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Zen and the Art of UK Diving

ISSUE 7 ARCHIVE - WHY DIVE IN THE UK?

Alex Griffin

Because it's great. Article finished. Any questions? What's that? You want a methodical, reasoned argument? OK then...

A recent report by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency estimated the number of active divers (from all training agencies) in the UK to be just under 700,000 with nearly half of these having never dived in the UK. Admittedly these numbers were extrapolated from a very low sample base. Earlier estimates by PADI put the number nearer 120,000 active UK divers. Whatever the reality, the truth is that for every active UK diver there are many more cert cards gathering dust in homes across the land.
Aquamarine Silver
So, with all these qualified divers (not to mention potential new ones) wandering listless and unfulfilled around the country why aren't popular UK dive sites wreathed with bubbles, Thistlegorm style? The number one response most instructors hear after an invitation to a British dip is: "No thanks, it's going to be bloody freezing and besides the pool session finished hours ago what are you doing in the bushes outside my house?"

I would like to offer up the following list of reasons to get wet in the UK. Some are break-downs of popular myths whilst others are a means in themselves. Read them and then if you're in that 50% plus of inactive qualified divers, find your local shop and start diving again. It really is that simple.

Temperature

Let's start with the biggie: A man strolling down the street in a yellow thong on a bright spring day in the Med is in danger, not only of a savage but deserved beating, but also of becoming cold. By contrast a man wearing a jumper and coat strolling down an English country lane at the same time is very unlikely to get cold (or beaten, unless he is city banker).

It's all a matter of what you wear. A drysuit or thick wetsuit will keep you just as comfortable in the UK as a shortie will in the tropics. It is possible to be warm and comfortable in 10 degrees and cold and miserable in 20 degrees all because of the difference between your own cosy drysuit and a rented, urine-soaked rag, of a wetsuit.
"But all that kit, it's going to be so heavy!" I hear you cry, which leads us nicely onto:

All the Gear and No Idea

Two stereotypes for you:

The holidaying recreational diver wears a T-shirt and board shorts (or aforementioned rented suit comprised of wee), a brown, ill-fitting but perfectly functional BC which orbits around him unnoticed in the water, their own mask, snorkel and fins, bog standard but perfectly functional regs (you would hope) and a yellowing bit of webbing with 2 kgs of lead on it.

The hardcore British diver wears a huge drysuit crazed with patches and glue, a BC that looks like a riot vest with a tiny, confusing but potentially lethal cylinder attached. He wears a hood, gloves, has more clips than clits in a convent and to top if off, has approximately 25kgs of lead on a belt with what appears to be a lump hammer swinging from it.

These days the reality is slightly different. Streamlining and simplifying are keywords in any kit configuration. Exposure protection is the primary difference between a tropical diver and UK diver. What this boils down to is either a drysuit or a thick wetsuit. There is no question that this is cumbersome and, at first, rather strange. However, most UK divers own their own gear. This initial investment really opens the doorway to regular diving. The individual becomes familiar with his own equipment, allowing faster, more comfortable 'kitting up' as compared to a tropical diver jostling around the dive boat in his feculent, rented suit looking for a weight belt. A drysuit does require special training but the advantages of being dry between dives and the opportunity to fine tune buoyancy control soon make up for the initial familiarisation process. It is, however, the special training required for this and other aspects of UK diving that are also a major turn off for many individuals and it is to this we turn next.

Training

You don't need extra training. A local orientation in a shallow bay off Cornwall in summer requires neither an advanced qualification nor drysuit training. However the bad news is that you'll need extra training to allow you to start looking at the really cool stuff. The good news is that the extra training is not your Open Water course. There are no DVD's. There is no 'hilarious' japery involving a fat man going red from sunburn whilst attempting to fill a cylinder with a bicycle pump. You will not have to take your mask off 168 times in a swimming pool, whilst dodging an elastoplast. You ARE just going to dive. You will become an Advanced Open Water Diver (you can often combine your drysuit course at the same time). This doesn't mean you can now do a trimix dive on a new wreck in the channel but it does mean you can go to a maximum of 30m in conditions similar or better to those in which you were trained. So if you did it in the UK then you can start ferreting around on wrecks. Mmmmm wrecks...
Dive Worldwide

Wrecks

Wrecks are cool. Anyone who says they're not interested in them and only dives to look at fish is probably a terrorist and should be treated as such. Besides, fish hang out on wrecks so they have to dive them anyway. Just keep back in case they try and blow themselves up. England has a lot of wrecks, all around the coast. Have you been to Egypt and dived on the Thistlegorm? Do you remember my earlier point about the bubbles? Were you repeatedly kicked in the head by a Russian's pink fins as they jemmied small pieces of coral off the deck to put in a goody bag?

The James Eagan Layne lies in 20 odd metres of water off the south coast of England. It is exactly the same type of ship and it is brilliant. We also have Scapa Flow in Scotland a world class diving destination. Step into the sea off the coast of Britain and you're liable to bang into a wreck. On a good day these wrecks can be truly awe inspiring. But wait a moment, what did he mean by 'good day'?

Viz

Visibility is diving's buzz word. The first time you use an expression like "Yeah the viz was amazing, it must have been, like, a 100m or something" you feel like a proper diver. We are so indoctrinated we often use viz as the yardstick by which the quality of a dive is measured. That said we can and do get great visibility in the UK, 10-15m is a regular occurrence on the south coast. 20m plus is sometimes possible and in areas of Scotland, the norm. Nobody likes crap viz, squinting through silty, brown water, trying to locate a reference point is not fun. Anyone who says otherwise isn't a terrorist, they're just very weird and probably into sensory deprivation. And a member of the conservative party. However you don't need great viz to have a great dive and I'll return to this point later on.

Cost

OK, let's do some figures, it's always about money with you people isn't it? Blimey, just because no one's got any job security left and a loaf of Mothers Pride now costs 5 you'd think there was a recession or something.

Now that the pound is essentially worthless there's never been a better time to try diving in the UK. A weekend away down the coast doesn't have to cost much at all. A day on a hardboat is often only in the region of about 40, meaning that a couple of days diving and a couple of nights in a BnB will cost well under 200. If you have your own equipment and share petrol costs as well then UK diving doesn't have to be expensive at all. Further to that and perhaps even more importantly you get to turn an activity you might only do twice a year on holiday into a regular hobby.
Travelling Diver

Food

Sometime when you're out diving you see delicious things and often there is no reason why you can't nab them. What could be more sustainable than collecting a few scallops and a crab for your dinner?

What is arguably less sustainable is attempting to make an ascent from 20m with a 10kg bag of scallops in one hand and a large chunk of shipwreck in the other, dropping one of those items and exiting the water with such velocity that you land in the helicopter coming to pick you up. As always moderation is the key...

UK Divers

Do you remember our hardcore UK diver? What I didn't mention was the pie, the pint and the planetoid girth. He is northern and it is not his fault. In some areas of England, just like Neanderthal man, he carries on. Hunting for 'spidge' in gangs using outdated methods he stares at the modern UK diver scratching his shaven head with incomprehension. But somewhere across time and space he understands that this is the order of all things and that his time is passed.

The modern UK dive scene is totally different with many a clubnight looking like an OK magazine shoot of the great and good as young, good looking divers vie to outdo each other in displays of sartorial good taste. In fact these days becoming a member of the UK dive scene is a guaranteed ticket to regular guilt free sex with multiple free thinking partners.*

*NB Regular sex is only on offer to those who attain the hallowed rank of instructor. For more information about dive instruction and the sexual predator please contact Brad.

Zen and the art of UK Diving

Having the right mindset is the fundamental key to enjoying all aspects of your diving. With regard to British diving this does not mean a lowering of your expectations. A classic example is that: 5-10m of viz simply draws your focus in. The wreck or the topography slowly reveals itself, you slow down, taking in your surroundings, perhaps you'll find one of the large resident conger eels or lobsters that populate our seas. My point is that by not associating viz with quality you can actually derive a different satisfaction from UK diving than from stepping off a dive boat in the Red Sea. You know what I mean: The initial sensory overload followed by the creeping feeling that one reef looks very like another...

The colour of the water, the additional kit, the different procedures that, admittedly, often include a weather beaten skipper shouting foul language through a roll-up, all these things require a different mind set that can ultimately provide a greater sense of achievement, awe and smug, self satisfaction than the tropical diving that most people view as 'diving'.
Ocean Leisure
Go to your local dive shop. I promise they will be friendly! Tell them you want to start diving again and in no time at all they'll have hauled you down to the water and thrown you back in. Just remember to zip up your drysuit...

Alex Griffin is the owner of Diving Leisure London a pretty cool and very friendly dive centre in Battersea.
London and Midlands Diving Chambers

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