THE POOR SAP AT THE WHEEL
My fascination with the technical aspects of boat-handling was born almost 20 years ago. It was during my Diver-Cox course in Norfolk that a pair of clearly experienced handlers argued over the relative difficulties of getting two well-known brands of inflatable onto the plane.
I interjected that it took three burly blokes to get our 5m workboat into the club van, let alone onto a plane. Wouldn't it be simpler, I ventured, to hire a boat at the holiday destination?
Over the years, my grasp of the subject has grown with experience. And so, inspired by John Liddiard and Chris Boardman's reflections in last month's Diver, I humbly offer a few pearls of wisdom of my own.
First, by way of a general introduction, a short word on boat-driving. Don't. Not if you can possibly avoid it.
Just as no ambitious female executive should ever admit to being able to type, so the diver who wishes to view the surface of the sea from underneath should guard with his life the secret of his diver-coxswain ticket.
"Right!" the dive marshal will announce. "Just as soon as Mervyn has located his trousers, in the pocket of which he fondly imagines he'll find the keys to his car, in the boot of which he entertains a misty folk memory of having locked his computer last night after playing Most Potentially Fatal Error with Colin in the bar of The Pack Of Lies, we'll have a boatload of divers.
"Sadly, however, we won't have anyone to drive it."
There will ensue a long and pregnant silence, during which there will be much fiddling with minute details of equipment.
Finally, the most public-spirited diver in the branch will sigh and mutter: "Oh, sod it. I'll drive the bloody boat then." And the rest will utter gruff expressions of appreciation as the poor sap breaks down his gear and unzips his suit.
So unless you aspire to a diving career of selfless sacrifice, keep quiet about the boat-handling stamp in your logbook.
If you're propelled by a vision of martyrdom, however, and you're determined to waste your weekends providing free transport for the idle, flatulent ingrates in your branch, here's a tip: don't imagine that a two-day boat-handling course will in any way equip you to cope with the unholy alliance of mechanical frailty and meteorological unpredictability that will assail you the moment you put to sea.
I'm prepared to admit that my engineering skills are less developed than your average diver's - I'm unable, for instance, to open a milk carton. But I bet the rest of you aren't too far in front.
If the string on your outboard snapped, you might just be able to cobble something together in a fully-equipped workshop with arc lights and central heating - given an owner's manual and about 24 hours. But your prospects of fixing the motor five miles offshore at dusk in a strengthening nor'easterly with frozen fingers and a 10-year-old rusty spanner are, let's face it, less than nil.
As are the odds of raising anyone on the boat radio, except possibly a non-English-speaking wireless ham in Shanghai.
Remember, the closest relative of the outboard motor is the anti-personnel mine. Under that sleek, contoured casing is coiled enough energy to propel all the moving parts into orbit.
So my advice is, never venture further from the shore than shouting distance. And if some circumstance requires you to stray beyond the harbour, follow the example of merchant shipping during the last world war and travel in convoy. Preferably with a naval escort.