By Mark Lewis

By Mark Lewis

1st June 2021

Setting The Scene

The scene was set for two dives out of Dover for this past Sunday 30th May over the bank holiday weekend. Becks, Piers and I arrived late Saturday afternoon to stay overnight for the earlier ropes off times. That evening we all met for dinner with skipper Chris and to discuss the morning’s itinerary and logistics. It was a nice and pleasant evening.
Because I have dived with Mutiny Diving many times in the past, I know that the ascent preference is up the shot. Indeed, when Chris ran the operation with the Copperhead Diver RHIB, he would tie the boat to the shot and divers would have to ascent the shot, simply surface and climb into it. However for Piers and Becks, it was a sensible question of Chris, what is the preferred method of ascent?
Chris explained that he prefers the shot ascent method. In essence and I assume, he knows where all the divers are and indeed, my preferred method. This is especially so when the dive site is in or near to the shipping lanes. Chris does not want to be chasing half a dozen DSMBs in the busiest shipping lanes in the world. That said and  now that the Copperhaed RHIB has changed to the hard boat Maverick, there are a number of regular divers at Mutiny who prefer to deploy a DSMB as they do not like hanging on a crowded deco or safety stop or when the current changes, to be hung like a flag.
The key message here was that, if a diver was to deploy a DSMB during the dive, he may be waiting for a wee while as Chris will collect and receover divers from the shot as a priority.

Two Sickies

Not a problem per se, but Becks and I called that morning’s dive. While Becks was complaining of headaches and dizziness at breakfast, while conducting my rebreather pre-breathe, loading the boat and climbing the steep steps again, I too was feeling light headed and dizzy in the marina car park. Both of us wondered if it were anything to do with our recent Covid jabs, coincidently both of us being jabbed a couple of days prior. Having experienced such dizziness and vertigo while underwater at Vobster after jab one a couple of months back, having discussions with other club divers a fortnight prior about their own similar vertigo and dizziness while underwater at Vobster, my decision was not to put myself or by buddy Piers at risk. I would sit this one out with Becks.

Oh! And Rule Two

I forgot. Rule two of Chris’s DSMB deployment is that if there is a buddy pair on the same reel, then two bags must be inflated. In simple terms, one bag per dive on one reel.

This was a skill I learned on my PADI Tec45 course, being the concept of a failed or leaking DSMB. Simply, you take your backup DSMB and with a double ended bolt snap, shoot it up the line. In essence and this circumstance, diver one would deploy his primary DSMB by reel, the second diver shooting his backup DSMB up the same reel and voila, two DSMBs to alert Chris that there are two divers below. Simples!


Dive Planning

There were now just five divers on board. Let’s identify them divers A, B, C, D and Piers. Divers A and B were a buddy pair, diver C was a solo diver and ditto diver D. Divers A and B would descend together, diver C on his own and Piers with diver D. All simple stuff. The wreck site was the SS Thornhill at some 30/35 metres and projected good visibility. Other than Piers on his CCR, all other divers were on twinsets, diver C with a deco stage. With a maximum run time advised of 60 minutes, there were smiles all round. Readers of this with some planning software will see that a 30m dive for 45 minutes  on 34% Nitrox will mandate an ascent of 3 minutes to 6 metres and a 11 minute stop on back gas. Total run time 59 minutes. Bingo! Being the spring tide was just three days prior, the likelihood was that there may be a shorter slack window, divers ascending the shot line earlier just as they felt the current turn. Nonetheless for all, an agreed 60 minutes, maximum 70 minutes run time.

How Things Unfolded

I can’t remember the time, but around 45/50 minutes after the divers descended, up popped a DSMB. Right on time. Then another, another and indeed another. Four DSMBs only, not five as we would expect. As all four started to drift off from the wreck site, Chris expressed discontent that “they should know better”. Those being the regular divers A and B, that there was two sets of bubbles on one DSMB. Rule two has been broken!


So we have five divers in the water. Two sets of bubbles on DSMB 1, one set of bubbles on DSMB 2, one set of bubbles on DSMB 3 and no bubbles on DSMB 4. Perfect sense for four twinset divers and one CCR diver.
It’s now got to be around 5/10 minutes after the first DSMB appeared expecting divers to surface any time, Becks and I commented how far and how quickly we had travelled from the wreck site and shot. Chris confirmed 0.30 nautical miles or just over half a kilometre for us land lubbers.
Up popped the divers and Chris went about his diver recovery manoeuvres, me grabbing the DSMBs from the divers as they slid along the starboard side of Maverick’s recovery line. A common courtesy and aid, to take the DSMB from the diver and deflate, allowing it not to get tangled in the divers lift and to allow more room on the deck.
Once divers A, B, C and D were on board, we all sat watching that last 4th DSMB bobbing around, joking between us “come on Piers!”, commenting that he is surely maximising his dive time. Divers C and D asked me where were their DSMBs and I pointed to the three in the box. Diver B asked me where his was and I again pointed to the box. “No” he said. “That’s diver A’s”.
I couldn’t quite understand straight away, telling diver B that I only took one DSMB from he and diver A as a buddy pair. It was then he explained that he lost his!

The Ghost Blob

“Chris” said diver B. “Have you seen an odd DSMB around. I lost mine. When I deployed it, the reel got stuck and I had to let go.”
Everyone looked around the deck and replied “no”. The only other DSMB around is the one still in the water. The one that Piers was hanging from. But now the doubt kindles, is it indeed Piers?
It then dawned on Chris that albeit this 4th DSMB was showing all the signs of having a diver underneath, it maybe the lost blob of diver B. Diver B explaining that his reel was a heavy Kent Tooling reel, it could easily be displaying the dancing characteristics of a diver in a swell, rather than laying flat on the surface as you would expect with a lighter reel or spool.
“Is that yours?” asked Chris of diver B. “I don’t know” replied diver B. “Come on” said Chris, “you need to tell me for certain as we may have a missing diver.”
Diver B explained that he was not sure that the remaining blob in the water was his. He said it was a Mares brand, but could not make out the style or design. And as Chris passed for a second “buzz”, diver B still could not be 100% sure.

Becks had alluded to the fact that Piers had a 1 metre tall “one puff” Halcyon DSMB and that the floating ghost blob was not Halcyon. We should have listened to Becks and saved some time, but I think we were more concerned with diver B’s positive confirmation whether it was his or not. Rattled perhaps that a diver didn’t know what his DSMB looked like, rather than the fact that Becks stated that Piers had a different brand altogether?


I for one was now getting a little concerned and Chris too was visibly agitated. Debating the decision to hook the DSMB in case Piers was indeed underneath on a stop, I asked diver B what colour his line was. Knowing Piers had a Apeks spool which has an orange line, diver B replied yellow. And as we passed for a third time, I could see the line was yellow and hooked the bag from the water.

About Turn

It’s got to be well over an hour now since the divers descended, if not 70 or so minutes. It was an 180° about turn with a full throttle course set back to the Thornhill with everyone keeping an eye out port and starboard for another DSMB. And then, a few minutes later came a call from Chris that he can see Piers off the bow, still on the shot line, DSMB aloft and signalling he was OK. Certainly a relief for us all.
Once on board, Piers appeared fine though explaining he was exhausted. The wave swell at that distance from shore was a good 1m to 2m significant wave height and a good two knot current after slack. Whatever the timeline, Piers suggesting he was struggling towards the end, recalling he has surfaced a good 15 or so minutes beforehand. We will let Piers write his own dive report, but this is as a topside viewpoint.

Situation Review

Piers, I and Becks have chatted subsequently and there is no blame to apportion anywhere. These were all matters of circumstance. Circumstantial events that culminated in what could have been a more serious problem. The fact is that the shot remained on site as per procedure until every diver was back on board. The quick an assertive request from Chris to requiring positive identification of the ghost DSMB and his export knowledge of channel waters, meant that Piers was in safe hands. It was good merit that Piers was able to hang onto the shot, being it was a static point of reference and the correct thing to do. If he did need to let go, then he will have been somewhere between the shot and the direction of current the previous DSMBs will have taken. Nonetheless, there can be lessons learned.
DSMB With Initials Marked

Lessons Learned

I have always wondered why divers write their names or initials on their DSMBs and as of now, I know. Mine is now marked with my initials and I will suggest others do too. For Piers and Becks, they will be investing in much larger DSMBs to be seen clearer in larger swells. Great as YouTube instruction videos in a swimming pool, but these one puff 1 metre designs just don’t cut it in UK waters. And for Piers, an additional  consideration to research and invest in a Nautilus Marine Rescue GPS AIS device for perhaps when, the shit really hits the fan. I know of some club members who already have one and maybe we can haggle a deal for a bulk order? Anyone game?

Marine Rescue GPS