PEOPLE are being urged to take an underwater plunge at Stratford’s newly revamped swimming pool.
Stratford-upon-Avon Sub Aqua Club is keen to welcome people to experience the sport by taking a trial dive at Stratford Leisure Centre, and find out just why founding members of the club are still diving in four decades on.
MUM and dad’s gift of a snorkel, fins and facemask to their son Keith Bond during a Cornish holiday more than 60 years ago inspired the founding member of the Stratford-upon-Avon Sub Aqua Club to take up the sport.
And the club, which is a branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), recently marked its 40th anniversary.
Keith, now in his mid 70s, said the gift from his parents back in the 1950s opened up a whole new exciting world to him.
He remains as fascinated now by the underwater world as he did when he first put his head under the sea and saw seaweed, fish and crabs in their natural habitat for the very first time.
Keith explained: “I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I’d only seen the sun reflecting off the sea and really had no idea of the wonders waiting to be discovered. I was hooked and wanted to see more of the undersea world right from that first experience. I was just amazed and that’s never left me.
“When I was able I joined Coventry’s BSAC branch in 1957 but didn’t begin diving until 1966 with the Leamington branch. But then, in 1973, I overheard a conversation and learned that Stratford was building a leisure centre which would include a pool.”
Keith wrote to the council which replied saying he could have a slot every Thursday evening.
“We applied to BSAC to join as a recognised club and formed a committee. That was it, Stratford-upon-Avon Sub Aqua Club was born and we still meet every Thursday evening at the leisure centre. However, the club is now well established and a far different organisation to those early days.”
The club has undertaken some interesting dives during its history.
Keith added: “One of the most interesting dives came in our early days as a club back in 1976 when we recovered parts of a Whitley bomber, piloted by a Royal Australian Air Force flying officer that crashed into Scar Bank at Wasperton in July 1943.
“The aircraft was based at Long Marston Airfield and was taking part in a night training exercise. During the search of the River Avon we recovered numerous aircraft fragments which are now on display at the Wellesbourne Museum.
“Recovering parts of the aircraft was quite a moving experience when you consider that the crew lost their lives. A memorial to the Whitley crew, as well as the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed in almost the same place a year earlier, stands on the banks of the River Avon.”
And the club also took the plunge after trainee teacher Danielle Boylan dropped her camera in the Avon.
After being contacted by the Observer, club members Angie Deaves and Nigel Maris dived in search of the camera, and while finding two others, were unable to locate Danielle’s.
But there was a happy ending as the camera was pulled up during the dredging of the river a year later – and remarkably the photos were still able to be developed.
Another long-serving club member is retired company director Chris Prichard, who has been involved with the club since 1980 was equally fascinated by the underwater world after watching divers preparing to dive while on a holiday.
Prich, as he is more commonly known, said: “It didn’t take me long to get involved and since joining I have served as chairman, training officer, treasurer and a host of other roles. It’s a fantastic, well-run and financially stable club. We own our own boats and have sufficient funds to replace one, or both, if we ever need to.
“And there’s a great social side too, most go for a drink after training nights and we hold all sorts of social events. I have to say diving has given me so much pleasure and most of my closest friends are either connected to the club or are divers.”
Prich says some of the most memorable and unforgettable experiences of his life are a result of what he has witnessed underwater.
He told The Observer: “I have been fortunate to have dived all over the world but one of my favourite places is the Isles of Scilly. Some experiences just stay with you; I was diving with a fellow Stratford-upon-Avon Sub Aqua Club member on a wall – a steep-sided reef which drops to the depths.
“We both just stopped, shook hands and looked in awe at the sight of this reef wall. The fish, anemones, sea fans, the colour and the way the sunlight played on the rock and corals. It was just a magical moment and something that stays with you. You are privileged to see such things.
“But diving is unpredictable. I wanted to see hammerhead sharks and in the Sea of Cortez near La Paz in Mexico we dived a place known as Hammerhead City as it is renowned for the sharks that congregate there.
“In two days of diving we never saw a single one. Yet I was shown a photograph that had been taken the day before our first dive and you could count 50 sharks in one photograph. That’s diving!”
The club has around 50 active divers who come from all walks of life.
Keith, a graphic designer who is still working on a freelance basis, said: “There is a good mix and we all get on really well. We offer try-dives to give people the chance to experience diving albeit in a pool. It gives someone the chance to see if the sport might be for them in the safety of a pool and with qualified instructors on hand.
“We do have young teenage members but they have to have an adult family member with them. We have also held many try-dives for young scouts. We have a really busy dive programme with plenty of trips to warmer waters too. I tend to shy away from cold water a bit more these days!”
BSAC is the national governing body for scuba diving and is made up of 120 dive centres and 1,000 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad. The Duke of Cambridge is BSAC’s President.
It represents more than 30,000 scuba divers and snorkellers and welcomes new members from complete beginners upwards including those who have trained with other agencies.
Visit www.stratforddivers.co.uk to learn more about the club and to arrange a trial dive.