Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
File Fish in Bonaire

The Trimix Odyssey

Becoming a Trimix Rebreather Diver with Andrew Driver of Blue Foot Diving

On May 17, 2003, I was certified as an Advanced Open Water diver.  The following Christmas I got “The Last Dive” from my in-laws and I read it cover to cover on Christmas day.  My in-laws thought I was nuts, maybe I am.  I purchased every narrative I could find on deep diving.  Each story deepened my interest; the characters and the dives captured my imagination.  Allie noticed all the books and asked me if I was interested in diving the Andrea Doria?  She wanted to know where this was going.  I admitted was and I estimated it would take me five years to reach the that level.

When I made the decision to pursue deep diving, I had a couple of principles in mind:

  • Be safe and take it slow.
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude.
  • Be young enough to be fit to not hazard my health.
  • Do it using a rebreather.
  • Seek the best instruction possible from a range of instructors.
  • Ensure my wife understands what I was doing and the risks involved.
  • Surround myself with people who would guide me and help to pace me.

Five years later, I have executed just shy of 500 safe dives. 350 of those dives have been technical dives, either North East Wreck Diving or Cave Diving.  Eighty of those dives have been with my Megalodon rebreather.   In January, I moved to Mexico for diving. I started running 3.5 miles three times a week and going to the gym.  And I have continually sought training from some of the top instructor in the world.  All this culminated in a trip to the United States to take my Rebreather Trimix Diver course with Andrew Diver of Blue Foot Diving.

Book One.  Incomplete Normoxic Trimix.

Completing the CCR (Rebreather) Trimix course has been an odyssey.  In fall of 2007 I met Joe Z., Fabrice, Eric Goldstein and Andrew in Alexandria Bay.  Our plan was to do some DPV diving and start the Normoxic Rebreather Trimix course.  I started class with 50 hours on my Meg.  We did a handful of Normoxic Trimix dives and lots of drills: High PO2, Low PO2, Solenoid Stuck Open, and deploying a lift bag.  We had a ton of fun and laughed a lot.  We visited the Islander, the America, the Key Storm, the Vickery and the bow of the Jodrey.  Max depth on that trip was 197ffw.  Of course we got to spend time with Mo Hunt.  Mo is a local legend who has been diving for 55 years.  They were all awesome dives and I learned a ton.  Hanging around with people like Eric, Joe Z. and Fabrice is amazing.

Andrew’s style of teaching is to teach as you do.  Consequently, most of the lessons are very practical and are derived straight from experience.  He has two philosophies that really struck me, I am paraphrasing:

“People come to dive not sit in a classroom.  So, I get them out diving as fast as possible.  It gives me a chance to assess where they are at and it gives them a chance to dive.  It helps me to structure the course and helps to focus on the student’s needs.”

“If the basics are solid, the rest will follow.  With a solid grasp of the basics, situations which might have posed a substantial hazard will become second nature to identify, troubleshoot and resolve.”

These ideas are reflected in his teaching methods.  The three times I have been to Alex Bay, as the locals call it; we dived on the first day.  We hit the water, did some basic drills and started the process of getting comfortable.  I could see Andrew watching us as we did the drills; his debriefs were short and never belittling.  On the days that I looked like a spasm in the water, he told me I looked like a spasm.  We would laugh a little and then talk about what I could do better and how I could develop processes to deal with each task.  On the days I did what I was told, he didn’t tell me I look like a spasm.  I guess part of his British nature is not to celebrate when you do what you are told.   We spent a lot of time on the basics and by nailing them, the rest of the diving became easier.

Unfortunately, we didn’t plan to finish the class that weekend.  I walked away certified; which was fine, because the rest of that fall I didn’t do any diving.  Work had gotten out of control and I was preparing for my move.  I wanted to put some more medium depth dives together before moving on.

Book Two: False Starts

Before moving to Mexico, I met a fellow name Patrick Widmann.  Patrick is skinny (way skinny), a cave instructor, a deep diver, my mentor, my dive buddy and the motivating force!  Once I arrived, I learned Patrick had designs on exploring The Pit.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you will have seen his posts.  One day Patrick and I got to talking and he told me about his plans.  I thought they sounded interesting and wanted to participate.  The problem was that I was not Trimix certified and I only planned to be in Mexico for one year.  I needed a solution for both.  I went home and declared to Allie, “We need to stay for two years at minimum.  I want to explore The Pit and I estimate it would take me year to work up to it.”  Luckily, Allie agreed.

I was anxious to complete my Hypoxic Trimix Rebreather Course.  As luck would have it, there are not many instructors who are qualified to teach it on the Yucatan.  To be exact there is one, Steve Bogaerts.  Luckily, Steve is already my instructor so we scheduled the course for the end of July.  Steve did a lot of the deep exploration at The Pit on double redundant Inspiration rebreathers; I thought his practical experience made him an excellent candidate.

July started with my parents in town for 10 days.  The trip was stressful, my bed frame broke and my back went out in a BIG way.  It required acupuncture and three shots in the ass.  We elected to cancel the course because we agreed it would be a terrible idea to do deep mix diving with an inflamed back.  I guess that is where the health hazard principle comes in.  I was totally bummed, because Patrick and I had a bunch of dives to do during low season and I lost my chance to get qualified.  Luckily, Patrick and I were able to work around it and he made significant progress.

Book Three.  Don’t Change Your Configuration.

As the gods would have it, my back didn’t get better for a couple of weeks.   When we attempted to reschedule my Trimix class in September, it conflicted with the arrival of Steve’s new baby.  The next opportunity wouldn’t be until October.

I couldn’t wait any longer!  Fortunately, I had a wedding the first week in September in NJ.  I contacted Andrew and asked if he could arrange a course.  Bingo!  Andrew put a course together for three of us.  With some skepticism I packed the Megalodon in my hand luggage and a 120lbs worth of dive gear and cloths in my checked luggage and headed for the states.  Luckily, I am a frequent flier and was allowed more then one heavy bag.  I got home with zero charges or difficulties.  The only real challenge was at security in Cancun.  They closely examined the Meg, but let it pass.  Promptly, I removed the red and yellow warning labels.

When I went to my storage unit in NJ to fetch my dry suit, I discovered the neck seal had melted and the edge was dry rotted.  I put some duct tape on the seal and used it the whole week.  Amazingly, it was dry and didn’t rip.  I am eternally grateful.

When I arrived at Andrew’s house, I learned the third man had bailed out.  It was down to two of us.  Andrew loaned me some steel tanks.  I decided to invert my tanks this time.  I thought it would be easier to reach the valves, normally I dive de-inverted.  This was the first mistake, changing my gear configuration.

We went for a shore dive on the Islander.  I was super wonky!  I hadn’t been in a dry suit for more then a year and it showed.  I was over weighted and out of trim.  My feet were down and I looked like a stroke!  Luckily, I survived.  We finished the dive and my classmate quit; he hit his limit.  This was his second attempt at Hypoxic and he just didn’t have the juice.  Andrew and I did another dive and that ended day one.

Day two arrived and Eric Goldstein showed up.  I was grateful to see him.  I really like diving with Eric because he is an excellent diver, very knowledgeable and funny.  We planned to go out on the boat, but with so few people it didn’t make economic sense.   We did another shore dive, this time to 140ffw.  This dive Andrew gave me two Al80’s to manage, which shouldn’t have been an issue.  I was closer to trim head to toe, but my lateral trim was shit.  Normally, I side mount my tanks balancing them.  I decided to emulate Andrew and Eric and wear them on the left.  This was the second big mistake.

I know what works for me, but I elected to do something different.  I assumed I could adapt.  That was a lapse in judgment and the dive was shit.  There was a decent current and we had to pull and glide.  My gloves had holes in them and my fingers got sliced to shreds.  I could see the blood in the water.  Plus, I was swimming with a 45 degree list.  I looked like a COMPLE STROKE.  It took me until the next dive to sort out my lateral trim.  I needed to make changes in the placement of weight and the way I clipped the tanks in.  I was still over weighted.  Luckily, I get through all the skills.

For the next two days we dove the Jodrey.  There was a lot of drilling on High PO2, Low PO2 and bailing out.  We completed a partial ascent off the loop.  I spent a lot time on my Golem BOV, and I convinced.  I didn’t notice any WOB issues on it at 220ffw. Throughout class, I tried the drills in a couple of ways: faster, slower, and blundered.  The conclusion was that I need to take my time when I perform the drills and think it through.  I had a tendency to go on autopilot and do the flush too fast.  I need to spend more time verifying the cells.

The last day was spent in the class room talking about gas selection and other technical issues.  Andrew’s lectures are factual and to the point.  As a bonus, I had examples from The Pit.  Andrew and I worked through the gas selections and the deciding factors.

The course was challenging and a lot of fun.  I learned a substantial amount and I got a chance to tune up my skills again.  Upon reflection, I would have liked to have had a day or two more in my dry suit diving before starting class.  It would have given me an opportunity to perfect my trim and buoyancy, thereby allowing me to concentrate on the skills rather then basic issues.  The expectation is buoyancy and trim should be in the bag on arrival, however, the change in environment really through me for a loop.

I should have stuck to a configuration that was similar to the one I use in Mexico; even if I had to explain it to the team.  The addition of the dry suit, the tanks on the left and the inverted tanks added a noticeable level of task loading, which robbed me of cycles to use on performing the tasks on the dives.  The lesson is, don’t change things before class! I should have learned that lesson already.  Ironically, I had a similar issue during my Advanced Sidemount Course.  I got a new 9MM wet suit the day before class and it killed my buoyancy and trim, creating a terrible problem on the first day of class.

The joy is in the journey.  The truth is that the experience of diving and spending time with friends is so much more fulfilling then getting a Trimix Card.  I am glad I passed, it is important to me to do well.  But more important is the opportunity to dive with people I like.  People I can share the joy with.  Diving is a supremely social activity for me.  I like to solo dive, but I really like to dive with a good buddy.   Luckily, I have that buddy and we have some big dives planned.  In the coming months I look forward to opportunity to put my training to use as we dive The Pit, The Blue Abyss, the cenotes near Merida and the local walls.  I will keep you in the loop.

6 comments

1 Erik Dasque { 09.25.08 at 11:01 am }

Where does Andrew teach, it wasn’t clear to me. NJ ?

2 Hans { 09.25.08 at 11:10 am }

Erik,

Andrew has a place in Alexandria Bay, NY USA. He teaches there during the summer months. Alexandria Bay is about 6 hours north of New York City on the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is a stunningly beautiful location with fantastic wreck diving. I have dove the Vickery, the America, the Keystorm, the Islander and the Jodrey. And there are more wrecks.

I think it is an ideal place to train for scuba diving. In the summer months the water is above 70’F and we have never been blown out.

He also travels to teach and is in Ft Lauderdale from December to April.

If you want more information about training with him check out http://www.bluefootdiving.com or let me know and I can hook you up with him.

Hans

3 Patrick { 09.26.08 at 7:44 pm }

Well Done!

4 vince moore { 09.27.08 at 9:49 pm }

I took my training from Andrew he is a super insturctor and we had a ton of fun and laughs too. Look forward to the trimix course with him soon.

5 John K { 09.28.08 at 10:30 am }

Gongrats Hans. Always a good read. As you know I am over here in Asia doing the equivalent ANDI course. Luckily, I did not change my config but none the less murphy always shows he’s watching. We planned to do two 60M 30 minute BT dives today. On the first one the current going down the line was substantial and when we got to 60M we could not see the bottom so the anchor must have been dragged deeper. We went down to 65M and still no bottom so I blew a bag and we drifted for awhile and did our deco. Upon surfacing guess what…..no boat. So we ended up spending 4 hours drifting in the Gulf of Thailand and finally got picked up by a small Thai fishing boat at 5:30. About 45 minutes before sunset. I was not looking forward to a night drifting even if the water is 86F.

Good luck with your future dives.

John

6 Hans { 09.28.08 at 11:36 am }

Jezz John, Living on the edge. I am glad you didn’t have to spend the night floating around, those stories don’t always end in the best way. Did you fire the captain?