Sunday, 7 November 2010

How Not To Dive

I’ve seen some crazy stunts over the course of 275 dives. And I’ve taken the odd chance myself. But nothing quite prepared me for the way Yudi and the staff at the shop wanted to dive the wreck of the Sophie Rickmers. As the only customer interested with enough experience, I was to dive it one morning with Oliver and Carine, two trainee Divemasters. This wreck sits at a maximum depth of 70 metres, with the dive planned to almost 60m. Way too deep for relatively inexperienced divers, especially with no wreck training.

I asked Yudi if we would have stage bottles of extra air suspended below the boat for any emergencies. He told me that they didn’t use this system, and dived with twin tanks. Fair enough, I thought. Until I saw him strapping two tanks onto a flimsy BCD (the jacket you wear for buoyancy control) and using a weightbelt to secure them at the base. The rest were carrying their extra tank slung below them, tied to their metal D-rings with fishermans twine. I was incredulous. I questioned the safety of diving to 60m+ with most of the divers carrying a tank under their arm. Oliver was having a quick-release knot on his tank, so he could release it as it lightened as the air was used up (an empty tank will float, believe it or not), thus preventing him being dragged to the surface and getting bent. I asked him what he’d do if he got separated from the group, ran low on his tank of air, and then the knot slipped, dropping his tank to the sea bed? That was a life-threatening scenario. He didn’t have an answer. I asked the guide what would happen if he had to rescue one of his DMs, and he laughably told me he’d drop his spare tank and rescue them.

I wasn’t having any of this, and told Yudi I was cancelling the dive. The other guide laughed, and said something to the boat crew which made them all snigger. Something along the lines of pussy, no doubt. I posed a scenario for him, involving a panicking diver going below the safe limit on air (66m) and losing their spare tank. His answers became less and less cocky as I pointed out the domino effect this could have: one panicking diver is enough to set someone else off; over-exerting at 60 metres is going to massively increase the already serious effects of nitrogen narcosis; making a bad decision down there has consequences for everybody. An out-of-air situation for one or two divers is going to lead to a life-or-death scenario with only one outcome: bent divers if you're lucky...and dead divers if you're not. I wasn't prepared to take a chance.

Diving without the right gear, in dangerous conditions, and not even having both hands free isn’t just stupid…it’s suicidal. Yudi pointed out nobody had ever died; I think it’s just a matter of time if they carry on in this manner.

The DM trainees didn’t get any marks from myself or Grumpy, who is as fastidious an instructor as you are ever likely to meet. If you don’t do it right, Iain will not be happy. We had a customer fall overboard into rough seas trying to retrieve his hat. Obviously everyone laughed, and an Irish DM who was diving with us was first to react and help him aboard. Oliver sat and laughed with the rest and when I asked him why he hadn’t helped he said “I’ll leave that to the real DMs.” Quite. The two of them just seemed to be diving for fun, and not taking their responsibilities that seriously. Being a Divemaster means looking out for your charges; you’re responsible for other divers' safety. Take it seriously, or don’t bother.

As it turned out, Carine was even more negligent. On one particular dive, we’d just finished and were hovering at our first decompression stop at around 15m, as the dive had been fairly deep. I floated around behind her and was puzzled to see her starting to take off her equipment, which should only be done in an emergency. Holding it in front of her, she hugged it beneath her chest and proceeded to unzip her wetsuit and roll it down to her knees. She suddenly remembered me, and I saw her looking left, right, behind and below her before she thought to look up. She certainly looked relieved to see me hovering there, arms folded. I waved sarcastically, waggling my fingers.

We broke the surface, and floated in the swell while we waited for the boat to pick us up.

“What was with the wetsuit removal routine?”

“Ah…I don’t like to pee in my wetsuit” she explained.

“And if you’d looked around and seen me 10 metres below you, unconscious and without my regulator in my mouth…what then?”

“I would...erm...I don’t know...”

“How would you possibly rescue me with your wetsuit around your knees and your equipment in a bear hug, especially if the current took me?”

She apologised, saying she hadn’t thought of the risks. I was exasperated by this point at her stupidity and, it has to be said, selfish diving.

“A smelly wetsuit is better than a dead diver on your conscience for the rest of your life, surely?” I relented, and cracked a slow smile. Lecture over. No point me getting wound up. Hopefully she'd think a little more when guiding people in the future.

It’s one thing removing the kid gloves for experienced divers on your shift; quite another to think that, because of their experience, nothing bad can happen. Preparation is everything. Stay switched-on, and stay out of danger. And as far as danger goes, they certainly saved the best dive for last.

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