|In last month's issue, three male divers were forced to agree that they had been narked at 30m. Why is it so difficult for chaps to face facts? Jill Wright wants to know
LET'S JUST SAY THAT I'VE BEEN AROUND THE BLOCK A FEW TIMES, but have yet to come across any man who will admit that he is a lousy lover, a dangerous driver, or that he has ever suffered from the effects of nitrogen narcosis (or at least, I hadn't until I read Narked at 30m? Not Me! in the October edition of Diver).
Nitrogen narcosis is caused by a diver being exposed to an increasing partial pressure of nitrogen as he/she descends, causing changes in behaviour, altered awareness and, in extreme cases, hallucinations. A bit like an average Friday night out, really. One of the dangers is that the diver might not realise that there is anything wrong with them.
I accept that this can be true some of the time, but I suspect that a strong element of machismo usually prevents men who have been narked admitting to it, even when confronted with hard evidence.
Take one of my regular buddies, who once spent most of a dive to 45m prodding a large rock with his snorkel. He eventually manhandled the rock into his goody bag and dragged it with difficulty to the surface. Once back on the boat he gathered everyone around, shouting: "Wait until you see the size of this crab!" As everyone dissolved into fits of laughter, he became hysterical with rage, accusing me of somehow stealing his crab and replacing it with the rock on ascent.
Another regular buddy is safe and competent on deep dives but always leaves my nerves in tatters, as he spends the whole dive screaming loudly and constantly into his regulator. His wife loves it when he plans a deep dive, as she knows he will be unable to speak for at least a week afterwards.
Naturally, he denies being a screamer and after the dive writes frantic notes to let everyone know that the air in his cylinder must have been too dry.
If I'm planning to dive with a man who is not a regular buddy I always interrogate him, using techniques borrowed from The Gestapo Handbook. However, as soon as I mention the words "nitrogen narcosis" he either laughs long and heartily as he denies that such a sissy condition could ever affect him, or looks as affronted as if I had just accused him of having underdeveloped genitals and an unnatural interest in sheep.
Ten minutes later, the same diver can be found at 50m with one rigid arm clutching the shotline and his eyes spinning wildly. I have often been tempted to pull hard on the rigid arm to see if I could win the jackpot for two eyeballs in a line.
I once dived to 48m, on what should have been one of the best dives of my life. After weeks of research and many long hours searching with the magnetometer, a group of us had finally found the virgin wreck we had been looking for.
After much heated discussion, it was decided that the first pair down would be me, as the most experienced diver present, and my buddy, who nominated himself by virtue of the fact that it was his boat from which we were diving.
The water was gin-clear, and as we descended I could see the whole of the wreck without switching on my torch. Sitting on the deck a few metres from the shotline was the bell, which seemed to be shouting: "Take me, I'm all yours."
As we reached the bottom I looked at my buddy and my heart sank as I saw that he had developed rigid arm/spinning eyeball syndrome. I fastened a clip around the shotline, prised his fingers loose and handed him my reel, thinking that giving him a task to perform might help to focus his mind.
It worked. He paid out half a metre of distance line and then proceeded to fin rapidly round and round the shotline like a demented dog tied to a rotary clothes drier. Within seconds he had stirred up enough sediment to reduce the visibility to nil.
After half a dozen attempts, I managed to grab him and aborted the dive. Later, not only did I have to suffer the ignominy of watching the second pair of divers showing off "their" bell, but I also had to listen to my buddy prattling on about how much he had enjoyed the dive.
There are still a few Neanderthals in the world of diving for whom the evolutionary curve has been a fairly gentle one, but on the whole no one bats an eyelid if a diver decides he does not want to dive. Admitting to being narked appears to be another matter entirely.
I don't know what the solution is, but perhaps compulsory forehead tattoos would be a good idea.
In case you're wondering, yes, I do get narked on all deep dives but I always admit to it and I know that if I sit quietly on the bottom and concentrate on my breathing for a minute, my head will clear. And, for the record, I am an excellent driver!