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Richard Clegg

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Into national rescue [Jul. 26th, 2010|12:23 pm]
Richard Clegg
Stop press, worse things happen at sea. Really actually while this is about diving, it was a weekend of high drama.

Diving off Poole this weekend and we had a nice schedule of two wrecks and two drift dives planned. The first wreck was the Venezuela, a WWI coal carried which was torpedoed by a submarine. It was a beautiful dive filled with interesting fish life and some huge conger eels. It's hard to describe quite how sinister and evil-looking the conger is all sleek and gun metal grey. They lurk in dark places and suddenly when you peer under something and see this peering back.

Apparently there are recorded congers in excess of 90kg and if you catch one from a boat less than 1.2 metres long you have to throw it back -- I know some people who'd have to be thrown back by those rules.

Anyway, the drama started when we got back on the boat. One of our divers had had a sudden inner ear problem and completely lost balance underwater. Despite being a very experienced and calm diver she had lost control of her buoyancy, sank then surfaced missing decompression stops and accidentally dragging her buddy part way to the surface. Both had then dived down again to complete decompression (not what you're strictly meant to do but lots of divers do this).

Side note: For those who don't know, if you dive deep and long then you need to wait for some time at around 5 metres under the water until you are safe to surface -- in the kind of diving I do, this time is usually between 3 minutes and 30 minutes. Some technical divers have to do this for many hours. If you miss these stops then you suffer from decompression sickness or "the bends" (named after "the grecian bend" a dance from the mid 19th century -- the connection being that the agonised contortions of someone suffering the bends are said to have a certain resemblance to same dance).

When they surfaced we immediately put both of them onto oxygen but didn't immediately get quite how serious the situation was. Then we discovered one diver's computer had "locked out" and immediately phoned the hyperbaric chamber (this is an interesting thing -- a small chamber for two or three people where you get sealed in for hours at a time, and "compressed" as if you were underwater and then "surfaced" slowly. After a somewhat uncomfortable few hours (made more bearable by copious quantities of valium) our divers were out and fine but not allowed to dive for weeks.

We were all a little shaken by the incident but carried on with the plan for another deep dive the next day. Another lovely wreck, the Borgny which was lying upside down with some impressive propellers pointing to the sky and a relaxing dive but we had to complete seventeen minutes of decompression. I was in the middle of miming "sounds like ride" (going for "the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" -- charades is bloody difficult underwater because the other person can't speak) when my buddy (who had completed his deco before me, he hadn't been peering under stuff quite as much) indicated he wanted to surface without me to talk to people on the boat. I only had a few minutes so I was fine with him leaving me but thought it was a bit weird. He was carrying the buoy on the surface and he'd started to feel "get back to the boat" tugs on it as a signal to come up. I waited on my own for three minutes and headed up (itself a slightly fingernail biting experience as I never ever solo dive so it was quite eerie).

When I got on deck two of our divers were lying on their backs on the deck being given oxygen. I was rushed out of my dive gear because a helicopter was about to arrive. Apparently another two divers had missed stops -- this time because someone (not from our club) had borrowed a diving suit (dry suit), worn it for the first time, and not really worked out how to use it so popped to the surface missing ALL his decompression. His buddy had (for unknown reasons) surfaced alongside him). Fortunately, one of the divers who'd been in the chamber yesterday had stayed on the boat to help out and was really familiar with the procedure at that point.

I must admit it was bloody exciting (in a nail-biting kind of way). We have done training about what to do in the case of a helicopter lift (indeed I've given a lecture on just that subject) but this was my first time "for real" (and I think everyone on the boat's first "for real") one. Scary stuff for everyone involved. Fortunately in the end everyone was OK but after three years of diving the two most serious incidents I've ever seen happened in the same weekend, the first one being nobody's fault. The second one rams home the diver lesson of "test new kit in the pool first -- really really really" -- diving with new kit in open water is chancy. Doing a deep long decompression dive with kit you don't know is just asking for trouble.

Anyway, everyone was OK and we did get some awesome freebies from the decompression chamber (waterproof pouches which I'm pretty sure I can use to make phone calls from underwater -- going to test with cheap phone).

Fortunately, the helicopter crew were incredibly efficient

[User Picture]From: ms_siobhan
2010-07-26 11:48 am (UTC)
That sounds terrifying to me - am so glad Mr Pops doesn't do this anymore. Hope everyone involved is okay long term.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 01:00 pm (UTC)
It was pretty worrying at the time but everyone seems to be recovered and on their feet if having to stay away from diving for a few weeks.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 02:13 pm (UTC)
It was all handled pretty well, particularly the second incident. Diving is usually pretty safe and the number of injuries and deaths is not that different to other "risky" sports. Still, this was very much a wakeup call about what CAN go wrong.
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[User Picture]From: valkyriekaren
2010-07-26 12:03 pm (UTC)
Oh dear, that does sound like the sort of drama you really don't want!

This is why I regard deep water with extreme suspicion, and believe that mankind has not spent thousands of years and billions of man-hours devising ways to get over, under or around it only to jump in bodily.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 02:14 pm (UTC)
Definitely unwanted drama... I'm usually pretty robust but I was feeling pretty shaken up by the second day -- I nearly did not go in for the fourth dive. I would have really missed out though as we got a huge haul of scallops.
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[User Picture]From: jozafeen
2010-07-26 12:05 pm (UTC)
What everyone else says.

Oh, I passed this off-licence yesterday and it did make me giggle, especially the logo ..... Steers Beers!
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 02:10 pm (UTC)
and Queers?
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[User Picture]From: lebeautemps
2010-07-26 12:10 pm (UTC)
Crikey. I'd love to do PADI course but its situations like these that make me even more stupidly nervous than I already am. Great to read about it though!
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 02:10 pm (UTC)
Seriously don't let it put you off at all. PADI does not even do "decompression diving" (the type of diving where you need to make the stops underwater that I was talking about). So with a properly run PADI school you would never even have the risk of this.

Diving is such a beautiful and freeing experience so I'd really encourage you to at least do a try dive in a local pool to see how you like it. You should be able to find a local BSAC or PADI branch (depending on where you are of course) who will do you a try dive cheaply (we charge £10) in a swimming pool. We're very used to the fact that people might be nervous. We were only doing that type of diving because we are very experienced divers (the least experienced diver on the boat had 60 dives but most were in the 100s).
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[User Picture]From: sarah_mum
2010-07-26 12:24 pm (UTC)

On a more frivoulous note, who were you planning to call from underwater, Because surely they'd just get heavy breathing noises?
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 02:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, I guess I can only make nuisance calls. Oh well! I will have to text instead.
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[User Picture]From: moral_vacuum
2010-07-26 12:49 pm (UTC)
Good God!

Re: Conger Eels.

1) They look like Peter Vuaghan (best known as Harry Grout in "Porridge"). http://www.wearysloth.com/Gallery/ActorsV/17582.gif

2) Elvers have left the building.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 01:01 pm (UTC)
*laugh* I'm not sure whether Slade prison would be more or less terrifying if it was run by a gang headed by a conger eel.
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[User Picture]From: shermarama
2010-07-26 03:02 pm (UTC)
Arg, that sounds messy. I've had the helicopter operations lecture as well but never seen it in practice...
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-26 03:31 pm (UTC)
It was a real wake up call for us all. The other wake up was that we asked the skipper (Trevor who runs out of Poole, great guy) what he would normally do about contacting the coastguard when divers were on oxygen and had missed stops and he said it had never happened before. I know for a fact he's been running his operation for at least two years so we must seem like a real bunch of idiots having four people in the pot on a single weekend.
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[User Picture]From: john_the_hat
2010-07-26 09:07 pm (UTC)
That sound, erm, "interesting bordering on exciting" in climbing-speak.

Glad you, and eveyone else, is OK.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-07-27 04:54 pm (UTC)
It was an exciting moment for sure. Fortunately everyone is safe now.
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