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Extraordinary underwater living project re-visited



Bournemouth and Poole Sub Aqua Club in the UK celebrated their 60th anniversary by recounting the inspirational story of a former member who made history by living underwater for an entire week.

Back in September 1965, Colin Irwin, who was then aged 19 and science officer for the club, spent seven days on the seabed of Plymouth Sound in a specially made steel cylinder to investigate long-term survival in an underwater habitat.

The Glaucus Project – named after a Greek sea god – was a tremendous success and still has its place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Colin gave a gripping account of his adventure to members of the club when they gathered to mark its 60th anniversary at a special event in the Harbour View Suite of the RNLI College in Poole on Saturday 29th March.

Inspired by similar experiments carried out in the early 1960s by legendary French diver Jacques Cousteau, he decided to set up a project to put an undersea habitat in place and occupy it for a week along with fellow club member John Heath, then 21.

Adrian King, who has been a member of the club since 1976 and served as its chairman for the past six years, said: “Even by modern standards this was a hugely ambitious project which at the time – and indeed since – had only been attempted by a few majorly funded operations such as Jacques Cousteau and the likes of the America Sea Lab.

“A sub-committee was formed to raise the £1,000 needed to finance the project. The father of one of the members owned a local boatyard and they built the steel cylinder for the project from scratch. Weighing two tons, it was 3 .7 metres long and 2.1 metres in diameter, standing on legs and ballasted by weight in a tray beneath it.

“Entry was made via a tube on the underside which was open to the water. Pressure inside would therefore be the same as the surrounding water, resulting in the divers being at pressure for the duration of the project.

“The main cylinder was equipped with two compartments, a main living area and a separate toilet compartment.

“The two young men kept in touch with the surface via an old ex-army wind up telephone and there was also a small CCTV camera to allow the condition of the crew to be monitored constantly from above.

“The cylinder was towed into place by a tug then lowered 35 feet or 11 metres to the seabed near the Breakwater Fort and marked by a buoy on the surface.”

Adrian added: “Where this one differed significantly from the Cousteau and American experiments was that the Glaucus Project cylinder was not linked to the surface by an airline but had its own artificially maintained air environment with a chemical `scrubber’ to remove the carbon dioxide.

“It was for this reason and the length of time the two men spent underwater that Glaucus still has a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

“The cylinder was far from comfortable to be in with the temperature being about 16 degrees. In addition the near 100% humidity caused by the open entrance meant that condensation was colossal and keeping anything dry became almost impossible. Food and drinks were sent down to them in army field pressure cookers.

“Despite these difficult conditions Colin and John continued with the project and even ventured from the cylinder into the surrounding waters to conduct a number of surveys aimed at proving the ability of divers to both live and work at depth.”

At the end of seven days, attempts to slowly bring the cylinder to the surface were abandoned due to buoyancy problems and the two crew members eventually made their way to the surface wearing scuba gear.

Colin Irwin, who now lives in the Liverpool area, has enjoyed a varied life of adventure including working for National Geographic magazine and sailing on a yacht through the North West Passage of Canada.

Now aged 68, he is a Research Fellow in the Department of Politics at the University of Liverpool and in the Institute of Governance at Queen’s University Belfast.

Colin said: “Although it was nearly 50 years ago I still clearly remember the time John and I spent down in the cylinder. In fact, I still have the daily log for the project.

“We had heard about the Cousteau experiments and didn’t want it to be something that was just done by the French, so we thought we would do our own experiment.

“What I recall most about our time in the cylinder is that it was very cold and damp. However, we did have our food sent down in an army thermos.

“After we had been down there for a couple of days a really ferocious gale blew up on the surface but luckily it didn’t affect us too much and the project was able to continue.

“John and I did some experiments in artificial atmosphere while we were down there. We raised the oxygen level to a point where we wouldn’t get the `bends’ when we came up and I think this must have worked because we didn’t get them.”

The Glaucus cylinder is still underwater not far from its original site. It is dived regularly and the club now has a project to fix a plaque to the structure marking the achievement of 49 years ago.

To find out more about the Bournemouth and Poole SAC, click here.



Dive Training Blogs

Jump into… IDC’s and what to expect



Looking at becoming a PADI Instructor? Why would you not, it is the best job in the world! Getting to become a PADI Instructor though is sometimes a scary process… or so I have heard…. It really isn’t, trust me! It’s actually pretty fun. 

The first thing I always like to get people to remember is their Open water course. When you started did you know everything about how the equipment worked? Did your instructor expect you to know all of the skills before they showed you them? No? Well, guess what, the IDC is a course too. It is about preparing you and working with you to give you the tips and tricks to not just pass your Instructor Examination (IE), but to prepare you for teaching your own students. 

I am well aware that there are courses out there that just teach you how to pass, and I am by far not saying that I have the best IDC in the world. I don’t, and I learn all of the time myself. There’s always an instructor that comes along in the dive season doing something a different way that I pick up and use. We learn all of the time, and is the only way that we ever get better. So to clear up that misconception, the IDC is not just a stepping stone to the IE and you are not expected to know everything before you come along. 

So, what does the IDC actually involve. Theory… obviously. You are going to need to have a knowledge of physics, RDP and all of the other topics that you will have covered throughout you diving levels. The theory side is the ‘boring’ part… I mean, we all dive for the water, no?! But, it is an important part and it’s going to help you be able to explain how to use the equipment, how it actually works, and the other questions that your students are going to be curious about. This section is all about developing your knowledge of those sections.

The water side then, confined water and open water. The fun parts! In short this is where we are going to go through the course skills and see how everyone does them. There is no perfect way for this… you do not have to play Simon says on the course… your way may be better than everyone else! What we will do though, is work with you to make sure that the demonstration is clear, concise and controlled to demonstrate to your students. Again, there is no expectation to be perfect before you come. We want you to ask questions, we want you to make mistakes… because that is how we learn, and most of all, how we get better. 

The other part of the in water activities, aren’t just about the skills though, it is also about your control under the water. We want to make sure that when you head out with your own students, that you are comfortable and can control the situation. Not something that comes to us all naturally straight away, but with coaching on the IDC, I am sure that you will get to this point before the end!

Last but not least, the course standards, content and rescue scenarios. All of this is in place to make sure that you understand the syllabus for each of the courses that you are going to be able to teach, and just as importantly, you are able to effect a rescue if the situation ever presented itself. A gloomy but important situation to think about. 

And after all that… voila! Thats it, the IDC! After completion there is then the ‘scary’ IE with the PADI examiners… they aren’t actually that scary, I promise! The two day IE basically covers what you have learnt in the IDC. No surprises, you are assessed on exactly what you have covered.

So stop putting off your IDC. If you love scuba and want to make it your career. Do it! 

Clare began Duttons Divers at just 19 years old and a short while later became one of the world’s youngest PADI Course Directors. Find out more at

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Final few days to enter the OrcaTorch Search for Atlantis photo competition



You have until the 1st June to enter this unique underwater photography competition that only allows images that depict cave or wreck diving. This unique competition encourages underwater photographers to get creative with their lighting and will be judged by a team of OrcaTorch Brand Ambassadors.

After the final round of entries this week, the competition will move to the second phase where the public can vote for their favourite images, via the OrcaTorch Facebook group, to narrow the field down to the final 10 for the judges to deliberate on.

OrcaTorch are offering a range of their diving lights as prizes for the winners.

For more information about the rules and how to enter the competition click here.

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