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Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club

PUBLISHED: 11:07 19 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:16 20 February 2013

Christina with her tutor Andrew 'Fritz' Fretter at Ashbourne Swimming Baths

Christina with her tutor Andrew 'Fritz' Fretter at Ashbourne Swimming Baths

Christine Massey dons wet suit and air cylinder to explore the watery depths with the members of Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club

Plunging beneath the water I felt a fleeting nervousness as the air cylinder on my back and weight belt around my waist pulled me down. Then there came an unfamiliar sensation the ability to breathe. As I concentrated on sucking in air through the mouthpiece and blowing it out again I became more comfortable with this unnatural phenomenon. I looked around in the blue water through my diving mask and saw other people as they swam above my head.

I wasnt in the sea, I was in a swimming pool on a try dive experience with the Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club. I looked over to my instructor, training officer Andrew Fritz Fretter, who had explained all the diving equipment and underwater signals to me beforehand. Andrew made a ring with his thumb and forefinger, the signal which meant he was asking if I was okay, I replied in the same way that I was and in celebration he started miming a dance to me underwater. I began to laugh and before I knew it water was gushing in my mask. Panicking slightly, I signalled to Andrew that I was uncomfortable by shaking my hand as he had taught me. He signalled that we should return to the surface and I followed him. Once I had drained my mask he explained that the influx of water had been caused by laughter lines when you laugh the seal at the bottom of your mask loosens and allows water to trickle in. Youll have to be miserable when diving, he joked. I said Id try.

Wearing a new, more tightly fitting mask, we repeated the dive a few times, going deeper and deeper as I felt comfortable and practising diving techniques such as blowing water out of the mouthpiece. A couple of times Andrew congratulated me by miming his underwater dance again and I laughed and once more flooded my mask with pool water, but using the technique he showed me of pushing the top of the mask and blowing air out of my nose I was able to clear it. It may not be the most ladylike of actions but its necessary when chlorine-laced water is inching its way toward your eye-line.

Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with a series of festivities including a night time dive and a music evening. The club, which is part of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), was founded 24th September 1979 and now has over 40 active members spanning all ages and abilities.

The try dive is the first step towards becoming a proper diver, club secretary Gerry Brennan explained to me. After that its a mixture of pool work and lectures, following which youre assessed by a senior instructor. You then have five different lessons in open water at the Stoney Cove quarry in Leicester.

Gerry said divers build their layers of skill and then go deeper to put what theyve learned to the test. One thing that is taught religiously is the buddy system, whereby there are always two people diving together at any one time.

Winner of the clubs best improved new starter award, Trudi Ellis, said her first diving experience was in Greece, I swore blind I would never do it again, she admitted, but with a trip to Barbados as an incentive, she decided to give diving another go. Trudi and her husband chose the Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club as, unlike many other clubs, they teach new divers. She commented Theyre very good support, and not just when youre diving. They like a good joke.

Once my try dive was over I received a certificate saying I had completed an introduction to diving. Once you have passed all the assessments you can start to go on some of the clubs diving trips and really embrace underwater life. Their most recent trip was in April to Oban for a few days live-aboard, during which they stayed aboard the boat as well as diving off it. Gerry Brennan claims that Scotland offers some of the best diving youll get anywhere, The water is very clear and we always get good conditions. When I questioned Gerry on the difference in temperature between the seas around the UK and abroad he told me, Diving in the UK is more challenging but were not a club thats here for profit. Were not here to make money out of anyone and its often down to budgets.

Morris McSkimming, who dives with Carsington Divers as well as the Ashbourne club, told me of the tremendous variety in the waters around the UK: Its a mixture of the Gulf Stream on the west, the North Sea and Baltic on the east, and theres the results of two world wars. When in colder waters = divers adapt their equipment to suit, eg in certain conditions a drysuit coupled with thermals can make up for the difference in degrees.

After my try dive I joined the club in the Bowling Green pub where they go after training, and met Barrie Wright, a member of the Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club since it began. He told me hed been hooked ever since his first experience underwater: Its a totally new environment. Barrie has become well-travelled over the years, going on trips to the Red Sea, Fiji and Australia with the club. He particularly enjoys marine life. Its fantastic to swim with dolphins; a pod of five came round us in the Red Sea. To keep them amused I had to play about with them. He added, Youre guaranteed to have a bit of fun with seals and invariably they come to you, theyre very curious. On one occasion I sat down on what I thought was a rock it was a seal it soon shot out from under me.

He told me about a time he made friends with a young seal who would follow him and let him tickle its whiskers. While diving off the coast of Fiji and Australia Barrie has seen reef sharks up to six feet long, but was careful not to go too near as they can be aggressive. One of the most distressing things he told me is how much the sea has changed over the years. In particular he remembered a return visit to Arran some 10 or 12 years after his first, I couldnt believe the state of the sea bed, it was wrecked. Fishermen drag chains along it with a net behind for scalloping. It was totally devoid of life.

Barrie explained that on the Oban trip they explored the Sound of Mull, an area renowned for its good visibility and the variety of shipwrecks to explore. When penetrating a wreck a diver must always make sure they can see a way out. Its quite often eerie at 20 or 40 metres down, he said. Id like to meet a ghost; Ive never seen one yet though.

The Ashbourne Sub Aqua Club isnt just about diving. It has a full social calendar including a Grand National sweepstake and a guess the baby diver competition.

The club also runs the Mappleton Bridge Jump on New Years Day, arranged through the BSAC, when hordes of people jump 30 feet off Mappleton Bridge into the icy River Dove in aid of charity an easy matter, one would say, for these hardy folk.

To book a try dive with the Ashbourne Sub-Aqua Club email: ashbournedivers@yahoo.co.uk or visit www.ashbournedivers.co.uk.

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