My first dive abroad, courtesy of the UN and Op Hanwood, which I have written up in the “other stuff” section of the blog so I won’t go into any more detail here. There will be other stuff on Croatia, it’s one of my favourite dive locations and one of my favourite holiday destinations too, but my first dive there, or anywhere abroad for that matter, was special. Bear in mind the only diving I had done to the 27th of June 1992 was on the South coast of the UK, 35 dives, all great fun but often in poor weather or difficult conditions, close to the edge of diveable occasionally, and definitely not diving any Blue water resort location would undertake. It had been a maul getting anywhere in the circumstances, I had started to believe the diving in Croatia had been so badly affected by the war that no-one would take me out, that meant I would be letting the boss, Chris Czaja, (my warrant officer on the tour) down, and letting those needing some R&R down too. I had kicked around for a day and a half with no results before being put onto a dive business working out of a hotel not far from ours, the Brioni, and as luck would have it, even though it had closed for the foreseeable future, the Brioni staff called the owner, Vlado and he agreed to meet me and talk
Vlado agreed he and his partner Slavko would open up the business for us and give me a look at the local dive-sites, so I could work out if there was a way to get students trained in the class-room aspects of diving, back in Zagreb, and then send them to Pula to carry out the practical side of things, kitting up, skills in the water and then some actual diving. Meanwhile there were forms to fill in……odd to me, but the dive industry in Croatia was very limited, the communist regime of Tito had seemingly been suspicious of sport diving, and it was a small and often difficult to operate niche even for Croat nationals. I let Vlado have my dive quals and he took care of filling in the requests for permission to the local coastguard representative, I paid the equivalent of £5 or so and we were in business….if I got approval. In the mean time Slavko took me to see the guys actually taking me diving, Igor & Jelliko, Two local divers who had set-up the underwater piece whilst Vlado and Slavko did the office and commercial side with the local hotels
I met Igor & Jelliko at their sea-front dive location and was impressed, it seemed there was everything I would need to get our UN troops in the water, good changing rooms, a broad concrete front to kit up and de-kit on, safe steps into and out of the sea, and a broad, shallow bay protected on 3 sides, meaning the water was calm most of the time, and it was Blue….and clear……something I had yet to experience in diving terms, things were looking up……nicely! I checked out their compressor and cylinders, used but in good condition, their kit was decent too and they had a little English, more than enough to get by on, better than that of Vlado and Slavko who were older and a little less capable in that respect. All that remained was to discuss the details, to let the guys know what they were letting themselves in for….only fair in the circumstances. Igor & Jelliko were young and used to taking divers out, they were not instructors, more dive guides it would fall to me and Slavko to be in the water and assess the guys as competent, before they got any further than the shallow front of the dive center……. and that was another issue, Slavko was CMAS (Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques) Cousteau’s legacy to the world, and I was British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) how would that work?
We could work out the details later, by now I was desperate to get into the water and see what the diving was like, I asked if the approvals were in yet and was told I had a chance by the next morning, that was cutting things fine, it was our last day in Pula and if they weren’t in place tomorrow I would have to go back with half a story to Chris Czaja and worse….I wouldn’t have even got wet. I needn’t have worried, the Harbour-master was a friend of Vladko’s and the paperwork came through that evening, everything was go….and I couldn’t wait
I got on the RIB fully kitted, and we made our way out of the bay and off to the Left hand side of the headland, around towards the Hotel Histria where we were staying. The shore-line was not far off, a mile or so and it was typical of the area, rock outcrop, probably Limestone for the most part, (although I am no geologist), with pine trees coming right down to the water’s edge in many places, it looks magnificent! Last minute prep, an OK signal and off the side we went, backwards into the Adriatic……..Surfacing only to give the OK signal to Jelliko in the rib and then turning back to Igor to signal the descent, I was overjoyed, the water was warm, like a swimming pool, and as clear, I could see the rocks below us from the surface and it was wonderful! My dive-log records this…..Rib Dive, Frasker….. Fantastic dive, my first abroad, varied fish, multi-coloured, very pretty, marvelous drop-offs and to finish a cave and tunnel exit, stunning……water temperature 22′ visibility 30m…..
I vividly remember the descent, I could not believe what could be seen, this was truly a revelation in terms of what I had dived in the UK, clouds of silver bubbles you could track to the surface, and small shoals of Silver and Blue Fish, like those in an Aquarium, not dissimilar to juvenile Wrasse, but definitely a different species entirely to that of the Atlantic or the Channel. There were no large fish on that dive and I’d heard the Med was pretty fished out, maybe the Adriatic was too? I loved the winding channel we swam through, it certainly looked like a cave from the entry, but it twisted and turned for a dozen or so meters and then exited, it was a swim through rather than a true cave, but I loved it, and when we swam up towards the RIB after 30 minutes, we passed over the rock it ran through, the bubbles we had exhaled were permeating through in Silver clouds looking like the aerator rocks in fish-tanks…….I was hooked, this was different, wonderful diving and I was loving it!
The 3 hour plus drive back to Zagreb was spent re-living every minute of the dive and anticipating as many more as I could get…… It would be another month before I managed to train up a mixed group of UN soldiers and get them through the academic lessons of Novice 1 and 2 in readiness for the trip back to Pula, in between duties and the activities we carried out in support of the peace initiative, it was worth it too…….. but more of that later………