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Advanced Wreck with John Chatterton (in 2015)

Discussion in 'Wreck Diving' started by tmassey, Dec 30, 2019.

  1. tmassey

    tmassey Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Shelby Township, MI USA
    As with most things I write, this is a long story. This one doubly-so: it started four years ago and ends with an entirely different class. My thoughts on both classes are pretty intertwined, so I'm going to have to write up both reviews. This is the first one: TDI Advanced Wreck with John Chatterton. Get comfy...

    As I've written about previously (in my GUE Fundies review opus), I had taken a large number of PADI classes, but was never happy with the instruction I received. By 2010, I had made it to PADI Master Diver (which means OW, AOW, Rescue and five different specialties). While my Rescue class stands out as the best non-tech class I've ever taken, the rest were singularly lackluster. While I had not technically run out of PADI classes (you'll *never* run out of PADI classes...), I had run out of interest. There were a couple that still intrigued me (Wreck was on top of that list), I had zero confidence I would actually *learn* anything substantial. So I never took them.

    In 2015, I stumbled upon Advanced Wreck from TDI. At this point in my experience, the only entry points for tech diving were GUE Fundamentals (and I had a huge mental hangup on that, documented in that link above), or Advanced Nitrox / Deco Procedures, which at that time seemed beyond what I was ready for. But I love wreck diving: at that point it was by far my favorite dives. So, I started to look into it.

    Then I found that this guy John Chatterton taught it. It was a name I had heard of before. I had never (and still have not!) read any of the books or seen any of the TV shows. But I knew that he was a well-known wreck diver. Teaching Advanced Wreck. Now I'm beyond intrigued.

    I figured the price for a class from a well-known person would be beyond what I'd want to spend. Turns out, it costs just about the same as anyone else. (Note: Prices went up for 2020. Still very reasonable.) (Other note: I've noticed this. Classes from well-known and well-respected SCUBA people are often on par with any other quality education. And I've found that some of the most expensive classes around are priced not based on the quality of the instruction or the respect of the instructor. Sometimes they're simply just more expensive. So put the effort into finding the right instructor.)

    But. I was *way* under-qualified for this class. I had a bit over 200 dives. I had been diving long-hose and BP/W for a couple of years at that point, but I had no more than 6 or so dives in a 1970's-vintage set of LP72's -- with a single yoke outlet! I'd never done a valve drill and had never done a long-hose air share with another person. Advanced Wreck is taught in full tech configuration. Could I possibly do this?

    What the heck: let's find out. So I sent off an e-mail outlining where I was as a diver and asked his thoughts. He ended up suggesting a telephone call. We spent probably a half hour or so talking, which I really appreciated. In the end, he thought that it would be possible for me to take the class.

    Then let's do this!

    To "prepare" for the class, I assembled my first set of isolation manifolded doubles and spent an hour or so diving them in a local quarry by myself. Basically little more than a single dive, with no actual valve drills or anything, just reaching the valves to see what it was like. I then packed everything up and flew down to Florida. I was able to go on a two-dive trip the day before class, also in doubles. Still no valve drills or anything.

    OK. Now for the class. The class was four years ago, so keep that in mind. I don't remember exactly what went on minute-by-minute. At this point I can only remember the lasting impressions that this class made. Fortunately for this review, this class left some of the most lasting impressions I've ever had from a SCUBA class.

    If I remember correctly, I signed up for the class approximately one month or so in advance. John sent me the TDI Advanced Wreck book, as well as a four-page class outline, as well as some other seemingly-odd resources, including the history of a random Coast Guard ship. There was also a list of a dozen or so other books (diving-related and otherwise) that were recommended.

    That class outline was intimidating. Four pages of skills that I had no experience doing... Tons of line work, and I had maybe 2 hours of *total* experience with a reel in my life. Valve drills, air shares, and more. Like a good student, I covered every word of the assigned material, and some of the recommended items as well.

    The class was set up with a half-day of classwork in the morning, and an afternoon diving. This was quite a bit of class time -- more than I had ever had in a class since OW in 1992. (Ice diving had a single half-day of class, and no other classes I had taken had had anything more than a, say, 30-minute "class" session before a dive.) There was quite a bit of material that was covered during this time -- and a good chunk of it not exclusively focused on wreck diving.

    My expectations for classwork were based on what I'd experienced in nearly every diving class to this point: effectively page-by-page review of the class book. (By the way, that's also what I experienced for a good chunk of my Intro and Full Cave classes, too......) The class work for *this* class was *not*.

    If someone were to ask me to describe what *I* thought were Mr. Chatterton's goals for this class, it would be to help people to completely reconsider all fundamental assumptions of how they approach diving. Questions of gear configuration and technique were secondary to that. The biggest focuses were on mental aspects long before the dive. Strategic dive philosophy. Comprehensive planning. Dive preparation. Gas management. Deco management. Logistics.

    That's not to say that there weren't lots of valuable and specific information. There was. Line work had a big focus (pro *and* con), as well as alternatives (strobes were a surprising focus). How to approach a hole you want to go through. Think about your geometry: sideways may be the better alternative. Where and how you're likely to get stuck and how to avoid or undo this.

    Navigation within a wreck was also a big focus. Unlike caves or reefs, these are man-made structures. They have a purpose, they have a design, they're made by humans for humans, and you can use those things when you're inside of them. Remember that random hstory of a Coast Guard ship? It's the history of the sister ship to the Captain Dan! It's got all kinds of deck maps, diagrams and pictures -- that you can use to get familiar with the wreck we're going to be doing!

    But like I said, these were not, to me, the biggest takeaways from this class. The biggest takeaways were centered around a focus on diving philosophy. This was *completely* unexpected for me.

    Looking back, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Now that I've got 4 years of tech diving experience, I realize now how different tech diving is from normal diving. "Normal" diving is built around a single premise: if all else fails, you can go to the surface. It's so basic, so fundamental, that most people forget that it's assumed in the first place. And when you take that assumption away, either by a physical or virtual overhead limit, everything changes. *Literally* everything: if you change the fundamental assumption upon which all of your strategy hangs, of *course* everything will change.

    Of course, I had no awareness of any of this. Dunning Kruger is real, folks. When you literally don't know what you don't know, how can your intuition be anywhere close to correct? It can't. And certainly mine was not.

    I have a feeling that this is frequently a disconnect between a new tech diver's expectations and reality. I certainly see it on ScubaBoard over and over: an experienced recreational diver considering tech. They are nearly exclusively focused on gear and technique, and they already have a slew of ideas based on their now-invalid preconceived ideas and experience. When experienced divers try to tell them why their very most basic ideas are no longer relevant (and therefore neither is everything else) they just can't understand how their current intuition, maybe formed over years and hundreds of dives, is now lacking.

    But it is.

    Looking back, I really needed an Intro to Tech class first. At the time, TDI ITT may have existed as a class, but I had literally never seen it before, and no one was talking about it. Of course, there *was* GUE Fundies, but that's a whole nother story (as I described at the link at the top). And I *still* think that it's silly for GUE to focus nearly exclusively on a 4-5 day high-intensity class as your *introduction*. Just silly.

    So instead, I got to grapple with this fundamental realization while *also* learning new skills and techniques I should have already known while *also* doing so deep inside a wreck. Half the time blindfolded.
  2. tmassey

    tmassey Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Shelby Township, MI USA
    (Once, again the 10k limit strikes. Part 2)

    What was also a total surprise for me was Mr. Chatterton's specific fundamental view on tech diving.

    At this point, in my mind tech diving, DIR, cave diving and GUE standards were inextricably linked. Tech diving meant long hose, BP/W and doubles. Tech diving *was* "DIR", and DIR was promulgated by GUE. As you can see, my understanding was very superficial, confused and gear-focused. If you used the gear, you were a tech diver. But if the gear didn't match the 'DIR Standards', it wasn't right. And even though I had never dove a proper tech configuration, I could quote chapter and verse and tell you the "right" way to do whatever. (Or, at least I sure *thought* I could.)

    Well, let's just say that those are *not* John's chapters and verses. John has created a style of diving that directly suits his personal philosophy. It's not based on a rulebook. It's based on the type of diving he is doing, and the way he has found most effective for doing it. And it most certainly does *not* look like GUE Fundamentals.

    It comes down to philosophy. In my opinion, Mr. Chatterton's philosophy is is centered on the answer to a very basic question: How much of your diving do you want to be dependent upon the behavior of others? And his answer leans heavily on self-reliance.

    As someone born and raised as a PADI diver, this is an odd question. In order to dive, you have to have a buddy. Why? He's your backup. Someone there to help you -- and you to help them. And the most central focus of buddy diving is gas sharing. Your buddy is your backup. If you run out of gas, you have your buddy! (And if all else fails, go to the surface.)

    And that even continues into technical diving. Why do we have a long hose? So we can share gas through a restriction. Why is the long hose on the right post? So it can't roll off, shutting off the OOG diver's supply. That item alone spills down into a *bunch* of other details that touch on nearly every aspect of our configuration and strategy. All so we can share gas with an OOG diver.

    What if, instead, you assume that you will *never* share gas -- that it is simply never an acceptable option to make part of any plan? How does that change your thinking? Your planning? Your gear? Your configuration? Your entire fundamental philosophy?

    Once again, this was an assault to my entire basis of diving. A thought I had never considered. Of course, I'd considered solo diving. And I'd even done it once or twice. But this was different. This wasn't just doing a dive without a buddy. This was re-engineering the entire approach to diving by specifically assuming you would not *have* a buddy. Sure, having a buddy to take advantage of is a benefit, but only of convenience, not of necessity.

    When you really reflect on that thought, it really causes you to question *so* much of what divers consider basic requirements. It is literally questioning dogma. That's a lot to take in.

    For the record, I'm not going to go into detail about the ins and outs of his philosophy. That's the job of the instructor, not the student, and it's what taking the class is for. Nor am I interested in debating the benefits or drawbacks of this philosophy. It's not my philosophy, it's his. This is my review of what I experienced in my class. It's ScubaBoard, so I expect way too many people to ignore the point of this and want to use this as an opportunity to argue. I'd ask you not to do it, but the last time I did that people argued about me asking them not to argue! So I'll just let you know I simply will not participate in this.

    But the other point to remember is this: the point of the class was *NOT* to convey a philosophy. It seemed to me, rather, that it was to convey the concept of deep consideration of the basic assumptions you make as a diver. Certainly we talked about his thoughts and perspectives -- it's a big part of why a student goes to an expert in the first place. But the goal was much more about conveying a pattern of thought and analysis than it was about the specific conclusions that should be drawn.

    Part of what is driving me to write this was a recent critique by some about Mr. Chatterton requiring a Petrel/Perdix for class. This quickly devolved into people's opinions about how his 'restrictive' gear choices were and how 'limiting' it would be to take such a class. This could not be further from the truth. I've literally never met someone who had more opportunity to say "I've been there, I've done that, and here's how you should do it" and yet said it so infrequently, but rather was interested in the ideas and reasoning of others. This is from my recent Trimix class with him, but the point holds here, too: the most common answer to any question was, "It depends." And the answer to even the most basic questions will depend heavily on your most basic assumptions.

    A brief aside here: I've taken John Chatterton's Advanced Wreck (and now Trimix). And I've taken GUE Fundamentals. These two are a *very* odd juxtaposition. From a cursory glance, they would seem not so different, but in my opinion, these two classes could *not* be more different. It's not because of a difference in skill, intelligence, deep reasoning, or history. It's simply because of one very specific difference in opinion: the value of a team. Centering on the philosophy of a team or not directly and logically leads to nearly every other decision (e.g. the central importance of consistency in every detail and in every layer, as well as nearly every element of gear configuration).

    Make sure you understand this basis. You do not have to agree with Mr. Chatterton's philosophy, but it would be good to be aware of it in advance so that you know what you're getting into. But no matter what your current philosophy is, I have no doubt you will benefit from re-examining it from time to time, and that's exactly what you will do in his class.

    One other aspect of the class that I found extremely interesting was his philosophy on decompression and narcosis. Now keep in mind: at this time, I had zero tech training, which means zero deco training. I *thought* I had some understanding of decompression diving. In reality, I had next to none, and what I thought I knew was not real accurate. This made certain aspects of this class harder: it's hard to do the dives we needed to do and stay out of deco. In fact, Mr. Chatterton only teaches this now for deco-certified divers.

    What made this class surprising to me was two-fold: his preference against deep stops, and his focus on CO2 as the biggest component in narcosis. For me, these were brand new concepts. For those with deco training and experience they might not have been as much of a revelation. But also note that this was in 2015: most people were still trying to poke holes in the NEDU study, and the Spisni study was still two years in the future. The publishing of Dr. Simon Mitchell's gas-density research was still a year away. Yet these were things that were covered in my class -- in 2015. John is not living in the past: he's right on top of current research. (And this continues: my Trimix class in November included material from at least 2018, and he's reworked the class for 2020 -- and adding an additional half-day to make sure it's covered.)
  3. tmassey

    tmassey Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Shelby Township, MI USA
    (Part three, if you're counting...)

    Enough about the coursework. What about the diving? This was just as surprising, and just as *unexpectedly* surprising.

    The diving in these classes focuses on a lot of skillwork. This includes some focus on basic tech skills: valve drills and OOG air share, for example. Be warned: while you will be asked to do these skills, there will be no instruction in these skills. This makes perfect sense: it's a wreck diving class, not ITT. But as someone who had never *had* an ITT class at that point... it was a challenge. First time I did a valve drill, I managed to shut my own gas off -- twice. Not good. (That's because I had *zero* procedure for doing a drill. Lesson: Get the right training!) Gas sharing went better. In fact, it was the first time I'd ever deployed and swam with an OOG diver on a long hose. A diver back on the boat commented on how easy it looked with the long hose! :) I can say from experience, when I was the OOG diver receiving from a 5' hose it wasn't nearly as easy! :) But this is not the focus of this class.

    What we did a lot of was line work and blackout mask work. This started with following a line with our eyes uncovered. No biggie. Then we did it with the blackout mask. He had intentionally ran it poorly (an unnecessary crossover) for us to understand how to handle that situation -- and why you want to avoid it in the first place! Then we had to run the line and follow it, and reel the line back in and follow it. Nothing earth-shattering here, but again, for someone without line-running experience, it was a big jump. We also did plenty of other skills with the blackout mask. This eventually culminated in a "lost line" drill: rather than try to find a line, we were put in a room, given the blackout mask, spun around and then told to get out of the room. Like the lost-line drill in a cave, the biggest takeaway is you do *not* want to have to do this for real. Getting out of that room with viz takes seconds. Doing so without takes minutes. It's not a trade you want to have to make!

    I know a lot of people worry about the blackout mask. For me, it was *very* zen. Without sight, there's a *lot* less for me to worry about. So instead of being more stressed, I actually found it less stressing. It certainly helps to know it's a class, there's an instructor watching you and you can remove it at any time!

    In addition to specific skill exercises, there was also plenty of just swimming around through the wreck. Obviously, we spent a fair amount of time making our way through smaller than normal holes as we went. There were a number that stand out to me, even four years later. Going down, around and out through the explosion hole at the bottom of the ship, slithering between the ship and the sandy bottom. Or the time when all three of us were in a room and a diver who happened to be on the wreck saw us and wanted to come in too, until he looked at the hole in front of him (that we just came through) and then looked at us with a completely quizzical look on his face... And the only hole I couldn't get through: one that you had to go sideways through, but my straps were loose and every time I went sideways my tanks would shift enough to get in the way... (Lesson: make sure your straps are adjusted correctly, and re-tighten your waist strap if things are shifting!)

    But my favorite was a time when we were following the leader. John had entered a room via a door on the left edge of the room and headed between the wall and a large piece of machinery in the middle of the room. I waited at the door because I knew from experience sometimes there's not an easy way out if I jam up on top of the person in front of me. (Of course, I should have expected better of an Advanced Wreck instructor on his own turf... :) ). He gave me a wave and I came in. We swam in and around the machinery a bit, and he signals us to head out of the room. So I start to head back the way we came, up and over everyone, and he signals, no, go around the machinery. So I do, and way round the other side is an opening. Great, no problem. And then it hits me simultaneously: I'm looking at a perfectly fine and straightforward way to get out of this room. And two dives before, the opening that I'm looking at right now would have been nothing but a port hole to me...

    And that experience really highlights the entire class for me. It gave me a new and unexpected perspective on literally every aspect of my diving.

    In the end, I enjoyed and benefited from taking the class very much. Which is not to say that it was a pleasant class while I was taking it. It's actually one of the hardest classes I've taken. Obviously, being under-trained was difficult. It would be nicer if this were not the first time you've ever done a valve drill... I was both pleasantly surprised by how well I felt I did, and frustrated that I didn't do better. But the hardest part was the mental aspect. Epiphanies tend to be painful. And this one was no different.

    In fact, it took me a couple of months to really absorb and reflect on the things I had learned. But those have been powerful and valuable lessons. It really gave me a new and very different way of looking at nearly every aspect of my diving. Outwardly, it has not changed much of my diving practices. But it has added a completely new level of reflection on the fundamentals of the choices I make. It causes me to analyze *why* a particular aspect is the way it is. What hidden assumptions lead to that decision? Do those assumptions apply to me? Or do they *conflict* with some other hidden assumption somewhere else? For me, this has made a big difference in the way I approach this sport.

    Seems like an odd thing to take away from a wreck-diving specialty class. And I guess it is: you'd think there's be more wreck-related things in an Advanced Wreck class. There certainly were. I don't want to leave that out: if you're only taking this class for tips and techniques for diving shipwrecks, you *will* have plenty to learn. But I think you're leaving a lot on the table if that's all you take away. But given Mr. Chatterton's unique perspective and the focus, I wanted to write a review to let other people know what you might be in store for *besides* the valuable wreck diving instruction.

    Was there anything about the class I wish were different? For this one, not much. I thought the pace was excellent. The selection and amount of material was excellent. I really liked the layout: class in the morning, dive in the afternoon. (That's a criticism I have of the Trimix class: it was dive in the morning, class in the afternoon.) I have a couple of small issues, but they were also present in the Trimix class, so I'll cover them there, where the class was more recent and I can be more confident of my recollections. The biggest things I would change would be: I wish I was deco certified (which is now a requirement), and I wish I had had a little bit of a clue the direction the class was going to take. Which is why I'm writing this review! :)

    Like I said, that class was four years ago. Why am I writing about it now? Well, as I mentioned, there was some recent discussion of Mr. Chatterton's classes with minimal feedback from people who had actually taken one of his classes, and I thought a review of a class would have some value. But I also wanted to write a review of my recent Trimix class. Because I had already taken the Advanced Wreck class and was already introduced to his philosophy and how it shapes his diving, I didn't expect to be presented with a fundamentally new way of viewing diving.

    And yet, once again, I was. I'd like to tell that story as well. But you need the back story. So here it is.

    Next up, how John Chatterton re-re-shaped my perspective of technical diving in my Trimix class.
  4. wetb4igetinthewater

    wetb4igetinthewater Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Seattle
    I only skimmed your posts, and will go back to read. But I've think I've read enough in various posts to decide that one day I'd love to take JC's advanced wreck course. There are different prereqs I need to fulfill as I have certain goals. But I get the sense that I will take away some unique things.

    Unfortunately, most of the wrecks I will be diving in the future just have cargo left behind as the wood has probably disintegrated over 1000 years ago.
    chillyinCanada and Schwob like this.
  5. lukeb

    lukeb Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Central Florida
    Thank you for the great review!
  6. 1atm

    1atm DIR Practitioner

    @tmassey thanks for the comprehensive writup!

    The interesting question for me would be:

    let’s assume you have cave training, full cave with all bells and whistles, and you also have full trimix training. So all the skills you described (line work, zero viz, deco, etc) should be second nature. In that position, knowing what you know about the class, would you still take it?

    What would be the additional areas of learning for someone who went into the advanced wreck class, who has full cave/full trimix? (I appreciate the aspects on dive philosophy, incl self-reliance vs team based diving you laid out above - I’m trying to understand the more wreck specific content better)
  7. Kohanbash

    Kohanbash Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: PA, USA
    Thanks for this review!
  8. Efka76

    Efka76 Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
    Very interesting review!
  9. tmassey

    tmassey Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Shelby Township, MI USA
    I think that the philosophical reasons are a lot of the reasons why you'd take John Chatterton's Advanced Wreck. So leaving that out leaves out a lot of the value. I guess what you're asking is, if I already know everything there is to know about deep and overhead, what value does this class bring?

    There is a good deal about wreck-specific overhead management beyond simply "run a line". There's a good amount about wreck navigation that is absent in cave training. Was your trimix training in a cave? Did it cover bluewater issues of forced ceilings in an environment of possibly *rapidly* changing and potentially deadly conditions? If not, this is a class that would add that. And yes, fitting yourself through square holes is different than fitting yourself through round holes. And watching someone do it so effortlessly is a lesson in itself.

    Is this enough to take a three-day class? Depends on the details of your previous training. But I can say this: this will not duplicate that much of your training. We spent little to no time on rule-of-thirds, line markers, traverses/circuits, lost buddy, gas sharing, proper mix, O2 clock, gas analysis, bottle usage, etc. Much of the concepts will be extremely familiar to you, but in this case the rules you already know are re-evaluated in light of the wreck-focused environment.

    Would I still take it, had I done full-cave first? Yes, I would. But I consider myself a wreck diver who only pretends to be a cave diver, and I really like getting knowledge from experienced instructors and this would be way to do that. As I wrote in my review, I do not think it would make large changes to the way you dive. But it would provide a good deal of new perspective, even when thinking about wreck-specific material.
    chillyinCanada, 1atm and Dark Wolf like this.
  10. tmassey

    tmassey Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Shelby Township, MI USA
    @1atm: an interesting coincidence. @KentB just wrote this in a different thread:

    *This* sound like a cave class in a steel cave. This is *also* the class I thought I would be getting when I signed up for my Advanced Wreck. Heavy on underwater skills and techniques. Boot camp underwater! Rar! :) It's also what I think you were worried about with your question.

    This is *not* the class I got. Our penetrations were relatively minimal. Our underwater skills were there, but not drill, drill, drill. At first I was somewhat disappointed. It took me *weeks* to really reflect upon the class that I did receive and where those benefits came from. They were not at *all* what I thought I'd get before I took it.

    And now that I've got Full Cave, I have a feeling I would be bored in @KentB 's class. Or at least, underwhelmed. It's exactly what I did in cave class. Multiple times. At multiple levels. Which is likely why you asked your question! :)

    Let me make this clear. The class I took was not Advanced Wreck. It was John Chatterton's Advanced Wreck. It's different. It's a big part of why I wrote the review: So that others would have the proper expectations if they took this class.
    Dark Wolf likes this.

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