Saturday, 4 August 2012

TEKCAMP 2012

I’m not a comedian and I’m not very imaginative so bear with me however this is my write up of possibly one of the best weeks diving you will have in the UK.

Unfortunately I was unable to make TekCamp last year due to work and I was determined to make this year’s event, so as soon as the tickets went on sale I purchased the £350 5 session package.  For those of you who have never heard or experienced TekCamp allow me to give you a brief history.  TekCamp was originally started last year by Martin and Amy Stanton, owners of Vobster Quay.  Although not completely sold out, it was a great success according to all that went.  This year TekCamp got even bigger with 12 of the UK’s best diving instructors (up from last year’s 10) including; Martin Robson, Phil Short, Rich Walker, Paul Toomer, Mark Powell, Vikki Batten, Howard Payne, John Kendall, Jim Dowling, Kieran Hatton, Mike Potts and Phill Grigg participating along with 40 budding technical divers.  There were 2 packages available; a £350 5 dive session and a £575 9 dive session which included the following:
·                Five or nine in-water workshops tailored to your specific needs with up to five different tech instructors!
·                Five day guest pass to Vobster Quay.
·                Closed Circuit Rebreather try-dive.
·                DPV try-dive. 
·                Daily two half hour talks each lunchtime covering everything from deco theory and expedition planning to cave diving and rebreathers.
·                Free prize draw for all attendees to win some seriously cool diving prizes!
·                Keynote talk with guest speaker every night.
·                Unrivalled access to some of the world's top diving explorers!
·                Meet the manufacturers behind the biggest and best dive gear!
·                Free 12-month Vobster Quay Membership.
·                Free BBQ every night!
·                Free camping within walking distance.
·                Free Fourth Element TekCamp t-shirt.
·                Discounted nitrox throughout!

So here’s my story of the week….

Monday 9th July
Leaving Birmingham at 0530 in the trusty camper it was a long journey down to Vobby but the closer I got, the more excited I got.  The site opened at 0730 ready for a 0830 brief to start the week.  Arriving at 0755 I was still one of the first in so into the shop I went and filled out all the boring obligatory paperwork and renewed my membership card for another 12 months.  As it turned out I didn’t read the small print so it was off to the charging station to drain my freshly filled twins of air to be replaced with Nitrox 32.  Although, I wasn’t the only one as over the next 30 minutes of so the hissing noise from the escaping air soon became deafening when most of the other attendees did the same.  In fact, it wasn’t just attendees as most of the instructors required a fill as well.  Thinking he could beat the queue, Director of Technical Training for GUE Rich Walker tried to put his cylinders straight into the charging station with an air of “don’t you know who I am?” only to be firmly told to join the queue like everyone else.  At around 0930, an hour later than expected due to a late arrival (Mark Powell), we were all ushered into the main marquee for the arrival briefing.  This included an outline of the week, what mandatory skills were required on the first dive and most importantly, your buddies and instructor.  I was buddied up with a Dutch couple and our instructor was Rich Walker with Finbar Taylor as the safety diver.

Photo courtesy of Jason Brown at BARDOCreative
We all congregated over on the new pontoon opposite the staff car park where Rich spent time talking over equipment configuration and ended up re-configuring one of the other’s harnesses.  We then talked over the dive, including the mandatory skills (valve drill, S drill and AS ascent) and then jumped in the water (no kit) to practice back finning.   As I already knew, mine needed work as I have a lazy right leg.  We then kitted up, carried out a top to toe check and because we were one of the first in and had our choice of platforms, we headed over to the 6m platform adjacent to the confined water area.  Descending down the line we stopped prior to hitting the bottom and spent time working on trim followed by propulsion techniques; frog kick and back kick with mixed results.  We then did the mandatory valve drill (the angle of my computer hindered my wrist movement) and AS followed by an AS ascent.  Generally a good dive but I was still a little uncomfortable.  Following the dive and debriefs, Rich advised me to remove the 2kg tail weight from my cylinders (leaving no weight on my kit) and we re-adjusted my harness to aid my shut downs. 

During the surface interval we were able to collect our lunch (which was pre-ordered at breakfast) and we were treated to the first of many presentations; Project Tiger by Rich Walker and Deep CCR by Martin Robson.   Both were equally awe-inspiring although I don’t think I would dare to push the limits like Martin although I wish him all the very best in his next venture.  If you’re interested in helping out on Project Tiger feel free to contact Rich here.
 
For those of us who had less than 120 bar remaining from the first dive we needed an air top, the remainder could choose to dive with what they had left.  In the afternoon I wasn’t paired with any of the instructors so I managed to persuade the Dutch couple from my previous dive and their fellow travelers to allow me to join them in the afternoon.  Having never dived Vobster before, I agreed to lead the dive and give them a ‘guided tour’ of the underwater attractions, and video them on my GoPro.  The dive was completed without a hiccup and the visitors were treated to attractions such as the block house, Jacquin II, wheelhouse, tunnel, crushing works, swim throughs, aircraft, boat and car.  Other groups started their various workshops which included line laying, ascents and CCR try-dives.

After the second dive it was the obligatory kit strip and then the cylinders were drained and taken over to the charging station.  With over 70 twinsets and stage cylinders it was going to be a long night for Tim and his team. 

The BBQ was soon underway and the drinks were flowing so it was off to the marquee for the first of the keynote speaker talks; World Record Diving in Pozo Azul by John Volanthen. After listening to his talk one can only imagine how you can possibly dive whist towing not only the equipment you need for the dive, including bail out, but camping and cooking equipment.  John, along with Martin earlier really put our own diving achievements into insignificance. 

After the lectures it was a few more drinks before heading over to the campsite just a short drive away.  The site itself was pretty basic, just a field with a couple of power units, drinking water tap and portaloos, so for most divers it was the Ritz.  Quite a few of the TekCamp attendees had arrived the previous night so were fully set up however my buddy Mark and I set up our mobile hotel next to Ian France of Diving Matrix.  On a serious note, although basic, Martin has plans to upgrade the site for next year to include a toilet and shower block and more electric power units.  For those wishing to stay in style there is the adjacent B&B. 

Tuesday 10th July
With the alarm buzzing away at 0700 it was a quick change parade and off to Vobster.  On arrival my initial plan was to grab my cylinders to I could be an apprentice German and grab a spot on the kitting up benches.  This idea was short lived when I looked inside the charging station and realized mine were at the back.  It was then off to the shower block for to freshen up and then on to the burger van for breakfast and pre-order lunch.  I finally collected my cylinders only to analyze the gas at 23% and not the requested 32%.  I left them in the capable hands of Tim whilst I attended the morning’s briefs.  Things were gathering pace today with more workshops and I found that I was buddied with me mate Mark under the instruction of IANTD UK Training Director and the Dark Lord himself Phil Short doing “failures” with John Shaw as safety.

After the initial brief on the dive we did our top to toe checks and dropped in.  John led the dive and we descended down to the Jacquin II however the third diver had ear problems and had to abort the dive so he ascended with John.  The remaining three of us then went to the wheelhouse where we did another valve/isolation drill (spot on this time) followed by an OOG scenario.  I was to be Phil's rescuer during the demo.  At one end of the wheelhouse we were to simulate a primary regulator failure (switch and isolate) then a backup regulator failure, breathe out and then pull ourselves along the railings (without breathing, although you were to keep your regulator in your mouth) to your rescuer and give the OOG signal.  Once you could breathe and the rescuer had sorted his long hose/light canister cable, you simulated “calling the dive” and both swam back along the railings to the start point.  At this point the drill ended, all valves were turned on (checked by Phil) and hoses/regulators re-stowed.  The demo went fine and I was the OOG diver for the first practice.  The shut downs went well and I headed along the railings.  At this point I will admit that I did breathe through my regulator.  Oops.  The rest of the drill was carried out fine.  Our buddy’s ears had cleared so he and John joined us and watched Mark's practice.  For some reason whilst switching regulators I had a free flow from my backup regulator.  Although I had just proven that I could isolate, this actually helped reinforce the reasons behind team diving because as I started to reach for the valve, Phil reached over and turned it off, then re-pressurized the system.  Problem solved.  Once all 3 of us had had a go we then went to the Jacquin II for more propulsion techniques.  With Phil's cave background we practiced modified frog, back kick and modified flutter at various points on the wreck.  It is here that video footage definitely helps and is why I use it on my own courses (here).  It was then back to the wheelhouse for more AS drills followed by an AS ascent.  For this we split into pairs and again I was buddied with Mark.  The drill went well and Mark deployed his 1 breath bag (DSMB).  The ascent didn’t exactly go to plan as Mark nearly had a couple of buoyancy issues which resulted in the long hose nearly being pulled from my mouth and then he managed to pull the bag back under much to Phil's amusement.  We all reached the surface and had the long swim back in.  On the surface we de-kitted, put the cylinders (not singles, double or tanks for you Americans or GUE crew!) in for charging and de-briefed. 

By now the trade stands were set up so over lunch we could enjoy chatting to, seeing or trying out the new kit from Hollis, VR Technology, Fourth Element and Oceanic.  PADI were also around selling their range of tecrec courses and Sport Diver magazine were about reporting.  In particular, Hollis had their new range of BioDry dry suits available to try and most of the instructors and attendees who used them sang their praises.  On inspection they seem very well built with the added bonus of user replaceable neck and wrist seals using a ring system.  They also had the new lightweight F2 fins; the only pair in the country.  They are very light compared to my F1’s.  Fourth Element also had their range of under suits available to try but the biggest hit proved to be the new Core Bodywarmer.  All of these we gone by the end of the week, mainly to the instructors (but I bet they didn’t pay!).

Lunchtime saw me tucking into my tuna cheese jacket potato whilst listening to today’s presentations; Mark Powell on Deco Myths and Jim Dowling on Sharm El Sheikh cave projects.  Another (not so) brief from Martin informed me I wasn’t in a workshop in the afternoon (shoulda gone for the 9 dive session) and because I was Billy no mates I couldn’t find a buddy.  After a few hours of walking around filming and taking pictures I accepted I wasn’t diving so drained my cylinders and packed up my kit.  I should praise Vobster as there were dry suit drying rails set up above the wet area in the changing rooms and rails in the drying room for any wet under suits.  Mark was lucky enough to trydive the VR Technology Sentinel CCR with Phill Grigg and by all accounts had a great time.

The day was wrapped up in a similar manor to the previous with a BBQ and beers followed by a talk by Phil Short entitled The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; 20 years in diving (technically 22 years).  Delivered in Phil's typical manor it was informative and humorous; diving has come a long way!  100m in Dorothea on a Buddy Commando anyone?

Wednesday 11th July
Wednesday started in a similar vain to Tuesday except all the timings were brought forward by an hour to allow everyone to get to Wookey Hole for the evenings talk.  This time my cylinders were visible so I was able to grab them and get setup.  To be honest I was feeling a little pikey shaving in a sink next to a 3m long urinal but I’ve done far worse so I couldn’t complain.  Apeks and Atomics were onsite today to show their wares; in particular the Apeks sidemount kit seemed popular. 

Following Martin’s brief, I was down for a VR Technology Sentinel CCR try-dive with Mike Potts.  Having recently completed my BSAC MOD 1 on an AP Diving Inspiration Vision (here) I was keen to try a back mounted counter-lung CCR.  After a quick show and tell we jumped into the confined water area and carried out some basic skills including buoyancy and bail outs (both onboard BOV and offboard OC).  From here we exited through the window and had a 40 minute dive along the 12m shelf exiting in front of the burger van.  I personally found it a lovely unit to dive; much nicer than the Inspiration however I was over weighted.  I needed to keep my dry suit OPV shut to maintain buoyancy.  Would I buy one if I could afford it?  Possibly however one dive does not reveal the daily maintenance.  I would also wish to try the JJ-CCR and R-Evo before making an expensive decision which could horribly backfire.

Mark and I had decided the previous night we needed to get some more in-water time in.  12 hours each day was spent at Vobby and yet I had only done 3 dives.  Lunch arrived and I collected my traditional jacket potato before listening to talks by Director of Technical Training for SSI Paul Toomer and GUE instructor John Kendall.  For whatever reasons both were put together at short notice but were equally good.  Paul's talk was on Bikini Atoll and I quote “you need to sell a lung/breast/testicle and get out there”.  Where else in the world would you find brass portholes and diver helmets where they lie?  Amazing.  John's talk was on Micro-Projects and about why not dive for a purpose; in particular a presentation about a cave mapping survey he did and a project off Chesil Beach where a number of cannons and anchors have so far been found.  The history behind this would take too long however GUE strongly encourage their divers to use their skills for a purpose and have set-up Project Baseline.  GUE-UK has their own webpage on it or look at their Facebook page.  If you’re interested in assisting in any of the planned projects feel free to contact John here

One thing that was taking its toll was the cake the burger van sold.  At £1.50 it was a little pricey but boy it was worth it.  So, how should one burn off those calories?  Probably go for a decent dive and burn it off with the finning.  Mark and I decided to do the complete opposite instead opting for some scooter action with the Halcyon R14.  Slightly different to the Silent Submersion we’re used to with regards to the trigger mechanism, we had a little fun underwater however this time Mark was sidemounting instead of using his twinset.  After 45 minutes we got bored and called the dive, returned the scooters and headed back in to consolidate some skills and drills.  Earlier on in the week I had asked Jason Brown from BARDOCreative to take a few photos that I could use on my website however being ambushed whilst exiting the water covered in snot wasn’t what I was expecting.  Come on Jason, screw the nut!  During the third dive the intention was to film each other using our GoPros however Mark's battery died whilst I was doing my valve drill.  Mark then noticed one of his sidemounts was empty??? so switched and deployed his DSMB just as Phil Short decided to buzz us on his scooter.  As we were about to ascend his working regulator decided to start free flowing from the first stage so I donated the long hose and we aborted the dive.  On closer inspection at the surface whilst de-kitting the leak was coming from a loose hose.  This was nipped up and to Mark's discovery the reason his cylinder was empty is because the valve has managed to roll off as he was moving his arm.  A quick flick of the wrist and the SPG was happily reading 160 bar.  Mental note; keep checking the valve.  De-kit and dinner as usual before heading over to the evenings presentation; Guided Tour of Wookey Hole by Dr Duncan Price at Wookey Hole. 

Wookey Hole was an amazing place and Duncan was a fantastic guide; my write up wouldn’t be able to do it justice so I’m not even going to try.  Hopefully for those of you who have never been will be able to experience it next year.  Just one question; how do I get to dive the place?  I’m cave trained!





Once the tour was finished a few of us headed back and popped over to the Vobster Inn for a few beers before getting our head down at the camp site.

Thursday 12th July
I woke up without the alarm, I don’t know how as the week was taking its toll (like this blog).  The standard morning routine passed and I awaited the mornings brief from Martin.  Today saw the arrival of more trade stands; Santi, Miflex and Poseidon.  Santi had a range of suits to try out including the E.Lite.  I have to admit it’s an amazing suit but at around £1600 it ought to be.  I can’t justify getting one as my O’Three is only 2 years old, BUT, it would be at the top of my list when I do need a new one.  John was also trying out the new E.Motion suit.  Its super lightweight ripstop makes it ideal for travelling but because of this it’s really thin.  I don’t know how it would hold up to lots of abuse around caves.  Like Fourth Element, Santi also had a bit hit with a certain piece of kit; a blackout mask.  A lot of the instructors also bought one, sometimes two of these as it’s ideal for training; I was lucky enough to be one of the few non-pros who also managed to get one.  If you’re interested in purchasing a Santi suit or have any questions feel free to contact John here.

More workshops started today with the addition of GUE training, line laying, Poseidon’s MKVI CCR but first there was breathing techniques with Darth Phil.  In the upper car park Phil talked about how our bodies and minds react in an emergency and how our breathing can affect us.  He started off the demonstration by conducting a minute of light exercise which would simulate our bodies’ behavior whilst finning during a dive.  After this minute he breathed out and proceeded to walk as far as he could before giving the OOG signal and simulating taking an AS and clearing it.  Once recovered he repeated the same exercise, this time after no exertion, and surprise surprise, managed a longer distance.  The third demonstration was after a minute of relaxation breaths and the total distance was 2-3 time further than the original.  We then split into 2 groups and tried the same exercises.  The result, if you can control your breathing during a problem you have more time to resolve the problem before things descend into a blind panic.



Photo courtesy of Jason Brown at BARDOCreative
Back to the water’s edge I was with TDI Instructor Trainer Mark Powell and two others and the aim was personal development.  After we had all briefed Mark on our requirements it was decided to work on team position, valve drills, buoyancy and trim, AS and gas switching (me only).  As an added pressure Mark also made me watch the students from an instructor point of view and lead the de- brief.  Shelly was back on OC as she now normally dives a VR Technology Sentinel, however it wasn’t hers which meant she may have a few dramas.  Couple this with the fact it wasn’t fully charged (despite being told so) I had my concerns.  I opted to lead the dive as the senior diver and we descended down and conducted our bubble check and S-drill.  This took longer than expected due to class control issues as another joined the line after we were on it and Shelly’s buoyancy issues.  Once complete we headed towards the Jacquin II where again Shelly had a few issues so she called the dive and ascended with the safety diver.  The remainder of us continued on our merry way when Mark threw in a valve drill and to be honest, I cocked it up.  Would it have worked?  Yes.  However my buoyancy wasn’t spot on and I didn’t switch back onto my long hose before shutting off my left post but I realized this half way through turning it off.  Moving on there was buoyancy and frog kick practices and then my buddy has an OOG.  We then moved onto back finning (I still have a lazy right leg, and I ascend slightly due to being in a slight head down position; should be fixed in the sea with a 2kg tail weight) finishing off with a DSMB deployment.  At 6m Mark made me do another valve drill however this one was completed without a hitch and I also conducted my gas switch using Mark as my buddy, again without a hitch.  On the surface I led the debrief using the GoPro footage and Mark finished off giving me a few hints and tips which I will take on. 
 
I collected my lunch however by now the healthy option has been replaced by a double cheese and bacon burger with a side order of cake.  In the words of Peter Kay “diet starts Monday…”. 


During the day there was a surprise visit from Kevin Gurr of VR Technology who was testing the new Hollis Explorer CCR.  I didn’t get to see too much of it and I certainly don’t know too much about it other than it’s very white. 

The lunchtime presentation was by Kieran Hatton on diving in Norway which is somewhere I’ve wanted to dive for ages.  After lunch Mark and I were buddied with Paul Toomer on a Poseidon MKVI CCR try-dive however as Mark had already got one booked with the Poseidon the following day we managed to do stage handling with John Shaw as safety.  All of us entered the water with 2 stage cylinders (all Ali 80’s) and headed off towards the 6m platforms.  En-route Paul started throwing cylinders about so at times we were carry 4 stages.  Once at the aircraft all cylinders were left for a ditch and retrieve exercise before heading over to the 9m platform.  From here we waited whilst Paul laid out a line and we gave him our cylinders.  The scenario was you were in a cave & had lost your mask/primary/backup lights (ie, pitch f-ing black) and had to make you way out.  En-route you had to collect your own stage cylinders which had been dropped on the way in.  To simulate the blackout we would be using the Santi blackout mask I discussed earlier.  Simples…  As I had done cave training Mark volunteered me to go first so I followed the line until the turnaround point and headed back where I came across the selection of cylinders.  Bumbling around in the dark and kicking up the vis not doubt I successfully managed to retrieve my cylinders; not Mark's, not Paul's but mine.  How did I do this?  Well on mine I have a 12” (oh er) LP hose to either a. act as a backup suit inflator when diving mixed gas or b. to connect a RescuEAN to.   Mark then carried out the same drill with equal success as his cylinders were mounted for side-mount and had non-traditional mounting kits fitted.

The evenings keynote talk was RMS Titanic: 2 1/2 Miles Down by Kevin Gurr however I missed it as I was doing my SDI RescuEAN instructor course with Mark Powell  The BBQ was as ever fantastic and the alcohol was flowing when it suddenly dawned; only one day left.  The evening was again finished off with a few beers at the Vobster Inn.

Friday 13th July
Unlucky for some?  Not for the intrepid TekCamp as not only was today the final day it was party night and the day of the prize draw.  The weather had been mixed to say the least and the final day was typical; rain!  After the usual routine Martin informed me that I wasn’t with an instructor this morning so I asked if he needed a safety diver and to my amazement he said yes so I ended up working with Vikki Batten on Poseidon MKVI CCR try-dives.  After the mandatory HSE paperwork with Martin I was officially the bitch and proceeded to gather Vikki's student paperwork and equipment.  Vikki had two students so it was decided to give a centralized brief followed by an individual confined water experience then an open water dive to a maximum of 5m.  Apart from Vikki's suit flooding things went fine.  I collected my lunch (diet starts Monday) and was about to settle down and listen to The Shipwreck Project by Simon Brown when Mark announced that he needed a safety diver for his Poseidon MKVI CCR.  Begrudgingly I agreed so the two of us plus Adam from Poseidon jumped in and had an uneventful dive with us getting out just in time for me to check out the talk on EuroTek by Roz Lunn of The Underwater Marketing Company.  I had also missed a talk by Vikki  but never mind. 

For the final dive I was to be with Jim Dowling and Kieran Hatton on DPVs using the Halcyon T16.  Similar to the Halcyon R14 I used earlier (R= recreational T= Technical), either would suit most divers wishing to explore wrecks in the UK with an impressive run time; the T16 is slightly quicker but they’re both so simple to use.  Adjust the leash, attach to scooter ring, select correct speed, operate trigger, scooter…  We basically kept to a rough depth of 10 m and did a complete lap of the lake.  I however did school boy it as I hadn’t re-filled my suit inflation setup since Tuesday (although I had been checking the contents daily) which ran dry about 10 minutes into dive.  40 minutes later we emerged where we started with big smiles on our faces (if a little shrink-wrapped). 

Well that was it, TekCamp was done.  We all sorted out our kit and loaded up before being herded into the marquee for the prize draw.  There was a host of prizes on offer including an OLED VRX, Hollis SMS 50 Sidemount System, Fourth Element Core Bodywarmer, Apeks Regulators, Poseidon Xstreme Regulators, Santi Softshell Jacket, 2x Halcyon Defender Pro Spools, Atomic Frameless Mask, 2x Miflex vouchers, £250 DiveRite voucher and 2x Sport Diver magazine subscriptions.  In addition to these prizes, Gareth Lock was conduction a survey for his research and as an incentive there was a GUE coaching day on offer courtesy of James Sanderson.  We all waited in anticipation for the first draw and would you believe it; Trudy only one the OLED VRX.  She won one last year!!!  Next my buddy Mark won the Hollis SMS 50.  Throughout the draw there were varied reactions to the prizes; some were eager to win; some hoped they didn’t.  The Poseidon and Miflex prizes in particular were met with mixed reactions.



Following the draw we headed out for the group photograph (see below) and then it was party time with a hog roast and bar.  Unfortunately I couldn’t stay because there was some sports day going on in London and I was drafted back to Ipswich.

Well thanks for reading.  Next year’s event is 8-12 July 2013 with the instructors increased to 15.  If you’re even contemplating attending next year then I strongly advise you put down your deposit now as 20% were sold on the first day alone.   Tickets are now available here.

My video of the week can be seen below.


Don’t believe me!  Well listen directly from the mouths of Martin and the TekCamp instructors (plus me) here.  For official pictures of the event check out BARDOCreative’s pictures here.
 
Photo courtesy of Jason Brown at BARDOCreative

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.

Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI and SDI/TDI diver training
l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: tim@rectotec.co.uk l