The Real Plymouth Fundamentalists
You probably heard about the Muslim Fundamentalists in Plymouth over the late May bank holiday on the news, well there were two other Fundamentalists in Plymouth that weekend which the world media didn’t hear about. Ian and Trish Emery were the real Plymouth Fundamentalists not because we wanted to blow anything up but because that weekend we had decided to do the GUE Fundamentals course…
GUE or Global Underwater Explorers is and American diving charity that promotes exploration of caves, cave research and advanced diver training. They are closely linked to Halcyon the dive kit manufacturer and the DIR (Doing it Right) diving philosophy.Trish and I had decided to do their entry level course, GUE Fundamentals, which is a prerequisite for doing their more advanced courses such as Cave 1, 2 and 3 and Tech 1, 2 and 3. The Fundamentals course teaches the fundamentals of diving such as no mask swims, out of gas procedures, valve shut downs, rescue skills, buddy skills, DSMB deployment etc. The only difference between their training and other agency training is that GUE require you to have perfect buoyancy and to remain completely horizontal in the water at all times. GUE’s emphasis on horizontal position or trim as they call it comes from their links to cave diving. If you are not horizontal in the water then any fin kicks will be forced downwards which will disturb silt on the bottom and will reduce visibility. Swimming horizontally also make swimming through the water far more efficient which means less energy is required by the diver and less gas is used. Anyone can do the Fundamentals course from Ocean Diver to Trimix Instructor, in fact, GUE prefers people with less experience to do the course as they shouldn’t have picked up any bad habits by then.
Above: GUE divers cave diving. (Courtesy of www.dirdiver.co.uk)
Many people have heard of the DIR diving system which was developed by some cave divers in Florida in the 1980s. They designed a minimalist equipment set up which meant that you only took on a dive what you needed whilst having enough back-up should anything fail. The DIR system has received a lot of bad press as people have tried to pick holes in it and say that it is not suitable for their diving. These criticisms miss the point about GUE and the DIR system. The GUE approach to diving is much more than just about equipment. The system only really makes sense when the whole package is adopted. One of the cornerstones of the GUE system is that all divers have to have identical equipment. This not only results in increased safety as everyone is familiar with everyone else’s equipment, it also means that as a diver progresses to more advanced levels of diving they do not have to change their equipment – the same equipment is used for recreational diving, technical diving and cave diving. Therefore, the diver becomes very familiar with their equipment. The GUE system gets a lot of its strength from this standardisation. However, GUE also put considerable emphasis on team diving and buddy skills as well as a level of expertise in diving skills which far exceed any other agency.
The course was very hard work. It runs over four days and each day starts at 8.30am and doesn’t finish until 8pm. There are eight hours of classroom lectures, swim tests and five dives. Each dive is only in about eight meters of water but dive times typically last between one and a half and two hours. There is lots of messing around with kit so that it complies with GUE recommendations and so that it fits you perfectly. One of the most powerful parts about GUE training is that the dives are all videoed so that after the dive you can see exactly what you had been doing and the instructor can give you specific advice on what to do to improve.
The dives start out relatively easy practicing different finning techniques (the backwards kick is an essential part of the course) before progressing to more demanding skills such as valve shut downs, out of air ascents and diver rescue skills. The diver rescue is very interesting as it is used to get an unconscious diver out of a cave. Obviously a vertical ascent in a cave is not possible so the diver has to be “flown” out horizontally. I would have thought this was impossible but having actually done it it’s easier than you would think.
The fundamentals course has four pass or fail levels. The worst one is obviously a fail and this means that basically you shouldn’t be diving, then there is a recreational pass which means you can do all the skills but they are not good enough to go on to do technical / cave training. You then have a provisional pass which means that you have mastered all of the skills except one or two of the essential skills such as valve shut downs or backwards finning. People who get a provisional can go away and practice and when they master the skill can come back for a reassessment and upgrade to tech pass. Then there is the tech pass which means you can go on to do GUEs more advanced training.
Interestingly, there was another course which was being run in tandem with our course and there were two senior BSAC people on it. One of them was the BSAC training director and the other was a national instructor. Unfortunately, the training director was not able to finish the course but given BSACs recent emphasis on buoyancy maybe the BSAC is thinking about adopting some of GUEs training procedures – remember, you heard it here first.
There are only five GUE instructors in the UK and our course was taught by Brian Allen who owns the Aquanauts dive centre in Plymouth. It is extremely difficult to qualify as an instructor with GUE so all the ones that do make it are exceptionally good and very professional. If you fancy learning more about GUE and the DIR system please visit their website:
Trish and I had a fantastic course and ache all over to prove it. GUE training may not be for everyone as it does require a certain kit configuration which is expensive to achieve unless you were lucky enough to adopt it early on in your diving career, and the skill levels that GUE think that their divers should have are probably a bit beyond what most people would want to strive for. However, if you want to progress your diving and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there I can fully recommend GUE training.