By Ari Friedman, June 19, 2010
The weeks are slipping by since I took Fundies late May/early June with Bob Sherwood, and I figured I should write up a trip report before the events slip out of my brain entirely. I will try to omit some of the blow-by-blow description, because everyone has read the details of what goes on in Fundies classes in a million other reports, or has experienced the class firsthand, and because I wanted to focus a little bit more on how my experience jived with some of the common questions and controversies that surround Fundies.
Fundies was a split-weekend class for us, held at Dutch Springs quarry in Pennsylvania. Dutch has great visibility but was colder than 60F below the thermocline when we took the class. Fortunately, the thermocline during the class seemed to sit a little lower than usual, just below rather than above the training platforms.
-The other three teammates were from WV, where their mythical heated lake (the cooling water for a coal-fired power plant) had bathtub-like waters but 1-3 foot visibility.
-Two of the three had taken Fundies years earlier from Bob, and were retaking for a tech pass and also for the sheer fun and knowledge of it. The way learning should be.
-One classmate (also from WV but didn’t know the other two before the class) took the class in singles and a drysuit.
-Me, in singles/wetsuit. When I started the class I had 30 dives under my belt primarily in cold water. My wife and I had spent two eye-opening days with Bob the year prior. She was training for a marathon and a big hike this year so decided to defer Fundies to next year. My only dives this year prior to the class were the week prior to test out a drysuit during DUI Dog Days, which I did for one dive, and then Bob happened to be around and I dove wet in a big group for fun. After that fun dive, Bob remarked that my buoyancy was pretty good but we would have to work on the trim during the class, as I was feet-heavy. We talked for a minute about how to use my feet to correct that, and that was it until the big day.
-Everyone turned out to be a blast, very easygoing, there for the right reasons; and everyone, despite what they might say about themselves, came into the class with decent diving skills to start with, enough that we were there to refine things to a much higher standard, to learn to work as a true team, and to learn a few specifics.
Bob: It’s hard to say enough good things about Bob. His instruction is patient and thorough, yet he knows when to make light of things. He can look at a person and their kit and figure out what problems they will likely have in the water, and look at them in the water and figure out how to fix it through skills or lower the burden by properly configuring their gear. And he’s just plain always right, even if it takes awhile to get certain knuckleheaded students to see the wisdom in his words.
-Lectures–There were some. Having spent time with Bob previously and read a bunch, there wasn’t too much in the material that I wasn’t expecting. Some of the physiology and decompression aspects were new, as was the nitrox material (I didn’t have a nitrox card from another agency).
-Gear–Bob’s knife of doom spared few prisoners. My classmates lost a few hose protectors (with consent!). I thought I had sorted everything out in advance, but Bob still found things, including a piece of neoprene padding on my crotch strap that I had barely noticed.
-In the water – Thanks to Bob’s comments the week prior, my trim had magically sorted itself out. I still had my bobbly moments, but over the course of the class I had to spend less and less attention to making sure my trim was good. This became important, because, while the main thing I was hoping to get out of the class was probably buoyancy and trim, what I learned most related to my biggest flaw the first weekend…
I thought I had good teamwork before Fundies began. After all, my dive buddy on all 30 dives prior had been my wife, whom I was more than a little attached to. I thought we communicated acceptably well and certainly frequently enough. But nothing was going right on the team front in the water. I seemed to think what was best was to hover a little bit away and watch as teammates completed skills, content to let the group drift up or down, left or right, with nary a signal. The few times I did try to signal, I wound up grabbing a teammate who was drifting upwards to alert them, which received a wagging finger from Bob.
Bob finally began to get it through my thick skull just what communication and teamwork entailed, but signaling was still hard without a primary. So after the first few dives went well as far as in-water control went, Bob handed me his spare primary light. That should have made communicating better. Except that now every stray moment would blast some poor teammate with the 21W light (aka the laser beam). Managing the cord had a few minor subtleties to be learned, but that went off acceptably in the end.
-Basic 5 went well except for 5 (mask off), where I proceeded to have the odd sensation of knowing there’s source of air in your mouth but being oddly unable to move your chest wall enough to obtain said air. After a few moments of frustration (in which the presence of three other teammates whom I was growing to trust was most reassuring), I got the mask on and cleared, but I was not happy.
And so I went home, only to return mid-week to practice with some friends who had taken Fundies earlier in the summer. They were kind enough to hang about in 10′ of water while I swam around with no mask for long enough to largely desensitize myself to the awkward sensation.
-Overall, the little lessons seemed to be sinking in, as I felt much more comfortable in the water. Good thing, because I decided to scrimp on hotel accommodations and camp on the shores of the quarry instead. There was less gear to haul this way, but I can’t imagine how ratty I must have looked by the end of the class!
-Team – Not great, but better with each dive. By the end of the class, I definitely got that we should be able to maintain position (horizontally relative to the platform, relative to one another, and depth), but more importantly that as a member of the team if a teammate was drifting in any direction because they were distracted by a skill it was my responsibility to maintain my position as a reference and if they moved too far to signal them to pause the drill and focus on team/buoyancy/trim.
-We decided to do a night dive as a team the last night, just for fun. It was a great idea, because not only did we need a little fun dive to keep our minds on why were doing this, but at night the lights could be used for signalling. It was honestly the most relaxed dive I have ever done, knowing that teammates I trusted were in constant communication via passive signaling from the lights. Not having to constantly turn around to exchange hand OKs was an added bonus.
-No-mask swim went just swimmingly thanks to the mid-week practice, as did the swim.
-And then it was time for the eval dive, which went quite well, except I inexplicably went head-down a few times (within standards, but I’d never had trouble with head-down trim, only head-up trim before).
What I learned:
-Came in expecting to improve buoyancy/trim, but learned the most about team.
-The pre-dive check system (GUE[VSB] EDGE)is quite good, and better than the informal checks I had done previously. My mnemonic for VSB is Very Sh***y Buoyancy.
-While I wasn’t diving doubles, watching my teammates do their valve drills and deal with weighting issues allowed me to pick up doubles two weeks after class and do valve drills, etc. (with a doubles-trained buddy as mentor) while still staying in good trim. The first dive I was even considerably head-heavy, yet managed to trim them out just by body/feet positioning. That was one of those moments where you realize quite how much you’ve learned in a very short period of time.
What I would/wouldn’t do differently:
-Doubles vs. singles – I had wanted to take Fundies in doubles. Bob didn’t exactly say no, but he made one of his trademark faces when I told him I had never dove them before. So I split and plugged my brand new doubles into singles, and dove singles instead. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, given that I passed and dove doubles competently the next week, I think that allowing myself to improve skills without adding a new and major piece of equipment was probably the right call. Who knows how difficult it would have been diving doubles while learning everything else, and I may well not have picked up on many subtleties because I was so absorbed with learning how to dive the new kit. On the other hand, I’m still not at all happy with my hose routing, and having Bob’s genius sense of how to route the hoses and the exact positioning of the bands on the tanks and so forth would help immensely. However, I’m sure I’ll get it sorted out, and will even likely run into Bob at the quarry some time when he gets back from teaching abroad and take advantage of his incredible generosity in sharing his time and knowledge. If I had to do it over again, I think that, as always, Bob was right and singles was the correct choice.
-Taking it with only 30 dives under my belt – Not an issue. If you’ve been diving the BP/W / longhose setup and have reasonable buoyancy (aka if popping to the surface is a rarity for you), then you should take the class, period. Don’t wait, don’t worry about practicing the specific skills (there really aren’t that many), just do it.
Thanks for reading,
[This article originally appeared on ScubaBoard.com.]