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Project Highball wins the Duke of Cambridge Scuba Award

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Project Highball, led by divers from East Cheshire Sub Aqua Club and team members from five different BSAC clubs, was recently given Royal recognition with an award from His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge.

In conjunction with the BSAC Jubilee Trust, an award has historically been presented by HRH Duke of Edinburgh to the best underwater scientific project carried out by BSAC members. The Duke of Edinburgh created the prize when he was President of BSAC and the Jubilee Trust (the official charity of BSAC) and he personally judged the projects submitted and awarded the Prize. As The Duke of Edinburgh has now retired, The Duke of Cambridge has taken over the judging of the prize from 2017 onwards.  The first of the Duke of Cambridge Scuba Prizes was awarded to Project Highball and was personally selected by the Duke who was very interested in the historical significance of the project.

Project Highball took place in July 2017 with two years of planning going into the preparations for the one week project.  A team of specialist divers from five different BSAC clubs, commercial marine services companies and a team of mine clearance divers from the Royal Navy’s Northern Dive Group came together to survey Loch Striven and to lift two Highball Bombs from the bed of Loch Striven.

The Highball bombs were invented by Sir Barnes Wallis, and used the same technology as the Upkeep bouncing bombs that were used to such devastating effect against the dams of the Ruhr valley in the now famous Dambusters Raids. The Highball bombs were smaller than the Upkeep bombs and were designed to be used against Germany’s capital ships, in particular the Tirpitz (Sister Ship of the Bismark).

The Tirpitz was considered a huge threat to allied shipping and there were numerous attempts made to sink the ship using high level bombing and Midget Submarines.  The Highball Bombs were designed to skip across the water and could be dropped over a kilometer away from the target and them skip over torpedo nets and hit their target; once at the target the spin of the bomb would keep them tight against the hull of the target ship and then they would explode underneath the armour belt when triggered by a depth charge fuse.

The Air Force created a specialist squadron (618 Squadron) to deliver the bombs using the lighter and faster Mosquito Bomber.  618 Squadron spent over a year on Loch Striven practicing with the bombs and perfecting the technology.  Loch Striven was also the site of X-Craft testing and commando training and in 1943 was one of the most secret places in the UK. Shrouded by smoke screens and patrolled by guards, the activity in the Loch was kept top secret, leading to the Loch being known as the Secret Loch.  Nearly 75 years later there are no intact examples of the Highball bombs anywhere in the world, so with the 75thAnniversary of Dambusters in 2018 looming, the interest in the bouncing bombs was bound to be high.

The Highball Project built on work done by Dr Iain Murray, who having written a number of books on the Upkeep bouncing bombs, identified Loch Striven as the site for the Highball tests from now-declassified military documents and excerpts from the test films that are now available from the Imperial War Museum. Dr Murray was convinced that some of the bombs would remain in the Loch and as luck would have it, Mark Paisey heard about his research and went up to Dundee to meet with him and the idea for Project Highball was born.

Planning for the project took two years, bringing together a set of skills that would enable the team to survey the loch and work on two sites, one in 35m of water and the other in 65m of water.  Teams of specialists were identified and with everyone giving their time for free, the team managed to secure the services of a commercial survey company (Aspect Surveys). This brought in high definition Sidescan Sonar via GSE Rentals and Klein Marine Systems who supplied a state of the art high frequency towfish which was the first of its kind in the UK and used on the project as a trial.

In addition to this, we also secured the services of a professional ROV operator (Subsea Tooling Services) and the Royal Navy’s Northern Dive Group who were able to confirm the bombs were inert practice rounds and give us a Free From Explosives (FFE) certificate.  The Royal Navy Dive team also brought a support vessel with a 10 tonne crane which made the actual lifting of the bombs much easier.

Our week in Loch Striven was planned in detail and consisted of a diver led jackstay search and detailed sidescan mapping of three different areas of the Loch, two target sites where we believe the bombs were dropped, and also a wider search for evidence of submarine operations (and the rumor of a lost Wellman Submarine).  The search for the submarine proved fruitless but we did identify the bomb site and a large-scale debris field with over 100 highball bombs and we used this data to focus the lifting operations.  We also found 5 X-Craft side charges – large 8 meter structures that were filled with two tonnes of explosive and bolted onto the side of an X-Craft submarine, then deposited on the seabed underneath a target ship.

Having identified suitable targets for lifting we directed the Navy Team to commence operations and the latter part of the week was focused on lifting two bombs for conservation and eventual donation to UK museums.  Of the bombs we recovered for the museums, the Navy Team recovered one and the BSAC Team recovered the other.  Both bombs are now undergoing conservation and one will be on display at the DeHavilland Museum in London Colney. The second will be on display as part of the Barnes Wallace Foundation at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey in time for the Dambusters Anniversary in 2018.

Team Highball produced a detailed dive trail which enables anyone to go and visit the Highballs in situ on the seabed:

Kevin Phillips, ECSAC Diving Officer said:

“All in all, the project was a huge success. From a personal point of view it was a real privilege to be part of the team and I really enjoyed diving with a purpose. So much so, that I have now started some Nautical Archeology Training and am aiming to run some more projects with East Cheshire Sub Aqua Club in the future as we have really caught the bug.”

You can find more details of the project, as well as the detailed survey results on the East Cheshire Sub Aqua Club website here.

You can view a 20 minute documentary on the Highball Project at www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVWhyhjF6NY

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Frontline workers honoured with free dive trip to Yap

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The remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia is among the few places in the world that remains free of Covid-19 thanks to its ocean border and a strict travel ban that has kept its residents safe.

Nonetheless, Yap has been affected, too. As one of the world’s premier, award-winning destinations for divers, this paradisiacal location in the western Pacific Ocean has had no outside visitors to its rich shores and reef for nearly a year. But while there may be no virus, the island hasn’t been cut off from the economic impact experienced around the globe.

Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers by A. Tareg

That didn’t stop Bill Acker, CEO and founder of the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers, from doing something, though.

Last March, soon after the island went into lockdown, Bill began to realize the effect of the virus on daily life beyond the island. “Yes, we are closed, have no divers, had to send our employees home and prepare for difficult times,” he said. “But we’re lucky in that we have, for the most part, avoided the human suffering and death this pandemic has caused.”

Thinking about the problems faced by his family business, they paled when he compared them to those endured by the healthcare workers who have been fighting selflessly around the clock for months on end for the well-being and lives of others.

“One evening, while checking the news online, I saw pictures of frontline workers who were tending to desperately ill and dying people when families and friends could not be with their loved ones. It was heartbreaking,” he added.

The next day, a meeting was held with the resort’s staff and Bill invited suggestions for ways they could do something to honor healthcare workers. The result was the idea to award twenty divers who are working on the frontline to save other’s lives during this pandemic while risking their own, with a free week at the resort.

Manta ray, Manta birostris, gliding over a cleaning station in M’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia by David Fleetham

Divers around the world who had been guests at Manta Ray Bay in the past were invited to submit the names of candidates for the award by December 31, 2020. “We received nominations for 126 individuals from as far away as Germany, the U.S., Australia and Canada,” he said. “It was not easy choosing the winners but our committee of staff members took on the job and selected the 20 finalists.”

“While trying to choose the people to reward for their hard work during this Covid-19 crisis,” Bill added, “by reading the nominations we saw that every one of the nominees was doing things above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly, we don’t have the finances to offer over 100 free weeks in Yap, but we do want to recognize the contributions all of them are making to our world. So, we are offering the rest of the nominees a free week of diving in Yap which includes room, hotel tax, airport transfers, breakfast, diving and Wi-Fi.  The only requirement is that they travel with at least three other people and stay in two rooms or more.”

“We do not yet know when Yap will open its borders,” said Bill, “but when it does, we will welcome these important guests to Yap to relax and dive with the manta rays and the other beautiful denizens of the ocean surrounding our island home. They are the true heroes of this devastating, historic time and we look forward to honoring them with a well-deserved dive vacation.”

Watch out for our exclusive trip report from a healthcare worker from the UK who is one of the 20 to have been awarded this amazing dive trip!

For more information on Manta Ray Bay and Yap Divers visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Dream Dive Locker Build Out. Part I: Demolition (Watch Video)

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It’s finally here! Time to start building the greatest dive locker the world has ever seen! Part I: Demolition! #dreamdivelocker

This is the first of a series of videos showing the evolution of building out my dream dive locker. My dream dive locker needs to be dive gear drying and storage, dry storage, workshop, office, editing suite, You Tube studio and classroom. That’s a lot of functions for a small space!

The first step is planning out the space and demolishing the laminate flooring. Then I taped up the walls to get a feel for the space. We have a lot of work to do!

But finally we will have a purpose built space to house all of our dive equipment! Subscribe to our channel to follow our progress! 

Thanks for watching, Team!

James


Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/DiversReady

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