PADI Rescue Diver at Malapascua

At 6m depth, I turn around and see her. Michi is drifing on the bottom, not breathing. Three strong kicks, I am with her, grab her and bring her up to the surface. Mask off, regulator off and start rescue breathing.

Luckily, this is just a scenario in the Rescue Diver course and Michi is fine (exept for some bruises and some water in the lungs from my not yet perfect rescue attempts).

We are back at Malapascue for an intense dive training session with Thresher Shark Divers.

Here is the full story.

Day 1 (29.05)

Its a relieve to finally set foot on the fine white sand of Bounty Beach at 5.00 in the morning, just as the sun rises. I had left my parents home in Germany 38h earlier to fly from Hannover via Moscow to Shanghai.  Michi and I met at Pudong Airport, exchanging luggage with our driver, and taking the afternoon flight with Philippine Airlines via Manila to Cebu.  We arrived at Cebu around midnight,  got our luggage and hopped in the car to Maya port, where we arrived at 4.00. The boat was waiting to take us across the calm sea to Malapascua, where we are greeted by the first light of dawn.

Against my sincere protest, we do not take the opportunity to go on the 5.00 Thresher Shark Dive but rather concern ourselves with worldly things such as checking into our resort. We stay again at Malditos. Ritchel and her team made us feel at home last time and this time was not a bit different.

We sleep until noon, when its time to check in with Thresher Shark Divers. Arriving at TSD is like coming home to friends and family. After a warm hello we do the paperwork. My skin feels so dry I cannot wait to join the afternoon dive at Deep Rock. Stress immediately falls away as my fins hit the 30°C water and we decent along the mooring to the big underwater boulder. At the bottom of the mooring, a seahorse and ghost pipe fish await us. We swim around the left side of Deep Rock to the North and drift with the current across soft and hard coral back to the mooring. A few thermoclines hit us but they feel rather refreshing.

I am pretty tired after this dive. Back at Malditos, we enjoy the sunset, have dinner and fall into a deep sleep.

Day 2 (30.05.)

Let’s start the training.  The morning starts with a classroom session. Emergency First Responder. Amy walks Steven, a new Divemaster intern, and me through the cycle of care, practicing CPR, bandaging, using emergency oxygen and the automatic defibrillator, etc.

In the afternoon, its time to dive. Michi and I take the Peak Performance Buoyancy course with Max (Max, together with Jason,  has taught us all we know about diving: you break it, you fix it). We go through buoyancy checks, practice breathing and hovering, learn and improve kicking techniques, and get in a fight with a rectangle, which serves as a swim-through target, but moves or shrinks every time we dive through.

We have a bit of an relaxed evening: Dinner and bed. Tomorrow will be an early start.

Day 3 (31.05.)

Shark Dive! There is nothing, I repeat: nothing better you can do at 5.00 than to get on a boat to go diving with the Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal. We witness a beautiful sunrise as we head out. Its dive 2 of my Deep Diver course,  which will allow me to go to 40m, the limit of recreational diving (I want to do it primarily for insurance purposes to be covered even beyond 30m). Again, Max is my instructor. Perfect. Today, we go down to 35m and look at how pressure affects objects,  a water bottle, a bag of chips, which I brought down. In short, 4.5bar compress the air quite well. Threshers keep distracting us. We are fortunate to see about 5 or 6, including a giant one with a length of maybe 3 to 4m. Back on top of Monad Shoal we see two White Tip Reef Sharks. How awesome can a day get.

Back on the boat, the boat men look at my full BCD pockets and ask: “Did you go shopping?” Perfect setup: ” Yes, I brought you a bag of chips.” Max also has a surprise for me in store. He asks for the water bottle, which he had (almost) filled underwater. There is only a centimeter of water in the bottle. It takes me a second to realize that its not a hole in the bottle but that the little remaining air has expanded the bottle. Max opens the bottle with a big bang. Nice demonstration of how much pressure there is at depth.

For our morning dive, we are back at Mangrove for the second Peak Performance Buoyancy dive. This time, he has brought a decent size rectangle – the same one as yesterday, but the training really helps. We goof around, doing flips and all kinds of shenanigans. I feel that I am getting the hang of my position in the water.

In the afternoon,  we finish the First Responder Course.  It’s been roughly 20 years since my last EFR course. Promptly, I “electrocute” myself in one of the practice scenarios by not recognizing an electricity incident.

The buoyancy practice is worth its weight in gold during the famous Lighthouse Night Dive. Mandarin Fish! We hover for 20min around a coral, in which the Mandarins live,  watching them swim and mate. Awesome! But it requires: buoyancy control. 20min hoovering in one spot. Thanks Max, yesterday I would not have been able to do that. I even manages to shoot some ok pictures with my new Symbiosis flash.

Evening: Same procedure as every year.

Day 4 (01.06.)

Shark Dive! At 5.00, Max and I meet for my third dive of the Deep Diver course. Today’s goal is to reach 39.9m and experience the effects of nitrogen narcosis. On the boat, Max gives me some tasks, which we plan to repeat at depth. Sleep deprived, I cannot even handle the finger tricks on the surface. Rain hits us hard on the boat ride but the sky later clears into a beautiful sunny day.

We jump in the water and drop immediately to 38m, within 4min. No-decompression-limits are short. With sharks passing by, I redo the surface tasks. No big effect of the narcosis. Maybe I am just clumsy. We see 4 sharks. Perfect. We hit the 39.9m and come back up to an extended safety stop at a suspended air source – another first for me. On top.of Monad shoal, we see two Ghost Pipe Fish.

Together with Michi, we go on a day trip to Gato Island. Gato is about 45min away from Malapascua and famous for its tunnel under the island. The first dive at Gato is my final Deep Diver dive. I need to guide the dive. Its fun to be in charge but puts on some pressure to navigate and monitor the group’s air supply and decompression limits. We see a lot of coral, 2 seahorses and my first frog fish (red stage)!

After an ok boat lunch we go for the tunnel dive. Its one of my few fun dives (no course dives). The tunnel stretches from East to West under the Island. Its maybe 50m in length and comfortable to swim through. Its a fantastic feeling swimming through. We surface at the dome cave on the west side.

Evening: Same same, but we like it this way.

Day 5 (02.06.)

Shark Dive! This time for Michi. Her ear works really well and Max, Lana and her five to 30m on Monad Shoal. While only one thresher shark shows itself in the distance, they see White Tip Reef sharks and an Eagle Ray!

For me, today is the day. Its the start of my Rescue Diver Course. The RD is said to be the most challenging and fun PADI course. I am excited. As Steven cannot dive, Michi volunteers to be the victim.

Amy takes us out to Mangrove and first, walks me through the self rescue skills: airway control, sharing air, etc. After reviewing tured diver assistance we come to the second challenge: helping a panicked diver that will do anything to get out of the water, esp. climbing on top of the rescuer. The key is to get behind the diver and into the knee cradle position.  Third, we practice the untesponsive diver at the surface (as well as surfacing an uresponsive diver): Turn face up, establish buoyancy, remove mask and reg, give rescue breath every 5s while take of equipment, while swimming to the boat. This is exhausting and the tiny bit of surface current feels like a maelstrom. Amy calmly guides me through the steps. Tired, I reach our improvised boat.

But there is no time to rest. Another diver flails his arms and dips his head underwater.  Its Max, who gives me my first scenario. He is panicked, but I manage to get behind him and tow him to our boaty. Equipment of, his hands on the boat. Now, I need to get him into the boat. I can hardy climb up myself. In a real case, he would have slipped back into the water. Good that this is practice. Finally, I need to get him into the boaty by Lifeguard Carry. Three dips and then pull straight up. I pull back instead of up and bang him into the boaty, second try: bang, same thing. Third time is the charm. Completely exhausted I fall into the boat.  The first session is over.

In the afternoon,  we start with rescue from the beach before we go to Batigue to practice missing diver procedures, in particular search patterns: U pattern, expanding square, circle. I learn that it is helpful to.establish search objectives. Michi dropps Amys knive and then watches me. I see here motionless in the water and immeduately recognuze the “unresponsive diver underwater” scenario. On the surface, more rescue breathing and shore exit, before we swim back to the boat.

Amy is an excellent instructor who calmly walks me through the steps and helps me recognize mistakes. But she keeps me on my toes with surprise scenarios. I keep an eagle eye on her but do not manage to spot them beforehand. On the way back to the beach, another dive instructor suddenly falls overboard. Big screams: “We need a rescue diver”. Great. I need a beer and a bed. Mask, snorkel, fins… but no floatation device.  Thankfully, Joel is nice and does not play the panicked diver so I can tow him to shore.
Its Friday night, but we are both exhausted. So we go to bed, early.

Day 6 (04.06.)

Shark Dive! Michis ear works so well that she goes on another shark dive with Lana and Wilbert. This time, they see four sharks and Michi snaps the beautiful cover picture.

For me, its day 2 of the Rescue Diver. I have “surface tension”, waiting what scenarios and surprises Amy has in store for me today. And surely, as soon as I arrive at TSD, I see Max rubbing his shoulder: Joint pain, suspected decompression sickness. While I stumble through the steps, Amy gives gentle advise (shouldn’t we bring him inside, do you want to explain to him you are giving emergency oxygen,…).

With Max barely surviving, Amy, Michi and I head for Ka Osting to practice boat rescue. Throwing assist, swimming assist and finally, the dreaded Teddybear Carry of a victim up the boat ladder. Afterwards, we go for a short mud larking dive. As we come up, Michi is missing. Great. I organize the search: expanding square pattern from the bottom of the mooring. Shortly after, we find her floating unresponsively underwater. Bringing her up, remove mask and reg, give rescue breathing and bring her up on the boat (again up the ladder). On the boat, I adminiater emergency oxygen and give CPR. I don’t know what’s wrong that everybody around me is suddenly tiring, panicking, cramping or not breathing…

In the afternoon, we go on the last Rescue Diver dive to Chocolate Island. Chocolate Island is a colorful place. We see an octopus, a school of squid, sea moths, etc. A shark sucker tries to hitch a ride on our legs. Michi puts up a number of challenges, cramps, tiredness, swimming away. But I am on top of my game and catch it all.

On the way back in the boaty, I suspect Amy to go for a fall of the boat. I prepare to grab her directly, when Michi, on the other side, drops of the boat, then Amy. Grab mask, snorkel, fins, flotation and manage a final successful rescue.

The Rescue Diver course indeed has been the most challenging and fun course, I have taken. Its mostly thanks to the team at TSD, who really kept me on my toes (I suspect, they had some fun as well) and Michi, who I nearly drowned a few times while she played my victim. The course was well worth it and I am looking forward to Michi taking hers, so I can play the victim.

Its the last evening,  so we celebrate. Its customary at TSD to celebrate each special Shark Bite Shot with a dive course (or the other way around). We cling glasses and spend the evening telling heroic tales from the courses and other stories until its time to say goodbye to our TSD Family and newly made friends. At Malditos, its another goodbye. We have a final celebration by drink and smash shooters in Malditos shooter box (drink a shot and throw the glas at the wall).


Day 7 (04.06)

Departure day. We leave at 6am on a private boat. The Malditos team is waiting for a delayed public boat to go on a fun trip to Cebu. So we can give them a ride. We make it to Cebu Airport without problems and from there via Xiamen to Shanghai. We arrive home at midnight.

Thank you, Malapascua. It was a great holiday.

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