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Plymouth Trip with Paul Cracknell

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It all started several weeks ago when Paul Cracknell (Diving Officer of the Bath University Club when I learned to dive) e-mailed me to say that he was flying over to visit Britain for a couple of weeks and to ask whether I could arrange some diving, preferably around Plymouth. I already had said that I was going on SarahT's weekend (and I wasn't going to do without my totty dives) on the first weekend in August and Portland charters with Tom and Queenie on the third weekend, so I booked us some diving during the 2nd weekend. Paul then cashed in his Air Miles and got a return flight on Concorde.

I asked Rich Bloomfield, Nick and Max whether they would like to join us (knowing Paul from the "old days"). Rich was in France that weekend and Nick and Max didn't want to go on a charter (although they ended up taking Musketeer out with MarkV and Camp Steve).

Friday the 8th
I left in good time from Slough with very little gimmering (my kit was still all over the house, having only just been washed and dried from the previous weekend). It was a very hot day (forecast to be "the hottest since records began", actually ending up about a degree colder), so I was sweating buckets as I drove up the M4. According to Bird, all modern cars have air conditioning. I wasn't convinced when she told me that, and even less convinced when I couldn't find a button marked "AC" or "AirCon" or something like that.

Anyway, I stopped off at MarkE's house for a quickie and then headed off down to Plymouth. Nick and Max had decided to leave late, once the heat had died down a bit. I quite fancied that idea, but that would have meant missing last orders at the pub - something that I wasn't happy to miss. I didn't know MarkV's mobile number (I knew he had a mobile, because it had gone off in the middle of the night during the previous weekend), so had no idea what time he expected to arrive. This time, I managed to remember that the road to Brixton bends round to the right (to be honest, it was only because the learner in front of me slowed down and turned). I giggled to myself as I drove past the place that we'd seen two blokes snogging in a car as we were driving home last weekend. I'd honked my horn as we drove past and got a big grin and a "thumbs-up" from the bloke in the driver's seat.

As I was driving into the campsite, Steve and Mark were walking towards the pub. I parked the car near Mark's tent (he was letting me sleep in his south wing) and walked with them towards the pub. As we walked up, Max rang Steve. She was panicking that they wouldn't have any space left when they arrived at whatever time they intended arriving. Steve walked back to the site and put her mind at rest (she obviously didn't trust my ability to call up a campsite, speak to the Warden and book a couple of pitches).

At the pub, we sat down in the lounge area (we didn't risk going on the "Slap Tarrant" quiz machine in case that dodgy bloke was there again). There were just the 3 of us and we had 3 rounds - excellent, this meant that everybody bought a round and nobody was out of pocket. I'm sure it'll never happen again. I don't think there's much to report about our night in the pub - we just had a civilised 3 drinks and "put the world to rights". Mark had just booked a week in the Red Sea, so was keen to find out all about it. As we walked out of the pub, my phone started bleeping - one text message and one voicemail message from my "Scottish Stalker". Ignoring them, we headed back to the campsite. I was so impressed with Mark's tent - I just can't believe that he pays the same to pitch that as I pay to pitch mine.

Saturday the 9th
I woke up at about 6am and turned my phone on - another voicemail message from the same bird. Time for a cuppa and the traditional egg sandwich. Because Emily wasn't with us, I hadn't bothered buying bacon or sausages - something that I'll have to rectify next weekend.

I left the campsite at about 7:25 (not bad considering that I was due to meet Paul at The Mountbatten Centre at 7:30). Fortunately, it's fairly close, so it only took about 10 minutes. Paul was running late himself anyway. When I got to DeepBlueDiving, I found out that we were leaving at 09:00, not 08:30. Brilliant - even more gimmering time. All kitted up and ready to go at 09:00 (obviously, we couldn't offer to help the guys launch Musketeer when we'd paid to go on a charter boat), and the boat's engine wouldn't run very well. After lots of gimmering and a razz just outside the harbour, we were ready to go (after having a quick chat with Sophie, the soon-to-be South West Area Coach). Our first dive of the day was to dive The Persier. This was going the to be the third time that I'd dived it this year and I hoped that we could spend a long time down there and clock up some decompression. Paul said that he didn't fancy doing a deco dive, so we didn't. We still got about 30 minutes on the wreck. The rib that we travelled on was fast - it took us out to the Persier at about 30 knots. I didn't know that it was possible to travel so fast - not bad for 15 quid a dive.

I'd decided that I was going to make it a fairly well behaved dive, since I hadn't dived with Paul since 1994. We saw plenty of life (big lobsters, big crabs and loads of fish) as well as the wreck itself. It looked different from the previous times that I'd dived it, and spent the whole time feeling rather lost. Towards the end of the dive (after Paul had got us back to the shot), we found a large crab. Paul went off in search of stones and spent a couple of minutes dive-bombing it. Fortunately (for the crab), he missed every time. With that disgusting behaviour, I went off in search of a sea cucumber. Anyway, with no no-stop time left, we headed back up the shot. The skipper was very impressed that we found our way back to the shot.

We had quite a long break between dives, so dropped the cylinders off to be filled and went up to the bar. The draft Stella looked very tempting, but I didn't think that it was a very good idea. I therefore had a pint of water and some non-cheesy spicy chips instead. We got a table in the shade on the balcony and admired the totty.

Back on the boat, Paul and I were the only divers on board. We left at about 2pm and, just as the skipper was pulling away he started swearing because the 2 other passengers had arrived late. It turned out to be his wife and daughter, who had decided that sunbathing in the garden was too hot, so they came to sunbathe on the boat. We had our own supply of totty to take to the James Egan Layne (although the daughter was a bit young for an old man like me) and, just as important, extra people to help me kit up. The two of them sat on the seats towards the front of the boat and I'm convinced that the skipper did his best to soak them.

Paul ended up leading this dive as well. We swam through loads of little swim thoughs (I'd leant Paul my 12litre cylinder, so I was diving with my 15 litre cylinder and a pony cylinder), saw loads of fish ("a herd of those little chinny fish" as I described them to the skipper afterwards) and, as usual, quite a few other divers (one rebreather diver that we thought might be Nick or Max). It's not that difficult to get back to the shot on the Egan Layne (it's permanently shotted now), and that's what we did. There was a fair bit of current running and we almost ended up pulling the shot under the water (almost had to do another mid-water SMB deployment).

As we surfaced and swam towards the boat, I noticed the skipper's wife put her T-shirt back on - what a pity! Another fast, but less wet, journey back to shore and that was it until the Elk on the Sunday.

After putting the cylinders in to be filled, washing the kit down a bit, loading it into the cars and checking into our room at the Mounbatten Centre, it was time for a pint. We got a table in the shade, ordered a Stella (for me) and Bass (for Paul) and set about setting the world to rights. Earlier on in the day, I'd noticed that there was lamb curry on sale at the bar, so I was happy to stay there for the evening. Nick, Max, Camp Steve and MarkV joined us after they'd finished their diving for the day (I think they went to the Eddistone, but I can't remember now). We were surprised to see them, when we hadn't seen Musketeer moor on the pontoon. It turned out that Nick and Max didn't want to risk getting Musketeer stolen. Fair enough, as Max pointed out, Musketeer is a more likely target for thieves than the club boats.

They stayed with us for a while, but headed off to the campsite after a while (fish 'n' chips beckoned). Jon Hyde joined us for a while. He had decided during the week to bring Sam camping for the night and to the beach on the Sunday. That way, Vicky had a rest and Sam had a nice day out. She's such a lovely girl. Until she got a bit tired later on, she was very well behaved. It made me realise how difficult it is to be a parent. When Sam wanted to throw some crisps on the people walking past below, Jon had to pretend that throwing crisps on innocent passers-by wasn't funny. I don't think I could lie to a kid like that - we all know that throwing crisps at passing strangers is very funny.

The view from the balcony was great when it got dark. Not as much totty, but the lights across the water and from all the boats that were passing was very relaxing. It was a nice atmosphere to sit and write up that day's diving.

Sunday the 10th
The alarm went off at 7am, which gave us plenty of gimmering time before the boat left at 9am. I sorted out my dive kit and gimmered around until breakfast was served at 7:30. It was a simple help-yourself breakfast. I was a little worried at first because there were no fried eggs on offer, but I asked the bloke behind the counter and, because I was the only one there, he went off to fry me an egg - top man.

A quick surf of the internet while I was eating breakfast and I then headed back upstairs. After having been kept awake last night by somebody snoring (I didn't hear anybody, he must have sensitive hearing), Paul was still asleep. I thought that 8am was probably about the latest that I could let him sleep for. He almost jumped out of the top bunk when I told him what time it was. Anyway, he still had time for breakfast before we were due on the boat. The boat started fairly easily this morning, but we weren't going to the Elk because one of the divers on board was only allowed to dive to 22m. Instead, we were off to dive the J.E.L. again. I wasn't particularly happy about this, but we had to go with the majority of the people on board. I couldn't really argue too much - she was totty.

Since it hadn't been long since we'd dived the JEL before, I decided that we had to do a different dive. Yesterday, we swam through the wreck, squeezing through lots of little swim-throughs. Today was going to be different. The skipper mentioned that one of "his divers" had tied a bit of string between the sharp section (that we dived yesterday) and the blunt section. I decided that we were going to dive the blunt section. We landed at the bottom of the shot and swam along the port side of the boat. We saw a shot on the bottom and a smaller shot hanging next to it. The smaller shot looked a little bit like a wine bottle, so Paul tried to use it to "launch" the Egan Layne - he didn't do very well! We also saw loads of big fish and plenty of wreckage.

When we got to the end of the bow section, we couldn't find any string, but we just carried on south a bit further (I was leading the dive). After a while, we found a bit of wreckage with loads of string attached to it. We followed the string west and found another bit of wreckage (Paul cut off a bit of the string to show to the skipper). The string didn't go any further, so we headed further west (I expected the stern to be south, but the start of the string indicated otherwise). No wreckage was to be found going west, so we turned and headed south. Still no wreckage, so we headed back east and a little further south. We did find an anchor, but no stern section.

After swimming around for a while, I decided to finish the dive when my computer had 3 minutes of no-stop time (not bad for the Egan Layne). Up we went (Paul using the SMB, of course). The skipper looked scared when he saw the bit of string that Paul had cut, but he was happier when we told him that it was from a loose end. The skipper had been impressed that we'd got back to the shot on both dives yesterday, so Paul didn't want to disappoint him - he told him that we'd found the stern section.

The Mountbatten Centre didn't start doing food until 12 o'clock and we were due back out at 12:30, so no cheesy spicy chips for me. There was a local café that we went to, so that we did have some food between dives. The second dive was to be on the Mewstone Ledges. I had booked to do 4 wreck dives, but Paul quite fancied taking his digital camera on a scenic dive, so we went with the flow. The totty drove on the way out and did quite a good job. There were two divers who really didn't have a clue - it was the second dry-suit dive for both in the buddy pair and their first boat-dive at the same time. One of them had managed to come equipped without a dry-suit inflator. I wouldn't have let them dive, but it wasn't my place to say so.

As usual, plenty of boats just razzed through almost running down the SMBs. We had quite a good dive; Paul got lots of excellent scenic pictures, one of me putting up the SMB, and one of me juggling sea urchins. After about 40 minutes, we lost each other (I got caught a bit by the current while Paul had his head stuck down a hole), so had to surface. Another brilliant dive.

The mother of the totty on board started being a pain when we landed. I went up to get a trolley and brought it back down. She started whittering on about needing to turn the trolley around before we loaded it. I couldn't be bothered to argue, so just turned it around. That then left the open side of the trolley on the wrong side - stupid tart. "Right", she said to the rest of her group, "I've sorted out the trolley, you pack it". With that, they started loading their kit onto the trolley - I don't think so, Paul and I made sure that we got all our kit on and pulled the trolley up the pontoon. We had some of their kit on it and heard them shouting to us to stop - we just ignored them and pulled it towards the air station. We dropped the cylinders off and then headed towards the cars. She was very insistent that we went to her car first. Again, I couldn't be bothered to argue, she was too old and too un-educated to teach how to behave properly.

After packing all the kit up into the cars, we had a quick drink while we sorted out money (and watched a bloke razz around in a hovercraft - he was in control quite a lot of the time, I was impressed). Paul then went off to have a cuppa with Nick and Max at the campsite and I headed off to the M5 (the motorway, not the submarine-launched ballistic missile). I quite enjoyed my journey back - there was so much totty travelling on the M5. Unfortunately, most of it was travelling past at about 95mph and I didn't want to get done for speeding, so I just let them pass.

It was later and darker when I was travelling down the M4, so I couldn't perve as much. I got back home much earlier than I had done the previous week and unloaded the car. While I was unloading it, one of my neighbours parked her car and walked up her driveway. She was dressed in tight red shorts and a tight, low-cut white T-shirt (just like the girls in Hooters) - my jaw almost hit the ground. I opened my last can of Stella, checked my e-mail and went to bed (to think about my neighbour in her Hooters outfit).

What a brilliant end to another brilliant weekend. I love my life!


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Created on: 10 Aug 2003. Modified on: 10 Aug 2003.
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