The Good Old Days by Brian Goddard
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 13:51

After helping my Uncle Harry with the greengrocers round on a Saturday afternoons I was given tea and allowed to watch TV. It was during these brief Saturday afternoon viewing opportunities that I was first introduced to SCUBA diving. Sea Hunt was the first commercial underwater film series ever made. It featured a young actor Lloyd Bridges as the main character “Mike Nelson” an ex-navy diver turned underwater adventurer. Previous film of underwater activity had been limited to models in tanks or actors filmed through glass windows. Sea Hunt was true underwater action filmed with underwater cameras. I was smitten from that day on, although to a young boy who had just stabled the dray horse the technology seemed a world apart, I was determined to learn more.

Fifteen years or so would pass; I was twenty five and a married man with a young family before I had the determination and financial ability to take up diving. The year was 1973 and the BSAC was already 20 years old. All the talk in Sheffield BSAC branch 36 was of the latest gear available. The club magazine “Triton” was full of adverts for gear, most in black and white, I poured over these asked the advice of more experienced members and looked for the best prices available. After successfully completing the infamous “A” swimming test I eventually purchased a Luxfer 60 cubic foot Aluminium cylinder with back pack, “Snark 2 Silver” regulator, contents gauge and Fenzy Adjustable Buoyancy Life Jacket “ABLJ” from Greenaway marine in Leeds, the total package cost £99, about 6 weeks take home pay. Approximately three months later I was ready to venture into open water to carry out the obligatory three snorkel dives. By this time I had managed to save enough for a wet suit and opted for the relative luxury of having one tailor made at a cost of £35.

And so I went diving, shore diving, quarries, reservoirs and lakes were the order of the day, boats were far too expensive to own and dive charters were non-existent. For my first shore dive I travelled to the rendezvous point in town by public transport. Try getting on a bus today toting full kit including cylinder and weight belt, the health and safety police would have a fit. I was less than impressed when it turned out the DO had cancelled the dive without telling me and no one turned up, leaving me to return home disappointed.

In 1980 I took up a new work position in York and had to resign as DO with Sheffield BSAC part way through my third term. I immediately joined York BSAC, I was welcomed with open arms as I was the only nationally qualified instructor in branch. The flourishing junior snorkelers section was something new to me and both my children were soon involved.

For the next few years shore diving on the East coast became the norm, the local sites of Thornwick bay and Filey Brigg were favourite locations. In those days pollution was less and although conditions were still variable some excellent diving could be experienced. The caves around Thornwick bay were a particular favourite with the snorkelers. They loved to swim to the back of the caves, climb onto the ledges and jump from as high as possible back into the water.

One snorkel trip to “Devils Bridge” proved to be a great success with the kids, it was a hot sunny day and conditions in the river were perfect. We spent all morning snorkelling in the river with Trout and Roach before a picnic lunch watching insane youths jump into the river from the bridge. A quick dive in the afternoon in the deep pool down river under the road bridge and it was time to change ready for the journey home. Returning to the car we found it completely surrounded by hundreds of motor bikes. It appeared that every biker in the north had arrived in Kirkby Lonsdale for a day out. Everywhere leather clad figures were licking ice creams engaged in studious discussion of their beloved bikes. With the agreed time for return of the kids in serious jeopardy I stood contemplating how to get so many vehicles moved and get out of the car park. A leather clad biker approached, all bent legs long hair and tattoo’s, and enquired if I needed to be out. In minutes he had rounded up dozens of riders and cleared a path and we were on our way.

In those days York branch appears to have been well ahead of the game; it lost a great asset when the Junior Snorkelers section closed.

During the early eighties the branch decided to purchase one of the new RIB boats that had recently gained popularity. This was coupled with a second hand Suzuki 90 HP engine that proved to be very unreliable.

One summer, while out on the new RIB, my buddy and I opted for a nostalgic dive in our old wet suits. We dived second wave and by the time we got in the water the flood tide was running. Undeterred we worked our way against the current in only a couple of metres viz for about half an hour. Having seen very little we decided to surface. The boat was less than 30 metres away down current and a little inshore, we exchanged signals with the crew and waited for pick up. We went past the boat so quickly we initially thought it was already motoring. To our consternation the boat did not come to pick us up. For ninety minutes we drifted down the East coast well out of visual range of the boat and approximately one mile offshore. Bewildered as to what could have happened we encountered the choppy water around Flamborough head. The value of the humble snorkel became clear; in such conditions breathing without one is very difficult and would soon have sapped our strength.

We had become very cold, having now been in the water over two hours. We started to contemplate ditching our kit and striking out for the shore when the club boat became visible in the distance searching for us. It turned out that the engine had refused to start when we first surfaced and had required a great deal of coaxing to bring it back to life. We were just glad to see it coming towards us; the ocean is a very cold and lonely place when you are adrift; the wet suit never saw the light of day again. Thanks to the crew who appointed a look out to keep watch on us and point out our direction of drift and Leo who wrestled the engine back to life we got to dive another day.

Diving has always been based on technology, over the years this has changed enormously. The introduction of GPS in the nineties revolutionised offshore diving enabling wrecks to be accurately pinpointed and returned to with amazing accuracy. This is perhaps the single invention that has done the most to revolutionise the way we dive. It still amazes me that satellites in space can enable navigation anywhere on the Earth’s surface accurate to within a few metres. What is even more amazing, position is determined by measuring the very small differences in travel time for signals from three or more satellites. When I got my first boat twenty four years ago “Decca” was the only electronic navigation aid available. It used land based radio transmitters to triangulate position, with varying degrees of accuracy. It provided varied results dependent upon weather and location. Our own stretch of coast was a signal change area resulting in wildly varying readings and little repeatability. The system was fine for sailing along a coastline, but locating wrecks was better done using a set of good transits if they could be obtained. GPS provided accurate repeatable wreck locations and a database of wrecks quickly followed. We now have the ability to cruise anywhere in the world and seek out wrecks with a very high success rate. For fun I keep the coordinates of the Red Sea wreck “Thistlegorm” in my GPS, it informs me it is over 2600 miles away and were I to steer the course given would put me right over the wreck!

My first BSAC Diving Manual, a weighty hard back volume, informed me the club supported diving utilising air alone. The BSAC later seemed reluctant to embrace Nitrox, considering the additional complication unacceptable. So it was with Rebreather technology, other agencies were providing training long before the BSAC decided to allow closed circuit diving.

Diving beyond fifty metres with a clear head, remembering all you have seen, is a revelation that awaits any diver who chooses to dive this way. I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of these advances and enjoyed some memorable dives in the last few years. Despite my advancing years I have tried to keep abreast of modern diving techniques, to my mind there is little to be gained from dwelling in the past in a sport that owes its very existence to technological development. Hopefully my health will hold up and I will be able to enjoy diving for a few more years. In what now must surely be the twilight of my diving career I can only envy younger divers the wider opportunities future developments may provide. The so called “good old days” were less congested with less pollution and always challenging. The technology that once seemed so miraculous to that young wide eyed boy now appears mundane. There is no doubt that diving has moved on; improvements in equipment, accessibility and personal wealth have opened up the sport to the majority of the developed world. Dives once thought to be challenging and cutting edge are now within the scope of the majority of club divers. When I started diving it was beyond my wildest dreams to contemplate diving the Red Sea, Truk Lagoon, the South China Seas, or Norwegian Fiords, today they are locations regularly on offer to divers.

The birth of so called Technical Diving has provided a whole new level of diving challenges and in my experience diving is now much more adventurous than at any time in the past. Old favourites like Scapa Flow, Farne Islands and St Abbs have revealed additional scope, while cheap flights have opened up fantastic new locations all over the globe. There is no doubt that diving will continue to evolve and provide even greater challenges.

Mike Nelson has a lot to answer for; I owe him big time for a life less ordinary filled with experiences my childish imaginings never contemplated. I hope, as in my case, diving provides you many years full of challenges and enjoyment, limited only by your own ambitions. For now I wish you safe diving and hope you experience the wonderful friendships I have been privileged to enjoy through this great sport we share.

 

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