Saturday, 4 September 2010

Diveboat Characters #9: The Hooligans

My narrative jumps back to the Philippines for a moment now; for good reason, as I’d forgotten to mention the wildest, rowdiest bunch of divers ever to set foot on The Emily.

In a Coron dive season, you can usually count the number of English passing through on the fingers of one hand. On meeting one, you tend to savour the laughs and the banter you only get with your own kind. Not that I don’t appreciate my mates in the town, or some of the very entertaining Europeans diving there. But there’s none of the knowing in-jokes or mutual cultural reference points you’d share with Our Lot (and I’m including the Jocks and Taffs, though still refraining to mention the B Word).

So after shepherding several varieties and nationalities of divers around the wrecks, I was quite excited to hear that there was a gang of English divers heading over. We’d only had a few large groups previously.

The German wreck-freaks were first, who spoke of nothing but wreck dives. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll waffle on about it a lot, too…but will always find the space to chat about drugs, booze, music, film, beautiful women and football, too; I’m no Dive Bore.

The Cathay Pacific group were Australian and American, and largely entertained themselves. A pilot named Adrian was the de-facto leader, and self-styled uber diver. I didn’t take to him at first, as loudmouthed Aussies sometimes take a little time to warm to; but we got on in the end. Adrian has guided for Rocksteady now and again, and knows the wrecks very well; he’s based in Hong Kong, so makes regular visits. As such, he doesn’t like being babysat. This led to a very amusing incident.

H is a responsible Divemaster. She’ll always make sure she is last out of the water, no matter the level of diver she is chaperoning. Adrian made it clear he didn’t need this level of attention. H had dived with Adrian many times before, and had explained it’s just what she does. We were surfacing from a dive on Irako where, as H would put it, Adrian and his team had over-cooked it ie. stayed down too long for their air supply and de-compression requirements. I won’t knock it…I’ve done it myself. The Slovenian divers with me were at a decompression stop (hanging at one level in the water for a set time, to rid the body of nitrogen bubbles before surfacing), with me just below them. Adrian’s group were above and slightly to the side of us. A flashing silver object dropped by us, a few metres away: some clumsy bastard’s dive knife spinning into the depths. A few seconds later a diver chased it in a rapid head-down descent, dropping at least 10 metres. I peered down and watched, amused, as he got angry with himself after checking his dive computer. To drop to that depth while you’re supposed to be heading for the surface after de-compressing means only one thing: more time waiting to be allowed to surface safely after your computer punishes your rash stupidity. All fine: as long as you have enough air left to wait out the extra deco time.

Adrian made his way back up to our level, slowly. The Slovenians indicated they were done, and I motioned they should exit the water and swim to the boat. I moved towards the drop tank (the extra tank of air with regulators to breathe from in case of emergency, suspended 6 metres below a boat). Suddenly Adrian was swimming hell-for-leather towards a puzzled H, making rapid throat-slashing motions with his hand: he was out of air. H gave him her spare regulator, and they shared her air while moving towards the drop tank. Signalling to ask if she was OK to handle the situation, her wide eyes and exasperated shrug made me chuckle as I ascended. Her body language said it all: “What the fuck?”

Back on Dos Hermanos, I was drying off and wolfing down a portion of Dennis’s (by now) internationally-renowned pumpkin curry, plotting mischief. I shouted over to Adrian’s friends on the Emily “Who dropped the knife? You almost killed Adrian.” None of them had even noticed; so much for the dive-buddy concept, eh? Fuck you, Jack…I’m alright. Wouldn’t catch me diving with them. A sheepish Adrian climbed back onto the boat, and H shot me a mirthful look as she got out behind him. “Hey, No Bar, did you get your knife?” I queried (pressure is measured in Bar, and we ususally surface with 30-50 in our tanks...bviously Adrian had ended up on empty) He pretended not to hear me, and H shook her head and smiled. But I couldn’t help it; I am not one to pass up an opportunity for a wind-up, especially a gilt-edged one on an uber diver. To be fair to Adrian, he held his hand up to H and told her to say what she was thinking. They had a good chat, and he said that now he understood why she was always last out of the water. His friends hadn’t waited around, and he would have been in serious trouble if alone. All H said to him was “Is a £40 quid knife really worth fucking dying for?”

Back to the English reprobates; a motley crew of blokes ranging from 35 to 65, single to married, but all misbehaving themselves to various degrees in the Philippines. Obviously the wives weren’t here. The dive leader, as he referred to himself, was a guy called Gary. He’d brought along his partner; well, the lads pointed out that she was a spare partner, as he’d left his long-term girlfriend at home. Twat. I think men like that are cowards: if you think you’re with the wrong woman, be brave and let her go to find happiness with someone else. If you’ve made a mistake in leaving her, then deal with it and move on. Some people don’t want their partners, but are afraid of the unknown, and certainly don’t want their partner to have anyone else. It’s pathetic. I nicknamed him Off-Gas Gary. His mates loved that. BSAC divers are far more organised and formal than PADI counterparts. Some would say anal and stuffier…everything has to be done a certain way. Despite being a BSAC member too, I find it all a bit much at times. In diving off-gassing is the term given to what your body is doing in between dives. You should have an interval of at least an hour on the surface before diving again, to let your body release some of the built-up nitrogen in your system. We suggested schedules of wrecks to Gary. Olympia first, then Morazan after lunch, as it was slightly shallower and not too far from the first site. But oh no, Off-Gas knew better. “No…we’ll dive Olympia twice. The bow section first, then we can off-gas during lunch, then dive the stern.” I suggested two dives on Olympia may be a little repetitive, as there wasn’t too much to see. “We’d prefer to off-gas while stationary, we don’t want to be doing it while the boat’s in motion.” But the second wreck was 10 minutes away? Off-gassing was again mentioned and I gave up. Despite it being his first visit to Coron, he obviously knew better than all the DMs at the shop.

As there were so many divers, their group was split across the two boats: the older divers who didn’t like noise, and Off-Gas and his squeeze on the Emily; the naughty boys and piss-takers on Dos Hermanos. You don’t win a prize for guessing which boat I wangled my way onto. I don’t know quite what everyone made of this English group, with the constant shouting of abuse between the two boats, swearing every other word, and vulgar comments galore. I’ve never heard so much bad language, outside of an East-End boozer. I found it all hilarious, and made me feel right at home. Miro, being German, was a little taken aback by it all, but found them likeable; when I asked him his opinion he just said “These people are fucking crazy.” Gerd just looked a bit shell-shocked by it all when he was on the boat.

They were here for almost two weeks. My favourites were Sean, a complaining photographer (“This visibility here is shit!” he said on the first day “This is Coron, mate…didn’t you do any research?” I retorted) and Dickie, somewhat like Ray Winstone in manner, but slightly shorter, fatter and somewhat less sexy. Dickie and myself had a right old laugh, being Off-Gas Gary’s chief tormentors, but also winding each other up. My walk along the dockside towards the boats in the morning was usually accompanied by jeers from a few of the lads and a “Wozzzaaaa…you wankaaaaa!” from Dickie. “Morning, you old slag” I’d smile.

Internet connections being sporadic, everyone was keen for football news wherever you could get it. Dickie asked me how Tottenham Hotspur had got on the previous evening? “You won 3-0” I told him. Cue much exuberance from Dickie, dancing and making wanker signs in front of his Arsenal and Chelsea-supporting mates’ noses. My team, Preston North End, received some jibes from him too, until I pointed out that we were the first club to do the League and Cup Double in 1888, and that Spurs nicked our kit design when they formed several years later, inspired by our successful team. Didn’t shut him up for long, though. Beers that day were on him, insisted Dickie, and we were treated to several songs and chants from him as we neared the wrecks. He wasn’t too pleased that evening after checking his mails and realising that, in fact, I’d lied: Spurs were on the receiving end of that 3-0 drubbing. But, like me, he can take all the stick that he dishes out. All part of the fun.

Approaching Akitushima one morning, we discovered that the marker buoy was missing. Sometimes it’s the waves which rip it from the wreck, other times it’s local fishermen who don’t like our dive boats scaring the fish away. As none of the shops in Coron use GPS, the Emily and Dos Hermanos sailed around the bay, dragging anchors to try and locate the wreck the old fashioned way. It took an hour. Off-Gas and his crew were already geared up to dive, and Dickie and the lads took great delight in hurling abuse across the water as Gary became more and more irritable at the delayed diving. They looked very hot and bothered. “Cam on, Gary…where’s this wreck, you caaant? Look atcher…all dressed ap and no place to go…” cackled Dickie. Myself and Miro eventually had to jump in roughly where we guessed the ship sat, and send up a marker when we found it. Off-Gas entered the water before the boys and, to a chorus of cat-calls, had descended with a one-fingered salute.

Over lunch, the digs continued. I laughed as the banter flowed back and forth, before spitting rice everywhere when Sean said loudly “’Ere, Wozza…tell Gary what your nickname for him his…” Never a dull moment.

Their approach to the diving was simple; they wanted to be left alone to look around the wrecks. Myself and Miro had been booked to guide them, but Dickie said "Nah, you boys fuck off and do your own thing...have a bit of fun." Fantastic for myself and my German mate, we went off to explore. The first dive was on Nitrox, which contains more oxygen and less nitrogen, allowing for a longer dive with less decompression. The second dive was on normal air, and my computer should have been re-set to allow for this. I forgot; schoolboy error. So my computer assumed I was still diving with Nitrox, and after the second dive I came up a full 8 minutes ahead of Miro, believing I'd decompressed safely. He climbed out of the water and asked me if my computer had been reset? My heart started pounding. Although I didn't feel any effects which might indicate Decompression Illness, better known as The Bends, I was paranoid for a good twenty minutes...we were miles from an emergency decompression chamber. And my compatriots' response to my situation?

"Wahaaaaayyyy!!" "Cant!" "Wozza, you waaaankaaaa!" "You're probably gonna die ha ha ha!" accompanied by simulated death-throes by Dickie. It made light of a potentially serious situation, but I'd have know about it if I'd had a bend (although it can happen hours later if a nitrogen bubble blocks an artery). I laughed it off, making a mental note to avoid making that mistake again; once is enough. Sean pressed a cold beer into my hand "Here, mate...if you've got a bend, this'll sort you right out." I stretched out in the sun, and took his advice.