Continuing the memoirs of Derek Oldham. Derek recently turned a grand age and has now hung up his fins but asked if he could relive his love of diving through some poignant memories...
30/7/07 Dive 32 SS THISTLEGORM
King Snefro rocked gently in the swell as a very nervy Derek sat waiting his turn reflecting on the last time he was in this same position - suited up and feeling very sick as the boat rocked violently in the heavy swell the year previously with only some 14 dives to his "credit" he wondered then if he could ever join the professionals to dive Thistlegorm. He recalled the depth of despair then when Donna said, "Really Derek it's so rough and now you're not well to say the least, we can't risk it." Now with a few more dives and a lot of study he felt more confident. The brief was over the experts had asked all the questions, all had chosen their buddies and the brief ended with the welcome words, "Derek you're with me." Terry and Janice were going to film.
"Ready Derek? Follow me!" The checks done, heart pounding, mask held, giant stride in and the hand on head (oh very professional) OK let's go down! There's Donna, must keep close, Ah there's the rope...now hand over hand, check the gauges 10 meters, OH yes equalise else Janice will tell me off, Air Ok at 220, Ah there's Terry on the railings of the wreck and I give him the thumbs up, THEN I realise I have given him the wrong signal - after all that training - I know Terry OK OK!
I feel the gentle pressure of Donna's hand on my arm as she guides me into this other world. I am struck in total awe; this is a grave of some nine brave souls, a memorial where respect and, if one has any religious beliefs, thoughts of being in their resting place cannot but humble one to the situation. I had read John Kean's excellent book so am able to identify the various items, yes I think that's the water tender. Donna points to the opening leading as I learnt later to the hold, there's Terry, lights full on. Whoops I shine mine towards him WRONG! and there's a truck, it's a Commer truck and BIKES WOW! A BSA and a Norton and a OH NO A MATCHLESS!
The heart is pounding again as years of trials riding memories come flooding back. Those tyres look like trials tyres. I touch and look at the tread and forget I am some 27 metres down. The Matchless has the early teledraulic forks though someone has pinched the handlebars, SHAME ON YOU. Those forks were the first teledraulic ones designed by AMC Motorcycles and approved by their then competition, manager Hugh Viney. I remember the Devils Staircase in Scotland and the first Six day Trial I rode in...that's another story! A glance at the gauges and an equalising snort shows we are down on air; the excitement has upped the intake and Donna is getting anxious as she pings my cylinder. I follow her back through the distorted hull into the calm of the deck area and watch the other experts with perfect buoyancy establish themselves around the rope; I note that Donna had tied the rope to the winch, very wise as the railings look well worn.
Gently we ascend the taut rope. We are at 80bar so should be OK for at least a five minute safety stop and the wrist computer is showing that we have been down 29 minutes. Swinging gently on the rope absolute Heaven one of the things I had not noticed was the life around, of course next dive must make that a point, but yes too excited so too much air used. Ping! Donna signals UP we grab the ladder rung, take off those fins, now that IS difficult, and up we go into the friendly arms of the crew who haul the old guy aboard!
Amazing, truly amazing. And we have time to do it again. Let's have a soft drink first and then you professionals look out I HAVE DIVED THISTLEGORM - THANKS TO DONNA!
Derek's next instalment...more diving on the Thistlegorm.