Diving - The adventure continues!

2024 Diving - Back underwater

Compared with recent years, 2024 got off to a slow start.

I didn't actually have a dive in the whole of January as I picked up a cold which lingered. I probably could have dived if I'd really wanted to (in fact only bad weather prevented a dive late in the month), but I decided against it.

By February, though, I was ready to get back in the water.

A marathon 3 hour session training new Ocean Diver trainees in the pool, got me craving time underwater.

Andy mentioned that he'd not dived at Stoney Cove since the 1990s and I'd only been once, back in 2014, and not really felt an urge to return, but as he was interested we decided to go one day, midweek.

Having carefully picked one of the few days with sunshine, the good weather arrived a day early and we travelled the 150 miles to Stoney Cove under grey skies.

My memories of Stoney were tainted by going at a weekend and it being very busy, resulting in us having to park in the top car park and carry our equipment down to the lake and it being at least as far away as NDAC, which was always a good place to dive.

Luckily on a cold Tuesday in February, we could park right by the water and it was both quiet and with decent vis (up to 15M at times, I would guess).

For the first dive, Andy and I dropped in and then descended down to the deepest point we could see on the site map.

There wasn't much to see there, so we ascended up, passing the cockpit of a plane and eventually found ourselves on the shallow shelf and under the cafe, where we saw that they'd added a 'Loch Ness Monster' since 2014.

The Nemo Submarine

Andy explores the sub.

We swam around there for a while, finding the Nemo submarine and then, just before exiting, spotting a Coot diving down for weed, so we took a few photos and video of that and exited.

Coot, diving for weed.

Andy's suit had had a pretty major flood as air bulged out of the neck seal as we'd come up from the deep part of the lake, so he spent a lot of the surface interval in the heated changing room, trying to dry out.

At one point he'd even suggested not doing a second dive, but I pointed out it had been a long way to come for just one dive, luckily his dry suit remained dry for the second.

We ate a bacon roll and drank tea and then chatted with some of the staff, while our cylinders were refilled.

For the second dive, we decided to stay on the 20m level and visit the Staingarth.

I dropped in first and immediately felt water rush down my left leg. I knew straight away, my zip was slightly open, so I grabbed the ladder and climbed out of the water, slackened off my BCD and Andy confirmed the zip was not quite closed.

Closed up, I had a wet left leg, but there were no further problems and I didn't really notice it much on the dive.

We aimed for a bus shown on the map and soon found a chassis, which we assumed must be the bus and the body had collapsed.

We then swam on past a very degraded Wessex helicopter and I spotted something to my left and, I thought, something to our right. The item on the left was a camper van, but Andy pointed to the right (he was a bit closer) and we swam across, finding a boat that we swam through.

Andy about to board the smaller boat

The Stern of the smaller boat

I thought to myself that I recalled the Staingarth being bigger last time I dived here and as we continued on we came across the stern of a bigger boat. This was the Staingarth and we swam in and around that for a while before moving on and finding the, still fairly intact, bus.

The Staingarth's propellor

Andy poses by the Staingarth's wheelhouse

Chain winch on the Staingarth

Andy was getting into deco at this point, so we started to ascend and made our way to complete a safety stop (Andy had 1 minute deco to do as well) and then exited, after a quite eventful and enjoyable second dive. In 32 minutes we certainly seemed to have seen a lot.

Andy enters the bus

It was raining heavily when we exited, so we dekitted in the changing rooms and then came back with our clothes and changed in there too, before heading home, which took 3.5 hours, making it a 6 hour round trip, which is why, despite quite enjoying this visit and finding all the staff very friendly, I won't be a frequent visitor to Stoney Cove.

Perch on our safety stop, we didn't see much life on the dives.

A couple of weeks later, I joined 7 other club members for some training dives at Vobster.

It was a fairly chilly day with air temp just above zero, but not as bitter as our dives early the previous year.

I did a couple of dives with Tim, towards his Dive Leader qualification.

For the first dive, I was to demonstrate Dive Leading with an inexperienced diver.

We descended from the entry point near plane.

The visibility was pretty awful near surface, a couple of metres at best, but on the bottom it was just poor.

We first swam past the cockpit section and then onto the NAS 'wreck' training area.

We then turned around there and swam through plane, spotting a few small Perch here.

We headed from there to the top of the crushing works and then down to 20M or so, heading towards the Jaquelin.

We found the wheelhouse near to it and then the boat, although the latter wasn't visible from the former.

We swam around the boat and then headed past the pit towards the tunnel entrance, which we entered and then ascended to a safety stop in the usual place by the rocky exit.

It was pretty cold in the water and had poor to terrible vis, added to which my right dry glove didn't seal properly and water then leaked up to my elbow inside my drysuit (which probably explained why the glove didn't seal properly), so not a great dive, but it was OK.

We had a surface interval of around an hour and a half and caught up with the other divers, before going back in.

A little video from the Vobster dives.

Tim led this dive, demonstrating how to lead an inexperiencd diver.

We dropped in in front of the shop, down past some of the platforms, intending to head to the Jacquelin boat.

However, Tim went too far left and we ended up looking at a rock face - Luckily, at this point I could just make out the boat a few yards away (Again, vis was poor generally) and pointed it out.

Again we swam around there and then Tim headed from the bow, looking for the wheelhouse, but swam too far right and I had to bring him back towards it.

He carried out a mask clear on top, as part of the exercise, and then we descended along the road looking for the Sea King as he'd not seen it before.

I managed to just make it out in the gloom and we swam over to it, where, close up, the vis was the best we'd seen on the day.

By now Tim had 70 Bar (a freeflow from his Octopus hadn't helped a 180Bar fill) and we swam up through the bottom of the crushing works to the top and then headed up the road over the tunnel.

The vis here was absolutely terrible and Tim seemed to be getting quite stressed about this and his low air level, so we abandoned the safety stop for this dive and reached the surface with him on 30 Bar and glad to be back on the surface.

It was another cold, rather dismal looking dive, but my glove sealed this time, so I was warmer than the first one, but two were enough for the day.

Tim's navigation wasn't great, but he monitored me effectively, although seemed to forgot his own gas for a while as a result.

Very unexpectedly, my next trip was back to Stoney Cove!

Andy had mislaid a weight belt and phoned Stoney Cove who said they believed they had it, so we set off again for another midweek visit.

Rather annoyingly for Andy (although I found it somewhat amusing in a 'If you don't laugh, you'll hit someone' way) it turned out the 'black weight belt' they had was blue with a yellow stripe and someone's name on it!

As it turned out, though, we had a couple of decent dives, even if the trip was unrewarding in retrieving the weightbelt.

For the first dive, Andy suggested we visit 'The Hydrobox', which lies at about 35M.

We swam down, past the aircraft cockpit, following the sleepers of an old tramway for rock until we saw the lights of a couple of divers ahead of us at about 28M.

We reached a kind of a promintary and dropped off to one side and there was the Hydrobox.

video from the first dive

I'd heard about this, but never seen it and it's just a metal box, open underneath and with a circular hatch in the top.

We did the obligatory swim through it, but with nothing else to see down there, we turned around and headed back up.

Eventually, we found ourselves under the restaurant, with Nessie and then swam back to exit via the ramp near the cafe entrance.

On the way up, we'd spotted a trio of good sized Perch.

Vis wasn't as good as on our last visit, there were more people there, including some trainees and there had been a lot of rain.

We had a drink and I had a bacon roll and then we decided to stick to the 20M level, where the Staingarth, Wessex and other items of interest are generally clustered.

We dropped down and quite quickly found the Staingarth.

We had a swim through and around that and then headed towards the shore again, hoping to find the NAS training wreck, The Gresham.

We came across the Wessex and then spotted a tiny Blennie like fish (We'd seen one on the first dive too), before coming up to the 7M level, where we found an impressive Pike hovering in the water.

We turned right along this level, but then it seem to disappear and we'd not found the Gresham, so we turned round and eventually reached the Nemo submarine before turning in to the shore in the hope of getting some video of the Coots diving, but with no luck.

video from the second dive

We were surprised tha the vis was better at 20M than it had been at 35 or 6, possibly better than the first time and probably helped by a spell of sunshine while we were on this dive.

The drive back was a lot easier than the previous trip (only 2.5 hours instead of 3.5!), but again, while I'd quite enjoyed the dives, I wouldn't be in any great hurry to rush back to Stoney Cove.

Ocean Diver Training 2024

My next dives were to train a cohort of Ocean Diver Trainees.

In recent years, former club members, Dawn and Julian had tended to monopolise training, but with their departure from the club (and a bit of a general shakeup) we decided to change the way we trained people.

One aspect of training people through the club system is that it takes a while to work through 5 sheltered water lessons and 4 open water ones.

In the past, the sheltered training was usually done once per week, although that had extended as our access to a pool became more limited.

The effect of this was that attrition on training courses was often high with, often, the majority of trainees not completing the training at all.

We decided to try a 'fast-track' approach this year, holding two 3 hour sessions in the pool for the sheltered water lessons and then two days (4 dives) over a weekend for the Open Water training.

I think we all knew this was quite ambitious, but it's not greatly different to the way PADI or even BSAC themselves run training courses themselves.

Some try dives early in the year resulted in a good takeup and we carried out the pool training with few problems.

In late March we headed to Wraysbury for the first of the Open Water days, to be followed the next day by a trip to Vobster and, hopefully, some qualified Ocean Divers.

For the first of two dives, I took in a couple of trainees I had done some training for in the pool, Fran and Justyna.

Both had been good in the sheltered water training, but with drysuits to contend with and very different conditions (vis was pretty horrible at Wraysbury on this visit), I didn't know how things would go.

Initially, Fran struggled massively to descend and we had to surface to get her more weight twice.

The vis was terrible and with all the to'ing and fro'ing we did little more than sit on a platform to complete the required drills after swimming a short distance to it.

Then Justyna started having trouble with her ears, so I left her on the surface and carried out an inversion drill with Fran - Probably not ideal, but I could see us getting little to nothing done.

This all took around 45 minutes and in fairly cool water we ended the first dive at that point.

For OO2, Fran found she couldn't descend any deeper than 4M, although Justyna, after using Otrovine, had no issues at all!

After attempting two descents to an 8M container, we were about to call the dive off when Justyna noticed she'd lost one of MY fins, which I'd lent her as the club ones that had been given to her were far too small for her drysuit's boots.

After an attempt to locate the fin around the container, we gave up and I got Fran to tow Justyna back to the shore.

Luckily, someone found my fin later in the week and I was able to collect it.

Justyna was keen to, at least, complete the inversion drill that Fran had carried out, so the two of us went back the container.

She quickly did this and then I decided to carry out the AS drills and remaining OO2 drills with her, which she managed fine.

After that, I decided we'd had enough for day 1 of the Open Water Ocean Diver training, as we were heading to Vobster the next day!

Happy divers after the first OD day

Others had had a mixed day, with some students having no issues in completing all the drills and other struggling in the conditions.

Happily, drysuits didn't seem to have caused any particular issues.

The next morning we set off early to get to Vobster for the 8AM opening and arrived to join the queue.

Sadly Fran had been ill overnight, so didn't come to Vobster.

For the first dive, I took Justyna again and also took Aaron along as he was at the same stage, readly for OO3.

We jumped in in front of the shop and descended to a 6M platform to carry out mask clearing and CBL drills, which both of them carried out flawlessly.

Then we headed along at 12M, passing the Ford Escort (where we spotted some Perch) and to the plane.

Justyna seemed keen to go into the rear section, but I shook my head, but after we passed through the central section, I led them into the front.

Aaron was fine, but Justyna was obviously stressed and keen to get out of the plane, which we quickly did, at which point she seemed fine again. Afterwards she reported that she felt as if the plane was rolling from side to side, I guess a case of vertigo.

We swam back to the area where we usually carry out safety stops, but Justyna floated to the surface here. Aaron and I followed her up slowly and she seemed fine, just rather tired (odd as she looks quick fit and wasn't overweight at all, far from it).

After a few minutes on the surface, we dropped back down a couple of metres and carried out a simulated casualty weight drop drill and then exited by the slope. For the final qualifying dive, I just took Justyna, with Aaron going in with Konrad.

We swam down past the 6M platform and then further down until we could see the Jacquin wreck ahead of us.

Justyna and I over the Jacquin (still from Andy's video)

We swam out to it and over and around it and then over to the wheelhouse, where we spotted Andy and Christine doing the same OO4 dive.

We then headed back over to the Escort and out to the safety stop.

At this point Justyna started indicating to go up, I shook my head, but she kept giving me the same signal, so after a couple of minutes we slowly surfaced.

She said she was feeling exhausted and needed a rest, so we did so, before dropping back down where she carried a final drill to drop her own weights and then we exited.

Over the day we qualified a number of Ocean Divers and Discovery Divers (some had joined the course too late to cover all the OD sheltered water training) and generally, although we would do things a bit differently next time, everyone, especially the trainees considered it a success.

After everyone else departed, I had a quick, post training dive with Andy as we both had air in our cylinders.

We dropped in by the kitting up area and dropped down through the tunnel, we then found ourselves pretty quickly at the Sea King helicopter, where the vis was fairly reasonable.

From there we headed out and found most, if not all, of the jesters, in really good vis.

Visiting the Jesters (still from Andy's video)

Andy had a lot less air to start with than me, so we turned around then and headed up the wall and past the tail of the plane, the Ford Escort and then carried out a safety stop under a platform before surfacing and existing via a ramp more or less opposite where my car was parked in the schools/club area.

It was good to have a dive free from the pressures of teaching and being responsible for a trainee, enjoyable though the weekend has mostly been.

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