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Never Too Late: Veteran Sports Diver Tackles GUE Fundamentals

What did a 56-year old PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor with 30-years of experience take away from her “Fundies” class? OZTek owner/operator Sue Crowe reports a rekindled “joy” of learning, new skills, new friends, and some new diving goals!

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By Sue Crowe
Header photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

“Keep your knees together, Sue.”  GUE Instructor Examiner Guy Shockey explains the details of Fundamentals, GUE’s most popular course, which he characterizes as “simple things done precisely!”

Taken aback, I quickly looked at Duncan, my instructor. The comment was delivered in a sincere, helpful tone, without a hint of a smirk. Impressive! He’d even written it on the board to remind me to practice. I grinned. Broadly. I honestly couldn’t remember anyone telling me to keep my knees together. Ever. But looking at the video footage, I could see exactly what Duncan meant. Wow. It was so obvious. My Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) Fundamentals course provided many surprises;  it also delighted, sobered, and ultimately, made me proud! 

Lots of people have asked me why, a 56-years old PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI), who has been diving consistently for 30 years, decided to take GUE Fundamentals. After all, I’d been preparing for my big trip to Antarctica. I’d done several dives in the new drysuit. I’d chosen my undergarments, and I’d organised my weights. I ought to be feeling comfortable right? I should be ready. 

Well, yes, but there is always room to learn more. The Fundamentals course, or “Fundies” as it’s called, is all about preparation: teamwork, buoyancy, trim, task loading— the fundamental skills required to go further, to explore. I’ve got a lot of GUE friends and have been eyeing the course for a while. Now seemed like the perfect opportunity to discover what all the fuss was about.  

Indeed, on day one, we were asked to state our course objectives/goals. Mine were very simple:

  • Discover for myself what GUE was about;
  • Perfect buoyancy, weight, equipment, and trim in my new drysuit BEFORE heading off to complete my absolute bucket-list top slot, diving the Antarctic; and, most importantly;
  • Have fun and learn new stuff

I had only my pride to dent, and nothing to lose.

Truth be told, I was apprehensive. I hadn’t taken a dive course for years, either as an instructor or a student. Most of the time, I felt I could hold my own around divers. I know my limitations and, for the most part, stick rigidly to them. But were my assumptions correct? I was about to find out, and reality isn’t always pretty.

Ironically, the week before starting the course, in order to practice with my new dry suit, I was diving in New Zealand with some friends who are highly experienced rebreather divers. I was diving on a single cylinder, with borrowed equipment and some borrowed fins.

The diving was amazing, but for the first couple of days I struggled. The Jetfins were too big— they flopped around on my feet, making it difficult to control the air in my feet (in my dry suit). Strangely, it wasn’t until the third day that I gave up using them and borrowed a standard pair of recreational fins. Finally, it felt like I had everything under control and I had my mojo back.

Another lesson: trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to buck the system when something doesn’t feel right.

A Little About GUE

Immediately following my NZ lesson, I smashed straight into Fundamentals. My confidence was not high. It was tough walking into the dive shop knowing I was going to be taught, and judged. Ming, my classmate, was working for her Tech pass, wearing doubles, which would enable her to move on to GUE’s technical training courses. I did the class with a single cylinder. More pressure.

Many things are said about GUE, and not all of them kind. One comment I heard repeatedly was, “GUE—where fun goes to die!”  BUT there is no denying the effectiveness of the training nor the philosophy moving forward if you have exploration in your sights. The essential philosophy is a simplified but big step up on general training agencies. GUE’s standard equipment setup and standard gases are the biggest distinguishing features.

Another BIG difference is the high level of skill taught and expected. Plus, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will pass—something that’s stated very clearly at the beginning of the course. I found it extremely reassuring. I didn’t want a certificate of participation. I wanted to deserve my card. GUE Fundamentals is exactly what it says it is: “teaching the basic fundamental skills required to be competent and to comfortably dive underwater.” It is the groundwork from which to build on.

GUE boasts an impressively high level of Instructor competency. Every GUE instructor is required to pass an annual fitness test and demonstrate both teaching and diving currency at the highest levels of their qualification. I like that, especially as you go further into more advanced levels of training and finally, exploration, deep wreck, and cave training.

I also like, and value, the idea of high level expedition teams all being on the same page, with similar diving levels, being able to react without thinking. Makes good sense to me.

Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus.

GUE Instructor Examiner Guy Shockey explains the details of Fundamentals, GUE’s most popular course, which he characterizes as “simple things done precisely!” For a detailed description of Fundamentals see: Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class.

But did I have what it takes?

Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

I chose Dive Centre Bondi (DCB) because of their reputation and the reputation of instructor and owner Duncan Paterson. Though both Dive Centre Bondi and Dive Centre Manly in Sydney were nearby and have excellent reputations, I had never dived with DCB and they didn’t know me very well. I decided that if I was going to do this, I might as well take myself completely out of my comfort zone and go with someone new. So out of my comfort zone I went. The course was four days, six dives (minimum) and usually, but not necessarily, taken over two weekends. The first weekend was a shock.

Day One: Getting Started

Duncan gave an introduction to GUE, including its philosophy and background. We were also given a series of new fin kicks to learn, a briefing on what to expect over the coming days, along with some video skills demonstrations. I was impressed.

Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

We performed a hilarious (although invaluable) walkthrough of skills in the carpark, and then, with our brains buzzing, we were off to the iconic Bondi Icebergs ocean pool—home of Sydney’s beautiful people (yikes!) to complete a swim competency test: 15 meters underwater in one breath, and a 275 meter/300 yard swim in under 14 minutes.

I was glad to get in the water. As a regular, and a strong swimmer, the worst part was walking onto the swim deck surrounded by young, gorgeous bodies (including my very lovely erstwhile fellow student, Ming, looking spectacular in a bikini). I was sporting my very middle-aged self in a black, sensible swimsuit. Ho hum!  Six minutes later, I was relieved to be back in the changing rooms, with one of the trials on our checklist ticked off.

Day Two: Diving (The real stuff!)

After the usual faffing, we got in the water, were briefed and ready to rock by 10 am. My buoyancy was okay, but after 30 years of quietly finning in my own way, now mastering the flutter kick, the modified flutter kick, and the modified frog humbled me, to say the least. I was hopeless, nor were my muscles very happy. It was so much more annoying to watch Duncan glide effortlessly through the water only to discover my legs simply didn’t want to cooperate. Thank goodness for my frog kick—one small saving grace. I loved the day, enjoyed learning the new kicks, but was extremely frustrated with my own inability to get it right.

We worked to truly bring it home, and our efforts were videoed. We returned to the classroom for a full debrief. I prepared myself; I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Watching yourself on screen, the struggle is obvious (not to mention hilarious). You can literally see, in graphic detail, all of your mistakes. It’s a brilliant training tool, allowing Duncan to explain exactly what was working, what wasn’t, and to supply helpful tips and ideas to facilitate improvement.

In comparison to the kicks, the “Basic Five” skills (Reg replacement / Reg Swap / Long hose deployment for sharing air / partial mask clear / full mask removal and recovery) were bliss! I loved this, even though I did forget a few of the steps, for example, clipping off the first stage and not pulling the long hose out until my buddy was calm. It was great to simply learn and practice.

After the amusing, but sobering, reality of my kicking prowess settled in, we tackled the math of surface consumption rates, and minimum gas (aka dive planning and gas management). I went home determined and exhausted. I had five days before we were back in the water.

Dropping the knees while flutter kicking. Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.
“Bunny ears” fin position. Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

For some inexplicable reason, Ming and I chose to take our Fundies on the two weekends prior to Christmas! Go figure. My week was chaotic. No leisurely dive practice for me. I was left with the carpet. After all, logic told me that if skill practice worked in the car park, why not on the carpet?

Trust me, when attempting to keep your knees together, and up, the carpet made perfect sense (not to mention, it was more comfortable than the asphalt). It’s physically impossible to drop your knees while lying face down on something solid. Keeping them shut is more challenging. I simply concentrated on the motion and proved to my own legs that it WAS physically possible. Much to my husband’s amusement, I practiced everyday, even if it was a quick five minutes.

Carpet practice. Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

Five days later, I returned, feeling optimistic but unsure how good my carpet skills would translate to open water.

Day Three: On To The Divesite

After the usual friendly greetings and a quick brief, we loaded our gear, headed to the dive site for an onsite briefing, a practice session prior to the official class, and then, the real McCoy. Apart from practicing our fin kicks (A LOT!), we covered S-drills, ascents (with stops), descents, and more Basic Five, all with the GUE mantra in mind:

  • Team (where are your team members/situational awareness etc)
  • Buoyancy
  • Trim
  • Skill (the skill being the least important if all the others go to pot)

Thank God for carpet practice. Day three was a vast improvement. Definitely not perfect, but both Ming and I felt better about our performances. There was less self-deprecating laughter (an invaluable skill in any situation), more determination, more accomplished smiling, and a light at the end of the tunnel was clearly visible. I really started to enjoy myself.

After two practice sessions and two class dives, where we spent over four hours underwater, things were going great. Reviewing the video was easier too.  In fact, we were eager to see it, and the difference was obvious. Very gratifying. Despite small errors, we were on the way.

It was a long day; four hours underwater, a de-brief followed by a classroom session on partial pressures and gas planning (yes, there is an exam at the end). I dragged myself home and fell into bed dreaming of the perfect flutter kick. 

Video Courtesy of Sue Crowe.

Day Four: Our final classroom day

Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

There it was on the board: our final reminders. Keep those knees together. I grinned.

After the success of day three, wewere raring to go. We’d agreed to start off early. Today was a big, final day. With tea and coffee assistance (plus a deliciously indulgent cinnamon bun), we had our final theory lecture on gas dynamics.

As well as successfully completing all the underwater skills including ascents and descents, today heralded the anticipated (and very specific) Surface Marker Buoy (SMB) deployment, along with an unconscious diver recovery. Our no-mask swim was unpleasant (especially with my contact lenses), but it’s one of those exercises that needs to be done, and is especially valuable if your mask does happen to get dislodged one day.

Note to contact wearers: Opening one’s eyes underwater in the ocean is NO problem. Don’t however, try it in a swimming pool or freshwater. Contacts do not like it, nor will you.

We had a lovely day at Camp Cove. Our SMB deployment and land practice, prior to trying it underwater, was a joy. Both Ming and I showed further improvement. Ming’s valve drill was impressive to watch. I was pleased with my Basic 5 and didn’t forget anything this time. The hours in the water flew by. We headed back to the shop for more video debriefing and the final exam.

Because of GUE’s policy of keeping all videos shot during class private, we all agreed to do a fun dive on the following Monday morning to enjoy our newly developed skills and take some video footage for me to use in this story. (Thank you team).

It wasn’t quite over yet, but I’d spent four intense days with Duncan and Ming. We’d had loads of fun and laughs, shared the lows and the wins. I felt sad it was coming to an end, and I’d have to go back to the real world. Sigh. 

In Conclusion

I loved every minute of this course. I laughed. My teammate was awesome. Duncan was a brilliant instructor, immeasurably patient, good fun, and nothing was too much trouble for him. It was obvious he genuinely wanted us both to improve, learn, and prevail.

I’m sure a lot depends on the individual instructor; in diving it always does. However, GUE consistently tests and stretches its instructors, and the bar for admission is very high.

Photo courtesy of Sue Crowe.

Certainly the scope and skill level for the course was excellent grounding for any diver.

Not that this is NOT a ‘learn to dive’ course. I, with Ming, who is a PADI Rescue Diver, were a good combo. We both had fun and learned new skills. The atmosphere of this class was open and honest. We were encouraged to admit if things weren’t working as expected, and we were given feedback and advice. It was a safe, no-blame environment which both Ming and I responded well to.

After such a long time out of the classroom, as either an instructor or student, I had forgotten what a joy it is to learn. I’m still working on the perfect backward kick, but my course objectives were well and truly met. To top it off, I made two new friends.

Forget a 20-minute refresher course if you want to get back into diving or want to feel more confident. Go and tackle GUE Fundamentals–a truly welcoming, friendly environment where it’s safe, and you’re encouraged to learn. Any diver, no matter how ‘skilled’ or experienced, would benefit from this course.

What’s next for me? Apart from my coming trip to Antarctica (see my vlogs & blogs—an unrepentant plug), I’m determined to complete my GUE doubles primer and nail that Tech Pass within six months!  The ocean is a big place – plenty of room for expansion. Maybe this is my own private middle-aged crisis, but it’s certainly better than a fast car (IMHO) 🙂 but I certainly don’t intend to stop learning new things anytime soon.

Note: GUE has a policy not to allow any class video footage to be used for anything other than training purposes. ALL footage used in this article was taken in practice sessions prior or after ‘official training’ with an additional day diving after the course, for the specific purpose of shooting video. Any shots shown have the express consent of all participants.


A journalist by trade, Sue was the Editor of Scuba Diver Australasia, has driven her own marketing consultancy and been Director of Tabata Australia. Today, Sue owns and operates OZTek Advanced Diving Conference and OZDive Expo, Australia’s most successful diving show. Passionate about diving and all those in it, Sue is a member of the Dive Industry Association of Australia, long time member of the Australian Marine Conservation Society and is Webmaster and Australasian Co-ordinator of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. Although not actively teaching today, Sue, a PADI OWSI since 1993, has been an active diver since 1990.

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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!

Additional Resources:


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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