December 9 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Sixty years after Jacques Cousteau inspired a generation to dip a toe into marine exploration, scuba divers from across Norfolk are still submerging themselves in underwater adventures.
Divers from the East Anglian branch (EAB11) of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) don scuba suits and air tanks at least twice a week during the summer, heading out into the North Sea from Sea Palling on the east coast.
“If you can dive in the North Sea, you can dive anywhere in the world,” said Mike Thomas, the Norwich-based vice-chairman of EAB11.
As a highly qualified and experienced national instructor, 60-year-old Mr Thomas knows what attracts people to scuba and is happy to admit it’s an addictive hobby.
“I started diving in 1976 when I was about 23-year-old,” he said.
“As a youngster I’d watched Mike Nelson in the TV show Sea Hunt; he was always fighting the baddies, getting the girl and finding gold bars. I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that’.”
Today, the retired teacher is the chief examiner of the BSAC’s advanced instructor qualification –setting the criteria for divers taking the high level exam, overseeing events in the UK and overseas, and awarding qualifications to the successful candidates.
“There is a lot to organise ahead of any dive,” he said.
“You’ve got to find the site and consider the conditions; visibility, weather and the tide which is really the crucial factor for any dive.
“Conditions can change very quickly – just last month we had the sea fret that came in ever so quickly and a couple of our members were involved in the rescue of two divers.”
The sea fret – a coastal fog also known as a haar – cloaked the Norfolk coast from Hunstanton to Great Yarmouth on an otherwise hot July day and the rescue operation was a stark reminder that divers are vulnerable in open water.
Like mountaineering, hiking or base jumping, the risk is part of the attraction for some. For others it is the chance to discover the unknown, capture the seabed on camera or explore ancient shipwrecks.
For Mr Thomas, who is busy compiling a book on EAB11’s history from 1970 to 2013 ready for the branch’s own 60th anniversary next year, is it partly the isolation.
One of his favourite dives is off Ascension Island, a volcanic mound in the equatorial waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.
It is 1,600 kilometres from the coast of Africa, 2,250 kilometres from the coast of South America and feels “a very long way from anywhere”, he said.
Closer to home, he is an advocate of diving off Norfolk’s shoreline.
“There are probably more unexplored wrecks off the east coast than anywhere else in the UK,” he said.
“It’s relatively undived because it’s not exactly hospitable.”
Many Britons have their first taste of diving while on holiday – sampling the crystal clear, and notably warmer, waters of Greece, Egypt, Thailand or the Red Sea.
EAB11, however, run courses for University of East Anglia students and anyone interested in learning is encouraged to get in touch.
As well as North Sea dives, the club organises trips abroad and to sites across the UK. And last week, divers met at Horstead Mill for what has become an annual dip and litter pick.
Among the divers at Horstead, north of Norwich, was 25-year-old occupational therapist Lucy Johnson.
“I started diving in Ko Tao, Thailand, three years ago whilst I was backpacking,” she said.
“When I got back to the UK, I joined the UEA Sub-Aqua Club and did some more training with EAB11 because the course in Thailand was short and sweet to say the least
“I am now a BSAC Sports Diver and am looking into the instructor route so I can help out in the confined water dives at the pool as a starting point. I have also started underwater photography.
“Diving is a great hobby, once you get used to being underwater and the amount of kit you need.
“It really is another world to explore and once you’ve done the training, there are many avenues you can take such as photography, wreck diving, sea search or instructing.
“My advice would be if you are thinking about diving, go for it.”