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Learning with a club was right for me

Stacy with a dugong
Stacy Bonser

For some years my partner, Michael, had been saying that he thought I’d love scuba diving. He’d done his Open Water course abroad with PADI in 2003, and then again 10 years later, but that’s another story! He knew I loved wildlife and was addicted to nature documentaries so for him it seemed natural that I’d love to experience life under the waves. The problem was, I was scared to even put my head under water!

We knew that the PADI approach wasn’t going to be right for me, Michael understood I’d want to take this slower and at my own pace. I needed a club which would be happy to work with me to overcome my fears and for me not to feel rushed. We both decided to have a try dive with a local scuba diving club with the idea of joining them so we could learn to dive but the club just didn’t have the right ‘feel’ for us!

It was back in 2017 when a work colleague suggested Mansfield and District Scuba Club as he was a member there; we both decided we’d give it a shot. It started with a pool session and we both felt so at ease we joined the club and our scuba diving journey began.

Looking back, I can’t believe it took me 4 pool sessions before I felt comfortable enough to sit on the pool floor. How patient the trainers were with me was amazing. I really felt I was supported throughout the process, they took the time to work with me so I could build up my confidence and overcome my fears.

Michael and I both work shifts so we weren’t able to attend all the pool sessions on offer by the club but that wasn’t a problem. Our lecture program and pool sessions were worked round our shifts and I felt that I wasn’t rushed; I asked lots of questions and was never nervous about asking for things to be explained in a different way for me.

After over 10 months of pool sessions, and having passed my pool test and getting the hang of a dry suit, my first open water dive beckoned. As we left Mansfield to go up to Hull to dive at 8 Acre, I did question what I was doing…it was snowing! I never thought I’d be diving in the snow!

I couldn’t believe how much encouragement I got from other members of the club, trainers and Diving Officer as I tried to overcome my nerves before getting in the cold water. I felt as though everybody was willing me to succeed on my first dive, and it definitely helped. My first dive lasted 15 minutes, I couldn’t feel my fingers and my face was freezing cold, but wow the sense of achievement was amazing. I had finally done a dive it was such a major step. I felt on top of the world. My second day of open water diving was in much warmer water and I managed to successfully complete a couple of skills. Both dives were 18 minutes and I felt that I’d made some serious improvement and I had got the diving bug!

Learning in the club environment has really suited me. I’ve got to know my instructors both in and out of the water and this has helped me feel more confident and safe when diving. I’ve benefited from the advice and experience of other club members who’ve shared their diving stories.

In June this year, Michael and I decided that the 2 week diving holiday to Egypt being organised by the club was a must for us. Wow, what an amazing trip it was too. Having only dived in a dry suit in the UK, being able to dive in a wetsuit was so liberating and it was much easier without wearing gloves and hood too.

I can’t really put in to words what that dive holiday to Marsa Alam meant to me. There were some amazing highlights…turtles, so many I lost count, crocodile fish, cornet fish, nemos….and a wonderful experience with a dugong. I couldn’t believe it; the variety of fish, the beautiful colour of the corals, the wonderful visibility. It was everything I’d dreamed of and so much more. I felt privileged to have a glimpse of the underwater world and feel very lucky to have had such an experience.

Diving with members of my club, including instructors who’d been so patient with me for over a year, gave me reassurance and confidence. After every dive I came out feeling more assured in my ability and couldn’t wait to get back in again.

During the holiday I was also able to benefit from the knowledge of some highly experienced snorkellers. If you’d asked me 2 years ago to go in to the water when there was some swell like we had, I would have politely declined! Thanks to a couple of club members who helped me develop my snorkelling skills and giving me sound words of advice, including ‘go with the water, you can’t fight it’, I’m now confident on top of the water too.

Learning to dive with Mansfield and District Scuba Diving Club has been such a rewarding experience. The instructors and members have been patient, encouraging and it’s such an inclusive environment I feel as though they’ve all been on this amazing journey with me. A journey which has not only seen me become a qualified scuba diver who’s now working towards their Club Diver qualification but somebody who has developed more confidence in general too. I can’t imagine my life without scuba diving being part of it and I can’t wait to learn more skills and gain more experience so I can continue to explore life under the waves. 

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.

Some of the club members at Eight Acre
Some of the club members at Eight Acre

Ao Nang, Thailand, 2016

Charlie Beardow, Dive Leader and Club Instructor

October 2016, Ao Nang Thailand.

For months before my trip, I researched many different dive companies in Thailand. I eventually finalised my location (with my sister’s recommendation) to Ao Nang rather than Phuket.

I decided to use Kon Tiki Dive Company, after reading many different reports and not being far from the hotel.  I emailed and reserved 4 days diving with up to 10 dives.

Upon arrival in Ao Nang, I went and registered with the dive company and completed all the paper work.

Next morning I was collected from the hotel and taken to a long boat for transfer to a larger dive boat. There were about 10 people diving with four guides. We had a major brief and introduction to the guides before being split into our smaller groups. Once in the small group we were given more detailed information on what we may see and procedures.

Day One went lovely, seeing all the fish and sea life. However, it was noticeable of a great amount of damaged corals. Once back aboard the boat we asked about the corals and informed that this was the result of the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004.

Day Two, We had new dive guides and new locations in the Bay of Thailand. Again, the dives were lovely and waters warm. One of the dives was next to a pinnacle of limestone that climbed out of the sea to about 100 feet with trees and other vegetation growing. Around the base, were many day boats with snorkelers swimming and splashing around. We jumped in and immediately dive onto an artificial reef.

Day Three, Only 1 dive today and my last in Thailand. The seas seemed a little rougher than the other days, and again another guide. 

I dive with a couple from the London region, the man had done about 100 dives but his wife was still relatively new to diving and was quite apprehensive about the sea state. The Guide takes the wife in as his buddy because of her apprehension and I dive with the husband. Once in the water the woman literally uses up all her air within 20 minutes because she is hyperventilating and a little panicky. She ends up next to me as we swim through a ball of fish. Whilst we are doing our safety stop, the woman is panicky so I hold her hand, stay with her until we surface, and get to the boat.

When I was trying to get onto the boat with the guide the captain decides to engage his boats propellers and move off, everyone shouts for him to stop and the guide and I eventually make it aboard. I am not happy with the sea state as it was 3 to 4 foot waves. I decide not to do anymore diving with the company and inform the lead dive guide of my decision.  Whilst they decide to do a second dive, I dismantle my kit and find that I had broken one of my BCD weight pocket pouch handles, so even if I had wanted to dive I would not have been able to ditch my weights if necessary. 

I never heard another word from Kon Tiki divers whilst in Ao Nang and when I eventually did hear from them, they claimed they tried talking to me on the boat. 

Moral of this story is, even if you do all the research into a dive company it may not turn out as you like.

Red Sea Liveaboard

January 2017

I’ve dived in Egypt many times over the last 15 years, exclusively from day boats in Sharm-el-Sheikh, but with the recent restrictions, getting to Sharm is far from straightforward at the moment. However, flights to Hurghada are readily available and as I’d never done a liveaboard before, I was rather excited at the prospect of a week aboard Bluefin.

My wife Anne and I, plus another couple of MAD Scuba Club members, Heath and Steve, arrived in Hurghada feeling a little worse for wear.  We had travelled over the Pennines to Manchester airport in the dark in a bit of a snow storm, waited in the snow for the Jet Parks bus and got rather cold. A few of us were still suffering from the after effects of a Christmas cold too, so not a good start to the holiday!  It was, of course, a little warmer in Egypt, but not as warm as we were expecting.  The temperature was in the low 20s during the day (cooler at night) and the sea breeze on the boat meant there was little chance for sun bathing and fleeces were very welcome.  It’s a good job we were there for the diving rather than the sun!

For those that have yet to try a liveaboard, I heartily recommend it.  It looks quite a bit more expensive than day boats initially, but when you consider that it’s an all-inclusive trip, the comparisons are a little more favourable. Note: there are some exceptions to the all-inclusive ticket, i.e. alcohol, but you shouldn’t be drinking that much on a diving holiday, liveaboard or not!

The food on the boat is nothing short of miraculous given the confined space the cooks have to work in. It’s plentiful and in my view, puts some top-notch hotels to shame. There are always at least 2 courses for every meal and snacks available in between. You won’t go hungry believe me!

The on-suite accommodation is good or great depending on how lucky you are with your cabin allocation. We had a one of the big doubles, which was fantastic, as good as many hotel rooms. We didn’t need the air-con at that time of year though!

So how does liveaboard compare? Everything is relative of course, but on a day boat it always feels a little bit of a rush – getting up and breakfasting at the hotel, catching the bus down to the jetty, travelling out to the first dive site in the hope that you get there before all the other boats, setting up your kit for every dive, including changing tanks and then the return journey back to port and your hotel, a quick shower and out to find something to eat, then start all over again tomorrow.

A liveaboard is an altogether more relaxed experience. You set up your kit once at the beginning of the week and that’s it. You use the same tank all week and it’s filled in situ between dives. Those choosing to roll out of bed for the optional pre-breakfast dive are woken with a cuppa and 30 minutes later you’re donning your kit for the first dive of the day. Including the night dive, there are 4 dives a day on offer, for all but the first and last day.

After every dive the crew are on-hand to assist in any way they can. They almost look annoyed if you try and do something for yourself – removing fins and gear and handing you a cup of hot chocolate as soon as you’re back on deck. Needless to say, that’s very welcome after a rather cool hour-long dive.  Perhaps I’m a bit of a wuss, but I’d recommend you pack a decent 5mm wetsuit for this time of year. The water temp was down to 22/23°C and my trusty 5mm is getting a little long in the tooth now and was barely adequate. I’ll certainly be taking another layer if I repeat this trip next year with the same suit.

We chose the Northern Wrecks and Reefs tour ( and many of the dive sites will be familiar to those that have dived around Sharm before – Shark & Yolanda, Jackfish Alley, Thistlegorm, Dunraven.  Perhaps there wasn’t the abundance of life on some of the sites that I’m used to seeing later in the year, but it was January, so I guess that’s to be expected. It certainly beats 8 Acre Lake in January and I know, because I was in there the week before!

We did quite a few wrecks new to me such as the Dunraven and the Kingston (see below). None quite as impressive as the Thistlegorm, but I doubt there are many wrecks in the world that can match it.

The usual creatures were to be found without looking very hard. Blue-spotted rays and morays aplenty were on show, as were pyjama slugs.

The only thing I really missed was turtles. Other divers spotted one or two but I didn’t see a turtle all week. I don’t suppose we see that many later in the year, but this is the first diving holiday I’ve had there with none at all.

However, this was more than compensated for by the highlight of the week, a dive site called Dolphin House, which lived up to its name.

From a few minutes in, a mother and calf were buzzing one dive group after another throughout the rest of the dive. I was trying to take pictures of Anne and these pesky dolphins kept getting in the way!

It really was a most memorable end to the week and I will certainly be keeping my eye open for more liveaboard bargains in the future. If anyone is thinking of going and needs a buddy to take, stick me at the top of your list please!

New Year, new start – getting dive fit for 2017

There has been much said recently in the diving press about the importance to divers of ensuring they recognise the need to take responsibility for their fitness to dive.  Age does seem to be an emerging factor in relation to diving fatalities over recent years. Cumming and Watson (2016) in reviewing diving incidents in the UK in 2015 note, ‘Diver age and potential related health and fitness issues are still featuring and may be critical factors in this and recent years’ fatalities’. 

While diving includes a broad age range of people, the emergence of the sport over recent decades means that many divers are now reaching middle age and, therefore, are subject to the aging process as much as we all try and deny it.  As we age, we are naturally subject to wear and tear and for men from around the age of 45 years and women from around 55 years, it does appear that we are at a greater risk of the development in particular of coronary heart disease and its subsequent risk factors related to blood flow. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though, many people continue to dive into older age very safely. Older divers tend to take fewer risks and they tend to obey the rules.  And there are things we can do to ensure we dive safety as club members and dive buddies. These include having regular check-ups and taking advantage of screening tests that are now available from the age of 40 years from the NHS visit  for more.   

As important is keeping fit through regular exercise thus ensuring your heart and general muscle strength are the best they can be. It is important to remember too, that chronological age can be markedly different from one’ s physiological age, the reason for this is often life-style based. One of my running friends was 75 years old last month, his current half marathon time is still better than mine has ever been! Younger divers too must take responsibility for their own health, well-being and fitness levels as much as older divers because we all rely upon one another when we are diving.  So, what can you do to ensure you are as fit as you can be as a diver for 2017?  Take up screening opportunities, manage your health conditions effectively with your medical practitioner, cut down on smoking, lose weight, try to build exercise into your life not just for the new year but throughout 2017 and beyond. 

Your club’s weekly pool session provides you with  a great opportunity to start to build regular exercise into your life when not scuba training.  So come on in buddies, the water is warm, start to get some decent lengths under your weight belt – I’ll see you in the pool in 2017.


Cumming, B.  & Watson, J.  (2016) National Diving Committee: Diving Incident Report 2016 British Sub Aqua Club.

Provided by Ruby Oates

Mansfield & District Scuba Diving Club

SAA Club Instructor Training

Congratulations to Elliott Kean on passing his SAA Club Instructor qualification today at the ScubaMAD clubhouse and Ashfield Leisure Centre pool. Elliott is one of our keen, Kean family, divers. Under the instruction and guidance of ScubaMAD’s Training Officer, Chris Kean (Dad), Elliott has progressed from joining the club as a diver trainee in 2011, to building up his experience in British quarries and seas and tropical waters of the Red Sea and Caribbean, developed to taking on more responsibilities as Dive Leader in 2014, to now starting on a path of teaching and assessing new divers in diving theory and diving skills in the safe confines of a swimming pool.

Elliott is (im)proving to be a strong asset to ScubaMAD. With his enthusiasm to increase his diving skills, he is in the process of training as SAA Rescue Diver and intends to progress to train and qualify as an SAA Open Water Instructor. With Elliott’s mature attitude and calm and patient manner, I’m certain he will become an excellent diving tutor and assessor. He will very likely attract more, younger prospective divers to the Club and will help maintain the philosophy of ScubaMad …to provide a safe introduction to diving in the company of like-minded people who give up their time to ensure the best possible training, with an emphasis on safety, in a friendly, sociable atmosphere.

Good luck Elliott, with your forthcoming Rescue Diver assessment and future diving skills training and development.

{From the website}