligation, but the controller is live, so compensates for this. Provided you monitor your handset and bailout well before the loop becomes un-breathable, you have plenty of time and a very simple response to running out of in-board oxygen.

Day 3 began early. The team was up, analysing and assembling by 6.30 and we were on our way to the dam by half 7. The plan was to conduct two dives to 50m, with a limited decompression obligation of 15 minutes. This led to planned bottom times of no more than 10 minutes, which is an unusually short dive given the nature of the course, but a necessity to remain within agency standards. Dive one was a success, as Matt located the missing oxygen bottle from the previous day and promptly secured it to himself, just to make sure. My skill set was minimal; all I had to do, aside from usual team protocols was to conduct a cell verification at depth. Dive 2 was much the same, but included a formidable no-mask bailout at depth. No matter how confident you are with a skill, there is nothing like a complete loss of visibility to ramp up the stress. Having started the final ascent on open circuit, I then switched back to the rebreather at 20m and ran out the decompression without incident; job done.

After two days in the classroom and three days beneath the turquoise waters of the Kao Sok National Park, I had successfully completed the JJ-CCR Level 2 course and am now trained to dive to a depth of 60m on the unit. What I really gained from the course however was a much deeper respect for the rebreather as a diving tool. Due to its inherent flexibility, there are numerous solutions to possible problems. Knowing which to choose and having the appropriate motor responses to these events may be the difference between life and death, so the biggest lesson of the 5 days was to continue to train with the unit and to practice problem solving drills regularly. The other main theme of this course was the importance of the team, in dive safety and mission success. Thorough team planning, preparation and protocols provide the rebreather diver with one or more back-up brains. With a system as complicated as a rebreather, in an environment as hostile as a deep decompression situation, another brain can only be an asset, one which, again, may save your life.

I would like to thank IART Instructor Mathew Partridge for running the course, TDI trimix instructor in training Max Dupont for his assist and my fellow trimix student Jackie Yip. I would also like to thank all the staff at Pro-Tech Dive College, Phuket, for their work with the logistics; all did an excellent job.