Digging in to the Mine

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Our first order of business was to take a ferry across to Bell Island and then dig the entrance of the mine out of the snow. Fortunately in Newfoundland, every expedition is equipped with their own personal snow plow. Rick Stanley plowed with his truck while John Olivero and Jack Wood dug the doorway out of the hip deep snow. The entire team packed the gear into mine and we set up our rebreather station, medical center and dock area. The infrastructure is well thought out. We are able to use an electric golf cart to get equipment and people down the slope 750 feet to the water. It makes the medical testing and logistics possible in a warm, dry location up top. As soon as we exit the water, we need to rush out of our gear and check in for blood tests, ultrasound and spirometry tests. These tests are repeated every 20 minutes for two hours. At that point we are able to return to gear and camera maintenance.

We had a successful dive mission with 7 divers installing line, working on surveys and documenting the mine. For a first day, we accomplished a lot and we were still laughing at the end of the day.

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There are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes on an expedition. Everyone needs to be fed. Someone has to shop for that food every day since the fridge is full with one day’s supply. Tanks need to be filled after the diving is done. Boosting oxygen tanks is a slow process when done safely. Rebreathers are cleaned up and repacked with carbon dioxide absorbent for the following day. Oftentimes repairs are needed. Film crews offload footage and check their work. Backups and review can take hours. The medical team has a full day until all their data is gathered. After 10pm, there were will still dive team members doing pushups, filling out questionnaires and getting their pulmonary function tested.

Our mission control at Ocean Quest Adventure Resort is a hive of activity 24 hours a day. It takes a village to run an expedition. This is a great team!

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Homemade Spaghetti and Science

By | All Posts, Bell Island, Newfoundland, Rebreather Diving | No Comments

Newfoundland is known for kitchen parties. They usually involve friendship, music and home cooking. We’ve transformed the kitchen into something even bigger. Dive team members are subjecting their bodies to scientific examination. Dr. Neal Pollock from DAN, assisted by Stefanie Martina will be gathering data for decompression stress studies. Today, divers were subjected to a battery of fitness testing. Quarters at the lodge are quite close and that meant getting skin fold and spirometry tests at the kitchen table and doing pushups on the floor in the midst of cameras, cooking and gear prep. There will be little privacy, but the results of this research could offer significant information for the divers themselves and for our general understanding of decompression stress under extreme dive profiles.

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Ready to Launch

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We had some warm up dives at Conception Harbour in the morning to shake out the final bugs in the rebreathers and cameras. Robert Osborne and Rick Stanley tweaked their sidemount units while Cas Dobbin, John Olivero and I went for an hour spin in the blazing sunlight. Last night’s storm passed and was quickly dispatched by local plows. Many more team members arrived safely and we are only short Gemma Smith and Phil Short to make the team complete. The mission control at Ocean Quest Adventures Resort has turned into a TV studio, physiology lab, dive center and commercial kitchen. Tonight we make our plans for tomorrow’s hard launch in the mine.

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Dive Safety – An Interview of Jill Heinerth

By | All Posts, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, Women Underwater | No Comments

ALERT DIVER, the prestigious and excellent publication of Divers Alert Network recently reached out to me with some questions about how I view dive safety. Establishing a culture of dive safety is of great importance to dive leaders and is central to Divers Alert Network’s mission. They’ll be sharing these thoughts and those of other experts in coming issues of their magazine.

ALERT DIVER: Recreational diving culture; what does it mean to you?

JILL HEINERTH: Sport diving is a community made up of many different subcultures. These small groups of divers are knitted together by their shop, club, charter operator or perhaps agency affiliation. Some of these tribes are known for their technical expertise, their great trips or safe operations. Others are tagged for aggression, cockiness or exclusivity. It’s like any other participation sport. People tend to congregate in smaller groups and roam with pack like behavior. If you’ve been in diving long enough, you’ll find that people drift in and out, switch sides and change their behaviors. Sometimes change is brought on by the wisdom of experience, sometimes through the example of great leadership and other times influenced by the shocking impact of witnessing an incident or tragedy.

ALERT DIVER: What are characteristics of a safety-aware diver?

JILL HEINERTH: In my opinion, a safety aware diver is one who is fully engaged in their participation in diving. He/she understands and has accepted risk and takes full personal responsibility for outcomes. A safety-aware diver is one who looks on a given dive and asks him/herself, “Am I fully capable of self rescue in this scenario and am I fully capable and willing to execute a buddy rescue if needed?” A safe diver, would only enter the water if the answer was an unequivocal “yes” to both questions.

ALERT DIVER: What is the role of training agencies in shaping and disseminating a culture of safety?

JILL HEINERTH: Training agencies have the opportunity to set the ground rules right from the beginning and guide divers to recognize that the general safety rules have been developed from practical experiences. I understand that training agencies have a responsibility to their stakeholders to sell classes and materials, but ultimately the sport benefits when a safe culture is rooted during entry level training and is carried through consistently in continuing education. When shortcuts are allowed and tolerated, then an attrition of knowledge and decay of safe practices results. One instructor that slips through the cracks without following standards can affect hundreds of future divers that can also move on to affect another generation of divers. Maintaining high standards and ensuring strict quality assurance is critical to nurturing a consistent climate of safe diving practices.

ALERT DIVER: How can dive operators contribute to the culture of dive safety?

JILL HEINERTH: I suppose I have become more conservative as I have gained the wisdom of experience. At the risk of sounding old, I sometimes look back on my early years as a Divemaster and realize that some of my colleagues bowed to the constant pressure to take clients on the “most exciting dive of their lives.” For some that lead to cutting corners and stretching standards in the hopes it would create return customers and big tips. These days, operators are under increased competition to offer the best adrenaline-laced experience they can possibly summon.

But I learned early that enthusiasm is infectious. If you love what you are doing, then your clients will love their experiences with you. There is wonder and satisfaction just being underwater. When people get away from their office or cold climate and arrive in a tropical destination, what they are really looking for is positivity, a communal participation in remarkable experiences and fun. It’s great if you get blessed with a stunning manta ray, but it can be just as exciting to see a jaw fish with a mouth full of eggs. A Divemaster is a skilled professional, but also a motivational speaker. Their knowledge and engagement in their passion is what will ultimately be remembered and that doesn’t require great depths or unnecessary risks.

ALERT DIVER: What kind of social support should divers expect when diving?

JILL HEINERTH: I believe that divers should seek a nurturing environment. (I cringe when I hear instructors or Divemasters yelling at a client). A learning environment or a diving tribe should be supportive, free of harassment or peer pressure and inclusive of all genders and experience levels. Diving should be mutually respectful. Each diver should be given the opportunity and be encouraged to take full responsibility for his/herself. Anything less than that is disrespectful to the individual and team and is patently unsafe.

ALERT DIVER: How can the culture of dive safety be promoted?

JILL HEINERTH: My Great Uncle Jock used to tell me that “a friend knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” That lesson speaks volumes to me in terms of diving. Human beings are so inclined to find camaraderie that they are often prone to peer pressure. Keeping that in mind, it is important that individuals, instructors, operators and shop owners all work together to promote safe diving practices and pledge to point out issues that evolve over time. In doing so, they should recognize that positive role modeling will go a lot farther than negative reinforcement.

As a young diver in Tobermory, Canada, I was taking a class from a great role model, Dale McKnight. He was a master at mentoring academic and physical diving skills but also the psychological factors in diving. We had worked hard for days, practiced skills and made plans to complete the deepest and first decompression dive of our lives. We were on the boat heading to the site when Dale told us that we had done such a great job that he would reward us with an extra ten feet of depth and five more minutes of bottom time. We could use the contingency plans we had constructed the night before. My colleagues hooted and hollered in excitement while I felt a deepening angst growing in the pit of my stomach. With my head bowed down, I quietly muttered that I did not feel ready for that dive… that I would sit on the boat. I was disappointed and embarrassed. Dale tried to reel me back into the dive, but I was dejected and not ready.

After allowing a few minutes of chest beating and gratification, Dale admonished the other divers for permitting him to shift a safe, organized plan into a “trust-me” dive. At first, I did not understand what was happening, but soon recognized that he was patting me on the back. I had passed his test. By aborting my dive, I was being rewarded. I’m so glad to know that Dale is still teaching today, because he taught me an important lesson that may have even saved my life. A true survivor needs to know when to get within a hair’s breadth of complete success and then be willing to turn back and call it a day.

I have a special note for my rebreather diving colleagues. A safe culture of rebreather diving includes three simple actions.
  1. Use a checklist (automated or on paper) every time your prepare your unit for a dive.
  2. Complete a five-minute pre-breathe of your unit in a safe seated position with your nose blocked and paying attention to your displays.
  3. Do not enter the water if anything has failed your test and abort your dive immediately in the safest manner possible if a failure occurs underwater.

Adherence to these three rules must be uncompromising for yourself and everyone on your team.

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