I survived! Obviously. This is me after the final dunking – the one in pitch darkness. And no, I’m not being sick – am just trying to get the water out of my nose.
It wasn’t exactly my idea of fun – in fact I’d been dreading it. Way back in June, when Cdr Mike Pearey first suggested I might like to do the Royal Navy’s underwater escape training, it seemed like a good idea – useful skill to have, and a personal challenge. But as the time grew nearer I was getting cold feet.
I’m no water baby – I’m the sort of person who holds their nose to jump into a pool – and I definitely prefer to be attached to a scuba tank when underwater.
But BBC Radio Solent were all lined up to record the event, so there was no wimping out. The consolation was that at least their reporter, Jo Palmer, would be keeping me company. Or so I thought.
In the car on the way to Yeovilton she came up with the pathetic excuse that she’s pregnant. ‘Shame – I’d been really looking forward to doing the dunking.’ After watching the training video, though, she’d changed her mind – ‘Actually quite relieved I’m NOT doing it.’ Yeah, thanks!
The video had got me freaked out too – it showed a Robbie Williams lookalike repeatedly adopting the brace position and grappling with seatbelts of increasing complexity, including one with 5 straps that looked almost impossible to undo.
But as with so many things, the reality wasn’t as bad as the anticipation. My seatbelt had a mere 2 straps. And I had an escape window to myself, so no waiting around underwater for others to exit first. It could be that the Navy were giving me an easy ride, but I’d prefer to think it was just a more realistic simulation of my solo situation on the boat.
I even got 5 dunkings for the price of 4, as somebody forgot to undo their seatbelt before trying to make good their escape, so we had to repeat the second run. Thank god it wasn’t ME that cocked it up.
The staff at the dunker were brilliant. As they said, the object of the exercise was to build our confidence that we could handle a ditching situation – not to scare us or drown us. The briefing was thorough (if rather scary) and the Navy’s frogmen kept a close eye on what was happening in the dunker. At the end of the session I did indeed feel more confident in my ability to handle a potentially scary situation.
I found to my immense relief that once we were in the pool I was so focused on what needed to be done, I didn’t have time to be scared. I hope that I’ll react the same way if things get a bit hairy in mid-Atlantic – that I’ll focus on surviving, and only allow myself to consider how much danger I was in once it’s over.