JOHN THORNTON mv Karin, Scapa Flow
Finding many of the wrecks around Scapa, pioneering diving in the Orkneys, and being one of the foremost technical instructors in the UK

We skippers sometimes wonder at the logic of some of the complaints from customers. To us its obvious that the boat doesnt have a limitless supply of fresh water, or that plugs arent always 240V. Perceived weather conditions from within a safe harbour can also lead to debate.
At the start of the technical revolution that has swept our dive industry, a diver surfaced from the deep after a reasonably extensive dive to complain immediately on arriving on deck about a sharp stabbing pain in his back and shoulders.
He was put on oxygen and the authorities informed. We asked him how and when the symptoms came on, as we could see no real signs of DCI apart from his back pains. He explained that on descent he had felt stiff across his shoulders, and as the dive progressed the stabbing pains started. At this point we had him dekitted but still in his suit.
He wanted to keep his suit on to keep warm, but as we approached harbour I explained that if the symptoms worsened the shore-based hyperbaric team would have no hesitation in cutting his suit off.
The economics of the situation changed his mind, and we carefully removed his suit, keeping him on the oxygen, to reveal a wooden coat-hanger still in place across his shoulder blades!
Hard-to-find leaks occasionally occur on drysuits, and various methods are used to find the holes.
From Karins wheelhouse one day I noticed a small group of divers discussing the location of a leak that had been bothering one of the club stalwarts.
I was amazed to see this diver put his suit on with his hands and head through the hand and neck seals - backwards. The result was that his hands and head were inside the membrane suit. His inflator was hooked up and the zip closed, effectively pressurising his head inside the suit.
The suit was inflated until it stood almost vertical. After a couple of minutes the zip was pulled, the suit collapsed - as did several onlookers - and the diver was asked if he had seen the leak.
I wish I had had a video camera!
One diver, Mick, wanted to give me his mobile number, but couldnt remember it. Orange mobile phones dont seem to work very well in Scapa Flow, but his answer was to climb the foremast while I steamed around. When we picked up a signal, he would call me in the wheelhouse and his number would appear on my phone.
Mick braved the height and cold for nearly half an hour before I got his number. It took several rum and coffees to warm him up.
A friend, Ian, decided to come to Orkney for a few days diving. We embarked on a serious drinking session to celebrate his recent marriage, and later visited the local Indian restaurant.
The next morning, somewhat jaded, we arrived aboard the boat. Ian was not well, and as the day continued his situation deteriorated. The food, or so he claimed, had affected his bowels, and when we arrived at our second site of the day, his need was urgent.
We were alongside the Inverlane, today submerged but in those days a wreck we could tie alongside. Out of respect for the rest of us, Ian disappeared up to the foredeck of the Inverlane, were he was seen to be sitting, with a pained look on his face, over its hawser holes, where the anchor chains ran through.
He returned, pale but relieved, just in time to see a group of Geordies from another boat arrive and excitedly run up to the hawser holes.
They wanted to see who could slide down them and fly out the other end in the most dramatic way possible!

BILL RUCK mv Woodpecker,Moray Firth
Friendly service, finding stunning new sites in a largely undived area

The divers who come here are usually great. From a skippers point of view, how people surface is very important. A nice controlled ascent up the shotline or on an SMB is ideal.
Seeing a pair of fins break the surface at speed is enough to set my heart racing. I had one guy who had just recovered from a bend, and it was his first time back in the water. When he surfaced unexpectedly, feet first, I nearly had a coronary. Luckily he was fine. Sometimes divers dont seem to have any perception of how worrying their behaviour can be for a skipper.
Some divers are so unfit that theyre a danger to themselves. I had one girl who was incapable of climbing the ladder. I had to climb down and dekit her, drag everything back into the boat, and then assist her up the ladder. All the time, the boat was drifting and other divers were surfacing and waiting to be picked up.
The best part of this job is hearing the enthusiasm of divers when theyve really enjoyed a dive. People tend to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the diving here, and Im a diver myself and have dived all the sites, so Im interested in hearing the dive details.

MICK & JENNY DURASOW mv Faithful,Oban
Great food and diving for all levels of experience

Most of the time its a real laugh with the divers who come on the liveaboard, but weve had a lot of fun and games with SMBs.
You tell a group of 12 divers to put up an SMB at the start of the dive and, 10 minutes later, there are only two or three SMBs on the surface. Sometimes I think divers hit the water and leave their brains back on the boat.
You can send the divers on a drift, and all the SMBs will go the same way - except one. So the boat has to try to keep within sight of them all. Typically you find that the errant SMB has come loose and gone for a dive by itself, or that somebodys used theirs to send a weightbelt up and youve been chasing it down for an hour...
We get divers who clog the exit point, divers who have trouble climbing the ladder, and divers who get dropped on a wall dive and manage to miss the entire wall. Ive often felt like saying: Which part of swim north did you not understand
Divers come in groups, and occasionally we get an odd character who seems completely alien to the group. One lad insisted on making everybody watch a video of Riverdance - you can imagine the ribbing he got for that. Another needed each element of his breakfast on a separate plate. He was concerned that his tomatoes didnt get mixed up with his baked beans!
At the end of the week we usually have enough shower gel and lone socks left behind to keep us going for years. If you see a skipper in non-matching socks, thats why!

DAVE GODDARDmv Medallions,Lowestoft
No-nonsense diving in challenging conditions

We left Lowestoft Harbour on a calm, sunny day. I only had two novice divers, so I took them to an easy, clean wreck, a 70ft beam trawler sitting upright.
My father and the second coxn of the lifeboat were dive cover and I was diving with the novices. We got to the site with plenty of time before slack water, because it takes three times longer for new divers to gear up in an unfamiliar environment.
I briefed them that they would go down the line attached to the stern gantry port side. I told them to attach their reel lines to the gantry at 24m and have a good look around. When they finished the dive, they should reel back to the gantry and come back up the line.
I attached a large buoy onto the line sinker and went in first. I waited for the others on the wreck, and when they arrived I swam off. They looked OK, and gave the right signals. I saw them a couple of times around the wreck. It was quite good viz, 3-4m, and they seemed happy.
At the end of the dive I returned to the gantry. No reel line was attached, so I ascended and at the surface began to detach the buoy from the sinker. I casually asked whether the others had had a good dive.
What others They arent up yet, came the reply. I swam to the sinker, re-attached the buoy, went back down and carried out a thorough search.
By now I had about 15 minutes deco, so I started up the line, thinking the worst.
As I broke the surface, four heads were looking down at me. I climbed onto the boat and asked the obvious question: Where did you two get to
We got lost on the wreck and did a free ascent, they replied. Without a delayed SMB and with the tide running. Luckily my boat cover had heard their distant whistles and shouts.
How did you get lost I persisted. You could just reel yourself back to the gantry.
Again, all sweet and innocent, came the reply: We havent got a reel line.
The pair were starting to feel ill, so we headed back slowly, doing a long detour to head straight into the chop.
By the time we got back, the previous days dinner, tea and that mornings breakfast had helped feed the fish.
The moral The customer is always right, but the skipper can be your friend or worst enemy if you dont listen to him.
I have a number of regular customers to whom I admit giving preferential treatment. The diving we do here I believe to be the most uncompromising in the world - bad viz, cold, strong tides, dark and only wrecks to dive on. Add a team of who dares wins divers and you have an explosive situation.
The site was an undived wreck at 32m. After 10 minutes, up came a lift bag. I went to pick it up and saw two more just under the surface, supporting a big wooden box. On closer inspection I found what looked to be enough explosives to blow Suffolk into Norfolk, let alone a 23ft plastic boat with one hysterical skipper on board.
The tide had started to run, so I followed the bags clear of the wreck and, accidentally, with the sharp end of the boat hook, slashed the bags. I returned to pick up the surfacing divers, all grinning in anticipation of the fun they would have once ashore and able to blow up middle earth.
My only regret was not having a camera to capture the expression on their faces when I said: Bags What bags Nothing reached the surface that I saw.

STEVE WRIGHT mv Loyal Watcher,Plymouth
Pioneering previously undived sites such as Jutland, ss Carpathia and wrecks off Ireland

Our deep-wreck divers tend to be a bit rugged, and the crew are no strangers to the rougher side of life, so we have a reputation for the occasional drunken debauchery, especially when were away from our home port.
We were in Ireland, and after the first night one diver turned up looking as if hed been in a fight. The truth emerged: he had been returning from the pub late at night, very drunk, and had stopped by a tree to relieve himself.
Dropping his trousers, he managed to overbalance and roll headfirst down a 20ft embankment into the harbour. The damage was mostly to his pride, but it stopped him diving for the first three days of the trip.
Another lad disappeared off the boat and didnt return that night. Everybody knew we were due to leave at 10am, but by 10.30 I was calling the police and the hospitals. At about 11 we gave up and started casting off.
At the last second he came sprinting down the harbour, clutching his clothes, and just managed to scramble onto the boat. I asked him to come to the bridge to explain himself, and was given the full gory details of his night (and morning) of passion with two local girls. I was so entertained, I couldnt really shout at him. But the rest of the group did.
We get a lot of new technical divers, and some need watching. I had two trimix divers due to make a 72m dive and they insisted on mixing their own gas. I urged them to analyse their mix, but they were adamant that they didnt make mistakes.
Eventually I refused to put them in the water until they had analysed their gas. It turned out to be completely out of range for the depth. They had to dump it and start again, but because theyd left it so late, they missed that days dive and ended up looking really stupid.
Following instructions about returning to the shot or deploying an SMB is very important, as the divers are decompressing for long periods.
We were diving the Afric, in 80m, and I told everyone to return to the shotline and stay on the decompression station. Failing that, they should deploy an SMB.
One rebreather diver missed the shot, and jammed his SMB. He was over a mile and a half from the wreck when he eventually popped. I didnt even have bubbles to follow and I thought wed lost him. My heart was really going.
I remember saying to him: Youve got over four grands worth of equipment strapped to your back, and you wont buy a spare SMB
I put another group in when conditions were foggy, on the strict understanding that they would use line reels to make certain to return to the shotline for the ascent. The run-time for the dive was an hour, so imagine my horror when I spotted two paltry inches of SMB above the surface because someone had missed the shot - and this was a very high-profile technical diver.
No matter how good they think they are, they all make mistakes!
Overall our divers are an excellent bunch, but one of my biggest concerns is the lack of fitness. People dont realise how physically demanding the diving is.
You see them start up the ladder, then their knees go and they get stuck. Id rather they completely dekitted in the water than do that - and its usually the ones who insist that they dont need to remove any stage cylinders!

PAUL COOPER mv Kyarratoo,Weymouth
Hardboat dives on the classic wreck sites

My biggest complaint is divers who wont listen to what you tell them. Its always safety things, but they think they know better. You explain to them how to get off the boat safely but they still end up leaping on top of each other.
Also a problem are people who dont mark their SMBs. I can be on a busy site, like the Salsette, and there will be 56 different SMBs in the water - how do I know which divers to watch unless theyve put a name on their SMB
Here in Weymouth a lot of clubs bring their RIBs and they can be a liability on some sites.
Ive had BSAC clubs which insist on putting a shot onto the M2 when there are already shotlines on it and about 100 divers down there.
Theyd rather risk killing someone than use another shotline to descend and come up on their SMBs.
The skippers here have a code of good practice to help keep divers safe, but unfortunately we get a lot of amateurs who dont follow the rules.
The other irritation is dive instructors who are trained solely in Stoney Cove and think they can take students in the sea. Often they are so inexperienced that I have to advise them not to dive for their own safety, let alone their students safety.
At the start of February I had a diver who insisted on diving the Spaniard in Portland Harbour without any gloves.
I warned him. He was a big bloke, and he came up with blood pouring off his hands. He couldnt feel it because he was numb with cold, but when he thawed out a bit he bawled and screamed with the pain.
We got him to hospital and he needed internal and external stitches - they wanted to keep him in for surgery, it was that serious. Some people just wont be told.

IAN TAYLOR mv Skin Deep,Plymouth
Offshore dives on deep wrecks

My biggest complaint is people not doing what they say theyre going to do. If a diver tells me he will be down for an hour, thats what I expect. After an hour, I start to feel stressed.
Safety is definitely the biggest concern. I take a lot of advanced divers, so not only is it more worrying, but you expect them to know better. I like the ones who are organised, say what theyre doing, and do it.
hspace=5 The rule is that every diver sends up a bag so that I can see where they are. If I put 10 divers in the water and only nine bags come up, I start to get concerned. Ive had rebreather divers who dont put up a bag and stay on the shot - and Ive no idea theyre there.
I had two Australians who were diving the Salsette, and when they got back on the boat they started having a big fight. I managed to separate them and it turned out theyd been playing cards on their decompression stop, and one of them had been cheating!
Another diver unloaded his gear straight into the harbour one evening - just dropped the lot down the space between the boat and the harbour wall. He spent the next morning retrieving it.
One of the craziest habits is for all 12 divers to ask what time slack is, and then for all of them to ask what time theyre diving!
The most disgusting part of the job is dealing with things the technical divers leave behind. Ive had used nappies stuffed down the side of the toilet, and the condoms from pee valves discarded on the boat. Nasty!
Ive upgraded my boat to a catamaran hull because its faster and I can take divers further. Its got a winch on the back and a diver lift. One of the biggest problems is that most divers get seasick while on site and waiting for slack.
This boat is more stable, so I hope therell be less throwing up!

DAVE APPLIN mv Dive Eclipse,Selsey
The fastest dive boat on the South Coast!

Most divers are fine, but a worrying minority dont seem to understand the implications of their inexperience. A lot of my divers are booked through dive shops, so the first I see of them is when they roll up for the dive, but you can usually tell within minutes.
We were doing a 30m drift dive and I was giving a briefing on the boat and telling everyone to deploy their SMBs.
I noticed two divers giving each other funny looks. I asked if everything was OK, and one said: Whats an SMB
They had just done their PADI Open Water in the Dominican Republic. They had no idea about UK conditions, didnt own SMBs and didnt know what a drift dive was. I nearly had kittens.
Luckily two BSAC instructors on the boat volunteered to look after these inexperienced lads. They saved the day, because I couldnt have let them on a 30m dive.
Sometimes its other divers in the water who cause problems. I arrived at a site where there was already a dive boat. Only two divers were still in the water and they were about to pull their shot, so I put one of my own in and got the divers to kit up.
While they were getting ready, a lift bag popped up, but I didnt think anything of it. I took the divers over to the buoy and dropped them in. It was only then that I realised something strange was going on. The last pair of divers from the other boat had found my shot and bagged it up.
The whole line, complete with descending divers, was drifting off in the tide! Luckily they all saw the funny side.

GARY FOXY FOX, UNCLE BOB LAYTON & HAGGIS Dive Action RIBs,St Keverne, Cornwall
Fun days out on the Manacles

Haggis: You wouldnt believe some of the things people get up to on our RIBs. I had one of those Xmas-tree tekkies the other day - he had every gadget going. It took him four times longer than everyone else to kit up, and then he discovered that hed forgotten to put his weightbelt on. Instead of de-kitting, he decided to try and wriggle it on beneath his twinset. He leaned forward, hitched up the weightbelt, staggered to one side of the RIB, threw himself backwards to stop himself falling in headfirst, tripped over the tubes and fell in with an enormous splash. Made the Keystone Cops look like amateurs.
Foxy: The divers here are great! We love em!
Haggis: They don't always love themselves though, do they I had that pair who had missed their stops on a previous dive, but insisted that they were going diving. Their computers were locked out, so they said they were diving on tables. Then they kept bobbing to the surface every couple of minutes to ask how long theyd been diving for...
Uncle Bob: What about that bloke with the drysuit problem
Haggis: Unbelievable. This bloke surfaces fins-first, thrashing like a lunatic. I dash over to assist and he tells me that this is his normal ascent technique. He prefers to invert himself on the seabed, and fin downwards on the way up to control the ascent rate.
Uncle Bob: Yeah, right.
Haggis: Thats what he said!
Uncle Bob: I had that couple who were having a massive domestic on the shotline. They were screaming and yelling. Got back on the boat and wouldnt speak to each other, sat at opposite ends...
Haggis: What about that Vaseline bloke
Uncle Bob: That was a strange one. This bloke had a huge beard and moustache. Hed had a lot of problems with a leaky mask, so he had been advised to trim it and use some Vaseline to smooth it down. He went in for the dive and popped up a minute or so later, lying prone on the surface. Had me really worried. I went over and got him back in the boat and he said hed had a bad air fill. I breathed off his reg and it definitely tasted odd. Then I noticed that his DV was absolutely packed with Vaseline. He must have put a whole vat of the stuff on his face!
Foxy: What about the diver who threw all his kit overboard...
Uncle Bob: Yeah, said he didnt like kitting up on the boat. Just put his weightbelt on, threw everything off the boat and jumped in to get it! Strange, but not as annoying as the divers who pull the shot off the wreck. No matter how much you tell them not to, they keep pulling and then moan afterwards that the shot wasnt on the wreck. Ive taken to driving over it and showing them where it is on the echo-sounder first, so there are no arguments later.
Haggis: I had a bloke who was complaining about a reef dive. He came back up and said: It was just a pile of rocks - Im not going to 22m for a pile of rocks. Id love to know what he expected a reef dive to be...
Foxy: I think the standard of divers is getting worse, dont you
Haggis: Definitely, but I tell you my real pet hate. Old BSAC divers. They always think they know best. Its all testosterone and macho bullshit. I cant bear it. I always ask everybody if theyve dived off a RIB before, because you want to make sure everybody is comfortable and properly briefed. That lot just sneer at you if you try to tell them anything.
Foxy: I think the real issue is SMBs. Divers have got to be able to handle an SMB.
Uncle Bob: I had some divers lying on top of their SMBs on the surface for a bit of extra buoyancy - not too helpful.
Haggis: Theyre a good lot really though, arent they
Uncle Bob: Yeah, we love our divers. Wish theyd bring a bit of common sense with them occasionally, but theyre great.

LEN HURDIS mv Autumn Dream,Weymouth
Molly the black Labrador and great lunches

Divers behave like sheep a lot of the time. They sit still for the journey out to the site, then 10 minutes before the dive everybody is fighting to get into the toilet. You dont hear a word on the journey out, but when youre locating and shotting the wreck, everybody suddenly wants to ask you questions. You cant just tell one person, you have to tell them all, individually, the same information.
Divers are the same as everyone else, its a holiday for them and they unzip their heads and leave their brains at home.
With some people its just inexperience and lack of common sense. Ive had a group of four blokes, booked on a dive, who were found sitting in a car park, waiting for me to come and get them.
Ive also had two young girls on the boat to dive the M2, and I could tell straight away that they werent up for it.
I found out that they had just passed their PADI Open Water course and their dad had brought them the dive as a birthday present.
I got them a dive inside the harbour instead - they freaked out pretty much immediately. I dread to think what could have happened to them on the M2.
People seem to have much more kit these days but are generally worse divers. Years ago it was more difficult to learn. You had to be very dedicated, so the standards were higher.
One thing Id love to say to divers is, please put your rubbish in the bin or take it away with you.
I find sweet wrappers and tissues stuffed down the back of seats and thrown on the deck. Ive also got a huge collection of sunglasses, but I throw out the dirty socks.
The strangest sight Ive seen on the boat was a one-legged diver. He left his false leg and trousers on the side when he boarded.
I was saying: Has everyone got all their kit in a very pointed way. He seemed happy to leave it there - he had money in the trouser pockets and everything.
Anyway, my biggest concern was whether he could get up the ladder on one leg. When he got back to the boat he just hopped straight up - he was a lot faster and more nimble than the two-legged divers!
He put the rest of them to shame.

  1. Pay attention at the back! Nothing irritates a skipper more than divers who refuse to listen to instructions and follow advice... and then whinge when their dive goes horribly wrong.
  2. Flaunt that sausage Divers who dont carry, or dont know how to deploy, a delayed surface marker buoy cause endless headaches. If a skipper cant see you at the surface, its either a long swim home or a severe dressing-down from the helicopter rescue team.
  3. Move it, lardarse Fewer knee-trembling moments on the ladder and dying flounder impersonations on the surface, please. According to our skippers, British divers could do with more oomph in the fitness stakes.
  4. Pick your moment There are moments when the skippers attention will be fully occupied with locating and shotting the wreck, putting divers in the water or picking them up. These are not the times to engage him in a lively debate about his fish-finding equipment. And deciding to occupy the toilet for 20 minutes as soon as the skipper asks you to kit up will make you seriously unpopular.
  5. Your wisdom - get over it You might be very experienced. The gross weight of your diving qualifications is probably sufficient to flatten a gerbil. But the skipper does this for a living, and no-one likes a smart-arse, so show some respect or get your own boat! As one skipper told us: All divers make mistakes, but some of the more experienced ones have a problem admitting it.
  6. Keep it ship-shape The skipper is not your mum, and takes no joy in dealing with the rancid socks or undies you left in his cabin. Take all your property away with you at the end of the dive and you wont face any embarrassing revelations when you next return.