Fort Bovisand: The Divers Complete Guide to Europes No 1 Underwater Centre, by Kendall McDonald,

The story of Bovisand as a diving centre is a romantic rescue saga featuring a complementary yet disparate duo: Jim Gill, farmer, soldier, pragmatic visionary, engineer and graduate in art and architecture; and Alan Bax, mercurial optimist, professional deck officer in the Royal Navy, and ships diver. They met by accident in India in 1962. Alans ship HMS Gurkha had headed there for repairs after the side of the [Suez] Canal came out and hit her. Their dream was to turn a neglected Victorian stone fort at the mouth of Plymouth Sound into a Mecca for divers.

In 1970 they acquired a nightmare: a lease on the fort. Not quite an archaeological relic, it had reached a state of decay that would deter any but the most foolhardy from redeeming it. I remember that year sleeping in a dormitory, later the cafe or canteen. Despite the whitewash, and electric fires targeted on the walls, they oozed more damp than you would find in any rainforest.
That was just one epic battle for survival of many fought by these two men to make Bovisand the legendary centre for diver training and recreation, archaeology, research and underwater engineering work that it is today - the star of Europe, prescribed like mothers milk to all newborn divers.
Kendall McDonald, diver, early onlooker and long-time friend of Alan and Jim, has written a colouful account of Bovisand, its history, geography and development as a diving centre, and included a guide to all the dive sites around it.
What a good, workmanlike labour of love this is, with some surprising revelations on the role of the fort in two world wars, and as a gunnery-practice centre between them.
In 1939, England and Wales were defended by just 139 big guns, and of the 31 ancient 12-pounders, almost an eighth were mounted at Bovisand. If only Hitler had known...
Kendall traces the prehistoric development of the Sound and of the name Boye Sand, corrupted over the ages to Bovisand. Then he describes 59 dives, from modern steel wrecks to 18th-centurcannon sites, starting with a useful general briefing for dive planning in a complex of merchant and warship moorings, fishing boats and restricted areas.
Illustrated with many old prints and photographs, and a plan of the fort and its environs, this book is required reading for any diver who wants to put Bovi and its history into present-day context. Author, please note: for the next printing an index, or at least a full table of contents, is needed.
After reading this story, I could not suppress a small shout of: Long live Bovi! From its rescue by Bax and Gill, it has survived every vicissitude. If Fort Bovisand should ever vanish from the diving stage, there would not be a dry eye in the house. Rex Cowan


Fort Bovisand: The Divers Complete Guide to Europes No 1 Underwater Centre, by Kendall McDonald, Wreckwalker Books (01548 560239, fax 01548 561042) Softback £9.99.

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