PUBLISHED: 06:58 28 April 2014
In 1954, just a few months after the launch of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), a couple of underwater enthusiasts, Dennis Drane and Nick Pownall, set up an exhibition of diving equipment in the Royal Aquarium Cinema in Great Yarmouth. The interest it attracted from like-minded people was to kick off the East Anglian Branch 11 of BSAC, which has now celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Mike Thomas, vice chairman, explains: “In those early days most of the equipment was homemade. People would lay on a sheet of neoprene rubber while a friend chalked round the outline of their body. The pattern was cut out and glued to make a wetsuit. Other members made their own demand valves from Calor gas regulators. Air cylinders were usually acquired from RAF surplus stock.
“Training was done in local rivers and millponds. The club leased a hut at Sheringham to store the equipment, and on a diving day, the boat was made ready and carried down to the beach to be launched. A lot of dives took place on the chalk gullies off the lifeboat station. It is interesting to note that the Norfolk underwater chalk reef which has gained much recent publicity was being dived by club members in the 1950s!”
To celebrate BSAC’s diamond anniversary, Branch 11 members set themselves a challenge. Could they dive a total depth of 6000 metres, with a total of 6000 minutes underwater, and explore 60 different wrecks?
Club members recorded their dive with an online tally over the year, and the results were impressive – January and October 2013 they dived to a total of at least 8898 metres, for 25,180 minutes, on 37 different wrecks, making 50 wreck dives off Norfolk.
The club currently has 87 members, ranging in age from 19 to 73, who come from all over Norfolk. They mainly dive from Sea Palling in a large rigid inflatable boat, to explore more than 100 wrecks and scenic sites. Part of the challenge of diving 60 wrecks was to include diving the MV Marsworth, the only ship that sank off the Norfolk coast in 1953, the same year BSAC was formed. In August lasy year, MV Marsworth was successfully dived in fair visibility of about four metres.
The branch also did a litter pick at Horstead Mill, Coltishall, when divers collected 10 bags worth of rubbish from this fresh water site.
Mike adds: “Despite some terrible weather conditions at times, EAB11 has enjoyed diving regularly, and most importantly, safely, during 2013. We have assisted the coastguard on three occasions, searching and recovering divers from other boats.”
Some 160 members, former members and guests attended a celebration of the anniversary year at Sprowston Hall, and in June a book about the club’s 60 fascinating years is being published, called Diving On.