I recall when I was very young, enjoying watching Jacques Cousteau’s adventures aboard “Calypso” and his dives in the Underwater World, but I only took to scuba diving after an “off the cuff” and last minute decision to go on a snorkelling trip in Hurghada. It was at the end of my holiday after I’d been in Egypt for a Nile cruise. I could swim, but I was not at all at ease jumping off the back of the boat into open water. I had visions of circling sharks below… just waiting for their dinner! I remember the snorkelling guide took some liberties and held on to me a bit too close for comfort! I tolerated it though, as I initially felt the fins were dragging me down and I couldn’t breathe through the snorkel and I thought, “if I sink… he’s coming down with me”! As we approached the reef, my rising panic was very soon replaced by intense excitement on seeing the spectacular rainbow of coloured corals and hundreds of reef fish. 30 – 40 minutes of finning back and forth along the reef seemed to fly by, and I was fascinated with seeing a few divers swimming below and being tickled by their ascending bubbles. I wanted to see what they were seeing, and liked the idea of being able to follow the fish wherever they went. When I got back on the boat there was lots of encouragement to take a Try-Dive and enrol for a PADI course. I was keen to have a go, but with no time or spending money left, I reluctantly declined. However, I’d decided there and then that I would definitely learn to dive and was intent to return to the Red Sea to get below the waves and explore more of the underwater world.
It was October 2000, and I looked for a local dive club when I returned home from that holiday. I found North Notts Nautilus (now ScubaMAD) and met the Diving Officer, Jim Grice, who offered training with the Sub Aqua Association (SAA) at a local pool. From my first try-dive I was “bitten by the diving bug”. I attended pool sessions at Sutton baths every Friday night and theory sessions at the club’s social venue in Mansfield and worked hard to prepare for my first qualification – Elementary Diver. The scuba diving instructors and club members were a font of knowledge and guidance, conscientious about diving safety and their enthusiasm for diving was catching. The social aspect of the club was excellent too – everyone was welcoming and friendly, and the clubhouse had a licensed bar, which led to many a late night (….and still does!)
My first open water test was at Stoney Cove in mid-December. (There was even a scattering of snow). I was amazed to be able to see so far underwater and see so many fish and creatures swimming and crawling around. The bacon and egg butty between dives made up for the shock of the freezing cold water when doing the mask removals! With more theory and another couple of visits to Stoney to attain my Open Water Diver qualification, I was soon off to Manley Beach in Sydney to do my first sea dive… a one off chance to dive there, I was initially apprehensive to be diving with strangers. But, confident I’d been trained well, I dived safely and competently, and with a beaming smile across my face during and well after I came out of the sea – I’d seen loads of huge fish, (one bigger than me!) and a couple of Wobbegong sharks… Again… Again… Again!!
Within six months of my impromptu snorkelling trip, I achieved my ambition to return to scuba dive in the Red Sea, and I qualified as Club Diver on my first Club holiday to Sharm el Sheikh. Since then, I’ve been on many long weekend trips with the Club, to dive on wrecks in Oban, Scapa Flow, Seahouses and Plymouth; dive with seals in the Farne Islands; chase “lobbies” at St Abbs; dive the temperate, windswept waters of Cape Verdi; dive the calmer tropical waters of the Caribbean (to Cuba, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Bonaire, Belize); been lucky enough to go on some fantastic dive odysseys – as livaboard and land-based trips – (to Truk Lagoon, Yap, Palau, Guam, Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea and several of the ribbon reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, continued along the east coast of Australia from Morton Island and Flinders Reef near Brisbane, to the Gold Coast and down to Cook Island near Sydney). And I’ve lost count of the number of diving trips to the Red Sea. I’ve loved every minute of the hundreds of hours I’ve spent underwater, (even the odd scary dives). My enthusiasm for scuba diving has never waned.
For about four years when I had to undergo several joint replacements, I was “grounded”, unable to dive and felt thoroughly miserable. As soon as I could I got back into the water and I’ve adapted to a certain loss of mobility. The getting in and out (of the kit – let alone the water!) are a lot more hassle and painful but, worth it. When weightless in the underwater world, all the pain and discomfort disappears. If I ever end up with a more severe loss of mobility or even lose any of my limbs, I’d still be determined to find a way to get in the water and dive.
I qualified as an SAA Open Water Instructor in 2003 but, only in the past five years (since getting back in to regular diving) have I been really active in training and assessing novice divers. The inland quarries ScubaMAD use for scuba dive training (Stoney Cove, Eight Acre Lake, Dosthill, Capernwray), I’ve dived many times, but these places always appear new and exciting when I’m introducing new divers to them. And it’s very satisfying to see trainees’ skills and confidence underwater developing. I’ve also been continuing my own training and skills progression over the past year by gaining qualifications to instruct and assess more experienced divers on the Regional courses run by the SAA. I hope to be a fully certified Regional Instructor by the end of this year.
When my partner, Dennis, and I rejoined North Notts Nautilus (recently renamed as ScubaMAD) in 2010, the excellent, long-established scuba diving club that we’d both trained with, which was just short of its 40th anniversary, was sinking fast (losing money, motivation and members). It had sadly turned into a “talk about scuba diving club”, with little or no diving or training activities occurring, and it was near to bankruptcy and disbanding. Over the past four years, with some hard work and help of several other committed and enthusiastic Club members, ScubaMAD has been transformed into an active training and social club with on average 20 – 30 members, who have achieved an annual dive total of approximately 800. ScubaMAD is now actively involved in hosting and running regional training courses and we maintain regular contact with and assist local SAA clubs with their training activities. Some of the members of ScubaMAD are actively participating in the SAA National Committee to raise the profile of the SAA and provide support to and representation of scuba diving club members at a National level.
ScubaMAD and the SAA have the philosophy of providing 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. ScubaMAD training ensures that a trainee moves through successive grades of competence at their own pace and that support is ongoing. Members are encouraged to progress to specific skills and instructor courses delivered at regional level if and when they feel they are ready to.
The social activites of ScubMAD are as stimulating, friendly and supportive as the diving… with a good family atmosphere where divers and non-divers are just as welcome. Our enthusiastic social organisers arrange lots of fun events and fund-raising activities, from Birthday Dos and annual festivities like Bonfire and Christmas parties, to the regular monthly “fish and chip” & “Battle of the Brains” quiz nights, to impromptu BBQs at the clubhouse or at diving venues (weather permitting!) – there’s always something well worth attending. As a club we have a strong interest in underwater photography and as well as post-holiday “film nights” (always a good laugh), there are occasional interest group / teaching sessions on photography skills and photo & video processing. We have a strong, cohesive group of people who enjoy each-others’ company. Our annual diving holidays are well attended, and for the past few years groups of over a dozen Club members have been away to the Red Sea and the Caribbean. I hope this continues to the Club’s 50th anniversary… and well beyond.
If you want a cost-effective and safe way to learn to scuba dive or snorkel… if you’re looking for adventure… a new network of friends and want an active social life… get in touch with us. You can come down to the clubhouse to meet us all and we’ll book you in for a try-dive.