AFTER MANY, MANY YEARS of what could only be described as “dabbling” in technical diving, I’ve finally gone over completely to the dark side.
Like Gollum, I have visions of me in a few years’ time squatting in the gloom at the back of my garage, turning an oxygen sensor over and over in one hand (“My prrrrrrecious…”). I shall be talking entirely in abbreviations, while continually having arguments with an alter ego (“Just go to 20m on open circuit in the Maldives – it’s lovely” it will pipe up).
Well, that’s how it might end up, but as we all know, the line between standard open-circuit diving and the technical stuff has become rather blurred over recent years.
There is now a constant cross-pollination of ideas (recreational rebreathers and sidemount diving being the big innovation stories of the past couple of years for all divers), and gone are the days of “all technical divers are depth-obsessives plunging to their inevitable demise” and “all recreational divers are essentially bewildered tourists”.
We all seem to be rubbing along nicely, and learning from each other in the process, and that can only be a good thing.

THE REASON FOR THIS SUDDEN CONVERSION was a simple, random comment eight months ago.
I was in a commissioning meeting with one of the TV channels, and as we finished bouncing around ideas – “How about me and the dog go and ermmmm… live somewhere really nice for a while” – it became obvious that we weren’t really getting anywhere.
We decided to curtail things for the day, and as we stood up, I idly said: “You know what we should be doing – we should be seeking out the great mysteries in the sea and launching expeditions to try to solve them.”
There was a delicious pause, and Steve – the commissioner running the meeting – smiled broadly, sat back down, opened his folder, and looked up at me expectantly with his pen poised.
And so – several months and many (many) meetings later – I duly found myself standing on a platform in Devon.
In front of me were the frigid waters of a freezing quarry, behind me was a rebreather, and next to me was Rich Stevenson, my instructor.
He launched the new phase of my diving life with the immortal words: “Well, in we go then, fella” and – after he’d jumped in – I duly followed.
There was a tiny, rather outdated part of me that expected to pass out instantly, to awake to be greeted by (on the increasing scale of catastrophe I had mentally devised) possibly a paramedic, maybe a priest, or – if I’d forgotten to do something fundamental – an angel.
The reality has been very far from the myth. The training has been extremely methodical and very cautious, with the aim of getting me to a point at which I could venture beyond the range of standard recreational diving.
I will be using a VR Technology Sentinel rebreather for four expeditions to a variety
of underwater sites that have that whiff of tantalising mystery about them.
To explore these sites, we’ve put together a team that neatly encompasses a real range of diving expertise – Kev Gurr, Rich Stevenson, Dan Stephenson, Andy Torbet and, er, me.
The first impression has been of entering something of a new culture.
Kev in particular has a highly methodical, professional approach to planning every dive and, as one of the most experienced and respected technical divers in the UK, and indeed the world, has naturally assumed the role of dive supervisor and consultant.
He also looks ever so slightly like Yoda, which helps.

HAVING PORED OVER HIS BOOK Technical Diving From the Bottom Up and worked alongside him for a wee while now, it’s been very interesting to note how much attention he pays to getting the mental preparation right for a dive.
This is an oft-neglected subject, and applies to all forms of diving. We had a great expression in the Forces: “No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy”.
This is just another way of saying that at some point in your diving career, something will go wrong and you need to be mentally prepared at all times to deal with it.
I would suggest that most of us aren’t, by the way. Mike Tyson put it even more succinctly: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
With technical and rebreather diving, there is a strong emphasis on being in the right frame of mind to dive, to accept your limitations, and to be constantly alert to any eventuality.
In summary, I’m really enjoying learning a new trade. I’m using an outstanding piece of kit, being taught by the best in the business, and am very much looking forward to the first expedition (which – given the slight delay between me submitting this article and the publication of DIVER, will just be being launched as you read these words, strangely enough).
I’ll let you know how it goes in the next column. Between now and then there is much to learn, and the tantalising prospect of the beckoning silence of an undersea mystery to keep me going.