Going Under: part 5
Signal, orientate, regulator in the mouth, time check, elevate BCD and down we went. Lorna and I had been buddies together for this second dive at Vobster Quarry and the Dive Masters words were still ringing in my ears.
"Stay close together and don't bloody wander off!"
Steve or Jellie as those who knew him well called him was as unjelly-like as you can possibly imagine. He was bald headed, sported a broken nose and was robustly built. He was a firm but fair kinda man and had earned our respect, which was useful, especially as , to a degree, our life was in his hands.
It was the first of two days on our Open Water scuba diving exams and things had not gone well on our first dive. The trainees, including myself, had made several bad mistakes, and this had not inspired confidence in Steve and his Dive Master team. One of those coaches, Andy, had taken an obvious dislike to me.
Lorna gave me the signal to descend and under the watchful gaze of Steve, Jellie, and the rest of the anxious-looking group nearby. We slowly let out the air from our buoyancy jackets and sank below the surface.
The plan was that in groups of three , that's two trainees buddied-up and one supervising DM (Dive Master) we would descend down a shock line, which could be 'shot' line, but I was too shy to ask which it was. Essentially, is was a line of rope fixed to the bottom which divers could follow in their descent. It almost guaranteed that all divers would arrive in the same place. Well, that was the plan, I guess.
The last time we dived it was down to 5 meters This dive was taking us to a new low of 18 metres. No wonder the DMs were nervous going into is one. No one had told us.
Stone quarries are obviously man made and as such it is clear to see the man-made digging that has happened over time. Even in a flooded quarry like Vobster you could see the workings of the quarry.
The five metre level we had dived first time had an edge, like a precipice, a clear line which demoted deeper water beyond. The shock line of rope which Lorna and I followed down disappeared into a rectangular shaft-hole, of about 4X4 metres, with one side open. We descended into this shaft, urged on by Jellie, who regularly checked, with the familiar hand signal, if Lorna and I were 'OK'.
To my relief, I was 'OK', due to my new found, ' get the f*** on with it attitude' I had discovered in myself. A glance into Lorna's mask told me another story; she was far from ok. The poor girl was terrified. The line of rope we slowly dropped down disappeared into a black shaft, it was testing our fears of vertigo and claustrophobia all wrapped into one.
I looked into Jelly's mask, it was clear to me he wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff here; he wanted to see what we were made of. Then I spotted his torch, which he unclipped from his belt. He switched it on as we approached the opening to the shaft. He shone the light down and the sides of the white stone were illuminated as was the the thin line of rope disappearing into the gloom. What I could not see, however, was the bottom.
Down we went into the shaft first jelly, then Lorna and myself almost side by side. I wondered what the rest of the groups following made of this.
Continuously holding my nose and blowing, I had never had to equalise the pressure in my inner ears quite this much; I had never been this far down before.
Eventually, Jelly turned and face upwards. He had reached the bottom and was kneeling on the bottom. He signalled to us to do the same. Lorna and I let go of the rope and we both knelt down nearby linking arms, which was good practice to keep groups together.
Jellie once again checked we were fine, and we both signalled we were although my heart was beating fast. 'Take long slow breaths', I kept telling myself. All I could hear was the sound of my regulator and the bubbles I breathed out passing close to my ears.
Jellie shone the torchlight on a wall of the white stone shaft. The bright light picked out a cloud of silt we had disturbed and in it tiny fish darted. We waited. Occasionally, Jellie shone his torch back up the shaft looking for the others. Where were they? They were taking their time getting down here. In that strange way, despite the near total silence, it is still possible to interpret people's moods and I felt Jellie's anxiety growing.
I looked at Lorna, I could hardly make her out in the darkness and the silt-cloud when the beam of torchlight was pointed back up the shaft. Then it happened. Jellie suddenly turned to Lorna and gave her a clear 'stay here' sign. He then turned to me and also showed me the flat of his hand. Then he turned and made his way to the shot line and began ascending into the darkness. He was leaving us! Surely not! The sod was leaving us 18 metres down in near darkness. In disbelief, I tracked the beam of light upwards as it disappeared into the gloom above us. Feelings of pure, cold fear started to whelm in the pit of my stomach.
I looked back to Lorna who was squeezing my arm tightly. I could just make her out. Her eyes were wide, the poor girl was frightened. I could see by her bubbles that she was breathing shallowly and fast. I encouraged her to breathe slowly and deeply. Shallow breathing at depth can be very dangerous and it can bring on panic.
My own fear suddenly left me, I was much more concerned about Lorna at that moment. I unhooked my arm and reached out for her hands. She responded and we gripped each others hands tightly. As the light drew away from us we were enveloped in darkness. I could only make out the whites of her eyes now, even in the short distance we were from each other. It was time to pray, and hope that someone would be down for us soon. We waited and we waited...