To celebrate Diver's 40th birthday, we launched a short story competition on the theme of time, with a top prize of a computer and 39 watches as well.
Here are 12 of our favourite prize-winning readers' entries
THE EEL'S TALE by Tanja Piejus|
I cruise along the hulking side of a wrecked passenger ship, powerful muscles pushing me through dense ocean. Overhead, silhouettes shimmer against the sun-bright surface, silvery cascades of air tumbling upwards from their wide-eyed faces. The divers are coming again.
Slowly they sink into my world, hard-edged equipment sprouting tentacle-like from their awkward bodies. The divers' hands fretfully pluck at these extra limbs. Their precious minutes borrowed from that strange, windy world above are already ticking away. Their bottled breath allows them such a small window onto this ancient kingdom.
They travel in slow motion. I lazily fin alongside them and overtake with ease. Come on, keep up! One of my new companions extends an arm and waggles a white finger excitedly as I slip past. Doesn't she know it's rude to point? Ah well, perhaps she's never seen a moray down here.
A sudden blare of white light temporarily blinds me as another diver snaps my portrait. I'll forgive him. His passage here is sadly brief. Recording this world in two dimensions is all he can do to carry away his tiny journey into a vastly unexplored realm, share it with those who will never see this glorious place and make it last a lifetime.
Sliding through a rust-choked porthole, I join the divers inside my wrecked home. Their eyes grow bigger still as they marvel at its encrusted magnificence. Time ran out decades ago for the ocean travellers who swarmed this luxurious vessel. Their soft, earthbound bodies have long since been recycled into the skins, shells and scales of those who have made their grave a home. A gilded mirror returns a muddy reflection of my long, smooth shape and the divers' lumpy black ones, streaked with garish colour like the sea slugs undulating by.
Then the divers paddle away, back up to their dazzling world. Their time has bubbled out. I circle them once with easy bats of my tail and return to my favourite resting place under the bow of the sunken ship.
There will soon be others. And me?
I have all the time in the world.
DIVE TIME by Nicola Masters|
It's time to overcome your fear of the sea. Don't let the misunderstandings of the past push your future away. The world is waiting for you.
The message in the card echoed in Lucy's mind as she sat on the deck of the boat named Dive Time. Lucy had an almost rabid fear of water, but a 35th birthday present, last year, from her favourite aunt, Val, had changed her life. The try-dive voucher and dive watch had sat on her sideboard for three months before she'd ventured down the pool.
Droplets of sweat had begun to form at Lucy's temples. The sun was nearing its midday crescendo as she struggled into her semi-dry. She paused to gaze out at the miles of empty sea surrounding the boat. Suddenly, the chill of fear ran down her spine and froze the river of salty water trickling down her cheek.
"Would you like me to zip you up?" asked her buddy.
Too dry to speak, she nodded and stood soldier-stiff, as he pulled the zip up to hairline height. In a stomach-churning moment, the inevitability of the dive overwhelmed her.
The colour drained from her cheeks. She closed her eyes and was once more standing on the canal bank, secretly watching her father attach the weight to the squealing bag.
In slow motion, she watched him toss the bag into the water. The following splash was the loudest sound she'd ever heard; it smashed against her chest, flooded into her lungs and pressed her eyes deep into their sockets. As she was being pulled out, coughing and wheezing, she felt her fingertips brush past the wriggling bag.
Her father left home shortly after she came out of hospital. The last she heard from him was a 10th birthday card she found a year later at the bottom of the kitchen bin.
"Lucy, are you ready for your buddy check?"
Together they went through the drill: air, belts, buckles, cylinders, dumps, direct feeds, everything else...
Everything else? The guilt of causing the break-up of her parents' marriage, her fear of drowning, but most of all her determination, after a lifetime of near-achievement, to succeed at something.
Making the O-sign, she moved to the edge of the boat. She looked at the face of the watch Val had bought her; it was time.
GIVE ME JUST A LITTLE MORE TIME by Jonathan Plummer|
I know you shouldn't dive drunk, but I'm not so sure about diving distracted.
Down we go. Those first few seconds' transition from the surface to below the water are the most disconcerting thing about diving.
I've got to get my breathing under control. Why is it that I use so much more air than anyone else and run out of time at the site before everyone else?
Why is my relationship with Katy so difficult? She's sitting a few miles away on a beach soaking up the sun and here I am 15m below sea level, wondering whether I should ditch her.
After my first dive on this holiday, the dive leader said that I "sucked air quicker then anyone he'd ever met", which didn't give me much confidence and made me wonder if I should give it up.
What should I do about Katy? Should I just walk away and give her up - go back to my bachelor life? Or should I stick it out? She's not perfect, but then I'm hardly the Platonic form of male perfection myself.
Trouble is, I love it so and it drives me mad that I get so little time on a dive - half of what everyone else gets out of a tank. At 38 years old I should know what I want, but still I'm avoiding responsibility. Seems like in life you never have enough time to do all the things you want to.
Down to 150 bar of air already. I love it down here. Concentrate on your breathing, in… out… in… out…
Don't snatch at breaths. Don't hold your breath either. Remember your training.
I wonder whether I'll ever get better at this?
Relationships or diving?
The thing is, I do love Katy and I think she loves me. She maybe wants things from me over and above just loving me for myself, but then, isn't it the same with me?
Do I want a girlfriend? No point holding my breath for the perfect one to come along.
I'm going to have to signal to the dive leader than I'm at 50 bar. What I need is a little more time down here and what I need to do is give things a bit more time with Katy.
If I work hard but also relax a bit, it will work out, I'm sure.
The relationship or the diving?
BLAST FROM THE PAST by Jim Ellis |
We are divers, officially Nutrition Gatherers of the Eurussian Union. Our job is to harvest the stocks of genetically engineered fish from the state-owned breeding farms. I had been working with my buddy Alexis on the left of the formation, monitoring personal data for us both while he operated the forcefield generator that herded the fish to the processing intake.
The small flash from the generator didn't bother me, as this was a regular occurrence, but when the heads-up display inside my visor blinked out leaving me almost blind in the near-zero visibility, I realised that I was now in big trouble. Trying to reach my bail-out while being bounced along the bottom in the current, with my jetboots hanging lifeless from my feet, was proving impossible, and the now erratic supply from my rebreather was fast pushing me towards blackout.
Sliding into unconsciousness, I felt a pair of arms wrap around me and start to lift me upwards, and a cool rush of air inside my visor told me that my bail-out had been activated.
It was only as we neared the surface, with both my head and the visibility clearing, that I realised that my rescuer was not Alexis. While his right arm supported me from behind, his left wrist was almost in front of my face, bearing two instruments I had seen only in historical archives. A square box showed a primitive display of depth, time and "deco info", and an antique timekeeper on a bright metal band showed the time with hands on a black face.
When I was picked up by a rescue craft there was no sign of my unknown saviour, and my story was attributed to a semi-conscious hallucination on my part. Obviously I had activated my bailout and swum to the surface myself.
The following day I stood outside the processing plant, watching the usual crowd outside, the rich and the poor buying, and the poachers (known to us but rarely caught) selling.
One of them stood staring at me as I watched, a strange smile on his face.
I started toward him but he turned to merge with the crowd, raising a hand in a wave as he did so, and I caught a flash of sunlight as it reflected off the bright metal band on his left wrist.
FREE TIME by Samantha Kirby |
Two minutes to dive.
Holding the competition line, trying to find some peace. Must work out where the judges are so I that can smile at them when I surface. Try not to look down; it's so clear, I might see my tag all those metres below.
Focus, breathe, calm down. Must forget the crowds around me, find my own world and move into it. Pull each breath down, down, down to the depths of my belly.
Move off a little from the line, so I have room to duck-dive. Breathe out, deep and slow, only one more breath before I go.
Timed it perfectly. Close my eyes and draw in the final breath, pack it in, push it down.
Bend at the waist, arms down, and pull off into the blue. Focus on the line, one big flick of my monofin and I'm on the way. Eyes on the line, don't look down, tuck my chin in and equalise, smooth and calm, all the way down.
20 seconds in…
It's getting darker, purple more than blue. Heartbeat is thudding through my skull, too fast, think it down, calm, calm.
30 seconds in…
Bubbles around me, must be a scuba-diver sitting at the plate. Time to focus. Grab the line, hand pointing up to pull me back towards the sky, other arm down, pull the tag off neatly. Smile at the safety diver and I'm on my way.
40 seconds in …
Big kicks, hard and strong, powering toward the surface. Hard work at first, then my buoyancy kicks in. Where's my safety buddy? Must be here somewhere, it can't be far now.
55 seconds in…
Someone pulls alongside. Big smile behind the mask. Look into his eyes and follow his fin kicks, fin in synch and it feels like a game. He looks so comfortable, not sure I do!
Getting lighter, reach up and pull the arms down one last time. Prepare for the sky to crash in through the surface. Blinding sunlight in my eyes, too many people watching. Eyes closed, hold the line and breathe, breathe, breathe.
1 minute 10…
Back in their world. Mask off, signal OK, one judge, two judges, all my friends.
Smiling and laughing. Together we made it. Deeper into the blue. Can't wait until the next time.
TAKING MY TIME by Martin Wilkinson |
Perhaps I did sometimes dive too deep and for too long. Some might say it was bound to happen but they don't really understand how I got this way. She knows but who would believe me, even if I could tell them?
The plankton was blooming and the depths were all in gloom and yet poor visibility was not why I separated from my buddies. The truth is, I saw something fantastic, something unbelievable. Right on the edge of vision, a mermaid smiled! Of course, I told myself this was ridiculous and that she must merely be a bizarre manifestation of narcosis, though never before had it manifested itself like this.
So, I closed my eyes and shook my head but when I looked again she was still there, beckoning with slim, barnacled fingers. I stopped and stared, as my oblivious buddies faded into the greyness. I knew I should find them or abort the dive, but I had to follow her.
I finned harder than I'd ever finned but she was always just beyond reach, tempting me further into the gloom. A distant part of my brain cautioned that I was too deep, that I was clocking up too much deco-time and that my air was dangerously low, but I had to know she was real.
Gasping with exertion, I gulped down the last dregs of treacle-thick air and despaired. Only then did she stop and face me. Never before had I seen such cold beauty and, dropping my regulator, I smiled and reached out to her. She came to me and kissed me and I felt the rapture of the deep.
I knew now why I had taken up diving.
Fleetingly I was happy, and hoped the kiss might last until the end of time. But all the warmth was draining from my body and my limbs were growing heavy and weak. Too late, I pulled away as she devoured the remains of my strength and youth. Through eyesight growing dim and blurred, I saw her smile once more.
I awoke in the pot. It seems my buddies found me and raised me back to some sort of life. They think I've got a bad bend and that my time is nearly up. I wish I could tell them the truth. She's still out there. I wonder who's next?
TIME - WHERE DOES IT GO? by Pete Woolmer|
Who fancies a nice comfortable midday dive on Saturday, with a decent lie-in and home at a reasonable time?
Right, here's the plan. It'll take us about an hour and a half to reach and shot the wreck, so we'd better allow two hours in case of boat or GPS problems, and any delays leaving the harbour. So we'll plan to cast-off about 10am, which means people will need to arrive at the boat for, say, 9am to allow time for parking, kitting-up and any last minute trips to the khazi etc.
On the personal side, I know it'll take an hour to reach Dover from my house, but I'd better add half an hour to allow for traffic delays and, since it's John's turn to drive, I'd better allow another half-hour, because he's always late. That means getting up at 6am for breakfast and a final kit check. Bang goes the lie-in - but not to worry.
Well, the plan worked OK and we got underway more or less on time with no major hiccups, except the usual crop of no-shows, forgotten kit and blown O-rings. The dive, as usual, took longer than expected at two hours, mainly due to Tracey and Jane taking the advice of "no need to rush" too literally, and John running into unexpected deco while tackling a particularly recalcitrant lobster.
With everyone safely back on board we headed off for the one-hour trip back to the harbour.
Unloading the boat, packing our kit away and waiting for the girls' interminable shower takes another 90 minutes, then it's off to the chippie for a (very) late lunch.
It's now opening time and the highlight of the day - the first post-dive beer. This inevitably leads to the second and third, while arguments rage about who went the deepest/longest, or saw the biggest crab/lobster/porthole or whatever.
The session eventually winds up at about 10pm, when one or two members have started to receive anxious calls from their wives. So then it's off home, square the kit away, cup of cocoa, and off to bed for about midnight.
Question: How do I explain to the wife how a 30-minute dive takes 18 hours? I'm not sure I understand myself, but we'll be doing it all again next weekend!
SIX MINUTES by Gareth Ellis |
I love kitting up. The anticipation makes me smile and dive 19 was no exception. I savoured the moments new divers enjoy - the experience of being there. Maybe when I had 100 dives just being there would be dull. Right now it was awesome. Time is a friend to no man.
Vandal chugged towards Shark Reef. I stood, kit on, eyes closed. My smile widened, feeling the sun on my face and the boat beneath my feet. Shouts barely heard brought me round. Boats were moored at Shark Reef, their passengers gripped by mass hysteria as they leapt into the water. Our skipper cut the engine so we could hear the shouts: Whale Shark!
Our guide Lloyd had never seen one and he had an aura of controlled, intense excitement - he was not missing this! Our skipper eased through the boats before cutting the engine and Lloyd was gone.
I was next. I kicked away and gave a big OK. There was no point, as my companions were already hurling themselves in, lemming-style, with Vandal's cook reminiscent of the guy who guides parachutists out of the doors of aeroplanes.
I stuck my face in and strained my eyes for the sight of a fin, or a murky shape or…
He was 10m away and 6m down. Smooth, sleek and beautiful, he glided towards me. I could see every spot on his back, every twitch of his gills. I glanced around for Lloyd. He was below me, paddling backwards, trying to stay ahead of our new dive buddy. He couldn't out-fin it - he was just prolonging the experience.
Dumping air, I was frustrated to be at the surface until I realised it was my excited breathing defeating me. Finally down, I followed the shark, taking in its grace, beauty and power. In serene contrast to the panicked start of our encounter, he reached the limit of visibility, and head, body and tail were gone into the blue.
Surfacing I glanced at my watch - six minutes.
Chugging back home, I reflected on six minutes with our shark. This tiny space of time had become the most memorable of my life. Ten minutes earlier or later and we'd have missed him. The best experiences in diving mirror every other part of life - chance timings. That's why they mean so much.
"Time is money"? Rubbish - the six minutes with my shark are priceless.
IN A TIGHT SPOT by Nigel Pierce |
I visualised struggling free, escaping from my watery grave, filling my deprived lungs with beautiful air, seeing my daughters grow up into fine young women. I was trapped, entangled by invisible hands that held me fast, not even capable of sensing how much air I had left.
Time was almost up. I tried to calculate just how much; but every time I closed my eyes to concentrate, images of sad headlines flashed through my mind.
Those people who absent-mindedly read the details, then moved onto stories about holidays in paradise, would never know the hell I would suffer in the next minutes or even seconds.
I tried again. I pulled with all my strength, my eyes flashing even though visibility was zero. I sensed my buddy nearby but he couldn't help. Muffled sounds hinted that he was hysterical. Who could blame him? I'm sure I would be, in the same situation.
Again I collected my thoughts. I couldn't die like this. I had got out of similar situations many times before,
and I had rescued others, too. They had all lived to recount their story in the bar. Life and death was so unfair.
I twisted and turned but felt nothing give. Time was short. I could hear my blood pounding through my head. Coldness enveloped me like an ironclad fist. Finally accepting my fate, I relaxed; it's not so bad, I thought to myself.
Suddenly, I sensed others around me. Had my buddy managed to summon help despite his hysteria?
There was definiteIy more than one pair of hands on my arms and body. I could tell they were working furiously to free me and I chastised myself for giving up so easily. I wanted to live; I didn't want to be yet another statistic.
Then… no air left. This was it, now or never. If these unseen heroes couldn't free me within seconds, I'd be dead. Without warning, I felt an almighty pull and I was free! Bright light stung my eyes and I filled my gracious lungs with beautiful, beautiful air.
"Time to get yourself a more generous neck seal on that drysuit, mate!" laughed my buddy, as I exhaustedly slumped to my knees in the car park.
The snow crisps gently against my drysuit boots. The sunlight plays on the surface of the lake, reflecting millions of little shafts of light. Students watch apprehensively as I stride in. Christ, that's cold. Dry-gloves are leaking again. Students follow me in wearing their wetsuits. One can't take it. Climbs out crying. I want to climb out too, but it's my job. Twenty minutes, then out. Winter.
Water is warmer now. Five mil gloves, but the fingers have worn through. Wrist seal leaking. Rain falls. Some of the life has returned to the lake, pipefish, eels and jellyfish entertain. Twenty-five minutes before hands numb. Spring.
Water cascades from the engine of the RIB. Up on the plane now. Roll back into 18° water. No hood, no gloves. Viz on the outer breakwater is excellent. Marine life everywhere. All students surface safely. Huge grins. A fast run back to the shore bathed in warm sunlight. Do the paperwork outside in the sun. Heavy traffic on the M27 on the way back, but what a great day. Summer.
Cooler now, 16° yesterday. Must find hood and gloves. Need to give Joe my drysuit for a new neckseal. Water level in the lake very low. Soon fill up with rain. Put shorts away, break out jeans and fleece. Overjackets for the students. Another year gone. Autumn.
TIME AND TIDE WAIT FOR NO MAN by S Roberts|
Year 1978. Drift-dive on the Mixon Hole. Spring tides, so watch out for slack, there won't be much. Meet on the beach at 8.30am. One boat. Put your name down. Ring the DO if you can't make it. Dive marshal and buddy to dive last.
Day dawns. Sun shines, water calm, greenish tinge, viz looks good. Car park filling. Is everyone here? Yes.
Hurry, hurry, launch the boat; hold it still while the gear is loaded. Watch out for that weightbelt. Mind my reg!
Eight divers leap into the inflatable; engine starts, heading taken - let's go. The gentle swell above disguises what might be lurking below. Surface viz excellent. Boatman gives the cry: This is the spot! OK. Kit up; first three pairs in. Don't forget blob buoys. Over you go.
DM and buddy sit back and relax for a few minutes. Sun is warm, sea inviting. Follow the buoys. When are they going to surface? Time passes. First couple appear and are hoisted aboard. Last couple kit up and go over the side.
The current seems to be picking up. Never mind, let's drift on the anchorline. At least we won't disappear into the great beyond.
Whose idea was that? The boat is well out of the drift area by now and the tide really running. Who cares? You can't feel it under water.
The anchor has caught on an outcrop. The two divers are brought to a sudden halt and stream out like washing on a line in a force 10 gale.
Ascend NOW. Difficult. Impossible. Masks are being torn off. Teeth grip mouthpieces with a religious fervour. To let go means being swept into the blue beyond. Surface. Oh Lord! Bow of inflatable being dragged under water. Boat being swamped. Surfaced divers looking concerned.
CUT THE LINE! is the cry. Get the divers aboard.
CUT THE LINE!
The two things happen at the same time. Willing hands grab the divers in the water. A hand with a knife attacks the anchorline. Tension mounts. The boat is filling with water.
A sudden ping and it's over. The boat is no longer heading for the bottom.
Divers laugh and joke. Who had the tide times? Who knew where we were? Who decided to dive here anyway? Did anyone see anything?
DM keeps quiet and makes a mental note: time and tide wait for no man.
THE BUDDY by Phil Dewhurst |
"Phil, you buddy up with Otto."
Otto frowned. He would rather buddy up with a fellow-Italian. We completed our buddy check. The dive to the wreck of a trawler was about to begin. This was the last dive of my holiday. I had enjoyed two glorious weeks in the Maldives.
Seven divers moved. A giant stride and I was in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. I signalled OK and started my descent.
The depth was 20m. I touched bottom, made myself comfy and looked around for Otto. Viz was perfect. I spotted a lone diver and swam towards him. I had a strange feeling, but couldn't quite christen it. The diver signalled OK and we moved off together.
Suddenly, there was the wreck. I was surprised; it was intact, as though it had only just sunk. We swam around; all the equipment was clearly visible; nets, barrels, even the anchor.
I checked my air: 70 bar, almost time to surface. I signalled, we ascended together. At the safety stop I looked around. I couldn't see anyone. He must have surfaced. Out into the sunshine now, I signalled the dive boat. It motored towards me.
"Where the hell have you been?" I was not prepared for this. "We've looked everywhere for you!" The divemaster looked none too happy.
"I dived with Otto," I replied weakly.
"Otto dived with us, he couldn't find you!"
Who had I dived with? When he calmed down, the Divemaster explained that Otto hadn't located me on his descent and had joined another pair, assuming I had done the same. "Well, I dived with someone." I was adamant.
I explained how I had enjoyed my dive and how surprised I was at the condition of the wreck. "It hadn't even been stripped of goodies," I said.
"That boat's been down there for 20 years, there's not much left," the Divemaster continued in a hushed tone. "After it sank, divers went down to assess the damage. One didn't return. They never found him!"
I looked at my watch; the time and month were correct but the date read 1983. I put two and two together , but was the answer four? Or did I need a new watch?
Two days later I left the islands, flying home to Wales and taking my experience with me. Buddy checks will include face recognition in future.
Tanja Piejus, who wrote The Eel's Tale, wins a £760 Suunto Stinger Titanium full-decompression dive computer and compact watch in one. It is Suunto's flagship model, and with its solid titanium housing and bracelet, is top of the line. The Stinger is the only advanced computer-watch with separate air, nitrox and free-gauge modes, and also has full watch functions and PC interface.
The other writers featured here, plus another 28 entrants, will receive stylish £40 Sekonda Xpose Diver's Watches, 200m-rated with stainless steel cases and luminous hour markers. Thanks to all of you for giving us your time!