As a teenager I was inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s films exploring the oceans and I was eager to go diving, unfortunately back then diving equipment was extremely expensive. I had to set aside my ambition until I at least had a job and could save some money. My first dive was in 1985 when I was a young 26 years old and bumped into an old climbing friend who offered to take me diving. The basic instructions were to clear your ears on descent and breath out on the way up, seemed simple enough what could possible go wrong? Fortunately I survived my first dive in a local quarry to 20m and was hooked so off I went to join the local Burton BSAC club to learn the necessary skills to be safe. Here I am still diving 35 years as a PADI Master Instructor and Tech Deep Instructor, what a journey, fantastic experience and I now I am fortunate to have great dive buddies, supported by the best dive shop in the UK at Go Dive.
When I joined Burton BSAC it was a fairly small club with around 20 active members. At the time I was working for British Coal’s Research HQ at Bretby, with a number of 20-30 year old’s who were also keen to learn to dive. We all joined the Burton club within a few weeks of each other almost doubling the membership. Training was slow but fun, it took 6 months to become signed off as a Novice Diver and another 4 months before being signed off as a Sports Diver. I went on to complete the Dive Leader training but unfortunately due to lots of politics, along with most of those I started my training with we left the club. It was now 1989 I had 70 dives under my belt, many of which were gained from good social club weekends away.
The next few years were spent as an occasional holiday diver mainly in the Caribbean; Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St Lucia. My wife Heather joined me on these dives, qualifying as a PADI Advanced Diver, as did I. In those days it was easier to show dive centres a certification card than explain who BSAC were so the plastic PADI card was an advantage.
2001 was the start of our Red Sea Liveaboard trips. For those yet to experience liveaboards they are a great way to maximise your dive holidays diving up to 4 dives a day and visiting the best sites often clear of the busy day boats. The early liveaboards were fairly cramped but always had a great atmosphere. The first boat we used was Valerie co-owed by an Egyptian dive guide Amro. Amro was a 6’ 6” hulk who dived with twin 8 litre cylinders, only one of which would have a regulator fitted. Amro taught me how to breathe slow and deep, usually finishing a long dive with a good reserve compared to what I had left in my 12 litre. During the first 5 years in the Red Sea I made 8 liveaboard trips including the classic Northern Wrecks, Brothers and Southern Red Sea.
Towards the end of 2005 we planned a trip to the Maldives and before going decided it would be a good idea to get an enriched air qualification. When I started diving use of Nitrox was shunned by BSAC and termed “Devils Juice”, thankfully this is not now the case. I contacted the local dive shop (Go Dive) and off we went to Stoney Cove, I hadn’t been there since 1988. The course was excellent; I was most impressed with the high ratio of staff to students which is a great selling point for the school. Apparently, I was good in the water which was nice to know only being an occasional diver, dive no 348 after 20 years. Indeed the course was great fun, so I immediately signed up for the Rescue Course. Newly qualified it was then off to Maldives for Christmas 2005. The first week was spent on a small liveaboard with the second on an island.
Yes you’ve guessed it as soon as I got back from the Maldives it was time to sign up for the Dive Master course with of course, Go Dive and buy my first Dry Suit. As an aside, my first suit was a Northern Diver suit which was leaking within a year, the second suit was a Typhoon fondly known as a tea bag, can’t think why. Finally I came across John Womack and Otter, bullet proof suit and service, fantastic.
In July 2006 I became a Dive Master and climbed the first rung on the ladder as a PADI professional having completed several hundred dives, I was confident much better prepared to look after students. Training as a DM, also gave me a good excuse to go diving with my mates most weekends as I was now “working”. The next step was to become an OWSI instructor which I did the following year. Now for a bit of advice, apart from a small minority, most of us enjoy teaching but remember to take time to enjoy fun and adventurous dives with your friends.
Diving for fun was spent with many more trips to the Red Sea. The boats got bigger and posher, especially with the Blue O Two fleet.
On one Blue O Two trip I became a model for Dan Burton, underwater photographer who makes his own housing and pioneered 3D photography.
Check out some of Dan’s work here. Apart from picking up some great underwater photography tips Dan is an accomplished paramotor pilot and was an influence in me later getting interested in paragliding, another 3D world.
I got a little better at taking photo’s on subsequent Red Sea trips….
Teaching at Go Dive enabled me to expand my circle of diving buddies amongst the staff and those that I had trained which was great for UK trips, my favourites being the Farnes and Newquay for easy Tec Dives. I also use NDAC for training/building up a little depth experience. One of our videos from a dive to the SS Obdam out of Newquay in 48m in on YouTube here.
Of course following on from Tec and Tec Deep training it is also nice to plan a holiday! Malta is an ideal destination with many accessible wrecks and good dive centres, my favourite being Maltaqua which was the first PADI dive centre established on the island. Having trained a number of students a few of us set off for an excellent week’s diving in 2015. Video from our Malta 2015 Tec Trip is on YouTube here.
After qualifying as a Dive Master and gaining the then Discover Scuba Diving rating I was keen to introduce as many people to diving as possible and logged over a 100 which put be in a great position to later become an OWSI (Open Water Scuba Instructor), MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer), SI (Staff Instructor) and finally a MI (Master Instructor).
In addition to introducing new people to diving; mentoring professional development through DM and AI (Assistant Instructor) courses has been very rewarding and enabled me to critique my own teaching approach. I am always available to help less experienced instructors continue their own development.
In January 2015 I went on HYAH clean up liveaboard trip to the Red Sea. This was a good opportunity to get the reef clean up credit towards my MI rating as well as lead a couple of former students round some of the famous sites. A favourite is always the Thistlegorm – https://youtu.be/lv61XQANfUg
One these students is now a SI at Go Dive. It has been a pleasure to help him progress from being a slightly nervous diver to a great instructor who puts in a lot of time to mentor post students when he is not teaching – well done Andy, keep it up. Most of my current local pleasure diving is with a group formed from friends who regularly dive together at Stoney Cove – Stoney Pirates Stoney Cove Pirates – YouTube.
If you are not yet a diver but would like to try it, be sure to contact Go Dive to get started. If you are a diver and wish to progress your training and experience I am always happy to advise. As Jacques Cousteau said diving is a sport for grandmothers, so it is easily accessible to all ages and abilities. I look forward to my next 40 years diving.