A lesson in shot recovery

A recent weekend in Newhaven provided a perfect opportunity for Dean, Kirstie and I to do one of the Dive Leader drills, DO4 Shot Recovery, on a second dive. It was agreed that Gren would take Kirstie and me in on Saturday while Dean would do the drill on the Sunday.

It was sunny as we headed the 6 miles out to the Braunton. As we were diving in waves it was decided that Gren and I would do a 30-minute dive going in while it was still running a bit so that Posh Dave, Dean, and Kirstie could get a dive in before the tide turned again. As it was a Spring tide there was going to be a lot of water sloshing around and a strong current.

The wreck was shotted and we were getting kitted up when a dive boat out of Eastbourne came up alongside and asked if he could put his shot in as well. His shot was about a metre and a half away from ours as we descended down (having had to adopt a two-handed approach in my case) as our legs hung out off the shot like flags on a pole. Gren attached a lifting bag and put a little air in and we set off. Thirty minutes later, after a decent dive, we hit the surface.

We had a quick changeover and then Dave, Dean and Kirstie got in. Dean was going to put a little air into the lifting bag so that when we came to lift it up, it would inflate and rise more easily.

One of the benefits of using Nitrox on dives in this kind of depth range is that you accumulate less stops. Gren and I had the same bottom time on the wreck as the other three but only had four minutes of stops in total to complete while diving on air they had considerably more. It was therefore just over an hour later when their heads popped up, slight cramp in some cases but otherwise OK.

In the meantime the other boat had picked up all its divers but had decided to go off until all our divers had returned before trying to recover their shot. Because the tide had turned Dave, Kirstie and Dean had drifted quite a way from the shot as well.

Having got everyone back on board we headed back to find that both boat’s shot lines had become entwined. With some difficulty we managed to disentangle them and then turned our attention to lifting our shot. It soon became apparent that there was a problem. We could lift the trailer buoy and half a metre of rope back onto the boat but beyond that it was stuck. Fast. The other boat came up to retrieve his shot. He helpfully suggested that maybe our shot was snagged on something!

Not ones to give up easily we logically went through the direction of the tide, whether to push from one side or another, whether to keep tugging until it came free and all the other options available. Battling against an increasingly strong tide we tried for an hour and a half in total with Posh Dave encouraging everyone to make ‘just one more attempt’ before finally admitting defeat. It wasn’t going to shift.

We headed back and turned our attention to the next problem. Dave T was the Dive Manager for Sunday and we knew that he was planning to dive the City of Waterford.
Someone was going to have to phone to suggest that, instead, maybe, we should dive the Braunton as we had already shotted it. Dave took this news on the chin although he did mutter darkly about turning up to find that the shot had drifted off in the night.
As we rubbed our rope burns we suspected this may not be the case. Posh Dave headed home while we shot off to Harry Ramsden’s in Eastbourne for a massive fish & chips to restore our energy.

It was a bright sunny day when Dave turned up in Newhaven to find the boat already prepped and ready before his dive briefing was even due to start (nothing like a guilty concience!). Once again we headed out for the thirty minute ride out to the Braunton. Twenty minutes in, we stopped. Something had happened to the engine. Dave tried to start the engine a couple of time before it croakily lurched into life sounding quite rough. As we were almost at the dive site we carried on making slow progress until we reached the shot (still bobbing happily in the water – not stuck eh Mr. T!).

We then considered our options. The engine wasn’t running well at all and we couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t die completely and mean that we needed assistance
getting back to Newhaven. We certainly couldn’t guarantee dropping in divers and being able to recover them. A plan of action was devised, we would tie up to the buoy, Dave and Gren would drop in and see what had happened to the shot. If they could untangle they would and would move it away from wreck but not lift it (as it
was effectively anchoring us in one spot!). Once they were back on board we would
again try to recover the shot and head back to shore.

It was at this point that losing my sea sick tablets that morning before I’d been able to take them became an issue. The sun was glaring down on us in our lovely, warm dry-suits and we were bobbing gently like a cork. I announced that I was definitely going to vomit and retreated to the back of the boat where I began to fulfil my prophecy.

After what seemed like a lifetime, Dave and Gren re-surfaced. The shot had wrapped itself a couple of times around a bit of wreckage and that had been enough to snag it. The strong currents and getting tangled up with another buoy may have helped this happen. However we had now successfully managed to recover the shot weight, buoys and Gren’s new lifting bag. Now we only had to get back to Newhaven.

Limping along the GPS indicated a journey time of over an hour and twenty minutes but Sea King rallied round and with a burst of energy managed to get us back in a
little over the normal journey time, lurching back into sluggish mode just outside the entrance to Newhaven Harbour.

So what did I learn? Well personally not to forget my sea sickness tablets even if it does look flat as a mill pond. We were also lucky that we all had lots of water because we could have easily got dehydrated being that hot. Everyone moans when the shot isn’t on the wreck and you risk missing it but if you shot it well there is always a danger that it will get snagged. We never did get to do the drill but, one way and another, I feel like we learnt quite a bit about shot recovery.

Luckily Sea King’s engine was just a little bit salted up hence the engine problems. She’s currently undergoing a well-deserved service but is expected to be back in action very soon.