RED SEA, ABOARD MY FANTASY DIVER: Listen to the briefing, kit up, walk a few steps and drop into the water. Fantastic! Loads of fish and wrecks and great viz, just like the Jacques Cousteau programmes the Beeb used to show at Sunday teatime back when I was a kid.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ You remember, dont you Good old Jacques and master diver Albert Falco donning twin-hose kit and huge knives to face the challenges of the deep on their quest to find Atlantis, or dive the wreck of the Britannic. They were what inspired me in the first place.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Somehow, though, this is just too easy. There isnt the challenge or the excitement I used to feel. I started diving in British waters, but warmwater holiday diving has made me soft. This time, when I get back Im going to keep on diving.
BACK HOME, ON THE PHONE: Youve a dive to Stoney this Sunday, and youd be happy to take me! Great, see you then.
AFTER THE PHONE CALL: Right, sorted. She sounded like a nice lady. Far too nice to be a Diving Officer. Oh, well, I expect things have changed quite a lot.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Now, wheres that drysuit I hope it still fits. Maybe I should have tried it on before I started ringing around clubs. There it is. Made to measure, this suit was, seen me through a few dives in its time.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Now, strip down to me shreddies, then on with the thermal vest, T-shirt, sweatshirt, leggings, thick socks and undersuit. Im sweating already. Never mind, on with the drysuit. Right leg in first, then the left leg, then grab a couple of handfuls of neoprene and pull upwards, wiggling the hips and working the knees as the suit comes up! That was a sight easier than I expected, except for ripping off a fingernail.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Bit of talc in the cuffs and through go my hands. Well, they will if I push just a bit harder. There we go. No problem at all, except for the talc on the floor. The wife will be less than impressed, but I can hoover it up before she arrives home.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Now for the neck seal. Im paralysed! I cant bend my arms!
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ I can, Id just forgotten how stiff a neoprene drysuit can be. Reach up and pull the neck seal open, then push up and roll the head from side to side until out it comes, just like a tortoise popping out of its shell. Roll the neoprene in and the jobs done.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Lets have a look in the mirror. It still fits! A bit baggier around the shoulders, maybe, and a bit tighter round the tum, but it does fit.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Blimey, it aint arf ot in ere. Time to get the suit off again. Neck seal first, then apply the KY Jelly. Best thing I ever found for getting neoprene wrist seals off. Just a small blob on one finger, run it inside the cuff and it slides off easy as anything. Mind you, I always sent er indoors to the chemists to buy it.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ No need to check the rest of the gear, it was in the Red Sea just last week so I know it all works.
SATURDAY EVENING: Get the gear packed ready for tomorrow morning. Suit, gloves, hood, BC, reg set, mask, computer and fins, plus talc and the trusty KY.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Then a tank out of the garage. Ill take the 15 just in case. In the old days I got three or four Stoneys with novices from one fill in that bottle. Good thing its full, its way out of test. And, finally, my coldwater diving, drysuit-wearing British waters weightbelt.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Jeez, it weighs a bloomin ton! How much lead is there on there Twenty-four pounds! Ive handled lighter anchors than that.
SUNDAY MORNING, AT STONEY: Dive briefing Now Sez who Well, just you listen to me, pal! I left home at 5 oclock this morning. It was dark, it was raining, its rained all the way down here and its still raining. Im cold, Im tired and Im wet and I havent even been in the water yet. You do the dive brief now if you like, Im having a cup of coffee and a bacon buttie!
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Sorry. Lost it a bit for a moment, there. Im OK now.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ah, Stoney Cove. This is where I did my first real dives. All in all, I made nearly 50 dives here in the old days. Id forgotten what a dismal, dark, cold and miserable hole it can be. Cant wait to get in the water!
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Blimey, theres some kit here in the car park! First time I came here I was the flash sod because I had a stab jacket. Everybody else was still diving with ABLJs, and nobody had a computer.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Now theyve all got at least one torch, a surface marker buoy and flag, and either a pony or twins, and most of them seem to be on mixed gas.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ But I have to ask, do they really need all that kit for a dip in Stoney Cove
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Cor, I sound just like one of the old gimmers in the club where I learned. They used to sit in the pub and talk a great dive, all about how good it had been in the old days and how all this new-fangled kit was unnecessary.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Time for the Stoney Cove Boogie - lots of baby divers hopping around on one leg and trying to get the other into a diving suit - and Im one of them again.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Weightbelt next, then the hood. It was never this tight, and Ive less hair under it. Me head must have grown.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Balance the cylinder on the edge of the car boot and slip into the BC, stand up to tighten the straps and sort out the hoses. Dont forget the drysuit inflation valve or Ill look like a prat. OK, more of a prat.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Left glove on first, strap on the computer, then right glove, then pick up fins and mask. Now stroll casually across to the wall and lean against it.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Anybody watching No! Thank God for that. I can gasp and wheeze for a bit. I feel sick. This weightbelt is cutting me in half.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ah, here comes my Dive Leader. She looks 20 years younger than me, or about 40 years younger than I feel just at the moment.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Yes, Im fine, thanks. Really looking forward to it. Its been a lot easier than I expected so far, to tell the truth. The kit doesnt seem to weigh half as much as it used to.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ No, no! Ladies first! If she goes down the steps first I can hang onto the rail a bit. If I dont pass out from heat exhaustion.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Into the water! Thank goodness for that! Exchange signals and down we go.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Whered she go We werent more than 20 foot apart on the surface and now shes vanished. Back up. There she is. Get closer and try again. Four metres viz. Id forgotten just how close four metres is.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Put some air in the suit as we descend. So far, so good. Just like the old days, really. Yes, of course Im OK, do I look like Im not OK And Ive got plenty of air, thank you so much for asking. Look, just stop worrying and follow me, theres something down here I really want to see, something with considerable sentimental value.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ This way. Oh, for goodness sake! At least try to keep up. Loads of kit, yes, finning technique, no. Ill just slow down, then.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ There it is! There! Look at that! Thats something youll see nowhere else in the world, my girl. A truly unique experience. There isnt another site anywhere in the world that offers the opportunity to dive the wreck of a lawnmower! You just swim around for a bit while I tap-dance my way along the white line in the centre of Memory Lane.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ OK, thank you.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Out at the concrete stage. Thats the other thing I remember about Stoney: so many simulated emergencies, it was like an episode of Baywatch. Without the beach, the sunshine and the lifeguards of course. So not like an episode of Baywatch at all would be a better description.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ The kits a bit heavier now that its full of water. Id expected that, but somehow it all feels lighter than it did.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Do you know, I enjoyed that! When are you diving in the sea
THE NEXT SATURDAY, ON THE CLUB RIB: Launching wasnt as hard as Id expected, and it was nice to have the mobile phone handy so I could ring for an appointment to see a chiropractor as soon as my back went.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Off we go. Ahh, the RIB ride! Like sitting on a skateboard going down the upside of an escalator. Cancel the chiropractor, Ill need a surgeon by the time I get home.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Where are we diving today, then Youll decide when we get out to the islands and can assess the conditions That sounds so plausible I almost believe youve thought that far ahead.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Here looks fine to me. So does here. And here. I tell you what, lets go around one more time, I dont think everybody has inhaled enough exhaust gases to induce vomiting just yet, and most of us are still conscious.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Look, pal, just toss in the ook and lets go diving, all right
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ My turn to kit up. Six divers, tiny RIB and a three foot swell. Who put that bottle rack there Look on the bright side, if it hadnt stopped me Id have been overboard and potentially drowned instead of just bleeding and mildly concussed.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ How can my BC have grown extra straps How can my weightbelt have become heavier
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ And how, somebody explain to me, can my buddy be so much slower than me to kit up Hes 10 years younger than me, and hes been RIB-diving all season, so he should be well in practice.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ I tell you what, Ill just sit here on the tubes, fully kitted, swaying slowly in time with the heaving of the boat and he can take his time getting ready, is that OK That creaking noise Just my spinal column.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Youre ready Finally! See you in the water.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ You werent quite that ready, then. No rush, Ill just hang on the anchorline and gradually commence the long slide into terminal hypothermia whilst you finish sorting yourself out.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ What was the problem Youd forgotten your crab hook. A four-foot-six length of half-inch-diameter stainless steel rod and you forgot it.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ What sort of crabs do you get up here anyway Great white crabs Oceanic whitetip crabs Oh, no, just ordinary edible crabs. And Im going to spend the entire dive sitting here while you fail to hook a crab out from under that rock, am I I am Fine, just asking.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Fish seen, nil. Shellfish seen, nil. Rocks closely examined from every possible angle just in case there might be a crab underneath, two. Total dive time, 17 minutes. Including the vital two-minute safety stop necessitated by us plunging to the ridiculous depth of 11 metres.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Last pair out and kit stowed. Just start her up and over-run the anchor so we can pull it up. There, easy. So easy you have to wonder if it was actually holding. Never mind, we all got into the water and we all survived. Lets go home.
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Should the engine sound like that Should it have stopped
Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚ I know youll have realised its started to rain, but had you also noticed that the wind is getting up a bit
MONDAY, ON THE PHONE: Have you got space on any Red Sea liveaboards