Achievement and passion unlocked: Advanced Open Water

Ecstatic after the wreck dive. AOW is the best!!

My goal in coming to Utila was to gain more experience as a diver. How much? I wasn’t sure. Dives are cheap and at the very least I wanted to increase my dive count up from seven to a respectable double digit. There are many options on who to dive with on Utila; upon arrival, I spent a day scoping out the dive shop scene. I chose Utila Dive Center, the largest diving operation on the island and one with a strong reputation for safety, quality of instruction, being well run, and having a good culture among divers.

I began with a few fun dives; with each dive I felt more in control of my buoyancy and positioning in the water. Then I took the plunge and started a new 3-day course: Advanced Open Water. AOW is the next step in a diver’s education after Open Water and teaches you skills that broaden the situations where you are qualified to go. The course consists of five dives, each with a different focus and special training.

My class was a great group of awesome peeps: my fellow AOW students fun-loving air-burner-and-proud-of-it Tim and my chill-yet-excited perpetual (and, as I discovered in EFR class while practicing the Heimlich maneuverer, ticklish) buddy husband Nico, divemaster-in-training and man of many lives/hidden talents Chris, encouraging instructor-in-training David, and super cool head instructor Maya.

Dive 1: Deep Dive
Regular Open Water divers can dive down to a maximum depth of 18 meters/60 feet; Advanced divers learn how to deal with increased pressure and become certified to 30 meters/100 feet. We descended slowly down a reef wall. When Maya hit 100ft, we stopped; I was surprised by the difference between all of our depth gauges–10ft variation! I didn’t feel physically different under another atmosphere of pressure; nitrogen narcosis tends to set in around this depth, but not for me in this case. Some things did change: perception of color on the short end of the light spectrum, increasingly negative buoyancy, and quicker air consumption.

We returned to the boat just in time to be soothed by the sweet sound of Captain Cookie singing lustily along to Michael Bolton ballads.

Maya and Tim chillin’ up top in between dives.

Dive 2: Wreck
Our next Adventure Dive was down to the wreck of the Halliburton, a 100ft-long cargo vessel purposely sunk as a diving attraction in 1998. Additionally, this was a deep dive, with a max depth of 100ft.

The Halliburton wreck. Source: Google Images

We descended down a line, as there is no reef or other shallow natural features nearby to use for depth reference points. Down at the bottom, the wreck appeared. It was encrusted with life, claimed by the sea, and seemed surrounded by mystery. We swam along the main rail line and penetrated the wreck in two places: the lower deck in front under an overhang but with a large entry/exit and a short swim-through the topmost wheelhouse. I loved peering through portholes out into the ocean beyond. If you’re interested in more detail about diving the site, here’s a beautiful description.

This wreck really struck a chord with me. It was spectacular. It’s a whole new genre to explore beyond the reef. The historical possibilities are endless: sunken remnants of the Japanese WWII fleet in the Pacific, wrecks from the time of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, and more of all types and time periods all over the world. Excitement! I think wreck diving may be a Specialty of mine in the making.

Down at the wreck, we cracked open an egg to demonstrate the increased pressure at a depth of 100ft. Check it out, along with a surprise ending! I’m the one in the full wetsuit opposite the camera who can’t stop giggling like a Japanese schoolgirl.

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 3: Peak Performance Buoyancy
This dive was totally one of my favorites. We worked on techniques to better control our positioning underwater, using primarily just our breath to hover, turn upside down, fine tune our movement, and orient ourselves in all directions. Having an improved level of control is both useful and freeing.

For something a little out of the usual, hoops, handstands, and knocking over a weight with my regulator:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Now, a little upside down action, rather disorienting to actually do without visual references:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

We sunk to the bottom and removed our fins. After bouncing around a bit–it felt like walking on the moon!–we raced on the bottom of the sea floor, using our breath to bound forward. Any swimming was grounds for immediate disqualification. I’m second from the left. Harder than it looks, I misstepped at the beginning and finished last but loved it. Fist bumps to Nico and his super stride for the win!

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 4: Night Dive
Our next Adventure Dive introduced a whole other condition: diving at night. We were all issued hand lights, turned them on, and entered the deep black sea. Using our lights instead of the diffused sunlight, the colors of the reef were more vibrant, especially brilliant red sea sponges. We saw some sleeping nightlife including a ray,  lobster, and parrotfish taking it easy. We sank to a sandy bottom, dimmed the lights by holding the torches to our chests, and waved our hands and fins to activate a bioluminescent life storm all around us.

I found being in the dark a little freaky, especially down at the bottom without our torches lighting the way. It was easier to get disoriented and harder to keep track of who was where. A cool experience with a different energy to be sure, but I prefer the information daytime light affords.

The sun may be going down…
…but we’re all geared up to go diving!

Dive 5: Navigation
In our final dive, on the more strictly practical side, we did some compass work and used underwater topography to track our location. My instructor said that given how I led the group back to the boat I should seriously consider going for Divemaster. A somewhat intriguing thought, perhaps for later…

Whassup boys, ready to go diving!

Many thanks to Chris for taking and sharing his videos from the course with me! It’s a useful thing for any athlete to be able to watch themselves and see how they actually physically perform. I checked out lots more of his footage than is posted here and was pleased with my movement in general; especially given my dive count, I look like a real live scuba diver!

I didn’t expect AOW to impact me so much, but it really did. I loved the course, am THRILLED about diving now, and am so enjoying learning new skills. When the course ended, I really didn’t want it to stop. So I signed up for the next course: Emergency First Responder/Rescue Diver! 😀 I’m excited to keep developing my abilities and broadening the situations in which I am a capable diver.

5 thoughts on “Achievement and passion unlocked: Advanced Open Water

  1. BWRAF (begin with review and friend…bouyancy, weights, releases, air, final OK) – bad women really are fun
    PADI – Put another dollar in.

    If you get your dive master, always keep your advanced card so that boat dives don't stick you with their problem children when you're on vacation! 🙂


  2. Ha, I learned “Bruce Willis Ruins All Films”. 😛

    Dig the tip. Even though I'm musing about divemaster, I don't really think that's in the cards for me this trip. But hey, who knows? Ask me again in two days when I finish Rescue. Today we head out to deep water with a bunch of DMT friends of mine who are going to mess with us so bad creating emergencies for us to fix… it's going to be INTENSE!


  3. Thanks! I super agree. I'm thinking that yes, deep dive would be a good specialty and I should know what nitrogen narcosis feels like, so will likely be heading to 40m soon. There are too many more specialties I want to take courses in…!


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