Re-breather Training

August 2014

by Nicola Faulks

I learned to dive back in 1995 at university and never really thought about diving on anything other than open circuit. Then 3 years ago Simon got a re-breather. It beeped a lot. But he seemed to enjoy it. Being economical on air, I thought that I wouldn’t hold back a re-breather diver too much…. That was until we went to dive of Skye…. Every time I started racking up deco, I was shown the re-breather computer….. it generally said 200 minutes to deco, or something like that. This was the point at which I realised that maybe I was the limiting factor. So, I decided I would try this re-breather “thing”.

Booking the course was easy, an August date was set. The only issue was the unit, to borrow and try, or to buy and go for it. I bought, small units, the Inspiration Evolution Plus, with the large scrubber, but the Evp+ (as it is known) is like rocking horse poop to get second hand, so I bit the bullet and bought new…. Could have bought a Kia Picanto instead!

The first day of the course was held in a classroom and a swimming pool. The day kicked off with a few Power Point lectures about the re-breather – how it works and some physiology of diving. Then the magic moment, opening a box with my name on and putting together my new toy for the first time. Following this, we jumped in the swimming pool and I realised that nothing fitted and it felt like diving with a mini car loosely strapped to my back, thwarting my every move. Surely though it can only get better. I did learn one skill on the first day – how to open and close the “loop” – a very important skill, for if you flood the loop, it can be a very expensive mistake.

Day two, Capernwray beckons.

Kit on, checks done, more teaching about how the unit works.  You have lungs with air in, a wing with air in and your drysuit with air in, all things to remember when controlling buoyancy ascent. Wow, what an experience, so quiet under the water. No bubbles, no pressure against my breathing. You can even hear other divers approaching on open circuit, as they are so noisy. Kept looking at my handset as instructed trying to remember what all of the numbers meant. We then did a drill to see how fast I metabolise oxygen…. Dennis got bored waiting, it seems that I don’t metabolise, or maybe I am just in permanent hibernation mode!

Over the next 3 days Dennis had me practicing a number of drills and skills all to do with safety and how to solve problems if they were to arise with the re-breather, or “unit” as it is often referred to. What to do if there is an oxygen spike, what to do if the oxygen gets too low, what to do if the solenoid is stuck open and most importantly how to bail out on to a separate air source. We also practiced buoyancy, holding still at six metres and deploying a DSMB. Every time a new skill was introduced it was practiced a number of times. On dry land, I learned how to change the scrubber, change batteries, put in and take out the calendars and a whole host of other things. It felt so rewarding to be learning practical things, rather than the theory that my day job generally demands!

So what do I think 8 months on and having dived more than 20 hours on my unit? Well, I am still glad that I have done the re-breather course. Dennis Wigg is an excellent instructor, I learned a lot during the course. Since then I have done a number of dives, both with Simon overseeing my unit preparation and dive weekends when I have been away on my own without my buddy Si. The extended bottom time the unit gives me is such a bonus, diving the sound of Mull in November was a sheer joy, ascending past the open circuit divers who had loads of deco; me and my buddy had had loads more bottom time and no deco. But most of all, I think the dive I will remember was on a small wreck, close to the mouth of the Tyne, with Gordon Lambert. We waited for all the bubble makers to ascend; as the silence descended, we just hovered above the bow of the wreck, joined by a shoal of fish, just chilling. Being at one with nature, just made all of the preparation, training and cost worthwhile.