…So there I was, 30 metres below the surface of the waves, seven cabins deep inside the wreck, and surrounded by five muscle-bound action men, when the thought crossed my mind, why on earth a middle-aged housewife and mother of five wasn’t spending her weekend playing taxi service to the kids and cooking the Sunday roast?
There can’t be that many of us in the technical diving community who match my profile, yet I have to say that taking part in the Advanced Deep Wreck Penetration Diving Course was one of the most challenging, exciting and amazing experiences of my life.
I started my diving career, dare I admit it, over thirty years ago in the days of the ABLJ, when drysuits were a strange and exotic invention seldom seen in the world of recreational divers. My husband-to-be joined the dive club at the same time, though we hadn’t yet met, and our BSAC training progressed nicely. We dived mostly in South and West Wales and in the West Country, but the opportunity to dive became scarce after relocating with my husbands job, and the arrival of children. Children grow, however, and soon were old enough for us to make the decision to start diving again, we decided to join our new local dive club who put us through our paces, just as baby number 5 decided to put in an appearance. Finally, after another delay, I was back in the water and loving it.
In April 2000, we arrived in the Philippines and by our second weekend in the country had made our way as far as Puerto Galera. We found ourselves diving with an instructor, also from England, also BSAC trained, there was a lot to chat about. But who was this man who proclaimed that in ten years time all recreational diving would take place using gas mixtures other than air. This was our introduction to John Bennett who was to become the World Record holder for the Deepest Open Circuit Scuba Dive Ever for a dive to 308m.
Training within BSAC club system, divers are continually pushing themselves to improve; taking part in courses, running courses, achieving new qualifications and more training, instructing new members, these are the basics that make the club so successful. There is constant emphasis on safety and yet more training, in the view of BSAC, you can never have too much! And herein lies it’s superiority. Much as I dislike the macho image of the club, no one can ever deny that a BSAC diver has anything less than a sound understanding of all aspects of their sport.
Diving in the Philippines is fantastic. On a chilly December day the water temperature can plummet as low as 24C, and visibility rarely drops below ten metres. This contrasted pleasantly with our UK diving experiences; I remember kitting up for a dive one April morning as snow was fallling, and some dive sites would be lucky to get 5m visibility on a good day.
But in the Philippines there are millions of fish. In fact it’s all so easy, so that your average diver simply considers a weekend dive trip to be a gentle, relaxing day at the beach, something to keep the girls occupied, but not really a mans sport.
Boatmen are willing to carry your equipment for just a few pesos, and there’s never any hassles over boat maintenance, towing, launching or even coxing your dive boat – all taken care of by experienced guides, who will drop you to within an inch of your chosen site, even without the help of a depth sounder.
We explored some of the best dive sites in the world. Beautiful reefs, amazing wrecks, sheer drop offs where you can see down to depths of 60 or 70 m and beyond, sites where rare sharks and rays are almost guaranteed to be found, but even so, after a while, the challenge had gone.
Our two older boys soon qualified as divers, there’s no way they could avoid it really with two mad keen diving parents, but the lure of some of the wreck diving here on our doorstep was calling out for some more training.
I’ve never really wanted to achieve the role of PADI Dive Master, though that is the obvious challenge. I’ve seen too many arrogant divers ignoring their group leaders, thinking they know better about dive sites they have never visited than those who dive them day in day out and year round.
We decided instead to venture into the world of technical diving with the chance to explore those old, familiar dive sites at greater depth, for longer times and basically with a greater degree of safety. Of course it was John Bennett we went back to for our training. His techniques and theories of decompression procedures were quite simply cutting edge. He and his team were proving their theories on a daily basis, and his enthusiasm for all things tech was infectious. One thing we both felt, was that this was quality training, first hand.
And that is how, after a week of lectures, training and negotiating my way blindfold around a car park, using only a length of rope, I found myself in the pitch black interior of the SS New York, in Subic Bay. The dive went smoothly, thanks to meticulous planning; we dropped feet first into the blackest of blackness and used torches to pass signals along the line of six divers. Before long, we were outside the wreck again, collecting our stage bottles from the the deck where we had left them clipped to railings, and beginning our slow ascent to the surface.
Some people go to theme parks for their thrills, but for me, this was one of the most exciting and exhilarating activities I can imagine.
…So what was I doing down there? Just having the most enormously thrilling time.
[photo credits to Mr RiverWriter!]