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Deadly Oceans

Doug Allan - Freeze Frame

How the other half dive

by Pat Morrissey

Reproduced from in focus 73. Feb. 2002

There are those cruel moments in life when the wisdom of the words "Well it seemed like a good idea at the time" come back to haunt me. It happens to us all, I know; and this is the sad tale of how it happened to me. (I was going to submit this anonymously, or else think up a vaguely amusing nom de plume such as Ivor Wetone or Sue Ball, but it would never have worked; as soon as you saw my decrepit figure clinging against all reasonable hope to the bar-maid's apron, you'd have known it was me 'what did it'). So here we go: living proof that truth is stranger than fiction.

Ahem!

I had been asked to go to the Red Sea and knock out a critique of a new live-aboard based in Hurghada. The words were important, but decent photographs were vital. Now, in mitigation of what follows, let's admit that its very easy to let such an apparently simple request go to your head - especially when its made in the later hours of an evening and on licensed premises. 'Done', I cried, attempting to sit upright while simultaneously brandishing my empty glass in the direction of the speaker. And 'done', gentle reader, was exactly what I had been, except that, in the best traditions of such things, I just didn't know it yet.

I had been on plenty of trips to the Red Sea and other paradisiacal places for divers in the past, so packing wasn't a problem. The usual formula applied: camera gear (85%), dive gear (12% and clothing (3%). Things to go awry almost at once. However - and I have to hold my hands up for the first appearance of Captain Cock-up in this story - a 'friend' (I use the word loosely) had told me the night before that the proposed Tube strike had been called off, and that I'd have no problem getting myself and my heavy bags to Paddington to catch the Gatwick Express. All this I duly logged in my mind, before ordering the last round - the ubiquitous - 'one for the strasse', as the Press corps have it. The sharper eyed amongst you will have seen my mistake: the Gatwick Express doesn't go from Paddington, but from Victoria, where I arrived the following morning, after a hellish hour of sweaty heaving and cursing. (by the way, if any of you know the middle-aged ticket collector who guards the entrance to the District and Circle Line at Victoria, apologise to him for me will you).

Once at the airport, I found the ticket waiting for me, and things started to look up. Then I joined the queue for Excel Airways (motto: 'We've got your money and don't give a toss') and heard that there was to be no hand luggage allowed at all inside the aircraft, with the exception of a toothbrush. Happily, I had foreseen some kind of buggeration and whilst others were shovelling toothbrushes and toothpaste in transparent plastic carrier bags which the checkout charlies were pleased to give us, I was busy transferring all my film - some 50 rolls - into my coat of many pockets. This meant that I tended to rattle when I walked, but I figured that I could claim some sort of nitrogen bone necrosis if challenged (which I wasn't).

Then through three differing X-ray machines and body_searches - why do I always get the guy with halitosis, rather than the Israeli girl soldier look-alike? - and into duty free. Nuff said, you might think, but no, fate had yet another little Mickey Finn to drop into my unsuspecting glass of hemlock. At the very door of the aircraft, we all got stopped, turned back and had to occupy the stifling hot transit room at Gate 16 for half an hour, and for why? Because some lunatic had phoned in a bomb scare, that's why, and due to the international situation, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. (I should like to warn BSoUP members of a delicate disposition - especially those who dwell near Turnpike Lane, Mr Williams, if that is indeed your real name - that the Special Branch are even now tightening their net around you. You have been warned).

On the plane at last, and as usual, I fall asleep before take-off. I awake some 30 minutes later to find - a) I've missed the chance to buy an alcoholic beverage and b) that the bloke sitting beside me has been violently sick into three obviously inadequate paper bags and has sat there in an unholy mess because he 'didn't want to wake me'. You couldn't make this up, could you?

The plane is full, I then notice, what you might be called your Typical Divers Abroad (hereafter TYDABs). There are blokes shouting and ringing the flight attendant button and demanding more beer; there are apparently dozens of impressinable young children, all screaming at full volume without an attempt being made to shut them up (and I though that was what those miniature bottles of spirit were for); and there were hit squads of impeccably made-up zombies in sky-skivy outfits flinging trays of hot food about with the kind of grins you know Jack Nicholson's Riddler character in that Batman film must have been modelled on.

It just gets better and better, eh? At last we arrive on the fabled live-aboard, and its nice - nice to the point of sheer bloody luxury, in fact. Lets hope I have now said goodbye to Capt. Cock-up for good. I head for my bunk and go up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

Next morning, I encounter my fellow travellers for the first time in daylight, and I suddenly get a funny feeling that I'm caught in a time warp. Aren't these the same oiks I didn't like the first time round, when we bumped into each other in Essex in the early 1990's? Have I really got to buddy up with some poor old guy who last dived when Hitler was a boy and who just wants to follow the dive guide and do as he's told and promises he'll 'absolutely, definitely' stay behind me if I'm taking a photo?? Am I really the only person on this vessel with a still camera?? Yes, yes, and yes again, dear reader-lings - and lets be honest, you were way ahead of me there, weren't you?

The week's diving quickly descends into TYDAB heaven; we hit each site running, flash along the reef and get the hell onto the next one (Repeat dives? To try out different lenses? Are you mad?). Moreover, there are two young women amongst the club group who have taken over the boat, and they took an instant dislike to each other from Day 1. One is slim-ish, homely looking and only occasionally resembles a maddened foghorn; t'other has to be seen to be believed, but let me just say that if you imagine a five foot tall version of Pamela Anderson Lee, with hair that gives Harpic a bad name and boobs so evidently false that embarrassed sniggers follow in her wake, you'll get the idea. Added to which, she'll never buy a mobile phone - you could hear from one end of the boat to the other,

Each day's diving is followed by beer fests of increasing ferocity, until Wednesday, the dive guide admits they are fast running out of cans of Sakara and Heineken. This of course, is taken by the TYDAB horde as a reason for proud celebration, and it is decided that they'll just have to drink the wine as well. They've got stamina, this bunch, I'll say that for them. Once beneath the waterline, a similarly gung-ho attitude is evinced each tries to dive deeper, longer, and with less regard for human and marine life than his mates. I am vainly trying to get a selection of halfway decent portraits of them, but have to wait for them to re-enter the light zone each time. The guides and crew are bemused, and resort to playing 3 hour long video tapes of the epic life story of Osma bin Laden in the stateroom every afternoon - presumably in an attempt to rebut the tide of western degradation they can see lapping around their toes every day and night.

I raise the idea of having a freshwater tank placed on the dive platform for the soaking of cameras, computers or any other delicate instrumentation; within minutes a small bucket is placed carefully in one corner, and I look at it despodently and then at the dimensions of my Subal outfit and strobe. As I raise my head again, I note that the bucket's now being used to rinse out the well gobbed masks of all and sundry, so I decide to stick to showering said camera outfit instead.

Time passes. I keep my head down and at one moment of weakness even find myself longing for the next BSoUP Splash-in....

Ah well, it was a good try, I suppose; but tell me, are you sure Doubilet started this way? 


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