30th June “You may not be an instructor any more, but you still like telling people what to do”.

My cunning Jedi mind powers [OK, the BBC weather site] predicted that Plymouth would be off for this weekend, and indeed it was. There was still diving to be had in Cheppy though, so Serena, Caroline and new chap Ray decided that we would head there for the day. After three goes at packing the scrubber that was proving a bit recalcitrant in the ‘must not rattle’ area I load the tanks into the car on the evening before to save too much lugging kit around in the early hours. Then I turned the news on for the first time that day and heard the reports of a couple of cars packed with tanks and abandoned in London. WH is a ways off from London, but I’ve often been called a suspicious looking bugger, and repeated scrubber packing in the garage followed by loading tanks into the car while the school kids were being collected could have aroused suspicions.

Retring to bed and awaiting an early morning raid from the local Police saw a good nights sleep before setting off in the rain. Bimbling down the road to Cheltenham a lorry coming the other way was slowing while flashing his lights. Slowing myself, but not seeing anything amiss to start with a cow suddenly wandered out into the road. Reggie Perrin popped into my head with the ‘twenty minutes late, Miss Jones, cows on the line at Chiselhurst’ quote.

Fortunately the rest of the journey was less fraught and arrival was parking was in a puddle, as usual for a wet day on the Welsh borders. Ray wandered over to introduce himself while on the phone to Caroline, who had probably told him to be on the look out for someone who looks like they have just come over the wall from the local mental hospital. We had a chat while I pre checked the Dolphin and ate the customary sausage sandwich washed down with a hot chocolate. “Boomer” had turned up too, with tales of now being a blender at another dive site, which was quite scary given her previous tank-related incident. I’m sure she’ll be fine as long as they hide the spanners.

Serena and Caroline arrived in Caroline’s Saab, making me feel like the poor relation in my Focus, parked next to Ray’s Lexus. The female contingent were off for a 70m warm up dive while Ray and I were in 30m. Ray was there on a photography and deep course, which worked well for me as I wanted some front and side photos of me on the Dolphin for a trim and dangly bits check. Once kitted we braved the ride down to the water, which was as rough as the force 6 driven sea would have been out of Plymouth, so at least I got a chance to feel seasick. I also carried the Dolph on my lap as kit gets a bit of a shake, and I have heard of rebreathers being damaged. The lugging of the kit to the pontoon was undertaken and we had a quick breather before kitting up.

Ray asked for a hand with his set, and then I found out the bugger dives on integrated weights, which made his 12L and pony rig weigh as much as my twins, if not more. His protestations about it being fine for diving abroad cut no ice with me though, especially as I nearly sprained my back lifting the clobber. We weren’t quite at the end of the pontoon and looking to get in and on the motorbike shot [optimistically called ‘Mondeo Reef’ on the site map]. Once he was in, I handed Ray his camera and jumped in myself. Ray was for jumping in with his camera, something I don’t like doing, but his little digital and YS27 strobe are a lot smaller than my MM2 and all the assorted clobber that goes along with it.

Once in the doom sayers who said the vis was variable [as in “varies from shite to bugger all”] were proven nearly wrong. Dropping quickly down the shot we find the motorbike and we head off to a deeper part of what is called the shallow end. As I regard ‘shallow’ as something I can stand up in, it is the ‘deep, but not as deep as the other end’ end to me. We drop into 27m to get enough depth for Ray’s second dive as he clicks away. We have a swim around over the silty bottom as Ray’s buoyancy gets a bit variable, but he’s doing OK for someone with 25 dives, only 6 of which were in the UK before today. Heading North and up the road the vis does decrease, so we go over to the Northernmost end where it is 18m and clearer. I take a pic of Ray and the ‘deer in the headlights’ pose he pulled off. We headed South for a bit and as we approached 30 minutes in water I bagged up. Once at 6m Ray held the reel as his buoyancy was a bit off and then we popped up the wrong side of the pontoon, but at least we didn’t have a long surface swim to get out.

The trip back up the hill was easier as the only kit we took was Ray’s 12L and camera-he was on a 15L for the deep dive. A chat about diving stuff and a demonstration of Ray’s Lexus self closing tailgate filled in the time until Serena and Caroline arrived for a long interval before they got in to do Ray’s deep dive. Various food was eaten, even by Serena whom Caroline has put on a diet. It’s actually Caroline who is on the diet, but Serena is on one as well when she dives with Caroline.

A couple of hours later and its time for round two. Ray and I catch the first bus down, and there is a queue waiting for the ride back up the hill, sat on the pallets looking like the gnome garden has had enough of being under water and wants to go home. Ray stays on the bus as he has forgotten his computer. Out on the pontoon a bloke with a trolley is losing his pony off the side. I go over to help, but when I stop walking I carry on moving and manage to do a slide and turn on the wet planking that an Olympic figure skater would be proud of.

What they wouldn’t have been proud of though is the part where I ran out of pontoon and, despite a valiant grab for the wire rope, end up splashing down in the water. I surface laughing my socks off, as were the others that saw my acrobatics. There is a requirement to be zipped into your drysuit before going onto the pontoon, and I’m glad I wasn’t flouting that rule. I decline the offer of a pulling out and drag myself around to the ladder to emerge still giggling away.

Ray and the others had missed the entertainment, but I tell them of my exploits as we kit up, much to their amusement. We get in for a repeat of the first dive, heading down the shot to the motorbike. Caroline and I stay at the bottom of the shot as Serena watches Ray navigate away and back. Once back Serena pulls out her bag of bits to demonstrate the effects of pressure on various objects and colour loss at depth. That done we head off North again to use up all of the bottom time available to us. I ask Ray to check his gas, he shows me 200 bar. Really? Check the other one that isn’t connected to the pony. He realises his mistake, but the pony set has been rigged from a normal set and has a console on rather than just a pressure gauge.

Turning to the East we find an iron sitting on a rock, which is unusual and must belong to one of the Extreme Ironing teams. We turn around and then it’s time to blob up. Ray pulls out his yellow SMB. Whoops, no you don’t! A yellow at Cheppy means the boat is out, so I give him my reel and SMB. He blobs up well, apart from having all his fingers in the handle, which doesn’t let the ratchet go freely. On the ascent Serena disappears. Followed by Caroline. Serena’s non ratchet reel was let go and it promptly plummeted into the depths. As she has about 80m of line on it just pulling it up buy the string wasn’t really an option. The stop at 5m is for 8 min as Ray needs to do a simulated over run stop and breathe from his pony for a bit. All back on the surface we clamber out and drag the kit to the bus stop to wait for a lift.

We are helping some others load up when there is a rattle from above, caused by a rockslide. Someone shouts just as I had looked up and we all run for cover, an action for which I was commended on my speed by another diver, who went on to say that I moved so quick it looked like someone had said it was my round. I ended up in front of the minibus where Caroline bravely protected me from harm by diving on top of me. Luckily no one was hurt, although Boomer was hit by a small stone. The staff on the pontoon saw some kids at the top of the cliff and were shouting rude words at them while others went up to try and catch the little scrotes, but they had legged it by then.

A relieved bunch of divers headed back up the road to dekit, and I made a fast getaway to be home in time for Doctor Who, much to the derision of the other three.

Dive data:

Dive 1

27.1m
35 min

SI: 3h 37min

Dive 2

26.5 m
41 min