I started my diving with guys from the military and decided it would be a good idea to join Steve Cox, with his merry band of Instructors at the Joint Services Sub Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC), to learn how to be a SADS. The question is what the hell is a SADS?
In their enormous wisdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK class any British military diving, including recreational stuff, as diving at work.
As such, it comes under the HSE regulations and from this, a breed of diver has emerged known as the SADS. That being a acronym (and the forces sure love their acronyms) for Sub Aqua Diving Supervisor.
It's not easy to achieve; to attend the pre-SADS course and the subsequent examination you must be a BSAC Advanced Diver and a serving member of the military and/or a member of a BSAC military branch.
Well, as a First Class Diver and a member of the Kinloss Sub Aqua club I qualified and after a little bit of messing about, I was sponsored to attend the course.
The voluminous and impenetrable 'Joint Services Sub-Aqua Diving Regulations' (bible of the hapless SADS), that cover the whole activity, state:
Sub-aqua diving is an adventurous activity, which fosters self reliance, leadership, initiative and courage; it also develops self confidence and self discipline as well as physical strength and powers of endurance.
Blimey, that sounds good! Even better is that there a limited amount of SADS and they are invited to work with military expeditions worldwide. Just to put the top hat on it, there are only four National Instructors who are current SADS; I would be the fifth... Sounds like great fun to me!
Contrary to searches on Google, JSSADC does not only stand for the 'Japan Society for Symbolic and Algebraic Computation' but 'Joint Services Sub Aqua Diving Centre'!
It is run by Colonel Steve Cox RM (Rtd) with a team of serving forces personnel.
I first met Steve at a meeting of BSAC's National Diving Committee (NDC). In true BSAC fashion everyone shares a room and this time I was sharing with Steve.
At this point I didn't know he was in the forces, but did start to suspect when all his kit was 'super neatly' stowed in the room (aka grot). He later revealed he was in the Royal Marines and even later that he was a Colonel! Following the meeting, we retired to the bar which turned into a very unfortunate 0300 affair.
Ed note: DO NOT go drinking with the Royal Marines; very bad things happen.
As a co-incidence, Jim, my eldest son, was going through Royal Marines Commando training at Lympstone. In correspondence, Steve always asked how he was going on, which was appreciated, especially when he was recently on tour in Afghanistan with 45 Commando; anyway, on with the tale.
The pre-SADS course is free to all who attend, but accommodation for civilians is not. Serving members of the forces can stay at a local military base and there are loads of B&B's everywhere. Having been on many courses over the years, I decided to stay right next to Bovisand as this really helps in making sure you have everything 'on-site'.
Discovery Divers is a privately run diving centre literally 50m from Fort Bovisand itself and we booked in well in advance. Being early in the season and with only two of us staying there (myself and the very colourful Zebs Edby), they were not prepared to come over and cook breakfast.
I arrived late on the Sunday evening having just driven from the ludicrously positioned London International Dive Show (LIDS) to find Zebs there with a pile of provisions and a camping stove: loving his work!
Accommodation was very basic and the first morning the hot water wasn't working. But it was a roof over my head, I had supercook Zebs next door and was right next to the course! No problems...
Fort Bovisand is a fort in Devon near the beach of Bovisand. It was built on the mainland to defend the entrance of Plymouth Sound, at the narrows opposite the East end of Plymouth Breakwater. The fort is beside Bovisand Harbour (pictured above with Steve) and is the home of Joint Services Sub Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC)
For many years it was run as a commercial dive centre and quite well appointed. Now, it is a shadow of its former self with much of the space derelict. The sections operated by the military however are very well serviced. The worst bit about the whole setup is that the gear storage area is in the basement (former ammunition storage areas) although there are filling stations at ground level.
Until my son joined the Royal Marines I had never been involved with anything military and it was with some trepidation I walked into the classroom on day one. The rest of the guys were from all parts of the forces: Royal Marines to administrators, Lance Corporals to Majors.
On the first day I awoke to my neighbour, Zebs, bringing me breakfast. Tinned beans and suasages. Food of the gods!
Once in the well appointed classroom, we were fully briefed as to what was going to happen during the week: a tour and safety overview of the site, allocation of lifejackets, an introduction to the course then in the afternoon, a detailed look at the 'Joint Services Sub-Aqua Diving Regulations', the SADS bible.
Basically when you are on a dive and the SADS is in charge, you are 'the man', regardless of rank.
One thing you do notice in a military gathering, everyone has nicknames: In our group we had Nobby, Stretch, Chad (that's his real name) and even myself, Simonski.
The regulations are very detailed but they do cover every eventuality you are likely to encounter when running a military expedition, giving you the ultimate tool to manage diving in this unique environment.
We were divided into groups, ours led by 'Cliff' and the other by 'Ginge' and the day concluded by a chart-work and general planning refresher workshop.
On the Tuesday we were going diving; following that, we had to plan our 'SADS' dive and prepare 'briefs' for the following day. First up though was a 'demonstration' brief and practical SADS demonstration by our instructor Cliff.
If you have ever done any advanced BSAC courses, you will remember that we like short, concise briefs. This was the exact opposite, as each one was treated as the first brief of a major expedition and therefore everything was accounted for!
Anyway we went off and went diving. It was great, the visibility was superb and weather breathtaking! What was even more breathtaking was my suit that was leaking like a sieve...
Fortunately on site there was an industrial spin and tumble drier. Unfortunately my undersuit became a casualty of the latter piece of kit, with the arm literally ripped from the body; out comes the gaffa tape ;-)
The greatest accolade must go to one of the other team members that produced a brand new Otter Britannic from out of his car and lent it me for the week. Sir Ken, I salute you!
Throughout the week and strewn like confetti, were rescue scenarios: heart attacks, entangled divers, lost divers, man overboard. Cliff liked this...
I have to say doing these exercises with a suit literally full with Plymouth Sound was tough. In addition, all these guys were in there 30's and fit as fleas! Fortunately, the team was solid and we worked together to make it happen (thanks to Sergeant Nobby Hall RM who really helped me out).
As the week progressed we had our turn - I was last up on the Thursday afternoon. This was fortunate; it was later on in the week as it does take a few dives to acclimatise to the 'military' way of doing stuff!
There is no doubt that the experience of the First Class Diver and National Instructor Exam's really helped here: it all happened and was relatively pleased with my performance. You have to remember here that say on the FCD exam, you are managing a group who are all FCD. Here you are managing anyone, from Ocean Divers to FCD in, what could be, challenging expedition conditions.
Stress over, on the Thursday evening Stretch (all 6' 7" of him) and I went off to have a curry and a few glasses of Cobra in Plymouth.
Friday consisted of cleaning everything (yep, classrooms, mopping the wet gear room etc) and then a detailed, individual debrief by Steve.
Thanks to all the Instructor team: Steve, Cliff and Ginge and my new mates Sir Ken, Zebs, Stretch, Nobby and Chad. I am looking forward to the exam in September!