The powerful motor boat tore over the Weymouth waves, sending up icy spray into our faces to prick at our skin. If we had not been awake before this, at this unGodly hour we were now.
All the trainee divers held onto short bungie ropes, attached to a centre rail in the boat, for dear life. Sometimes the boat would climb a ramp of a wave before dropping down hard. The jolt was bone crunching. We were all sat on the outside rubber of the small, 20ft open topped vessel. We were already fully equipped for diving, in case we toppled in, with heavy tanks of air facing outwardly. The Dive Masters had done this many items before, of course, small powerboats like this were ideal for diving from and the skippers made good money from chartering the boats out to dive clubs like ours.
Pete, the Skipper, clearly loved his job. He stood at the wheel sharing a 'remember the time when...??' story with Steve, who was known as Jellie, and was chief Dive Master and team leader. They had to shout to each other to be heard over the deafening growl of powerful engine at full throttle. Occasionally they would laugh heartily or glance back together and chuckle at the sight of the 5 trainee divers being tossed about like beads of sweat in a aerobics coach's bra, and clinging for dear life to the vaulting vessel.
They were the only ones laughing. The trainees were anxious about what was to come, my eyes skipped between them.They all sat deep in their own thoughts. Then there was Kim, one of the DMs, an attractive girl in her early thirties. She smiled over at me I looked away immediately. Next to Kim was.... Oh dear. Dan's gaze could burn glass. He stared at me unflinching. Dark and brooding. 'What's that guys problem',I thought. 'Surley, he's not pissed off about earlier, is he? ' ....'I guess he is.'
No more than an hour earlier we had arrived at Portland harbour at dusk. Four cars brought us all to the quiet and sleeping water side car park, next to the dockyard. There was a cafe and, despite being this ungodly hour, it was open.
Most of the guys took the opportunity to get a hot brew down them before we started. Some others unloaded their equipment. Myself and a overexcited Greyhound of a man, called Stanley, decided we'd get changed immediately into our wetsuits and focus on keeping warm afterwards.
Next to the cafe was a toilet and changing room area. Just the one toilet and just the one adjoining changing space. The two of us took hoods, suits, jackets boots and gloves through the door. Stanley sized up the situation and decided that he did not want to get changed in the small space with me, being the prudish chap he was no doubt, so he decided to use the toilet to change in.
Before long I was frantically tugging my wet suit up over my legs, like trying to wrap a condom around a turkey, when the door open and Kim entered carrying her dry suit on a hanger. She tried the toilet door. "Stanley's in there", I offered, " I think last night's curry didn't agree with him".
She looked disgruntled for a second and then turned to me. " Well, there's enough room in here, I suppose" . She hung her hanger on a peg then as she pulled her rucksack from her shoulder. She paused for a second and looked back at me. "You ok with this?"
"Yeah," I replied. Not knowing exactly what I was ok with, but I soon got the idea.
Putting on my wet suit got no easier as I hastened to finish changing and get the hell out of there.
As Kim peeled off her clothes I turned to face the bench where my open bag lay and I stared fixedly at it while pulling a stiff sleeve over my shoulder.
She was making small talk with me, but I wasn't paying attention to what he was saying. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that her fleece sweater was still on, but, bugger -the trousers were off! Something caught my attention, I glanced over ever so briefly, - electric pink underwear!? You're kidding me?
Attention back on the bag, Rich! -I told myself, but wait a minute, weren't they?...... instinctively I glanced over again. Bloody hell, they were, they're see-through! I must have turned scarlet!
Thank God prudish Stanley wasn't out here, he'd have keeled over.
She was still talking to me, relaxed, calm, friendly.
With the wetsuit finally on, head down, I started to pack my bag and prepare for my exit. Then I became aware the fleece had dropped down onto the bench next to me. I picked up my bag to go. I turned and saw it.
I wasn't expecting that.
All thoughts of averting my gaze respectfully fell away suddenly. I stared at her and without thought the words were out of my mouth, "Oh my God, Kim!"
Her back was still facing me and the entire expanse of flesh was covered in a vivid and elaborate, tattoo montage; there were mermaids at play, a sunken ship, tropical fish, an octopus with tentacles that wound there way along her upper arms, a sun, surfers, dolphins and sharks. It was truly a beautiful work of art.
"That's amazing!" I said.
"Do you like it?" Kim half turned. "It was bloody painful and expensive, but was worth it in the end".
"How long did it take to do?" I was truly impressed and honestly interested.
"About two years. I needed to save up in between sessions. It's all by the same artist, I kept going back to this guy in Bristol. He's amazing and does quite a few footballers and celebs."
"Which one is your favourite then? " she turned to face me. Strangely, it seemed not to matter anymore that she was only standing in her pink underwear.
The whale on her bicep I had not noticed before. She lifted her arm close to my face and flexed her muscle. The whales head bulged and his eye widened and closed on each flex, " It's my party trick",she laughed. I laughed too. That was until she lowered her arm. The space just beyond it was now filled with an grotesque face, gurning at me . It was Dan, Kim' boyfriend.
"I-it bulges!" was all I could splutter.
"I bet it does!" Dan returned in an guttural growl.
" I was just showing Rich my tats." Kim interjected, dismissively.
I prayed Dan had not misunderstood what she had just said, as I had just done.
Dan turned to Kim crossly. " What the hell are you changing out here for? Why don't you use the toilet?"
" There's someone in there, obviously", Kim replied. And at that moment there was a clicking sound and the toilet door half opened, we all turned as one. Stanley's head poked out. His eyes passed between the three of us briefly before disappearing back inside - the lock clicking firmly shut once again.
So that's what Dan's got the hump about . A simple misunderstanding. Totally innocent. But Dan's glare across the boat at me told me he was deeply pissed off with me. There's was nothing I could say that could help.
The boat made it's way out of Portland Harbour and over the remains of H.M.S. Hood, which was scuttled and sunk across the entrance of the harbour during the Second World War to stop submersed U boats from entering the harbour and making easy pickings of the Royal Navy and merchant craft moored up there.
Although less glamorous, Jellie had promised us a wreck on the last dive of the Open Water diving course. It was the wreck of an old dredger, which sank after it got into difficulty whilst constructing the harbour wall. We arrived at the spot and the out-board motor turned from roaring dragon to purring like a cat.
We went through the final checks with Jellie. The other Dive Masters, Dan and Kim, had already tipped backwards into the water. None of the five of us had done this sort of entry before, it was something a few were dreading.
"I don't want to do this?", Lorna was sat next to me as the call of 'Regs in!' was given by Jellie.
"You'll be fine!" was, pathetically, all I could offer as reassurance before clasping my lips over my regulator. It's an odd thing, but I have found whilst doing this dive course that I seemed to take strength from other people's fears and self-doubts, or at the very least, I used it as a distraction from my own dark thoughts.
One of those thoughts was the disturbing dream I had given myself last night. I had dreamt I was deep under the water and drowning. Not the thing you want to be doing the night before your first open sea dive. I dreamt that my frantic fear of not being able to breathe soon gave way to a more calm and relaxed experience once Rea, a former pet, a beloved family Alsatian from my youth, appeared and joined me in the still and silent deep.
I woke sweating in the sheets of my room at the B&B. I cursed myself in the bathroom mirror for inflicting upon myself such an hideous nightmare and for losing valuable rest time. It was 4am and we needed to be dock side by 6am.
"I will call your name and count to 3. If you don't go on 3, you won't go in!" warned the Dive Master. "It's important to get a positive start to build confidence, so who wants to go first?"
There was much adjusting of masks and BCDs, but no one spoke.
"Right then!" continued Jellie. " I know who won't let us down. Ready Rich?"
My head shot up. I couldn't believe he chose me. My self belief was given a new boost. I was ready and told him so.
"3....2....1...GO!" I'd seen it so many times on telly, now here I was unhesitatingly throwing myself backwards off a boat and into the sea. There was a brief moment of disorientation, but the drills training took over and I remembered what I must do first. I immediately surfaced, turned and signal to the boat crew. The hand on my head told them I was fine.
Then a sloosh of ice-water , evading my wetsuit's defences, shot down the back of my neck, cascaded down my spine, and found a new home in the fjord of my bum-crack.
Fortunately, the regulator in my mouth muffled my cursing.
Before long, with the whole dive-team were in the water, it was time to descend. I hoped and prayed that things would be fine and that the dive would go smoothly .....yeh, like hell it would...... Final instalment soon, Dan's Revenge.