Both Frank and Suzanne have wanted to learn to SCUBA dive for years, long before they met each other. As
noted elsewhere, Suzanne was a competitive swimmer for years, in both pools and oceans and has been a
licensed lifeguard. Frank, on the other hand, swims like a fish (specifically, Dorey from Finding Nemo - he
gets lost a lot, even in a pool).
Suzanne's diving holdup has been her ears - years of swimming has left her with a lot of scar tissue, which
makes it difficult to equalize her ears. Frank's problem was much more serious - he hates to spend money
and diving costs a lot.
However, living on a boat implies a certain amount of water time and early on Frank and Suzanne had
reached an agreement - she would go up the mast as needed, he would go over the side as needed. With
this in mind, Frank collected as much used and discontinued SCUBA gear as possible and signed up for a
course at a local dive shop.
Frank's class was certified by PADI and went into great detail on the physics of diving. This is Frank's strong
point and he enjoyed the class immensely - so much so that Suzanne decided to re-examine her diving
After spending some time at a different dive shop, where we met Scuba Dave (David Hays), his wife, Laurie,
their kids and a host of dive bums, who welcomed us in with open arms, Suzanne decided to take her
training through Scuba Divers International (SDI). SDI, we found, emphasizes practice over book work -
more pool time, more open water time. This is Suzanne's forte and SHE enjoyed her class immensely.
By the way, remember how Frank bought his equipment used and on sale (usually because it was
discontinued)? Frank insisted that all of Suzanne's gear had to be new. His reasoning? Suzanne was going
to be his dive buddy and if he needed help, he wanted to make sure that it would work. Suzanne's
response? "Your MY buddy - what happens if I need to use YOUR gear?", to which Frank replied "don't be
silly, your gear is all new - what could happen?" As a side note - about half the gear that Frank bought used
has had to be replaced - both of us were told in class and by other divers that buying used gear was false
economy - we are now believers, with the caveat that we would still buy used only if we knew the diver and
how she treated her gear.
Suzanne's pool class was two weeks after Frank's, but it turned out that their open water certification dives
(each organization required four open water dives to be completely certified) would be held the same
weekend at the same location - a nearby submerged quarry called Lake Rawlings. Since the lake would be
a balmy 50 degrees at the surface (did we mention this was mid-March?), Frank's class would be diving in
"dry suits" - rubber suits that sealed all of the water out and provided space for you to wear long underwear
and an air barrier between you and the water. Suzanne's class, on the other hand, would be diving in "wet
suits" - the more traditional suits that allow a thin layer of water between you and the suit. Your body quickly
heats the water layer (even more quickly if you have drank a lot of coffee - hee, hee) and you can swim in
Good plan, bad execution. The dive shop that Frank was taking his class through didn't have a dry suit big
enough to fit him - no, it wasn't a waist or height issue - Frank couldn't get his feet into the boots! So, Frank
would ALSO be diving in a wet suit. Each of us went to respective dive shops and rented the appropriate
neoprene ensembles. Frank, of course, looked quite dashing in his wet suit - visions of James Bond floating
through his head. Suzanne, on the other hand, had a lot of trouble getting used to the idea - she's used to
swimming in an ocean in a one piece and wrapping her with three layers of 7 millimeter thick rubber revolted
her soul....until, of course, she hit the water.
Frank and Suzanne met up with their individual dive classes on Saturday morning and prepared for their
individual dives. Friendly banter and rivalry flew back and forth as the two classes prepared for their trips into
the beautiful, but cold, quarry. Frank's class hit the water first, but quickly lost the advantage as the other two
students (a husband and wife team) went through the process of learning to control their dry suits. Initially, it
was assumed that Frank, since he would be wearing a wet suit while the other students and the instructors
wore dry suits, would be the controlling factor for how long they could stay in. However, it turned out that at
least one of the dry suits had leaky seals and, apparently, when a dry suit gets wet, it is worse than a wet suit!
In addition, all the students were wearing wet suit hoods, gloves and boots, so extremities quickly became
cold and somewhat non-responsive. The dynamics quickly shifted - Frank's polar bear-like natural body
mass kept him quite comfortable (with the exception of the random squirt of water in a previously unsquirted
Suzanne's class, meanwhile, performed a through pre-dive initiation to the site, walking the shore and
discussing possible issues, before suiting up. Then, after suiting up, Suzanne and her class - a total of four
students, plus instructor - hit the water. Suzanne, looking not the least bit like Jessica Alba, was cold but not
uncomfortably so in her wet suit - at least not initially. However, after almost forty minutes in the water, parts
of her that had never been blue before were starting to lose feeling and it was with a happy shuffle (you can't
really run, or even walk well, in that much neoprene) that she ducked into the heated tent and started to peel
back a layer or two of rubber.
Frank's class performed their two dives back to back (the advantage, nominally, of dry suits - and polar bear
metabolism) and had finished up before Suzanne's group had made it back into the quarry. Frank watched
as Suzanne trudged down to the quarry, bright yellow tank on her back, and cursed himself for forgetting to
bring dry underwear.
Both the students in Frank's class and the students in Suzanne's had also made similar changes to their dive
gear, so the first part of the day was dedicated to adjusting for the new gear, but it took a much shorter time
to get in and get down this time. Today would be Frank's day to have problems.
Frank had purchased his buoyancy compensator used and apparently, it had some problems. The most
prevalent was a tendency for the inflater valve to leak a little air through. Frequently, Frank would be sitting
near the bottom, working with his class, when he would feel himself start to rise, slowly at first, then faster,
toward the surface. He would start dumping air, which would send him bouncing to the bottom in a cloud of
quarry dust and fish poop. He would readjust his air, only to start the cycle all over again. Frank was
beginning to despair that he would never get a handle on buoyancy control.
It was during one of these "bounce" sessions that Frank ended up on a platform in twenty feet of water, with
his dive buddy (a divemaster trainee) and two people who seemed to be in distress. The dive buddy
signaled to Frank not to go further and Frank, worried that something was wrong with the other students in his
class, waited patiently for a signal of what to do next. It came quickly.
Feeling a tap on his shoulder, Frank turned to find his instructor hovering above him. The instructor motioned
for Frank to surface. Breaking the surface, Frank was surprised to see not only the instructor, but his dive
buddy and the other two students on the surface. He asked what the problem had been down below, but no
one seemed to know what he was talking about. It wasn't until they had all gotten back in that he discovered
that he had, somehow, joined another class that was practicing some underwater first aid! It seems that
diving is like going to a formal party - everyone dresses the same and you really can't tell who's who!