SCUBA divers from Southport Sub-Aqua Club celebrated half a century of underwater adventure with a special dive by one their founding members and 50 others.
Southport SAC which is part of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), gathered fifty scuba divers – one for each year of their existence, to join 71-year-old Peter Markham on their 50th anniversary dive, on the submerged wreck of a plane.
Grandad-of-six Peter was one of the first members of Southport SAC back in 1967 and still actively dives with the club.
Fellow Southport SAC member Mae Dorricott, aged 22, was the youngest member to join the 50th anniversary dive on the wreck of a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 aircraft, at Capernwray Diving Centre in Carnforth, Lancashire.
Peter, a BSAC Advanced Diver, says diving with BSAC has given him lots of memorable moments, some of which are captured in the club’s photo archive, and he has seen things underwater very few people are privileged to witness.
He said: “Diving has been, and remains, a big part of my life. I joined Southport SAC in 1967. The club was actually formed by a guy called Peter Saul. He had completed his dive training with BSAC’s Blackpool branch.
“He put an advert in the local paper saying he was starting a club at Southport. I joined about seven months later.
“In those early years it wasn’t a case of shall we go diving next weekend? We just dived every weekend, summer or winter, regardless. Summer we dived in the sea and winter in lakes or quarries. I’d clocked up 600 dives before 1975.
He added: “Money was in short supply and we came up with all sorts of ideas to raise cash including wearing silly hats with a pound fine for anyone who turned up without one. We also did ‘skinny’ dips, after a dive we’d jump in just wearing swimming trunks, which became a tradition and is something we still do today.
“It was OK in summer but in winter it was always freezing. We had some very strange looks from fell walkers all wrapped up against the winter cold at the Blue Lagoon above Llangollen on one occasion!”
Peter says he was also involved in the team that built the club’s first dive boat out of old aircraft fuel tanks and plywood.
He said: “We used two fuel tanks, the sort that hang under an aircraft’s wings, and a timber frame made from plywood. We took it for its first ‘sea trials’ in Eccleston Quarry. As it didn’t sink we towed it to Trearddur Bay the following week.
“We moored it overnight ready to try it out the next day but unfortunately a Force 8 gale that night turned all our hard work and our pride and joy into matchwood scattered all over the rocks!”
Southport Sub Aqua Club’s Diving Officer, Stephen Dorricott, 59, who is also young diver Mae’s dad, said: “I was trying to think of ways we could celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary and I came up with the idea of getting 50 people to do a dive on the plane.
“Everything went according to plan although it’s not easy planning for 50 divers to be in the water at one time. We each made a donation so we have raised more than £100 for Southport Lifeboats too.
“It was a lovely way to mark our anniversary. It was a fun, family day and everyone who took part enjoyed it,” said Stephen, who in his day job is a company director of a Leigh Industrial equipment hire firm Astley Hire.
Members of Southport Sub-Aqua Club were joined on the anniversary dive by other BSAC members from Chorley, West Houghton, Saddleworth and Scarborough.
Each diver who took part was issued with a fun ‘boarding pass’ in exchange for a donation to the RNLI in Southport, and some even paid for extra legroom seats on the wreck to help raise funds.
BSAC is the national governing body for scuba diving and is made up of 120 dive centres and 900 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad. The Duke of Cambridge is the club’s President.
It represents more than 28,000 scuba divers and snorkellers and welcomes new members from complete beginners upwards including those who have trained with other agencies.
BSAC Chief Executive Officer, Mary Tetley says she is delighted Southport Sub Aqua Club has reached its 50th anniversary.
She said: “Southport SAC is a committed family club and it is wonderful that they have reached their 50th anniversary.
“Diving is an amazing activity which people of all ages can get involved in. I hope the club will continue for another 50 years.”
Southport SAC has around 60 active diving members who train at Dunes Leisure Centre in Southport. They also hold social events at the nearby Southport Football Club.
Stephen said: “As well as diving we have lots of social events such as barbecues. It’s a very family orientated club with members aged from 10 to 75. And members come from all walks of life.
“We have police officers, surgeons, housewives, builders, it doesn’t matter. Underwater everyone is equal.
“We have a good dive calendar enjoying trips to the Farne Islands, Pembrokeshire, Scotland and even foreign dive trips to exotic places like the Red Sea. We offer try dives and can teach skills all the way from snorkelling to rebreather and advanced diving.”
He added: “I’d encourage anyone interested in learning more about diving to get in touch, come down and meet us and tackle a try dive. You never know in 50 years’ time you might well be there celebrating the club’s centenary!”
Peter, who is now retired but at one time ran his own heating company, said: “I just love diving. I’ve dived all over the world and seen sights very few people get to see. I have three daughters, one, Helen, lives in New Zealand.
“I go out to see two of my six grandchildren at least once a year and enjoy diving around the New Zealand coast while I’m there.
“I’ve also dived in the Red Sea, the Caribbean, the Maldives, Burma, all around the UK and lots of other places.
He added: “I enjoy going to club nights at the Dunes Leisure Centre and seeing new divers start their training. It makes me smile and I think to myself if you get even half the pleasure out of diving I have had, then they are in for a wonderful time.
“I’d recommend diving to anyone. It’s a safe hobby, providing you stick to your limits, and a wonderful way of making friendships that last a lifetime.”