This July, scuba diving rehabilitation charity Deptherapy ran its first ever liveaboard programme in the Red Sea, qualifiying 11 new PADI wreck divers and 2 new PADI Deep Divers. This is the story of the 10 day expedition as told by Deptherapy Board Member, PADI AmbassaDIVER and now, Trainee Divemaster, Gary Green.
A band of brothers all in suit, some with fins, some no boot,
Wet suits tailored to cover limb, battling currents battering him,
A band of brothers strong together, on land, in water, in any weather,
We stick as one side-by-side, in the desert or highest tide,
No missing limb could stop him dive, the feeling keeping him alive,
Whether swimming arms or kicking feet, not one man admits defeat,
They were once soldiers, now are survivors,
They are now veterans, now are divers.
Arrival Day: Within the first minutes of arriving at Gatwick south terminal, a subconscious change starts to happen. My vocabulary begins to rapidly transform from the Oxfordshire speaking, slightly southern tongue to the grubby little rifleman that I once was. My polite Oxfordshire tone, (although to most people I probably sound like a cross between Danny Dyer and Benedict Cumberbatch) transforms into a language where every second word is a profanity, welcome to the explicit deleted blog.
As soon as we congregate as a team, you can literally sense the atmosphere change, voices raise and the behavioural patterns start to take a decline in decorum. It would only be for suitable ears, so I would hate to put some of you readers off of your dinner and scribe the actual conversations that took place within the first few minutes. It is important that I say that this is not the behaviour of thugs, it’s actually the opposite; it’s vulnerable young men surviving. This is how we all survived in battalion, to not fit in is to be weak, to be weak means to die. I am surrounded by survivors of both war and also by survivors of the social jungle of the armed forces. We beat our chest like apes; we battle each other with hazing and banter; we survive with each other. This is what we all know and this is in our DNA when we get together; this is where we are honest and this is part of our therapy. The troops are reunited.
We had a fantastic reception by Thomas Cook airlines, across the TV screens it read “Thomas Cook welcome the Deptherapy team.” As soon as we were through the terminal, there were two objectives. The first was to raid the duty free, I think almost everyone left with 200 cigarettes; then of course, to the pub. We all met in there sat around a table, each with a glass or two of lager, though some of us had spirits as well, out of habit or just a softener for the flight. The loud voices and boisterous behaviour can appear intimidating to anyone that didn’t know us, which wasn’t many people by the time we left.
In our seats for the flight we listened out as the captain spoke over the speaker announcing our presence, redundant as Chris Middleton had already announced our presence with his own natural megaphone. There’s a saying for people like him, we call it permanent send but you may know the term more commonly as motor mouth. The novelty of the journey soon wears off. Most of us had to complete our knowledge reviews from the wreck diver manual and some of us were preparing for our enriched diver certification so that we could have an extended no decompression limit on some of the deeper wrecks. The journey was just beginning; a ten day liveaboard with a band of brothers discovering the Red Sea’s forgotten wrecks. This journey was to be funded by the Royal Foundation’s Endeavour Fund and the trip was all part of the build up programme for Deptherapy’s Truk Lagoon expedition which will take place in 2018.
A lot of excitement and a trail of cigarette smoke followed our arrival at Hurghada airport. I love the reception at Hurghada airport, the airport always seems to be very quiet which means by the time you run to the smoking room and back, your luggage is waiting for you to collect it. Steve and Claire Rattle (the owners of Roots who generously let us use their resort to run the courses) met us outside the airport. Friendly faces are always a comfort in a foreign country, especially when they’ve organised your transport. We were loaded quickly by the endlessly helpful Egyptian staff and after a fifteen minute trip through the city, we arrived at Hurghada marina where our vessel was docked. A quick look round our group and the faces of the blokes said it all. Amongst the boats/ships that were docked, was the MV Princess Diana, a glorious boat that looked like something out of a movie to someone like me. I was excited to see such an opportunity materialise in front of my face. Steve and Claire had chartered the boat from an Egyptian Captain and the boat belongs to his family.
It was soon time for every squaddies favourite word… Admin. We had to have the necessary safety briefings and sort out our dive teams. Also diving etiquette, for example: don’t come steaming up the shot line when other divers are doing their safety stops, something that not all took note of! Sat around the briefing room of the MV Princess Diana we were talked through the simple things first: who was sharing what room, the rules about the bells (if the bell goes and your hair is dry, you do your gas check and head to the dive brief, if your hair is wet it’s time for food) – of course someone asked “what do you do if you’re bald?” There were some rules that we had to get used to, like for instance, tissue could not be flushed down the toilet, it had to be placed in the bin. We are all responsible divers and flushing things down the toilet would mean they end up in the sea and potentially damage the flora and fauna of the ocean. Even a fire alarm test was conducted; and then, most importantly, we found out what teams we were all going to be diving in.
Our dive teams were sorted in the following order:
Team Ambition (Red Team):
- Martin Weddell – PADI Master Instructor, DE Instructor Trainer MHFA
- Dave Culver – PADI Master Instructor
- Dickie Henderson – RAF Regiment, Paramedic (Trainee Dive Master)
- Ben Lee – Royal Engineers, Bilateral amputee
- Chris Middleton – Royal Scots’ DG, Bi lateral amputee (Dive master)
- Chris Ganley – Rifles, Single AE amputee
- Gary Green – Rifles, Blind right eye/PTSD (Trainee Dive Master)
Team Achievement (White Team):
- Sharon El Shoura – PADI Staff Instructor, DE Instructor MHFA
- Russell Heath – PADI Master Instructor
- Andy Johnston – Royal Marines (Trainee Dive Master)
- David Hubber – Royal Logistics Corps, Degenerative spinal
- Dan Phillips – Mercian, Back injury/PTSD
- Peter Hayward – Royal Welsh, Major knee reconstruction
Team Adventure (Blue Team):
- Andy Alfred – PADI Master Instructor, DE Instructor Trainer MHFA
- Ian Bertram – Royal Army Medical Corps (PADI Staff Instructor)
- Michael Clapp – Single arm amputee (Dive Master)
- Jamie Hull – Paras, 3rd degree burns 60% (Instructor Development Course Staff Instructor)
- Jason Court – Royal Navy, Fracture both femurs, left ulna and back compression
- Luke Morrison – Paras, Single leg amputee
- Ian Potter – RAF Regiment, Single leg amputee
Once the admin was over, we unpacked our kit and found our tank numbers that were relevant to our rooms. We then set up our diving kit so that we would be ready for the morning, no time to waste on the livaboard! You could see everyone making sure that everything was exactly how they wanted it. The thing about diving is that everything should be in the triangle of your torso so there were a few attempts as people moved things around to get the maximum efficiency. For a few of us we hadn’t had an SNBD or reel on our kit before, so just like the military, we had to get used to where we placed it. Our instructors gave us advice on what would be most comfortable; a simple scenario given by experience was enough for you to make informed decisions. The good thing about instructors is that they’ve made all the mistakes for you already and you just have to listen to them. After the kit was sorted, the time was our own and everyone congregated onto what became nicknamed the ‘smoking deck’. Pretty quickly the on-board fridge was raided, the music was playing on the wireless speaker and the blokes went into party mode, swiftly reminded that drinking and diving definitely do not mix.
Donate to Deptherapy or find out more about their work at www.deptherapy.co.uk
Tomorrow, we start diving! Come back tomorrow to read Part Two…