My introduction to diving in the UK
I first learned to dive in Egypt and always described myself as a ‘fair weather diver’. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy diving the warm waters around Egypt and Bonaire as well as the not so warm but equally stunning islands of the Galapagos. As an Advanced Open Water PADI Diver with 200 dives logged, I joined my local Sub-Aqua Association (SAA) club in Mansfield to meet like minded divers. I transferred my diving qualifications over to the SAA system as an Open Water Diver and started the process of studying for my next qualification, the SAA’s Club Diver.
I really enjoyed the SAA approach to learning. The lectures, held in the club house, were delivered by in-house trainers. The club in Mansfield is lucky enough to have a very active membership with many instructors available to offer their expertise. It made a refreshing change to the PADI approach; I was learning from people I’d built relationships with and it made the whole classroom stage so much more enjoyable. After successfully completing the lecture program and passing the exam, the only elements left were the open water skills. Many of these skills were signed off during a club diving holiday to Bonaire but others remained to be done and that’s how I found myself doing three dives in one week in the UK.
First of all, the need to wear a dry suit, hood and gloves made me really appreciate the ease of diving in warm waters! I wasn’t put off and decided to dive at Stoney Cove, with the Club Diving Officer, to get some more dives in and accomplish the final skills. As we drove down the M1 in the cool weather, much cooler than usual for the last week in March, I have to say I questioned my decision!
There were already a few divers at the site when we arrived and I was feeling positive; if others could do it and exit the water with smiles on their faces it couldn’t be that bad! After our preparations were complete and the Diving Officer confirmed our dive plan and advised which skills I needed to complete on the first dive we logged our details with our Dive Marshall and were ready to enter the water.
Even wearing a dry suit and hood didn’t mean the cold water hitting the exposed elements of my face in particular wasn’t a shock to the system. It most certainly was! I was dry but the cold water soon penetrated my gloves and there was no way of getting away from the fact this was the UK and not Egypt! The Diving Officer kindly gave me a couple of kilos as I was underweighted and struggled to descend and we were on our way. Regular checks to ensure I was ok helped me feel reassured as I faced the experience of UK diving for the first time. I built up my confidence on this, my first open water dive wearing a dry suit, and enjoyed exploring elements of Stoney Cove. I completed the air sharing skills exercises and have to admit to buzzing when the dive ended.
After a surface interval, during which we enjoyed sausage and bacon butties and warmed up, the second dive of the day was upon us. The Diving Officer explained the task I needed to complete, the deployment of an SMB and swimming for a short while whilst towing it, didn’t seem daunting and I was rearing to go. We discussed how I would attach the SMB to a platform at the dive site and inflate it using my octopus and I was ready to do it. If only it was as simple as it sounded!
After a comfortable bimble of the dive site, I attached the SMB to the platform and was ready to inflate it using my octopus. This is where it went wrong. I couldn’t inflate the SMB after a few goes and then my octopus jammed and went in to free flow. I kept (outwardly) calm and turned it upside down, hit it and put my finger inside to try and release the diaphragm but nothing worked. The air was just gushing out. I checked my gauge and was surprised to see how quickly my air had dropped from 150 bar in the tank to 60. I signaled to my buddy, the Diving Officer, who gave me their octopus so I could air share. I managed to get my free flowing octopus under control, by that I mean I could hold it in place so it wasn’t flailing about, but my tank was soon empty. My tank went from 150 bar to empty in 40 seconds but I was relaxed with the air share and the two of us were able to perform a controlled ascent to the surface including the expected safety stop. Whilst at the surface, the reality of what had happened sank in and I thanked my buddy for the air share and have to admit to feeling a sense of relief. This was quickly followed by the realisation that I’d be diving at another UK dive site at the weekend.
April Fool’s Day was the chosen date for me to join other members of the diving club in a trip to Eight Acre, just outside Hull. I left Mansfield when the temperature gauge in my car was reading only 2.5° and I found myself wondering about my decision to dive! I was committed to getting my final skill signed off and was determined nothing would stop me. Little did I know.
There was a great turn out of club members at the dive site that Easter Sunday. Some were just wanting to enjoy an Easter dive,o thers were there to achieve some skills towards their relevant qualification and of course there were several instructors who gave their time to help qualifying divers. I was on a mission. The Diving Officer was my buddy and we agreed that rather than using my octopus to inflate the SMB this time we used hers. After the comprehensive site briefing, completion of necessary paperwork and buddy checks, we were ready to get in the water and get the job done.
Yes, it was April Fool’s Day but I still didn’t expect what actually happened. We had a lovely dive around the site, looked at the sunken boat and enjoyed looking at the nosey fish. The water was cooler than at Stoney Cove just three days previously but this was not going to stop me from accomplishing the task in hand. Well that’s what I thought anyway. I used my buddy’s octopus to inflate the SMB but it managed to detach itself from the reel. The two of us just stayed where we were whilst we saw the SMB floating to the surface. My buddy held up the end of the reel string to which the SMB should have been attached! After a few moments of bewilderment, closely followed by some giggling, we continued with our dive. We performed the safety stop and when on the surface we couldn’t believe what had happened. The SMB was clearly floating in the middle of Eight Acre lake so we had a surface swim to retrieve it before exiting the water.
After two cold water dives trying to perform what should be a relatively simple task I made the decision that I was too cold to undertake a second dive that day. A few of us, including the Diving Officer, are going diving in warmer waters soon so we’ve agreed I can complete this task then.
So 2018 saw me undertake 3 UK dives in 4 days and I never thought I’d do that. Even though I didn’t achieve all I had set out to, I will admit to enjoying the experience although I think I’ll enjoy diving in the UK in the warmer months even more. I’m looking forward to exploring both Stoney Cove and Eight Acre again, later in the year when I hope the water temperature may hit double figures. I’d like to thank the Club’s Diving Officer for giving up two days to dive with me and help me work towards the final elements of my Club Diver qualification. I feel very lucky to be a member of such an active club with so many members committed to developing and training other divers.