THIS IS AN INTRIGUING BOOK that starts off as one thing and ends up as quite another. The title hints that all is not what it seems about this non-fiction chronicle of UK club diving in the 1970s, and it lives up to that promise.
A long way into Ken Clark’s book we are still assuming that this is no more than a series of entertaining episodes from an illustrious diving career with, running through it, the thread of a six-year project to raise the wreck of the Gitana, a sunken Victorian steamboat, from Scotland’s Loch Rannoch.
Raising wrecks was Clark’s thing.
As a diver it seems he liked nothing better than to think up the next challenge, preferably something with obstacles that would call upon his engineer’s mind as well as, with any luck, explosive charges.
In his world there was little thought of just leaving wreckage for others to enjoy (or pillage) – it had to be raised, even if a group of Sea Scouts had to be convinced that they really needed the remains at their clubhouse.
And a lot of the raising was hilariously inept, as when, early on, a Bristol Beaufighter is brought up and promptly disintegrates. This was only the first of several aircraft recovery projects that may have been ingenious but were carried out in questionable circumstances.
Ken Clark not only relished his projects but clearly loved organising expeditions and other divers.
Most importantly, he insisted that a Corinthian spirit of amateurism should prevail. He and his wife Dinah must have had deep pockets, because they seem to have paid for huge amounts of equipment, travel and making good of cock-ups from their own pockets.
They were also good at enthusing and engaging the help of volunteers, however – whatever it took to avoid the whiff of commercialism sullying their diving endeavours.
I’m sure there are senior divers who may have different versions of the tales told here, but for Clark his idealistic, “fun” approach was in the end undone by greedy rivals posing as friends who would stop at nothing to steal his glory and headlines, pilfer artefacts and make whatever cash they could on the side.
The culprits, now dead, are named as the book reaches its rather bitter climax – undermined a bit by badly located photos with spoiler captions that tell you what happens well before you reach that point in the text.
By this time it’s clear that the book has turned from humorous chronicle to a “now it can be told” vindication of Clark’s straight-ahead approach.
The author won the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal for his work on the Gitana project, but you get the feeling that he has waited a long time to tell it as it is about events that most people have long forgotten.
For all that, I really enjoyed this book as a window on diving 40 years ago. As a catalogue of comic errors (for which, to be fair, the author often seems happy to take the blame), as well as diving achievements, it takes some beating.
I particularly enjoyed the little period touches, as when Clark forgets to load film into his underwater camera, or inadvisedly takes his diving knife aboard an international aircraft – it’s confiscated by the first officer amid much hilarity on the part of the cabin crew, and returned
to him on landing. The past truly is another world.
Steve Weinman

Austin Macauley
ISBN: 9781785541896
Softback, 272pp, £12.99