After one brief night on Koh Samui, I took the early ferry to Koh Tao on Tuesday the 25th of Jan docking at Mae Haad Pier around 10am. Just under 3 years ago I had left this island, having fallen in love with diving, as well as the island itself. It felt so good to be back now. This time I would be staying a little longer than the 7 days I had the first time around. I am aiming for roughly 2+ months on Koh Tao, but we shall see what happens moving forward. Many who visit, fall in love with this little island paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. Some keep coming back while others never leave. It is also a scuba diving mecca, certifying more divers per year than any other place on the planet. For its size that’s some accomplishment. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a place for the more luxury traveller or holidaymaker, other islands are likely better suited for that. But for those wanting to dive, relax, unwind and take in the chilled, easy-going island vibe it’s a wonderful place to be.
Waiting for me at the pier was a taxi from the dive school I would be doing my divemaster with. They ferried me the short distance to the dive shop, where I was checked in and greeted by Marcel and Flav, two dutch guys who run the professional side of the dive shop and who I had been in contact with before arriving on Koh Tao. It was great to finally meet them in person. Although I vaguely knew Marcel from my previous time diving at Sairee Cottage, when I gained my Open Water & Advanced Open Water licences. Sairee Cottage hadn’t changed at all and it was just how I remembered it. Koh Tao was also very similar, but sadly the effects of Covid were quite evident to see. The place was a lot calmer than before and some places had sadly closed their doors and lay deserted. Once checked in at the dive shop I was taken to the Pro House, which would be my accommodation for my stay and home to my fellow divemaster trainees and those undertaking their instructor course too. When I arrived the house was home to, Toni, Ben, Connor and Judith. We would later be joined by Skip, Sam and Jaryd. Nationalities comprised of, Finish, English, American, Dutch, Canadian and South African. It’s a great mix of people, everyone is so lovely and as fond of diving as me so it’s easy to get along.
After a few days settling into life on Koh Tao and getting myself sorted, I undertook a few fun dives to get back into the swing of diving again here at Koh Tao. I made 2 dives at White Rock with the resident divemaster Perry, who just took us around showing us a few of the cool spots at the dive site. It was so good to be back diving in tropical water. I loved my drysuit dive in NZ, but diving in 30-degree water and weather is a little bit nicer than 8-degree water. The following day we had a welcome party for all the Divemasters and IDC candidates. This is put on every month to welcome those who have recently joined the school and their journey to turn pro. However, this time was equally special as it was also a birthday party for Marcel. We hired a traditional long-tail boat which took us around the various bays of the island. In total we cruised around for 5 hours, snorkelling, drinking beer and just having a good time. We came back into port just as the sun was setting, having a final sunset swim with everyone before departing the boat. Once back on dry land the party continued into the night as we headed out to the local bars for a few more drinks.
On the day of the welcome boat party, I woke up with a bit of pain in one of my wisdom teeth, the one that’s due to be removed in a couple of months. During the boat party due to the beer the pain went, but the following morning I woke up in a lot of discomfort and was struggling to open my mouth. I loaded up on 600mg ibuprofen which helped, but I could tell something was up. Luckily for me, there is a dentist who visits the island on the weekends and I was told she is very good by some of the staff at the dive shop. With the following day being a Sunday, I made a trip to see her. I walked in she took a look, said it was infected and prescribed me some antibiotics. Taking no longer than 10 minutes at the cost of £10 for the lot. The next few days I was due to be in the classroom or pool so didn’t have to worry about scuba diving and thankfully the antibiotics really helped. It’s now been just over a week and it’s settled down to some kind of normality again. I’m just praying I can keep it that way for 2 more months so I can get through the diving and my time here before having it removed. As clearly using your mouth while scuba diving is quite important, I quite like being able to breathe! Plus if I have to have it removed before I finish the course I shall likely be out the water for a good 4 weeks to allow it time to heal. I’m confident though everything shall be good and I’ll just be careful not to irritate it again.
Enough of the teeth though, back to the diving. Before I could start my Divemaster, I first had to complete my EFR (Emergency First Responder) and Rescue Diver Course. The EFR course was purely classroom based with some physical practice but was essentially a first aid course related to general first aid, not linked to scuba diving. We went over all sorts from CPR and rescue breaths, to helping someone choking, dressing wounds and even secondary care, such as treating shock or monitoring for general illness. I thoroughly enjoyed the day though. Isabelle, the instructor who was previously a nurse was great and a fountain of knowledge. I’ve always wanted to know more about this kind of stuff in the unlikely event I was to ever need it. Now at least I have a basic idea of what I should be doing and how I can help someone until the professionals arrive. After all, that’s all you’re training to do, give someone a chance while you wait for professional help. It’s one of those things that is so important, yet in the UK at least, not many people have basic first aid training. I really feel it should be something teenagers learn at school. For example, anyone in France who wants to do their driving test must first do an EFR course before doing their test. Now I don’t know what that says about French driving, but regardless some kind of scheme like that seems a really good idea to me.
After the one-day EFR course, it was then onto the rescue diver course for 3 days. This took the knowledge learnt in the EFR course and applied it directly to scuba diving. The course also looked at how to self rescue, how to spot the signs of stress or panic in other divers and then how to subsequently rescue a tired, panicked or unresponsive diver. The course was very intense but also the most rewarding one I have done to date. The first day we spent some time in the classroom, watching the typical PADI videos, which if you’ve ever done a PADI course you’ll know exactly the type I mean. Before going over some knowledge reviews and then talking about the various techniques and skills we would be practising in the pool that afternoon. After lunch, we geared up and jumped in the pool. The first few skills were practising things like relieving cramps or different towing techniques for a tired diver. After this, we then moved on to techniques to help a panicked diver at the surface. A panicked diver is one that isn’t being rational, not listening to instructions and likely will use you to propel themselves out the water. Therefore the primary concern as was the case for the whole course was your own safety first. You aren’t going to be much help if you then need rescuing too. We practised different ways to avoid a panicked diver who tries to grab onto you and then methods to stabilise the diver on the surface by ensuring they are positively buoyant. Next, the skills progressed to recognising signs of stress while a diver is underwater and how to manage these situations, as well as a diver who panics and then tries to bolt to the surface. The final big skill was raising an unresponsive diver from the bottom of the pool to the surface, which is really cool, you ride on their tank while inflating their BCD (buoyancy control device) as you ascend. The only time in diving you add air to this while you ascend. Once at the surface, you check if the diver is breathing before you start to give rescue breaths and begin towing back to the boat whilst unclipping all your and the other diver’s equipment. It’s a lot to remember but through repeated practise, you soon get the hang of it and the methodical approach you have to take to work your way through the situation.
Day 2 of the rescue course consisted of practising all the skills we had gone through in the pool but this time in the open water at sea. For the practice in open water though, the dive site chosen is usually one which has a nice sandy bottom and isn’t too deep. First, we went through some search and recovery patterns, whereby you dive and swim following a compass bearing and a specific search pattern for the scenario to locate a missing diver. Once we had done this it was then back to raising the unresponsive diver to the surface. Before then repeatedly practising the surface rescue skills, of rescue breaths, towing the diver, unclipping all their equipment and then getting them onto the boat. We practised this for around 1 hour at the surface and there was a little bit of chop, meaning by the time I got back onto the boat I did feel a little seasick. I normally don’t suffer, so I’m sure it was a one-off due to the constant bobbing up and down in the water for so long. After 20 minutes or so of watching the horizon and once the boat started to move back to port it finally started to ease.
The rescue diver course teaches you ways to handle emergencies if you are on your own, but in reality, on 95% of all dives, there shall be more than just you to help with the situation. Even if this is people who stay on the boat such as the captain or boat boy for example. This meant that for day 3 of the rescue course, we put everything we had learnt into a full “real life” scenario. On the boat, our instructor gave us a brief of the mock situation, where the 3 of us on the course then undertook a rescue search pattern to locate the diver. Once we had found the diver we then had to bring them to the surface. At this point, I then swam directly to the boat to prepare all the gear here such as emergency oxygen and other first aid equipment, while the other two divers brought the victim back to the boat. Here we then got the victim onto the boat where I commenced CPR and rescue breaths. Obviously, like everything during the course, it was all simulated and the actual victim was completely fine, just simulating being unresponsive.
As I mentioned earlier though, the course was very challenging but also so fun and stimulating at the same time. I feel a lot more confident now to be able to handle a much greater range of situations underwater as well as on dry land. Like most things though, it will have to be retained through practice and refreshing my skills. Hopefully, the things I have learnt over these days I never have to use. However equally should the need ever arise I hope I perform in a way people would be proud of.
Having been officially certified as a PADI Rescue Diver it was now time to advance onto the first step of the professional scuba diving ladder, the PADI Divemaster program. While the course can be completed in as little as 2 weeks if you do the bare minimum I aim to spend about 8-10 weeks obtaining my divemaster, so that I can truly master everything and feel completely competent at the end of the course. It would mean should I wish I can go work for a scuba diving shop as a divemaster anywhere in the world. Whether or not this happens one day who knows, for now, it’s not on my horizon, but the option will always be there. More on what I get up to on my Divemaster and time on Koh Tao over the next few months in subsequent blogs.