Sunday, 10 November 2013

Going Under Part 4 : By The Seat of My Pants

 It was 5:30am and I was pinned to my sports seat and grateful that i had no time to eat breakfast this morning. I was driving shotgun for Cartwright, a trainee diver like myself, clearly a 'BoyRacer' , but I had him down for 30 plus, so I thought he should know better. "What is this fellow doing?"  Cartwright was leaning forward in his seat, nose pressed close to the windscreen. 
Bar offering a few grunts of acknowledgment I stayed quiet. Allowing him space to concentrate and allowing me time to remember the Lord's Prayer. 

We were travelling in convoy and were not late, although he drove like we were. Full on the accelerator or hard on the brakes, Cartwright did not know the meaning of coasting. 
We followed two 4x4 brimming with dive trainers, trainees and their dive kit. We travelled in an Evolution ( Japanese sports car, I forget which make) but it was supped up and pimped to the max. The dashboard in front of me looked like something from The Enterprise, with all manner of digital dials and monitoring gadgets, on the dash up the sides and on the low ceiling between our heads.  

I took the opportunity to enquire about them when a set of traffic lights had the impertinence to stop us in our screeching tracks. Cartwright was quiet, polite and well spoken, but edgy, always edgy, like he had committed some terrible deed in his past and he feared that the very next person to speak was about to expose his secret.

I made him jump and he looked me with wide eyes, perhaps he had forgotten I was there. Behind the wheel of his baby he was clearly wired. 

" Oh, all this? It's all highly important. This is my turbo indicator and this one tells me the temperature of my fuel..."

I had little time to ask why it was vital to know what temperature your fuel was as on the 'A' of amber Cartwight had pushed the pedal to the floor and once again my face was sucked back into my headrest, I felt folds of cheek skin gather at my ears. 

In an hour we had arrived at Vobster Quarry, a disused stone quarry that had been allowed to fill with water and then converted to a scuba diving centre. 

Steve 'Jellie' , the Dive Master gathered the 6 trainees together and apologised for the change if venue. We was a stocking built former Rugby player. Bald as a coot, but felt as home being under water, as out of it. 

Due to storms out at sea, the first day of our Open Dive exams would not be off the coast of Weymouth, instead it would be in the more reliable setting of the quarry.

" It's probably a blessing in disguise," Jellie remarked, " The water is fresh water and still. We won't get carried away by surges and currents. It's a good introduction to open water diving. Right guys, hope you enjoy the day, get your kit together and we dive in 30 minutes!"

The sun was creeping up and starting to offer some warmth, although, to be fair, it was October and it wasn't cold. 

Scuba diving is one of those a activities where a great deal of (expensive) kit is required. None of the trainees had there own, so we were borrowing the clubs equipment. Air tanks ' tins', buoyancy jackets ( BCDs), lead weights were all heavy and cumbersome, while wet suits, hoods, gloves, fins and masks, made being outside the water uncomfortable and just plain awkward. 

In the water, however, it's a different story. 

We all took a big step forward off the jetty and into the cold dark waters. I was greeted by a sloosh of chilling water down the length of my spine. Wet suits are not designed to keep water out, that's for dry suits.  A wet suit takes water in, but then a layer of water close to the skin is warmed by the body and it is that which keeps you warm, in theory. However, a loosely fitting wet suit will create pockets of circulating water which will remain cold. As for mine, I could not complain, it felt tight on the surface, but was now fine.

Three by three ( that's two buddy trainees and a Dive Master) descended to about 5 metres. We swam around a for a while and then gathered together at the bottom for some basic skills and drills from Jellie. At least that was the plan. It took forever to get everyone back together at the same point. The DMs were working overtime with flooded mask issues, dropped fins, trainees swimming off, even one inadvertently inflating their BCDs resulting in an uncontrolled ascent to the surface with the DM hanging onto their leg. This is not life threatening at 5 metres, but can by lethal from greater depths.

Underwater speech is useless, of course. So, instead, divers use a type of sign language that can make themselves understood. With experience it is possible to have conversations underwater and even interpret the mood of the signer. When we had finally gathered into some sort of order, kneeling at the bottom in front of Jellie, it was clear he was mucho pissed off. We had learned many of the hand signals one can use under water, but Jelly was using a few new ones that were probably not in the book anyway and, although delivered in total silence, we got the message loud and clear.

Back on the surface he continued to barrette our forlorn bunch, "'s as though you've learned NOTHING from five weeks in the pool! We couldn't even get all the skills done in that first dive! You guys dive that badly again and we'll just get back in the cars and drive home! You'll all fail!" Then Jelly dismissed us and called his DMs together for a secret debriefing while the rest of us got our tins refilled and grabbed coffee.

We felt terrible! I, too, had messed up. At the bottom I had spotted the rear part of a aeroplane, one of many old vehicles sunk to give divers something to look at. I drifted closer to it for a better look, but once I turned around I had lost my DM Andy and buddy Cartwright in the silt cloud. Visibility was only a few feet. Luckily, another DM, coming up behind,  had seen me peel off and she collected me and led me to the meeting point. Her name was Kim and her and Andy were an item. Andy was a policeman by trade and was not happy with me at all.

Later, I was checking my kit when he sidled up to me, "I got my nuts chewed off 'cos of you". Andy's chiseled features were grim.

"Sorry?" I pretended not to know what he was talking about, but I knew.

"You going off sight seeing like that! " he growled. " Always stick to your buddy!"
I took the lesson, but didn't like his manner with me. I remained calm, but turned to face him more face on.
"Look, I'm sorry. The visibility was bad. I'm not used to...."
"You will be sorry!" he cut me off, eyes narrowing, " Jellie wants you with him next dive. Try and lose him down there and you'll know the meaning of 'sorry'!" 

The tense eye contact we exchanged as he moved away was only broken my a much, softer, kinder voice. " Don't worry about him," it was Kim, his partner and fellow DM.

"He's just annoyed that he lost you and I found you". She smiled attractively. " Just remember to stick close to your buddy, really tight. "

"I know I f***ed up, but it's just his attitude," I explained.

 "All the DMs are a bit edgy with this group, it's not just you. We've got a lot of pressure on us, too. Next dive we are going much deeper. Jelly will be keeping an eye on you. "

We exchanged smiles and I returned to sorting my kit out determined to make it a good dive.

"In the water in 10 minutes! " came the call from Jelly. " Rich and Lorna, you with me!"

 As determined as I, and the rest of the trainees, were to not make any more mistakes we were not to know what was to happen next. Six trainees were going into the water, but only five were coming out..

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