Pioneering Wirral scuba diver Ray marks 90th birthday with 90ft dive

A 90-YEAR-OLD scuba diver originally from the Wirral celebrated his landmark birthday with a 90ft dive off the Cyprus coast.

Ray Woolley, a great-grandfather-of-six, who is originally from Port Sunlight, and now lives in Agios Tychonas close to Limassol in Cyprus, used his birthday dive to explore the famous wreck of the Zenobia at the bottom of Larnaca Bay.

The underwater expedition to the site of the Swedish built ferry, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1980 with £200 million of cargo aboard, was arranged by Ray’s regular dive partner Dave Turner who is a diving officer for the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC).

Ray, who served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, began diving six decades ago around the time when BSAC, the national governing body for UK diving was formed. It is marking its diamond jubilee this year.

During his career as a radio engineer Ray enjoyed several postings to Cyprus and it was during one of his spells working on the island that he became an enthusiastic member of BSAC 107S, Western Sovereign Base Areas, at RAF Akrotiri.

Eventually retiring to Cyprus in 1999, he resumed his association with the club, whose diving officer and close friend Dave Turner recently arranged for him to make the big dive to mark both his landmark birthday and 60 years underwater.

Accompanied by fellow club members, Ray, who has three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, dived on the wreck of the Zenobia.

She took her cargo worth an estimated £200 million with her to the bottom and has since become one of the world’s top 10 dive sites.

Dave said: “Photographs were taken of Ray and the other members in the one remaining lifeboat and standing beside the top propeller at 30.5 meters. That’s a little over the required 27.42 meters or 90 feet but still well within his capabilities.

“The first time Ray dived the Zenobia was within a year of it sinking when he found the ship and its cargo of lorries and goods to be in good condition.

“Thirty-three years on the Zenobia is still there, and the lorries and remaining cargo have deteriorated quite badly, but the same cannot be said about Ray.”

Dave added: “I’ve been with the club for seven years and have known Ray all that time. We dive together about three or four times a year.

“To prepare for his 90@90 dive I went out and did a shake-out session with him.

“The dive down to the Zenobia went really well and everyone enjoyed it.

“Ray is really fit and it’s always a pleasure to dive with him. He’s now been doing it for so long you could say he was one of the UK’s pioneer recreational divers.”

Recalling his 90@90 dive, Ray said: “After all these years of diving I just thought I’d take the opportunity to do something underwater to celebrate getting to the age of 90.

“Going down to 90 feet was a better option than doing 90 metres which is much deeper.

“It was a great experience but I have to say everyone from the club who with me seemed more excited about it than I was.

“It was a nice thing for the club to arrange for me to do it and I’m very grateful to Dave and everyone else involved.

“I’m very lucky that I’m still able to dive at the age of 90.”

Mary Tetley, Chief Executive of BSAC, passed on her congratulations to Ray and added: “Ray is a credit to BSAC and it is so fitting that he has completed his 90th birthday dive in our diamond jubilee year.

“Ray and his contemporaries 60 years ago really did act as leisure diving pioneers and turn it into the sport which so many of us know and love.

“Ray is an inspiration and his remarkable diving career will surely inspire a new generation of scuba divers.”

Ray started his long diving career with the Portland and Weymouth BSAC Branch No. 40 in 1960 and his debut dive was at Ferry Bridge at the mouth of the Wey estuary.

He recalls that in those days it was not possible to buy off the shelf wet suits so divers had to use a brown paper pattern from which they cut their own suits from single skin neoprene, gluing the various pieces together and sealing the joints with yellow tape. The easiest way to get into these suits was to use French chalk or washing up liquid.

Ray served in the Royal Navy radio branch from September 1942. He joined HMS Hyderabad in April 1943 for convoy duties from the UK to Gibraltar and then spent the next 18 months convoying throughout the Mediterranean.

He left his ship in Alexandria in September 1944 and was seconded to the Special Boat Squadron’s Special Force 281 to the Dodecanese. He was one of the first of the Allied forces to land on Rhodes after the Germans left in May 1945 to be greeted by the starving population.

After the war Ray trained as a radio engineer and, whilst working for the Foreign Office, he was posted to Cyprus in 1964 where he became involved with the Western Sovereign Base Areas BSAC.

Ray completed three tours of duty in Cyprus, during which time he was at various times the club’s Secretary, Diving Officer, and Expedition Member of the club. During this period he became an Advanced Diving Instructor.

His late wife Lorraine, who died last March, served for a time as the club Secretary.

Ray’s professional career took him to Dubai in 1983 and he became one of the founder members of the BSAC Branch No. 1388, becoming the club’s first diving officer.

Ray stopped logging dives when he reached 1,000. Over the years he has dived off Australia, in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Gulf.

Ray left Dubai in 1999 to retire to Cyprus where he resumed his membership of BSAC 107S, as an active club member and diver.

His next club dive will be to Zevgari Reef in Cyprus where he plans to show the ‘younger’ members his renowned sponge diving skills.

To further celebrate his 90th birthday, Ray travelled to London to march past the Cenotaph with the Royal Navy contingent in the parade on Remembrance Sunday.

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