Our Best Dives - group 1
SIX-YEAR WAIT, by Adam Rose
Mauritius / Indian Ocean
Having both qualified in 2007, my girlfriend and I invested in BCs, regs, fins and masks, and planned to continue our training and look forward to developing a new career in diving.
We booked a three-week holiday to the Florida Keys in late 2008, intending to progress our skills with the friendly staff at Key Dives Florida.
We paid extra to take our shiny new kit to America, and were full of excitement.
We returned to the UK three weeks later with all our kit still new, shiny and unused. This was thanks to Gustav, Hanna and Ike, the hurricanes that put a stop to any diving, and even forced us to evacuate the Keys and find a new hotel on the mainland.
Not to be deterred, we rebooked to go back to Florida in 2009.
That year turned out not to be a great one for us. I was made redundant and suffered a few months of depression while trying to find employment and keep up with the bills, mortgage etc.
We were able to take our Florida holiday thanks to family, but could not afford to complete any diving. The holiday was great, however, and I was able to relax and get things sorted in my head.
In 2010 I found new employment, and we started saving and planning again.
That year was not plain sailing, however. My girlfriend had become seriously ill and had to undergo several operations, and it took her until 2012 to recover fully, by which time we were engaged to marry in 2013.
With a wedding comes the honeymoon planning, and we decided to go to Mauritius. Down came the dusty new unused diving equipment, and across it went with us to Mauritius.
We booked our first dive with Easy Dive in Le Morne on my 33rd birthday, a few days after arriving on the island. Everyone there was so friendly and helpful, and it reminded us of why we loved diving. The excitement we both felt on the boat trip out to the dive-site was visible to all around us.
Our first dive was only to 14m, but we saw plenty of fish and coral and it meant so much more to us just to get back into the water and dive – especially to me, now with a wife as a buddy.
Our new kit was finally used, and 35 minutes later we were back on the surface and, while floating looking out to sea, we both knew that our dive adventure was back on track.
All we have talked about since is diving, and we have joined our local BSAC school with plans to become instructors, and planning our first UK dive off the North Wales coast.
We will no doubt have more exciting dives, but this one will live forever with us as the second start to our dive careers.
BARRACUDA HANG-OUT, by Nigel Webster
Tobago / Caribbean Sea
I am fortunate to make regular trips to Tobago, diving both the Atlantic Speyside area and also the Crown Point end of the island.
We had completed our first dive on Diver’s Dream, a fast drift enlivened by several 2m nurse sharks.
During the surface interval, our dive leader announced a rare treat – the tide was right to dive the ss Kioto, several miles away, and on the journey across he told us her story.
Kioto was first torpedoed and then shelled by a German submarine in 1942; later in the war the hulk was used for bombing practice by the USAAF, so the wreck is badly broken up.
From the surface we could already make out the huge boiler, and we dropped into clear, 29° water.
At only 8m depth we were able to separate to explore the wreck individually – any problems and we could go straight to the surface.
The bow area is recognisable, with anchor hawsers containing some chain – the rest was salvaged long ago – and hatches and bollards.
There were many reef fish, and a few small nurse sharks under some of the plates, but the main owners of the wreck now are giant barracuda, patrolling in ones and twos, offended by our intrusion and circling around us, but unable to move us off their patch.
The boiler stands on the edge of the debris field, filled to bursting with reef fish. The centre section is largely destroyed, with a large area of debris – including the ship’s spare propeller, mounted on the rear deck when she sank. The propshaft and some winch gear are both obvious, as are the base and the top of the mast.
In a strong current I worked my way slowly astern, to the obvious and continuing concern of the barracuda, and was pleased to find that the stern area had survived the attentions of U514 and the USAAF. It lies on its port side, with the propeller and rudder in place, towering over the seabed.
I examined the propeller – there was a small scratched area where the bronze of the blade was visible – then swam through between the rudder and the propeller.
As I emerged on the other side, two barracuda formated on my right shoulder, a metre or so away, willing me to agree that there was nothing more to see and move on.
After 40 minutes or so we returned Kioto to the barracuda and drifted off across a sandy seabed, littered with smaller debris.
In among the fragmented plates were several cylindrical objects, instantly recognisable as unexploded bombs!
We surfaced with big grins on our faces. I have since been back to Kioto a couple of times, but that first visit will never be forgotten.
On a subsequent dive our safety stop was disrupted by a passing leatherback turtle – but that’s another story…
THE BIG LESSON, by Kevin O’Neill
Seahouses, England / North Sea
So, there we were sitting in a friend’s kitchen, all set for the off.
The off being the long drive from Birmingham to Seahouses for a weekend’s diving.
It was early Friday afternoon and the car was packed ready to go. It was to be me and one friend’s first UK open-water sea dive, but our other friend was a Dive Master who had plenty of UK open-water sea diving experience – thus he was God to us.
We briefly discussed cancelling the trip and going out on the town instead. Somehow we overcame this temptation and went for it, arriving at Seahouses many hours later.
The next morning we got ready to go out on the boat, lugging all our cumbersome kit with us, and onto the boat taking us out we popped. A short while later we were at the dive-site, all kitted-up and ready for the plunge.
Our Dive Master friend allowed all the other divers to go in first before taking us in. After entering the water, the three of us gathered at the shotline. We all gave each other the OK and started to descend.
We hadn’t got very far before the visibility was down to inches. Our Dive Master friend looked at the pair of us inexperienced divers and made the cutting sign with his fingers, indicating that we were aborting the dive.
So up to the surface we went, not having gone to any great depth and not having seen a thing.
When we got back on the boat, the two of us inexperienced divers were a little deflated, to say the least.
Then it started. Another diver appeared at the surface like a Polaris missile – he had lost his friend and panicked and shot to the surface.
Another group later came to the surface with the missing friend. They had found him by accident, pinned down by a large piece of metal that had come off the boat on which we had intended to dive.
Once we heard their stories, I looked at my friend the Dive Master and nodded to him. He had just given me the most invaluable lesson I have ever learnt – always abort a dive if your safety is at risk.
FUJIKAWA MARU, by Brendan Coote
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk / Pacific Ocean
I drew back the curtains to view paradise. Brilliant clear blue enveloped the sky. Palms swayed like gladioli in the breeze and the azure Pacific beckoned.
I had found my oasis of total tranquillity, the Blue Lagoon resort in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia. Well-manicured gardens with ultra-green grass, floating plumerias and that wonderful hum of happy insects. Warmth from the waking sun pervaded my senses as I strolled to the dive centre.
Over the next two days I dived six of the most amazing wreck-sites on our wonderful planet, culminating in my ultimate dive, on the Fujikawa Maru, the 132m cargo-carrier that the Japanese navy had refitted to carry Zero fighters and parts during WW2.
Like the other 60 or so ships sunk In February 1944 in Operation Hailstone, the Fujikawa Maru had been fatally wrecked by American fighter planes.
Amazingly I was the only diver on both days, so had the full attention of Advin, the dive-guide, to explore unrestricted the best that Truk had to offer.
On the way down I caught a glimpse of a medium-sized grey reef shark patrolling the heavy 6in gun that stood sentry at the bow. As usual for me, as soon as I had the camera ready the chap disappeared.
A shoal of batfish with their amazing moon faces smiled a welcome into their world. The occasional small group of trevally in their silver suits lazily transgressed my downward course.
Our first visit was to the commemorative plaque on the deck, reminding me that this experience should be tempered with respect and awareness for the people who had died during those two days of terrible violence almost 70 years ago. Scattered around the deck were sake bottles, cups and plates.
After skimming through the bridge we floated through gangways, popping in to visit the captains room and a large toilet area complete with tiled shower and bath walls, sinks and urinals.
I followed my guide down flights of stairs and into the guts of the ship, through a galley-way and into a relatively small room containing a number of robot-looking dials and piping.
He suddenly started shaking his torch rapidly and pointing towards the ceiling. Sensing that he was panicked I looked up, expecting to see Jaws pop out from behind the metalwork – but it was worse.
A solitary skull caught in my powerful torch glared down at me. I gulped and looked over at my guide. He had removed his mouthpiece to show me that he was laughing. At 20m or so, it was time to start heading up.
Next stop was the engine-room. It had a workbench with a vice attached, numerous tools with lots of dials, tanks of various sizes and a complicated array of piping.
The final trip was into three of the five holds. In one were three Zero fuselages, complete with pilot seat, joysticks and instrument panels. Spooky. Beside them were aircraft parts, propellers and wings.
In the adjoining hold we came upon munitions, gas-masks, tripods of rifles and again sake bottles, cups and plates. Strangely, there were very few fish and little coral growth within the structure.
As we exited the final hold, I came face to face with a large open-mouthed barracuda having its teeth cleaned by a smaller fish. It ignored me.
The Blue Lagoon resort and dive centre looked after me as if I was royalty. Double-storey wooden cabins with large rooms, a restaurant that serves more than adequate food, a large bar and dance area, a central hang-out, lots of beach… bliss.
Outside its gates is real poverty and an island that is in bad need of investment. Truk Lagoon – I will be back.
COOL UNCLE, by Cris Treacher
Malta / Mediterranean Sea
I have been diving for more than 20 years and, lucky me, have been all over the world and seen some amazing things.
Dives with sharks in the Solomons, close encounters with mantas in Thailand and an encounter with dolphins in the middle of the Red Sea are all faithfully recorded in my logbook. But the one dive I will always look back on with a smile was in Malta in 2012.
In a desperate bid to win ”cool uncle” status with my 15-year-old nephew, I had taken him to Malta to learn to dive.
He had done the first part of his PADI Open Water Diver with the local dive shop in the UK, and we had arranged for him to complete his referral in Malta with a shop I had dived with before, as I trusted it to do a good job.
Sam completed his OWD and was doing the dives towards his Advanced Diver certification, so I tagged along for the ride.
This was dive number 9 for Sam, and I watched as he carefully went through his buddy-check with his instructor before we jumped into the water at Cirkewwa.
It was a fairly ordinary dive by most standards, lots of small marine life in good visibility. But what made it special was watching Sam (a typical teenager who grunts and displays no enthusiasm for anything) effortlessly controlling his buoyancy and moving through the water without the flailings common in new divers – he was fantastic!
However, this admiration was tinged with severe jealousy. My confidence, posture, buoyancy control and air consumption were never that good when I was at his stage!
Even better, when we returned to the shore and we were all de-kitting, Sam was asked by his instructor how he had enjoyed the dive. As usual there was the customary grunt, which we interpreted to mean ”fine”, but followed by the slow emergence of a beaming smile, something rarely seen and to be long treasured (and I knew I had finally secured that treasured cool uncle accolade).
Sam has since done his Deep, Drysuit and Nitrox speciality courses, and is working towards his Master Scuba Diver qualification. Needless to say, his parents aren’t impressed that his Christmas present requests have suddenly become that much more expensive! Well, a new reg versus an Xbox
THE MOMENT, by Julie Kelley
Stoney Cove, Leicestershire
My old club, Leamington & Warwick 217, is very land-locked, so we had to make use of Stoney Cove for the majority of our training.
As an instructor I came to know the site all too well, clocking up many hours of training in the murky depths. But even a site you use over and over again can throw up a memorable dive, and it just happened to be my 300th as well.
It was 2 December, 2011, and my trainee was in a drysuit for the first time, but the water was still a comfortable 11°C. It was mid-week, so there were few other divers out to play, and we had an easy bimble along the 6m shelf to complete some drills.
The gob-smacking thing was the 15m visibility.
I just couldn’t believe how clear it was!
We made our way around towards the Ammo Hut (near to where the Gresham is now located) and we could look down over the shelf edge and almost to the bottom of the 20m zone, which made me shake my head in awe – just crazy.
I saw the Cove in a completely different light. The grass weed towering up in long spires that reminded me of organ pipes; the layout of the railway track drawing us back to the Nautilus and into the pub.
I beckoned Rodger to join me and stand with our backs to the far wall underneath, just looking out to see right across the submarine structure and to the shelf’s edge itself.
I still have that shot in my mind.It reminds me that it’s still possible to take a ”moment” in a place about which you’ve grown complacent after so many dives.
NORTHERN HIGHLIGHT, by Damo Whitington
Silfra, Iceland / Atlantic Ocean
For my partner’s 40th birthday in April I took her to Iceland, the main objective being to see the Northern Lights (or so I led her to believe!).
Both of us are keen divers, and it didn’t take much persuading when I mentioned that we should have a look at Lake Silfra. I had read reviews and was confident that it was going to be a worthwhile dive.
We arranged to dive with Dive.Is as it had been very quick to respond to my emails and very helpful on the phone. The centre provided excellent kit – Apeks XTX200 regs, Bare drysuits and Buddy BCs, so we were happy bunnies before even getting near the lake.
It was a gloomy day in Iceland. Standing above the steps leading down to Silfra’s entry point and looking down it looked much like any other lake.
We stepped in and bobbed around on the surface, waiting for the rest of our group to enter. As we descended I was blown away by the clarity of the water. The temperature was 2°, but having had a very close relationship with Stoney Cove over the years this was not a problem for us.
The visibility was easily 100m-plus. The water in the lake is filtered through volcanic rock, apparently taking 100 years to reach Silfra from its source.
You are literally diving in mineral water, and very nice-tasting mineral water, I might add!
Not long into the dive we came to the point where you can touch both the European and American tectonic plates at the same time. How many divers can boast that
Maximum depth was about 18m, but there is no need to descend to the bottom because you can see it so clearly from the surface. We were no deeper than 15m, and as much as I would have liked to have explored some of the nooks and crannies I was under orders from the missus to stay close to her at all times.
The dive lasted about 40 minutes, and we surfaced almost speechless, other than to comment on the snow that was now falling. I recorded the entire dive with my GoPro and this was without doubt the most spectacular I’ve done to date.
I highly recommend Lake Silfra. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re a keen photographer.
FAMILY FEELING, by Steve Simons
Malta / Mediterranean Sea
We are fortunate to have visited Malta on seven trips, making 50-odd dives around the island, and 13 of those have been on one of our favourite wrecks, the 110m freighter scuttled in 1998 as an artificial reef.
This wreck sits beautifully settled in 37m of water, and offers great penetrations into the engine-room and up into the superstructure.
It has a photogenic bow, open holds, picturesque companionways to the sides and schooling barracuda around the stack of the funnel.
We have enjoyed all our dives here, but the best was diving as a family when Tom celebrated his 16th birthday by completing his Advanced Open Water certification just as his 13-year-old sister got her Junior AOW card, with handshakes all round on the upper deck of the wreck!
Seeing our children starting their diving adventures, experiencing all those ”firsts”, excitedly discovering marine life, thrilled by wrecks materialising out of the blue, studiously compiling their logbooks – what a privilege it was to share all this with them as parents who started our own diving in the years BC (Before Children).
We will happily keep returning to the Um El Faroud, never tiring of exploring its inner secrets, but will always remember the family gathering on the deck!