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Saturday, 25 August 2001 00:00

By Appointment to His Majesty

By Trevor Jackson - Esperance Star

At about 7.30 in the morning on the Wednesday just gone, a long term customer of the boats rang me with what seemed like a normal request. "Trev we'd like to hire the boat for a 24hr trip, leaving tonight if you're available, and coming back tomorrow evening". "Sounds fine", I said, 'usual terms and conditions, no wuckin furies'. I lumbered out of bed, shook the cobwebs out, and thought about what had to be done. A quick call to the crew and the wheels were in motion, in just a couple of hours we'd be ready to put to sea.

An hour or two later the dive shop rang me back with what was the first of a strange series of requests that were to flood in all day. 'Trev make sure the bedrooms are spotless'. 'Of course', I hung up. An hour later,' Trev don't buy any meat they don't eat it, but lots of cheese and eggs', 'Yep' I replied. I began to wonder what we were in for with this charter, the dive shop was being fairly cagey and the strange requests got stranger. 'Trev the boat will have to be spotless, even the engines, have you got time to do that?' I was beginning to get a little suss about the whole deal and was wondering what the hell it was we had gotten ourselves into. All the shop would tell me was that they were bringing a VIP up and all would be revealed in due course. Intrigue was getting the better of me when the shop rang at 6 that night to say they were running two hours late and still hadn't left the Gold Coast, they're still praying, was the excuse.

I wandered up to the top deck and had a word with the boys, "don't know what we've let ourselves into here guys but I'm not really looking forward to it all of a sudden". A couple of hours later the dive shop van showed up with only the Dive masters aboard, hot on its heals was a stretch limo you could land a light plane on.

The gear piled out of the van and one of the Limos occupants hurriedly made his way down the pontoon ramp. "Hi guys my name is Kopshininov and I am the Princes dive guide", he said in a septic drawl. "The Prince, what Prince?", I asked. "Obviously you guys haven't been briefed," replied the American. "No we haven't." Kopshininov went on to say, "Ok guys in the limo is Prince Regal Mohammed Aqeed of Qatar. He is a real Prince and as such must be addressed as 'your Highness'." I rolled my eyes and threw the crew a downtrodden glance. The American continued, 'we can have no swearing,smoking or discussion of adult themes, all photos of barefaced women must be removed now, and if there is any alcohol on the boat, please remove it also. The Prince has decided to bring all his own food and bedding, so the fridge will need to be cleared and the beds remade". I opened my mouth to protest but a couple of the Princes Uzi packing assistants quickly went about these tasks so I thought what the heck, if they want to run around after this bloke it'll save on my laundry bill anyway.

Shortly after the jobs were completed and it was time for his royal highness to board the boat. He was introduced to the crew by their title [Captain, Chef, Engineer] and would continue to address us as such throughout the trip. We soon threw off the lines and the boys and I resigned ourselves to an interesting if unusual day.

The first hitch was soon to come. In the lounge room was a brand spanking new Closed Circuit Rebreather still in its box. The Prince spotted this toy and quietly announced,'I will use this for my Diving'. I nearly choked and made Arab history by saying 'no' to his highness. The entourage couldn't believe their ears and neither could the Prince. I had instantly become the most unpopular skipper in the South Pacific.

On the way out his highness constantly complained about the slow pace [8.5 knots], and continually reminded me that his boat did 36 knots and was nearly 120feet long.' Why didn't you bring it then', I thought to myself,' you brought everything else' But the entourage had forgotten at least one valuable item, the Prince approached me as we rounded the northwest tip of Moreton Island with what he described as, 'a delicate matter'. 'We have forgotten my ****** Washer'. Now as you can imagine I nearly fell over. Initially I thought he meant that there was actually a person who washed the Royal ****** and that this poor soul had been left back at the hotel. 'I can assure you your highness that none of this crew is going to wash your dick for you'. 'No,no,no you misunderstand, it is an implement which I lack, and you must build it for me'. I got out a piece of paper and asked the Prince to draw a picture of it for me so I could attempt to make one with what we had on board. Half an hour later I'd built this contraption out of a large plastic cup, a milk carton, and some strategically positioned gaff tape. The prince seemed satisfied and was hopping around on one leg by the time I handed it to him and he bolted for the dunny. Seems every time his highness went for a leak he had to use this tool to maintain his immaculate cleanliness. I went upstairs to tell the guys and we fell about in hysterics for the next ten minutes.

We arrived at Flinders Reef to the north of Moreton Island a short while after midnight. Kopshininov, the Princes personal dive guide had said to me on the way out that if I didn't think it was kosher to dive on arrival that I should insist on 'not diving'. He said the Prince was very persuasive but that I should stand my ground. " I don't have a problem with that Kopshininov'. But when we got to Flinders the conditions were good and I thought we should dive, Kopshininov called me out the back. 'You must tell his highness that he cannot dive'. 'What? That's bullshit, conditions are great', I blurted. Kopshininov was about to show his true colours, seems that if things weren't absolutely perfect the Prince wasn't to dive, but he wasn't going to be the one to say so, that would be left to whoever he could convince to do it so he would always look good in the eyes of the Sheik. I was starting to really get the shits now, it had taken nearly four hours to get out there and it had been a waste of time and fuel, especially because it was safe enough to let your grandmother dive. We left the pick where it was and went to bed.

Four hours later someone was tugging at my foot, an Arabic voice demanded 'We must move the boat'. I got up to see what the problem was. 'The Prince needs to pray, we must get the anchor up and head slowly to the west'. The boat was yawing in the breeze and it was difficult for them to maintain they're desired praying direction unless we were underway. Soon after the singing started, the Muslim 'call to prayer', and the entourage assembled on the front deck for half an hour to pay homage to Allah! We were to repeat this process another 3 times before the trip was over, to be honest, it was very, 'educational'.

As quickly as it had begun it ended. They all went back to bed. So did we. At the more civilized hour of 7.00am we got up again and I suggested to Kopshininov that he get the Prince up so that we could start diving. 'The Prince will awaken when he is ready' was the reply .So we waited around for another hour or two before his highness was ready and the fun began again .The Princes armed guards insisted on accompanying him underwater, still armed. Presumably to ward of marauding man-eating submersible killer double humped camels or some such. For this purpose they had brought along with them three of the biggest spear guns ever built. These things were more works of art than weapons of destruction. Beautifully carved from single highly polished pieces of timber, they would have looked more at home above a mantle piece than lying around on the decks of a boat. Luckily for us the guards were more practiced with their Uzis than with their spear guns and the local fish were left wholly unscathed.

The dives progressed throughout the day pretty much as usual with the exception of the interspersing sessions at prayer. We'd gotten used to the idea that when the singing started we had about 15 mins to get the anchor up and head off towards Mecca, so there was no further bother in that dept. I even had the crazy notion of joining them on one occasion just so I could say I'd done it, but sensibility prevailed. The day came fairly quickly to a close and we arrived at Curtin Artificial reef for the evening tide. On the way around Combie point crewman Jason Bruce had been showing our foreign guests some footage of the huge Grouper which inhabit the wrecks there. Some of these Boris like babies would conservatively weigh in at 500lbs and are usually found en-masse at one particular wreck if you know where to look. One of the guards announced, 'I will kill one of these fish'! Again I had to lay down the law. Now lets remember that when these guys got on the boat they were carrying Machine Pistols, and that they were in the company of a very important person. I had no doubt that they were well trained and were not used to being told to go and get f#$%ked. So I had to be diplomatic, I had to make them not want to shoot anything, because there job description meant that they were taking the guns regardless, I just had to stop them using them on anything apart from the aforementioned Camels. I decided to appeal to the one thing that would stop them, the fear of God.

"Gentlemen the piece of ocean on which we are now situated is sacred Aboriginal ground. Beneath the seas here, embodied in the giant fish, are ancient spirits of untold power, they must not be upset. If you kill the fish, his friends will swallow you up and you'll be cast into hell, that's right, hell! This pretty well did the trick, unfortunately I'd all but convinced them not to go in at all, so I had to back peddle and say that if they left the fish unharmed that the fish would in fact protect them and his highness from all evils . This seemed to work, but it to backfired, the Prince now thought he was invincible and would therefore have no fear of wearing my Rebreather as the fish would surely save him if he had any trouble. I suspect that his highness had spotted my little fib, he was an educated man, and so instead of just saying 'no you can't', I said that he could use the unit as long as he allowed me to give him a quick lesson in its potential dangers.

'You see this button here, if you don't push this at the correct rate on the way down, you will drown. If you push this other button instead of that one you will tox out and drown. Now the handsets. If these 6 readouts are not kept at exactly 1.3PPO2, you will drown.[ok now I was exaggerating ]If they drop too far you must push this button but if you do it for too long,you will drown". After being told about 7 or 8 ways he could drown the Prince wisely decided that he would,' use one in the pool first'. He took the unit off, called it a stupid complicated machine and signalled to his hand maidens that they should get his open circuit gear ready.' Make sure you check it, I don't want to drown'. The dive went without incident, the grouper went unharmed, and the Prince's pride was intact, and Kopshininov still had his job. Boy this was hard work, time to go. We arrived at Newport about 4 hrs later than was usual, the crew was buggered and I asked Kopshininov to get the Prince and gang up. Again, all I got was, 'the Prince will awaken when he's ready'.

I went upstairs and quietly asked Jason to go out the front and start slinging around a bit of dive gear, 'I don't mind if some of those tanks accidentally fall out of the racks onto the deck'. Jason got the picture and pretty soon his highness was up and complaining about the noise. He then asked me to steam the boat to the west again. We were tied up at the pontoon now so I had no problem in telling the Prince that he could just as easily find Mecca whilst standing in the car park! They decided it was too cold up there so they prayed in the lounge for a further 20mins, the 24hr charter had stretched out to 29 hrs, but we bit our tongues, smiled, nodded and may Allah be with you etc.