Taking the Plunge, with Dive Rutland
Written By Ben Green
May 2021. After 15 months in lockdown (due to COVID!) we’re finally permitted to (carefully!) resume human contact in small groups indoors. Almost a year after deciding “I might want to have a crack at this diving lark,” I arrived in the dive centre; swimmies in one hand, nine months’ worth of excitement and apprehension in the other.
As it turns out, I could have left the apprehension at home. We had a short batch of introductions, both to the instructors (shout out to Tracey and Nathan!) and to my new buddy, Oscar (top lad!) then straight on to building our equipment ready to head into the pool. No time for nerves to build up as we got kitted up and descended below the surface. That first session was taken up with learning how to control our buoyancy, including getting correctly weighted so we could perform skills floating in mid water instead of kneeling on the bottom, clearing water out of our masks (not goggles!), and the thing I was dreading the most, taking out the regulator, dropping it, and having to recover it. Needn’t have worried though, the recovery part didn’t take long, and neither did the rest of the dive! It felt like about ten minutes in the pool, though it had been over an hour of various skills and just getting used to swimming with fins (not flippers!) on your feet and a big metal weight on your back!
The following four weeks were spent in the pool each Saturday evening, adding new skills and developing existing ones (partial mask clearing to full mask clearing to mask removal and replacement up to swimming without a mask, for example) all the while practicing maintaining our buoyancy, lots of finning around the pool, and working on our buddy skills (so we didn’t swim off in different directions…) Each session finished with a debrief, so we could highlight anything we struggled with, ask any questions that we couldn’t underwater (because communication is another skill that needs working on, unless you happen to be fluent in sign language before you start!), and discuss what was coming up in the next session.
The pool sessions concluded with a drysuit orientation, which added another layer of complexity on top of everything else we had learnt, but once we had mastered / grasped what to do in some potential emergency situations, we were ready to take our new found skills out into the chilly (compared to the pool…) waters of Stoney Cove.
Well, now that was another kettle of fish entirely (fish pun not intended… honestly). “Vis” is not something you need to consider in a pool, but in June / July in Stoney, the visibility (or more accurately, lack thereof,) can make life a little tricky! For us however (Oscar and I), the combination of practicing buddy skills and attentive instructors meant we were never at risk of getting lost or separated, and each dive (5 in total, over two consecutive Sundays) was more enjoyable than the last. Initially that early apprehension tried to creep back in, but as we methodically went through everything we had trained for, it rapidly dissipated as each challenge was overcome and we became more and more comfortable in the depths of the quarry. Speaking of the “depths” there’s quite a lot in there to see – it’s not just a boring old gravel pit! There’s a Vickers Viscount cockpit and a Westland Wessex helicopter for the aircraft afficionados, an Elizabethan merchant ship wreck for the history buffs, and a submarine! (ok, it’s not a real submarine, but it looks cool!) All inhabited by plenty of fish to spot, and the occasional white clawed crayfish. A pike even came and casually swam through our little group while we were demonstrated our hovering skills – she clearly didn’t care about my excited waving though!
Image 2: Oscar and I talking to Bridget whilst planning Open Water Dive 4 as part of our Open Water Course
So, that was 5 qualifying dives complete (4 for Open Water, 1 for Drysuit Specialisation), and we were both signed off and ready to start our adventures as independent divers! For me that was signing straight up to the next trip Dive Rutland was offering (a weekend diving out of Porthkerris on Cornwall), before realising that the UK doesn’t have much in the way of shallow diving (besides shore dives) so if I wanted to get some boat diving in I would need to step it up a notch and get my Advanced Open Water course under my belt too.
That wasn’t a problem though, having already snuck a Nitrox course in, I only needed three dives for my AOW, which I could complete in one day back at Stoney, and luckily there was time to slot it in before Porthkerris, so got that booked straight in too! Fast forward a few weeks and I’m back at Stoney, meeting a new buddy for today, Rae, and ready to get these slightly more challenging dives undertaken. First was the deep dive, where we got a touch disoriented (trixy visibility again), but ultimately succeeded in our objectives. Then came the wreck dive, diving the Stanegarth (1910 tug boat) was super cool, and a school of baby perch on the way back were pretty cute. Finally the navigation dive was very difficult in the poor visibility, but at only 5 meters depth there was plenty of time to relax and get it right – Bridget and Greg were very patient!
Now, ten dives in, I’m feeling ready to start the next adventure, heading out into the North Sea this weekend if the weather holds, or the English Channel a week later if not!
Image 4: Me preparing to go Shore diving for the first time at Weybourne, Norfolk
Then, who knows?
Wish me luck!