Tony Groom is the author of Diver, a book about his underwater experiences as a Royal Navy Mine Clearance and commercial diver.
What prompted you to write your book "DIVER"?
I got a call in early 2007, it was the BBC. They said, "We understand you kept diaries from when you were in the Falklands conflict but have not read them yet?" I said yes I did, and I haven't read them, but how do you know? They gave me the old, we don't divulge our sources etc.
Then they said, " We would like to come and film you reading them for the first time and put it on TV." I really had never read them, in fact all I knew was they were in the loft somewhere. I thought about it for a while and discussed it with my wife and decided I would do it.
They came and we did it and it went on BBC Breakfast.
When they left, the producer and cameraman said what a brilliant story it was, and I should really write it all down, you know, fill in the gaps. Well I hadn't ever thought about it. But I started that night and it just flowed out of me. Day and night for about 10 months, I wrote and re-wrote about my diving life. About the intensive training the Navy required to become a 'Sneaky Beaky' attack swimmer. Getting trained in re-breathers that give out no bubbles, enabling you to sabotage ships, or work on mines unseen and undetected.
Have any writers influenced your writing?
I do read a lot but I wouldn't say anyone influenced me. I didn't really plan it. I just happened and I found I could do it, I could tell a story.
Do you dive recreationally, and if so which is your favourite dive site?
I have never done a recreational dive. Well that is not exactly true. I did drag my son around the swimming pool in Thailand a few years back. That is it. But there is a reason for it, and that is, I've done too much already.
In preparation for writing the book I broke out all of my diving logbooks, knowing full well I might depress myself. I started adding up my hours in a saturation chamber. Over a fifteen-year sat diving career, I did around 900 days, or two and a half years, in chambers around the world. You can get less than that for armed robbery.
That is 21,600 hours in a chamber you cannot walk more that two or three paces in, with usually seven other men who would, on occasion, smell and sound like feeding time at the monkey sanctuary. Take away say 100 days for decompression and bad weather. That leaves us with 19,200 hours or 800 working days.
Say an average diving day of six hours, and that gives us 4,800 hours or 200 full 24-hour days actually in the water.
Six and a half months either blowing bubbles or in the bell. Six and a half months wet.
Now I'm by no means the most prolific diver; there are guys out there that either can't get enough diving, or money, and they would blow my hours out of the water. None of those hours, days, weeks and months even include the thousands of air and mixed-gas dives I've done. Not that I wish I had done more. Not at all, that is quite enough for me. In all that time, have I ever found a gold coin or a virgin wreck?
I've found a fridge in the middle of the Irish Sea that I was told, whilst donning my gear, was 'definitely, 100% absolutely certainly a mine'. I've found Spitfire engines in Greece, a Jeep in the middle of the South Pacific, and fishermen and pilots still inside their craft, but I've not really found what I was looking for as a child. That bit of mystery is still there, maybe because I don't know what it looks like. I know I'm in the wrong industry. You are, after all, unlikely to find anything mysterious in the oil industry or hunting for mines.
What was your worst diving experience?
I've had a few 'worst dives.' This was my first ever diving experience with the Royal Navy (which is in the book).
I missed the morning class about how the air set worked and what to do in the event of running out of air. Whilst getting a quick brief before entering the water I caught something about 'equalising'. I thought he meant my ears. Alas, he wasn't concerned with my ears at all. In the Navy if you are wearing an air set you don't have a gauge on it. You start your dive with only one bottle open and breathe normally until it goes tight and starts to run out. If you then open your other full bottle, the air between the two 'equalises' - you can hear it very well under water as a tinny hissing sound. The sound will diminish, and then you close the valve. Now you have two half-full bottles. You breathe down the one bottle again and do the same when it gets tight. Now you have 'equalised twice'; you have about a quarter of your original air left and you come up. Simple!
Simple if you know this, anyway. I missed all that because I was unable or unwilling to control the weather, and was late. The opening of the valve action was never relayed to me.
I guess I was about 100 foot out on the end of my life line when my air started to go tight. No, it can't be, the chief diver said it should last about an hour. An hour hasn't gone by already, has it, and anyway they would call me up (four pulls), wouldn't they? At this point my short life flashed before me.
I am allergic to not breathing, so I did what all rational, normal-thinking people would do in this situation. I panicked.
I grappled around for my life line and finned and pulled myself to the surface as quickly as I could. You are of course meant to breathe out on a controlled slow ascent or you may give yourself a bend or burst a lung. But I had nothing to breathe out, my lungs were already empty. Air hunger, or the urge to breathe, is undoubtedly one of the strongest human reactions we have and you 'will' take extraordinary actions to encourage breathing again. Helped by a large portion of adrenalin, induced by the probability of dying, I hit the surface going full tilt and removed my mask in one swift movement. In fact, the mask may even have been off before I broke surface. Anyway it was in a thoroughly unprofessional manner.
I was travelling so fast I reckon I came out of the water up to my waist. That first intake of breath, that sweet taste of air and water was the deepest I have taken so far in my 48 years. Gasp doesn't do it justice and I don't think you can write down the noise I made. It was probably along the lines of the mating call of a randy caribou. The thing is, I hadn't counted on gravity taking a hold of me now I was briefly out of the water again, but it did, and as I came down from my breach, I went under again. This was becoming intolerable.
The divers on the quay saw this thing shooting out of the water then disappear again, and without pause for thought, three of them began pulling me in, hand-over-hand as fast as they could.
The line I was attached to was tied in a bowline on my shoulder, and with my weight-belt and bottles on I took off at breakneck speed towards the jetty. My speed was so great in fact that a bow wave formed around my head and I found myself under water and unable to breathe again. Only this time I was at a loss as to what to do to remedy the situation. As I began to pass out I just hoped I would soon be at the jetty. In fact I later found out that it was my swift and un-cushioned arrival back at the concrete jetty that might well have knocked me out.
I came to lying in the recovery position and vomiting over some big boots. The chief diver was obviously worried about me and showed his concern by yelling into my face,
'You've not equalised once yet! Why didn't you f***ing equalise?'
'I did clear my ears, chief.'
'Not your f***ing ears, you muppet, your bottles, same as we did in the classroom this morning.'
'I wasn't ... HEEEAVE ... here this morning.' As the second helping of dockyard water and leaves and oil came up and out of me all over the chief's boots, I could see the dawning of realisation move over his face. 'Shit! This was my fault.'
To give him credit, though, his attitude immediately changed from one of anger to apologetic concern. I was wrapped in a blanket and given hot tea and whisked off to sick bay, where I spent a day on bend watch, to see if anything developed, and three days in hospital, throwing up dockyard flotsam and jetsam, and very nearly got back-classed from my basic training unit to boot. If that happened, I would have to drop back two weeks and start again with a completely new intake. I went back the next week though and tried again, and every week for the next ten weeks. Why? Because I was going to pass, is the only answer I can give.
Are you planning another book?
The new one is very nearly finished. Well, say another 10,000 words. I'm on 111,000 as we speak. It is a novel. I thought it was about time we had a Brit diving hero. Dirk Pitt has had it all his own way to too long. So, It's about an Ex Royal Navy Mine Clearance Diver, (Shock horror).
What are you doing now?
I still do some North Sea stuff, when I can't possibly avoid it. But I am obsessed with getting this new book finished. I am trying to get a literary agent at the moment. In fact I'm waiting to hear, 'Yae or Nae' at this very moment. If he says Yea, I will be trying to write for a living. I have done a few talks to clubs and after dinner stuff, mainly about diving. My biggest was to the BSAC annual conference. There were about 500 there.
About Tony Groom
Born in Hillingdon, Middlesex (UK) in 1959, Tony Groom discovered his fascination with the sea whilst at Monk's Park comprehensive school in Bristol. Started with Sea Scouts, then sea cadets and finally requested to go to T.S indefatigable, a nautical boarding school in North Wales. In 1975 joined the Royal Navy to become a Clearance Diver (CD). (Many hundreds joined to become a diver in Portsmouth, roughly only 1% make it through.) Qualified as a mine clearance diver in 1976.
"In 1976, I joined the Clyde submarine base clearance diving team. Some parts of the team dived almost every day. We dived on nuclear submarines, changed their propellers, you name it, I spent a lot of time wet! We would spend weeks touring the west coast of Scotland, picking up, and blowing up, mines, bombs and all sorts of ordinance. The team also had an IED (improvised explosive device) commitment. By that I mean, letter bombs parcel bombs, suspicious packages and cars. Mostly to do with the IRA."
"In 1977. I had my first draft to the Fleet Clearance Diving Team in Portsmouth. The team had to maintain a 75 m deep diving capability, and be ready to depart to anywhere in the world within 24 hours. We would frequently get short notice trips around the world, either as part of NATO, or helping our warships wherever they may be. Took part in some very odd jobs including, collecting money out of the River Hamble after a bank robbery had gone wrong, various recoveries of bodies, diving on wrecks, recovering crashed fighter jets and helicopters etc."
Involved in the Falklands invasion (1982). Left the navy in 1985 and became a commercial diver until 2004. Is now concentrating on writing.
Signed copies of Diver are available from Tony Groom's web site at
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