Alarms & Crocodiles - The scuba dive that nearly didn't happen

The alarm clock goes off; it’s 7.30am on a Sunday morning.


Your brain finally engages and, using your right fist to almost obliterate the snooze button with the ferocity of a jack hammer; the infernal buzzing finally comes to a halt.

Is that a slight hint of a hangover?

Yes. Yes it is … and it’s growing.

Then the realisation begins to unfold. From deep within the psyche it sneaks up like ninja; a ninja with a frying pan. Then, from out of nowhere, the frying pan hits you on the side of the head.

Oh god … I have to go diving.

Oh god no.

I absolutely love scuba diving, and everyone that will listen knows it well. I look forward to the next dive the moment I surface from the dive I was on. I try and plan local diving a month in advance; holidays go as far as 3 years. Currently I have my annual leave allocated until 2015; I shit you not. I look forward to all my upcoming dives, and the thought of drifting over the local shipwreck gets me through the monotony of trucking all week to pay for 3220 litres of Nitrox.

The week leading up to a dive I have all my kit rinsed, zips all greased up, dry glove seals lubed and lights are charged ready to rock. The night before, my kit is neatly packed into the big blue box; every item in its allocated space and prepped to dive at a moment’s notice. Once in bed I slip gently into the darkness dreaming of the upcoming adventure.

Then I wake up and can’t be arsed.

I don’t know what it is, I’m not lazy by nature; quite the reverse. (There is a slight possibility Wifebuddy may disagree, mainly when it comes to such critical tasks as feeding the cat army, but that’s irrelevant.)

Perhaps as a night shift worker I don’t get enough rest during the week, and so ‘bank’ sleep at the weekend, or maybe it’s the one too many Carlsberg the previous evening, or maybe I am just lazy after all?

Either way I can’t get out of bed.

Eventually; after an initial request, polite text message and a final holler up the stairs, Wifebuddy will manage to coax my sorry ass from the bed. By this stage however, we are pretty much late and often miss slack water, arriving at the dive site to a mass exodus of 50 divers - having destroyed what was limited visibility to begin with.

I would NEVER bin a dive; I just tend to hold up proceedings a little.

That was how I awoke on Sunday morning past.

So, having successfully gone through the “Get Andy out of the bed ritual” Wifebuddy and I arrived at the dive site - The Alastor. The weather for the last month had been atrocious, and with so many boat dives being blown out we were expecting our regular shore dive to be bunged; but thankfully it was empty.

We left our wee jeep and wandered down to the shoreline to be greeted by little white horses skipping over the Lough. Even the Lough was rough – I had never seen ‘waves’ on the site before. Nonetheless, we know the dive well and a surface chop was not be feared.

Kitted up, checks done, we descended into the gloom and finned the 80m out from the shore to visit ‘The Alastor.’ The visibility was marginally better than the week before and with our can lights blazing the stern precariously came into view.

I was leading the dive, so I took the helm and swam down the narrow walkway on the port side of the ship onto, what was once, the main deck. Once I exited the walkway I pivoted round to make sure Wifebuddy was clear; carry on to the bow, check out the winch, and maybe see if the conger was about.

As I hovered, Kerri appeared with eyes like saucers and seemed a little zoned out. At 23m deep, in the dark, in poor visibility, narcosis is a bit of a given; but up until then she seemed fine – something wasn’t right.

Kerri floated over and I gave her an inquisitive look and signalled; “You ok?

She responded by giving me a snapping hand signal - a crocodile?

My god, she’d lost the plot. 

The crocodile gesture continued along with additional pointing at her fin. What the hell?

Finally my tiny narced brain kicked in; oh god; the conger – he’s out!

There are 2 huge conger eels on the wreck, but they usually stay within the safety of the structure, only poking their inquisitive heads out when divers appear. The image of one of the 7 foot long, prehistoric monolith, slithering around freaked me out completely. I don’t know why, they are quite passive and we have visited them many times before; but they’re never been out.

Just then a shadow caught the corner of my eye, and I witnessed a long, dull, shape drift over the side of the gloomy wreck.

Holy fuck.

I turned back to Kerri who was furiously nodding her head; I could hear her voice in my head: “That’s what I’m talking about!

As I was processing all the relevant information, and deciding what to do next, Kerri gave me yet another crazy signal: She elevated slightly vertical in the water column, and used her hands like bird wings; but in a lateral movement, not up and down.


Then I felt it. My right fin. Something was pulling it off.

Holy fuck.

I turned to see a huge dark shape release my fin, move forward and glare at me with giant, black, round eyes.

It was a seal. He was massive.

I focused my attention back onto Kerri, who was nodding even more frantically than before, giving me two ‘OK’ signals and an underwater giggle. I returned the two handed gesture and mimicked:

Ah, right – NOW I get you!

What followed was a most curious and incredibly enjoyable dive.

The big bull seal encircled us, practically on top of Kerri, as we hung over the edge of the bow. It was unbelievable. Kerri later explained he was so close, the urge to stroke him was overwhelming. She also portrayed her postponed heart attack, having being pulled back down the walkway by him at the beginning of the dive.

A malevolent spirit got me... 

Ah, yes; the 'crocodile / fin' signals made a lot more sense in retrospect.

The big lad swam off, and not forgetting the dive plan, we followed our usual route down to the bath for a poke around; then ventured out the starboard gangway onto the upper deck. What I was (thankfully) unaware of at the time, was that one of the congers was hiding under the floor at the door to the bathroom.

Kerri later explained she couldn’t believe I happily swam over the head of the long monster. 

photoshop fix by Ken Hawkhead :)

Had i seen him, I would have sought another option. I love the big congers, but I’m not overly fussed swimming close to their gaping jaws.

On the top deck our big seal swooped down in front of us. As we were enjoying the spectacle, a silver faced seal followed. I couldn’t believe it. I signalled to Kerri there were now TWO seals with us. As we ascended along the funnel, the smaller of the two circled around us darting in and out of view, periodically tugging at a fin here and there. It was a bizarre sensation.

The top of the funnel often accommodates one of the congers, and today we were in luck. His big eye shone through the green as he slumped in and out of the stack. Admiring the grey leviathan, I didn’t notice Kerri signal to a different area of the funnel. In the corner was an enormous lobster. We’d never seen a lobster of this size anywhere near The Alastor before; we were subject to a rare treat.

With our planned departure time closing in, I snapped some dreadful photos, and descended back to the deck. Buoyancy sorted, Kerri and I checked our gas, and just as we were about to leave for the stern, a big silver head popped through the cross beams beneath us. 

It was fantastic. The silver seal just hung there with her big, black, watery eyes and thick whiskers protruding through the members. Her docile expression depicted a combination of a Labrador pup and, the leader of the cat army; our fat cat Lily. I was enthralled. After a good gawk at us, I fumbled with my camera (which had switched to video mode?) just as she heaved herself out and swam over the starboard side of the wreck. 

I knew it was time to go. My Puck computer announced I was in deco, and with only the twin 7’s on my back I had to leave. I wished I’d used my twin 12’s. Damn. Regretfully Wifebuddy and I made a hasty retreat from the wreck and finned towards the shore.

Decompression stops and a little padded safety stop completed, we surfaced; ripped off our masks, globed into the water, and exclaimed how absolutely tremendous the dive had been!

It really was.

Talking later to other divers (who were heading out as we were coming in), it transpired the seals had followed us the whole way to shore. In the poor visibility we were totally unaware, as the seals treated other divers to a mere glimpse as they travelled from the wreck in our wake.

The Alastor is my local site, I have dived her 27 times and will continue to do so. Every dive is different; some are more enjoyable than others; that was my favourite dive to date.

So, in conclusion, when the time comes to get out of bed and go diving; just do it – you could be missing the best dive you never did.

What’s the best dive you nearly didn’t do?


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Safe diving buddy.