After the Open Water Diver certification, the second stage for most is the Advanced Diver course. Which sharpens your skills and introduces you to some new diving situations, after completion you are allowed to dive anywhere in the world up to 30 meters. The Advanced course is a series of 5 dives over 2 days with zero time spent in the classroom, just diving and taking your skills to the next level, its also cheaper and you typically get a discount if diving with the same school as your previous certification. For me it was a 10% discount with Big Blue, 3 more nights of free accommodation and a free shirt. Sweetness.
With the Advanced course you are required to include an advanced buoyancy test, a deep dive to 30 meters and a navigation test, but the other 2 dives are up to you. My Advanced course class was simply me and two others, Dave and Wendy. So again I had the chance to partner up with the instructor, Luke, and get one-on-one guidance from a dive master! We chose our 2 elective dives to be a night dive and a fish ID dive. You can also choose an underwater photography dive but this comes with the cost of renting the underwater camera, 1,200 bht, I had my GoPro so I was all set.
We started at 10am with a quick briefing by Luke and a rundown on the dives we had selected. That afternoon we set sail for a series of 3 dives starting with our advanced buoyancy test, requiring us to do a series of maneuvers and floats, in order to test our ability to stay controlled and avoid damaging coral reefs. Part of the buoyancy test was to swim though a plastic square in a number of ways, even upside down and a backwards loop through it.
After passing our buoyancy tests we were free to roam Liem Thieam bay to take up the rest of our 51 minute dive time. The only other skill test was for me to lead the team on our ascent to the surface. A proper ascent requires that we ascend slower than the bubbles coming out of our rebreather and that we take a 3 minute safety stop at 5 meters from the surface in order for any extra gas to escape our bloodstream. I then inflate the, “safety sausage”, to signal our location to anyone above sea level, and finally proceed to break the surface.
Our second dive was our navigation test, so we were each outfitted with a dive computer and dive compass, divers bling….
Luckily I did get my orienteering merit badge as a boy scout, so this test was an easy one. Just like in scouts, except instead of in the woods, I was underwater using the bearings on a compass and visual landmarks to navigate myself around the bay without Luke there to guide me. Wendy, Dave and I took turns taking the lead and goofing off since our instructor was not around on this dive.
The last dive of the day took place around 7pm and was to be our much anticipated Night Dive. The sun had set but there was still enough dusk light to get our equipment rigged and take the plunge into the water with flashlights in hand. As we descended, the fading light combined with the darkness of the water acted quickly to pitch us into total darkness. It was like being in space, floating in darkness, listening to yourself breath though a regulator and seeing only the pillars of light cast by the flashlights of other divers. I stayed close behind Luke, for fear of crashing into a sea urchin or some abrasive coral. In the darkness our torches hit upon many a large Barracuda during their evening dinner hunting. We even happened upon a ray and a hawksbill turtle sleeping under a rock. The coolest thing was that when near the huge barracuda, we could spotlight a smaller fish with our light and the barracuda would have the perfect opportunity to attack the exposed fish.
After about 45 minutes our heads were breakng the surface and we were climbing back into the boat, exhausted but exhilarated by the dive. After getting back on dry land around 9pm and considering our next dive would be at 6:30am the next morning, I fully collapsed into bed to recuperate.
The next morning was an early one and a blustery one. Our first dive of the day was to be our “deep dive”, wherein we would be taken to maximum depth of 30 meters and tested for any signs of Nitrogen Narcosis, commonly known as being “narced”. The effects of Nitrogen Narcosis are akin to being very drunk and are caused by the amount of nitrogen in the bloodstream at such deep depth. Symptoms can include drowsiness, disorientation and hallucinations. To test ourselves we went through a number of mental skills once situated at 30 meters deep, such as writing our names backwards and adding to 10. We all 3 passed without incident, but I admit I was a little disappointed I didn’t feel anything. I’ve heard stories of grown men chasing down Grouper to try and give them air and women seeing diamond necklaces in the sand while under the influence of Nitrogen Narcosis.
The last dive of the day, and of the entire Advanced course, was practically a fun dive, but we were given flash cards and pokers so that we could pass it off as our Fish ID Dive. I spent most of the dive taking pictures and videos with my camera of the angelfish, coral and hawksbill sea turtle we came across.
After the final dive we were taken back to Big Blue, properly logged our dive books and were given the card credentials of Advanced Adventure Divers. The next step, should I choose to take it, would be to become a Rescue Diver or committ fully to the 6 week program of DMT in order to become a dive master and then dive instructor so that I could then work for a place like Big Blue. Many a vacationer have come to Koh Tao for a week and ended up staying a year or more to become a certified instructor and dive master.
Last but not least, you know I couldn’t help putting a video montage together: