Tuesday, 10 July 2012

SSI Open Water Diving Course

Whilst on Nusa Lembongan, we went to check out a few of the dive schools as I was keen to gain my open water diving qualification and Ian wanted to do a couple of fun dives.

Using TripAdvisor we found the top 5 rated dive schools and enquired about prices and courses available. After looking at all five schools the best place we found was a British run company called ‘Big Fish Diving’. We discussed prices etc and I was assigned a British diving instructor called Chris.

Some of the other schools around had good reviews, one place with a French instructor was our second favourite, but the last few we enquired at were taught by locals and some were quite vague and blasé when it came to answering our questions.

I felt confident using Big Fish Diving and liked the fact that there would be no language barrier due to my instructor being British. I booked in for a trial dive that would take me into my 4 day Open Water Diving course if I decided to go ahead with it. Altogether it would cost 3,500,000.00IR which I would pay for at the end of my course.

The next day we met up with Chris at 8:30am at the dive school and were kitted out with the dive gear. Ian was diving twice that day and paid 280,000IR per dive. My trial dive would be included in the price of the open water course should I decide to continue.

The more dives you have the cheaper the price

There was only a small group of us on the boat and whilst Ian and the others went diving I went snorkelling. 

Ian, just about to start his dive

A couple of shots i took when snorkelling using my iPhone in an iDry and no it didn't leak!

Once everyone was back on board the boat it was now my turn to go diving with Chris. He had set up all of my equipment beforehand and I was shown how to put everything on. It felt very heavy and was difficult to move around in, but once I had rolled backwards from the boat and into the water it became lightweight. Chris showed me how to breathe with my regulator and explained that he would control everything and all that I would need to do was to enjoy the dive.

I have to admit that once I had the regulator in my mouth I became really nervous and couldn’t get my head around the idea of breathing underwater! I didn’t get too long to think about it before I found myself slowly sinking to the bottom of the sea bed all the while trying to equalize my ears along the way.

The 20 minutes I was down there felt more like 2 minutes and before I knew it we were on our way back up to the surface. Amongst the incredible coral were spectacular fishes swimming all around us and I was lucky enough to see a turtle along the way. One of the other divers who had been on board our boat came along with us, and kindly took photographs of my petrified face during the dive which I have posted below.

Once we were back on board the boat, having enjoyed the dive, I agreed to continue with my SSI open water diving course.

Big Fish Diving use Padi and SSI courses. Both are exactly the same qualification with a few differences in the training, but you can cross over your training with either Padi or SSI once you’re qualified, so you’re not limited to one organisation.

During Ian’s final dive that day our boat moored up almost two miles away from where the dive had originally started. I was sat on the boat, a little confused, wondering why we had travelled so far away, when suddenly Ian and the rest of the group popped up to the surface next to our boat. They had been in a fast flowing current in what is called a drift dive, something I had never heard of. Ian loved every minute of it, although he had participated in drift dives before he said he had never experienced one as good as that.

We returned to shore by 2pm and I was given a book to revise from as part of my course. I ended up being the only person in the class so I had one to one tuition. Before leaving Chris showed me how to set up my dive equipment. I had to do set up and dismantle my equipment 4 times before I was allowed to leave.

I went back to my room and made a start on revising. I didn’t have to dive until 1:30pm the following day so Ian and I shared a couple of beers and went out for some dinner.

Revision time
I met Chris at Big Fish Diving and we headed to a swimming pool so that I could begin to learn the skills for my open water course. Some of skills I had to learn whilst at the bottom of the pool involved filling my mask up with water, taking it off completely and replacing it and then clearing the mask of any water. I hate having water in my eyes or up my nose and the feeling of not being able to see whilst underneath the water made me panic a little. Also, I stupidly didn’t get time to eat lunch beforehand and the constant practising of the underwater skills left me feeling quite drained and tired. Because of this I kept making mistakes and feeling defeated and upset with myself I almost quit.

After 3 hours of skills in the pool, Chris then quizzed me on the theory work. I failed every question he fired at me and returned to my room feeling defeated and stupid.
Before I started the course I had spoken to quite a few friends and my sister, who had all completed the open water course and had been so blasé about it that I had naively presumed it would be really easy to complete, maybe for most people it is!?

I spoke to Ian about how I felt and he kindly said he would help me with the theory work. I really did not want to quit, even if I never dived again I just felt that I had to complete the course. That evening we spent all our time in our room going over and over the book.
The next morning Ian once again helped me revise before my dive that was scheduled for the afternoon. Ian was supposed to be diving himself but as he had fainted the previous day he was advised not to dive for 48hrs.

I met Chris in the afternoon and we went to a dive spot called the ‘House Reef’ which was located just opposite the beach where we were staying. I was really nervous, as I had to complete all the dive skills that I had learnt in the pool the day before only this time I would be 10m deep in the sea.

We carried out our necessary safety equipment checks and Chris and I descended underwater but quickly I began to feel myself panicking. I tried to ignore it but after I got only a few metres down I wanted to ascend to the surface and give up on diving altogether. I signalled to Chris that I wanted to go to the surface and he came back up to where I was to made sure that I was ok.

We never did return to the surface, as I somehow pulled myself together and just got on with it. At the time I was thinking that I would probably never dive again, even if I passed the course.

Once we reached the sandy sea bed below, Chris signalled for me to carry out the skills we had practised the day before. I was surrounded by tropical fish, crystal clear water and boats overhead that scared me a little.

To my surprise I completed the filling of the mask with water and clearing it, taking my mask off completely, replacing it and clearing it, and the dreaded buoyancy skills that I had failed miserably at in the pool the day before. With every skill that I finished and Chris signalling to me his congratulations after each skill that I passed, I quickly gained more confidence and felt much more at ease with what I was doing.

After I had completed and passed all the underwater skills I then enjoyed the rest of the dive. The high lights for me was seeing a Lion Fish and a Sea Snake.

I passed the last two of the skills on the surface of the water and once we were back at Big Fish Diving, Chris quizzed me on the theory. I answered almost all of the questions correctly and he said I was now ready to take the exam. It was a multiple choice exam with 50 questions and I was allowed to take the exam home that evening and complete it in my own time.
It didn’t take long for me to complete and I felt confident with most of the answers that I have given.

On the final day of the course I had to go to the dive school at 8am for my final two dives and also for my exam to be marked. Chris checked through my answers and although I had passed I had failed four questions. You can fail ten altogether and it turned out that one of the questions I had misread and the other I had accidentally circled the wrong answer. So all in all he only needed to review two of the answers that I had given.

Once the exam part was over we headed to the dive boat. Ian was also diving with me today so I was really excited that we could finally dive together. The first dive was at Pura Ped and once underwater although I had a brief panic to myself I soon relaxed and found myself in awe of the beautiful coral and fish surrounding me.

I had a dive computer during this dive which Chris wanted me to learn how to use, to monitor my depth and time. I wear contact lenses and I’m not allowed to get them wet, so I cannot wear them diving. Without them I can’t read properly and so I found it hard to read the dive computer accurately! It turned out I had gone to 20m instead of my allowed 18m and I had ascended slightly too quickly.

By the second dive my confidence had grown even more and I didn’t want to return to the surface after my 50 minutes underwater was up. During this dive I had seen loads of amazing Batfish, they were a lot bigger than most of the other fish I was used to seeing and I now wanted to see even bigger things like sharks and manta rays.

Once we were all back on board the boat I was finally told by Chris that I had passed my Open Water Diving course, yay!

For some reason, before I started the course I found myself a little bit scared of the water. I think it’s probably just my age because as a child I was always fearless of the sea and loved swimming around in it and playing in the surf. Now that I have completed my open water diving course I feel so much more confident when in the sea and I’m very keen to continue diving for as long as I live.

On our final day at Nusa Lembongan we went diving at Crystal Bay and Manta Point. I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before at Crystal Bay but at Manta Point I was over the moon to see five huge Mantas swimming next to us and even a 3 legged turtle. Seeing the Manta Rays ended my diving at Nusa Lembongan on a massive high.

Manta Rays (Photo courtesy of Big Fish Diving)

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