IT HAPPENED TO ME
Taut, Not Slack
Being too keen to get in the water can cause you to overlook obvious signs of danger, as Tom Reid discovered
After a skiing accident, I had surgery on my shoulder, keeping me out of the water for a long period. So, following six months of physiotherapy, pre-dive-season exercise and a medical all-clear, I was looking forward to getting back into the sea and diving the Channel for the first time.
I was on site early and doing my best to look casual as the rest of the divers arrived. The dive marshal, however, was late and appeared to be unsure of the tide times, among other details. However, confident that the group was capable of doing the dive, I kitted up and helped to launch the boat.
During the briefing, I was told I’d be diving a wreck with Debbie, who I’d met briefly before. She appeared confident and, from what I’d heard at the club, she seemed to know what she was doing.
By the time we got to the site, it seemed like it was already past slack water. The dive marshal, however, was adamant that it was safe to dive. One of the other divers on the boat opted out after assessing the conditions and decided to cox the RIB.
I have a little quirk, in that I prefer to dive wearing only one glove. While my hand does get cold, it gives me, for the most part, much greater dexterity, which I think is a fair trade-off. I also tend to carry a net bag while diving.
So, Debbie and I (minus one glove) kitted up and entered the water. Conditions on the wreck were typical: visibility was around 2m and on the sea bed lay a few metal plates belonging to the unfortunate vessel. It was the sort of dive I had done countless times in the past two decades.
However, the tide was running and increased during the dive. When we returned to the bottom of the shot-line after half an hour or so, the line was taut and pointing off at an angle rather than floating upright.
As soon as Debbie and I began our ascent, we got caught in an incredibly strong current – the tide had turned. It was so strong, our cox’n later described it as ‘running like a freight train’.
When we began the ascent, my net bag was blowing out beside me and was putting strain on my arm, which the cord was looped over. I also noticed that my ungloved hand was slipping on the shot-line where the current was pulling me out parallel to the bottom. It was increasingly difficult to hold my position on the rope and avoid being swept away.
After a while, my arm really began to ache. Then, suddenly, I slipped. I instinctively grabbed onto the nearest thing to me – my buddy. She had to briefly hold onto both of us, in position, on the line.
I realised that I was losing control, so I let the net bag go and grabbed the line again to relieve the strain on Debbie. We then ascended to the surface, clinging to the rope for dear life. I didn’t want to let go to put up a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) for fear of being carried into the busy Channel shipping lanes.
Thankfully, we returned to the boat safely. Back on land, there was much talk among club members about the dive and the tide times. Clearly, the diver who bailed out on the boat had been right about the time of slack water. What shocked me, though, was to hear that this was only Debbie’s eighth dive.
The scar where the rope burned my ungloved hand eventually healed, but the experience hammered home lessons I thought I had learned before. First, before diving with someone, even if they belong to your club, always check what experience they have. Second, if slack water has passed, don’t do the dive – however eagerly anticipated it might be.