Maurice Salt - Diving Officer & Founder Member 1977 - 1979
David Sapsted - Club Secretary & Founder Member 1977 - 1979
What follows is a personal account by David Sapsted, one of the two founder members of the Kuwait Mantas Dive Club back in 1977 along with Maurice Salt. I arrived in Kuwait in the spring of 1977 to become English editor of The Kuwaiti Digest - a glossy quarterly magazine produced by a media company owned by two of the Amir's brothers. Anne-Marie (also a journalist and, later, my wife) joined me out there a few months later. I had been diving since I worked in Bermuda in 1972 and heard about a bunch of people who liked to dive occasionally through the usual expat circuit. Most of this loose-knit group worked for international/US engineering companies involved in building clever things for the oil industry, plus a few UK military advisers. Tom and Judy Keeler were among the former group - Roger Hubbard and Maurice the latter. Essentially it was a group of guys and few gals who went diving when there was nothing else to do....and there really was precious little to do in Kuwait in those days (except drink 'flash', naturally). Maurice (Salt) and I were the only BSAC qualified divers: he 2nd Class, as it was back then, and me 3rd Class (Maurice later got me through to 2nd Class in a few, disgracefully drunken evenings). We talked about getting the club registered and setting up a formal diver training programme. It was his idea originally, I think, because we were both a bit concerned about some of the diving practices on display - particularly the fact that some of the divers had no idea what dive tables were in those pre-computer days. We bounced the idea off the others and, not encountering any great resistance (if no great enthusiasm), I eventually contacted BSAC HQ in London. Remarkably quickly, we were Branch 1045 with me as secretary and Maurice as DO. We began training at the KOC social club pool in Ahmadi with lectures, by Maurice and myself, either poolside or at some club called something like the Desert Motor Racing Club. The one thing I remember about this glorified shed near nowhere in particular, is that it had a bar...no easy thing to find in those days, outside the Kuwait Liaison Team's military HQ.
We advertised for members in both the local, English-language daily 'papers, expanding our membership remarkably quickly. Tarif joined at this stage along with a a few other Arab nationals, including Lebanese and Egyptian.We even got a Kuwaiti girl, who was married to a Brit, to join. In the end, we had a nice mix of nationalities, though still dominated by a Western axis. The name Mantas came, as I think I mentioned previously, from a trip we had had on a dhow when we spotted a large ray flapping around on the surface, presumably to rid itself of parasites. By the time we had kitted up and got into the water, it had gone, of course. Most of our trips were on dhows, out to the islands, or shore dives. Often, the viz was dodgy because of the outflow of crap from the Shatt al Arab but we had plenty of memorable dives...being scared shitless by those gawdy and very poisonous snakes, collecting pearls (Sami, a Lebanese member, had some embedded in a gold cross for his wife - no doubt what side of the divide he came from) and a quite spectacular night dive off the coast down south, followed by a beach barbecue where Tarif pulled out his guitar and sang James Taylor songs, sending the girls all mushy.
We used Mina al Ahmadi for various training exercises and to annoy local dolphins. I recall taking Tom Keeler down for a BSAC navigation test. Anne-Marie and others watching from the dock were horrified to see a large shark following us around. A South Korean diver had been fatally attacked in the port just a couple of weeks earlier. Tom and I were quite oblivious to the shark's presence and, fortunately, Tom's efforts at navigating by compass were so rubbish that, after we had proscribed several, untidy figures of eight, the shark must have realised were too dumb to make a sensible meal and cleared off. Our first foreign tour was to Aqaba in 1978. Eight or 10 of us went, I think, occupying chalets on the beach and being teamed up by the local dive company with a group from Germany. We would catch a bus along the coast and do some exquisite shore dives. The Germans proved far more organised than we were, kitting up in record time and then marching in a dead straight line into the sea. Over the course of our few days there, they had finished their dives on every occasion before we had even managed to complete kitting up. But at least we could serenade them with 'Two World Wars and One World Cup' on the bus. It was during this trip that we formed a circle on the seabed, 60 metres down, and did a reprise performance of the 'Octopus's Garden' dance that we had done at a fund-raising dinner dance, attended by about 200 people, a few weeks earlier. It was also during this trip that George Menzies was so squiffy on the way back that the plane landed with him still in the lavatory. There is also an amusing story about Tarif and me in the duty free shop but, as the story involves two young women swooning over Abboushi's good looks, I shall not mention it.
By the spring of 1979, the club had more than 40, very active members plus quite a few more who liked the social life. For many of us, the madness of planning and participating parts in the dives, the social events and the training was the only thing that kept us sane. Anne-Marie and I were offered further, two-year contracts to stay in Kuwait but, after several seconds' consideration, we decided to return to the UK and be unemployed. The only thing we missed about the place, in truth, were the truly great friends, all of them slightly barking, we had made through the dive club. And the 'flash', of course. Anne-Marie quit diving shortly after we returned to the UK - she had to be rescued after being swept away by the current on a dive off the south coast. I continued until about 1996, when I was sent by The Daily Telegraph to head up our New York bureau. Since then, I have done only occasional, recreational diving...but I figure that 2,000-plus dives is enough for most people. Somewhere, I still have an original Mantas T-shirt. David Sapsted (personal memories edited only by the fog of time).
Here is a brief account from another early member Tarif Abboushi. David would have to mention the T-shirts and send me scurrying to do another deep dive in the old crate in the garage... Mine was actually a sweat shirt, not a T. See attached. I hacked its arms off because for some reason back then I thought it was cool. The shirt proved worth its weight in a commodity more precious than gold when, on an American university campus a few months after I left Kuwait, it enticed a curvaceous lass to ask me about the Kuwait Mantas, whereupon one thing led to another. Dave's account is hard to improve on, but I'll add that the KOC social club was called the Houbara Club, in Ahmadi. My parents had lived in Ahmadi since I was a toddler, and the Houbara Club was where I and countless others of my generation, Brits, Yanks as well as Arabs, learned about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. Later, for those of us who were still there, diving too. I first caught sight of the air tanks one evening in 1977 or 78 when they were being hauled into the club for a lesson in the pool. That's when I joined, and I remained a member till I left Kuwait in 1979. Official translator was my unofficial title. The shed with the bar was the Ahmadi Desert Motor Club, better known as ADMC.
As for names to go with the faces in the photographs, here's all I can reel in from the memory banks: 0001: Dave has already identified the culprits. 0002: Maurice is the one with the towel on his shoulder. Behind him in the black shirt is Nick, last name I'd have no chance with. It was his company Toyota (PYE Electronics?). 0005: Maurice with the Bobby Charlton hairdo. 0006: The aforementioned Nick. 0007: Nick and Maurice. 0008: The Keelers. 0009: George Menzies taking the plunge. 0010: Nick again (shorts & shirt). 0011: Red shorts was an American. Name? 0014: Nick, Bond-like. I'm afraid that's about the capacity of my grey matter.