A few weeks ago I began my Advanced Open Water certification. Jerry, my Open Water instructor, was my instructor again for Advanced Open Water. My classmates were three guys, and my dive buddy was a guy who had only been diving in warm tropical water before. He thought seeing a wreck on Lake Michigan would be exciting, but he wasn’t thrilled about going to Pearl Lake in Illinois for some of our dives because he thought it would be boring.
The dives we were doing for our certification were Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Navigator, Search and Recovery, Wreck Diving and Deep Diving. Jerry had us come to the store on a Thursday to go over the bookwork and practice using a compass and tying knots.
On Saturday we went down to Pearl Lake to do our Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Navigator, and Search and Recovery dives. It took my buddy and I a while to get into the water. Since he had never been diving in cold water, he wasn’t sure what to wear under his wetsuit and he didn’t know what order to put things on in. I suggested he wear the compression shorts he had brought rather than a regular swimsuit that would bunch under the wetsuit and walked him through how to get all his gear on.
Once we were in the water, Jerry explained to us once more what we would be doing for our first dive, Peak Performance Buoyancy. We did a weight check at the beginning of our dive when our tanks were full, then we descended to one of the platforms on the lake. Jerry was super excited when we got to the platform because a jellyfish was hanging out there. It was the first time he had seen a freshwater jellyfish. Unfortunately, since it was a training dive, I had not brought my camera, so we weren’t able to get a picture of it. Still, it was nice to show my dive buddy that our wildlife can be just as cool as the things he’s seen in the tropics. During our dive, we focused on trying to get as close to the bottom as possible without running into things and staying trim as we swam. Jerry led us along some of the wrecks in Pearl and to some areas where the lake floor changes so we could practice adjusting our buoyancy as the environment around us changed.
Our second dive was our Underwater Navigator dive. Jerry told us to be sure to watch our pressure gauges because he has had more people, both instructors and students, run out of air on this dive than any other training dive he’s done. He set a line from our platform to a wreck 100 feet away and had us swim it. We had to keep track of how much time elapsed as we swam, and how many kicks it took us. A kick count is when one leg returns to the same position, so you have to pick your favorite leg and count how many times you kick with only that leg. It took me one minute and 24 kicks to swim 100 feet. When we got back to the platform, Jerry helped us set a heading on our compasses and sent us out into the water. If we stayed on our heading and counted our kicks correctly, we should be able to find the wreck we had been to before, which we all did. Once we got there, we had to set a reciprocal heading and find our platform again. Our third task was to navigate a square. From the platform we had to follow our compasses and count our kicks to get back out to the wreck, then we had to turn our compass heading 90 degrees to make sure we turned and were on a perpendicular heading from where we had been going. We counted our kicks again, so at 24 kicks I should have been the same distance from the wreck, 100 feet, that the wreck was from the platform. Then we turned our compass heading another 90 degrees and counted our kicks to go another hundred feet back the way we had come. At this point we were supposed to be 100 feet away from the platform we had started on, so turning my compass heading 90 degrees one more time and swimming for 24 kicks should have brought me back to the platform, and it did. We all successfully were able to navigate a square pattern and make it back to the platform. Our last skill was navigating by using geological features instead of our compasses. This was the skill I was most nervous about, but it turned out to be really easy. Jerry took us out to the wreck we had been swimming back and forth to and signaled to us that we were to navigate back to the platform by looking at the geology of the lake floor and figuring out which way to go. Since we had been back and forth between the wreck and the platform so many times already, we were pretty familiar with the features we should be looking for and we all made it back to the platform with no problems. We finished the dive fairly low on air, as Jerry had said we would, but there weren’t any emergencies and we all completed all the skills.
The third dive was the Search and Recovery dive. During our surface interval, Jerry had us practice the knots we would have to tie so we would all be comfortable tying them underwater. I grew up around boats and sailing, so I was confident in my knot tying skills, but the guys were having a few issues and worried they wouldn’t be able to do it. When we got to the platform, the had a few struggles with the knots, but they got through them correctly and passed the skill. Then we swam out to a more open area away from any platforms or wrecks to practice searching. We did a circular search pattern where one buddy stayed in the center holding the end of a reel line while the other buddy swam a circle around him with the other end of the reel. The buddy in the center would signal the searching buddy when he had made a full circle by tugging on the line. The searching buddy would let out more line and make a wider circle for the search. While we were practicing the searching technique, Jerry would drop a snorkel for us to find. The other buddy team went first, so my buddy and I stayed out of the way and made friends with a friendly baby perch. Because we had kicked up a lot of muck during this skill, when it was my turn to search, visibility wasn’t very good. When my buddy was searching, I couldn’t even see him because the bottom was stirred up so badly. I watched the direction the line was pulling so I would know where he was in his circle and would be able to signal him when he had made a full circle. Even with visibility issues, we all found the snorkel. Our last skill was the U-Search pattern. For this search, we zig-zagged making parallel lines as we looked for an anchor Jerry had put down. We were again using 100 feet as our max distance, so we had to count our fin kicks. For this search pattern, one buddy would navigate while the other searched. The buddy navigating would take us on our compass heading for 100 feet, then turn 90 degrees and go a few feet over. We used about five kicks for our distance to move over. Once we were a few feet away from our first line, we turned 90 degrees again to make a reciprocal from our first 100 feet. By going 100 feet, turning a few feet, then going back the same way 100 feet, we were essentially swimming in a U, hence the name of the search pattern. We continued this pattern until we found the anchor, then Jerry took us back to the platform where the other buddy team was waiting. We followed them during their search because once they had found the anchor, we would be floating it with a lift bag. The person with the most air in their tank filled the lift bag with his octopus to start floating the anchor. As it rose and the air in the lift bag expanded, he wasn’t able to vent the lift bag quickly enough and it started to ascend out of his control a few feet from the surface. We all cleared out of the way of the uncontrolled ascent of the lift bag and anchor so we wouldn’t get hit by it, then recovered it at the surface.
We finished the day at Pearl Lake having completed 3 of the 5 dives we need to get our advanced certifications. The weather that week hadn’t been good, so Jerry called the boat captain who was supposed to take us out on Lake Michigan the next day to make sure the charter was still going. The captain made the decision to cancel the charter for the next day and reschedule it for the next week when the weather would be better.
The next week on Lake Michigan we were going to the Prins Willem V, a freighter that sank in 1954, to complete our Wreck dive and Deep dive. The waves were 2-3 feet, which did not seem that bad on the boat and I was told wasn’t bad for Lake Michigan. When I got in the water, though, I started to feel sick and hyperventilating. I did manage to get under the water, but decided to call the dive. When I went to swim back to the ladder, my first stage got caught on the mooring line, so I got bounced around for a minute before I was able to free myself. I wasn’t able to get up the ladder by myself, so Jenny and Austin, who also work at Aquatic Adventures, had to pull me on board and help me out of my gear. While we waited for the divers to come back, Jerry Guyer, the captain of our boat, the Len-Der, showed me how to watch for divers coming back (look for bubbles near the line) and how to tell if someone has an issue like a freeflowing regulator (the air will shoot the water up in a geyser instead of just making bubbles). He had me help check the divers back in by writing down the time they got back to the boat on his charter log and taking the numbers we had clipped to their gear so we knew who was on the boat and who was still in the water. The water calmed down a lot during the surface interval, so I thought about doing the second dive, but when everyone was ready to get back in the water, the waves were even worse than the first dive. I decided to stay on the boat and another diver decided to call his dive and stay on the boat as well.
Jerry decided since I wasn’t able to do the Deep and Wreck dives on Lake Michigan, he would take me back to Pearl Lake the next weekend with his Open Water class. I did the Wreck dive on one of the sailboats in the lake. The Open Water class consisted of 6 new divers and during the dive they were bumping into me a lot because they were still learning how to control their buoyancy and be aware of the people and things around them. The amount of people running into made me very nervous and I started hyperventilating again. Vince, the divemaster Jerry had brought along, stayed with me as I calmed down and Jerry took the Open Water class on a tour of the lake. Vince and I spent some time swimming around the sailboat until my mask started to flood. I’d gotten some hair caught in it, breaking the seal. Because of the gloves and hood I was wearing, I wasn’t able to adjust my mask and hair. At about 15 feet, I started to panic and swam to the surface, even though I knew how to clear my mask and knew there was nothing to be afraid of. Since shooting to the surface the way I did can be extremely dangerous, I told Vince that I wouldn’t be able to do the Deep dive until I was more comfortable that I wouldn’t panic again.
Jerry decided that he will do the Deep dive with me during Aquatic Adventures’ trip to Bonaire in January where I won’t have to worry about having a hood and gloves on. In the meantime, since I completed four of the dives and have my Underwater Photographer certification, he decided to certify me as an Adventure Diver.