UP LIKE A
The old guard don't need all this new-fangled dive gear, says Bill Woolford, who manages with a baggy drysuit and a dive-timer. Being a self-confessed Luddite doesn't exactly seem to hold him back
I've been diving for 27 years now. Yes, I'm a fossil - I'm nearly 50! And as other readers who have done a quarter-century of diving will have noticed, dive gear has changed somewhat in that time.
Many of the advances have been for the good, yet I, and many of those with whom I dive off the Yorkshire coast, can't help feeling that there is no need for half the gear I see carried by my diving brothers.
Do they really need umpteen cylinders, side-slung and all, three or four regulators, computers this, nitrox that, two torches, goody bags, lifting bags, gauges, combos, fancy split fins, glen reels, hammers, chisels and goodness knows what else with which to get tangled up?
Newer divers don't know any other way, but one lad who dives with us has barely altered his set-up since he started diving in the '70s. He wears a mask, regulator, contents gauge, a single cylinder, an old wetsuit, weightbelt, knife and fins, all his gear fitting into an Asda bag. He's a dive shop's worst nightmare.
The dive shop's dream is the other extreme - divers looking like Christmas trees, with only the fairy on top missing. If we were to try to wear everything we see advertised in our beloved Diver, we would be unable to stand, let alone walk. I know, I've seen it happen.
Diving off our local live-aboard, the Jane R, I watched with astonishment as four lads geared up for a 45m dive. You name it, they wore it. It was easy enough jumping off the gunwales into the oggin, but they were in for a shock when they had to negotiate the dive ladder.
They had to be helped up it, then we watched them shuffling across deck on their knees to de-kit.
When I challenged them about the amount of gear with which they were struggling, one told me: "We're used to diving off our RIBs and just dropping over the tubes. When we've finished our dive, our buddies pull our gear aboard after we've de-kitted in the water."
I asked them where they came from, as I was thinking of opening up a dive shop where they lived. I had never seen so much dangling gear. With the risk of entanglement and confusion it seemed to present, it raised in my mind the question: who are the safer divers, those who rush to embrace all this gear technology, or the rest of us?
I started snorkelling in 1969 on holiday in Torquay with my brother John and a bunch of mates, chasing fish around the rocks off Hope Nose. It was gin-clear and, with the abundant fish life, we decided to buy a speargun.
I soon became hooked on the sport but, after a time, how we wished we could keep our heads under water longer!
John and I went looking for a dive shop near our home in Leeds. We priced up the gear: regulator £21; cylinder £25; wetsuit £25; boots £5; mask £8; fins £1; weightbelt with weights, around £5; knife £8 and snorkel £3. Yes, you could get kitted up for £100-150 in those days.
We couldn't afford even those prices with weekly take-home pay of £17, so we decided to do some overtime. It took six weeks of hard graft. We already had wetsuits, so John bought the regulator and mask, I bought the bottle and we had enough left over to buy the sundries.
We couldn't wait to get in the water, so the next day we set off to Wetherby Lido.I won the toss and had the first go, nervously walking into the river and descending to 3m. This is dark, I thought, not like Torquay. I was beginning to regret spending all our hard-earned cash.
Then I started finning and my eyes got accustomed to the 2m viz. I saw an eel, a flatfish, a perch and other unknown creatures. I came up having used 100 bar, and my brother took his turn. He also enjoyed his dive.
Twelve years ago I moved to Bridlington to do more diving. I have found three HMSs - Fairy, Speedy and Falcon. And for some years I have dived for a living, as a Part III commercial diver.
Researching wrecks, I regularly dive beyond 60m with an 18 litre cylinder, 3 litre pony and 3 litre O2 cylinder. I don't use a BC, but have had my neoprene suit made baggier to give me lift.
I use a dive-timer rather than a computer and work out my deco times before I dive using IANTD tables for accelerated decompression. I have not had an incident yet.
My brother still wears the old basic kit, with the occasional new valve. He says he doesn't need all the tekkie gear and the cost that goes with it. He finds it gets in his way. Our approach is not so much "back" to basics as "never abandoned" the basics.
Any regrets in my 27 years? Yes, not opening a large dive shop years ago. It would have been better than winning the Lottery!
Appeared in DIVER - February 2000