EXTENDED PENETRATION

Well, short of typing SEX in 8" high letters at the top of the page, this title must surely be one of the best attention grabbers in diving. This is a serious subject for a large number of divers however. For many enthusiasts, getting all the way inside some old wreck, or perhaps, to heighten the pleasure, even going down with your 'mates' on that virgin [wreck] we've all been dreaming of, at 30m+ (possibly even 'climaxing' in that particular elusive piece of "non-ferrous" you've been hunting for) is what diving is all about. Doing it as safely as possible ,and for once this doesn't simply mean wearing a condom, is what this article is all about. What do we mean by "extended penetration", and why do we bother with it? Extended penetration involves entering a wreck or a cave in search of a 'good find' or simply to explore and to see what is there. Cave diving is an extremely specialised activity beyond the scope of the normal sport diving with which we are concerned and so this article will concentrate on wreck diving. {In addition, the author - who is a confessed "wrecker" - has little or no experience of cave diving and as such does not feel qualified to comment in depth on the subject}. The spaces inside a wreck such as companionways, cabins, and engine rooms through which we need to move form very enclosed areas. Obviously then, any extended penetration dive will be a noclear surface dive and the appropriate precautions must be taken. Because silt tends to accumulate inside wrecks, and since this silt will inevitably be disturbed to some extend by divers entering the wreck or cave, extended penetration dives will normally also be low visibility dives. Extended penetration is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia! So why do we do it? Many of the trophies or souvenirs such as the portholes or telegraphs which divers wish to recover from wrecks require the diver to enter the wreck in order to remove them. In the case of portholes, the rounded boltheads are flush with the outside of the hull with the nuts inside the hull. Telegraphs are physically located within the hull. PLANNING The first, and probably most important consideration of an extended penetration dive is the detailed prior planning involved in such a dive. The old axiom 'prior-planning-prevents-piss-poorperformance' is as true as ever. Although planning is important in every dive, the potential problems which may occur in extended penetration dives makes thorough advance planning critical in these cases. Access to ships plans will allow routes to be planned and divers to familiarise themselves with the layout of the vessel before entering the water, and one or more dives to investigate the outside of the wreck and reconnoitre the site will need to be made before the penetration is attempted.

It is important that every situation that you can imagine is planned for and an appropriate rescue plan developed. Remember, if it can go wrong it will - and at the worst possible time. Murphy and his merry band of gremlins are good swimmers! Air supply calculations will become critical with extended penetration dives, and all divers entering the wreck must follow the 'one-third rule'. This states that divers finish the exploration of the wreck when one-third of their air supply has been consumed, even if their task remains uncompleted, leaving two thirds of their air for exiting the wreck. Decompression calculations must be carried out in advance to cover all conceivable cases, and all divers must carry an underwater slate with the plan and 'worst case' scenarios detailed on it. Spare cylinders equipped with octopus rigs should also be provided at the planned stop depths. EQUIPMENT One thing that must be made clear right from the start is that extended penetration is only for divers with the right equipment and, more to the point, divers who really know how to use their equipment. I would hope that it is obvious to anyone considering extended penetration dives that only reliable equipment should be used on these dives. The use of DIN fittings rather than the old familiar 'Aclamp' for connecting the regulator first stage and cylinder valve should be considered since this gives added security to the connection and reduces the possibility of a blown o-ring and consequent catastrophic air loss. Equipment redundancy is the name of the game - everything should have a backup in case of failure. All divers entering the wreck must be equipped with a fully independent alternative air source (such as a pony cylinder) in case of failure of their primary system. An octopus rig on its own is not adequate. In addition to this a spare cylinder with regulator needs to be provided at the exit point for use in an emergency. Any extended penetration dive requires a 'fixed' bottom line, often marked with lights or strobes, to be provided giving a guide back to the exit, and additional dives may need to be planned to lay such lines. The inside of a wreck is dark and so we carry a torch. On any extended penetration dive a second 'backup' torch (and maybe even a third) needs to be carried, and failure of the primary light is a signal to abort the dive. It is also a good idea for all divers entering the wreck to be equipped with a personal strobe which helps in location of personnel if there is an emergency. Protective clothing is a good idea inside a wreck. Gloves are a must to protect the hands, and a hardhat to protect the head is recommended. Many divers recommend wearing overalls to protect suits. Regulator first stages (including the one on the pony) should be padded against accidental impact. And an environmentally protected regulator is recommended in cold water conditions (environmental protection kits are now available for most regulators - see your local authorised dealer for your regulator for details). Any tools which are to be taken into the wreck should be carried in a separate tool bag, and each should incorporate a lanyard since tools are easily lost in low viz conditions when the silt becomes disturbed. When returning to the surface the use of a lifting bag to send tools and any recovered artifacts to the surface is encouraged. Many divers have been lost because they were struggling to lift more weight than they could cope with. No find is worth losing your life over! THE DIVE Having produced the plan this must be adhered to. The old axiom of 'plan the dive - dive the plan' is more important than ever. Cover divers remaining outside the wreck must also be thoroughly familiar with the plan. Any deviation from the plan could be fatal and so if any aspect of the plan cannot be fulfilled the dive should be aborted. If any divers are overdue inside the wreck or

anything else goes wrong, the appropriate rescue plan must be put into action immediately. Delays cost lives! It is often appropriate, due to the restricted space within the wreck, for one member of the buddy pair to remain outside the wreck as tender for the buddy who enters as a roped diver. Needless to say, a standby diver and tender also need to be provided. If this approach is to be used, the buddy pairs must practice the techniques thoroughly in a safe training area prior to the penetration dive. When entering the wreck, the first consideration must be can we get out again? This seems obvious but more than one diver has died as a result of ignoring this simple rule. The entry/exit point should also be illuminated, preferably with a strobe to help divers locate their exit point. Entry should ideally be made fins-first since it makes exit simpler if a problem is encountered, and has the added advantage that any resident nasties (such as large conger eels for example) will take a little longer to chew through your fins before they get to the tasty bits. Remember as well that any air pockets that you encounter within the wreck are likely to be unfit to breathe. Do not be tempted to remove your DV and sample the air. The effects of contaminants at pressure could really ruin your day - not to mention the days of the poor sods who have to go in and recover your body. Finning techniques to minimise silt disturbance should be practised by all divers who are to enter the wreck, and again, these need to be practised in advance. Why make visibility any worse than necessary? During the dive, you must monitor the current/surge conditions continuously and if necessary give the signal to abort. A strong current or surge channelled through the companionways of a wreck can easily cause serious injury in a confined space full of sharp edges. As with most other aspects of diving, extended penetration diving is a skill (or, more accurately, a collection of skills) which requires a gradual build up both in terms of training and of experience and which requires regular practice to maintain. What makes a good extended penetration diver? Ideally we are looking for divers who are mature (which is not necessarily a function of age incidentally) with intelligence, common-sense, selfcontrol and confidence. The ability to deal with stress is also important. I would suggest however, that perhaps this is not the ideal aspect of our sport for divers who become nervous or panicky in confined spaces! Having said all that, it is a skill which should be well within the capabilities of most divers able to master the theory and practical skills required to qualify as a BSAC Dive Leader (or it's equivalent from other diving organisations) or higher diving grades. If, of course, this is the type of diving that you wish to do...

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