More than just good buddies

Would you just put that cylinder down and sort out my fin-strap!

Well, how was I to know you were out of air
I thought you were having one of your tantrums

But I TOLD you to pack my weightbelt!

Deco -  Did we do some of that, sweetheart

When you look at some of the images in dive adverts, couples drifting hand in hand through the coral gardens, or strolling up a tropical beach carrying their fins, you might get the impression that dive coupledom is akin to dive heaven. So how can it be that at one time my British Sub-Aqua Club branch actually placed a ban on couples diving together
Im diving one of the Red Seas fabulous coral walls. Its one of those beautiful holiday dives, just like the pictures in the adverts. Ahead of me I can see Don and Tasha, a young married couple that I met on the dive boat earlier. Don has spotted something in the coral and he gestures to Tasha to come over. She is finning ahead, oblivious, camera in hand.
Dons gestures become wilder; I can hear him shouting through his DV. Tasha hasnt heard him. Next thing I know, Don is shaking his fists and swimming after her. He grabs her by the arm and drags her back to see his find.
Tasha swims up close to the huge moray eel and takes a shot. But Don is not happy. He thinks she failed to get close enough and grabs the camera to take his own picture. Tasha is making a few signals that I dont recall seeing in my BSAC Sport Diving manual.
I catch sight of them later at the sand eel garden. An animated tussle is taking place over the camera. With all the commotion, the eels they are trying to photograph have disappeared back beneath the sand.
The dive guide is keeping an eye on them, in case a rescue is required. I catch her eye and we exchange shrugs. I really dont want to stick around to watch the result...
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ONE Tell them to find a good position on shore and keep an eye out for flares - that RIB engine is looking distinctly dodgy.

TWO Buy them a book on knots; that shotline is going to need a good splicing at some point.

THREE Make them Food Marshal for the weekend. They are in an ideal position to get into the queue for the teas and sarnies as soon as the boat is in view. By the time youve come alongside, they might be near the front. Well, almost.

FOUR Get them a PokŽmon Gameboy: its cute, absorbing and all the rage. Just be warned - they are likely to get mugged by rampaging gangs of five-year-old children.

FIVE Involve them in the subtle art of brass restoration: youre too busy bringing up spidge to bother polishing it as well.

SIX Best of all, get them on a boat-handling course - a non-diving skipper means fewer fights about who gets to dive slack. And they can haul up that shot without risking a shoulder bend - perfect.
Back on board, I asked the dive guide, Heike from Easy Divers, if she ever had problems with couples diving together.
Most of the time, couples are great. They look after each other and dont cause much trouble. But we do get the occasional couple from hell.
A few beers later and she was ready to spill the beans.
Weve also had couples where, for example, the wife didnt know one end of a cylinder from the other and completely relied upon the husband, not just to put her equipment together, but to swim beside her and control her buoyancy throughout the duration of the dive.
The other week we had an American couple. Both of them were obese, but the guy was so unfit that his wife had to practically tow him everywhere. He wasnt physically capable of swimming to and from the boat to the mooring; he was flapping about and cursing his wife to get him back to the boat faster!
Weve also had the classic jealous fits, where the girl starts flirting with one of the crew and the guy goes mental and starts chucking cylinders around the deck.
And then there are the usual rows, tantrums and post-dive arguments, all part of normal holiday behaviour. At least it keeps the rest of the on-board guests entertained.
But not everyone takes such a benevolent view of couples as buddies.
I question whether couples are the best people to dive together. If anything were to happen on a dive, the emotional attachment would probably mean that the rescuing partner would not be dispassionate enough to act in a logical way, explains Keith Holman, a BSAC instructor and diver since 1969.
An emergency requires rescuers to pay close attention to their own safety and not just to charge in on impulse.
There was one unfortunate incident when a couple were diving together and one of them got trapped inside a wreck. The other refused to leave, with predictably tragic consequences. After that, our branch actually put a ban on couples diving together.
And how did that work out It was virtually impossible to enforce. Most couples seem to prefer to dive together and some were very unhappy about being forced to dive apart. Then the Diving Officer got a new girlfriend and he wanted to dive with her, so at that point the rule went out of the window.
He paused for a moment. Actually, come to think of it, he got the new girlfriend because he insisted that she had to dive with him rather than her partner. Hmmmm!
Sally Cartwright, an Open Water Instructor and Diver Rescue Examiner with the Sub Aqua Association, knows all about the perils of becoming involved with the club Diving Officer.
It was within my first three years of diving with my first club. I went out with the Diving Officer for two and a half years and was actually living with him for three months. It was then that I realised what a mistake Id made. When we started to fall out, he told everybody that I would never make a Dive Leader. I ended up leaving the club.
In the close-knit diving environment of a club, the breakdown of relationships can have a disruptive effect. Unofficial sources within the BSAC rank relationship breakdown as the number two reason for new branches being formed - number one being inter-committee rows about boats and/or training.
Its not something that we keep statistics on, I was told, but as an informed guess, wed say that as many as one branch in four is formed after key players such as the Training Officer or Diving Officer leave on account of a relationship breakdown - you know, the classic Training Officer runs off with Diving Officers husband/wife scenario.
Just think about it. You get a mixed group of people, all going away together, staying in the same place, going diving and drinking together. The possibilities for couples to form and split up are definitely there.
Last year, Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones Diary, wrote in her Sunday Times column that the only way to meet a man in London was to join a dive club. I remember reading it and thinking: Oh, get a life, but the next training course that our branch ran was full of young, single women.

Dawn Llewellyn Price found herself stuck in a relationship that wasnt working out. I was diving, but my [now-ex] husband had absolutely no interest, she says.
So was it diving that caused the split No, I wouldnt say that, but I do think the fact that he couldnt share in my diving was symptomatic of the problems in the relationship.
When I met Jeff (above with Dawn), I introduced him to diving and, as a couple, it has given us a mutual interest which has taken over our lives. We got married last February in St Lucia. Our social life with 3M Divers is very good; Im the Entertainments Officer and Jeff is the Club Secretary.
I do know of a few couples down the years who have split up through diving - separate interests, non-diving partners, etc. But it gives us great holidays, great outings and he carries my weightbelt. Sounds wonderful. We still argue, of course she adds with a laugh.

Jonathon Lewis and Rosie Feenan met on a dive weekend in Hope Cove, Devon. They fell in love and have lived together for eight years. Both keen divers, they find it virtually impossible to dive together comfortably.
I worry about him on the dive and that spoils my enjoyment, confesses Rosie. Its far easier to let him dive with someone else and then I dont have that anxiety. I think he suffers from the same problem - together were a diving disaster area.
Were both very experienced, but we have completely different diving styles, admits Jonathon. I find it very stressful to dive with Rosie, because I feel that I want to look after her. She is quite capable of looking after herself, so she finds this very irritating.
I think its a leadership issue, explains Rosie. With any other buddy, it wouldnt be a problem, you just agree who leads and get on with the dive. When its your partner, it seems to get much more complicated. At least we have the good sense to recognise that its better for our relationship to dive apart.

Paul Freedman is clear about his reasons for diving with his partner. I love diving with Jane, shes a top diver - completely calm and sorted under water. Diving with anyone else - well, I have to do it, but generally speaking, its always a bit of a disappointment.
Paul is a BSAC diver and Jane Millichip did a PADI course abroad with Oonasdivers. We re both keen on marine life and spend a lot of our dives on the look-out for bizarre sea creatures like sea lemons. Jane is the one of the few divers I know who is sharp enough to spot stuff like that. When Im diving with other people, they often sail past some amazing sights, completely oblivious to them.
Paul and I share a passion for conservation, explains Jane. Our idea of heaven is to spend three weeks roughing it while carrying out marine surveys on the reefs in Sulawesi.
I dont have a problem diving with people other than Paul, but its nice to dive with someone who knows you so well that you instinctively understand what each other is thinking.
And what about dive rows Weve never had an underwater row. Were much more likely to crack up laughing than to start an argument. Even though we trained with different agencies, it hasnt been a problem.
I think couples who dive together will inevitably take the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship with them on a dive, admits Paul. And some of the behaviour that goes on between couples wouldnt be tolerated by any other dive buddy.
Jane is quick to admit that she doesnt suffer fools gladly. I actually resorted to thumping one guy on a recent trip to Scapa, she says. Just playfully, you understand!

Steph Butcher and Corinne Sarjeant dont argue too much on dives. They are members of GLUG, the gay and lesbian dive club, which has about 50 members.
We organise trips in the UK and abroad and average about 15 club dives a year, says Steph. Corinne was already a qualified diver when they met, and Steph did a PADI course when Corinne invited her on a diving holiday to Hurghada.
The couple generally dive together, but Steph also dives in mid-week with various buddies while her partner is working. They split their diving 50-50 between warm and cold water.
I dont think that being in a relationship makes for any problems, says Steph. Were good friends first and foremost and there isnt any competition between us. Because were close, we tend to have more confidence in each other and have an almost telepathic link, which can be very useful in poor viz.
We occasionally take a stand over a particular problem or procedure, but were both as stubborn as each other and usually agree to disagree.
We both indulge in some joking about the opposing training agencies, but genuinely believe that there are strong and weak points on each, says Steph, now a PADI Rescue Diver. Corinne has been on a couple of PADI courses and taken back some positive points to use as a BSAC instructor. I would find the BSAC regime too pedantic, but I also recognise that for many divers, the PADI training can be a bit shallow.
Who leads I tend to be at the front on dives, but thats because my legs are longer, so I go faster, she says. Our agreement that either of us will take the lead at any time sounds like a recipe for chaos, but it works very well. I tend to do most of the compass work - my speciality is straight lines. Well, somethings got to be straight about us!
So what is the worst thing about diving together Were both permanently broke!
Steph says new members are always welcome in their club. There are a couple of couples within GLUG, and occasionally couples that are only couples for a few days, she says. Were definitely short of female divers, so dont be shy! Check out
Norman Smith would love to dive with his partner, Rhiannon. She was a diver when I first met her and she turned me on to the sport. I went away to the Red Sea and did my PADI Open Water course so that I could be with her on dives, he says.
Thats right, reminisces Rhiannon. We had one dive together at Fanadir Reef at the end of Normans course and then I became pregnant.
Baby Finn is nearly a year old now, but he has managed to create an effective barrier to the couple diving together. One of them stays on shore to look after Finn while the other partner goes diving.

It would be relatively simple if I wasnt breast-feeding, says Rhiannon. It makes the timing of dives very difficult. If Norman is out and the boat is late back, Ill be kitted up in my drysuit waiting for his return and it gets very awkward if Finn decides he wants to be fed.
If I go out on the first wave of diving and it takes longer than expected, I step off the boat soaking wet with my arms full of kit, dying to go to the loo, and get landed with a hungry baby.
We did get a dive in Bovisand harbour, says Norman. Someone volunteered to mind Finn for a while and we practically ran down the slipway. Okay, so it wasnt glamorous, but it was great to be diving together.
Brian and Linda Pitkin are both serious amateur photographers and active members of the British Society of Underwater Photographers. After three years as a diving widow, Linda decided that she could take to the sport when Brian mooted his intention of taking a trip to the Red Sea. Since then theyve enjoyed nearly 20 years of diving harmony.
Linda says the big advantage is to have a known companion with whom to dive, and now all their leisure time and holidays revolve around the sport. She thinks there are few disadvantages. She says he does all the driving, and he fixes all the gear if it goes wrong, sometimes to good effect.
He admits that his superior size and strength mean that he tends to do the carrying, but otherwise he supposes its no different from having any other regular diving buddy.
Because they are both interested in photographing the wildlife, they tend not to sit on each others shoulders under water, and long ago stopped trying to photograph the same things.
If there is any bone of contention, Linda says thoughtfully, its that he breathes and I dont. Often, he wants to finish the dive because he has run low on air, and I dont. It can be very trying. I want to shoot off one or two more frames of film and that can be very time-consuming.
There have been occasions when hes taken hold of me by the scruff of the neck and literally dragged me to the surface. He says its because he has a much bigger body. I like to have at least an hour and a half to two hours under water.
She can spend up to 20 minutes on one photograph. I get to do a lot of waiting, adds Brian. What really annoys me is that her photographs are always better.
And of course, diving with a partner isnt for everyone. The idea of having a girlfriend is horrifying enough, without having to go diving with her as well, was the reaction of well-known wreck diver Richie Stevenson of Deep Blue Diving.


To dive in perfect harmony you need:
COMPETENCE: Both partners are good divers. They are capable of looking after themselves, can function independently of each other and should have no problem diving apart.
COMMON INTERESTS: Both share a common or complementary diving interest. For example, both are fascinated by marine life, or one half of the partnership likes to take photos and the other to model.
Teamwork: Good communication and understanding means that the partners find it easy to work together and complete underwater tasks, such as tying the shotline into the wreck or locating and retrieving lost objects.

You are entering Strop City if you have:
DEPENDENCY: One half of the couple is more skilled or experienced than the other and constantly looks after their partner - for example, not trusting them to put their own kit together. Necessary equipment such as torch, compass or delayed surface marker buoy are carried only by the more competent person, leaving the other partner completely stuffed should they get separated.
DRAG FACTOR: The partners have conflicting ideas about what they like to do on a dive, so that one half is constantly being dragged around by the other. A recipe for resentment.
DIVISION: The roles, expectations (and rows) in the relationship are carried through under water. The partners find it impossible to carry out tasks jointly. Theyll disagree about how it should be done, or not have confidence in each other to carry it out properly. One partner might take charge while the other takes no part.