It happened to me
This Way Out
A wreck penetration that went wrong reminded Rob Smith of the importance of following rules
The plan was to dive the Aeolian Sky, a Greek freighter that lies in 32m of water, 12 miles offshore from Weymouth. I’d just returned from Florida where I had taken a cave-diving course, and after the thrills of Ginnie Springs, I was feeling underwhelmed by the prospect of a UK dive.
We all descended onto the top of the accommodation area and, after surveying the accommodation block, I decided to explore the deck amidships. I returned to the superstructure, which was relatively intact. There were a number of open hatches and I was soon swimming through them.
I stopped by one doorway, noticing that there was some orange line on the floor – it was the same line used in caves and had been carefully placed as a guideline into the wreck. I followed the line and entered through the doorway. The visibility was good and I could see that the line continued to another door. I continued and followed the line down a stairwell.
I paused to assess the situation. Penetrating deep inside a wreck can be hazardous, but this situation was very similar to the caves I had recently dived. I was wearing similar gear, with redundant air sources, reels and torches. I had a secure guideline to an exit, so I decided to continue.
I swam down the stairwell and towards another doorway, which led to the engine room. I was now at 37m. In the middle of the room, the line came to an end, tied to a point on the floor.
Shining my torch around the engine room, I noticed another doorway that beckoned me. I made a mental note of where the guideline was and continued forward. Poking my torch inside the new room, I could see more engine gear and an opportunity to explore even deeper into the wreck.
At this point, I decided that I had gone far enough. It would be dangerous to go into another room without a guideline to lead me out. It was time to return to the line.
As I turned round to find the guideline, I was faced with a cloud of silt that hung above the floor. I couldn’t see the line – I was potentially lost. I thought that if I headed out of the engine room, I would pick up the guideline again as I passed over the silt cloud. I then noticed that there were two doorways leading out of the engine room, and I wasn’t certain which one I had entered through.
Recognising that the next set of decisions could determine whether or not I lived, I fought the urge to panic. This was the same scenario as the lost line drills we had practised on my cave course. I quickly unhooked a spare reel and dropped through the silt onto the floor of the engine room where I had last seen the guideline.
In zero visibility, I tied my line to a piece of wreckage on the floor and started a circular search, feeling my way. After several tense minutes, I felt a taut line and, shining my torch directly at it, I could just make out the orange colour of the guideline. Gently holding the line, I headed out through the silt and eventually approached the comforting green glow of the exit.
Back on the dive boat, the other divers were excitedly talking about their dive. Thankfully, they were too preoccupied to notice the experienced diver, ashen-faced and sitting quietly at the back of the boat.
I had violated a golden rule of cave diving. Leaving the guideline in the engine room meant I no longer had a route to the exit. When I decided to explore the final room, I should have tied my own line to the guideline so that the continuous line to the exit was maintained.
This experience reminded me that cave diving rules are non-negotiable. If you ignore them, you could end up paying the ultimate price.