As I sit here on the Kalivaki Beach just outside Georgioupolis on Crete watching the DSDs from the Evelin Dive Center, it reminded me that I first qualified as a PADI Open Water diver this day, ten years ago! It was the year of the 2012 London Olympics when my eldest daugher Heather and I completed our PADI Open Water course. The date was 18th August 2012 in Sivota, Greece.
Having dived once many moons ago with some mates in Cyprus in the late 80’s from the shore, then in the Red Sea in Eilat a few years later with my wife, that was it until around 2008 when Heather and I attended a local country fair and bet the BSAC. Problem was, you had to be 14 and with Heather only 12 years old, diving was again put on the back burner. That was until we went to Bermuda later that year and did a PADI Discover Scuba Diver course.
My thoughts were simply that if I could not look after myself, how the hell could I look after my daughter? And with that, I swam back to the boat and we ended up snorkelling. As I remember those moments as I type today, it was plain that I was certainly overweighted and without doubt, there should have been an instructor in the water with me. C’est la vie.
Sivota - Greece
As aforementioned, the year was 2012, the London Olympics and as a family holiday we ventures to Sivota in Greece with Neilson Holidays. Heather was now 16 and part of the activities including diving. “Come on Dad!” she exclaimed and with anxiety from Bermuda, agreed to partake in another Discover Scuba Diver course. That was it, we were booked onto the course. In the pool, the experience didn’t seem as arduous and the skills were not that difficult.
Subsequent to the “What comes next?” question to the instructor, Heather and I embarked on the PADI Open Water course and booked in for four more dives. Three dives of skills and then our final qualification dives to the “Blue Lagoon”, together with homework and learning for our our test. I was given a rather tight wetsuit, an odd yellow and pink fin pair and a leaking mask. Four dives later and for Heather and I we were told that we could now dive anywhere in the world to a maximum depth of 18 metres.
PADI says “Diving is Fun!” and “You will make many new friends”. I have to say, that much is certainly true. Since then I have dived 693 times at 242 sites in 14 countries. My total time underwater is 21 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes. My deepest dive is 54.3m on the SS Aida II in Egypt. My coldest dive was 3degC at Silfra in Iceland. My buddy Andrew “Ossie” Osborne is still the person I have most dived with.
I cannot tell you what my favourite dive was, as there are too many that are equal for different reasons. Alas, HMS Flirt as lost during the First Battle of the Dover Strait, SM UB-55 and SM UB-79, all in the English Channel, the SS Dandfjord in Cabo Verde and more recently the SV John Preston in the Sound of Mull. And spectacularly, the Highball Bouncing Bombs in Loch Striven! All favourites with different memories. I’ll also have to cite the Nippo Maru in Chuuk Lagoon and the MS Zenobia in Cyprus. The Zenobia is still my top dived site and I plan to revisit her in 2023.
I have dived with a whale shark and saved a turtle entwined in fishing line in the Maldives. My boundaries were pushed on the SS Rosalie Moller in Egypt and I would like to revisit the MV Salem Express. We have found treasure, the most fascinating being kitchen pots as valued by antique TV personality Thomas Plant plus the slave trading Manilla tokens that were onboard the Douro, sinking off the Scillies after the abolition of the UK slave trade.
In 2018 we visited the grave of Johannes Lohs in the Netherlands, his final resting place. His WWI U-Boat UB-57 sunk out of Zeebrugge supposedly by the first British magnetic mine. His kills will be recognised by many divers including the SS Kyarra and Clan MacVey in Swanage, the SS Unity and Excellence Pleske from Dover and the TR Thompson, City of Brisbane and the RMS Moldavia from Brighton.
This summer I joined the Nautical Archaeological Society which has allowed me to dive some fascinating historical relics including Holland No5, one of the first British submarines that lays just off Eastbourne in 32m of water. Now qualified with NAS, it gives another reason to dive and I’ll be looking forward to assisting with NAS projects in the future.
Alongside the Zenobia, plans are to head back to Chuuk in 2023 too and the Great Lakes in 2024/2025. Possibly a long haul to the SS President Coolidge in Vanuatu, a trip that was scuttled in 2020 due to Covid.
Still on my Bucket List are two more wrecks that seem to allude me, the aforementioned SS Unity and the SS Cuvier. I’ll also add HMT Othello II, where other than the deck boy who was pushed through the windows, when she was hit by a mine, all other souls were lost. Their graves are in one of the Dover graveyards. At that time, the Admiralty then stipulated that all minesweepers must have canvas doors to allow crew escape from the wheelhouse.
The top of my Bucket List will have to be a give to HMS Fortune (H30) as lost 1st June 1916 during the battle of Jutland. Laying at 42m, this maybe a tough call but having met my great uncle Cyril recently who recalls his “Uncle Joe”, a reference to Joseph Phillips who would be my great great uncle, it will be a most fantastic dive and well within my training limits for open circuit and CCR. Watch this space!