I’d got to know Miro pretty well. A thoughtful, interesting lad who loves his diving, and wouldn’t let me win at chess. Ever. He’d told us about his girlfriend back home, Henrika. They’d not been together long, and he’d been reluctant to leave Germany to come and work in Coron. She’d been keen to come out with him, but had changed her mind at the last minute, which he’d been upset about.
Things started out well enough, it was nice to see them all over each other and happy when she turned up unannounced one night; a great surprise for Miro. It wasn’t as nice to see them all over each other every waking minute of the day afterwards, though; whether it was gazing into each other’s eyes for prolonged periods of time, stroking each other’s faces and gazing, or exchanging kisses and gazing. At a christening party for the shop’s new boat, a gobsmacked Filipino gentleman gestured to the star-struck lovers canoodling in front of everyone and asked me “Is this normal in your country?” I told him theirs wasn’t my country, but Westerners can sometimes behave this way when drunk. They weren’t drunk. This uncomfortable behaviour continued while he was working, and customers even began commenting on it.
To cap it all, Henrika decided she wanted to become a Rescue Diver. She’d been strutting around like she owned the place for weeks, and Karin, Rocksteady’s boss, was also getting more than a bit annoyed with her demands about Miro’s working hours and days off etc. She ignored the fact that he was there to work. Iain, my instructor friend from London, refused to take her Rescue course; he couldn’t stand her from the first minute. Gerd avoided it, but eventually relented to get rid of her. Satan help him if she ever wants to be a DM, not that she'd make it.
To begin with, I’d got on fine with her. But she was about to do something which would stir up a hornet’s nest at Rocksteady, and almost make me quit my job there. We’d also come to see just how controlling she was with Miro.
Sometimes things aren’t the same second time around, are they? Films. Books. Relationships. Work. Now being a Divemaster sounds great, but it’s not all rosy. Sure, you get to spend the day on a boat, surrounded by natural beauty above and below the surface (unless you’re diving in Plymouth), and you’re usually in the sun. But a lot of work goes into it. A 6am start, to begin with; loading and unloading heavy gear; entertaining customers, some of which you may not like the company of; and washing the gear at night before a 6pm finish. If you guide a single diver on two dives, you earn the equivalent of 4 quid. Take three divers out, and it’s accommodation, dinner and beer covered for one day. For a 12-hour shift. Fancy it? We do all this just to dive. If you descend with experienced divers, it’s great, and it’s like diving for yourself. Take inexperienced divers down, and situations can arise where you earn that money…it’s definitely still work.
The main reason for working as a DM is that, should you not have any customers to guide, but a boat is going out anyway, you can dive for free. It’s the only perk, full stop. When I arrived back in Coron this time, Rocksteady had decided DMs had to pay 8 quid for a day’s diving. I understand 4 quid a dive sounds reasonable to most of you reading this, but Dean and Helen actually ended up in arrears, owing the shop money the month I arrived. No dive shop I’ve visited since charges DMs to dive, and some were quite shocked. It makes it all the more galling when you’ve paid almost 600 quid for a flight to go and work there in the first instance. And surely, the more experience a DM has on the wrecks, the better service s/he offers? How can you find other places to show divers if you are not allowed to explore?
We’d had a German group in, very experienced divers, who knew the wrecks better than we did. So they didn’t need guides. We wanted to dive, so ended up doing the rest of the job, but paying for our fun. Sat around in a bar one evening, I brought the subject up. I said we were effectively paying to work. Miro agreed, as did H and Dean. The next day at work, I decided to raise the issue with Karin.
“When we dive with the Germans, we don’t get paid…as we’re not guiding them?”
“No” she said.
“But we get up at 6am, load the boat, serve lunch and entertain, before washing all their gear each evening.”
“Yes…” she said, uncertainly.
“So we’re doing the same work as usual, and the only bit we aren’t getting to do is the bit we love…diving?” I asked.
“I see what you mean.”
She actually agreed with me that we were still working and, as a result, we were paying for the privilege. Miro actually benefited the most from my intervention when she back-paid us, as he’d worked for the group more often. Karin accepted we weren’t happy about paying to dive, but wouldn’t budge on that front.
So now I’m seen as something of a rabble-rouser at the shop. But I wouldn’t call standing up for my principles, and arguing the toss over something I believe is unfair, inflaming a situation. Even customers at the shop thought this situation unfair. But whatever.
I returned to Coron after Truk Lagoon to an uneasy atmosphere at Rocksteady, and gleaned from Patrick that Karin had been told I was slagging the shop off, and saying things on Facebook. I went straight up there to deal with the situation. I asked her what had been said. She’d been told I’d said some bad things about a customer, and complained about the shop. She hadn’t seen this for herself, but had heard a story. I showed her what had been written, which was actually just a tongue-in-cheek status update where I called a French diver a silly bastard for not listening to my advice about Coron’s boring reefs, and booking me for two reef dives the next day (She knows I hate taking people on the reefs…I complain about it often enough) Nothing more, nothing less. She’d obviously been told it was far more than this, judging by her expression.
“But she told me…”
“Who told you?” I cut her off, knowing the answer before the name escaped her lips.
Juliet being my nickname for Henrika, because of the way Ro-Miro and her were always pawing and mooning at each other like a pair of 15-year-olds.
I was fuming. Talk about shit-stirring.
Miro was the Golden Boy at the shop, being German. As I said above, he’s a very good diver, and a competent DM. But while she was in town, standards began slipping. Gerd actually made them dive from separate boats at one point, as there had been complaints about both her attitude on the boat, and Miro’s work. The most serious error of judgment came when he had a group of friends diving with him. He briefed Henrika to dive solo, and told her where to wait for him and the group. According to these divers, he was only focused on her as they followed him down to the wreck a few minutes later. Two divers followed him into a hole, another two were struggling with a light and their buoyancy. By the time they adjusted this, Miro and the other two were gone. Instead of getting his two divers to wait in a safe place while he doubled back for the lost pair, he continued the dive to find his girlfriend. They eventually just headed back to the surface, and to say they weren’t happy is putting it mildly. Compromising your customers’ safety is not high on the list of things to do if you don’t want to end up in a court over someone’s death. The fact is, Henrika should not have been on that boat while he was working; she was a major distraction, and as far as his diving goes, he was taking his eye off the ball.
I didn’t rock the boat, as I didn’t want to fall out with Miro. Whether he reads this and falls out with me is another matter. But I regard the girl as poison, and just chose to completely blank her whenever she was around. It didn’t make for a nice atmosphere.
I was freelancing for another shop one day, and the two Rocksteady boats were at the same site. Down I went with my divers and, at the 5m safety stop, I noticed pieces of white material slowly sinking around us. It took a moment for it to (literally) sink in, and the brown matter sinking with it spurred me into motion. I dragged the divers out of the way, and moments later we surfaced, as one of the Rocksteady boats was leaving. I shouted over to the captain on the remaining boat.
“Which dirty bastard just took a shit on our heads?!” I demanded.
“It was one of the girls on the other boat, Sir.”
“Which one?” I groaned, knowing the answer.
“The tall blonde.”
Fucking bitch. I had to laugh, though…talk about adding insult to injury.
Things came to an almighty, nuclear reactive, head in their final week. We had a few customers on board the bigger boat, Dos Hermanos, and we were loaded and ready to go at 8am. There was just the Witch to arrive. She came goose-stepping down the harbour wall, and her face changed when she got to the boat. I knew straight away she would have been happier to see Hitler on board than me (they’re probably related, anyway). She exchanged a heated conversation with Miro, while the paying, confused customers waited for their day out to begin. Someone asked what was wrong.
“It is my last day diving, and he is here” she gestured sulkily at me.
“Look, Henrika” I leaned over and hissed “I can’t stand you either, but we have customers on board, and Miro is working, so let’s just avoid each other. It’s a big enough boat.”
She looked close to tears, the stroppy mare.
“But you don’t understand, I can’t even look at you.”
“Believe me” I laughed, mirthlessly “you’re no easier to look at.”
Miro told me to shut up. I told him to shut up, and reminded him he was working. The boat was going nowhere, and customers were confused and embarrassed. I was embarrassed, myself. And, considering she wanted to be a DM, she could have acted with a little decorum. Everyone at the shop had been putting up with her primadona behaviour for the last few weeks; she could have just got on with it and dived. At one point, Miro phoned the shop and asked if I could guide, so him and Henrika could get off the boat. I couldn’t believe it. Truly professional. No taking turns wearing the trousers in that relationship, then?
“My last day, and now it’s completely ruined” she huffed, puffy-eyed.
To think, there's people starving in Africa?
The customers who stayed at Crystal Lodge were laughing about the episode the next morning; turns out even her fellow Germans couldn’t stand her. A few of them had her number right from the start, with the obvious advantage that they understood every word the controlling harridan said. I’d apologised to them about the incident, as it reflected badly on ourselves and the shop. Those who’d been on the boat with her said they understood.
On a brighter note, those of us who couldn’t understand her pseudo-hippy-flower-girl habit of walking around Coron barefoot (you just wouldn’t, believe me) were massively amused when, as she left Patrick’s place one night, she stood in a huge wet turd left by his dog. Good dog.