We’ve had a rather enjoyable club trip away during the winter. A chance to escape the grey, wet and cold and get a bit of sunshine. It helped that the trip was planned as part of an Advanced Diver exped, as that meant I didn’t actually have to do much to smooth the whole trip along. Our AD candidate had picked a BSAC centre to go diving with, assuming this would mean that our reasonable levels of experience (including First Class Divers and instructors) would be recognised and we would be treated accordingly. The dive plan was submitted by email and when we arrived the owner of the dive centre went to quite some lengths to tell us he was going to follow our plan exactly.
Day 1 wasn’t so bad, apart from a really strange conversation about compasses, and how if you look at your compass and it says 90 degrees then you are in fact swimming West. We tried to explore this assertion, after all it would mean rethinking the entire way we brief for dive sites, skipper boats and well, just generally everything. How could we have all got this far and been 180 degrees out? We asked if this was caused by having a compass with a sighting window, maybe looking at it from the top, but nope. We were assured that 90 degrees was West. End of discussion, let’s go diving. We took our own compass bearings on the shore (safe bearing was North). Our check out dive took a strange turn when instead of the 15 metre bimble we’d been briefed for we ended up at a 32 metre wreck. During the surface interval, we were assured that this dive had been in the plan, but even the AD candidate looked puzzled and it was her plan! Whilst on the surface we asked about the time for the second dive. It was a mandatory hour away, but who knows why it’s an hour. A couple of us tried to look at our plan functions to gauge when we’d have enough dive time for the next dive but we were stopped because “decompression is only a theory anyway”. We were doing an hour on the surface and then we’d be going back in.
By the next day, things took another turn for the bizarre. The first dive brief of the day explained that the dive 1 would be out from the harbour and turn right, and the second dive at the same site would be out and turn left. The first dive was pretty good, shoals of fish and a couple of angel sharks. We came back to the shore, had a bite to eat and swapped cylinders. Whilst we were standing in the sun to warm up a bit, someone asked about the topography for the second dive. At this point the story changed, we were told that there was nothing to the left apart from barren rocks, our dive guide couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to turn left, or who had suggested we should and we would be going right again. The second dive to exactly the same site was disappointing. The tide had changed, the shoals of fish had moved on and we resorted to a little bit of wombling to clean up the reef.
By now we had established that we were becoming the victims of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. The term is derived from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality, flickering the gas lights as he does. Despite having been around for over 75 years, the term has recently resurfaced with Trump’s presidency in the USA.
We had the classic signs; blatant lies, denial of what had been previously agreed and attempts to manipulate and divide opinion the group. Once we’d identified that this sort of behaviour was in play, everyone’s guard was up. Fortunately, we’ve all know each other for a long time and dived together for many years. Each night our dinner and beer debrief covered very little about the dives and much more about the bizarre antics. The carefully written up dive plan that was the point of the trip had disappeared and was never mentioned again. Next time we’re all going to put our basic qualification and not mention any further diving experience. We think it will be easier all round.
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Michelle has been scuba diving for nearly 30 years. Drawing on her science background she tackles some bits of marine science. and sometimes has a sideways glance at the people and events that she encounters in the diving world.