In his younger days, Monty Halls would be impressed by divers so experienced that they had gone beyond needing to check their gear. Many expeditions later, his tolerance for that attitude is down to zero
Taking a leap of faith isn't that cool
WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIVERS of a certain experience level? I have a cherished theory that there is an exhilaratingly lethal period in everyone's diving career when the healthy element of fear and respect for diving has gone, and yet there aren't quite enough dives on the clock to warrant such a swashbuckling approach.
When does this point come? I'd suggest at about 200 dives or so (though it varies from maniac to maniac).
How does it manifest itself? Easy one that - not needing to do checks before entering the water!
Time and time again, I've heard "experienced" divers say: "I don't bother with checks - you see, I know my kit so well, there's no point."
This drives me practically insane. Diving equipment manufacturers divide dive gear into two distinct categories. There is life-support equipment, and then there's the rest.
Life-support gear is essentially the equipment required to transport the air from your cylinder to your wildly heaving lungs, and is treated with particular respect and caution by the people who make the kit.
This may be only pure speculation, but I've heard that even if you have more than 200 dives in your heavily thumbed logbook, when your regulator packs up at 40m you're going to have an emotional few minutes sorting things out with your wild-eyed buddy.
A quick check of your buddy's gear just before entering the water can stand you in good stead before such moments, and yet for so many divers "there's no point".
Expeditions are, by nature, unpredictable affairs, but there is one thing I can guarantee with absolute confidence on every trip. There will be at least one team-member, normally a large, bearded individual (although it's not always a woman, men do it too) who will refuse to carry out their checks because they think they're "poofy" and that they're beyond all that.
On my expeditions I have developed a mind-numbingly simple mnemonic for checks - ABC. A is for Air, B is for BC, C is for clips (which nicely takes in the weightbelt as well). It covers all the important bits because, let's face it, if someone leaps in without their mask or fins, or forgets their camera, or has their hood on backwards, that's not dangerous, it's funny, and adds to the day for everyone else on the boat.
The rest of the gear, the important bits, are all designed to extract you from a watery demise, and are worth a quick once-over. It takes about 20 seconds, yet certain team-members go out of their way to avoid doing it.
One of my finest memories of the first Full Circle expedition was of one of the "problem children" in the checks department swimming sheepishly back to a massive liveaboard in Australia to get his weightbelt, with a great bank of divers bellowing abuse from the stern as he climbed the ladder.
This chap was a wonderful expedition member, a great diver who helped the more inexperienced members of the team on many occasions, a real asset. And yet every time I asked him to do his checks, he would cast his eyes skywards, tut audibly, and glance at the other team-members as if I was some sort of deranged jobsworth.
I did a freefall parachute jump once. It was best described as a long period of bowel-loosening fear, followed by a very short, intense period of bowel-loosening fear, followed by a more leisurely period of bowel-loosening relief.
I was surrounded by some truly gnarly skydivers, some with many thousands of jumps. Did I see them sling on their kit and leap out of the door without checking it? I didn't.
I suggest that leaping out of an aircraft and jumping off a dive-boat are not a million miles apart, and yet the professionalism of the participants in checking their kit frequently is.
I'm also going to suggest, in a rather smug, aren't-we-the-just-edge-of-the-envelope-flinty-eyed-thrill-seekers style, that we are in the same business as climbers, hang-glider pilots, base jumpers, stunt pilots and other assorted lunatics.
Let's make no bones about it, what we do is unusual. We go against millions of years of very sensible evolutionary urges and plunge into an alien environment that would take a couple of minutes to polish us off if the whistling, creaking, squeaking, clanking pile of metal we use to supply our air decided to pack up.
In the early days of my diving career,I used to be rather intimidated by fellow divers who didn't bother with checks. Invariably they would sling on their dive gear with a raffish air of derring do, plunging over the side with a cavalier wave and a wolfish grin ("Cool," I used to think, "they're obviously genuinely hard.").
Time has provided me with a certain wisdom and perspective, and perhaps to illustrate this I can quote something that an ancient Chinese philosopher almost certainly never said: "Better to live for a thousand years as a sheep than one day as a complacent prat."
It's all rather odd. A few seconds checking out the kit that will keep you alive in the alien environment into which you're about to gleefully leap, or looking cool on the boat shortly before sitting in a self-created Jacuzzi at 30m thinking: "Aha, if only..."
I know which one appeals to me.