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Trouble in Paradise May 2, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Equipment.
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The morning dive was a good one. The Spiegel Grove was in fine form, although visibility was less than I’ve seen it previously. I was diving with Joe, who was on a rebreather. Rob had a low battery on his unit and wisely decided to give the day a miss, although I missed having him on the dive. We did a loop around the superstructure and then went into the 95′ deck where there is a mess hall and a workshop with a large lathe and other tools. Unfortunately Joe had a bad cell (giving me ammunition for ongoing but lighthearted arguments on the merits of rebreathers vs. open-circuit technical diving) and we ended the dive earlier than planned with only 4 minutes of deco needed on my part. Joe sat out the second dive so I went in with the recreational divers for my second dive without carrying any deco gas and finished the dive taking Jody for a tour of the same deck as the first dive. Because of a slightly shortened surface interval and a second deep dive I ended up with about 10 minutes of deco, with no 50 mix available to speed it up.

I went up the line at 30 fpm, the maximum recommended amount and started doing my stops. The 30′ stop cleared almost as soon as I got there, and the 20 minute stop was fairly short and I was at 10′ before Jody caught up. I’d seen him hanging below me and found out later he was wondering where I was, but eventually realized that I was above him. Because we were now the last divers in the water, I hurried things up by finishing my deco while swimming to the back of the boat. I’ve often done this just for fun but this time it saved 2 or 3 minutes for both the other divers and crew.

On the downside, I went into the Ocean Divers shop to buy an air fill for my doubles. The woman behind the counter made eye contact and I asked for a fill, at which point she seemed peeved and told me she had to finish some form or other for someone else. I told her I didn’t mind waiting and in a few minutes I was charged $8.60 and given a ticket to take downstairs. I talked to the guy in the air fill station who was helpful enough and gave him my ticket. No claim ticket was given to me, which I thought strange as they had no way of telling it was my tank. He asked me if it would be OK if I picked them up in the morning as he was busy with fills for the charter operation. That was fair enough and I agreed. They opened at 7 so I had time to swing by and grab the tanks on the way to a different operator for the next day’s dive. One difference between Ocean Divers and all the other dive operators in Key Largo is that the others will fill your tanks for free, but there, if you want to bring your own, you pay for the fill.

The next morning we were there at about 7:40 to pick up the tank. The guy I talked to the day before wasn’t there, and the fill station was being staffed by the same person who sold me the fill the day before. She told me that they didn’t get around to filling the tank. When I pointed out that I’d been promised it would be filled by morning, she told me that their policy was 24 hour turnaround. So bizarrely, I had to point out that irrespective of the policy, which had never been revealed to me, a promise is a promise, and the tank should have been filled. She offered to fill the tank right then, so despite this making us late for the boat I had no choice but to let her do it.

She first hooked a Nitrox hose to it, although I’d asked and paid for air. When she was called on this she said that the tank was labelled Nitrox and must be filled with Nitrox, not air. I probably should have taken my tank right there and then but I needed the fill. In rare circumstances her statement is true, when the air station is not O2 clean, but her statement reflected a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem, and certainly shouldn’t be the case at a Nitrox facility. Next she puts two yoke inserts in my DIN valves and hooks two fill hoses to the doubles. At that point I went upstairs for a moment to see if they were a PADI facility (which they are), because we were wondering as instructors whether we were responsible for reporting such faults. We concluded we weren’t. Then while we were talking about it we heard the familiar sound of purging, although these were both repeated and extended blasts of air, not a short single purge as you’d expect.

Mine was the only tank being filled so clearly something else was wrong. Looking in, I noticed she tried to tighten the valve on the left tank in the open position, just as we’d guessed. I pointed this out to her, and while closing it, she told us “the yoke is still not going to come off”. I told her she’d have to purge it first and she snapped “I know what I’m doing”. So I said that we were both certified gas blenders and we were just trying to help – a statement met by silence. Sure enough, with the valve closed and the whip purged, the yoke came right off. I wished her a nice day as we sped out of there, unlikely to return in the foreseeable future.

Mine was not the only case of rudeness, incompetence and egotism (a dangerous combination in diving) at this operation. The other disappointments will be written up by others and I will provide links to them in this blog. I’ve been to other operations on Key Largo that weren’t familiar with technical diving. None of those tried to fake knowledge they didn’t possess. Some might be characterized them as primarily suited for recreational divers so I don’t fault them for not knowing much about technical diving, as long as they don’t pretend to. Faking competence will ultimately lead to something unfortunate, so we won’t be coming back. Some of the other operators told us there has been a lot of staff of staff turnover there, not all of it voluntary.

Fortunately, it was my one and only dive scheduled with them that week.

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