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It happened to me

Give it a Shot

IHTM Give it a shot3

A 30m dive in a fast current taught sports diver Richard Clegg the value of a shotline

was still a relatively new sports diver (42 dives) when I set off to dive Swanage and the Kyarra wreck with Mat, a fellow sports diver. I was feeling cocky after a three-week warm water holiday. Thirty metres? No problem, I’d done lots of 30m dives – in a shorty wetsuit in warm, gin-clear water.

Our initial plan to blow off the cobwebs with a dive around the pier was thwarted by the morning weather. We were determined to get a dive in though and signed up for the afternoon trip to the Kyarra. The first thing to go wrong was the boat showing up 45 minutes late. I was so naive that I didn’t realise this meant we’d missed most of slack, even when the skipper said: ‘This is half-price lads’. I did notice that he was in a tearing hurry to get us into the water.

In fact, we ended up jumping in halfway through our buddy check.

The dive started badly and got worse. I’d dislodged a contact lens because my mask wasn’t quite fitted right on entry. As the dive continued
my breathing was laboured and I felt unsettled. I now realise I was also suffering a touch of narcosis – I was inexperienced and breathing heavily. Indeed, I was breathing so heavily my air was down to our agreed surfacing point in only 20 minutes.

I certainly wasn’t thinking clearly when it was time to surface. We planned to deploy a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) and for some reason I was convinced I had to do that rather than use the nearby shot-line. Our ascent started perfectly normally, but things rapidly became very strange. I didn’t know it at the time, but my DSMB had tangled round the top of the shot. The tangled line and the current, which by now was quite strong, was an unsettling combination.  As we reeled up from the wreck, the current caught us and the combined pull of line and water was swinging us up towards the surface. Without any input from me, we started to move towards the surface, faster and faster.

I have a vivid memory of Mat, who is one of the calmest divers I know, looking startled as he hung onto my pillar valve with his fingertips. A few moments later he lost his grip and I was on my own. My dive computer tells me that I went from 25m to about 5m in one minute.

I doggedly kept reeling, believing that the DSMB was my only way to the surface. The current was pulling me sideways, but I was hanging off the tangled DSMB line like a water skier. I simply could not understand it. At this point the DSMB line appeared to be angled slightly downwards and the fast current made it feel like I was being pulled through the water. At one point I even thought ‘Could the line get caught on a submarine?’ 

It was at that point I saw my DSMB fully inflated and slightly below me in the water. The sight left me totally confused.  I didn’t even have the presence of mind to cut the line and save my reel, I just let go and swam to the surface. 

Although the incident, from deploying the DSMB to surfacing, lasted only five minutes, I estimate I breathed through 50 bar in that time.

Back on the boat I was reunited with Mat and the skipper explained my DSMB’s baffling behaviour. Mat had kept his head, deployed a DSMB of his own and made it back to the boat just fine.

What did I learn from it all? Being able to do a dive in warm clear water doesn’t translate to being able to do a similar dive in cold water. Diving a wreck when the tide is running can be a disconcerting experience if you aren’t used to it and, perhaps most importantly of all, if there’s a shot-line around… use it!

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