When a freak-wave knocks off his mask, Simon Read was prepared. An incident at the very start of his diving career had taught him the value of ingrained skills and being ready for any eventuality
After completing my open water course I continued my diving in inland quarries until the opportunity came for my first sea dive. It was the wreck of the clipper Norman Court off Rhosneigr in Anglesey. At a maximum depth of eight metres it offers beginner divers the opportunity to start their sea adventures comfortably. My first open water dive also taught me my first real life dive lesson.
Our access to the Norman Court was a shotline secured to the wreck on which we were to descend in buddy pairs consisting of one experienced diver and one of the rookies. I was part of the third pair and nervously began my descent under the watchful eye of my buddy.
Everything was going well until we almost reached the the wreck and the diver below me panicked and raced for the surface. Her legs shot upwards knocking my regulator and mask off my face. Instantly fear gripped me, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe and all at once my worst fears whirled around my mind. I could feel panic welling up inside me and desperately wanted to get back to the surface where I would be safe. For a brief moment I was sure that I never wanted to put myself in this situation again. I thought I was done with diving - for good, and I hadn't even started.
Fortunately enough my training snapped in when I realised I was holding my breath and needed air. I replaced my regulator but still couldn’t find my mask. I had my eyes tightly closed with no idea what was happening around me and was breathing quickly.
My buddy placed his hand on my arm which gave me a sense of security. After what seemed to be an eternity, but was only a few seconds, we reached the sea bed and I felt my mask being pushed into my hand. It had dropped straight down and my buddy had retrieved it for me.
Remembering my open water drill I replaced it, cleared it and knelt on the sand until I gained composure and signalled my buddy that I was okay and wanted to continue the dive.
Back on the RIB I felt the exhilaration and buzz of completing my first open water dive and I recognised the importance of a buddy. I was quite please with myself that I had managed myself through a minor incident without panicking, but I also told myself to invest in a spare mask, just in case. A few weeks later I purchased a second mask that I tucked away in my BC and never used.
Fast forward fifteen years and I’m sitting on a dive boat just outside of Plymouth Sound, about to do my final dive of the weekend on the Glen Strathallen. It’s been a brilliant weekend with great weather and good visibility. We have dived the Hand Deeps, the Scylla and the JEL with no complications and I was ready to roll backwards into the blue one more time to explore the final wreck. The three of us are given the signal and enter the water, put our hand on mask and regs, fall in and start swimming towards the shot line. The descend signal is given and a freak wave hits me, knocking my mask off. Before I know it my mask is gone and my two buddies are under way. Not wanting to miss the dive or ruin theirs I signal to wait and that I’m okay, reach into my pocket, pull out my second mask and join them within a few seconds on what turned out to be a fabulous dive. I can't deny the sudden feeling of pride and the urge to say 'I told you so...' to those you have mocked me for taking two masks on a dive in all these years.
Although I was never in danger, it was clear that however experienced we become, those first lessons are invaluable. Ingrained, reflex skills can save your dive and even your life. Every dive and experience should be seen as an opportunity to learn and develop as divers.