Andy Hay – My First Dive

After joining the club on June 10th, 1981, training took 6 months before I was deemed ready for open water. Two days before my birthday on the 7th February 1982, I found myself at Stoney Cove. It was quite different from today, where the shop is now, there was nothing the shop was next to where the compressor is now with Alan King’s office (MD) above. It cost 50p to get in, but as usual in February it was cold, 7 degrees in the water, the pub was a wooden structure and had recently just burnt down. So, basically no amenities unlike today. Rob the current shop manager was a young lad taking the money, with his dad Dave who was the manager back then.

Our Diving Officer Tony Warner had picked me up from the club, which was at the Liberal Club up Holly walk. I was subject to all sorts of diving stories on the way over in a similar way to today. There was no queue to get in, probably only 40 cars in the car park as we rolled in that Sunday morning. Funny thing was I spent the night before watching Jaws with my Grandmother who was then concerned, I was not coming back.

I was introduced to my dive leader Ian Hodges a tall skinny guy who I knew from the club. After donning my wetsuit, a 6mm two piece suit I had purchased a week earlier with a hood attached to the jacket, I set up my kit. It consisted of a 60 cubic ft tank ( 8.5L to you) pressurised to 180 bar with a fibre glass back pack, I put the red Fenzy SLJ (Surface Life Jacket) over my head and fastened the clips round my chest and loosely attached the strap from between my legs to the front of the Jacket. The tank came next with shoulder straps and a waist buckle (like today’s). The weight belt with 14 lbs of lead came next (a lot less that today’s belt) it was fastened over everything to ensure it could be released first. I then grabbed my 3 finger mitts, mask and fins and followed Ian like a lost soul to my doom.

His instructions were to stay with him at all costs (I had no intention of doing anything else!). We walked over to the entry point, on the way to it there was a sign saying 34m! this way, no way I thought. We checked the air in both tanks was on, all the way and back half a turn, Ian jumped in first, after 3 large breaths I followed, I was immediately grabbed and shoved onto some steps. I found out why, the water entered the suit and just took my breath away. After about a minute, I looked under the water, I could see, it was not as dark as I expected. After a quick OK I swam next to the wall, with Ian outside of me, on and on we swam, nothing below except blackness, our only buoyancy was the speed we were swimming. I saw a fish, wow, it was close, after a while more appeared, the shear wall started to become a slope. Eventually we reached the Petrified forest, well four trees that had gone into the water during a land slip and were sat upright. We sat in the branches for about 5 minutes watching the Perch and Pike swimming around.

Ian then signalled that we had to leave, the journey was as uneventful as on the way out except for the bottom disappearing below me. Eventually we saw some bubbles coming up from the darkness signalling that the exit point was approaching, we came up on to some black steps on to a metal walkway out above the water. My legs were not very responsive, as the adrenalin wore off the cold hit and I started to realise how cold I was, I struggled to get my fins off, Ian had to help as my hands were frozen. I held the handrail back to the side and sat in the grass to catch my breath. Eventually I was ordered to get up and get up the hill, it felt like being back in the forces.

I found out later we hit 9m deepest, I came out on reserve 30 Bar (yes that is what it was then as some tanks only have 175 Bar as WP). The dive was 25 minutes long, it felt like 5 minutes, I was as high as a kite, I had finally found something that I could do and felt good about. I was nicknamed Bends at work because I would not shut up about this and the future diving I did. That was 39 years ago, diving has changed dramatically, 10% of the club were female, now it is about 50%, one young lady even became my wife, it was inevitable. We now have rebreathers, BC’s with integrated weights, dry suits and tanks that take 230 Bar in 15L sizes. The only things that have not changed are the temperature and the excitement. It’s still a buzz, even doing the same dive, which I intend to repeat next year on the anniversary of me joining the club. Hopefully if Corona does not get me before that.

Take care – stay safe

Andy Hay
Chairman and Equipment Officer
Leamington and Warwick BSAC 217