Dive with the best
I DID MY BASIC RECREATIONAL DIVER TRAINING with the British Sub-Aqua Club.
Well, back then there was only the choice of three mobs to sign up with, and BSAC seemed the best bet.
It had a network of clubs all over the country and offered diving wannabes the opportunity to dive all year round in the fascinating, wreck- and marine-life-rich waters of the British Isles, though it turned out that the reality involved a lot of inland quarries.
PADI, meanwhile, was just some high-priced Yank outfit for wealthy holiday-divers who wanted to do it only in warm water.
I dont remember who the third lot were.
No it was BSAC for me, and I happily re-mortgaged the family home to pay the branch membership and buy myself a full set of new temperate-water diving equipment.
Week one saw me happily treading water in the deep end of the pool with my arms above my head, swimming lengths with my face under water using a snorkel but no mask, and duck-diving to retrieve abandoned bits of kit.
The last wasnt actually part of the training, but the guy teaching me kept dropping stuff, and I was too scared of him not to retrieve on command.
Gradually, over the next few months, I attended the lectures and completed the various practical skills required to become a BSAC Novice Diver, qualified to dive under supervision wherever the bottom was composed of white tiles randomly littered with abandoned ear-rings and used verucca plasters.
Open-water diving was a case of deja vu with added hypothermia, as I snorkelled and duck-dived my way around some God-forsaken freshwater lake, bumping the odd small piece of ice out of the way.
THEN THEY LET ME PUT ON a cylinder and go for a real dive. Maximum depth 8.4m, 16 minutes bottom time. It had to be at least 15 minutes to count as a real dive, and it was too cold to stay in much longer, even if it was my first dive. Besides which, my new, made-to-measure drysuit leaked.
Still, I was on my way.
I bought myself a dive computer, which turned out to be the club equivalent of walking into a synagogue eating a bacon sandwich. Questions were asked at committee meetings, and every member who had been in the club longer than I had refused to dive with me until, very gradually, the various die-hards worked out that computers were largely A Good Thing.
Then BSAC, bless it, decided to insist on training being carried out by properly qualified instructors. Why The guy who trained me in the pool had been diving for nearly six months, and hed done possibly a couple of dozen dives, some of them in the sea even. He wasnt daft enough to take me into open water for the first time until it became clear that if he didnt ,no bugger else was going to get up early on a Sunday morning in January to freeze their nads off in a lake with fewer points of interest than that bloke who ran the Tory party.
Anyway, there was nothing wrong with my training. Thousands of divers who were educated in the same rough and ready school routinely survive dives around the coasts of Britain every weekend to this day.
Just remembered, the third lot was the SAA.
I progressed through the ranks with my chosen training agency, ending up with enough qualifications stamped up and duly ratified in my little blue record book to pretty much allow me to do any sort of diving.
Then somebody invented nitrox, and nothing would ever be the same again. Of course, everybody in those days knew that nitrox was for doing deeper technical dives, and not relevant to the majority of us recreational divers.
Besides which, who would want to get involved with a load of extra calculations and carry around different tables and worry about oxygen toxicity, when we could dive on air And the stuff was more expensive. No wonder they called it the devil gas.
Then it started to become clear that nitrox actually wasnt many of those things at all, and overall was Another Good Thing. Some of the BSAC hierarchy were even photographed leaving the water with cylinders bearing nitrox labels, though whenever they were asked about it they coughed and harrumphed and changed the subject, often preferring to admit to prior convictions for shop-lifting than confessing to the use of nitrox.
Then BSAC said we couldnt use the stuff on club dives. Or it said it wasnt officially sanctioned, or that it didnt much like it and would rather we didnt use, or something like that.
As soon as it was officially against it, I wanted it. The trouble was, there were no BSAC courses, so I had to find another training agency. One that wasnt BSAC...
In the mad scramble to fill Red Sea liveaboards around the turn of the century, I was offered a free PADI Nitrox Diver course if I booked a trip on a particular week, so I went for it.
THE COURSE WAS A REVELATION. The workbook covered the contents of the course in the order
I was supposed to study it, and there was a video that provided the same material and in the same order. The course had clearly been designed by professional trainers who knew what they were doing, and I learnt the stuff I needed to know quite easily between dives.
It was an eye-opener in another way as well. The course was indeed free, but the study materials and registration card cost me the best part of £100.
I found out about that only when I was aboard the boat with 15 other guests. We had three pump-action marine-heads between us, the only shower that worked was on the dive deck, and I found myself sharing a non-air-conditioned cabin with some bloke who snored like a chainsaw, though only for one night.
My story was that he fell overboard in the night. Nobody ever learnt the truth. But it did make me realise that there was at least one other training agency as well as BSAC.
All the basic diver training is pretty much standard. You turn up, learn to assemble the kit, clear your mask, recover a lost regulator and use a crowbar to get interesting bits of brass off the wreck regardless of the agency that stamps your qualification card, but after that the training provided starts to diverge.
And then diving started to go Technical, with a very definite capital T in some cases and a much smaller t in others. That was when I realised that what people really want isnt training, they want other divers to know theyre different and, in point of absolute fact, better.
Its always been the same, but the tek divers capped it all by making all-black kit the mark of a particular kind of diver. If you turned up at a quarry in the 90s and saw somebody with a black suit and a twin-set on a wing, you knew you were dealing with a Real Diver.
Then it got out of hand. If your primary second stage wasnt on a long hose and your secondary second stage close to your mouth on a yellow bungee hung around your neck, you couldnt be in one particular gang.
Or, if you didnt have the Body Mass Index of an Olympic endurance athlete, you could join a group only if three current members in good standing were willing to vouch for you and promise that theyd be there to haul you into the boat if you couldnt struggle over the tubes yourself.
The point is that all of these organisations attract members, although converts or zealots might be better descriptions, and all these people pay good money for affiliation and training. So Im starting my own agency.
CLEARLY MY DIVERS WILL need to look different, and better than anyone else, so lets start by getting rid of BCs. If anyone asks, I can say that a real diver can control buoyancy using lung volume alone.
Next, Ill ban dive computers. They make diving far too easy, and we dont want that, though the rationale will be that theyre dangerous, allowing you to get bent deep and unbending you in the shallows. Never mind that millions of divers routinely rely on them, it isnt for us. Ill insist on watches and tables, and specify the watches that Ill accept and design my own tables.
Then Ill require that all dives in the 0-10m range are completed using a nitrox mix with an oxygen pp of 1.6 bar at 10m, dives between 10-20m on a mix with a pp02 of 1.6 bar at 20m and so on.
This will sound really technical, need a huge number of calculations to sort out decompression requirements and require at least three different cylinders per dive, making our divers look well cool, especially when we insist that divers going deeper than 36.2m use trimix. The 36.2m sounds incredibly precise and thorough but is, in point of fact, completely arbitrary.
Membership will be ridiculously expensive, of course, but you will get a badge to say that youre in my agency.
Itll be a small badge, so no one thinks that youre showing off, but not so small its hard to see.
Then all Ill need is a name. British Underwater Marine Society might do, but much better if it sounds international and technical - say, the International Diving Institute Of Technical Scuba or, yes, hang on, Ive got it now, much shorter and snappier, the Global Immersion Team!