The Long Path to Trimix Diving, Part 2

The year 2011 turned into 2012. I decided then that the new year was going to be the year I dove. That Winter I booked a week of diving in Saba for the end of June and a return trip to Grand Cayman in September. With Jerry and Steve doing the teaching at the Dive Station I had very few opportunities to rack up many certs. So instead I dove with Carl off the coast.

Donna Dornbos

Part owner JND Scuba Center, Master Scuba Diver Instructor, probably Tec Instructor.

Donna in Red on Grand Cayman with astronaut Charlie Duke.
Donna in Red on Grand Cayman with astronaut Charlie Duke.

Donna, one half of the husband and wife team that owns JND Scuba Center in Palm Bay, kept asking me to dive the Hydro Atlantic off of Boca Raton. The Hydro is a natural wreck sitting in about 175 feet of water. The top of the deck hovered right around 140 feet. Donna knew I had been certified to dive air to 150 feet (Jerry had been cross-training us with PADI and TDI when we had been tec training). However, I knew I was not ready to just jump in on a deep dive having had the training end the way it did and not having really touched it since.

TIP: “Never dive outside your comfort zone…”  -The Deco Chamber

Donna and her husband Jeff where also the master dive trip planners that I booked with to take trips to Little Cayman in 2009, Grand Cayman in 2011, Saba and Grand Cayman again in 2012. Both are great people and they always have great trips to go on. Donna was more into Tec than Jeff and she was one of the spirits that would not let Tec die a peaceful silent death in my soul. She would always ask if I had finished up my training, what was taking so long, if I wanted to dive the Hydro.

Saba and Grand Cayman and Serendipity

Saba was great. GC was great. Diving off the coast was great. But something was missing… I knew what it was. The spirit of adventure was telling me I wasn’t done, this was not the end. After returning from Grand Cayman in September I realized I had to finish up my tec training to achieve at least TDI Extended Range (PADI TEC 50). Serendipitously, I was approached by Keith, owner of the Dive Station in Orlando, and asked if I wanted to finish up my Tec 50 with him. He had two divers that wanted to do the entire Tec 40, 45, 50 scenario and offered a spot to me. Since I had already paid for it I decided this would be a good opportunity.

Jerry, who had been teaching at the Dive Station since the big bang, had a falling out with Keith and had stopped teaching there while I was away on Saba (long dumb story). I was also on the outs for a period of time until the situation was explained to Keith. End result – when reactions occur faster than thoughts – lost friendships and lost opportunities happen. Because of this, Jerry would not be instructing us and I kinda knew the schedule of training would be spotty.

The two other divers were Steve Lalonde, still trying to get his Tec 40 certification, and Chris Goughnour. Both were instructors. Steve had just spent all of 2012 working full time for Keith racking up a lot of certs and becoming an instructor in all aspects of diving. The training started in the Fall and by the time I was involved it was again cold. And again, because of the cold and use of a drysuit, the gas shut-down drills were a problem. The solution that was broached to me was “sidemount.”


Rather than get into the details of sidemount diving I’ll just say I went along with it. Yes, gas shut down on sidemount is extremely easy. Using gear that was not my own was not so fun however. The one thing I took away from learning sidemount is that it is a very personal setup. Your rig is adapted and specific to one diver – you. Borrowing equipment is a pain in the butt for sidemount and it did not instill a lot of confidence either.

I got specialized in sidemount (money I will never see again) and then the training schedule sputtered to a halt. Around that time Steve had been struggling with some personal issues. It was becoming clear that he was going to have to move back home to Wisconsin due to financial reasons. Keith was looking to Chris to take over the week day instructor schedule. Steve was going to try and stay past the new year and finish up the Tec 50. I was finishing up my sidemount dives with Chris to give Steve more time. In the end, Steve couldn’t extend the time and moved home just before Christmas. With the holidays and the change in instructors that Keith had to deal with, the training continued to be pushed back. I was starting to feel like the goal would, again, be put to the back of my mind and I would just remain an overly trained recreational diver.

2012 Ends – Still Not Certified

Steve moved, Christmas came and went, the year 2012 turned to 2013. All was quiet. The seas along the east coast of Florida were rough. The usual early January dives off Jupiter were not happening due to the weather. No Lemon Shark dives, no Loggerhead Turtle dives. All our planning was met with a forecast of 4-6 foot seas. I was also struggling with my secretary unexpectedly moving at the beginning of the year. My days were now from 7 in the morning to 9 at night at work. I had to make some long range decisions in my life outside of diving. It seemed like the world was going to take over my diving time and completely consume it. With the changes happening at work I was hesitating on hiring a new assistant because I did not really want to keep going in the same direction. I wanted a break and a new direction. But these changes also brought a much busier schedule if I was to try and do the jobs of both me and my former assistant. My thoughts were drifting further and further from the goal.

Chris Goughnour

Chris studying his TEC instructor exam.
Chris studying his TEC instructor exam.

I met Chris during the Tec Deep instruction for the PADI Tec 40-50 class instruction. It was myself, Steve, and Chris in the class with Keith behind the wheel. That first class was as boring as most in-class dive instruction classes are. Boring but the information is important. Understanding the physics and physiology of deep diving can save your life. From Dive Master on up both subjects are pushed on you. By this time I had heard the PADI canned audio regarding standard gear setup. That was the boring part. Developing a dive plan from scratch is more interesting. Figuring out gas calculations was what I wanted to hone. Towards the end of the day Steve, Chris and I were figuring out gas requirements in the class room. That’s where I first met Chris.

Chris soon took over where Steve had left off. He was teaching and training. Teaching new students in a program that took them from Open Water through Instructor. It kept him busy. He was also still training for his TEC 50 and ultimately his TEC 65 (PADI Intro TRIMIX).

The Call

I think it was a Saturday when the phone rang. Keith’s voice was at the other end and he had something to tell me. In a cold ice-covered Wisconsin lake Steve had lost contact with the team’s guideline. The group he was diving with frantically searched on the surface to find him when they realized he was not with them. It was a small Wisconsin lake. A lake that freezes over in the Winter and the visibility substantially increases under the ice. A place where special divers go in the Winter to test their skills and see things few others do. Few others even realized that people dived at that time of year. Steve did. Steve dove in caves when he was in Florida. It was not surprising he would dive under a frozen lake in Wisconsin. He was in the medium he loved when he was pulled from the lake. His well trained friends and local emergency personnel tried to bring him back but were unable. On that clear and cold Wisconsin day, Steve decided it was a good time to dive.

Steve Lalonde
Steve Lalonde

Steve’s loss stunned all those that knew him. At my age we all have lost friends. That is the nature of life. The loss of Steve, however, was different. Here was a guy I knew that was full of life and a great diver. He was young and had an entire life ahead of him. A life he had decided he was going to live his way. How could he possibly be taken in this way? It didn’t make sense. Suffice it to say it changed me. Maybe not overtly. Maybe not in a way people can see. Maybe more like a gentle nudge with just enough force to wobble me a bit to eventually slip me out of my orbit and into a new trajectory sooner than planned. Steve was too young.


In March of 2013 Carl contacted me and asked if I wanted to learn trimix. I said “no.” I just want to get my extended range certification and do some deep diving. He explained that the instructor, Mark at Go Dive Florida [Fill Express] in Pompano only teaches extended range with the introductory trimix course since they are contained in one TDI manual. I thought about it and I knew Carl was going to do it so I decided I’d do it. Before I knew it we were scheduled for the first Thursday through Sunday in April, 2013.

(End of Part Two)

IMG_4702Story by . Follow him on Twitter @DirgaDiver.


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