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GUE Gets its Rec on

GUE is mainly known for its technical and cave diving courses, but recently the organization has been making a push to educate divers at the recreational level. Our goal is to give newer divers a stronger platform on which to develop their skills in order for them to be more confident underwater from the beginning.

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You Mean Wreck? No, R-e-c-r-e-a-t-i-o-n-a-l

By Dorota Czerny

GUE is mainly known for its technical and cave diving courses, but recently the organization has been making a push to educate divers at the recreational level. Our goal is to give newer divers a stronger platform on which to develop their skills in order for them to be more confident underwater from the beginning. Hopefully, by providing them with more in-depth skill training, scuba will become a passion rather than just a hobby.   

Taking the Plunge  

The last day of our Recreational Diver Level 1 class started in the Arabian Sea with a wreck dive approximately 30 minutes offshore. It was just a perfect mix of environmental conditions: something interesting to see, abundant underwater life, and a few challenging conditions—a blue water descent with a line from 24 m/80 ft, with some current and varying visibility.

With our first dive being deeper, I was quite cautious with my students not to exceed the limits of the course (21 m/70 ft), especially since two young ladies were diving after just five days of entry-level training. Maintaining depth without an easy-to-follow reference is always a good test for buoyancy control for both self and team awareness. In spite of my concern, the dive went smoothly. There was a lot to see and the students performed well. I was content with their performance. When the time came to call the dive, we went back to the upline to ascend. I indicated to the students to hold onto the line, as the current had picked up a bit. I backed off, leaving them space to position themselves.

Photo Credit: Julian Mühlenhaus

After we ascended a couple of meters, the students just let go of the line. My first instinct was to tell them, “hold on to the line!” But I didn’t. Instead, what I saw was a team of two trained divers, communicating clearly, maintaining the speed of ascent, maneuvering around the line in good trim using a backward kick, pausing on the planned stops, and looking very relaxed. I followed them up and even flooded my mask because I was grinning so much.

The moment we broke the surface I just said, “I am sorry.” They looked at me with a question in their eyes and I laughed aloud. “I am sorry because you do not know what good divers you are! If only you could see yourselves.” Their smiles became bigger and wider; the satisfaction of their achievement was just beaming out of them. I thought to myself, “How cool is that. The program really works!”  

This first recreational course with GUE’s new curriculum proved to me that the concept of GUE recreational training works well, even if at first it may feel counterintuitive to some instructors. The knowledge and skills are delivered to students in small chunks, with time in between to allow them to practice and reinforce their newly acquired skills. Most of those are basic skills, like buoyancy control, position in the water, and propulsion/maneuvering.

Spending time practicing basic skills may feel stressful and counterintuitive to any GUE instructor who has a long list of skills to teach, but the initial dedication to building a solid foundation works out well for newer divers. Any additional skills will be easy to teach, and easy for students to learn when they begin with a good platform.

Photo Credit: Julian Mühlenhaus

The original GUE recreational diving curriculum was created almost ten years ago in a huge effort lead by GUE Instructor Jesper Berglund, who at the time was GUE’s Recreational Training Director.  Three programs were created: Recreational Diver Levels 1, 2 and 3. The Level 1 course was arguably one of the best courses crafted in the industry, but its weakness was its ten-day length and corresponding expense, making it difficult to implement. Because of this, GUE recently revamped and launched their new recreational course program to be more accessible while still maintaining its educational quality. The main change that was made to the course was breaking the first level into two parts.

Part One: Recreational Supervised Diver

The two parts of GUE’s complete entry-level recreational program are Recreational Supervised Diver and Recreational Diver Level 1.

The Recreational Supervised Diver course requires three to four days during which the students are learning the basics of in-water work, equipment handling, pre-dive procedures, dive planning, and dive theory. The course can be finalized at this stage with a certification allowing the diver to conduct dives under the supervision of a dive professional up to 12 m/40 ft using nitrox 32.

The divers are able to plan and execute their dives, including calculating their minimum gas requirements, properly analyzing and marking their breathing gas, as well as preparing and handling gear independently. The course is conducted using a single tank, GUE-configured equipment set with a backplate, wing, and long-hose regulator setup. If the students are trained in cold water, then they are using drysuits as soon as their third confined (pool) session is completed. For Recreational Supervised Diver there are a total of eight confined (pool) sessions before their open water dives.

The course includes foundational skills like:

  • Buoyancy and trim
  • Propulsion and maneuvering techniques
  • The basic 5 skills: recovering, clearing and switching regulators, long hose deployment, mask clearing, mask removal and replacement, gas sharing scenarios including a gas-sharing ascent
  • Basic rescue skills
  • Basic equipment failure management

Recreational Supervised Divers complete a minimum of two open water dives as part of their class. After certification, the diving professional who will be guiding them is expected to take care of underwater navigation, advanced emergency handling, ascents using an SMB, and ensuring that the students build up their experience, which is such a critical part of the learning process. We recommend that these new divers dive with a GUE dive center and dive leaders, as it will enhance their skills, the post-training experience, and of course how much fun they have.

Part Two: Recreational Diver Level 1

The next stage in their training is a full GUE Recreational Diver Level 1 certification that builds on previous experiences and adds to the skills that will make them and their team qualified to execute safe dives to 21 m/70 ft on nitrox 32. The theory includes more detailed dive planning, environmental awareness, decompression theory, and reinforcement (i.e., review) of previously acquired knowledge.

The course includes two additional pool sessions for a total of ten, introduces SMB handling, additional equipment failure emergency management, advanced descending/ascending techniques, and full surface rescue skills. There are also four additional open water dives, making for a total of six, to add as much in-water experience as possible in order to reinforce the practical use of students’ newly acquired skills.

GUE recreational courses are not about “ticking off” skills on a list; they are more about letting the students practice the tools they have been taught in their class and showing them how to apply them to real dive conditions. More importantly, it’s about having FUN, feeling in-control, being confident, and making the right decisions based on their understanding of what is going on around them.

GUE’s entry-level training can be conducted as a continuous (single) course, leading to a Recreational Diver Level 1 certification, or as two separate courses. Typically it will take five to six days (or an equivalent of not less than 40 hours of instruction). Done all at once, the course can be demanding, but with dedication and good logistics, it is an enjoyable experience with fast and satisfying progression. As with all GUE classes, the minimum is defined, but maximizing students’ in-water time is encouraged and recommended. If more time is needed, well, then it should be granted!

Those who prefer to take the time and allow for more experience in between sessions, or who want to break the training into Supervised and Recreational Diver 1, are encouraged to do so. Gaining more in-water experiences between courses will only enhance students’ confidence and skills.

Our Goal? Create Confident Divers

With 10 pool sessions, six open water dives, and a good amount of theory, GUE entry-level training requires more time than a typical recreational class. For example, a PADI open water class requires five pool sessions and four open water dives, and on average is conducted over three to four days. We aspire not just to certify divers but to create confident divers. Completing a task list is not the goal; education, progression, maintenance of skills, and motivation to dive is. The certification is just a formality.

Photo Credit: Dorota Czerny

No practical or theoretical knowledge can endure without experience; nothing can be mastered without repetition, properly chosen corrective feedback, genuine and targeted positive reinforcement, and giving the diver an opportunity to apply it. Individuals who wish to become divers must be given enough time to process knowledge and have a proper environment to learn the needed tools. They also need a mentor (instructor) who takes the time and patience to guide their learning process, criticize when needed, and praise when deserved.

One added benefit of completing a recreational course through GUE’s program is the dive community that comes with it. Because we are team-based divers, we have strong communities in over 90 countries that are regularly diving. Having a team to regularly dive with is something that can be hard for new divers to find. GUE groups make that easy by welcoming divers at all levels of experience. GUE groups provide opportunities for those divers to get in the water and can connect new divers to mentors that will ease their way into the joys of diving.



Dorota Czerny has been an active scuba instructor for nearly 20 years. She started as a PADI instructor, worked in Egypt for almost 10 years in a busy dive center in Hurghada, and joined GUE in 2004 and never looked back. She is currently GUE’s Recreational Administrator (responsible for both recreational and foundational curricula), a member of the Board of Directors, and teaches GUE instructors, and recreational and technical diving.  

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Out of the Depths: The Story of British Mine Diving

If sumps and solo cave diving are, well, a bit too Brit for you, you may want to consider diving into the perfusion of flooded serpentine chert, copper, limestone, silica, slate, and tin mines that honeycomb the length and breadth of the Kingdom. Fortunately, British tekkie and member of UK Mine/Cave Diving (UKMC) in good standing, Jon Glanfield, takes us for a guided tour.

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By Jon Glanfield
Header image courtesy of Alan Ball.

When many think of the UK’s caves, with wet rocks and their penchant for darkness, often the images conjured are of tight, short, silty sumps, that can only be negotiated by intrepid explorers outfitted with diminutive cylinders, skinny harnesses, wetsuits and typically a beard. These are the domain and natural playground of the well-known, highly-respected, Cave Diving Group (CDG). 

In truth, much of our sceptered isle’s caves are of this ilk, but there is an alternative for the diver who favours a more conventional rig, extra room to manoeuvre, and perhaps a more team-orientated approach—one that is less than optimal in many of the true cave diving environments of the UK.

Holme Bank. Photo by Ian France.

Alongside our natural cave diving venues, we also sport a varied collection of flooded mines across the length and breadth of the Kingdom. In the south and southwest, miners have extracted metals such as tin and  copper, while in South Wales it was the mineral, silica. The Midlands Linley Caverns were a source of limestone before being converted to a subterranean munitions store in WWII. Sadly, access to these is no longer feasible. In the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales, flinty, hard chert strays close enough to the surface to be mined. In North Wales, the once-proud slate industry has left its Moria and Mithril redolent halls and tunnels beneath the landscape, while copper and slate underlay parts of Cumbria. Meanwhile, just over the border in Scotland, limestone was the resource that drove us to follow its veins into the earth.

Mike Greathead descending the stairway to heaven. Photo by Ian France.

Undeniably, here in the UK, mine diving has a much shorter documented history than that of its close cousin cave diving, but some of the luminaries of this dark world were, and are, active in both. Some of the initial dives in sites like the Cambrian slate mine were undertaken by the incomparable Martyn Farr, Geoff Ballard, and Helen Rider in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2014 that it was further explored and lined by the likes of Cristian Christea, Ian France, Michael Thomas, and Mark Vaughan amongst others. 

Both Rich Stevenson and Mark Ellyatt, who were part of the vanguard of the technical diving revolution in the UK, had personal dramas on trimix dives in the deep shaft of the Coniston Copper Mines, the depth of which runs to 310 m/1012 ft. Ellyatt made his dive at 170 m/555 ft in the early 2000s in a vertical 2 m/6.5 ft square shaft, dropping away into the 6º C/43º F frigid blackness.

Mines Over Matter

As was alluded to, the differences in cave and mine diving are significant. Conventional, redundant open and closed technical rigs can be employed in mine diving due to the predictably larger tunnels, passages, and chambers. Water movement is negligible, so often regular braided lines can be used, lines which would not endure the flow in many of the UK’s upland cave locations. Small teams can dive in safely. 

No Exit. Photo by Chris Elliot.

In general, it is not common to surface and explore the sumped sections of the mines, due to often dangerously contaminated or hypoxic air quality. Also, in some cases, oils and other contaminants have leached into the water. The ever-present risk of collapse—both in the submerged sections and in the dry access adits or portals—haunt divers’ thoughts and is far more common in mines than in the smooth, carved bore of a naturally-formed cave. Casevac (the evacuation of an injured diver) is complex, long-winded, and often dangerous for those involved, and in the event of an issue involving serious decompression illness (DCI), almost certainly helicopter transportation would be necessary given the remote locations.

Landowner access—or, more commonly, denial of access—is an ubiquitous spectre in the underground realm, dry or wet, and much effort is directed at maintaining relations with landowners to safeguard the resources. Some of the most frequented mines are accessible only via traverse of private property, which could be agricultural, arboreal, and in one case, bizarrely on the grounds of an architectural firm. Careful management of these routes into the mines is critical, as is demonstrating respect for the land owner and complying with their requirements when literally on their turf.

At the more prosaic level though, simply getting into some of the mines is a mission on its own, necessitating divers’ decent levels of fitness, the use of hand lines, and sometimes as much consideration of dry weight to gas volume as the dive planning itself. Careful thought and prior preparation are also required in terms of both accident response and post-dive decompression stress, given the exertion expenditure simply to clear the site.

A passageway in Aber Las. Photo by D’Arcy Foley.

Many of the mines are relatively shallow, mostly no more than 30 m/98 ft with exceptions in the notable and notorious Coniston, and the almost mythic levels in Croesor, extending beneath the current 40 m/130 ft galleries that are known and lined. Though, what the mines lack in depth, they make up for in distance and grandeur. 

Aber Las mine survey. Courtesy of UKMC.

Aber Las, or Lost, is more accurately a forgotten section of Cambrian that extends nearly 600 m/1961 ft from dive base at the 6 m/20 ft level, and a second level 300 m/984 ft long at 18 m/59 ft. The section features no less than 35 sculpted chambers hewn off the haulage ways with varying dimensions and exhibiting differing slate removal techniques. Cambrian’s chambers less than a mile away are larger still, and a lost line incident here could be a very bad day given the chambers’ cavernous aspect.

In The Eye of the Beholder

Beauty is—as they say—in the eye of the beholder, but it would be disingenuous to try to draw comparisons between the UK’s mines and the delicacy of the formations in the Mexican Karst, the light effects through the structures in the Bahamian sea caves, or the sinuous power tunnels of Florida. In mines, the compulsion to dive is due in part to the industrial detritus of man, encapsulated in time and water.

In mines, the compulsion to dive is due in part to the industrial detritus of man, encapsulated in time and water.

Parallels are frequently drawn between wreck diving and mine diving, but often the violence invoked at the demise of a vessel—the massive, hydraulic inrush of fluid and the subsequent impact on the seabed—wreaks untold damage and destruction upon its final resting place. In contrast, nature reclaims her heartlands in the mines by stealth: a slow, incremental and inexorable seep of ground water, no longer repulsed by the engines from the ages of men, gradually rising through the levels to find its table. The result is often preserved tableaus of a former heritage with a rich diversity of artefacts left where last they served.

A leftover crate in the Croesor mine. Photo by Alan Ball.

Spades, picks, lanterns, rail infrastructure, boots, slowly decomposing explosive boxes, battery packs, architectural joinery, scratched tally marks, and, even in some cases, the very footprints of the long-past workers in the paste that was cloying, coiling dust clouding the passages and stairways, can be picked out in the beam of a prying LED.

Spades, picks, lanterns, rail infrastructure, boots, slowly decomposing explosive boxes, battery packs, architectural joinery, scratched tally marks, and, even in some cases, the very footprints of the long-past workers in the paste that was cloying, coiling dust clouding the passages and stairways, can be picked out in the beam of a prying LED.

Underpinning, protecting, preserving, and improving these gems of the realm is the UK Mine and Cave Diving Club (UKMC), which formed as mine diving intensified in the mid 2000s. So it was that Will Smith, D’Arcy Foley, Sasha London, Jon Carter, Mark Vaughan, and Ian France, all of whom are respected and experienced cave divers in their own right, forged the club to foster and engage with a community of like-minded divers. 

Sadly, in 2014, Will Smith fell victim to the insidious risks of contaminated air in the Aber Las mine system, which he had been lucky enough to re-discover and in which he conducted early exploratory dives as the club gained traction and direction.

As new members filter into the ranks, new ideas, new agendas, and new skill sets re-shape the club’s direction. At present, we are rebooting the club with a remastered website, focusing on new objectives and seeking opportunities to improve, catalogue, and document the resources we husband.

Lines laid in the Cambrian slate mine. Photo by Mike Greathead.

Exploration continues: the club is laying new line in some areas. What’s more, through our demonstrable respect and care for existing sites, the club is facilitating exploration in previously inaccessible sites, and lost and forgotten sites will resurface. Meanwhile, we’re improving the locations we frequent weekly for the benefit of trainees, recreational (in the technical sense) divers, and survey divers alike. Archaeological projects are rising from the ennui of lockdown; we’re establishing wider links with mine diving communities elsewhere to share techniques, data, and ultimately hospitality.

In Welsh folklore, a white rabbit sighted by miners en route to their shifts was believed to be a harbinger of ill fortune, but for Alice, following the rabbit into its hole led her to a whimsical and magical place. Be like Alice, and come visit the Wunderland!

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Jon Glanfield was lucky enough to get his first puff of compressed air at the tender age of five, paddling about on a “tiddler tank,” while his dad was taught how to dive properly somewhere else in the swimming pool. A deep-seated passion for the sport has stayed within him since then, despite a sequence of neurological bends in the late 90s, a subsequent diagnosis of a PFO, and a long lay-off to do other life stuff like kids, starting a business, and missing diving. Thankfully, it was nothing that a bit of titanium and a tube couldn’t fix. He faithfully promised his long-suffering wife (who has, at various anti-social times, taken him to and collected him from recompression facilities) that “this time it would be different” and that he was just in it to look at “pretty fishes.” So far, only one fish has (allegedly) been spotted in the mines. The ones Jon has encountered in the North Sea while wreck diving just obscured the more interesting, twisted metal.

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