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Most of you will know that Aaron 'Hobby' Hobson used to be a Commercial Diver - the following may give some indication as to one of the reasons he no longer plies that trade.....

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"So there we were, September 1999, on The Irish Sea. My team of commercial divers and I had been contracted to survey and salvage the newly discovered/identified wreck of the ‘La Plata’; depth in the 50m-ish range. She had been put out to salvage tender as her depth inhibited the working of it by the guys who found her. Form memory, I think the finder’s team did include a couple of tech-divers, but a large-scale salvage was way beyond their skills-set and current level of equipment and experience.

This being the case, I found myself with three other comm-divers facing the job. Two were relatively new to the job: Cliff (the ex-RM from the TV series 'Diving School', about Fort Bovisand), his mate, Jay, and one other experienced former Navy diver called Andy. We few – we happy few…

One thing I wasn’t happy about was that Tony, my mate and work oppo of some years standing, couldn’t make the trip. I'd worked virtually all my comm-working life with him alongside me and trusted him implicitly; we'd worked these sea areas together before on salvage jobs and I had serious reservations about his absence. So during some discussion, we agreed the priorities for the Job in hand.

First things first: we had to secure a big line to the wreck on to which we could moor the salvage-vessel (I'll call it the ‘SV’) alongside. Apart from the mooring aspect of this, it gives the divers the benefit of being able to drop straight down on to the wreck and work her without travelling any great distances. The SV is secured or "tied" directly to the wreck below her. Following everything being secured and all checks done, we could then get around to the survey work.

Now the usual method of salving the cargo of a ship is to attach a series of heavy-duty lift-bags/air-lifts to that which you intend to salve. Once this is done you can then begin clearing the holds and, if needs be (say if her hatchways/companionways etc. are blocked), we'd also be prepared to cut (using gas torches) or use explosive charges to gain entryto her.

The wreck already had a small buoy-line on her. The Skipper/Dive-Superintendent is a guy I know well and with whom I’d worked before. He’s never bent or killed anyone before and a record like that both speaks for itself and means a lot in this game. We trust his experience and knowledge. He now tells us that we're going to go out on the RIB and secure the big line (neutrally buoyant and as thick as your upper-arm) on SCUBA kit. The main reason I can think for doing this on SCUBA is the potential danger of being on surface-supply (SS) air with the SV free to move above you: even at anchor she could move and you wouldn’t have much free length left on the umbilical (given the depth) to payout with if she span on her axis etc. There were obviously other reasons and so we hesitantly agreed to do it that way - on SCUBA.

With this prospect now a reality, the next factor was the SCUBA kit to make the dive; all of which was in its ‘non-constructed form’, i.e. in bits! In fact, the choice of kit on offer was made up of a collection of rusty old 2nd-stages in a bucket in the forward hold (somewhat grandly titled ‘Dive -Control’) of the SV. The 1st-stages were OK; we'd removed them from the Surface-Supply (SS) bail-out bottles; we'd also decided to use the bail-out bottles, single 7l's, to do the dive.

The dive would be conducted using US Navy tables, a la standard comm-diving practice. We all picked a 2nd-stage and first stripped and then reassembled it. I picked up an (OLD) US Divers ‘Conshelf’, matched it to its 1st-stage and prepped it, it was mine! As my oppo on this first dive, I drew Andy – he was my standby and 2nd diver down should I fail to secure the line. Cliff, the former RM, would be ‘cox’ on the RIB; the SV would standoff nearby.

So, before we get in the water, I've now got several 'thoughts' (for that read ‘concerns’) buzzing round my head:

* 1) Tony's not there; I don't know and have not dived with the other divers before.

* 2) I'm about to dive deep (the jobs I’ve been doing the six months prior to this job have been in harbours, canals, pools etc. and I'm on SCUBA, as opposed to SS which is nice and safe-unlimited air.

* 3) The kit I’m about to use is not ideal; although I trust my reassembly work, it's old stuff and looks as though it's remained unused for years.

* 4) Common to us all, we’re under pressure, as we're working to make money, and we get paid nothing until the salve is recovered and sold; so we have to get a move on.

* 5) Again, common to us all, we don't know what the job is like yet, or the conditions we’ll be facing: wrecks can collapse inwards, holds and hatchways can be covered in fishing nets etc. so access to her is dependent on a whole raft of factors.


The plan then: the big line is coiled forehead in the RIB; at the end is a f*cking big shackle. This both weights the end and gives a means of securing it to the wreck. 30ft further back is another shackle; this gives me 30ft of dead line with which to work, i.e. it's weighted down and not trying to do whatever it likes whilst flapping freely – one of the most common shouts on any ship or boat is ‘Secure that Line!’ as these can very easily end up getting you into a world of hurt if left unattended or unsecured.

Andy will secure the end shackle, so the small buoy-line runs through it; he’ll then hold onto the buoy and slowly lower the shackles and the big line down as I descend. Easy?? My Arse!

I jump in the water; remember my weighting issues.... Christ I’m heavy! We're using Commercial AR vests with all the weights attached. We've no time to arse around to trim them: it's a case of dive in and get straight to work.

I grab the buoy as I try to get comfy and just generally sort myself out.

To this day I don't know why, but Andy dropped the lot all at once!! I went down at an ever gathering rate of knots, like a badly packed kitbag. I managed to equalise once on the whole descent. It all went very dark and I began to breathe too heavily and sure enough I ended up ‘beating the reg’. I had the buoy under my arm and the big line in the other; with my free hand I was trying to equalise as best I could. Had I not had my mask strap under my hood it would have been torn off with the rush of water now against it. As it was, it merely dislodged it – thank God for small mercies, eh? I’d had no time to check my watch or contents’ gauge either. It was going f*cking horribly wrong for me in real time and I began (in between gasps) to sob.

Next thing I knew, I hit the deck of wreck on my knees and it was, thankfully, sandy. The Conshelf - God bless it - was still working OK. I knew it was me and my rate of breathing that was preventing it from delivering air ‘as billed’ and I'd just kept telling myself that unless I got it under control, things weren’t going to get better for me any time soon.

It’s funny the kind of thoughts you have under stress; I'd remembered what my Old Man had always taught me and shut my eyes, bowed my head (optional!) and just concentrated on my breathing. I told myself that I was OK, I had made bottom; alright, not as I'd liked, but I was here now; I was OK and could get to work. I had air and I wasn’t dropping down into oblivion. I equalised again.

Then I realised that, as I had the buoy under my arm and I couldn’t let go of the main line (I was afraid I'd lose it - narcosis most likely), which was the only indication I had of any bearing to the surface; I had no free hands with which to work. That meant that I couldn’t check my watch or contents even if I’d wanted to. It was pitch black but I couldn’t use my torch either (no hands). I had to follow the buoyed line (that's why I couldn’t let go) to the wreck, and then I could release it and check things. I got to my feet and set off, the big line was really heavy, however, and I could only manage short distances before stumbling again, tired and breathing heavily.

Now I thought, “you’re very deep, you’re slurping air from a small bottle and you have no idea how much you've used”. I was well aware of how tired I was too, and had a not irrational fear of stumbling into the wreck's holds. Again I'd become very frightened. Then, as it does, it became very calm and I thought, "No, I'm fine - off you go and crack-on".

I was concerned that I needed to get this job done; this process repeated itself several times when at some point I said to myself "You've said this before". It didn’t however stop me and I carried on! Next time though I recalled having the same conversation and determined to leave the job and ascend. Once I'd made the decision, I let go of the buoy, with which I'd been fighting (the lift on it was tremendous) and began a slow ascent up the big line (I wasn’t sure if they still had the other end in the RIB and I didn’t want to lose it). As soon as I got some light I checked my contents and didn’t have much left at all. I really can't remember how much, possibly about 50 bar. I did a couple of slow stops and came to 6m where I had 30 left; I stayed there till I had 10 left, then came up slowly till I breathed it dry.

That was me, although at that point I didn’t feel too bad I was very concerned at not having done my job.

Andy then had to kit up and try again; he must have had the same concerns as me and wasn’t overly impressed, hoping I'd have managed it and secured the line. We pulled the line in, I secured the shackle again and lowered it slowly as he descended. Andy told me later (in the chamber!) that he made bottom OK. He’d found the wreck and secured the line. He checked his contents and was OK when the line came free again! He found a better point and re-secured it but at this stage only had 70 bar left. He had wanted a to look around the wreck but set off to ascend. He then found himself tangled around his pillar valve. The entanglement appeared to be on lines from a small airlift (left by the previous team of the techies who couldn't complete the job?); he had to de-kit (yes, in the dark down there) and cut it free. He got his kit back on, stood up and promptly ran out of air.

He told me how fear gripped him, but he told himself he would be OK and set off up with a controlled ascent in mind. He recalled coming into the light and beginning to feel very uncomfortable. He was fighting growing feelings of panic and kept repeating, "You can do this" to himself. He says that at one point he was still unable to see the surface and the feelings took a grip; he lost conscious control and bolted for the surface; in reality he couldn’t have been far off.

We pulled Andy into the RIB, alive and conscious but very, very frightened. He was put on Table 5 in the chamber on the SV and I accompanied him also. This is where we told each other of our dives. Andy told me that after he'd panicked, he saw a brilliant white light and a monk like figure looking at him. Whatever actually happened, it had a profound effect upon him, as mine did later, on me.

There are lots of holes in this that people will pick on if they're so inclined. I can however only recall the things uppermost in my mind and what was told to me; much will, of course, have been lost in the process/in my memory. I'm just glad however that I'm here to tell it as I know how bad it was and how it could have gone.

Regards,
Aaron"
 

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The Artist formerly known as 'Kirky'
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Wow - what an awe inspiring and moving depiction of events. Glad they both got back. Just to think of the chap who had to dekit in total darkness, with no air and, at that point, in full mental control sent shivers down my spine.

These guys have my respect.

Dive safe all
 

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Truly frightening - glad I'm a fish prodder after all.
 

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Me too!! If this tale wasn't from a 'known source', I'd think it was made up to frighten people - 50m on a 7L and some old reg knocked together from odds and sods


You got some big cajones Hobby!

So I take it you had a "white light experience" too at a later date? I can see why you gave up comm diving
Chee-az
Steve
 

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Resident Serbian Sniper
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Hi Steve,

the main reason I had to stop comm-diving was medical.The job can also be a sod if you need to stay near home for some reason; also with it being mainly "civils" salvage etc. there isn't really a continuity of work (and hence funds, ergo a living).

I've been lucky in that I haven't had a "white light" experience (Andy really gotthe pi** taken out of him for that!) altough I've had some moments that have increased the intensity of life and 'focussed the mind'. That one was bad, however, as it was afterwards, when all the 'what ifs?' came along and I had time to dwell on it. That was when it frightened me more than ever.

The psychological effect of that incident was interesting. Fate was cruel as the line came free, when weight was taken up (tore the fitting free) later that day. So,the next morning the other 2 divers had to attempt it; seeing the events of the day before didn't do anything for their pre-dive nerves, but they were OK.

The lesson (well one of them) I beleive from that is, altough Andy had no redundancy, in recreational-diving terms, his ability to function in the situation is undoubtedly what saved him. More equipment may not have done so, even if he'd had it, without that ability to continue to function under those circumstances. Just my opinion, I think it's along those lines that Lawrence is thinking too?

Take care all, it can happen, and may well, when you least expect it!

Dive safe,
Hobby.
 

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Hobby said:
Take care all, it can happen, and may well, when you least expect it!
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God forbid, Aaron! I wonder how many of us half-competent amateurs would have survived to tell the tale. You 'commies' are in another league!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
For those who've not yet read it....

Cop for Hobby's 'tanner-half-a-crown' moment whilst comm-diving - read the first post above!!
 

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Charter Boat Skipper, Salvage Diver & YBOD abuser
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"There are lots of holes in this that people will pick on if they're so inclined."

Like max depth 36m? etc etc etc...
 

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Not at home to Mr Panic!

What saved Hobby and Andy was mental training. Both of them refused to panic, settled themselves down and got out alive. You cannot ask more of a person under those conditions.

Well done guys......I hope I have the mental fortitude you showed should I ever need it.
 

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Interesting story, and I dont doubt it's true. I am a commercial diver and if a supervisor asked me to go to depth on SCUBA with no back up air and with no communications to surface, I wouldnt do it - simple is that. Commercial training and the experience gained from working, sometimes complex tasks, in difficult conditions helps with composure, clear thinking etc when things do go wrong - however the most important thing is to consider the risks / potential problems before doing the dive - I'm sure the divers did this and made a decision it was acceptable and so continued, but without taking anything away from these guys, I believe they made the wrong decision.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Your point is valid Dave (Fizzy), but being in the game, you'll appreciate that when this team set out (all with about equal share in the salve), they owned all the bills and the cost of the op. And like you say, you judge the risks of the op against a number of prevailing factors - depth on SCUBA being just one of them.
 

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Anglesey Charter boat Skipper
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sorry to piss on this story but i'm afraid i'm going to have too as hobby is fully aware of the reason he ended up on this job.
the salvage of the possible "laplata" was started by us we had a mooring laid and a 6" airlift and airlines in permanent and had started excavating the wreck in 36m which was then and still is now unidentified.
i'm afraid hobby and his team were "sold a pup" that the wreck was the "laplata"which sank in 1863 with its silver coin cargo, to bring them in to be nothing more than a pain in the arse to our operation.
the reason behind it all was sour grapes by another local diver for not being involved in our excavation despite numerous invites to join us.
the site is 36m at lowwater and 42m at high water and only stands up about 0.5m off the sea bed so i don't know were 50m came from.
this whole saga lasted over 3 years which eventually ended in the police and receiver of wreck being involved .
we have had a lot of people have a go over the years it all boils down to jealousy when you get on with the job and get results.
its like the old saying you can tell a pioneer by the amount of arrows in his back, i've lost count the amount of times i've been shot at.
there are no losers on this team as we got the result we were after.
cheers elfyn
 

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Hi/

When they were trying to raise the wreck "Vasa" if that is what it is called in Sweden, the commi diver had the job of water blasting a tunnel in a number of places under the hull to put lifting straps round the hull to lift it, on one of the excavations under the wreck the tunnel collapsed trapping him, just think all this will have been done in nil viz,. so the guy turned the jet round between his legs and blasted his way back out!, it was said he had a pot of tea and a ***, and went straight back in to complete his task. Personally I would have had to go home and change my Armour first.
 

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ray said:
Hi/
so the guy turned the jet round between his legs and blasted his way back out!, it was said he had a pot of tea and a ***, and went straight back in to complete his task. Personally I would have had to go home and change my Armour first.
Its amazing the things you can do when you really have to!
 

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[hobby and his team were "sold a pup" that the wreck was the "laplata"which sank in 1863 with its silver coin cargo, to bring them in to be nothing more than a pain in the arse to our operation.


Dont be shy Elfyn, get of the fence and tell it like it is :shade:
 

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Yellow Butty Box said:
the site is 36m at lowwater and 42m at high water and only stands up about 0.5m off the sea bed so i don't know were 50m came from.
Oh please ,,, a professional skipper like yaself knows that we get abnormal tides now and again .... on there dive it was a extra 8 mt spring tide :D
 

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One of the guys I used to dive with in the 60's/early 70's (called Andy - is this an essential name for a commie?) went on to be a commercial diver with Comex , initially on the North Sea rigs. On his first dive, to a mere 600ft, the faceplate on his Kirby Morgan started leaking badly. He only just made it back to the bell.

On another occasion, they were just about to be hauled up from the bottom when the rig told them that there had been a bomb threat. They were being hauled up and suddenly at about 400feet, the lift stopped, the lights went out and all communication ceased. They say there in the near dark for four hours and were discussing whether to blow for the surface (the bells have emergency flotation) when the lights came on and they started moving again - it had been a power failure, nothing to do with a bomb.

Andy was absolutely ice-cool under pressure and made the ideal commie.
 

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Anglesey Charter boat Skipper
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that's me john what ya see is what ya get i'm afraid .
as for the depth andy i think they must of used a twin turbo plasma airlift fully loaded "suck ya head clean off" to re-map the sea bed.
in reality they were an insult to the term "diving on the cheap"and were by no means fit to be called a commercial operation.
the quality of the 100ft salvage vessel used in the venture was so high they cut it up for scrap last year .
apparently you could'nt hear the vhf radio on it for the sound of rust chomping on the hull plates.
i know hobby was only with them for a very short time ,smart move me thinks
elfyn
 
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