50 Metre Dry Dive at the Midlands Dive Chamber, Rugby, Warwickshire. 29th April 2023.
Attended by Mike Waddington, Trisha Mason, Bailey Walker, Tristan Martin, Kate Martin. Organised by James duCassé.
The Midlands Diving Chamber, aka MDC, is one of the largest volume Hyperbaric chambers in the country and serves most of the central part of the UK. We are fortunate to be located within an hour of this chamber, so if we do get into a diving incident whilst diving locally or at least close enough to be directed there, the homeward trip will be relatively short!
We changed into a set of hospital scrubs shortly after arrival, and the staff made us feel at ease. Robbie Renalson is the Hyperbaric Supervisor and Technician, and he ran through an excellent informative presentation which detailed the history and uses of the chamber, including the vast area it serves, and the type of other activities that go on there which, outside of recompression of Scuba divers, included rehabilitation for multiple illnesses and for treating athletes.
Robbie’s presentation technique was engaging and professional, helping put us all at ease. Once the presentation was over (about 30-40 minutes), we entered the chamber and sat on seats in a space similar to a large caravan. You could easily stand up, and even with the max ten people inside, there wasn’t any feeling of claustrophobia.
Some of us took dive computers, and Tristan brought along his go pro which allowed an impartial witness to the going’s on inside the chamber.
With the door locked, Andy, the Chamber Technician, gave the signals to go ahead, checked with us, and after everyone confirmed okay to go, the pressure increased.
The noise as the air was pushed in caused the room to heat up gently, and with us all clearing our noses frantically, we were told after a minute or so, we’d reached 3 metres! It was a bit anticlimactic, but it was to demonstrate to us all that they take us down slower than we could possibly descend on a real dive.
Once acclimated at 3 metres, he gave the go-ahead to go down to 50 metres. Andy called out the depths as we descended, with everyone regularly equalising. There was a marked increase in heat during the descent, and I’m told the room reached 30c. I was silent for most of the descent until Mike spoke up; when I realised his voice was squeaky like a chipmunk, I couldn’t help but start laughing, then others spoke up, and each in unison realised how different they sounded.
Feeling very giddy and childish, the effects of narcosis had definitely taken hold of us at varying degrees. We all had a ping pong ball on our seats, all of which popped under the compression. There was also a sample of neoprene fabric which had flattened out as an example of how much neoprene exposure protection can become less thermally efficient at depth.
Once we reached ‘50 Metres’, we were given a simple task to do, which involved making a single six-letter word up from magnetic letters like you’d find on a fridge door owned by a family with young children; the only clues to what the words were was six numbers which correlated to a letter in the alphabet.
I found the task surprisingly hard to complete, but it seemed clear that some of the groups were more affected by narcosis than others. Bailey was on point and was straight into the letters (I get the impression she is very competitive!), but she was on my team, so we won the first round.
After we finished the task, we put the boards down and started the ascent using Navy Table 62 as the guide. We donned ear defenders as the noise of the air rushing in was quite loud. Andy called out the depths again as the air got colder, with temps going down to 15c at one point.
We reached 18 metres, and the ascent stopped whilst we donned oxygen masks which supplied us with 100% Oxygen for the remainder of the ascent. We continued…
We reached 9 metres, where we would stay for several minutes, so Andy handed out cards again for us to repeat the exercise with different words. Again once we had our cards, we got started, and again my teammate was straight on the task, and I was handicapping her progress, so much in fact that we came second to Mike and Tristan…the shame!
The time came to ascend again, and the air rushed in as before. We continued to chat amongst ourselves, with Andy asking us questions to keep us engaged.
Eventually, we reached sea level, and the door could be opened.
The experience hadn’t ended yet, as we were taken around to the control panel and shown how it all worked. Again Robbie is excellent at presenting, being transparent, engaging and informative.
As the session wrapped up, those of us who brought along log books added this as a dive and got it stamped. Dive computers also had the dive logged, and we also got a goodie bag and t-shirt to show for the trip.
Overall this dry-dive was really worthwhile doing, is excellent value for money, and this kind of activity supports the ongoing use of the treatment centre. The people running the chamber are all straightforward to talk to, knowledgeable and very approachable.
All in all, a great day, thanks to all the club members that attended.