The romance of desert islands, (dispelled.)
People often dream of relaxing on a remote desert island, snorkelling directly from the beach in crystal-clear waters with myriad fish surrounding them, turtles gliding past. Then later sipping an ice-cold pina colada whilst swinging from a hammock slung between coconut palms. And most of that is available in abundance in swish resorts, but outside of resorts on real desert islands, a different world exists.
Snorkelling in a lagoon inside a reef can be like something from a horror movie. Take the Caribbean. There is little or no tide there which means the water is not flushed through a couple of times a day and any vegetation, dead fish or rubbish that falls into the sea remains close to the beach, stagnates and festers. It is an ideal place for nasties to hide and wading through it to get to deeper water without bootees is a risk I, for one, don’t take. Once over this first hazard you will come a sandy expanse full of sea life. Like stingrays hiding in the sand that take great umbrage when you tread on them; likewise horseshoe crabs. I know of one windsurfer who sailed confidently and impressively up to the beach and jumped from his board into a couple of feet of water, directly onto a ray. No-one takes kindly to being jumped on and this ray was no different. It drove its spiny tail clean through the surfer’s foot and then shot away, drawing its barbed spine back through the pierced foot, ripping apart the small bones in the poor windsurfer’s foot before infecting the wound with venom which turned the foot black and took months to heal.
Or various types of shells which are highly poisonous, like cone shells of which there are 900 different species. Not that you’ll be able to identify them as they, like rays, bury themselves in the sand. My advice is wear a thin wetsuit and start swimming as soon as you can to avoid stepping on anything nasty. In fact, don’t swim as that will attract any nasties that hear the sound of your arm and leg movements, assume you are in trouble and move in for the kill. Barracuda and sharks are particularly attuned to this kind of splashing and threshing. Best to start snorkelling in a calm and relaxed manner with your fins staying below the surface of the water and not slapping around. Not that that will stop the aforesaid predators sidling alongside you and having a brief rub against you to see if you are a good prospect for lunch or not. Lifejackets or T-shirts can be of any colour except yellow. In a test to see which colours attract sharks the most, yum-yum yellow was crowned King.
The best diving is to be had outside lagoons in deep open water. To do this you will have to cross a reef or find a break to allow you through and out of the cesspit of the lagoon. Good luck with the former. Having decided that there is enough water to allow you to get your boat over the reef you will almost certainly be treated to the sound of your outboard motor’s propeller hitting a coral outcrop and a blade shearing off, leaving the motor to shake itself to death as the prop becomes unbalanced and the drive shaft rattles around in its death throes. You wonder how you are going to get back to the beach and then remember that you have forgotten to bring any paddles.
The sound of a fibre-glass RIB grating against coral, is something that will remain in your memory forever. Remember when you were a kid and chalk used to screech against the blackboard and put your teeth on edge? That’s the feeling, men suddenly find they have three Adam’s Apples, I’m not sure of the effect it has on women.. Should you become stranded on the reef, someone or at times a few people will have to get out of the boat to allow it to be floated free. Wearing bootees will avoid your feet being cut to ribbons here, but not your ankles and calves as you stumble around between clumps of coral. And like all things tropical, coral has venom too and you will have the joy of waiting in dread for infection to set in. And it will. Not too severely, a good antiseptic cream will cure it. If you have remembered to bring any.
The deep water on the seaward side of the reef is a delight to dive. Here you will find your crystal-clear waters, multi-coloured fish swimming in shoals below and at times around you, an unbelievable array of different types and colours of corals. Turtles languidly swim past, completely uninterested in your presence.
But not sharks. There are a multitude of different types who are not always disinterested. It’s surprising the effect of spotting a shark in its own environment has on one. You feel incredibly clumsy as you see the shark gracefully sliding in for the kill. After hyperventilating and breathing half the air in your tank in a matter of seconds, you realise that you have failed to recognise it as a nurse shark and harmless. Others aren’t, so get yourself a waterproof I-Spy Book of Sharks.
You can’t miss barracuda. They will circle above you in shoals as you are down below. If you are an instructor as I was, no amount of telling students not to kick and splash as they try to get in over the side of the boat will be heeded or acted upon. Barracuda, like sharks, will go for anything in distress and fins slapping the water as divers try to get over the side of a RIB are dead ringers for a wounded fish flapping around on the surface. I used to keep a spare fin in the boat with a chunk missing from it where a barracuda had taken a bite. This was a far better teaching aid than just talking about it.
If you should come across a whale shark, a mere thirty feet long and covered with white dots, don’t worry, they’re harmless. But they will make no effort to move out of your way, so don’t get too close, their enormous tail fin will break your arms, legs or ribs should you not get out of their way.
Moray eels grow to great lengths and thicknesses. They hide in cracks in the reef and when you unknowingly approach their lair they adopt the attitude of rabid pit-bulls, snapping at your face as you frantically try to fin backwards and out of range. Their array of vicious and razor sharp teeth is frightening and are also very effective carriers of bacteria of the worst type. I must admit I have never known of anyone being bitten by a moray but there’s always a first time.
Lion fish, scorpion fish, stonefish and other deadly types of fish lying around the sea bed. Sea snakes and Australian blue-ringed octupusses seem hardly worth a mention.
When and if you get back to the beach you will try to dry yourself off with your damp and salty towel. There is never fresh water enough to wash anything on desert islands, (the name gives it away,) and the humid tropical air will be attracted to the salt ingrained in your towel and make it wetter than you are, inviting saltwater boils.
You will then have time to relax. Don’t swing in a hammock under a coconut palm. Your swaying motion might dislodge a coconut and break your skull. And don’t ever sleep on the golden sands under the stars. The beaches come alive at night, land crabs the size of dustbin lids appear from the sand and if you’re sleeping and unknowingly nudge one with your foot or leg, their deformed massive claw will surely hamstring you. I had one climb up a cam net once and fall through a hole onto my chest. When I got my breath back, I thought I’d been hit by an asteroid.
Unless you have a portable fridge, your pina colada will be warm and undrinkable. Putting your beer cans in the sea to cool is a waste of time as the sea temperature is about twenty degrees above what a cold beer should be drunk at and the can will taste of salt and make you even thirstier.
The stars in the tropics and especially on an isolated island with no light pollution, are breathtaking. Unless it’s raining which in the tropics it often is. Not just raining but bucketing it down. And that is not an exaggeration, it is simply a statement of fact. But it’s a good time to hang your towel out to get rid of the salt.
So there you have it. Stay in a luxury resort and put all thoughts of desert islands out of your mind.
P.S. I haven’t even begun telling you about swimming in mangroves, or about salt water crocodiles, kamikaze pelicans, tropical hurricanes, heat stroke, heat rash or dhobi itch.
After I had been diving for a while I asked to go on a SADS (Sub Aqua Diving Supervisor) course. This is a military course which lasts a week at Fort Bovisand and it designed to train experienced and qualified divers to oversee diving activities anywhere in the world. It is very intense and not an easy course to pass. The instructors realise that you will often be diving with no back-up within hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles and make sure that you are up to the job.
On the first day we went through the normal introductions and a recap of our diving experience. I mentioned that I had been very lucky having been trained and diving with x, and one of the instructors immediately turned purple. It transpired that this particular man had been best friends with x but something had happened, I believe a woman was involved, and they were now sworn enemies. The irate instructor was from a Guards regiment, was well over six feet tall and a rugby player of some note. Immediately, by association, I was his arch enemy. Life ain’t fair and I resigned myself to a hard time.
As we were preparing for our first dive he saw me get my dry suit out of my diving bag. He immediately stopped everything and asked everyone if they had dived with dry suits. Some hadn’t, so he forbade me to use mine. That’s fair enough, I thought, we don’t want any confusion if there are problems during a dive and he told me that he would get me a wet suit from the stores. He came back with an evil sneer on his face and threw me a moth-eaten, threadbare (the only word for it) wet suit. The first dive was a shake-down to make sure we all knew the drills and I nearly froze to death, much to the evil man’s delight. As luck would have it I was between postings and had a house in Plymouth so that night I snuck off home and got my own wet suit, much to the Evil One’s disgust the next morning when I put it on. He, however, wore a thick dry suit throughout our training. We were of equal rank, so he couldn’t push his luck too far, and he just glowered and I could see him devising ways to bugger me about.
Each half day a different member of the course took charge and organised the diving for that period. It came to my turn and I saw that the Evil One had assigned himself to my boat and knew the afternoon would be a bad one. He picked on every single thing, but there was nothing he could pin on me that would fail me. We were diving the James Eagan Lane, a Second World War wreck around the headland from Plymouth sound. When we got there, it being a fantastic sunny August afternoon, we found the whole wreck awash with divers from all over England. I dropped our shot line onto the fore deck and the dive commenced. There was another RIB within feet of ours and they were dispatching their divers into the water at the same time as us. Suddenly there was a thump from under our RIB and a diver floated out from under. He wasn’t one of ours but he was unconscious and there was blood in his mask. This looked serious and I went into emergency mode. We called up the Coastguard and asked for a helicopter. The Evil One did nothing. Then the diver came to life. Instead of the decompression problem all of us had suspected, it transpired that he had arrived on the fore-deck of the wreck and had decided to adjust his weight belt, had dropped it and thereby shot to the surface, smacked his face against the bottom of the RIB, bloodied his nose and knocked himself out. Then the Evil One came to life and started to criticise. He had been noticeably quiet during the emergency but now became very wise and knowledgeable. I called the Coastguard and un-scrambled the chopper.
The trip back to Bovisand was very quiet, all the other divers were feeling uncomfortable. Then the Evil One decided to test me one more time and when we got close to the harbour he threw himself over theback of the RIB to test my ‘Man Overboard’ drills. Everyone looked at me as I was in charge but I just looked ahead and said,
‘Ignore him, let the bastard swim back.’
But common sense prevailed and we turned the RIB around and went back for him. He was cursing me and telling me that I had failed the course but I was past caring by then so I leaned over the side of the boat, pushed his head underwater, opened the seal of his dry suit and drenched him. He was, as I said, a big man and with the water in his suit it was impossible to get him back in the boat so we dragged him the few hundred metres back to the harbour and he had the embarrassment of having to stagger up the slip with a suit full of water in full view of everyone.
I resigned myself to having failed the course and a little later was called in to the Chief Diver’s officer to receive my punishment. The Chief Diver was no fool, however, and realised what was going on. He told me to watch my step and that I was to dive in his party from there on. He was a CPO Diver in the Royal Navy and had been diving for over thirty years and had seen it all. So the course continued in a much better vein than before, everyone felt more comfortable and I struck up a very good relationship with the Chief Diver. On the last dive of the course I was paired with him and down we went. We had a swim about then the Chief Diver signalled that he had spotted a couple of flatties and we went for them. We caught them and he indicated that I should put them inside my wet suit jacket, as he was wearing a dry suit with nowhere to hide flatties. So I unzipped my jacket and slipped them inside. Taking anything from the sea was forbidden by the Diving Officer, a Lt. Cdr R.N. So we completed the dive and surfaced, no-one noticed the extra bulge in my chest and we went back to Bovisand.
The usual procedure when we landed was to take all the kit down to the basement and wash and store it and then to go to the classroom for a de-brief. But not this day, another sunny August day in Devon. The Diving Officer was waiting for us on the hard and told us that we would have the debrief for the dive on the terrace of the canteen and we could sort our kit out afterwards. So we all traipsed onto the terrace and were told to take our jackets off and get a bit of sun on our bodies.
‘Excuse me, Sir. I have a bit of a cold coming on,’ I said. ‘I’d prefer to keep my jacket on.’
‘Nonsense,’ he said, ‘Get it off, that‘s an order.’
So I did, and two flatties slapped onto the terrace floor.
‘In my office immediately after the debrief,’ said the Diving Officer.
So I did and was RTU’d (Returned to Unit, a disgrace for any serviceman,) and was told never to come back to Bovisand whilst that Diving Officer was in charge.
As luck would have it I was between postings and had taken the course during my disembarkation leave. So when I arrived at my next unit, an attachment to the Civil Service, I asked for the report and was given it by the Chief Clerk after I told him that it was a private course I had taken during my leave and I needed it to add to my diving log. I threw it in the bin and got away with the whole escapade.
A couple of years later I had a letter from the Chief Diver telling me that the Diving Officer and the Evil One had left and that the new incumbent had no problems with taking fish or crabs as long as they were to eat, and that I should come back for another course. I did so as soon as possible and on arrival was met by the Chief Diver and a few of the instructors that had been there on my previous course. I was told that I had passed the course already, based on my previous performance, and I was presented with my ‘ticket’ before I even started the course. The new Diving Officer had been told about my previous escapade and had had a good laugh about it. It transpired that the Evil One had not been popular and had been a bit of a bully and my ‘Man overboard’ drills had been the cause of many a laugh in the bar. I enjoyed a week of diving that time and managed to get the biggest crab I’ve ever seen in my life, the size of half a dustbin lid, The Chief Diver showed it off to the Diving Officer then took it home and his wife prepared a few crab baps for NAAFI break the following day. I often dived with the instructors from the course after that and had a memorable dive with them in Cyprus when we broke all the rules and it all went horribly wrong, but that’s another story.
Caves, Tunnels and PJ Saves My Life.
Diver training covers a range of different skills; low visibility, cold water, deep dives and a host of other things. One I used to like to take my students on was cave diving. There were a series of tunnels near Cape Greco, in not very deep water but the tunnels were good for training as there was light coming in from cracks in the walls and they weren’t very high so the divers had the impression that they were in an enclosed space. There were a series of ledges running along the inside of the tunnels, also. I usually led the dive which meant that there wasn’t too much sand disturbed and the trainees could see what was happening around them. One day I was leading and my DV began to splutter, giving me a mixture of half water, half air. It gives a slurping noise when this happens and you often get salt water hitting the back of your throat which makes you cough a little. It happened a couple of times and I decided to take my DV out and purge the system to clear any blockage, standard procedure. So I took it out of my mouth and the thing took on a life of its own. It tried to get away from me and it needed a good deal of pulling to get it back into my mouth, whereupon it jumped out again. Bear in mind we are in a tunnel and there was no way back as the trainees were behind me. I grabbed the DV again and pulled it into my field of vision to see that there was the tentacle of an octopus stuck in the exhaust port. I don’t know where the rest of the octopus was but I suspect it had been on one of the ledges and had dropped onto the first stage of my DV as it was nice and shiny and octopuses like shiny. It wasn’t a very big tentacle so I wrenched it out, purged the DV and carried on with the dive, with or without the octopus I don’t know. What had happened was the tentacle had gone inside the exhaust port and turned the mushroom non-return valve inside out so that water was allowed to flow back into my mouth. Boy, was I glad for all those years of training, can you imagine it happening to one of the trainees?
In the same cave some time later I was following a trainee dive leader when suddenly I was repeatedly slapped around the face and my mask and DV were nearly dislodged. This slapping disappeared under me and I could feel it moving down the length of my body until it finally gave me a farewell slap to my calf and stopped. The leading diver had disturbed a ray and the thing had taken off in panic and given me a good slapping in an attempt to escape. Again, not something you need in caves or tunnels.
And finally to PJ and another cave. I am sure if was PJ but maybe mistaken as I was pretty shaken up at the time. We had been diving off the south coast of Cyprus and we found the entrance to a cave. Again it was not very high, about a metre but when I shone my torch inside it looked to be interesting so I indicated to my partner to stay put and I went inside, I finned for a few metres and then all visibility was suddenly lost. To this day I am not sure what caused it, but I suspect the floor of the cave as not sand but mud. I was not unduly worried, I had seen that the cave was circular so I know that if I swam around with one hand touching the wall I would eventually find the entry. So I did this and after ten minutes realised that I must have swum around the cave a few times and missed the hole. I was certain that there would be light entering the cave from the entry point, but there wasn’t, the sediment must have been far too thick to allow light to enter. Now I began to concentrate very deeply. What a stupid way to die, I thought. The next circuit of the cave I moved my hand up and down the wall of the cave in case the entry was recessed or lower than I had initially thought. Five more minutes and nothing. AIr was now getting low and I was consciously slowing my breathing rate. And then on about my tenth circuit of the cave I felt an arm. My partner had realised there was something wrong and had half entered the cave, his torso and arms inside and his legs outside. I followed his arms to the exit and he gave the ‘OK?’ sign. I gave the ‘I’m felling a bit dodgy,’ sign back and indicated that we should surface. So we did and snorkeled back to the shore. I learned a BIG lesson from that dive and never went into a cave without a rope connecting me to the entrance again. It seemed like such a small cave from the entrance looking in, but it seemed like it was miles wide when I was swimming around blind inside it. That was probably thirty years ago but as I write this I am almost hyperventilating and the pulse is racing a bit.
So, for all the times I have ribbed PJ, if it was you and I am almost sure it was, thanks for having the presence to do something to help me and saving my life.
The Boxer Dog and the Tango (for Bryce.)
At one time in my life I worked for a management training company. Most of the initial five-day training course concentrated on leadership training, but these makey-learney managers, as a method of showing them that employees have fears that they may have to overcome to function effectively, were given a chance to ‘come face-to-face’ with themselves. This meant that in the future they would be better able to empathise with their staff should problems occur, and roughly translated it meant putting them in a situation which they would never normally contemplate, such as giving those with vertigo the chance to climb a rock-face, or non-swimmers the chance to put on SCUBA equipment and dive in a murky river or to canoe down rapids. Our job, as very experienced trainers in our particular disciplines, would show them how to overcome their fears through patience, logic and practice. Us diver trainers would have the students on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in a swimming pool to acquaint them with the equipment, and on the Friday there was a day-long exercise to enable the students to work as teams to achieve a common goal. For the divers this involved diving under a small barge in the River Wye and undoing a safe suspended there to recover gold bars for the good and benefit of their teams. I must add that they dived singly, with an instructor six inches away from them to make sure that no problems occurred., and in fourteen years working there, none ever did.
The Boss of this company was a man not to be tangled with. An ex-Scotland rugby wing forward, the winner of a Military Cross in Korea as a young lieutenant in a Scottish regiment and the former Operations and Training head in the SAS, he was a hard man, but fair. The dive site we used was a small landing stage next to a pub car park on a river. To get to the landing stage we would park up in the car park, negotiate a set of railings and walk down a half-dozen steps to the two metre wide landing stage where we would store our equipment ready for the students to arrive and do their thing.
We had been nagging the Boss to give us some dry suits instead of the wet suits we had previously been using and he had generously bought a number of Avon vulcanised canvas dry-suits of the type used by the Royal Navy. Good strong suits which I was well acquainted with. The first time we used them in the river environment was a very hot, idyllic summer’s day. I carried out a quick dive with one of the new suits before the students arrived, just to check all was OK and to place the gold bars in the safe. Then I returned to the landing stage and being a bit hot, unzipped the large waterproof zip across the shoulders of the suit, climbed to the top of the steps and rested with my back against the railings enjoying the sun and swapping stories with my fellow instructors. I cracked open a can of Tango and was supping it slowly when suddenly I felt something brushing the hair on the back of my head and turned to see what it was, only to see the undercarriage of a large Boxer dog who was relieving himself against the railing, not caring that I was sharing the same railing. As I turned the warm and pungent stream traced an arc across the back of my head, filled my right ear and continued across my cheek to my, luckily closed, mouth and onto the top of the tin of Tango. I spat and shouted a stream of obscenities, difficult to hear above the screams of laughter from my so-called friends, dropped the Tango, bounded down the steps and launched myself into the river. Whilst in mid-air I remembered the zip on the dry-suit was open and realised I was going to get soaked when I landed in the water. Which I did. The suit filled up with water and made movement very difficult. I managed to get back to the landing stage but the suit being full of water, had great difficulty getting myself out. My friends were still howling and did help a little so I had to sort of roll onto my side to get myself ashore. Once on the landing stage I crawled to the steps and inverted myself, feet on the top step and head on the landing stage. And that is when the Boss arrived to see how the new equipment was working. What he saw was one of his professionals upside down on the steps disgorging muddy water from one of his new and costly suits. Even with his wealth of experience he couldn’t quite figure out what I was doing, so he said, ‘Everything OK, Ron?’ The rest of the crew started howling all over again and the Boss looked at us all as if were were crazy and that he had made a big mistake by employing us in the first place. I managed to crab myself down the steps until I was the right way up and began to explain.
‘Well, Boss. There was this big Boxer dog……..’
But the look in his eyes told me to say no more so I just said,
‘All OK, Boss.’
‘Carry on then, the students will be here soon.’
He did eventually get to hear the whole story and ribbed me unmercifully about it whenever he got the chance.
That was nearly two decades ago and I still haven’t lived it down, but the Boss continued to employ me for many more years. I moved away from the area and it no longer became practical to instruct there, but one day when I was a Customs Officer checking passengers coming ashore from the QE2, I saw his head coming through the Customs hall. I pulled my hat down low over my eyes and bent my head down so that he couldn’t see my face and beckoned him towards the bench. When he was in front of me I said, still with my head down,
‘I’ve called you to the bench ‘cos I know all about you and your goings-on. You’re a dodgy bugger and we’ve been watching you for a long time. Do you have and drugs, guns or explosives for your SAS mates on you? Or any other dodgy stuff? Any pornography or smuggled diamonds?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ he replied, shocked.
I lifted my head and took my hat off and said,
‘Remember me, Boss?’
‘You bugger, I was just about to call my lawyer,’ he said
So we had a quick chat. The next thing I knew he’d died quite young. But whenever I think of him I remember him as an inverted figure on the landing stage steps.
PJ and the Long Walk
PJ and I went one day to a new dive site, a couple of miles down a dusty, unmade track near Cape Greco. At the end of the track was a small cove with steep sides which promised a good dive. I was driving my Volvo and we unloaded our kit and got dressed ready for the dive. It was a scorching hot day and we were sweating heavily as we struggled into our wet suits. Once dressed we packed everything away in the car, and then PJ slammed it shut and I looked at him with dismay and told him that he had just shut the keys inside. We were miles from anywhere and had no way of getting back into the car, and as it was new I was unwilling to force my way in. My wife had the only other key and she was playing netball in Dhekelia, about twenty miles away. There was nothing for it but for me to walk back up the track and try to hitch a lift into Dhekelia and then get someone to give me a lift back with the spare key. I always dive Commando so had no choice but to keep my wet suit bottoms on as I walked back up the track, wearing neoprene bootees with a minimal sole. The track was stony, I was hot and sticky and my feet hurt. I arrived at the road and tried to get a lift but no cars were willing to stop for a wet suit clad figure in the middle of nowhere. Eventually a farmer stopped his pick-up and motioned for me to get in the back with his tools and he took me to Dhekelia. I had no idea where my wife was so went to the Guardroom and asked them to help. When they had stopped laughing they drove me to the match and the ladies from both teams had a good laugh as well. I got the keys from my wife and when the match had finished and one of the ladies offered to take me back to my car, but we got to the turning for the dirt track she refused to drive down it so I had to walk back down in my flimsily clad feet. When I got to the car, as you can imagine, I was cursing PJ roundly, not an unusual thing when we went diving together, but we did the dive anyway and a good dive it was. There is a lesson to be learnt here, but I didn’t learn it and I still continued to dive with PJ.
PJ and the octopus’s garden
One of my regular diving partners was PJ, a large, ginger-haired man of Scottish descent, strong as an ox and never flustered. Just as well as he always seemed to be involved in things that were out of his, or anyone else’s control, usually instigated in innocence by himself. I often briefed my divers of things to look out for when they were diving around the coast of Cyprus and one of these was an octopus’s gardens. It was part of the lore of the sea and one I found to be true
‘They are easy to spot,’ I would say. ‘You will find a small hole at the bottom of a boulder or rock face and outside there will be a small pile of pebbles and shells. When the octopus is in residence it will crawl into the hole and collect the stones and shells on its suckers and use them as camouflage. When it does this it is extremely difficult to see the entrance to his hole. I tell you this as octopuses are the magpies of the sea and collect all sorts of objects, especially shiny things, so if you see a hole without the octopus in residence have a look inside and see if he has anything valuable. It has been known for there to be watches and rings inside their lair.’
And so, one day I dived dive with PJ at a dive site which was not often used as it was it was under the cliffs of Pyla Ranges and it was not often that they weren’t in use. I checked with the Range Officer that it would be safe to dive and off we went. It was a bit of a clamber down the cliffs to the entry site carrying twin-sets and all our equipment but we managed it and kitted up. We had often dived together and I was confident that PJ wouldn’t get himself into any difficulties so we dived as a loose pair. Keeping an eye on each other was easy as the visibility was round forty metres so I swam around looking at things and having a relaxed dive. PJ was doing the same; he was looking for octopuses’s gardens. I was happily upside down looking under a rock when I had a tap on my shoulder. It was PJ and he was proudly holding a hand grenade in his hand! The lever was missing, meaning that it had been armed but had not gone off! I gave the danger sign to him and an unorthodox sign which roughly translated meant, ‘Get away from me, you maniac, and put that bloody thing down.’
He looked hurt and swam back to the octopus’s garden where he had found the grenade and started to vigorously stuff the thing back into the depths of the hole. I was frantically trying to swim away from the site of impending disaster, my fingers stuffed into my ears, a difficult manoeuvre and ludicrous to look at. Luck was with PJ and the grenade didn’t go off and blow him and the rock to Kingdom come. He looked round with a look of smug satisfaction on his face, only to see my fins in the distance putting as much space as possible between us. The rest of the dive didn’t last long, I had used up half my air supply trying to get away from PJ and the grenade, but the de-brief was very interesting.
A propos of octopi, a short while after this I was teaching underwater navigation techniques and one of my favourite places to practice this was a large sandy area in the middle of which was a lone rock, I would send the divers off to find this rock using a compass and pilotage techniques. I followed one of my trainees on one particular dive and he went unerringly to the rock and I was very pleased with him. At the bottom of the rock was an octopuses garden so I indicated to him to have a look inside. He had a look but gave the sign that he could see nothing, so I indicated that he should lie on the sea bed and get his head right up against the hole. He did this and frightened a large moray eel which had probably eaten the resident octopus and was having a rest in the recently evacuated hole. It shot out of the hole, nearly knocking the diver’s mask off and there was a suspicious smell of fear about the site, even underwater. The diver gave me a look of absolute hatred, but I didn’t see it as my head had disappeared in a cloud of bubbles. I was laughing so hard that I was in danger of drowning. Surprisingly, the poor victim continued to dive with me and is still a friend to this day.
PJ and the Blow Hole
Another PJ story, this time when we were diving into a large underwater cave through a blow-hole in the cave roof. It was only safe to dive this site when the sea was dead calm as with any kind of swell the water was forced into the cave and exploded out of the blow-hole with tremendous force.. The blow-hole was not very large, in fact for PJ and I, who are largish specimens, it meant taking your cylinder off and pushing it through the blow-hole, the DV firmly griped in our teeth, and following it through. The procedure then was to drop to the cave floor and fit your cylinder and get on with exploring the cave. As I had dived with PJ many times I got complacent and made one of the cardinal errors by not carrying out a full equipment check. We checked each other’s air supply and showed that our DV’s were working properly. I told PJ that I would go first and meet him on the floor of the cave. So I did, the entry was a bit snug, but once through I exhaled heavily and dropped down to the floor of the cave. I fitted my cylinder on my back and looked up to see PJ’s cylinder coming through the blow-hole and his head following. He seemed to be struggling a bit so I swam up to him and helped by pulling him through. He was obviously having difficulty and was stuck to the roof of the cave, his cylinder in his arms and breathing more heavily than normal. Then I realised that he had forgotten to put his weight-belt on and was very positively buoyant. He was breathing OK but the problem remained as what to do. He couldn’t go back through the blow-hole, that was a no-go. The cave was about three metres from roof to floor and about thirty yards long from the blow-hole to the exit into the open sea. I indicated to PJ to get his cylinder fitted and helped him do it, but he still couldn’t swim and was still stuck to the roof of the cave. So I went to the cave floor and started collecting big rocks and ferrying them to him. He clutched them to his chest but that made him top heavy and inverted. No problem, we took his fins off and he walked out of the cave upside down and surfaced in the open sea. Another interesting de-brief.