Scuba divers plunge back 80 years in time to try out antique underwater kit

A GROUP of experienced divers turned the clock back almost 80 years when they took the plunge wearing old-fashioned underwater equipment.

Nine scuba divers, mostly from Black Country Divers, which is a branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) from Halesowen, donned a heavy antique diving helmet dating back to 1932 and other period kit including lead-bottomed boots as they explored the chilly depths of the National Diving Centre at Stoney Cove in Leicestershire.

The nostalgia exercise was the brainchild of the Black Country Divers’ Diving Officer Dan Higgins who dreamed it up as a way of celebrating his recent 40th birthday.

It is a timely exercise because it is also the diamond jubilee year for the national diving organisation of which Dan and his club are members.

BSAC is the UK’s governing body for the sport of scuba diving and is made up of 1,000+ family friendly and sociable branch clubs, like Black Country Divers, up and down the country and abroad.

It was formed in 1953 when equipment like that used by Dan and his fellow divers was still in use and now trains and represents 35,000 active scuba divers and snorkelers.

Diving with him were seven fellow members of Black Country Divers, which was formed in 1994 and currently has about 30 members who meet at Halesowen swimming pool every Wednesday evening.

Making sure everything went smoothly and safely were five members of the Historical Diving Society which loaned the old-fashioned equipment for the occasion.

Back on the surface later in the day, Dan said: “I’d been thinking of doing something like this for a while now. My cousin, who is also a diver, went down in old-fashioned gear off Cornwall to mark his 40th birthday.

“I turned 40 a few weeks ago, so I thought it would be good to try it myself along with some of the other members from our club.

“It really came together when we met up with some of the people from the Historical Diving Society at The Dive Show in Birmingham last autumn. They said they’d come along and help and loan us the equipment.

“On the day nine divers – that’s two from our club plus two others from BSAC clubs in Wolverhampton and Birmingham – took it turns to go into the water and we had an absolutely fantastic time.

“It was a beautiful sunny day, which helped with underwater visibility and meant you could see for about five or six metres once you were down there. The water temperature was about 10 degrees, which wasn’t too uncomfortable.”

He added: “We were wearing a large brass diving helmet dating from 1932, which I believe was once used by Royal Navy divers and could even have been on underwater operations during the Second World War.

“We also had on old-style heavy diving suit made of canvas over rubber. Although it wasn’t actually old, it is an exact reproduction of kit used 60 to 80 years ago. We kept warm by wearing fleece suits underneath it.

“On our feet we had on heavy boots with lead soles which helped keep us down on the bottom.

“The air was pumped down into the helmet through a long pipe from a hand-operated machine on the surface. A couple of guys were doing that.

“Once we were down there we didn’t go very deep, just about six metres to a shelf which goes around the edge, and spent the time mooching about trying to get used to the equipment, which was so different from the lightweight kit we have these days.

“It was really heavy and all the equipment we were wearing weighed about 13 stone altogether, but it was fascinating to see how well it all worked and everything went without a hitch thanks to the group from the Historical Diving Society.

“It was a really fantastic experience and we’re all really glad we did it.

“In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that some of us are now thinking of joining the Historical Diving Society so we can wear the equipment again.”

Mary Tetley, Chief Executive of BSAC, said: “Given this is BSAC’s diamond jubilee year, it is very fitting that BSAC club members are taking part in this experience.

“But to be honest, it is no great surprise because BSAC members are always enjoying amazing and exciting adventures and this is a great example of what the world of scuba diving with BSAC can open up for you.”

Dan, whose day job is an intensive care nurse at a hospital in the Midlands, has been a serious underwater enthusiast for the past five years and has dived all over the world including on a number of famous wrecks such as the HMS M2 submarine off Dorset.

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