Free Beer & Sex by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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19 Narrow escape

Sod's Law doesn't reign supreme.  It has a rival and it goes something like this:  You can't lose 'em all ... sometimes you gotta win.

When I worked in the diving industry I lived in Townsville which is conveniently situated for trips to the Great Barrier Reef.  The weather is fairly predictable.  Most of the time it is fit for diving.  When it's not, a tropical cyclone (hurricane) is probably brewing and it's too dangerous to go to sea.  You rarely get those in-between days when you can't be sure whether to stay out or return to port ... but they do happen.

On one memorable trip the weather was totally unpredictable.  Squalls were going through.  By good chance, I had some highly professional guys with me.  They were commercial divers on leave from the North Sea oil rigs and we were anxious to give them a good time.  They were the sort of guys who can dive under conditions that would be unacceptable for sports divers.

A couple of squalls interrupted diving during the day and the shipping forecast was still sending out warnings when night fell.  The commercial divers had brought expensive cameras with them and were keen for a night dive.  I consulted the skipper and we decided it would be safe for them but the other divers should remain on board.

There was a strong current and we devised a safety plan, which involved a line with a buoy on the end.  We would make our way down it to the dive site and pull ourselves back at the end of the dive.

All went according to plan.  We reached the dive site and anchored the buoy.  I was learning a lot from the professionals.  They knew how to get things right and they were highly disciplined.  No one moved far.  Everyone stayed together, taking photographs and checking their dive instruments.

Then a squall came through.  It arrived without warning and the buoy danced madly above our heads.  Suddenly, the line tightened and the buoy was dragged below the surface.  It stretched to breaking point and the commercial divers were quick to act.

My buddy propelled me to the line and one of his colleagues cut it free from the anchor.  If he'd not acted quickly, the line would have snapped and we'd have been parted from out boat in a violent storm.

We'd escaped that awful fate but were far from safe.  The boat was dragging its anchor and was in danger of running up onto the reef.  The anchor caught before that happened.  We reached the boat and clambered on board, only to find that the skipper was missing.

He'd left in a dinghy, with his thirteen-year-old son, to put out a second anchor.  I saw them in the beam of a powerful flashlight.  They had successfully laid the anchor and were coming back.  As I watched, the dinghy's motor began to splutter.  I heard it stop and saw the small craft caught in the current.  The thirteen-year-old struggled to get the motor going but without success.

We now faced the prospect of losing the skipper and his son.  I snatched a buoy from the deck, swung in on the end of its line and hurled it at the dinghy.  I'm a hopeless shot but it reached its goal.  I still retain a vivid mental image of it hitting the boy in the chest and landing at his feet.  He grabbed the line and we pulled them to safety.  After that, the trip was uneventful.