COUNTING THE COST
does it take for a new student to qualify? ‘It depends on the club and what time of year you choose. At the university we start in October with five pool sessions, a few lectures for the theoretical side and four open water dives at the end of November. They go from a standing start to qualified ocean divers in a couple of months,’ says Alex. ‘It’s brilliant watching them get in the sea for the first time. My first sea dives were in Oban in 1990, off Kerrera. There are quite a few shipwrecks and it’s sheltered water. One of the first trips I try to give them is to the Farne Islands because a really friendly colony of seals lives there. Last year’s pups, the yearlings, are all very inquisitive and want to play with you. They just potter around in the shallow water, nudging you and butting you. Their behaviour is very much like dogs underwater. You just have to remember that they are wild, they have massive teeth.
‘The world is changing and we have to change with it,’ continues Alex. ‘For some people it’s about scratching the itch and saying “that was fun, wasn’t it?” and we hope that they want to continue, for others it’s just about ticking a box. The training is a means to an end, but what you really want to do is swim around wrecks and look at the wildlife.’
Alex says the hardest part is getting out of the pool after the dive and, as I drag myself up the steps, the tank does seem incredibly heavy. But what a great experience!
As we left the building the rain was hammering down. Maybe I should have kept my wetsuit on to get to the car!
Many thanks to Alex for the opportunity to taste this exhilarating pursuit and to Davs for coming along to record the event for posterity. For anyone interested in taking up the sport, costs may vary between qualifying with a club branch and a commercial centre, as Alex explains. ‘Generally to get a basic qualification in a shop is about £350-£400, in a branch about half that but it does vary. BSAC fees are £60 per year, a typical branch charges from £50 to £200 per year, often discounting membership if you “put back” into the branch. At the pricier end, they often include things such as air fills, kit and boat access. A training pack for a BSAC Ocean Diver course is only £40. You need your own suit if the branch doesn’t have one that fits, or you can rent them for £10-£20 a day. To buy, a wetsuit is c.£200, a drysuit with undersuit c.£500-£1,000. Mask, fins and snorkel are about £100. A decompression computer is about £150, a BCD (buoyancy compensator device) jacket is £200-£400 and it’s c.£40 for a torch.
‘Once you’re qualified, diving is the cheap part and travel and accommodation are the expensive part. A club boat’s fees are about £20 a day and a commercial hired boat is about £50 a day. Then you need to add air fills (£3-£4 a fill), food, accommodation and getting there. We use bunk houses, chalets and caving huts which keeps the cost down.’
Geoff and Alex following the session