Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ship of fools

The surrealness of being on a boat in the middle of the Andaman sea being taught the vagaries of scuba diving by a half Thai-half German Arnold Schwarzenegger soundalike wasn't totally lost on me.

"What the bloody hell am I doing here?" I thought to myself as he explained something else very important that I couldn't understand to me and the 2 other certain deathers sat at the side of me.

The thumbs that were up and pointing in my direction and attached to CJ reminded me why I was here.

We were the 'Introduction to Scuba Diving' group, the membership of which seem to single us out to be talked to patronisingly and be scared witless by other more qualified members on board the boat.

Arnie then said another sentence which ended in '...or you'll be in trouble' before shoving forms under each of our noses with tick boxes which absolved anybody other than me for any blame attached to my impending death.

"You all look petrified" said the dive master as he walked over "Don't worry, Arnie has been instructing for years now and has only lost an average of 3 divers a year - he's lost none so far this year though, which is good news" he continued as he looked at the 3 of us, before cracking himself up at how funny he was, slapping some people on the back then walking to the end of the boat and throwing himself off it into the boats propellor.

I made that last bit up, but it wasn't for the want of wishing it to happen.

"Oh and whatever you do, don't forget to equalise your ears" he said as he went off the regale other boat inhabitants of his underwater tales.

Our instructions once in the water were to paddle across to a boat moored about 20 yards away, wait for Arnie to get there, at which time we would use to rope to aid our descent to the bottom. We'd rehearsed all our hand signals on board and now it was time to put it all into practice.

I had a few hand signals of my own for the divemaster which I wasted no time in utilising once I was in the water.

Getting into the water with the kit on was a job in itself, if I didn't jump in then I was going to fall in anyway so I guess I had no choice. Bobbing around in the water, paddling across to the boat that seemed to be getting further away, I was unsure how it was that I was still above the surface. The weight of the kit I was carrying on my back would have been enough to sink the titanic. I could hardly stand up once I'd put it on in the boat.

"Right - start to descend" Arnie shouted as we all reached the boat. This was easier than it sounds for someone with no buoyancy control, who was clinging for dear life with one hand on the mooring rope and the other on his nose popping his ears for all he was worth.

One of the most uncomfortable half hours of my life followed. I managed to descend to the bottom eventually, but being the middle person of 3 clinging to the rope meant that I had someones flippers kicking me in the head all the time, whilst kicking somebody else in the head with my flippers - all at the same time as trying to control my buoyancy, keep my mask clean, remembering to breathe and popping my ears.

Bobbing back on the surface again waiting for the boat to come around and pick us up Arnie asked us how far down we thought we had gone.

"About 8 or 9 metres?" I reckoned.

Arnie nearly drowned laughing.

"So how deep then?" I asked. Wanting to add the swear words my mind was telling me to use to the end.

"3 and a half, maybe 4" he replied.

And I thought to myself:

'3 and half/4 metres? That's what? 12, maybe 12 and a half feet. Hang on, that's about the depth of the deep end of the local swimming baths. The local swimming baths where I used to swim to the bottom of the deep end in my pyjamas to pick up rubber bricks throughout my schooldays without so much as a second thought.'

"You silly fucker, why didn't you say we were only going that deep?" I shouted.

But he was already climbing on the boat, sharing my stupidity with the divemaster.