WITHOUT WISHING TO SOUND CLICHÉD, training for any new form of diving is a journey. You set out, buoyed up by optimism yet burdened with preconceived ideas; you stagger along the road fuelled by new knowledge; and then arrive at your destination footsore but – we hope – triumphant.
I decided to heartily embrace this theme of metaphorical travel by taking things one stage further and actually going to Egypt. Having conducted my basic rebreather training in a series of frigid quarries in the UK, I came to the conclusion that the next phase of my education would be better conducted in the Red Sea.
Oonasdivers was my salvation, running as it does a series of diving safari camps dotted along the coast of southern Egypt.
Before you could say “tepid and balmy”, I was on the early-morning flight out of Gatwick accompanied by instructor Rich Stevenson and Andy Torbet. The former would be conducting the training, and the latter was along to ride shotgun as we pushed that little bit deeper.
And going slightly deeper was unequivocally the aim. Our base was to be the tranquil haven of Marsa Shagra, which at this rather quiet time of year is as close as you can get to having your own personal dive camp.

THE JOY OF THE RED SEA, of course, is that you can virtually step from the shore into deep – very deep – water. The gradient of life in these few steps must be as sharp as any on Earth, from arid desert to bustling coral reef in a matter of a few metres.
We were in Marsa Shagra to conduct the normoxic phase of my training, which essentially takes me down to 60m and introduces me to trimix.
I type this having just completed the course – sitting on a bean-bag in the setting sun, drinking tea and periodically reaching out a languid hand to grab a cashew nut from the bowl before me.
It seems a fitting moment to reflect on the course and the new experience – for me, anyway – of venturing that little bit deeper into the blue.
The first impression is that the cavalier days of simply chucking on the gear and getting on with it are well and truly over. I’ve been draped in more bail-out cylinders and drilled on more emergency actions than on any course I’ve ever done before.
Quite right too, as hot on the heels of the first impression comes the second – that the men and women who conduct this form of diving, who have developed it in recent years, are real, bona fide, genuine pioneers.
This is not an expression I use lightly. How many other sports are quite as young as technical diving I’m struggling to think of any at all.
The techniques I am being taught now really have been developed and established over the past two decades. Before then – outside the military and commercial diving – such protocols simply didn’t exist. As such, the technical divers of the 1990s were setting their own guidelines in every sense. They pushed into new areas, in the process seeing and experiencing things that were entirely unprecedented.
As they did so, they used themselves as guinea pigs, trying out new hardware, new decompression profiles and new gas mixes.
As befits such a new form of diving, it is still developing, but these were the genuine days of exploration.
This has been personified by Rich. “You might like to check that mouthpiece, Monty,” he said casually as I assembled my kit one morning. “It’s particularly important in a rebreather that it’s on securely, as any water in the breathing loop can create a few problems.”
It’s only later in the evening, as we’re having a quiet beer, that he mentions that he lost his own mouthpiece once. This was while beetling along on a scooter over the top of a wreck. At 154 metres. I hasten to add that there’s no bragging or boasting, just a simple recollection of days gone by, and hard lessons learned.
Mind you, he certainly didn’t mention how important it was that I attached my P-valve securely. I can only assume it was the colossal forces involved, combined with certain astronomic dimensions, that made it come off. My drysuit now smells like a tramp’s trousers.
That moment aside, it’s been a great week.
It culminated in a slow drift through the arch at Elphinstone, the soundtrack being the whoosh of my breathing and the gentle hiss of the rebreather – a wonderful moment that made the workload of the preceding days entirely worthwhile.
The security I felt as I did so is a testament to those who have gone before, the technical diving pioneers of the 1990s.
They represent the first generation, those who laid a line for the rest of us to follow.