CPA has almost 60 members, some more active than others. This page is designed to feature a members profile each month – so please come back and visit again.
This months member in the spotlight is one of our most active divers, William Harrington.
Bill has kindly submitted the following excellent article:
Easter Diving Weekend: the early years
Back in the early days of diving, when I was young and bold, I met some lads learning to dive in the local open air swimming pool. When offered the chance to have a go I jumped with both feet and have not looked back since. This was at a time when divers who turned up on a river bank, beach, lake side etc., attracted a crowd and you became the centre of attraction for small boys and those not so small. You had to learn to deal with loads of questions such as “How deep is it? “How deep can you go?” or “How long does your oxygen last?”. Those days were great for the ego, you felt almost on a par with Superman or Dan Dare (Ask your Granddad).
The small club I had joined, there was about a dozen of us, after having completed our somewhat basic training, we went on a couple of open water dives, one at Lulworth Cove, the other in a gravel pit in in Essex. As I recall max depth, on either dive was no more than 10 meters. It was decided that we should go off and have a really serious sea dive, perhaps even find a wreck. The plan such as it was, was to travel to Pembrokeshire in Wales, to a small place called Little Haven and camp over Easter. The only reason I can recall, for going there was that one of the group had family living there and he had been told the diving might be good.
Now, unlike today, when nearly everyone has a car, this was not the case then; only two members actually owned cars, so the first problem was how to get half a dozen of us, with our tents, inflatable dinghy, diving kit etc., to the dive site. This was solved by clubbing together and buying, a rather worn out Middlesex County Council ambulance, which had once been used for walking wounded. It had ten seats and there was also a section for a stretcher. The tents inflatable dinghy, diving gear and anything else we thought we might need, was piled in the back on the stretcher area and anywhere we could find space.
We put together our kit, most of which was home built, (remember this in the early days, nice well stocked dive emporiums were some way down the road).
Six of us then launched the dinghy and set off out to sea. We headed out of the bay and round a headland and decided anywhere off the headland would do for the first dive. Now at this point I should point out none of us had any boat handling knowledge, nor did we have a chart, compass, radio or even a depth sounder.
So we had no idea how deep it was or what the bottom was like, nor for that matter what the tide was doing, but what you do not know, you do not worry about. The man at the front was instructed to chuck the anchor over the side, (yes we did have one), this he duly did, while the lad next to him held the reel with the line on. Once all the line was out and it was secured, I was nominated to do the first dive with my mate Robin.
Having checked we could breath off our DVs over the side we went, grabbing hold of the anchor line, we headed downwards. Now at this point I should point out two things,
(1) nobody new how much anchor line there was and
(2) we did not know if it was holding on the bottom.
Robin dropped down the line, visibilty was OK about four to five meters, down and down we went, expecting at any moment hit the bottom. As it got darker and having had clear my ears several times, I was getting pretty apprehensive. Robin seemed happy, so on we went, until suddenly there was the anchor.
But where was the bottom? Not only was the anchor not on the bottom, we could not see any bottom. Robin indicated do we go on or stop? I checked my air contents gauge, it indicated I was well on the way towards the red zone. I showed Robin and on looking at his I saw it was much the same as mine, so we headed up. It had seemed to take for ever to get down to the anchor and now with air running low it seemed to take even longer to surface. In those days we did not do safety stops, indeed I am not sure we knew much about deco etc., not that it would have made much difference as I doubt we had enough air to do a stop.
After what seemed like an eternity we broke surface by the dinghy, and with some effort we were helped back into the dinghy. Everyone wanted to know what the bottom was like, what had we seen etc., so it came as a bit of shock to find we had not reached the bottom. Indeed there was a degree of leg pulling along the lines of we had bottled out and stayed down a little way until the air was gone. However it did not take a navigator to realize that, when we looked around, the shore was a lot further away than when we dropped the anchor.
I have no idea how deep the bottom was, however later when back on the beach, we stretched the anchor line out and paced its length. Several of us did this and agreed that the line was about two hundred feet (66 meters). This was a bit of a shock to Robin and me, particularly as nether of us had been much deeper than 30 feet before. Mind it did set the target for the rest, which as we all know today is not really what you should be doing on air and certainly not as a novice dive. It was only much later, as we all gained more knowledge and experience, did we appreciate how lucky we had been. Later having managed to get back inshore and made sure we were in shallower water, the others had a rather shallow dive over a rocky bottom.
Just in case you are wondering why we had not checked our computers or at least our D Timer, we were waiting for them to be invented. Depth gauges were available but purpose made kit was expensive and we were struggling 18 year olds, earning something like £10 a week, so if we could make it or adapt it we did. If not then we went without.
That evening we found a fish and chip shop and had a slap up feed followed by a visit to a pub for a few beers, then off to the tents and bed. That night was not fun, there were eight to a tent and, apart from being very cold, the field was a sea of mud, which meant every time anyone went outside they brought mud back in, no matter how careful they were. By day break we were all awake, cold and snow now lay on the ground. We managed a fry up on paraffin stoves and made gallons of hot tea, after which we all felt a lot better and ready to go again.
This time we kept closer in and made sure the anchor was on the bottom. The first two went in and and returned after about thirty minutes, having had a good look around on a rocky bottom at about 10 to 12 metres. On getting them alongside the boat they were pulled back on board. Now as I have said, nearly all our kit was home made and one of those pulled aboard had his cylinders held in place with jubilee clips. Unfortunately he had not protected the tails of the clips, so as he was pulled into the boat these tails acted like knives and slashed the tubes of the inflatable.
The air rushed out and the tube went down. In those days tubes were not split into separate chambers as now, so all the air rushed out. The boat was weighed down with us and our kit, the outboard and boat kit, so we all bailed out and hung onto the safety lines around the boat. It had sufficient air trapped in the tube to float and just about support the diving kit and the outboard, though this was underwater. We started to pull the anchor up, so as to get into the boat, though at one time, the line slipped, though our hands and having become tangled around one the diver’s legs dragged him under.
With a great deal of shouting and pulling, both on the line and the diver, we got both of them up. We started swimming for the shore, towing the boat at the same time. The shore was, it seemed, miles away and it took ages but we made it, without loss of life or equipment.
We had no way of fixing the boat so it looked like our diving weekend was over but, as we lay there on the beach totally knackered, we were approached by a man who turned out to be the warden for the Island of Skomer. He wondered if we were available to go to the island and recover lost moorings, which had sunk during the winter. Being young and mad we jumped at the chance, particularly as he would take us there in his boat, an old RNLI lifeboat. We loaded our kit on board and away we went and had what for us was a great diving time, even thought the bottom was mainly sand and silt.
That night, it being a Sunday and in Wales in those days, meant we had trouble finding a place to eat and even worse a pub that was open. We did but thats another story. The next day, as the boat could not be fixed, (it needed to go back to the makers.) we loaded up and headed home, this time without any further adventures.
Bill Harrington – February 2007