Part two of Gary Green’s first hand account of the Deptherapy Red Sea Military and Forgotten Wrecks liveaboard expedition.
Day One: Umm Gamar (Check Dives)
So the first dives we took part in were the check dives. For a lot of the guys diving hasn’t been a permanent fixture in their lives. Some of them hadn’t been in the water since their PADI Advanced Open Water courses and this inevitably meant some skill fade and a lack of comfort in the water. Our pro instructors were well aware of this; in fact on this trip we had the luxury of six master instructors, which gave a ratio of two per dive team.
The day started before breakfast. We were awoken at 07:00 as we had to have our passports checked off by the Egyptian coast guard before we were allowed to set off on the open sea. This process wasn’t completed until about 08:30 and then we were able to set course into the Red Sea.
As we started our journey I was approached by Richard Cullen and Martin Weddell, who asked me if I would like to be a trainee divemaster. It was an honour to be asked; they said they believed in me and wanted to invest time to develop me, as someone who has come from the very bottom with the charity, in order to help to encourage, teach and inspire other wounded veterans to do the same. Chris Middleton had already gone through this process but was significantly more experienced than me. I was dubious at first as I didn’t think I had the capability. Chris assured me that I did and also, that the only way to start learning, was to start training. I agreed and felt uplifted that my title had already been upgraded from Rescue Diver to Trainee Dive Master. I admit it has a certain ring to it!
The journey across the water took roughly two hours and we arrived at Umm Gamar around 12:00, entering the water at about 12:30. The first thing we had to do in the water was a weight check. As I mentioned, some of the guys hadn’t dived in a year so their buoyancy, weight and kit were all potentially different. Before we went on the wrecks we needed to ensure that we would be able to dive to the required standard, otherwise things could go wrong. We were able to use this dive to make sure things were comfortable, our kit was how we wanted it; not only that but we were able to make sure things were where we could use them most comfortably. As I had been diving in the UK, I found this process quite easy and knew how and where I wanted my kit. The only thing I changed was adding a couple of kilogram weights to the back of my BCD as I felt a bit lighter in the salty Red Sea than I did at Wraysbury reservoir.
The reefs of the red sea really are the most beautiful; the colours are so vibrant and the visibility on both of the dives we did at Umm Gamar was around 30 meters. It was like being in an aquarium. The first dive as a group was not brilliant. The skill fade had set in and possibly a bit of over excitement; our spacing was not brilliant and our buddy drills were… well, spacious! After every dive we have a debrief. It’s never a negative thing, more of a learning point, re-emphasising points such as spacial awareness and buoyancy techniques. In Red team it seemed we had all the smokers, including myself (naughty boy I know) so the debriefs were always on the smoking deck; bonus.
The second dive was better. I still felt a bit underweighted and added one kilo in each of my integrated pockets. I had a good dive and my drills were still good but I felt a bit uncomfortable, constantly pinching in a bit of air. As soon as I was out of the water, the extra weights went straight back in the pile. We also had to shoot up an SNBD, which I think almost none of us had done before. We were told that this was a necessity in case we were blown off the wreck. Basically if you couldn’t do it then by the time anyone noticed you were missing you could be in Saudi Arabia! With that positive thought in mind, we all shot them up without hesitation.
After the dive that day everyone felt more comfortable and confident. At dinner we all chirped about the day’s diving, speculating also about what was to come. It was an eight-hour journey to our next destination, which was our first wreck, the SS Turkia and where we were to do our PADI Wreck Diver course. That evening we all congregated in the briefing room. We received an in depth history on the wreck and then completed the knowledge reviews from the wreck diver manual as a team. Once they were complete, it was time to fall asleep to the rocking waves of the Red Sea and await our arrival at the wreck of the SS Turkia.
Day Two / Three: SS Turkia (PADI Wreck Diver Course)
Waking up an hour off schedule meant that we were still rocking back and forth, to my knowledge though, no one was sick. I did feel slightly nauseous though but I’m not sure if that was the wavy sea we encountered or the posing of Paratrooper Luke Morrison that we had to put up with! We had our individual dive briefs in our teams, red, white and blue (the colours of the union jack, very patriotic and apt, especially on a boat named the Princess Diana). The first dive was also the first dive that I was asked to lead as a trainee Dive Master and so I made sure I listened to the brief intently. I love the entry into the water from the dive deck. Most of my experience had been shore diving and there’s an added element of excitement when you jump from the boat and make a big splash into the water, especially when you’re leading the dive.
Before we entered the water I checked that everyone had done their buddy checks. The ok sign came from the team and splash, splash, splash, we all entered the water two by two. I got the OK sign off everyone as we bobbed on top of the water like the last bits of cereal caught in the swirl of the milk. I gave everyone the ‘down’ sign and watched as we simultaneously sank beneath the water. I kept eyes on the guys in case anyone had trouble leaving the surface; the last thing I would want is to get down the shot line and realise someone has drifted a few hundred meters away. Everyone was ok and we followed the shot line down on to the stern of the shipwreck.
Even about ten meters above the actual wreck we could all see the super structure. It’s a beautiful wreck and is still relatively intact. I had previously dived the Salem Express and this wreck was similar in the sense that it was a big ship and fills your vision as you lower onto it. The sense of amazement hasn’t left me as you see the shape of the wreck come into view; then as you get closer you notice the life that surrounds it inhabiting the soft corals that have developed over the years.
This first dive was the orientation; it was part of the course syllabus and designed to get the divers used to the entry and exit points of the wreck. It’s all part of dive planning to know even the basic shapes of what you are diving. The dive is also used to highlight points that you want might to avoid, any surges in current and possibly hazardous points that could be mistaken as a good entry point. As I was leading the dive, I took the team around the circumference of the wreck, highlighting points of interest and potential entry points as we went along. The dive was a success and the objective was completed. Also, my main objective was that I never lost anyone and that we all came back safe, which we did. We were well and truly orientated on what I consider to be my favourite wreck of the whole trip.
The second dive was a sketch dive, where we all had to take down a slate and a pencil. The aim was that we would all head to different parts of the wreck and sketch points of interest, so that we could plan exactly where we would penetrate. We recorded the depths, estimated sizes etc. in order to put them together and potentially be able to make out the whole wreck. Let’s just say that it didn’t quite look like the wreck, in fact, it looked more like a class of five year old’s crayon drawings stuck together but we all managed to explain our drawings in the debrief and were able to depict the information that was needed. To be completely honest though it looked like a comedy sketch from a Carry On film (Carry On Diving?) – all we were missing was Barbara Windsor.
With the orientation of the wreck done, plus the sketch on the slates highlighting hazards and entry points, we were then allocated a night dive to do (a leisure dive). I had already fallen in love with the wreck; the sight of it amazed me and the potential exploration that could be done. I fell in love with passages, the entry points, the history and the mystery that bestowed the wreckage left beneath the sea. We jumped into the water with our torches brightly illuminating the sea like an underwater firework display. Lowering just a few meters you could see the directions of the torches beaming across the wreck. The structure was completely lit up as the divers switched their beams from point to point as their eyes spotted points of interest.
We lowered onto the wreck where (as we were briefed) it was full of black spine urchins and we kept well clear. The wreck was now full of different marine life. A whole new aquatic world had opened up at night; large fish patrolled the area above the wreck and there were a few lionfish still in the vicinity awaiting an unaware diver to provoke its sting. It seemed some of the smaller fish were hiding. There was definitely an eerie feeling on the wreck; the bright colours had transformed to darker colours and the plankton in the water was highlighted by the torch beams, giving a slight layer between divers’ eyes and the torch.
The next day was line laying and penetration day! As you can expect, there were lots of jokes about ‘penetration’ with a boat full of ex-squaddies. We had gone through the drills of line laying on the top deck, learning how to keep a continuous line as you wrap your reel around strategic points, such as the turn of a corner or the entrance of a door or window. I didn’t find the line laying on the actual wreck any harder or easier underwater; the drill was exactly the same. What was quite challenging though was keeping buoyancy as your attention moved onto something else. The trick was all about keeping your calm and taking your time.
We entered the wreck through a doorway which led to some passageways. At the first tie off point I wrapped the reel round three times, two times on the second and then one loop on each of the other points. At each point I locked off the tie so that the line remained continuous so that if the room we were in became silted or we needed to get out of the wreck, we had an easy route to take. Afterwards we were passed off as Wreck Divers with a few other tests that we completed, and then we were free to enter the water as buddies and take our own routes (still under the supervision of instructors just in case something went wrong). The next dive on the Turkia was more relaxed as there was no pressure of being assessed; also we had clearance and light above of the entry points so we were able to explore the wreck without needing to lay a line down.
On the second night we had to complete our Enriched Air Diver Course so that we could dive the next wrecks with Nitrox. On some of the dives we would need Nitrox so that we would have a higher no decompression limit, however, this meant we would need to watch our maximum depth, which I now know because I completed the course (want me to go into partial pressure of oxygen?). We did the course with Steve Rattle and I found it really interesting. I am a bit of a geek, though, so any new subject I take a grasp of, I tend to enjoy. The knowledge review was quickly conquered and I was classified as an Enriched Air Diver, which meant I was now allowed to dive with Nitrox.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Three…
Donate to Deptherapy or find out more about their work at www.deptherapy.co.uk
Thanks to Dmitry Knyazev for the incredible photographs.
New academic study to confirm rehabilitative benefits of Scuba Diving
A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.
This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise.
IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.
Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore.
The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).
Richard Cullen, Chairman of Deptherapy commented: “This evidence-based study demonstrates yet again the value of scuba diving and, in particular, the support provided by Deptherapy to severely traumatised people within the Armed Forces community. We await the publication of the detailed findings which we anticipate will be of considerable interest to all organisations who seek to assist in the rehabilitation of veterans through sporting activity, as well as the Scuba Diving world.”
Team Deptherapy returned to the UK last week from their first training expedition since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A small group of six veterans travelled with the Deptherapy Instructor Team to the charity’s international base at Roots Red Sea to undertake practical Scuba Diving training in the clear, warm waters of the Red Sea.
Joining Team Deptherapy for the first time was 20 year old paraplegic Corey Goodson who had this to say: “I have been made aware of a new academic study about the benefits of Deptherapy. Last week I learned to scuba dive properly with Deptherapy, a huge achievement for someone with paraplegia. Deptherapy doesn’t judge your injury, whether that be physical or psychological; it looks beyond, and it sees the person inside. That person is who they work with, and the Deptherapy programme encourages you to see your fellow beneficiaries in the same light. More important than the sense of achievement during the training, was the support, care, encouragement and love the team showed me. I have found a new family in Deptherapy. I am home now but the support, friendship and banter continue; it is motivating and empowering, it gives me a deep sense of wellness and worth. I look forward to continuing my rehabilitative journey with Deptherapy.”
For more information about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education visit www.deptherapy.co.uk.
Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 6
Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 6 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.
Thursday has dawned and it is down to the House Reef with an outgoing tide that is approaching slack so we can get in the water straight away. Lots of chat about last night’s RAID O2 Provider session with Moudi. Oatsie is talking about sidemounts and marine biology, Swars is looking forward to his first sidemount session this afternoon.
Moudi is supported by Oatsie this morning and doing some more skill work with Keiron.
Corey was asking last night about what it is like at 30 metres, so I have decided that with Michael and Swars we will take him to 30 metres. We are going to run a narcosis exercise so out comes the slate with the numbers 1 – 25 randomly placed in squares. Corey’s task, in the dive centre, is as quickly as possible to touch each number in sequence. He does it pretty quickly and Michael briefs him that he will need to do the same exercise at 30 metres.
Michael briefs the dive and we set off down the beach. Corey has improved beyond measure and he is becoming a pleasure to dive with. So we are off to follow the South reef to 30 metres where we will complete the second part of the exercise.
At 30 metres Michael hands Corey the slate; there is a considerable difference in the time to complete the exercise at the surface and at 30 metres. There are lots of mitigating factors in how quickly you can identify the numbers and explaining a slower time at 30 metres than at the surface does not mean an individual is suffering from narcosis. Identifying random numbers, if you run the exercise at the surface, several times with an individual over a number of hours can result in wide variations in the time taken to complete the exercise.
We finish the dive with Corey smiling from ear to ear and we have a discussion about depth and air consumption. The second dive of the morning is a fun dive, then it is lunch in the beach restaurant. After the burgers I am sure we will need to look at our weighting before the afternoon’s dive.
Corey and Keiron have got into the habit of recording their dives online using the RAID online log book which is a tremendous facility and as the instructor I can access that data.
Moudi and Keiron are going for a fun dive as are Corey, Oatsie, Michael and myself. Swars is getting kitted up for the first experience of sidemount with Guy Henderson.
People often look at the relationships that exist between the dive team and our beneficiaries and try to extrapolate a similar relationship to disabled students they might have. Our relationships are built up over a period of time, in some cases over many years. We also provide 24/7 support and have chat groups etc on social media; we also meet up socially when we can. It is somewhat different than a individual coming in to a dive centre and saying ‘I want to dive’. Your relationship is likely to be the same as any other student, you will teach them, they might stay with the dive centre or like many that will go on holiday to do some diving, you might never see them again.
Our main aim is to create a family atmosphere for our programme members, one where they feel secure and they are able to discuss freely with the team and fellow beneficiaries their feelings and needs.
Few dive centres are charities, and owners might want to consider costs of running a course for someone with a disability that might take more than the standard four pool sessions etc. You may find the number of sessions and the staffing levels have to increase. Many dive centres, because of their size and turnover are exempt from providing accessibility. How will this affect someone who is a wheelchair user? Can they gain access to the dive centre, the classroom, the toilet? What are the changing facilities, can they get wheelchair access to the pool?
Lots of things to think about.
The reef is beautiful, so much aquatic life and the corals look splendid, especially the pinnacles.
A good day’s diving, Swars has really enjoyed his sidemount.
Lovely way to relax in the evening with the Roots BBQ, a fitting end to a great day.
Last day tomorrow and our final blog!
Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk
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