By Bob Halstead
I am reliably informed that Aliens may take human form and some even attempt to go Scuba diving. Their only experience of diving may have been watching a couple of James Bond movies or Cousteau television adventures from outer space. Our problem is, when they turn up for a dive, how do we tell?
“Hi Bowb, we’d laik to go deep sea davin in Papua New Guinea”.
“Certainly madam, we have a very nice dive boat and can take …..
“Hey, do we have t’go an a bowt?”
“I’m afraid the shore diving is not as …..”
“I was thinkin the pool – the hotel pool”.
“When would suit you, madam?”.
Our Texan client had just flown into Port Moresby in her private jet with her husband, friends, doctors and pilots. The pool was perfect. I supplied the gear and she took charge instructing her entourage in “Deep Sea Diving” about which she knew absolutely nothing. The husband was drinking, and kept sneaking off. My job was to make sure no one got injured, and collect the money. She had plenty of that. He next day they were flying to Cairns to go Deep Sea Fishing for marlin, presumably also in the hotel pool. At least she had enough sense to stay away from the open ocean, which is more than can be said for the next two characters I am going to tell you about.
In the early 1980’s Dinah and I were running our day dive boat “Solatai”. One Saturday a diver I knew turned up with a friend of his. They intended to buddy together but when I asked to see the friend’s certification card he could not produce one. I started to ask him a few questions about his diving experience but he became quite aggressive stating emphatically that he knew how to dive and that he had been taught by one of the world’s greatest divers well before certification cards had been invented. He made it clear that he thought his “instructor” could teach me a thing or two.
I decided to let them dive, but keep a close watch.
It was a foul day with poor visibility and strong winds. To stop Solatai veering all over the place I set two well-spaced anchors off the bow. Listening to the two divers discuss the dive I was delighted to hear their decision to get in the water, swim to the bow, then descend the anchor line and meet at the anchor. I kept my mouth firmly shut and watched them get in the water. Sure enough, one set of bubbles went to the right and the second to the left. I descended immediately behind the uncertified diver.
At the bottom in about 6m of water was a sight I will never forget. A huge storm of sand billowed around a pair of thrashing legs bicycling just above the bottom. In a desperate effort to stop himself from tumbling backwards the uncertified diver’s arms were making frantic breast stroke movements. A continuous river of bubbles gushed from the exhaust of his regulator and, when I got up to his face, I could see that his mask was more than half full of water.
I ditched his weight belt, which was about to fall down his thighs, took a firm hold and guided him back to the boat. He struggled and tried to push me away but was so unskilled that I had no difficulty in getting him safely back to the dive platform where he held on, removed his mask and started to abuse me. I quietly pointed out the errors in his technique including the fact that is was generally considered undesirable to breathe as fast as possible, and that the mask was designed to keep water out of the eyes not trap it there. He demanded to be allowed to dive, informed me that I was the worst instructor on the planet and that he was so good he was contemplating working for Cousteau on Calypso.
On another occasion a fellow turned up who claimed to have been taught to dive in the French Foreign Legion. He did not have a certification card and when I informed him that he would have to buddy with Dinah – a qualified NAUI instructor (and the first PNG citizen to ever achieve this exalted rank) – he looked aghast and shouted that he never dived with Women!
He went on to explain that he was an expert in making backward roll entries from moving Zodiacs and volunteered a demonstration in spite of the fact that we were not moving, did not have a Zodiac and the side of Solatai was about two metres out of the water. I encouraged his enthusiasm and this interesting demonstration ended with a head/belly first entry and his dive gear falling apart from the severe impact with the water.
During the dive he kept disappearing and Dinah would have to go searching for him. She would find him hiding behind a bommie from which he would race, dive knife in stabbing position, and pretend to assassinate her. No doubt another of his dive techniques learned in the French Foreign Legion. On returning to port I explained that I did not think that we provided the sort of services he was looking for, and happily gave him the contact number of our competitor’s dive boat.
The point I would like to make here is that both these idiots really thought that they were competent divers.
Both believed that they had mastered the techniques necessary for survival underwater, and one even had delusions about diving with the Cousteau team. This is an extremely dangerous condition. The two divers were not certified – but the same danger exists with divers who are certified but imagine they can make dives far too advanced for their actual ability.
A Safe Diver is one who has the skills, knowledge and equipment necessary to overcome the risk of the particular dive attempted. Being able to asses the risk of a dive is important, though a good dive master will do this in the dive briefing. But really only you can asses whether you have the right stuff. Accurate self knowledge, a degree of humility and the courage to say no to a dive, are required.
Obtaining the appropriate skills and knowledge is not difficult. You should learn to dive with qualified instructors from well established and reputable organisations – not your mate who happens to be a self-proclaimed diving genius. Continue your diving education with further courses, and join dive tours led by reputable dive masters. You can come diving with me too – just do not say you learned in the French Foreign Legion.
The legionnaire made an impressive back roll entry, but not the best entry we have ever seen from Solatai. This occurred during an Assistant Instructor training course when I was trying to get one particular diver, a big beefy chap who was holding up the class, to hurry up and get in the water. Instead of using the stern platform he decided to go straight over the gunwale. This was a large step up, but also required stooping down low to avoid the deck awning, and was very awkward.
As he stepped up his pressure gauge console caught behind the wheelhouse door lever, the boat rolled, and his feet slipped out from under him. When he then rotated backwards his tank valve hit the timber gunwale, bent and blew the regulator first stage “o” ring releasing high pressure air directly from the tank. The wheelhouse door was pulled from its hinges, and the console from its hose. The diver then hit the water where the noise and spray from the air exuberantly escaping from the jet powered tank, and the diver trying to escape from it, made an exciting spectacle. Definitely a ten. I never did replace the wheelhouse door.
I always asked divers I had not previously met for evidence of having completed a certification program. I learned that this, very regrettably, was not always an indication of a diver’s competence, and these days I just carefully watch every diver get in the water. I did meet many very competent divers who had never been certified, rare these days, but also some that had been certified but could not dive. One attractive young certified diver was unable put her pretty face in the water even with a mask on, and regulator in her mouth, standing in shallow, calm, clear water – I am not sure how she got a certification card, though I do have a theory.
She was probably a relative of the young lady who, when applying for a job on Telita, included a photograph of herself in the nude with a note that she was sure I would find her useful. Unfortunately Dinah vetoed that appointment, so I will never know.