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ISSUE 8 ARCHIVE - TRYING NOT TO BE THE TOSSER ON THE LIVEABOARD

Rob Hunt

This is how you get to be a secret agent: you go to university, and whilst you're there, being a bit clever, operatives from MI5, or possibly MI6 (I forget the exact difference, but it's probably that MI6 is secreter, although not as secret as MI7, which I've just made up) make clandestine and complicated assessments of your suitableness for being a spy, probably using computers or something, and all being well, you're James Bond within a week of graduating.

I was thinking about all this on the plane to Hurghada as it was my first proper dive holiday for probably six years and I was terrified of being buddied with someone that a) couldn't dive properly or breathed too much or b) wanted me to help identify a fish they'd seen on the last dive that was a yellowy, bluey, reddish colour and normal shaped, or c) thinks I'm a juvenile tosser. As such, it was imperative that nobody discover that a) I'm a dive instructor, b) I used to work as a dive guide in Sharm, or c) I write for a dive magazine.
Ralf Tech
The Salem Express About halfway through the flight and my sixteenth beer, the couple next to me who were far less socially inept than I am, broke the ice and asked if I'd dived in Egypt before: "Not since I worked as a guide in Sharm," I replied, "but this time I'm just on holiday really, although... have you read London Diver Magazine?". It transpired we were destined for the same boat: they were excited but slightly apprehensive as one of them was fairly new to diving and the other hadn't been in the water for a while. "I'm an instructor. Stick with me and you'll be fine", I slurred and took advantage of the moment to pass out on the table in front of me and snore loudly.

I don't know why I wasn't selected for a spyhood at university: I'd have been awesome at it and being able to tell everyone you're a secret agent would be really cool.
White Morays, by Ken Fanson In much the same way that Sheffield Wednesday deliberately play terribly in cup competitions every year in order to concentrate on playing terribly in the league, so I made myself agree that I'd deliberately blown my cover so that I could concentrate on not being the Tosser on the Liveaboard. Particularly, as regular readers will remember, I wrote the manual for it. Lamentably, this was to be more difficult than I expected and not just because I'm vegetarian (which makes me want to hit myself in the face every time I think about it), and not just because I'm a tosser. The problem was revealed to me much later by the boys and girls on board from Caithness (believed by scientists to be the northernmost point on Earth: a 15 minute swim south from the point where you fall off the edge at the top of the world and plummet for quite some time down the other side before splatting messily in Australia). At Hurghada airport I was quickly earmarked by the kind of people who look for such things (ie. divers) as the person you'd least want to share a boat with, staggering around, as I was, in a bit of a stupor, trying to obtain a cigarette from somebody, despite having quit five months previously.
Dive Worldwide
Sunset, by Daimon Anyway, there was something to do with diving... That's right, so, Hurghada was the starting point for the Blue O2 "Simply The Best" itinerary, on the Blue Horizon liveaboard, that over the course of the week would take in The Brother Islands, Daedalus reef and Elphinstone, all of which I've wanted to dive since before water was invented, but have always been too tight to actually do.

The first thing you'll notice about the Blue Horizon is it's big, clean (thanks to the excellent stewardship of Amen he claims this is how you spell his name, but I don't believe him and the unfeasibly helpful crew), comfortable and all very professional. Professional to the point of being corporate, actually, with the boat and general dive briefing being done by DVD to the theme tune of The Exorcist. This was all particularly welcome to me since I was having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I was back in Egypt after three years away and everything seemed so, well, Egyptian. I was very much fearful that the week ahead would remind me in all too certain terms of just what I'd given up by leaving, and my life as it manifests itself now could be found wanting. So, after unpacking, I popped into town to conduct an important scientific study designed to remind myself what Sakara tastes like.
Lighthouse, by Cat Roberts Fortunately for any trip reports I might end up writing for a dive magazine, the underwater action began the next day. I was buddied with my roommate, Michael, who also found himself on board without knowing anyone else. Michael was Danish and, as it turned out, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. If human beings had turned out the way we were probably supposed to, instead of selfish, egotistical twats, everyone would be like Michael: polite, considerate, thoughtful and eager to learn. Unfortunately, he was improving his English by reading Dan Brown books and as I'm a selfish, egotistical twat, I'm going to have to take the the piss out of him for it as it had a tendency to come out in conversation.

For instance, he turned out to be the perfect dive buddy as he seemed to use exactly the same amount of air and was largely happy to do the same kind of dive as me. The only time he came close to complaining about anything was with the words: "it was a long dive". Someone with less exposure to terrible writers of pseudo-scientific thrillers might instead have said: "Do we really have to stay underwater for 65 minutes on every dive just for the sake of it, even though there's nothing to see, you selfish bastard?"
Ralf Tech
Split Screen Jetty, by Kevin Griffiths Michael also had an utterly disarming way of asking you the precise definition of words eg.:

"What do you call this?"
"Pasta."
"But what is this particular shape?"
"We use the Italian word: penne."
"But is it a tube or a pipe?" "Erm, a tube, I suppose..."
"So, when is a tube a pipe?"
"On Wednesdays."

This kind of conversation, it has to be said, was easier over dinner than when, in what to me is typically Scandinavian fashion, he would come naked out of the shower and ask you whether the object he was slowly removing his underwear from was a wardrobe or cupboard.

Fair play to him for sticking with me after the first dive though when, immediately upon hitting the water, I became aware of three problems: firstly, I was two or three kilos underweight (easily resolved of course, the crew were clearly very experienced in the ways of check dives and were immediately on hand with the extra weights. They also, though I hate to admit it, were straight onto my case when I attempted to don my BCD without a weightbelt. Tosser). Secondly, I'd overestimated the water temperature by a good 4 degrees and was instantly freezing. Thirdly, there seemed to be something wrong with my mask. As I was about to find out, the something was that it was broken and let in water about as quickly as you might expect something to let water in under three atmospheres of pressure. This kind of thing is what check dives are for, of course, but I came out bright blue and sneezing salt water.
Hammerhead, by Ken Fanson "It was a cold dive", said Michael. Next up was the Salem Express, as we were in the rare position of having a crew with no one who'd lost a relative on it when it sank. You're supposed to feel moved and spiritual on this dive, and the concept is, of course, extremely sad, but in practice I was distracted from any great profundity of spirit by the profundity of divers on the wreck. For me, this is the only drawback to diving from a boat like the Blue Horizon: it is excellent, but with 14 double-berthed cabins, it can also be very busy: by day four I was still spotting people on board that I swear I hadn't seen before, and it's a testament to the dive guides that wherever possible they were able to keep us from diving in our own lemonade.

The guides were foreign, and at this point, only a tosser would revert to stereotypes: Elke was (and probably still is) German and extremely efficient, Dray was Dutch, very laid back, and provided me with drugs. This was when I was at my lowest ebb, having missed two excellent dives on the Brother islands due to a cold. I suspect the drugs were heavily pseudo-ephedrine based as I remember someone asking me beforehand whether I could equalise: "I dunno", I replied, "but I feel f***ing excellent".
Regaldive
Turtle, by Ken Fanson This dive was on the Numidia, one of the Red Sea's famous late 19th, early 20th century steamers. There are five, as far as I'm aware, and I used to dive all of the other four every week (weather permitting) when I worked out of Sharm, so I was like a kid collecting football stickers. With stickers you quickly amass a large pile of "swaps", which were to be taken to school and flipped through whilst your classmates surrounded you saying: "Got, got, got, got, got, got, got, need, got, got", and at some point, breathlessly "Need! Need badly for the whole team!" Well, I needed the Numidia badly and I made everyone on board the RIB agree to descend slowly so I could make it down. Sadly, as soon as I hit a metre and successfully equalised, I abandoned everyone else and immediately plummeted down to 30 metres, equalising merrily, manically, and at one point, I think, through my left eye. Unlike my buddies, I was delighted and thanks to the miracle of pseudo-ephedrine, made every dive for the rest of the trip. Thank you, Dray. Oh, and the wreck is beautiful.
Salem Express, by Kevin Griffiths Days two and three were at the Brothers, and days four and five on Daedalus reef, all of which were very special for me due to my slight obsession with oceanic whitetip sharks, which came to hang out underneath our boat and the other liveaboards on all four days. The reason I have a thing for this particular species is that they're more interactive than other sharks, which will generally piss off as soon as they see you, whereas the oceanic whitetip likes to come over for a cuddle. A bizarre stroke of luck was that Elke turned out to be a marine biologist and is doing a study of these very same sharks (if you have a picture of one in the Red Sea, she might like to hear from you). Good times, shark lovers: on one morning, within 90 minutes, we'd seen a grey reef shark, a hammerhead and an oceanic. In fact, several oceanics, and I came out of the water fizzing with elation. "Good dive?", asked Dray.

"We saw a shark", replied Michael.

By the end of the week I was fully back into liveaboard mode, just like in the old days, which mostly means I was wandering around chain-smoking and in danger of getting a tan. Mostly. But I was finding it difficult not being the guide, and it reminded me so much of what I'd left behind, that I was a bit distraught to leave, not just because of the great time, but because, just as I'd feared, I really do wonder if the gains outweigh the losses. I still feel it, a couple of weeks later as I've finally gotten around to writing this report and to be honest, now that my cover as a diver (and a tosser) is blown, I don't know where I'll be when it's published (although you'll be able to find out on the blog).
Halcyon Eclipse Infinity
Quick! Get in the Water! By Michael Farley I was also sad to see Michael leave (he had an earlier flight than me), as he was a thoroughly excellent bloke and had proven my fears of having a crap buddy utterly groundless, all of which I told him in an overly emotional way as he left.

"Yes, goodbye", replied Michael, and closed the door.

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