"Ferd.....inand, Fer.....dinand, Ferdin...and", I mumble. My words a jumbled mess of alcohol induced confusion.
"I neeeeeed to askkkk you an IMPORTANT question", I continue. The stress on the word important, is as much a reminder to myself than anything else. I've been trying to remember the question for the past 10 minutes.
To my left sits Ferdinand. Generally he cuts a fine figure of a man, his olive skin and muscular frame formed by years of surfing and scuba diving in the Caribbean sea. Although right now (right now being 6 a.m) he is slouched on a bar stool, drooling at the mouth and struggling to keep his eyes open. whilst somehow holding onto a half bottle of rum.
He looks at me with his one open eye and mutters
But it's too late, I've already forgotten. The moment is lost, and continues to be lost for the next half an hour, until I A, remember my question and B, wake Ferdinand up to ask him.
And here is the question, in case you're wondering.
"Are you sure we're ok to go scuba diving in 2 hours time?".
Despite his current demeanour, his reply, although only 10 words long, seems to have an air of confidence about it.
"No probs fella, see you by the boat at 8", he reassures me before nodding off again.
It's been 8 years since I first became open water diver certified on the Barrier reef in Australia and I have not dived since. Upon reflection, maybe Ferdinand was not my best choice of dive instructor. I muse on this thought, as I stagger back to my room on the other side of the Island. The island being Utila, Honduras.
I'm not feeling good about this, not feeling good at all.
Amazingly, and true to his word he is there by the harbour at 8 am, loading up the boat with the days supplies. He even seems quite sprightly as he leaps from the port to the boat with his arms full of diving gear.
"Mornin Andy", he shouts, and flashes me a beaming smile. "Fuck", I think to myself "the cocaine must be good on this island".
I'm introduced to my dive buddy, a Norwegian by the name of Erling. Only the third person I've ever met by the name of Erling. The other 2 being my uncle and cousin. After a brief discussion it turns out that this is a popular name in Norway. Who would have guessed? (a Norwegian probably). He seems like a jovial kind of guy, such a pity I am to ruin his day within an hour.
With the skill of a man that knows what he is doing, Ferdinand cracks the engine with one hand and cracks a beer with the other, and we are off. The "put put" of the outboard motor almost soothing as we head out into the Caribbean sea. I'm nervous, make no mistake about that. And when I am nervous I ask more questions than normal. Which by the way, is an abnormal amount of questions.
"So, Erling have you dived before?"
"Where are you from in Norway?"
"What's your job?"
"How do you like Utila?"
"Ferdinand, how many dives have you done?"
"Will we see sharks?"
And so on and so forth, until the pair of them are willing me to shut the fuck up.
We arrive at the dive site and put on our air tanks, ready to submerge into the crystal clear waters. A quick briefing, and we plop off the side of the boat into an underwater wonderland. Where, on a ledge at a depth of 18 metres we have been told to do our training exercises. These are as follows: find neutral buoyancy, do fin pivots, fill and clear our masks of water, take off our weight belts and put them back on again and then for the grand finale, take out our regulator (lifeline), and with the other hand, put in the emergency regulator (octopus).
As I drop to the sandy ledge, I can't help but think that this is a hell of a long way down to be doing the training exercises. I did them in the shallow end of a swimming pool in Australia. My mind is all of a muddle, what did he say first? mask? no fin pivots? no regulator? - argghhh. I can't remember. I am so nervous at this point that I am struggling to remember to breathe.
Ferdinand is perched on his knees facing Erling and myself. The routine is, that he will do the exercises whilst we watch. He will then point to one of us and that person has to emulate what he has just shown us. Well, needless to say, by the time I have managed to do the first 4 exercises, I am almost out of air and Ferdinand and Erling are most certainly out of patience. With my mask full of water and my weight belt on at the wrong angle, I bob up and down like an underwater yo yo, disturbing the sand each time I hit the ground. The only consolation being, that through the disturbed sand, Ferdinand can't see the chunks of coral that I break off, as I am left at the sea's disposal.
The last exercise is the one that I have been dreading the most. I mean, what fool takes out his lifeline at 18 metres, for no apparent reason? It just doesn't make sense. I am shaking like a jelly fish as I watch my buddies successfully complete their mission with ease. Obviously I am secretly hoping that they will fuck it up, so that we can all go back to the boat to eat lunch.
And then, SHIT! it's my turn.
Ferdinand points at me three times before I have the balls to pull out my regulator. His third point, however has a menacing stabbing motion about it, which prompts me to pull it out, with haste. My mask, already half full of water, I can see nothing, as I flail around around in search of my spare regulator.
"Fuck this! I'm outta here", I internally scream as I head for the surface. Above me, no let me rephrase that, a long, long way above me, I can see the underside of the boat and the sun glistening on the surface of the water. Nothing, but nothing is going to stop me from reaching that glorious place, of limitless air. Certainly not Ferdinand, as he grabs at my legs in an attempt to pull me back down. A few swift kicks to his face soon sorts that out (that'll teach him, I think to myself).
My legs can't kick fast enough in my quest for survival. We have been told that at a depth of 18 metres, we should make a safety stop for 1 minute to eliminate the chances of getting the bends. Obviously this is not going to happen. I'll take the bends over death, any day of the week.
The air in my lungs fading fast, my legs down to their last kick and the prospect of the bends looming on my horizon, I emerge from the water, a lifeless being. Here, I inflate my BCD (life jacket). This is the only procedure that I have successfully managed to complete all day. Anxiously, I wait for Ferdinand to pop out of the water, after completing his safety stop.
"WHAT, the FUCK, do you think you are doing?", are the first words out of Ferdinand's mouth.
I'm immediately on the defensive, "Why are you grabbing my legs?", I rather pathetically retort.
"So, you want to die do you? There's no other explanation for the craziness I've just witnessed".
After a pause for breath, he continues his verbal barrage "Don't EVER, repeat don't EVER do that again - are you with me?"
I think about answering back but fortunately I manage to kill the desire.
"Yeah", I placate him.
"Now, you are going to get another air tank and you are going to go back down to that ledge and you are going to do the training exercises, and this time you are going to do them right", he orders me.
And so twenty minutes later, we are back on the sandy ledge and I am once again bobbing up and down like an underwater yo yo, destroying marine bio systems with my every manoeuvre. And generally pissing Ferdinand and Erling off as I stumble through my diving exercises. Of course, I am even more nervous this time and absolutely petrified of removing my regulator.
I'm drowning, no really I'm drowning. My 2 regulators flail around on the end of their tubes, expelling bubbles to dramatise the situation just that little bit more. Beneath me, Ferdinand wrestles with my legs, as he tries to pull me down. Nothing a few swift kicks to the face doesn't sort out. And then I'm off, gasping for air and grasping for the surface, "Oh please lord, don't let me die", I cry. Things must be bad, I've suddenly found religion.
The light, the light, I must reach for the light. Is this my life, flashing before me? Thirty one years of experiences, thirty one years of thoughts, ideas, friendships, relationships - the good times, the bad times, the laughter and the pain. Is this the end as I know it? The dawn of a new beginning or just a time that I cease to exist. A long sleep with no alarm clock to punctuate my slumber (hmmm that sounds kind of nice).
I'm still pondering my existence, as I lie on the surface of the sea, twenty yards or so from the boat that brought us out here. Ferdinand's excessive shouting is the first indicator that I am indeed still alive.
"RIGHT, you FUCKING idiot get back in the boat, we're going back and I suggest that you don't ever dive again", he charmingly advises me.
The trip back to shore passes in silence, as I try to avoid the angry stares of both Ferdinand and Erling.
A year later, I pass my Advanced diving certificate in Dahab in Egypt, with little incident. My training exercises done at the normal depth of 2 metres.
Here's another kick in the face for you Ferdinand, you big bully.