The First FSAC Dive Trip
From its fledgling start in July/August of 1996 Fenton Sub Aqua Club, the home of Deep Blue Diving as a diver training company, had become more and more popular with those having trained with Deep Blue Diving, settling in to Fenton Manor Pool, and finding the opportunity to bring their kids along, test out new equipment buys, or just chill and discuss diving with the others around them and see what we were up to at the weekend…..whatever, it seemed Fenton Sub Aqua Club would offer more than just training and would eventually become a small part of Stoke on Trent culture….if you knew where to look!
I encouraged a mixed approach to the pool, originally there were a few club members joining us whilst lessons were being carried out for Deep Blue, this meant we had a strict, “you can watch but do not get close or interfere” policy which was self- policed by the club members and very much based on personal space for those in a lesson scenario, if they were tasked to swim the length of the pool with the Divemasters, then all others in the pool moved out of their way, if any were a little slow to do so then the Divemasters would “herd” offenders and have a word with them at the surface. It all worked very well and as the club membership started to grow we divided the pool up on the surface using lane lines, half the pool for the club, the other half for trainees. This had the benefit of giving the trainees a little exposure to other divers entering and already in the water, adding to the need to have an “overall situational view” not just a forward focus, after all, it wouldn’t be the first time I had seen a diver surfacing at Stoney “landed on” by a diver entering the water without paying sufficient attention to what was below him or her…….. On non-training nights it was not occasional that members would “drop in” on the Divemasters whilst snorkelling, or just swimming the pool, and signal “out of air” just for the opportunity to do a lap of the pool in the tow of a diver attached to their alternate air source, something I encouraged as it prepared our divers to always be ready to “donate” and never to question why, an edge I think over those who adopt a less supportive view of that behaviour
There were exclusive club nights too, when members could relax and have the pool to themselves, and I put on summer Barbecues and had mates from the training and equipment suppliers bring up dive “toys” on special occasions so club members could try-out new kit, Force fins, computers, underwater scooters, even a re-breather on a couple of occasions, with the help of Simon and Fluff from Stoney Cove. On a couple of days in the year we would drag out the Fenton Manor inflatable, a kind of bouncy assault course for kids, and watch as my own and members children tried to out-do each other scrambling across or jumping off the “bouncy castle on sea”, remarkably there was not a single injury the entire Ten years FSAC ran, which is a testimony to luck as much as fervent parenting I can assure you! Every training business needs an enthusiastic support structure and there is no doubt those new to any activity like scuba seem to relish involvement, I was very honoured to have help whenever I asked, and very often offered before I had asked, such were the qualities of those at Fenton Manor and from Stoke on Trent in general, lovely people I loved sharing dive time with!
The first really exclusive FSAC “Dive Trip” was arranged in March of 1997, I had taken several trips in 1996 to Portland and to Anglesey but the first I arranged specifically for the club was to Portland, I knew, whatever the weather, that we would be able to get some decent dives in and that was important, I wanted those coming such a long way to be assured of diving rather than take a chance they might end up “dry-diving” the local hostelry’s…… not that I wouldn’t enjoy a session in the Breakwater Bar! I had, by now some very competent divers, approaching their second year with me, although, to date their diving had been entirely at Stoney Cove, I knew they would be ready for some real sea diving, as long as it could be reasonably sure to be fairly calm and a relatively easy step from the hassle free diving in a dis-used quarry, as opposed to the swell and movement of the sea, and the likelihood of poorer visibility relatively early in the year. I had kept in touch with Mal Strickland and I knew he was running a RIB out of Portland, I knew Budgie (Eric) Burgess had an arrangement with the Breakwater Hotel, so I could be assured of decent accommodation and relatively cheap food….. and it was done, we were off to Portland and some “Real Diving” as one of my more senior FSAC divers put it!
The first dive I took them in for was a shore dive off the beach at Chesil, that was deliberate, close in, calm conditions and a shore based entry which would mimic their Stoney Cove experiences, no fumes from the RIB, no sea sickness to deal with and no cramped kitting up on their first sea dive, it worked well although there was not a huge amount to see on the day, everyone got a dive in and there were no issues. My log book describes the dive: 29/03/97 “Shore Dive – Portland – Chesil Cove A Shakeout Dive For 3 Open Water Divers. Fun Entry In Low Surf & Root & Ferret About – Very Little Life About & Low Viz 1 -11/2M Max 9’ W Temp Air In 220 Out 175 Buddy Colin” This set the scene for the next day’s dive, even though there was nothing much to see the execution went well and all of the divers had transitioned into sea diving without any significant events, it couldn’t have gone much better! The next dive was on the breakwater wall, we had been looking for the Countess of Erne, in the confusion of several new divers getting into a RIB, the confined space, the kitting up protocols, the inevitable “newness” of it all, for some reason we ended up descending the wrong buoy, it meant we missed the Countess and ended up hunting around the largely featureless bottom along the breakwater wall, and I recorded the dive as 30/03/97 “RIB Dive – Breakwater – Portland Missed The Countess – Wrong Buoy Ended Up In Low Viz On Lobster Pots & Sand – Plenty Of Sand Eels! W Temp 9’ Air In 230 Out 175 Buddy’s Jason – Darren – Colin” This was quickly followed by a dive on the outside of the Breakwater, moving the FSAC crew a little further out of their comfort zone and into a little more Open Sea, more of a swell on the un-protected side of the Breakwater, but close enough in to keep the feeling of security the lead-up dives had fostered so far. There was as much life on this side as there was on the inner side and I won’t bore you with the log book entry on this dive, suffice to say it had the right result, all divers gently extending their experiences and all safe back on board with broad grins…..so far so good!
So the dives had built a little more confidence in the diving of our open water converts and now they could begin to call themselves “Divers” in a truer and wider sense, our next dive would be one they would remember and this time there would be no confusion, we were going back to one of my favourite harbour dives, The Countess of Erne!
I wrote up the dive in the little Red Log, my wreck log: 30/03/97 “Countess of Erne Opposite Bunk House 84, (Blue netted buoy) Back Down To the Countess, Viz terrible – plenty of suspended matter made it really murky, great atmosphere though. Took a quiet bimble round the stern then up & onto decks – over the holds up to the bows & then back up to no 3 hold & on up to a 1 min safety stop – a great dive on this once pretty important old Irish Sea – paddle steamer.” I clearly remember the day and the dive, it was a concern that newly acclimated divers might feel claustrophobic in the viz, I needn’t have worried as all our divers coped not only well, but came up having loved the countess. Those of you who have read the “Wreck” section of this blog will know of my liking for this indomitable little paddle steamer and her history, to say I was chuffed at the smiles on Col, Jase & Darren’s faces is an understatement!
The final dive of the trip was to the banks at Lulworth, giving the FSAC team a longer RIB ride out and back, now they had more of an idea how to navigate around the tight space and still kit-up effectively. It turned out to be a good trip and the South Coast gave us a calm sea and a great day, the Sun shone and the trip out was fast paced, something the guys loved, who……especially divers….. doesn’t love a fast RIB ride? The dive was uneventful, and I wrote it up in understated manner: 30/03/97 “RIB Dive – Lulworth Banks – Dorset Just A Scenic Bimble Round The Rocks Managed To Find a Lump Sucker of round 4 lb & Got Close Up Otherwise – Better Viz 3-4m Air In 160 Out 100 Buddy Colin” I really was bored of “scenic” dives and although I enjoyed being out of Stoney Cove, and, given I had divers to show a wider set of diving to, still knew at the back of my mind that that I was a wreck diver at heart, time in the water was precious, my time was best spent in and around shipwrecks, but the weekend had been a success, all three divers had enjoyed sea diving and had a sense of achievement, the staged introduction had gone to plan, no one had felt over-extended, all three had something they enjoyed on each dive and all three were now used to surge, waves, exiting and re-entering a RIB and the confined space available to kit up in……they were pretty much properly “Open Water” trained now and you could hear it in their post dive chat and see it in their grins, the trip back to Fenton Manor was easy….I was the only one awake……..the van was full of sleeping Divers!