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A bad taste of paradise

by Gordon Beddis

Reproduced from in focus 67 (February 2000)


See also
Books: Dive Guides

We were on a live a board in the Red Sea looking forward to a night dive on the Alternatives. It was mid week and the group of divers had settled down to easy photographic dives, with the chance of a Spanish Dancer or two: a nice prospect.

The dive was planned: the leading pair would mark the top of the reef with a buoy, with chemical lights on it. They entered the water, towing the buoy, which stopped moving after about 3 minutes, but seemed a long way off. Funny, it didn't look right.

Anyway, Pip and I entered the water and reached the reef in no time - we got there quickly! With minds focused on photography, details were soon put aside. Pip initiated our usual search plan, to cover in some detail as much seabed as possible. A Spanish Dancer was lying on the bottom, my job was to get it up into mid water so she could photograph it against a black background and to instil some movement into it.

Putting down the second camera, I gently wafted the Dancer towards my hand - BANG! I went straight into a long-spined sea urchin, spines breaking off in my elbow. I twisted round in pain and another one's spines entered my knee - the place was infested with them!

Pippa got off half a dozen shots before my torch failed. I had knocked the spare camera somehow and the Oceanic flashgun decided to go fully automatic. Pip's Nikon had also come out in sympathy and had jammed; the camera refusing to open the shutter. Yes, it was time to go back to the boat. What a waste of time! Air check - used a lot - how long? 20 minutes. Let's go back. I signalled and we surfaced.

On the surface, I realised why we had got to the reef so quickly in the first place: there was a very strong surface current - this time it was against us. Swim to the boat I signalled. Fins cutting water hard - we were getting nowhere fast. Back to basics, get positive buoyancy. B. C.filling up - something's wrong -- full inflation, not enough - I was floating just above eye level. This is ridiculous! I have got masses of buoyancy. Heavy camera pulling one hand down and getting in the way...

Pippa had hold of me now, pressing her inflator, we got a bit more buoyancy. Swim for the boat! OK! It was very choppy, the boat kept vanishing - we were now about 100 meters to the rear of the port side and being taken further and further away.

I stopped swimming, I was exhausted, my legs were cramping. Get buoyancy! I tried again and got a bit more but heard a bubbling of escaping air - no, not now! Hadn't someone on the boat seen this - shout! I screamed - no response, I kept shouting, with no response at all from the boat. Where was all the crew? My regulator long since out of my mouth, in the pitch dark, the boat seemed miles away. I shouted again. Why didn't they return our signals? Pip, I sobbed, then blind panic - can't breathe and shout at the some time, getting water in my mouth.

Pippa was feeding me air from her spare, but she realised that I was putting her in danger and was very much relieved when I passed out. All I can remember at that time, was a great calm, then bright flashing lights before my eyes - everything went into slow motion. This was it, no more diving for me. I had a great sadness as I felt Pippa next to me, heard her voice; she was blowing a whistle in-between calming words. There was so much I wanted to say to her... but it was too late and I had no time left.

Cold sea was on my face, in my nose in my mouth; then warm damp air was blown into my mouth expelling the water as it came.

An outboard engine exploded the silence. New voices, many hands, the images turned as I fell on something hard, fingers in my mouth. I started to cough and splutter, my eyes focused on wood.

Was this the chase boat? Yes, I heard the voices of Pip, other divers'and the skipper's.
I climbed the boat's ladder and fell on to one of the benches, they told me later, but I can't remember any of it, all I was concerned about were my cameras.

When I had recovered a little, the Captain asked 'Why didn't you float until picked up? 'No buoyancy' was my reply. Iasked him, 'Why did no crew see our problem?' It was then that the Captain's English gave way and he looked very confused. It turned out that each member of the crew thought it was another's turn for Diving Watch. We were lucky as one of our own divers had seen the problem and raised the alarm. Other divers had also to be picked up, including one very experienced 1st class diver, showing just how strong the surface currents were. Ishook violently and was rough for 2 hours or so, but very happy to be here. Thanks, Ruddy, for sticking with me, and, OH YES, THANKS FOR, SAVING MY LIFE!

Reproduced from in focus 67 (February 2000)

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