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I am looking for suggestions. I am still trying to get my GUE fundamentals tech pass after a year. My biggest problem like most people is not good enough buoyancy control. I train in full tech gear with steel doubles, drysuit, can light etc in 20 ft of water with normally very bad vis. When I am trying to do 5 ft interval deco stops to the surface with no line by gauge only I generally bounce around way to much. As much as 5 ft. At this point I can't see much of anything except my gauge and I have no visual reference point to go by other than the gauge. If I have a visual reference like a line things are much better. If I shoot an SMB things are not so bad either since I get some tactile feed back from the line tension and I can be slightly negative. I train a minimum of 2 times a week so I don't think it is lack of effort just lack of technique. Anybody have this kind of issue and overcome it? How did you do it and what are you breathing patterns like. Some people claim they can detect very small changes in depth by ear pressure. So far I can't. I often can't see anything other then particles in the water which appear to float up or down if I am in motion. My gauge like most is not instantaneous so I could be up several ft before it registers that fact and at 5 or 10 ft that 2 ft change make a big difference and it is not easy to correct once it occurs. I am wide open to constructive suggestions.
With no other visual reference available, you need to focus on the gauge. With experience, you learn to preempt minor fluctuations with slight variations in your breathing. However, breathing should remain relaxed and natural without.
It's a hard skill, especially without visual or tactile reference. Don't expect miracles overnight - it takes time in the water. A lot of time.
Were you asked in Fundamentals to hold stops without a visual reference? We did all our ascents up a line.
One of the reasons for carrying an SMB and knowing how to deploy it is that ascents without reference are hard to do and be stable.
I really empathize with your post, because it took me almost forever to get to where I could hold a stop in midwater in our low viz. And I got vertigo trying, on many occasions. What I learned was that buoyancy control IS breath control. Once you stabilize at a depth, so long as your breathing remains unchanged (and you are in trim and not sculling) you will remain at the same depth. You get into trouble when either you haven't fully stabilized in neutral buoyancy with normal breathing, or when your breathing changes, which mine did as soon as I got worried about my buoyancy.
Your BEST visual reference is your team, which is one of the reasons why it's so important to stay together and stay within each other's visual field. Of course, if everyone is yo-yoing, it gets crazy -- but if everybody is close, and if everybody gives one another feedback, it works much better. The particles in the water are another VERY good reference. They generally, in the absence of significant up or down current, don't change depth much, so if they appear to be streaming downward, you are going UP. If they are headed for the surface, you are sinking. (I hear your complaint about your ears -- mine will eventually give me information about descending, but are useless to say anything about rising.)
You will also eventually get very keyed in to the way your suit feels, and you'll be able to note small changes in squeeze. If my suit's getting a bit loose, I'd better check my depth!
I'd recommend a ton of work in shallow water, but not just on holding stops. You can work within sight of the bottom, on tolerating task-loading. Do a ton of valve drills. Those will teach you, as much as anything can, how to control your breathing. Shoot a bag when you're high enough in the water column that you can only just see the bottom. See if you can stay on target depth. USE YOUR TEAM!
And the last thing I'll say is that, a couple of years ago, I did some dives in Southern California with my dear friend NW Grateful Diver. We did some stops in midwater without bothering to shoot a bag. I was having a good day, and just stretched out into the Superman position and enjoyed feeling as though I was lying on the water and letting it hold me up. Afterwards, Bob, who was my mentor when I was an awkward new diver, said he wished he could be as comfortable and stable as I was in that setting. I offer the story to stay that there is hope, if you keep working at it. If I can learn to be stable in midwater, ANYONE can.
On that note, if your gauge offers a metric option, set it in metric. It will read in tenths of a meter, and a tenth of a meter is 4 inches, so it will change much faster than it will if it's registering in feet. (Learned that during Cave 1!)