Divernet


ELEN
ANNIVERSARY WALTZ - HELEN MACLEAN

My husband and I were celebrating our 20th year together, on a trip of a lifetime to a rarely dived area in the Pantar and Komodo Straits, in the far east of Indonesia. And here we were, desperately clinging on to a ledge at 35m, braced against the wall and fighting a gusting 4/5 knot current that roared past like a hurricane.
It was so loud, it blotted out all other sounds, blasting me with coral sand as it whipped my bubbles away and tried to tear my mask and regulator from my face.
I watched the sharks out in the canyon, their huge bodies whipping from side to side as they held station in the same current that was trying to rip me from the ledge.
Ducking behind a small boulder, I saw my husband glance at his contents gauge. Panic! Unbelievably, un-heard, his O-ring had blown. He came hurtling towards me, signalling: Up, up, up!
We grabbed each other and he spat his regulator out and thrust my octopus into his mouth. I cant lose him now, I thought, hes got no air!
We clung to each other with one hand, hauling ourselves up the wall against the raging down-current with our free hands. Our masks were flooding as the current tried to tear them off and we had to grip our regulators tightly with our teeth.
We got back to the edge of the plateau, at 12m. Safety, I thought. Then a huge gust of current hit us and blasted us off the wall, out into the blue, straight into a whirlpool.
We spun down, faster and faster, our ears shrieking. I wrapped my legs around my husband, thinking: Im not losing him, and were not going back down to 45m.
I inflated my BC and we began to inch our way up against the pull of the whirlpool. Suddenly, with the beautiful bright blue surface so close, we began to be dragged back down. We heard a roaring - it was my husbands O-ring letting the last few bars of air out of his tank. He grabbed his inflator and frantically inflated his BC. We were going up again.
At last we reached the surface. Still going round in the whirlpool, we signalled frantically for the boat, still clinging onto each other. Back on the liveaboard even the dive master, who it turned out had been swept off the ledge into the whirlpool and taken down to 45m, had been shocked by the severity of the conditions. We couldnt believe we had survived.

PETER
I DIDN'T LIKE TO SAY - PETER FRAME

I was invited to make the fourth in a diving group, because one of the regulars was on holiday. The sea-state was lively, in a force 3/4 westerly, and visibility poor. The grapple was three flimsy homemade flukes, with the attached line at least twice the 39m to the seabed, a bit excessive as a downline.
The marker buoy looked awfully small, too. I felt I should speak up but, as the guest, said nothing.
I led the way down and suddenly the line above me became the line below me as the second pair descended negatively buoyant, dragging it down.
Thank God I have fast ears. We landed heavily on a sandy desert, to find 2m of viz available in our torch beams.
We assembled and headed for the grapple but found only drag marks in the flat seabed. I led the group along the marks until I judged that, even if we did find the wreck, there would be no time left to explore.
What seemed a hell of a long time later, we found the crushed marker-buoy lying on the seabed. I tried to deploy my delayed SMB and a light beam blinded me. I turned my back to continue but someone obviously thought I was narked and hit my BC inflator!
I reacted, dumped air, and landed back in the middle of the group. I checked contents all round and used hand signals, pushing and shoving to get everyone on their way to the surface. I did my own thing, and breathed my 15 litre tank almost dry in allowing my computer to clear.
The surface was very rough, but the boat eventually spotted my waving SMB and picked me up. The others had made it back, and we had learnt more than enough lessons for one dive.
I had learnt that, guest or not, its always worth speaking up!

MIKE
TIGER TIGER - MIKE COCHRANE

I had seen the documentaries, I had spoken to more experienced club members who had been to Panorama Reef near Safaga before, I was confident in my ability to be careful, but I wasnt ready for this!
I had gone beyond the edge of the drop-off to view the sunlight filtering through a large fan coral from below. Then I moved out into the blue to get a closer look at some fusiliers, not noticing how far I had come.
As the shoal twisted and turned,I noticed a dark shadow just beyond and below it.
I focused hard on the large shape, first out of curiosity, then fear.
Less than 50m away was a 4m tiger shark, high-finned, deep-bodied, formidable and instantly frightening. My stomach knotted and my heart pounded like an African drum. I was sure the monster would hear it.
I wanted to hold my breath because my bubbles seemed like fireworks betraying my presence. I wanted to turn to see how far I was from the reef, but was too scared to move.
Even if I knew where I was, could I win a race to the reef against a beast of such power Why hadnt I taken up golf instead
Having thought of every scenario, most of them bad, I thought about my contents gauge. My fear-induced breathing must have consumed a lot of air. Too scared to look, too afraid not to, I quietly turned the gauge toward me. I looked down - 40 bar!
I looked back - no shark. Panic! I frantically looked left and right, up and down, not worried about moving any more, but it had disappeared.
I made my exit, signalling madly to my impervious buddy as I passed the fan coral. I will never know why or where it went but Ill always be glad it did! I probably over-reacted, but tigers are statistically the most likely to attack. Actually, I wouldnt have missed it for the world.

ALL AT SEA - C KING

My partner had been encouraging me to dive for 14 years. I finally succumbed after some wonderful snorkelling in the Maldives, and joined my local BSAC branch.
I had completed a 6m dive in enclosed open water and was taken out in the RIB for my first sea dive. As we were leaving the marina, my instructor asked how I felt about diving to 11m. OK, I said.
My first shock came at having to roll off the RIB backwards. The English Channel was a wonderful shade of green, with about 1m viz. I let go of the shotline to try to equalise my ears, which are exceptionally bad, and started to drift away - my instructor pulled me back, anchored my hand around the shotline and I didnt dare to let go again.
Continually trying to equalise probably dislodged my mask slightly, and having only one hand to dump air out of my BC and equalise was making it difficult to get down. I tried pulling myself down the line headfirst, but every time I put my head down, my mask flooded.
After the fifth time, I decided Id had enough, and when my instructor signalled up, I agreed. However, because of the state I was in by then I froze and had to taken back up, so she couldnt wind in the SMB.
I got my arms hooked over the side of the RIB and two club members leaned out to dekit me but I refused to take the DV out of my mouth, even though I was on the surface and it appeared not to be giving me the air I felt I needed.
Meanwhile my instructor had to go under the boat and untie my legs, which were completely bound up in the SMB line!
When I eventually succeeded in becoming a diver, the difference was that I was doing it for myself, not for my partner!

BOB
ROPE TRICK - BOB BRYANT

I must first explain how skipper Gordon Wadsworth, running out of Scarborough, sets up a dive. Having located and hooked a wreck, the first two pairs of divers take down ropes and tie on to it. Gordon then draws up his boat on both ropes to recover the anchor. There is no tender. Divers are required to return to the line.
My buddy (right in picture) and I entered an uneven sea from the bow. A gentle run down the line led to the British Prince. It was gloomy, with viz less than 3m, which made orienteering difficult, so I tied on my SMB line.
We went off along one side of the wreck, returned to the start, then went around to more interesting sections. At the agreed time, we returned to the start point. What with all the detours, the SMB line had become jumbled and I knelt on some spars to untangle it.
There was movement in the water and I bounced gently up and down. Suddenly I had a floating feeling, and looking down saw my weightbelt clattering through tangled metal below.
Bouncing on the spars must have unclipped the buckle. There was no prospect of recovering it, and we were at 41m!
My buddy and others clearly heard me shout: Ive lost my *&%*@* weightbelt! Knees were locked under spars, air was dumped rapidly and momentary nausea swept over me. Was this it - the record rapid ascent
I knew that the line up to the diveboat was close, so I signalled that I would head for it. Making himself negatively buoyant, my buddy hung on and went with me.
Reaching the rope, I hooked my left leg around it, locking it off with my right, and shinned up with my buddy hanging on.
We made it, even though decompressing for 11 minutes in a heavy swell nearly disengaged my left knee. Thank goodness for a superb buddy, my BSAC training, Gordons style of diving and all those days spent climbing ropes in the school gym, even though I didnt want to!

HAIRY BY NATURE - ERIC SUTHERLAND

We were just off Eyemouth, waiting for Fred and Willie to surface, when the wind changed. Within minutes we were in heavy swell, fighting to get them aboard, as the wind pushed our old inflatable over the top of the divers and towards the rocks.
We got them on board and George, the coxn, tried to move us out, but the engine died and the next wave threw the boat onto the rocks. Fred and Willie jumped clear before it bounced back off; George and Jonathan managed to leap off on the next wave, and I joined them.
We were stranded on Hairy Ness, only 100m from shore, in a raging storm at high tide. We watched our boat as it blew round into Leeds Bay.
We knew the other boats in our party had made it back when the Coastguard appeared on the cliffs, and the lifeboat came by. Neither could help us, and we knew wed have to wait the storm out.
I wedged myself into a crevice and felt fairly secure until a monster wave washed me out headfirst towards the sea. The others grabbed my feet and held on grimly till they could pull me back up.
Two long hours later, a light appeared above us. The Wessex hovered effortlessly in the force 10 gale as we were winched aboard. The helicopter dropped us at the lifeboat house, and took off again in search of two other divers missing from St Abbs.
Once we had warmed up, we decided to look for our boat and ventured down onto the beach in the dark. The tide was heading out and the storm subsiding. The boat was there, at the foot of the cliffs, the engine gone but all our gear still in it!
We were retrieving it when we heard shouting - coming from the sea! We ran towards the sound and our torch picked out two figures in the surf. We helped the cold and exhausted divers ashore.
Where did you come from I asked. St Abbs, they replied. Incredibly, we had found not only our gear but the two missing divers as well!

ANDREAS
MARK OF THE SERPENT - ANDREA PALMAS

The weather in Cebu in the Philippines was lovely, so I accepted the offer of another dive to close the day. The two of us wandered in the dim murkiness at 30m, around the fan corals and peeking into the huge barrel sponges.
I levelled out at 15m and stopped to sort out my safety sausage, which had come out of its housing. When I looked down, I saw a sea snake on my right fin.
Ive always hated snakes, perhaps as a result of a strict Catholic upbringing in which the snake is associated with sin, perhaps reinforced by the guy who wrapped a python around my neck in Bangkok, or the snake-charmer in Bombay who chased me for money with a basketful of cobras.
I was wearing bright yellow fins and perhaps the snake wanted to mate with one of them. My buddy forgotten, my first reaction was to try to push it off with my other fin, but the snake had already wrapped itself halfway up my calf. I should have left it alone but I started trying to shave it off.
One more kick, I thought, and Id be free of this demon. Thats when the first bite went in - thank God for 3mm neoprene. Whack! The second bite pierced the seam of my wetsuit to the inside of my calf.
The pain was indescribable. Witnesses said later I emerged in agony, spitting out the silicone mouthpiece I had bitten off my primary DV. All I knew was the fire burning up my leg, chills going down my spine and a bitter taste - either poison or my own adrenalin - in the back of my throat.
A fast ascent, no safety stop, buddy separation - I didnt care. I saw the boat and signalled distress.
Once out of my kit, I rolled up the lower right portion of my wetsuit to find a purple and yellow blot and two neat holes. I asked the boatmen to help me out. Their reaction was more visual than spoken: Seasnake bite Ten times deadlier than a cobra No way am I sucking your leg! Youre going to die!
I had to resort to the serrated edge of my dive-knife and cut deeply between the two toothmarks. As the blood flowed, my nausea lessened instantly.
I applied a tourniquet just below the knee but kept on bleeding the wound at regular intervals, while fumbling for my first aid kit in search of iodine and antibiotics.
My buddy scrambled on deck to ask what the matter was. Great buddy!
On shore there was no phone and only a tricycle to carry me to the hospital so, exhausted, I opted for a cool beer and a nights sleep before taking further action. Today I bear the mark of the serpent, a scar and a residual pain to remind me of this adventure.

GRAHAM
HAND SIGNALS - GRAHAM SANDS

In Catalonia there is a rugged coastline where the Pyrenees tumble down into the sea. I went looking for a dive shop, in hopes of tumbling after. When I found it, we had no language in common, but its wonderful the way divers of all nations can communicate using hand signals.
A group of Germans had just left the shop to board a boat. I was given to understand that if I was ready to go immediately, I could dive with the Germans - otherwise, come back tomorrow.
I need to hire kit, I conveyed by miming inflation and breathing, like an air stewardess doing a safety demo.
Everythings on the boat, I was led to believe by lofty hand waves.
I grabbed my stuff and ran down to the quay, where the skippers lad was waiting to cast off the hardboat. We puttered out from the harbour. I hoped it would be a fairly easy dive: I was relatively inexperienced and hadnt dived for months. But the Germans were assembling some formidable tekkie kit.
All of which made it extra-important to check out my own kit. BC, good, cylinder, regulator, good, lets join them up and take some test breaths. Sorry Nicht verstehen. Oh, this is your BC Im sorry. So mine must be... excuse me, skipper, which is my BC
The skipper came over to sort it out. A furious row developed between him and his lad, once again involving a lot of hand signals.
By now we were a mile from harbour, and the lad was ordered into the dinghy to go back to the shop and fetch a BC.
He jumped in and motored away in a graceful, creaming curve... ker-phut. His outboard cut. He tried to re-start. And tried again. And again.
All this was wasting the afternoon and the tide, while the hardboat idled and wallowed. I noticed that the Germans, whose trip I was screwing up, had formed in a menacing circle around me. One or two were hand-signalling - fists smacking palms.
In the background was the harbour, so safe, so replete with BCs. The skippers lad flailed away at the outboard. The Germans began to move in...

ANDREA
UNDER THE ICE - ANDREA STRAKOVA

The Czech Republic has no coast and what few lakes or quarries it has are in a desperate condition, but there is a slate quarry in the north of Moravia with a maximum depth of 32m. In winter, when its covered in ice, visibility is up to 10m, making it popular with divers.
It was only my second dive and I was a little afraid, but nobody seemed concerned so my friend and I went down through a hole which had been cut into the ice near a small pier. Visibility was about 4m, and we were swimming along the bottom at about 12m when I saw my buddy disappear upwards. I decided to stay at the bottom for a minute, supposing he would come back to the strobe fastened to the reel.
When he didnt return, I decided to exit, leaving the reel where he had last seen it. Getting out of the water, distressed, I shouted to the others that he had problems. As they tried to calm me down, I saw a figure climbing out of the opening in the ice.
He told me was that at about 12m he had sensed that he was very light. He released air from his drysuit but it happened again.
He could hear a hissing and realised that his drysuit was inflating continuously of its own accord.
He tried to detach his inflator hose but it was too late. He was catapulted up and thrown against the ice with his suit fully inflated, unable to move.
By the time he managed to detach the hose, deflate the suit and descend, one of the two 10 litre cylinders he was carrying was empty.
He took his second regulator, but air was escaping from that one too. His body had pressed it against the ice when he shot up, and it had jammed. There was only 60 bar left in that cylinder and, unable to see me or the reel, he panicked, tried to find the exit and went off in the opposite direction.
After a while, his head cleared and, thanks to his knowledge of the terrain, he succeeded in re-orientating himself. Finding the empty reel brought panic again but, realising he must be close to the exit, he continued until he saw the pier and the hole.
He came up just as his contents gauge reached almost zero.
The whole dive had lasted only seven minutes. It was later found that the piston in one of his regulators was defective and the intermediate pressure was 25 bar, instead of the recommended 9 bar.
The drysuit inflation valve had been downstream of the regulator and, we were told, had opened spontaneously.

REEL TROUBLE - JULIAN WANNELL

It was a beautiful day and we set out from Fort Bovisand eager to get into the water. We arrived to find the site of the James Eagan Layne crowded, so we waited off the wreck for a while.
When we were ready, my buddy and I went down the shotline into clear waters and had a great dive.
When it was time to go up, we decided that the best thing would be to use a delayed SMB, but because I had no octopus rig I opted to fill it from my DV.
Big mistake!
I was holding onto the reel, my buddy was holding the SMB and I was fine holding my breath for a short time. Then the buoy shot up, I lost my grip on my DV and realised to my horror that the reel was attached to my jacket and had decided to jam!
I hurtled towards the surface after the SMB, my heart pounding.
My buddy was quick-thinking enough to grab my fin and dump all the air from her jacket and drysuit, and she managed to bring me back down to the wreck. I was floundering around trying to find my DV but failed to locate it, so I had to settle instead for breathing off my BC inflator.
My buddy hadnt seen me grabbing the inflator and must have thought I was dead as I lay on the deck of the wreck like an upturned starfish. We laugh about it now, but at the time we both thought it was all over.
Luckily I had a great partner who didnt lose her cool!

JILL
BOTTLE ATTACK - JILL WRIGHT

Until recently, Flamingoland Zoo in Yorkshire had a dolphinarium that was home to three female adult bottlenose dolphins, called Lottie, Betty and Sharkey.
A group of us would go there regularly and spend an hour or so under water, scrubbing algae from the floor of the pool.
One Saturday we arrived to be informed by the keeper that all three dolphins were feeling frisky.
We spent 10 minutes swimming with them and taking pictures before getting down to the scrubbing.
I had been on the bottom for a few seconds when I felt as though Id been body-slammed by a delegation of sumo wrestlers. Apparently Betty had taken a fancy to the pillar valve of my cylinder, and in a flash I understood the keepers warning.
My fellow-divers abandoned their brushes to take more photographs. I was seeing stars but told myself that a dolphin cant stay under water forever and that I would soon be released.
However, as soon as Betty swam off, her place was taken by Lottie. I was face down on the rough concrete floor, being repeatedly pounded against it.
By the time Sharkey took Lotties place, I was battered and bruised, and my mask was full of blood from my injured nose. It eventually dawned on my colleagues that the situation was serious, but the dolphins were on round four before some bright spark surfaced to summon the keeper.
A bucket of fish was produced and I made a dash for the surface.
The dolphins didnt go near the others and I have never heard of this happening before or since.
I was working a nightshift that Saturday, and looked as if I had lost an argument with Mike Tyson. I had to take a very deep breath as I said: Im sorry Im so late but...