22nd September 2017 - Are You For Scuba?
The initial interest sparked at the thought of diving at midnight at NDAC.
Following a little bit of research what unfurled before our masks was truly remarkable, this was not about chasing an adrenaline high or reaching extremes but about divers who love diving.
James Neal and Neal Breeden are two incredible figures of recovery, Neal had a stroke in 2008 and still uses a wheel chair partly today, and James suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
James, although outwardly recovered from his injury, still suffers from fatigue. He struggles with the invisibility of his disability; "I suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage and whilst I might appear completely recovered on the outside, you can't and don't see what I have to deal with, or understand the problems I face, on a daily basis," he said.
To come back and gain enough fitness to carry on diving is an incredible testament to their dedication to diving. Watching the other members of Cheltenham Sub Aqua Club you can see that they have played a massive past in both divers' recovery. CSAC had a different vibe to most dive clubs, a truly supportive group it was a pleasure to have been welcomed by them.
The event was a 24 hour scuba dive that took place over 16/17th September 2017 at the very well known inland site called the National Dive and Activity Centre, in Chepstow to raise money for a brain injury charity called Headway Gloucestershire that helped both the lead divers get back to health. Headway is dedicated to providing help and support to people who have had brain injuries and also their families, carers and partners.
James and Neal led the way and were the first divers in the water to kick start the 24 hours. My faithful buddy and I jumped in at next to dive with Neal, and we enjoyed a wonderful dive being guided about the lake by Neal, which included a good tour of the underwater attractions and then it was back to the shot for 13:25 on the dot so the next divers could come in their support diver slot.
It was then upstairs to the classroom to meet our chamber nurse, Ian, who was giving a presentation on DCI. The talk was fantastic, as ever, and as I sat in the classroom I thought about the divers and how they were still going down by the waters edge, only four hours into their mission.
Our next call time was 11.30pm. This was it, midnight diving ahoy. I was excited although the long day was clearly catching up with everybody a little and I was feeling cold. Primary light charged, back ups were plied with fresh batteries and fears of the dark were put into the back of my mind; we were ready to go.
The dive marshals were ushering us into the water so we were not a minute late to meet the team on the shot line, you could see the lights of the dive team already in water approaching the line. Stepping off the pontoon was a great feeling into the dark emerald still water of the quarry but there was no fear as the surprise element of an unexpected sea creatures popping past had been taken away.
Another half an hour with Neal and then we were back to the shot to pick up James. It was a special dive, and half way though, I am not sure if it was the cold, lack of sleep, depth or dark but remarkably a small plastic scuba diver kicking his feet travelled past the view finder of my mask.
A cheeky Mungo then appeared to catch the small toy before it drifter into Davy Jones' locker and gave me a smile over the look of his rebreather loop.
To have Chepstow to ourselves at the stroke of midnight was quite something, the depths were there enticing us but we had to refrain from breaking the 25m depth limit set but the insurers.
Best bit? Spotting all the sleeping perch scattered around the attractions similar to small pickled fish blissfully unaware of the light sabre strength torches doing their best to disturb them. It was a special dive.
Sitting on our beds at 3.30am drinking black tea and eating vegan biscuits with Mungo and Ian talking about the dive was a nice feeling. Those lads were still out in the cold, making the machine work and putting everything into the running of the event. Quite incredible for divers to be ready on time!
The last dive of the day was just before midday. Spirits were high and everyone was smiling, the end was in under an hour. Press had gathered to mark the end of the wonderful success.
Thank you to all the people involved in the production and execution of this diver it was run with admirable military precision.
Thank you for having us everyone, but whoever suggested next year should be 48 hours...
Comments from James Neal and some of the crew:
James Neal: "I don't know where to begin... well, actually, that's not true. I know exactly where to begin.
And it's with a genuine heart felt thank you. I don't think I've ever been quite so taken aback by anything as I was by the support that you guys have given this event and in so doing, Neal and myself.
So much so in fact that upon surfacing at the end it was as much as I could do just to hold myself together. The upwelling of emotion was profound and unexpected. Deeply touched.
Thank you one and all.
The way we ran the 24 hour dive and the effort that you all put into it is testament to all of you guys and the club. It strikes at the very essence of what makes CSAC so very special. I know of no other club that has that quality. I think it's something that is genuinely unique to Cheltenham Sub Aqua Club and the type of people that our club attracts... nothing short of the very best, decent people with a sound moral compass that are always willing and prepared to put others before themselves. I applaud you all.
Thank you once again for putting your heart and soul into this event and thank you for supporting me and my errant ways.
Love you guys. Thank you.
Andy: "The emails went out. I opened the attachments for the dive schedule and dive marshal. It then became a reality and the excitement set in. It was only when I took the first shift of dive marshal it really set in. The reality of the event hit home. The orchestration of this was nuts. The planning to make it both safe and successful was huge. This I did not realise until now. The work behind the scenes to make sure all divers had enough surface interval and down time needs applauding. It was amazing to see the team pull together. From setting up on the Friday to the NDAC staff staying up all night to fill our tanks. We salute you all!
As for the diving bit, what a journey and what a lot of fun. Meeting someone on the shot at one o'clock in the morning and continuing your dive had a special and very unique feeling. At the grand finally, being in the water with that many divers all pulling together was another special experience. Which I doubt I'll see again for a long time, if ever.
Promotion of our club, awareness of headway and brain injury, huge amounts of money raised and new friends made. What more can you want from a weekend diving."
Jack G: "The 'force' was strong when professional divers and novices came together from around the UK to stand up for a very important charity. The event has shown that the team spirit and good-naturedness of the diving community is making a positive difference in the world. I think this brilliant event has uncovered the tip of the iceberg in terms of what divers can do for their communities, given a little encouragement and a visionary organiser like James Neal.
CSAC's 24 hour dive for Headway is a fantastic example that can be replicated in support of any important cause relevant to the diving community. The use of diving for health rehabilitation and the need to preserve ocean ecosystems are two such causes that spring to mind.
Why not give a 24-hour fundraising dive a go with your dive club? It might be the best thing you do all year!"Dr Oliver Firth