GRANT DE GRAF SPEAKS OUT(PART III)

A CONTINUATION ... - In this issue Grant de Graf provides a candid account of his personal life, his experiences in the South African Navy as a diver, and the factors that compelled him to later pursue a career in finance. [To read Part I CLICK HERE]


Do you think that that your experiences in the navy as a diver, afforded you a privileged perspective to the mechanics and mindset found in the military? 
When a person spends nearly two years in what is reputed to be a crack unit in the defense force, it’s hard not to emerge from the experience without embracing a changed perspective on life. The training that our team endured was physically and mentally draining, designed to push us to the limits. Only a small percentage of candidates qualified as a navy diver, after undergoing what was argueably one of the toughest courses in the defense force. A YouTube Video Clip highlights some of the criteria that are required to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Diving School. Similar guidelines were followed by the South African Navy. I don’t believe that given the parameters and choices that I had in life that I could have achieved a more intense exposure to the military.

"More than fifty percent of candidates on the course dropped out in the first month."

Can you give us some examples of what the training may have consisted? 
For the first month, the schedule was purely focused on physical fitness, typically for about twenty hours, with little sleep and few breaks. The program included long swims in the sea, marathon runs on the beach, rope climbing and night dives that became part of the evening entertainment. Every other day, without any regular pattern, the dickies, (diving instructors) would wake us at about 3am for a night swim. More than fifty percent of candidates on the course dropped out in the first month.

When did you actually start to dive? 
Our team was issued wetsuits after about a month of very aggressive physical training. Until that point, every day is a day closer to wearing the prized diving gear. A single day in a wetsuit knocked me to my senses and made me regret having ever felt an inclination to bare the diving gear. The suffocating heat that attacked us in the neoprene material, specifically constructed for heat retention, after spending hours of severe physical training on the beach and carrying logs, is just sheer torture. Several members of our unit including me, passed out from exhaustion and dehydration. I learned to appreciate the meaning of the term that the only easy day was yesterday.


"I learned to appreciate the meaning of the term that the only easy day was yesterday.”



After two weeks of receiving our wet suits, we were issued with full diving gear. That’s when the fun really starts. We never could anticipate the strikes, or when they would occur. The visibility was poor and when I did merit to view my hand in front of my face, I was considered fortunate. At depths of about a hundred feet, our instructors launched simulated enemy attacks against us. Our underwater breathing apparatus was cut and we were required to buddy breathe from team mates. In some cases, about six divers had to rely off the supply from one diver. Any attempt to surface, would immediately be classified as panic. In such a case a candidate would immediately be disqualified from the course and sent packing. Each day I lived with the hope that my diving buddies would not express a greater love for air, than the amount for which I needed to survive. In some cases we were required to dive in shallower depths, to avoid the need for decompression. In these instances we dived for periods that extended more than a straight twenty-four hours, without break for food or water. I have never experienced hunger and thirst like I knew then, given the energy which our anatomy needed to expend to maintain body temperature. As the minutes ticked by, the water became increasingly cold. The fact that at times we were diving in shark infested waters, was of our least concern.

Then there were the dry-dock dives, conducted through narrow underwater passages. Here there were no second chances and a turn in the wrong direction would mean no coming home. We were also commanded to jump off ships and cranes that extended over two-hundred feet in height from the water surface. A show of hesitation to perform a jump, would mean taking the royal salute and course termination. The concluding phase of the program was a course in explosives and demolitions. An accurate perspective of the course were words that one navy diver had related to me, prior to my decision to apply to become a diver. “I can tell you about the challenges that I experienced, but you will never be able to truly appreciate the hardship, until you experience the program first hand.” 


"...we were lowered by helicopter into the troughs of gigantic Indian Ocean rollers that were over eighty feet in height."


After you qualified as a diver, what duties did you perform? 
I was based in Durban, located on the east coast of Africa, where we would often receive calls from the 15 Squadron to conduct helicopter rescue operations for missing seamen. These SOS signals were typically from Taiwanese trawlers and yachts, positioned off the coast. Occasionally, squalls hugged the coast, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. During rescue missions we were lowered by helicopter into the troughs of gigantic Indian Ocean rollers that were over eighty feet in height. In one incident, our diving base received a call at dawn to conduct a helicopter search and rescue mission for a missing yacht. I tool the call. The yacht was apparently positioned off the wild coast, a few hundred miles south. On that occasion we were not able to locate the vessel. Fortunately, the yacht and seamen were later discovered a few days later. However, I had opportunity to view some of the most spectacular and breath-taking scenery that I have ever experienced, during that five-hour flight operation along the coast.

In other instances, we would conduct routine bottom searches on the naval fleet, for limpet mines and enemy explosives.

Do any of these experiences manifest themselves in Cavalier’s Call? 
Not directly. However, I would hope that my exposure to the navy afforded me the ability to provide an account of military matters, in an authentic manner, especially the dialogue.

After you completed your service, did you have any perspective on the direction in life that you were interested in developing, from a vocational aspect? 
My contemporaries from the navy all went to dive in the North Sea, where they made big money and retired after a few years. My intent was always to graduate from university and pursue a career in finance. I grew up in a home that broadcast a very strong entrepreneurial atmosphere. Even though my father was based in the hotel industry, he was in essence a serial entrepreneur. On several occasions I traveled with him to meetings at which he was seeking to conduct preliminary investigations into possible acquisitions. Our home was an operations room for various projects in their infancy stage. Proposals that were being piloted ranged from real estate projects to undertakings in the electronics industry. My father and uncle would bank roll these projects through to development, and from about nine years old I would sit in on the discussions with a keen ear. I listened to the presentations, the cross-questions and I observed the sparks fly. It was amazing, exciting and I thrived on every minute.


"The second rule was that no guest was permitted to have an empty glass."



My father had two rules. The fist was that no one was permitted to knock on the door to announce their arrival. They were required to enter on their own accord and make themselves at home. This was not as imposing as it sounds, because we had a sizable home with a homely entertainment area. The second rule was that no guest was permitted to have an empty glass. From a young lad I held the key to the bar and was commissioned to ensure that everyone’s glass was always full. The range of beverages extended from soft drink based concoctions to the full monty of alcoholic cocktails.

From the age of about seven or eight I was reading financial news reports and tracking my first dummy stock portfolio. Shortly thereafter I was buying and selling shares and commodities through a broker. Asset management or finance was the natural direction in which I gravitated and with that orientation in mind, I set off to obtain a university education. I certainly appreciated that achieving success does not simply comprise of education plus experience. I knew that the road ahead would be tough and trying, but I was committed to make the sacrifices necessary, to achieve those goals.