by Vikki Batten PADI Technical Diving Division
May 2012 was all about Rebreather forum 3.0, but before that I managed to take a few days off to do some trimix CCR cave diving. I joined my partner, Martin Robson and his students in North Central Florida or “Cave Country” as it is normally known, for five days.
Arriving at Dive Outpost is always a delight, seeing old friends, meeting new ones and finding out what has been happening since I was last there. On this occasion there were less cats, more dogs, and as usual, cave divers from all over the world. Cathy Lesh runs Dive Outpost with a quiet, relaxed and friendly efficiency that always makes a visit here feel like coming home.
At this level, the students are already accomplished cave and technical divers, but even so, day one was focused on skills practice in shallow open water (in this context of cave diving, the term “open water” is used to mean “not an overhead environment”) so that they were prepared for the forthcoming trimix dives in a cave.
The following days were trimix cave dives of increasing depth and complexity with my favourite being a dive in Eagle’s Nest. Eagle’s Nest is one of the most famous dive sites in Florida where I have diving for over 10 years, yet this was my first dive there. Before we got to the dive we drove through the park on white limestone sand roads for half an hour, trying not to create a dust storm behind us. When we got out of the car it was covered in several cms of white dust and I quickly became almost as well covered as the car!!!
Descending into Eagle’s Nest feels more like rappelling into a dry cave than diving (except easier and more fun J) because it is an almost vertical descent into a conical cave. The light streams in and catches the different colours of limestone and I felt as though I were flying between and around the huge rocky protrusions and boulders. At around 80m the route flattens out and we swim further into the cave. All too soon it’s time to ascend, but that gives me time to appreciate the cave all over again as we decompress our way up the chimney and out to open water. Back at the Outpost, we BBQ a few steaks by the fire and while away the evening chatting listening to the sounds of the surrounding woodland.
Suddenly the dynamic changes! I drive to Orlando leaving Martin and his students to follow a day later. As one of the three organisations driving Rebreather forum 3.0, PADI were involved at every level and my first job (along with most of the team) was to help with the last minute preparation and setup at the conference centre. We had a breakfast meeting at 0600 where we reconnected with staff from all over the globe and discovered that our American colleagues only arrived a couple of hours ago due to flight cancellations….One of the great things about working for PADI is that everyone knows how to muck in and get the job done. So we mere mortals worked alongside people like James Morgan stuffing delegate bags, preparing passes, making the branding items, checking the signage and everything else that seems like a quick job, but takes all day.
The first day of RF3.0 was the Explorer Day so after the opening address by Drew Richardson, PADI CEO, delegate listened to talks by explorers from all over the world including Jill Heinerth, Martin Robson, Phil Short and Richard “Harry” Harris. Outside there were CCR try dives in the hotel pool and the day culminated by showing the ROSPA CCR AWARE video, which PADI had been involved with, followed by the CCR Communities Panel hosted by Martin Robson discussing the role of rebreathers with representatives from military, scientific, media, recreational, technical and cave diving communities.
A quick shower and we changed into our “loud shirt” party outfits for the evening’s Hawaiian style event. This really gave us our first opportunity to relax and socialize with other attendees. It soon became evident that anyone who was anyone in the rebreather world was there. The relaxed atmosphere was just what we needed after a couple of hard days and I soon felt like I had managed to meet a good chunk of the delegates and exhibitors.
Over the following two days there were presentations by medical, legal and incident specialists such as Dr Simon Mitchell, Dr David Doolette, Dr Andrew Fock, Dr Bill Stone and David Concannon. We also had the opportunity to listen to equipment specialist and experts from different fields such as Kevin Gurr, Dr Richard Pyle and many more. Many of these presentations will be available on the RF3.0 website in the coming months.
Saturday night was the Gala Dinner where we put on our posh frocks and enjoyed the company. It’s always great to see divers out of their drysuits and wearing proper clothes for a change and this gave us the opportunity to cement relationships and chat about a mixture of business and pleasure.
The final review of discussions was chaired by Dr Simon Mitchell, who did the unenviable job of bringing together the recommendations for RF3.0 with apparent ease and without any major disagreements. The Final Consensus statement was really the whole point of the meeting. Having brought together the world’s experts in the field this documents the current best practices as well as recommendations for areas that require further consideration or study. It doesn’t stop there, the next aim is to spread the word and ensure that rebreather divers all over the world get the message. In this way, the forum aims to educate and improve the safety of rebreather divers everywhere.
With the show over, the PADI staff completed our last duties and enjoyed an evening meal hosted by our CEO, Drew Richardson to thank everyone for their hard work.
I waved goodbye to Martin who was heading back to cave country with Dan Macherel and Thomas Knedlik, my counterparts from PADI Asian Pacific, who were going to do their CCR Cave training.