PANIC IN CAPE VERDE
by Brian Gildersleve
IN MAY OF 2014, my wife and I went on a week’s holiday to Cape Verde. I hadn’t been diving for 12 months but had logged more than 70 dives.
I enquired about the diving and arranged a refresher dive with a centre attached to the hotel. First, however, I had to complete a pool dive, carrying out all the usual skills – boring, but I know it’s necessary.
The next day I made my way to the dive-centre, where I was introduced to Kay. She was to be my dive-buddy, and informed me that she had not dived for 29 years. She had brought with her a certificate stating that she had carried out pool training in the UK. This did worry me, as you can imagine.
Eight divers and one dive-guide made our way onto a small boat that was then pushed into the surf, which was large enough to have prompted the lifeguards to fly the red flag and not allow anyone to enter the sea.
The small boat made its way to a large dive-boat about 100m out. Transferring to the boat was very difficult, and we were told to keep our fingers inside for fear of getting them crushed when the two boats came together. We all managed to get aboard safely.
The boat made its way out to the dive-site, which was about 20 minutes straight out to sea. All we could see of land by the time they dropped anchor were the hills and cliffs and white surf.
On the way out we were given a dive-plan for a drift dive. Buddy-checks done, we entered the water. Kay and I were last to get in, and we made our way to the anchor-line.
The current was very strong. The maximum depth at the site was only 14m, but I couldn’t see the bottom because the vis was only about 8m.
We started to make our way down, but after 6m Kay indicated that she was having problems equalising, so we went back up, After a few moments we descended again, but after just a couple of metres she bolted back to the top.
I waited and then watched her get hauled back on board. She had aborted her dive, so I once again began to descend. As I went deeper I wondered why I couldn’t see anyone, and it was only after 10m that I saw the bottom.
Finally on the seabed and holding tightly to the anchorline, I realised that the other divers had gone. I turned through 360° but could see no one. Then, to my horror, I heard the boat start up, and they began to pull in the anchor.
I actually held onto it for a few seconds as the boat pulled it through the water but then let go. Big trouble now, so obviously I started to ascend.
The boat had at first motored away from my underwater position, but then did a U-turn and came back and drove very close over my head. By the time I surfaced I couldn’t see the boat at all, as the waves were quiet large – and now I was panicking.
I know now that some time had elapsed under water, and the boat had simply gone to pick up other divers who had deployed their DSMB, but I couldn’t see it. More time went by as they got everyone on board, but when they realised I wasn’t there I’m told they were even more panicked than I had been.
Then they came and looked for me, and it wasn’t long before I was spotted waving between the waves. While at the time I think I remained in control, I often recall the day’s events, and I realise that I should have done things differently.
But I also think the centre should not have dived that day. Visibility, current and large waves were factors – but surely you don’t proceed with a dive without knowing where all your divers are?
BARELY MADE IT
by Duncan Blyth
I HAD ARRANGED A DIVE on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and early one Sunday morning I was picked up by a minibus containing six Russians and one German, none of whom spoke English.
The bus stank of alcohol, and it transpired that the Russians had been up all night drinking whisky. There was total silence on the bus – it felt like something from a James Bond movie.
At the dive-site we had to walk down many steps to a little lagoon/pool that led into the sea. I buddied with the German guy who, thank goodness, was perfectly sober.
The dive went well, although the others went off on their own dive. The fish life was amazing and the water crystal-clear.
Although we were using a compass, we couldn’t decide if we were heading back in the right direction. We were ready to make an ascent to identify our position when the sight above us became very confusing. In the clear water above us, some really strange things were dangling!
It was a group of nudists swimming – not a pretty sight! Out of the water the place was again full of naked bodies. We tried so hard not to laugh while we climbed back up, but unknown to me, the place was a nudist resort.
The Russians followed shortly afterwards, then all proceeded to be sick. The journey back was again in silence.
To date, this has been my strangest dive – returning to the entry/exit point by using nudists isn’t in any training manual!
LOCH NESS MONSTERED
by Marjolein Thrower
SEPTEMBER 1994. Tower Pier, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness. 11m. 26 minutes, 13°. Vis 4-0m.
We had two fast red cars full of dive-kit, so a detour to Loch Ness on the drive home after a week diving Skye seemed a plan. We parked and started kitting up.
Suddenly a man in uniform appeared, and asked what we were doing. Stating the bleedin’ obvious, I said: “Going diving”.
Had we got permission? “Who from?”
Him, the Auxiliary Coastguard. Who knew? Permission granted, he said he would be back in 40 minutes to check us.
Quick buddy check, and into bright, clear, cool, sparkling water with a gravel bottom.
A few little fish, some bright green weed. Pretty. Monsters? Here?
But at 6m what little we could see of the drop-off was endless. The water was a deep, impenetrable, malt-whisky brown, full of thick, still silt, with no discernible bottom, just endless, endless thick ooze. If I settled on it, I thought I would be sucked down and down.
With torches off, it was darker than any night-dive, the blackness so dense that it was almost touchable, with an eerie orange glow somewhere above us. With the torches on, the light just reflected back at us.
I could hear my buddy right next to me but couldn't see him, so when a hand suddenly grabbed my arm, I shrieked.
Monsters? Oh yes! There was nothing to see but silt, but when we surfaced to the waiting Coastguard, we knew that we had just done an amazing, exhilarating but seriously spooky dive, unlike anything I’d do in the following 22 years!
THREE’S A CROWD
by Will O’Hea
MORE THAN A YEAR AGO I did an organised shore-dive with my club at Swanage. The day’s weather was set to be fine and balmy, and I had been told that the water clarity would be excellent.
I arrived at the site and the earnest club master assigned me two buddies – I would be diving as part of a three.
Let’s call the others James and Kelly. They had both done many more dives than I had, and both seemed jovial, cheery folk who were always happy to assist with any issue I had. James had trained with BSAC in the 1970s. Perfect.
We planned in a very casual, non-thorough way. The others were both familiar with the site and were just out to have a good time.
Once we had descended, I deployed my SMB, while James took the on the role of navigator. Thus unfolded the dive.
Once under water, James became fixated on his wrist compass, and his awareness of my existence and well-being quickly flew out of the window.
Soon I was being forced to swim frantically after his fin-tips, which continually disappeared into the milky gloom as he kicked silt up all around me.
To my left, Kelly appeared to be taking pictures of a dead crab and seemed to have no idea that we were all slowly but surely about to be separated. I had to constantly nudge her to keep her ambling forward. Neither of them looked at me even once to make sure that I was OK and not in a panicked state.
I was using a new set of hire equipment because my normal set had been rented out to some try-divers elsewhere. Physically torn between the other two divers, I was beginning to consider whether I should just abort and surface. The BC had no trim-pockets, forcing me to balance 10kg of lead in the small of my back, which hurt. A lot.
I had to grab James’s attention twice by tugging his fins to prevent my SMB from snagging onto the fishing-lines and tangled ropes that invariably adorn many parts of the pier at Swanage.
At one point he gave me the signal to ascend, perhaps because he had noticed my obvious annoyance at his antics and my lack of comfort.
Then James had to chase frantically after Kelly in the gloom because she was oblivious to our “go-up” signals, absorbed in photographing more deceased crustaceans.
At the surface, we agreed to swim out and descend over open ground, away from the clutter of the pier.
There we came across a small hunk of metal, perhaps part of a trawling plate from a fishing-boat – hardly a wreck-finder’s fantasy.
Despite the more interesting presence of a large shoal of juvenile bib, unperturbed by our comic movements, James got terribly excited by this plate of rusting iron and began to make imaginary drawings and markings on his hand and in the silt with a finger!
His behaviour suggested that he was narked out, and I seriously considered this as a possibility before a glance at my computer confirmed our depth as 4.4m.
Kelly framed up another dead crab, while I spooked a bigger and very much living spider-crab. But alas, there was no time to get a proper look at the rich benthic life that plastered the seabed – our navigator zoomed off again, now once again fascinated by nothing but his compass. Race-car diving indeed. We had no choice but to follow.
I eventually made the signal to ascend, as I was frankly tired of my buddies’ antics as well as reaching our maximum time limit. Note to self: never dive with more than one buddy!
ENLIGHTENED BY DARKNESS
by Lorna West
MY STRANGE DIVE was the final test of my night-diver course. We saw lionfish hunt the way they do, enjoyed the rare sight of a particular octopus that only comes out at night, and sleeping fish that appear to be in a trance, but the strangest part was turning off my dive-light to experience the darkness and pass the course.
Until that time I had a fear of the dark, so I was a bit anxious, but on realising that it wasn't true darkness, and being able to see outlines, my fear faded away.
Not only that, but seeing the bioluminescence as I flapped my hands around filled me with awe. That strange experience gave me a different perspective on diving.
by Yvonne Beckett
I DON’T KNOW IF THIS QUALIFIES as a strangest dive because it involves several dives, but they were definitely strange because my husband has often found sea life attracted to him.
The first time was years ago when we were new divers in Sharm el Sheikh. My husband was wearing a BC with mesh pockets, and in one was a red buoy that could be seen through the mesh.
As we gathered at 5m, my husband was baffled by everyone staring and pointing at him. I saw the whole thing and was nearly choking with laughter. A very large honeycomb moray had taken a fancy to the bright red thing in his pocket, and had made a rapid charge towards it.
I pointed at his BC and he looked down to see this huge moray head peering out from his armpit. He made a rapid twirl in the water to get rid of it.
The next time was when we were pootling along a reef in the Maldives when two remoras decided to accompany him along the reef, one on each side underneath him.
We carried on for a while with our companions and then stopped. The remoras carried on for a while, and then turned round and came back to take up position for the rest of the dive.
On the same reef another time I looked at him to see two cleaner wrasse, one poking in each ear as we finned along the reef. Then they must have decided that his fingers were a bit grubby, because they started on his hands.
Another time, another place on a deep thila in a channel he seemed to have adopted two large angelfish stationed one on each side of his head, and he looked for all the world as if he was wearing a Viking helmet.
Unfortunately we don’t carry a camera, but there are definitely times when I wish we did!
Share your Strangest Dives
Marjolein thrower wins an £88 Apeks Professional Diving Watch for sharing with us her Strangest Dive experience in Loch Ness.
This selection might have reminded you of underwater experiences of your own, times when something was just that bit out of kilter with normality.
If you feel like sharing, there could be a similar timepiece in it for you.
Please email your Strangest Dive to [email protected] – and if you have a photo to go with it, so much the better. Please write soon!