Divernet

Your non-diving friends think youre crazy. Not for you the usual Friday night drinking session; youre lugging kit and loading the car for the drive to the coast. You navigate traffic jams and dodge juggernauts on the motorways. You stay in B& Bs and bunkhouses that would strike fear into a hardened back-packer.
You rise at ridiculously early hours, heft your dive kit onto RIBs and hardboats, and brave whatever the British weather cares to throw at you.
Often youll be blown out, sometimes youll miss the dive site and end up inspecting a random piece of seabed or clinging to the shot as it bounces merrily across the sand. Sometimes it makes naff-all difference either way, because when you reach the bottom of the shotline you cant see your hand in front of your face.
Stand back for a minute and consider the hours, expense and effort involved in a UK dive. To a casual observer, your behaviour seems as bizarre and obsessive as trainspotting. But with slightly trendier waterproofs.
However bonkers the average UK diver might appear, there is always a lunatic fringe prepared to push themselves where no reasonable diver would expect to go. We have collected some real-life stories to demonstrate the extremes to which seemingly ordinary men and women will go for their sport. Addicted to diving Judge for yourself.


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BROKEN WRIST no problem

When Leigh Bishop broke a bone, he was told to stop diving and let the healing process take its course. After all, how can you possibly dive when you cant fit your arm into any kind of dive suit
I broke my wrist in January 99 when I came off a dirt bike at an event near Cambridge, he says. At first I didnt realise what Id done and, thinking it would sort itself out, I ignored the pain that using the wrist caused. But by March, my dive buddy and fellow road-racing enthusiast Hutch advised me to have it looked at.
A trip to the hospital resulted in confirmation that the bone was broken, a ticking off from the doctor, and eight long weeks in plaster. Im in love with English Channel steamships, so it was hard to sit at home while my Starfish Enterprise pals were out diving wrecks like the Afric.
He consoled myself with the thought that it wouldnt be long before the plaster came off. However, my world fell apart when I returned to the hospital and the doctor refused to remove the cast. The bone was still poorly and I was told it needed at least another six weeks!
No way was I going to sit around at home for that length of time, but my drysuit simply would not fit over the plaster. In desperation, he paid a visit to OThree, the drysuit manufacturer, to see if it could help.
Luckily for me, Kevin Parry dug out a suit with dry-glove adapters. But when I tried to get into the suit, the thickness of the plaster prevented my arm from getting into the sleeve.
After several pain-ful attempts and a bit of head-scratching, Kevin disappeared, only to re-emerge with a small angle-grinder. I closed my eyes and tensed my muscles as he cut away sections of the plaster. Eventually the slimmed-down plaster cast managed to squeeze into the drysuit. Result!
But how would it perform in-water
The very next day aboard Graham Knotts charter boat we discovered HMS Amazon - lost on her maiden voyage in 1866 in 68m. The adapted drysuit worked a treat.
Next stop was an old steamer in 50m out of Weymouth. Me and Hutch found the helm intact - unfortunately most of the wheelhouse roof was still on top of it.
Together we managed to prise away the wreckage and recover the helm, but in the process I cut right through the dry glove and now my suit had began to fill up with water and we had heaps of stops to make! I was freezing.
After fitting a new glove, he was soon back in the water. Now my only problem was that as soon as I lifted my hand under water the air in the suit rose into it, and the glove would start to expand. It was like diving with the hand from a Tango advert!
Altogether I had three casts on that summer, but luckily the third was off in time for my Lusitania trip and I was able to hold my camera again.
Next time Ill go straight to the hospital instead of leaving it so long! But I wont stop diving.


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DOWN the pan

Nick Morant took a trip to the USA to check out the latest dive gear and bought himself a new wetsuit. He travelled down to Baja California, and when the opportunity to go diving arose, he took it. He just didnt realise what he was letting himself in for.
I was completely chuffed that Id managed to buy myself the latest Bodyglove one-piece and some extremely funky-looking fins. But when I got down to Cabo San Lucas, I found that they were experiencing a plankton bloom, and the visibility was very poor.
However, the dive shop was offering a trip to Pelican island, which sounded intriguing. Nick decided to give it a go.
The cylinders it offered us were rusting away, but I didnt care. The boat was the size of a rowing boat and held just four people - me, two American divers and the boat-handler.
It was a rainy day, but they set off towards the small, white island full of anticipation. What I didnt fully appreciate was that the island was a bird colony. It was white because it was plastered in guano and you could smell it from miles away. The noise of the pelicans was raucous, and they werent exactly thrilled to see us. I figured there must be some really spectacular underwater scenery to make it worthwhile coming.
As they were kitting up, Nick noticed that the surface of the water was chalky-looking, but thought nothing of it. When we went off the boat, it soon became apparent that there wasnt much in the way of scenery at all. It was dull, and the bottom was also covered in chalky blobs. It was beginning to dawn on me that I was diving in a huge bird toilet...!
The big attraction of the dive was to hang about in the shallows, watching the pelicans swoop down under water and swim about. It felt like being dive-bombed. Those birds are big, and you wouldnt want to argue with them. The water wasnt exactly clear either. It was like swimming through snow.
I came up from the dive completely covered in birdshit. My new suit smelt awful, and removing the pong of guano from neoprene isnt covered in the instruction manual.
It was a struggle to get back into the tiny boat without capsizing it. The two Americans were less than amused by the whole adventure and spent the entire journey back in silence, completely stony-faced. I just remember lying in the bottom of the boat, with the rain washing the guano off me, laughing like a fool. You have to see the funny side.
Now, whenever anyone says theyve had a shit dive, I have a little chuckle to myself. But I wouldnt have missed it. Even a crap dive is better than no dive at all.


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PRETTY in pink

Jonathon Lewis owns more cylinders than your average dive school and, like many tri-mix divers, spends most of his in-water hours hanging off a deco-bag mid-Channel. With such a hardcore reputation to live up to, Jonathan faced the ultimate identity crisis when he took a trip to St Kilda and his drysuit took a trip to Glasgow.
Id booked a weeks diving on a liveaboard in the remote islands of St Kilda, he says. Three of our group drove the heavy equipment up in a van, while the rest of us flew to Stornoway on Harris and drove across the island to meet the boat.
Id packed my drysuit in a separate bag and checked it in at the airport without a second thought. Imagine my horror when I arrived in Stornoway and my drysuit didnt. The airline staff were really helpful and explained that it was in Glasgow, and they could have it flown over in two days time. Fantastic - except that the boat was leaving in under two hours. I needed a Plan B urgently.
St Kilda is so remote that the islands are uninhabited, so there was no chance of popping into the local dive shop, and no alternative activities save counting puffins, which is not really my bag. Then I remembered that, as I was packing, my partner Rosie had advised me to take a spare drysuit.
Naturally I had completely ignored her suggestion, but Rosie, being thorough in these matters, had packed her old DUI drysuit as a back-up. Luckily for me, were about the same height. Unluckily for me, the drysuit is a lovely shade of pink!
Jonathon was not about to spend a week aboard a boat twiddling his thumbs while everyone else went diving. Being regaled with stories of the fantastic dives would have driven him over the edge.
I had no alternative but to squeeze myself into the pink monstrosity and steel myself for a weeks worth of piss-taking. Could I stand the jokes and daily humiliation with nowhere to escape to I had my doubts, but it proved no problem.
The hardest part was having to face Rosie and admit that, yes, she had been right. She didnt say I told you so - she didnt have to!


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THE condom queen

Mary Tourette was on a Coral Cay Conservation expedition on a remote island in the Philippines. The nearest hospital was two days away, and after sustaining a serious cut she was told not to dive as she would risk infection. Sensible advice, unless you are hopelessly addicted to diving.
Spending 12 weeks on a remote tropical island, diving every day, is my idea of heaven, says Mary. The Coral Cay Conservation project was right up my street and I took the opportunity to get into the water as much as possible.
She was in the final week of the expedition when a sudden storm beached one of the boats. Naturally we all mucked in to try and drag it back into the water.
Foolishly, I hadnt bothered to put my shoes on, and as we dragged the boat into the water, I sliced my foot open on a sharp piece of coral. The pain was excruciating. I was standing waist-deep in the water, howling like a banshee.
Mary didnt dare to look down to see what she had done - until someone pointed out that there were a fair number of baby reef sharks heading in her direction. I got out of the water pretty quickly and, sure enough, blood was pouring from my foot.
I hobbled off to the nurse, who reassured me, and stitched up the wound. Then she dropped the bombshell, no more diving. If the wound became wet there was a high probability of infection. I was inconsolable.
Later that day, Mary was bemoaning her fate to one of her friends, and wishing she had brought a drysuit with her. There had to be some way of keeping my foot dry while diving. After scouting through everything we had with us, we came up with the idea of a mini drysuit made out of a condom which would fit over my foot and protect the wound.
Needless to say, everybody thought I was bonkers, but it worked - I was able to dive! In fact, I started something of a trend. Cuts on the feet are a common injury, and the condom solution proved to be a hit with Coral Cay volunteers!


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BUBBLE-LIGHT guinea pig

Jeff Reed (right) trains BSAC Advanced Instructors, but thats childsplay compared to his other pastime, acting as a human guinea pig for the home-made diving equipment of his brother-in-law Bob Howell.
Bob is passionate about his semi-closed circuit rebreathers, says Jeff. He designs and builds them himself and is always searching for improvements and making adaptations. But he is also very busy being an assistant regional coach for the BSAC, and doesnt always get time to try out the latest version. So I help him out.
Many people are mistrustful of rebreathers at the best of times. They think Im completely mad to be diving a home-made version. Anything of an experimental nature carries risks, but I trust Bob - he knows what hes doing. We have had a few little adventures, though.
One of Bobs early rebreathers was made from plumbing parts. It worked reasonably well until about 10 minutes into the dive, when it started to come apart, allowing water into the unit. When something goes wrong on open circuit, you can usually tell immediately because you wont be able to breathe, or therell be loads of bubbles. With rebreathers you cant always tell when something isnt working properly - the problem unfolds gradually.
All I knew was that breathing became increasingly difficult, and after 20 uncomfortable minutes I was forced to call it a day.
My most serious incident was in the pool, on one of Bobs manually operated units. I had to press an inflator button to add nitrox into the breathing loop. Unfortunately, I wasnt adding enough nitrox to keep the oxygen level above 16 per cent, my breathing mix became hypoxic and I lapsed into unconsciousness.
Bob recalls the incident well. I was taking someone on a try-dive and I looked over to the deep end of the pool. Jeff was lying on his back and I remember thinking: Thats interesting, hes testing the rebreather lying on the surface. Then I saw his hand reach out and slide down the pool wall. I realised he was in trouble. I ran over and we hauled him out. Ive never seen anyone turn that shade of blue before!
I grabbed a cylinder of oxygen and stuck the reg in his mouth. I kept saying: Breathe this Jeff, breathe! As he began to come round, his hand was prodding at where the inflator button should be, trying to add more nitrox! We laugh about it now, but at the time it was seriously worrying.
My sister would kill me if anything happened to Jeff!
Jeff is not deterred by his near-death experience. I prefer Bobs rebreathers to open-circuit diving. It certainly hasnt put me off - I love it!
Bob feels the same way: I always do the first open-water tests myself, with Jeff for cover in case it all goes tits up. Luckily he has never had to pull me up, but its nice to know he is watching me like a hawk. I wouldnt have anyone else with me on the test dives. Bobs Rebreather web page is www. rebreather.org.uk


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NON-DIVER no thanks!

I could hardly write about diving compulsives without confessing to my own sordid tale of dive addiction.
I had been flirting with this guy for several months, so imagine my delight when he invited me to a posh hotel in the middle of the countryside for his annual dive club get-together. Its a dinner-dance, and everybody stays overnight at the hotel. This was my big opportunity!
However, when I arrived at the hotel, I found that the object of my affections had thoughtfully booked himself into a room with his mate, while I was sharing a room with another single girl. My plans for a wild night of passion had been scuppered. I had dragged my sexiest silk dress and Katherine Hamnett shoes all this way for nothing.
At the dinner-dance, we werent even sitting at the same table. Deeply disappointed but dressed to kill, I fixed on a smile and downed about a bottle of white wine. As the pain began to ease, I found that I was sitting next to Mr California: dashing, interested, up for it, and best of all, with his own room!
An evening of drinking, dancing and flattery followed. I was beginning to feel that my trip hadnt been wasted after all. Mr California was definitely about to get lucky, until he dropped the bombshell - he was not a diver.
Worse than that, he had absolutely no interest in diving. Suddenly he seemed about as attractive as yesterdays used Kleenex.
Despite my bruised ego and alcohol overload, when it came to the crunch I just couldnt do the deed with a non-diver. What has the world come to when diving even takes over your sex life
My shoes were killing me and I was about to slink off back to my room to cry into the pillow when a bit of judicious intervention by Richard Tully of Starfish Enterprise saved the day.
It had all been a misunderstanding and Greg, the object of my affections, was actually crazy about me but didnt want to come on too strong.
Well I wasnt mega-impressed, in fact I could cheerfully have punched him for putting me through the experience.
But, after a fair amount of talking around, at the 11th hour, the situation was rescued. Greg redeemed himself, his mate was very understanding about his sudden eviction, and weve been together ever since!


TEN TELL-TALE SIGNS OF DIVING ADDICTION

ONE The weather is so bad you cant dive, but that birdbath is beginning to look strangely alluring

TWO Your house resembles a dive locker and you have evicted the car from the garage because you need a repairs workshop for your kit

THREE You have named your children Diva LX and Cressi-sub

FOUR Your boss asks you to explain why youre viewing a webcam of Portland Harbour, while your work colleagues are glued to the webcam adventures of Stacey the Cheerleader

FIVE When U-571 was showing at the cinema, you turned up in your Buddy Commando BC: you plan to take your EPIRB to The Perfect Storm

SIX When your date suggests that you might like to slip into something more comfortable, you re-emerge in your woolly bear

SEVEN Your favourite party trick is to recite the BSAC 88 tables. Backwards

EIGHT When shopping for a new car, you ignore everything except the dimensions of the boot to make sure your kit will fit, then check that the colour wont clash with your purple Spacefrog fins

NINE You have abandoned your Tag Heuer wristwatch for a Suunto Stinger

TEN When your flatmate bangs on the toilet door demand-ing to know what youve been doing in there for the last 45 minutes, you sheepishly emerge clutching ... the latest Diver!