A surprise lesson…

LongO'THREE

There are plenty of incentives for taking part in a scuba diving ‘expedition,’ and some of them at least, may not obvious at first sight.

The best, and a motivation with all the enticement of a chocolate-chip cookie in the eyes of the average six-year old, is to learn something new. Coming a very close second – with the pulling power of a chocolate- dipped coconut macaroon in my world – is having a tightly-held, but wrong-headed notion, kicked into the trash, and replacing it with an idea backed by science, logic, and responsibly collected data. Again, a learning experience.

Earlier this year, Jill Heinerth and I were asked to put together a small expedition to do some work in the Bell Island Iron Ore Mine, in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. We had both been there before, and we were both huge fans of what the place has to offer: essentially, the chance to experience truly unique dives in an environment that screams history and heritage.

There were tonnes of other reasons to sign on for this particular expedition, but diving in what is essentially an underwater museum, was pretty high on the list.

A total surprise – and an unexpected bonus – was having my opinion about heated vests and their potential role in diver safety – specifically decompression stress – turned around about 180 degrees.

The lesson went something like this.

Dr. Neal W. Pollock was part of the Bell Island project, gathering data for his research at Divers Alert Network. Neal is research director there – at DAN – and a senior research associate at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology at Duke University Medical Centre. And when not pushing an ultrasonic transducer against your rib cage, he’s a handy guy to have around when the chatter turns to many things related to technical diving.

I’d seen Neal’s presentation on Thermal Physiology and Protection at Rebreather Forum 3.0, in Florida a few years before. But, frankly did not really grasp his message. Then, sprawled on the floor of the Bell Island Museum and watching a whole stream of gas bubbles race around in my heart after a dive, helped me – and others on the expedition – listen a little harder to what he was telling us.

A link to his presentation at RB 3 is at the bottom of this page, and if you dive at all, you’d do well to watch it, but the Coles Notes version is this.

If, like me, you figure the safest way to dive is to be warm throughout, you may want to rethink your approach.

Dr. Pollock, suggests that there are three issues to think about when we consider thermal protection. Number one, at depth we must be able to function; secondly, we must take into account the effect of temperature on our decompression stress; and lastly we need to consider comfort.

Based on a “small but significant” study conducted by the Navy Experimental Diving Unit, Dr. Pollock explained: “Divers tend to put the emphasis on the wrong thing… comfort.” And comfort, according to the data, and Dr. Pollock, “should only be a distant third.”

The NEDU study found that the fewest instances of DCS occurred in divers who started cold, and finished warm. Probably the exact opposite of what happens on a significant number of technical dives. Worth noting is that for this study, subjects wore no thermal protection and worked in water at 36 degrees (warm), and 27 degrees (cold).

Significant also was that there were zero cases of DCS in 80 “cold start, warm end” dives, but in warm/cold dives, probably the situation for many long dives, seven out of 32 (22 percent) resulted in DCS. The dive profile incidentally was a seemingly benign 120 fsw with 30 minutes of bottom time and 91 minutes of deco!

When the dive profile was appreciably altered to be more aggressive – 120 fsw for 70 minutes of bottom time but with an unchanged 91 minutes of deco – the results had very similar implications: cold/warm dives resulted in 0.1 percent DCS.

Of interest to those of us who own and use heated drysuit under garments, warm/warm dives following the same profile, returned a 17 percent instance of DCS (four cases in 24 dives).

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A slide from Dr. Neal Pollock’s presentation

For technical divers, there are many, many factors with a role to play in decompression stress, but consider this. With a heated vest, several things might happen. The vest is turned on and keeps you warm throughout your dive. The vest is turned on to start the dive, and then is turned off or runs out of power at the end of the dive. The vest is turned off to begin the dive and left off when you start to get chilled as bottom time passes, and only turned on during the latter stages of decompression (probably NOT the most common practice).

Based on the NEDU study, each has possible consequences, and not all of them positive. It would seem that the best option in terms of thermal status, is to start cold and end warm.

As Neal remarked, the NEDU study was across a very small population (73 divers), and one has to take that into consideration when assessing its value and relevance. However, my personal observation of what was happening in my heart after a 90-minute warm/warm dive – thanks to the transthoracic echocardiogram being orchestrated by Dr. Pollock about 20 minutes after I surfaced – is that I won’t do that again.

 

 

View Neal’s RB3 presentation here… and in addition to a much more complete interpretation of the NEDU study, he covers several other related and significant issues… watch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yixnr07AiTI

 

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Fixing a lack of skill with complex gear… Nah, try a swimming pool!

Nick Hollis in SMS75 Hollis SM harness

Nick Hollis of Hollis Gear showing some skills in swimming pool like conditions…

Few of us learned to dive without the help of a buoyancy device of some sort. Not to say that wearing a jacket-style BCD, sidemount harness, or backplate and wing automatically gave any of us pin-point control over our position in the water column: it certainly did not!

The vast majority of the divers — sport, technical, rebreather, open-circuit, whatever — earned that particular skill with patience, perhaps a little help from a buddy or mentor of some description, and a bunch of practice.

Swimming pools or ‘swimming pool-like conditions’ (warmish, reasonably calm, clear-ish, current-free shallow water), are awesome for gaining something approaching buoyancy control right from the first open-water class: and then fine-tuning that skill by return visits as often as practical. I will still take time, whenever I can, to simply “hang about” in the water. A visit to the pool is a great place to test new gear, adjust weighting, check that old favorites still work the way you want them to.

In fact, if you are an instructor looking for ways to increase student comfort, add to general diver safety, and build on the basic skills your students learn on your courses, you’d do well to offer a few extra hours of pool time regularly. I have a buddy whose open-water students leave her classes with demo-quality buoyancy control and near-perfect ‘cave trim.’ Her secret is additional pool time, which her students gladly pay a little extra for because she’s taken the trouble to explain the benefits of buoyancy control to them. They get it: they know it takes a bit of work: and they are not looking for a fast fix.

So, imagine my disappointment to see an ad for a piece of kit that is such a convoluted bunch of “Heath Robinson” engineering that at first I thought it a joke. The product, and it is real apparently, is pitched as: “An industry standard premium diving jacket, dive computer with connecting links to allow the computer and jacket to manage diving processes according to the selected settings just like an aircraft autopilot.”

What have we come to when the simplest of devices, and a little practice to master its use, has to be replaced by something with Catastrophic Failure (or something else with the initials C-F) written all over it.

Please, if you want to get your buoyancy squared away because it wasn’t taught to you as a beginner, take a cavern or intro-to-tech class from a good instructor. Contraptions that offer instant mastery through technology are like magic pills that promise to shed pounds of belly fat without diets or exercise. The word to describe this type of promise is bullshit.

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A rare honor for a dear friend

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Jill doing what she does…

Someone once told me that as a community, technical diving suffers from a lack of real role models. He said that’s is not that there is a particular lack of great projects going on, or important discoveries being made. “There’s a tonne of great news out there!” he said. “It’s just that the news and personalities behind it are quashed by infighting and jealousy…”

That’s a pretty damning, really bleak commentary, but during the many years that have passed between him saying it, and now, there have been times when I’ve been inclined to agree with him. However, today, the technical diving community got some great news, and perhaps we can all be a little pleased… and proud.

Jill Heinerth has been appointed EXPLORER-IN-RESIDENCE by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. This is a first, and to quote from the RCGS website, the “Explorer-in-Residence Program [is intended] to foster greater awareness among Canadians of the expeditions and field research being carried out by the nation’s top explorers, scientists and conservationists.”

Now that is cool, I don’t care who you are… that is awesome.

Immensely pleased and proud to call Jill a friend, and to say that she and I have worked on a couple of projects together… and she helped to make them fun, safe, and productive.

Hope you will join me in wishing her all the best, and giving her what really is a well-deserved pat on the back… and perhaps a glass of nice red wine!!!

http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=2070

Want to ignore the rules? Then do this…

There really are no scuba police, and here in most of North America at least, government bodies give the diving community the closest thing to a free-rein. We can, in essence, do exactly as we please. We can dive without training, ignore warning signs, flaunt best practice, exceed both whatever certification we have and the experience earned on previous outings. We are free agents. Great stuff.

But the downside is awful. A couple of days ago, I read of another stupid death — highly preventable and caused by several breakdowns in the system… that tragic alignment of holes in the safety net that which is in place to help diving “accidents” NOT happen.

What’s frustrating about many of the deaths we read about online, in diving magazines, and in diving forums, is that the people involved had been warned. At some point, either in their training or general involvement with the diving community at large, they had been told what they had planned, was foolhardy or against best practice.

But they went ahead anyway.

Just as sad is that their behavior does have the potential to change the status quo. Their silliness may create a situation where some agency or quasi-government entity starts to pay attention to our activities… and arbitrarily start to shut things down.

I am reminded of something my mate, Wayland Rhys Morgen suggested for anyone who is about to — either figuratively or actually — hand their beer to someone and say: “Here, watch this…”

The next time you intend to deviate from best practice, take a piece of note paper and divide it into two columns. Write in block letters at the top of the left-hand column: “What people usually do.” On the right, also in block letters, write: “What I am going to do instead.” Then in the appropriate column write clear, concise language an explanation of each behavior associated with your planned dive. So, these ‘behaviors’ would cover things like analyzing and labeling gas cylinders, limiting depth and duration according to your training, recent experience, and the vagaries of the environment… stuff like that. Read it back to yourself — both columns — then sign and date it. Then give it for safekeeping to someone you trust: lover, spouse, son, daughter, best buddy, favorite cowgirl. It really does not matter much to whom, just hand it over. Tell them to give it to the people or agency that leads the inquiry should something bad happen to you on your adventure.

Mine Quest 2.0

Bell Island Mine 2.0

Winter in Newfoundland can be bleak and is most definitely cold, but this week, a group of volunteers and Bell Island Heritage Society staff ignored the weather and did a huge amount of setup work getting things ready for Mine Quest 2.0.

As well as building a platform/staging area for the exploration team to work from, during mid-February’s expedition, they carried several hundred kilos of materials more than 225 metres down a ten-degree incline from the surface to the water’s edge. Before the building commenced, using pickaxes and shovels to clear away loose rocks from the roof and walls of the mine shaft, then installed temporary lighting.

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After the clean-up… the mine shaft we will be working from

Eventually, it’s hoped the mine on Bell Island will feature permanent infrastructure that will add dive adventure tourism at the historic site to the world-class wreck diving found just off the island’s coast. For the time-being, the hard work will help simplify, and aid the success of an effort to add the the two kilometers of passage explored and lined during the 2007 project I was lucky enough to be part of.

Over the next several weeks, and certainly during Expedition Week (February 13 – 20), I’ll try to keep you up-to-date on progress and exactly what’s planned.

 

In the meantime, hats off to Mark ( Magoo) McGowan, John ( Johnny O) Olivero, Nick Dawe, Kyle Morgan, Rick Stanley, Ron Reid, Teresita ( Teddy) McCarthy, Des McCarthy, and Tom Spracklin.

Thank you for your efforts folks.

 

For a comprehensive line-up of who will be working on the project, visit my friend and co-leader’s blog… Thanks Jill.

http://www.intotheplanet.com/newfoundland/

 

Building the odds in favor of a good outcome…

LongO'THREE

A simple tip from the closest thing you’ll find to an expert

I have one of the best jobs imaginable… I get to dive for a living. It has drawbacks just like any job… I spend a lot of time away from home and the people I love; sometimes I am compelled to jump into the water when all I really want to do is sit on my arse and veg out; and there are few constants in a very fluid and organic field of research about diving, which means lots of reading, lots of lectures, lots of changes in what we teach and what we reject.

However, there are also a bunch of positives… including the list of things on the drawback list: I travel, I dive a lot, I get to feed my brain new stuff all the time.

One of the best things though is the people I meet. The so-called technical diving community is packed with cool folks. These are the men and women with open minds, boundless curiosity, and a willingness to share what they’ve discovered. They are stellar human beings and it’s a gas to hang out with them, and learn from them.

One guy who always has something interesting to say is Dr. Neal Pollock. Neal is ex-pat Canadian scientist. He’s a research physiologist working in the States, and has a background in zoology, exercise physiology and environmental physiology. He is also a diver and part of his research relates to decompression stress.

He also has a very “English” sense of understated humor in his writing and presentation style which appeals to me. I particularly appreciate lines such as: “The approximation of decompression status predicted by current deterministic algorithms should not be confused with ‘truth.'” Honest, insightful, and funny.

Anyhow, his latest blog is a hugely interesting read. It’s entitled “Flexible Control of Decompression Stress” and you’ll find it here: https://www.shearwater.com/news/flexible-control-of-decompression-stress/

Take the time to visit and read. You’ll learn something.