James’ Scuba Story
“UK Diving? You must be joking, right?”
A typically British cool July day in 2020, stood on the quayside at Vobster about to giant stride in to start my Dry Suit qualification dive……. Having started my PADI journey in earnest some 12 years earlier, this was my first foray into UK diving. All of my training and recreational diving had been completed overseas, and I had become that typical holiday fair weather diver. Warm, clear water had become my default for diving experiences, which had served me well, taking me to many fantastic destinations around the world to see some incredible underwater sights and marine life. Then the world changed, and suddenly overseas travel became more of a challenge with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Having initially contacted Ocean Turtle Diving for a dive computer service, I had made a casual enquiry about UK diving, given my expectation that my overseas plans would be cancelled and before long we were discussing organised trips and PADI Specialties. As someone who had only ever dived in a wetsuit (or in extreme cases swim shorts and a rash guard), it seemed like a sensible option to sign up for my Dry Suit Specialty, if I was really going to give this UK diving lark a try, and so there I was, ready to step into the world of UK diving.
It’s interesting that when I speak to non-diving friends, or as I was, fair weather divers, the reaction to discussing UK diving is often similar – “Don’t you get really cold?” “Isn’t the vis really poor?” “There is nothing to see in UK waters”, etc. etc. To be honest, these were really opinions held by me also, until I took the plunge and learnt that this couldn’t be further from the truth, as anyone who is reading this with UK diving experience will agree.
Let’s address the cold first. To be honest, like most adventure activities, you are usually only as good or as prepared as the equipment you are using. So, it stands to reason that a good quality, well-fitting dry suit, with the appropriate base layers, will ensure you are comfortable when diving, whatever the water temperature. Let’s be honest, we are talking about the UK here, not the Arctic, and many people successfully enjoy Arctic and Ice diving, so it would stand to reason that the right equipment for the right environment would see you warm and dry. Even on the coldest day I have dived, again back at Vobster last November, with the snow falling, I was warmer in the water than out of it – nothing a dry robe, beanie, pair of gloves and a cup of tea didn’t sort out on the surface however!
Poor visibility. I must admit, this is an interesting one – I have had dives inland and in the sea in the UK and vis can be varied. I remember a typically changeable British summer’s day, diving at Pete’s Pinnacle off Lundy Island, expecting the vis to be awful, but to my surprise it was not. In fact, it was incredible. A good 10 meters minimum and a thoroughly pleasant dive, which contrasted with the day before spent diving on the MV Robert, where the surface conditions were that of a lovely summer’s day, but the vis was more challenging at practically a metre. The restricted visibility on this dive did not deter me however, and it was actually a great opportunity to further hone some of the diving skills that perhaps do not get used so frequently when led on dive in a more tropical setting, such as underwater navigation and of course, the importance of working closely with your buddy. The point for me here is that I dive for enjoyment as well as the challenge and if it isn’t an enjoyable experience, end the dive. On this day, other than the vis, the conditions were good, and we were diving within the limits of both my buddy and me, so we happily continued the dive, using the experience to improve our skills.
As for the opinion that there is less to see, well again anyone who has dived in the UK will agree with me. We have an abundance of marine life, wrecks and geological formations. Whether diving off the Swanage Coastline on the SS Kyarra with the conger eels, spider crabs and abundance of various fish species, or in the kelp with the seals at Lundy Island, UK diving is packed with plenty to see.
From a UK diving perspective, I still sit firmly in the novice camp but now have an entirely different appreciation for what is quite literally on my doorstep. There is such a vast array of dive sites around the UK, offering different experiences for all abilities and a great way to get involved is to go through an organised trip with your local dive centre or club. For me, the best outcome is that I have now turned my summer holiday hobby into a year-round experience, and the skills I am improving and experiences I am having will add value to those warmer holiday dives, as well as allowing me to become a more competent diver! My only regret is that I didn’t get in the UK waters sooner, but for me, now that I have, there is no turning back.
Blog by James (Instructor)