The first post-lockdown dives of summer 2020

Vising the dive site for a snorkel.

Knowing (or rather not knowing) the risks around Covid 19 and it’s potential implications for scuba diving, like a lot of divers I’ve been pretty cautious about going out for a dive. So, following all the advice to stay home and protect each other, I focused on my work and offering PADI Psychological Diver online. This has been an incredible experience and I’ve very much enjoyed connecting with divers from all over the world – all of us facing similar concerns about the pandemic and wanting to get back in the water.

It’s not been easy to know whether to dive or not. The government advice on travel and spending time outdoors helps of course, but not many people dive in the UK, so there hasn’t been specific advice. We were inferring from the guidance on swimming in the sea and lakes, and similar activities like walking in the remote hills. The British Diving Safety Group statements and advice have been useful.

A few weeks ago, when it became clear that we were allowed to leave the house for leisure activities here, and that the BDSG were stating experienced divers may take low risk shore dives, I started to consider diving.

But, even then there was still lots to take into account. For one thing, all my dive kit was in storage and I hadn’t been able to get to it for months! My regs were overdue a service. I’d booked out a lot of my time to other activities and responsibilities. And on top of that, the long, dry period meant accessing my dive skills would take a bit of time. Sound familiar?

So, at the first opportunity to dive, I didn’t dive. Instead I scraped together enough kit for a snorkel and headed out to a local dive site where my dive centre were (following guidelines) running a dive for 3-6 people. In all honesty, even just packing to snorkel took time. I hadn’t left the house except for a weekly essential shop for three months, so my brain wasn’t used to organising anything other than shopping bags and hand sanitiser!

It was great just driving to the dive site, meeting friends, catching up and sitting in the sunshine. And of course, seeing and smelling the sea! Getting in for a snorkel was a great way to get familiar with things like putting on a wetsuit, wearing a mask (doing a few floods and clears) and breathing with a snorkel. I think I was swimming about for an hour or more (quite fast at times just to stay warm). It was lovely to see some familiar creatures like sea hares and velvet swimming crabs, and a few fish. But mostly I just enjoyed the sensation of being in the seawater. Floating.

(I have to admit though, there was a little bit of me that didn’t like floating. It just felt too positively buoyant … knowing that with scuba it would be a whole different sensation of weightlessness.)

Anyway, a week or so later, I got access to my dive kit. I’d been able to make sure it was dry and stored safely, but I was still relieved to see it had stayed that way. Other than a spider setting up home in one of my fin pockets(!) I took it all home. My (ten year +) old regs would have to be sent for a service, so I bought the new ones. I justified this as: I’d been wanting an upgrade for ages, plus it’s supporting the dive industry, economy etc., and my local dive centre too!

The day before my first post-lockdown dive, I must have spent 2 hours packing! I normally dislike packing, but it was sunny outside and I enjoyed spending time sorting and checking kit, replacing dry gloves, waxing zippers and silicone-greasing various o-rings. After the events of the previous weeks, I was mostly just grateful to have my hands on my kit again.

Given the break in diving, I’d strongly recommend to anyone finding ways to ease back into diving: managing task loads, refreshing skills etc. So I worked out with centre a plan to do that. Easy dive, sheltered and shallow (8-10m max.) dive site. First dive was lead by a fellow instructor who’d already been diving since the lock-down, so no pressure.

I noticed being slow and less automatic putting kit together and checking it, but it was all the surface stuff that was rusty. Once in the water, it was that “just like riding a bike” feeling – made possible by being a dive well within my comfort zone. That’s one of the advantages of diving frequently for several years, even with a long break, it comes back quickly.

We had a couple of pleasant dives, staying shallow and just getting the hang of it again. Practicing some basic skills and discovering kit issues that needed addressed before more challenging dives. The rest of the group spent the next day diving with seals on the Farne Islands, and had a fantastic experience, because they’d taken a little time to let themselves and their kit ease back in slowly.

So now I’m looking forward to more diving and teaching, and adjusting to however it is we are going to do that in future. It all feels a bit uncertain and I expect there’ll be various challenges and things we have to negotiate. One thing that does come from this: is appreciating every moment of the dives we get to do now.