Scarborough diver details his life on and off the oil rigs - read about his brush with death and his hunt for treasures on the sea bed

Academia is not retired diver David Adamson’s strong suit – but a Shakespearean quote he was made to learn off-by-heart struck a chord

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 2:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 2:28 pm
David Adamson with his autobiography
David Adamson with his autobiography

Neville Steer, his English teacher at George Pindar in Eastfield, insisted his class learn Brutus’s speech from Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the

affairs of men.

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Diver David Adamson writes about his life and work on and off the oil rigs

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our venture.

“What it means is as you go through your life everybody gets opportunities that can better them,” he said.

“It made sense to me and I can refer back to it. When I came to a turning point I thought I can either say ‘forget it’ or go for it and I went for it every time.”

He has recorded his life and times in his autobiography Taking the Tide Where it Serves – part of Brutus’ speech – Memoirs of Life, Travels and Adventures in the World of Deep Sea

Diving and Offshore Oilfield Construction. He has sent a copy of the book to Mr Steer, now retired, and received a letter back.

The book includes a brush with death, the tragedy of losing one of his friends in a diving accident, witnessing the Piper Alpha disaster, treasure-hunting, world travel which includes adventures in sea kayaking, bungee jumping, cycling, skiing, diving, horse-riding, safaris ... and a slice of romance.

Born and brought up in Lebberston, near Scarborough he was obsessed by the sea as a child.

“I spent hours on the beach and rocks and I was always curious about what was underneath. Once I got underneath, I loved it.”

He met his wife of 45 years Marion, from nearby Gristhorpe, at a cricket match in Gristhorpe while searching for a ball which had been hit for six in the long grass. He was 19 and she was just shy of her 16th birthday,

“She was too smart for me but I will always be grateful that she was attracted to me,” said 70-year-old David.

His life of adventure in diving began when he walked out of a job mid-way through the working day because he was bored.

He had joined Filey Sub Aqua Club with his mate Terry Dealtry and David would join him at weekends “picking up scrap metal off of the sea bed” off Bridlington.

“I soon realised that I could probably make more money from that than being in a factory,” said David.

They diversified into fishing and civil engineering which led them to working out in the North Sea.

“I had a medical which said I was fit to dive but there were no real regulations and I had no formal qualifications.”

Aged 23, he worked on a drill rig and then pipe laying in Holland.

There was to be, again with Terry, a return to salvaging – an enterprise which made headlines in the then Scarborough Evening News.

“Local diver rushed to ‘bends’ tank” read the front page headline on Wednesday March 24 1976.

He was diving off Whitby in a bid to free a trawl net from the Scorseby. He ran out of air and surfaced too quickly.

He was taken to a scuba store then in Sussex Street, Scarborough, and placed in a decompression chamber and revived.

“Terry was worried that I would call time on diving but I returned – with more caution” ... and a warning from Marion.

“I decided the North Sea was the place for me.” He started as a diver’s tender, then diving and graduated into deep saturation diving – which involves spending up to 30 days at a time with four other men in an underwater chamber.

During the day, the men would do construction and remedial work and then return to the chamber to eat, play chess, read, chat and sleep.

He was promoted to supervisor where he controlled operations from the surface and was promoted again to manager of operations including remotely operating submarines.

He finished his 40-year career, which had taken him round the world and back, managing a ship of 100 people “which for somebody who failed their 11 plus and went to a secondary modern is quite an achievement”.

He has felt the loss of colleagues, including Hull man Terry Dennison who died in 1991. He was in saturation aboard DB29 in the South China Sea when it was hit by a typhoon. All aboard the chamber drowned.

David also witnessed the Piper Alpha disaster – an explosion on a drill rig on July 6 1988 which killed 167 people; 61 survived.

“I was supervising dives on a drill rig 12 miles from Piper Alpha and I heard a guy on the radio say: ‘The flames are up to the radio room and I can’t get out’. I looked out of the window and there was an inferno on the horizon. It was horrendous.”

Divers, he said, are special people, pragmatic, skillful, resourceful and humorous. “Diving is a great environment even though it is harsh at times”.

Away from diving, David and Marion bought gamekeepers’ cottages in East Ayton and lived in a caravan while they converted them into a home – where they still live. Marion worked at the Midland Bank in Filey and ran kennels for 20 years before she retired. She would fly out to join David wherever he was in the world for a holiday.

Their wanderlust has never – apart form lockdown – faded. Their first trip, once they could afford it, was in 1981 and they backpacked round the world.

They have travelled the Amazon, safaried in Tanzania, toured Brazil, Chile, Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Australia and the US. “I usually take the lead but once I demanded Marion chose. “She said ‘I would like to see a tiger in the wild’ and David ensured she got her wish.

Sea kayaking and fishing are now David’s obsession and he is a certified five-star leader.

Covid has curtailed their travels and David has also used the year to write Taking the Tide Where it Serves.

He has lived his life true to Brutus’ philosophy. “You hear many people saying what they plan to do when they retire but if you have not done things in your active life until then you are not going to go off and see the world when you are 67. It is best to do it the other way round.”

His life and work has given him a wealth of anecdotes. “One of my mates told me the difference between a fairy tale and a diver’s tale is ‘one starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and the other starts ‘No lies guys, this really happened’’. As I tell my own story it does seem like a fairy tale but, no lies, it really did happen.”

The book is available online and at Wrays in Filey.