The club was founded in 1975 by Dr Mike Owen a Mechanical Engineer, and Ken Hoskins, a student who had qualified as a diver before coming to university. Mike Owen was the driving force and mentor for the club throughout its history. He was very much liked and respected by all and sadly passed away in 2012.
The club has always been a special branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club, so the basic structure has remained the same since its creation, the major changes are the members as the flow of generation after generation of students come through the ranks.
The club has always relied for continuity on instructors and dive leaders who have stayed with the club beyond the three years of an undergraduate course. As well as Prof. Owen, long term support from university staff was given by Rob Jones (Chemistry), Graham Freeguard (Mech Eng), Martin Garnett (Cancer Research) and Tony Collings. The club also benefitted hugely from the input of a number of students: Chris Harrison, Mike Lee, Tom Hood, Geraint (Gerry) Jones, Graham Casey, Ian Harrison and Karen Booth. We’ve also benefitted from medics who were around longer, such as Graham Wright. Special mention has to be made of Steve Scarlett who in 2012 completed his 30th consecutive summer trip with NUSAC, and Eddy Bramall who has done almost as many.
The Sutton Bonnington connection was maintained for many years by staff member John Corbett, whose most famous exploit was the miraculous passing of a breathalyser test after a club night out in Anglesey. Another happy memory from that trip was towing the boat back with a disintegrating trailer wheel bearing.
Lectures started in the ‘cattle sheds’ – rows of prefab classrooms which adorned the hill opposite the old kit room and below the theatre until the Portland extension was built.
Before we had the university pool training was conducted at Beechdale Baths, a nearby pool with the advantage of a separate 4m diving pit, which made the training much more interesting and realistic, and it was great to play around in.
Pool sessions were in the early evening, so we had more time for socialising in the pub afterwards. Naturally we didn’t want to waste any time, so we went to the nearest one, which was the Beechdale, two minutes up the road.
This was a bit of a dive (sorry for that pun), so after about five years we moved to the Rose and Crown on Derby Road, which was still close and much nicer.
We were very happy there for a long time, but after a while the beer became a bit too pricey, so we made a further move, this time to the Three Wheatsheaves, a bit further up Derby Road.
Now that pool sessions are on University Campus, we enjoy socialising at the Students Union bar Mooch. Outside of term time the most dedicated members still meet at the Johnson Arms (left) on Thursday evenings to discuss vital club matters.
Diving destinations have also regularly been in Scotland with summer trips often to Oban. The accommodation was the bunkhouses at Oban Divers but is now at Cologin Country Chalets. Additionally the club has frequented the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Mull and Islay.
Easter trips were more variable, locations including Anglesey, the Llynn Peninsula, Pembrokeshire, Bute and Fort Bovisand (Plymouth).
Blessedly our trips have been relatively incident-free from the diving point of view, apart from one minor bend. The other most famous incident was when someone (we won’t mention his name) managed to roll the van on an Oban trip. Fortunately no-one was hurt.
Accommodation choices have varied over the years. The most enjoyable was the stay at a pub in Lyme Regis which we were forcibly confined to for the whole weekend when the diving was blown out by gales. The worst accommodation has to be the barn on a hillside near Dorothea with a hole in the wall (it was minus 6°C) and one very cold toilet. Admittedly it was very cheap. Thanks go to Gerry for this. Most unusual and most interesting has to be the week we spent on a nudist campsite in Pembrokeshire. Dave Bissitt, the organiser, knew this but didn’t think it worth mentioning to anyone in advance. Fortunately compliance was voluntary, but you could say it was a bit of an eye-opener!
We’ve always used Stoney Cove a lot for training. In the 70s there was the pub, the air station; the shop was in the white building which is now the PADI centre, but there were no changing rooms or quayside. The entrance was by the gate of number two carpark, as the current entrance had not been built. Water entry was from the slipway or the bus stop. The Viscount aircraft nose, the Wessex and the bus were always there, but the Stanegarth, Nautilus etc. are all recent additions.
Although 1975 might seem a long time ago to current students, the British Sub-Aqua Club had been in existence since the late 1950s and by 1975 diving equipment had already developed a long way, but the things we didn’t have were drysuits, semi-drys, BCs, octopuses and, of course, computers – we dived with tables, a depth gauge and a watch.
Before BCs we had the ABLJ (adjustable buoyancy lifejacket), often compared to a toilet seat and the Fenzy was the most popular brand. In the early days there was no direct feed, just a small cylinder which was intended for emergency use only. For routine buoyancy adjustment you had to mouth inflate it (yes, underwater, of course!). This is one of several examples of diving then being a bit more demanding than it is today. There were two straps, one round the back and a crotch strap which for gentlemen tightened very uncomfortably when the jacket was inflated.
There were no octopuses or direct feeds because the early regulators didn’t have the extra medium pressure outlets which are standard today. In the absence of an octopus, the training drill was for two divers to share one mouthpiece – take three breaths and then hand it over. A bit harder than just grabbing your buddy’s octopus, I think.
We used SMBs, but there were no DSMBs, so it was a choice of dragging a blob all through the dive or not taking one at all. The decision was usually left to the boat handler. On one occasion, even using blobs we managed to lose a pair of divers when the sea became very rough while we were out and we had to ring the coastguard and get a helicopter out. In the meantime the divers had made their way safely to shore and wondered what the fuss was all about. [Lesson from history: if conditions are marginal don’t risk it because they can worsen very quickly.]
NUSAC has a good range of equipment, and we always had use of the kit room which we occupied until it was demolished in 2012. We started off with about 8 sets of equipment. Our cylinders stood on the kit room floor for many years before Tom Hood’s magnificent and long-lasting erection, ie the wooden racks. We always had a compressor in the kit room and a portable one for use on trips, but the banks weren’t acquired until the early 90s. Following the demolition in 2012 we have moved to rooms in Lenton Fields Store which is conveniently located 30 seconds walk from the university pool.
We started off with one orange Humber inflatable with a Mariner 40hp engine bought second-hand from the RNLI. We had a boat store at Grove Farm but in a different barn from where we are now. When it was decided that for safety reasons we needed two boats, someone bought, at a bargain price no doubt, the now infamous boat we called the Black Pig. It was black and it was a pig. It had larger than normal tubes and was notoriously leaky and bendy. We got our first RIB in the early 90s. They were revolutionary, extremely cool boats and very expensive.
The most significant change in the history of the club has been the developments the BSAC has made in the diver training program.
The major difference is that there was originally no Ocean Diver grade. There was a Snorkel Diver grade which you had to do first before you could do any scuba diving. The next grade was Third Class Diver (now Sports Diver), then Second Class Diver (now Advanced Diver).
The training was much more physically demanding and the Snorkel Diver training included the rescue and tow, in water rescue breaths, landing the casualty etc which we don’t do now until Sports Diver.
The scuba training was similar to the lessons we do today, apart from: “Sink all equipment in the deep end of the training pool. Dive and fit without surfacing.”
By Paul Millichamp