Dive Marshals are highly experienced, selfless individuals who ensure that dives are carried out safely and correctly and that every club member enjoys a good experience.
At least, says Mike Ward, that's the theory
NOBODY ELSE IN THE CLUB CAN TELL THE TIME. It's the only explanation. They all knew when to be here. I know 7.30 in the morning is early for a weekend, but slack at 10.30 and a 45-minute boat ride out to the wreck can't be altered.
Pacing up and down helps, but not much.
It's 8.10 and the first divers are here. Followed one at a time by the rest of them, until Dave is the only one missing.
Dave is, of course, towing the boat, and because Dave is a little below the technological event horizon he doesn't have a mobile. I just hope he remembered to put some petrol in the RIB.
Use the time effectively, get people started on sorting their kit and then work out the buddy pairs.
Let's have a look at the dive-plan sheet and see who we've got this morning. Eight divers, including me. A lot for one boat, but just about OK. So who are they?
There are two novices. Or whatever it is they call them these days. Never sea-dived before. Why are there always two novices who haven't been in the sea before on every trip? Where do they all come from? Why can't something be done to stop them?
And where do they all go to? No point in trying to remember their names, they never last long enough. After a while they all look the same anyway, youthful, energetic and a sight too keen to get cold and wet.
Oh well, I certainly can't take a novice in. As Dive Marshal my responsibility is to oversee diving operations, making sure things are done properly so everybody goes home safely having had a thoroughly good weekend of diving. A novice would demand far too much of my concentration.
Apart from which, this is a good wreck and the last thing I need is a rookie to spoil it for me. No point in having power if you can't abuse it.
Sharon can take one of them in. Serves her right for not standing her round at the bar last week. The other one can go in with Tony. Twenty minutes of invertebrate identification practice on the outside of the hull followed by a nice long safety stop should do nicely.
Then Dave and Liz can pair up. Deco Dave and the Queen of Narcosis, the buddy pair from diving hell. Must remember to check that the oxygen kit is on board.
Which leaves Andy. Good old Andy. Solid, reliable, experienced Andy. The perfect dive buddy, especially for a nice wreck like the one planned for this morning.
The boat's here! And so is Dave.
Right, send Andy to get the launch permit while the rest of us unstrap the boat, stow the gear and get her ready for launching. Tubes are a bit down. Sharon can show one of the novices how to deal with those.
Fuel tank full, radio works, GPS works, echo-sounder works. Well, the little green lights come on when I twiddle the knobs, the radio makes a satisfying crackling noise and I can smell something sloshing about down the filler pipe.
Come on everybody, put your back into it and we'll soon shove the trailer to the top of the beach ready for the tractor tow. Well, you should have moved your stab jacket from under the jockey wheel, then, shouldn't you? Think of it as a learning experience.
Here's the tractor. Drop the hitch on and jump into the boat. Only because somebody has to hold onto the engine, not because I get to ride and the rest have to walk down the beach in those hot, sweaty drysuits.
Out of the boat and easy does it getting her into the water. Right, somebody hold the painter while I jump back aboard and get the engine running.
Wow! It started first time. I'll just punt her round the bay to warm the engine up while they run the trailer back up the beach. Everybody in, and off we go!
And the engine stops. And won't start again. Check the fuel lines and the choke. Is it out of gear? Take the cover off. I have no idea what I'm looking for in here. Twiddle things and make it look good.
Wassat? Don't know, but it looks like it should be connected to something, not waggling around free like that. Bung the cover back on and try again.
It started. It darn well started!
We'll need to get a bit of a move on if we're going to make it for slack. Bit sluggish getting on the plane, not surprising with this number of divers and this amount of kit.
When I started diving, all you needed was a bottle and harness. The flash so-and-sos had ABLJs, but most of us couldn't afford them. Now everybody has those wing thingies, and power fins and computers and twin-sets or pony cylinders and octopus regs and goodness only knows what else. I wonder why none of them ever carries a snorkel?
Okay, steer northish until we pass the third headland, then head out to sea until the buoy comes into sight. Any time now. It always seems further on the way out than it does on the way back. No need to worry.
Time to worry.
The buoy! And the half-dozen RIBs on her already. I knew there was no need to worry. We can tie in to one of the lines already on the wreck so we don't have to throw in another anchor and maybe hit a diver already down.
Oh, well, Tony was only trying to be helpful. Of course, he should have waited for my signal before he slung the hook in, but what he really, really should have done was make sure the anchor was fastened to something. Maybe we can find it when we dive.
Novices and their chaperones in first, I think. Keep an eye on the novices as they kit up and a final check before they hit the water, but they'll be fine, novices on their first sea dive are always really careful. The two I need to watch are Tony and Sharon. Just enough diving to be casual, not enough to be thorough.
Told you so.
Neat backward roll over the side, surface, a quick exchange of OK signals and down they go. Always takes me by surprise, the way people just vanish like that.
What time is it? 10.30. Better get Liz and Dave in as well. Andy and I can live with a bit of a run, especially on a wreck, and as soon as the boat is empty we can collect our gear together and be ready.
Six divers down and the A-flag up. Time for a bit of a relax. No there isn't, the first pair are up. And at the wrong end of the wreck. Tony never could navigate.
We'll untie and go fetch 'em, then. Good enough, Sharon and novice two are up as well, so we can recover both pairs in a single pass, demonstrating impressive seamanship and outstanding boat-driving in undemanding conditions.
Bung Andy on the bow and he can put one pair either side of the RIB. One pair on either side, not three of you that side and one underneath the bloody boat. That Tony needs a serious talking to.
That's it, unfasten your weightbelt and hand it up first. Never mind, buying the new one will remind you to hold on tight in the future. Now unclip the fasteners of your BC and turn out of it, just like you were taught in the pool.
You were taught in the pool, weren't you? Who was it taught you anyway? Oh, I should have known. Hold the rope on the top of the tube, big fin-kick and a pull and you're in. Two recovered, two to go.
Ooh, nasty! I know the RIB's a bit crowded and the novice should have got out of the way, but being stunned by a fin blade on the end of a thrashing leg is a hard way to make the point. Could have been worse, though, it could have been me.
Get their kit stowed, then Sharon can handle the boat. Just run gently over the wreck and tell Andy and me when to go. There's the signal, in we go. We look a fair way away from those other RIBs.
The run's picking up, so we'll need to get ourselves down fast and sort things out on the wreck.
Who moved it? Five metres of viz and we're out of sight of the biggest wreck off this stretch of coastline. Fortunate I caught sight of the gaggle of RIBs as we went in, so all we need to do is head this way a bit.
Maybe the other way, then.
There's the anchor! Bung a lifting bag on it and we'll make out we planned it this way. Andy won't let on.
Finally, the wreck. I do like this wreck. We'll ascend at the buoy line on the bow. Anybody with even half a brain will be waiting for us there. Three minutes at 6m for safety.
The run's dragging my arms from their sockets, and all because certain people couldn't get themselves out of bed early enough for a proper start.
Time to surface, put some air into my BC and look around for the boat. That can't be our boat over there, they're miles away. Having some sort of party by the looks of it.
Never mind, I'm sure one of the other boats will let them know we're up.
What other boats? I know we're a good hour after slack, but surely somebody must be still here. Just wait until I'm back on dry land, somebody's going to catch hell for this!
Unship the signal flag and give it a wave. Good thing I carry it all the time. Of course, the thing about signal flags is that somebody has to be looking in this direction to see it.
At last, here they come!
Weightbelt first. Look, sunbeam, take the weightbelt and you can tell me how good your dive was when I'm back in the boat. Good lad. Now my bottle and regs and I'm back aboard.
Why didn't you tell me he was convulsing? Put him on oxygen and call the coastguard! Who is it? One of the novices? Never mind, I'll have his regulator set and his computer if he doesn't make it, and we can use the rest of his kit for training. Only kidding!
But that reminds me, did you get my lifting bag and the anchor? Oh for goodness sake, do I need to do everything? Just tell the helicopter pilot to look for a RIB heading south, we'll stop when we catch up with my bag and the anchor.
In the meanwhile, I need to have a think about this afternoon's dive. By the time we've finished mucking about with helicopters it's going to have to be close by, and we're going to have to put a threesome in.
I hate putting three divers in, there's just so much that can go wrong. Pass me a coffee and some chocolate...