More than just a dip in the pool with St Albans scuba-divers

THIS month BSAC, the British Sub-Aqua Club, has launched national Try Dive month, offering try-out sessions to first-time divers. As I’d never scuba-dived before but heard its praises sung by friends after exotic holidays and gap years, I decided it was time to plunge under the surface and give it a go.

For a member of a BSAC volunteer-led club, such as the St Albans based SASAC club which oversaw my Try Dive, scuba-diving is not just a sport, it’s a social pursuit, and that’s why I found myself spending my Wednesday night at Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre wearing not much more than a bikini and a tTshirt, with the promise of drinks back in the clubhouse to follow.

My Try Dive Instructor for the evening, Jacqui Turner, 34, is a volunteer at SASAC and enjoys scuba-diving as a diversion from her job as Assistant Company Secretary in a London-based insurance firm.

She explained: “It’s lovely to escape for a good hour of your life. I’ve never thought about work when I’m diving.”

And soon I understood what she meant. After acquiring so much kit that I resembled a small pack-horse it took a decent amount of concentration simply to stand upright. Once in the pool I could learn to breathe with the aqualung at my own pace, which, being slow, meant gradually ducking my head underwater.

When I was ready to dive I was grateful that my first encounter with the Buoyancy Compensation Device, which controlled my depth, was in the safe confines of the shallow end of a swimming pool.

Not only is scuba-diving great fun from the moment you don the ridiculous goggles and BCD pack, but it is also a good way to keep fit. The average diver burns around 480 calories an hour while underwater. Thanks to the weight of the oxygen cylinder and buoyancy weight belt, diving also ensures muscle tone. It is therefore understandable that scuba-diving has been proven to bust stress as breathing with the aqualung and altering my buoyancy levels demanded my full attention throughout our 45-minute dive.

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The divers I met at the SASAC club night have pursued their love of scuba-diving all over the world and still found that UK diving had its merits. After fulfilling her dream swimming with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa, Jacqui still appreciates the wildlife in British waters.

She said: “I’ve had equally exciting dives here as I have off the Galapagos Islands. Seal diving off the Scilly Islands is incredible. It’s like being in the water with a puppy dog.

“There is much more colour than people realise in UK waters. There are a lot of jewel anemones, sponges of different colours and the fish themselves can be quite iridescent. Lobsters are an iridescent blue. They’re absolutely stunning.”

Chloe Baker, 11, caught the scuba bug after accompanying her father to the club night and looks forward to joining the club next year.

She said: “It was amazing when I first dived, I was over the moon. I trained in Turkey and saw lots of colourful fish. People think it’s scary when you first go under and see a big fish but it really isn’t, it’s great.”

Another club member, Robert Latham, 53, recalled his favourite dive in 2005 in the Red Sea exploring the wreck of the coal ship the Rosa Li Muller: “Because the ship was so full of coal when it sank, it went down perfectly straight and there are still cooking pots on the stove. To see this vessel frozen in time was just amazing.”

The UK’s waters are the best in the world for wreck diving with more wrecks per mile of coastline than anywhere else.

Although devoid of colourful fish or historic wrecks, my swimming pool-based Try Dive was a very memorable experience. Almost anyone can get involved in scuba diving, as BSAC has members as young as 12 and as old as 90.

BSAC Try Dives are available throughout the year at local diving clubs just like SASAC. For �10 the first-time diver receives a full explanation of equipment and technique and a lengthy dive in a local swimming pool.

Mary Tetley, BSAC chief executive, said: “The Try Dive with BSAC campaign has already introduced some 10,000 try divers to the sport. Nothing beats the sensation of breathing underwater for the very first time and, for many a try dive inspires them to go on and train further.The sense of achievement you get from learning to dive is incredible and once you have the skill under your belt you can use it anywhere, whether in the UK or abroad.”

Feature by Katie Linsell