Fort Bovisands Harbour (Plymouth England)
21.08.90 (pm) Shore Dive – Bovisand Harbour – Viz 3-4m Basic Dive – scenic – Rock Sand Kelp. Instructor Paul. L – Buddy Andy . H Depth 0/8m Time 29 mins Equipment SCUBA
That was the very first step I took underwater, and it very nearly was my last! I was nervous and excited in equal measure, we had kitted up and navigated the very hazardous slipway down to the sandy area you can see in the lead photo. Next task was simple, swim out until your feet don’t touch and then duck dive like you practiced in the pool…. or so we were told, there had been four buddy pairs, each with a BSAC instructor and the traipsing into the water, by the time me and my buddy got there, meant there was zero viz…..not even a bit! Add to that I had been underweighted by a good couple of pounds and then imagine trying to descend in shallow water using a duck-dive…..I kicked and kicked to try to get under, I was young and very fit…..but very quickly breathing through my arse!
You will just be able to see the harbour wall steps by the van in the picture….luckily my instructor Paul, realising I was not going anywhere fast, got me to swim across to the steps and added another 2kg into the pockets of my stab jacket. Now he said, we’ll try this a different way, just relax on the surface, look at me and slowly release the air from your jacket using the inflate/deflate hose…..I started to sink, gently under the now far clearer water and into the peace and calm of the sheltered harbour…..I could breathe….better still, I could see! We knelt there for a minute or so until Paul was happy I wasn’t going to cardiac on him and then he beckoned us out for a swim round the area, even taking us out of the shelter of the wall and deeper into the bay beyond
I remember we felt the slightly colder water of the outer limits of the harbour as we went around the wall keeping it on our Left shoulder and passing an old anchor, a small cannon and numerous rock outcrops covered in Kelp and hiding small crabs, tiny fish and all kinds of nooks and crannies full of micro-life….it was awesome, all thoughts of kicking and gasping had gone, replaced by a feeling of adventure and freedom that was all I’d hoped it would be……I knew it right then….I was a diver, and I would now always be a Diver!
The next day we carried out another Two dives in the harbour and rooted around the rock and sand and Kelp in the area until we knew it well. Every dive had skills to carry out, ditching and then recovering regulators, no mask swims, buddy breathing, all building skills and competences whilst building each of our confidence levels for the next part of our Novice 1 and Novice 2 BSAC qualifications. Back in the day no-one’s feelings were in the slightest bit challenged by the term “Novice Diver”, we all knew we were fledglings and that we needed to build our experiences safely, it made sense, this was an environment that didn’t suffer fools…..as we were constantly reminded….there are old divers…….. and there are bold divers…..but there are No old & bold divers!
The next day would be quite something, a trip out of the harbour on the JSSADC inflatables, the entry would be a whole new experience and getting back in another thing entirely, we went out in the morning, rolling backwards off the tubes of the small inflatables easily and returned from our dives, handing up our weight belts to those in the little rubber craft and then flopping, without a trace of elegance, back in to take our places for the journey back in for something to eat and to collect fresh cylinders……… and then back out we went.
Everything went brilliantly, the diving was great, colder and fresher, more to see and the sense we were now really getting the hang of things, and we were diving deeper, 14m which made a difference to your air consumption, shortening the dive slightly and making you focus just a little more keenly on that contents gauge. It was brilliant and the 22 and 27 minutes of each dive flew by, even getting back in the small ribs wasn’t an issue, I was loving every minute of this!
I loved Fort Bovisands, the history of the place, if you took the time to look, was astonishing. Bovisands was part of the defensive response to the French threat in the Napoleonic wars, the curve of the outer wall showing 12 wide, but substantially protected openings, which each contained massive cannons arrayed to protect the approach to Plymouth from potential French attack. The rear of the buildings contained barracks for the Naval Gunners to keep them as close as possible to their cannons, and below them were the ammunition stores down tight and dank corridors which served modern day Bovisands, and the Joint Services Sub Aqua diving School (JSSADC), well as kit stores and compressor rooms where cylinders could be filled in relative peace, away from those learning in the makeshift class-rooms above where once those sailors and soldiers slept
I have visited Fort Bovisands many times since that auspicious day in August of 1990, I have completed several more courses there including BSAC Sport diver, BSAC Advanced Instructor and PADI Open Water Instructor, but I can’t think of a more important moment in my life than that dive in a summer’s afternoon, in a small protected harbour where a lifetime of adventure began……..