When you’re swimming up to a ship and you look through a small hole and then a conger eel pokes its head out, it’s amazing.”
Listening to members of East Durham Divers club talk about their love for diving can’t fail to pique your interest in the adventure sport.
The members, who between them have decades of experience, talk passionately about exploring the underwater world of shipwrecks, coral reefs and deep sea deserts which are hidden to many people.
The club was founded four years ago following the merger of Seaham and Peterlee diving clubs.
The group now has 20 members who spend weeks each year exploring both the North sea and international waters in exotic locations such as the Maldives, Iceland, and the magical Red Sea.
Len Richardson, 61, and Keith Lawrence, 57, both of Seaham, took up the sport in 1973, in a time when divers had to cut their own wet suits from sheets of neoprene. For them it has never lost its appeal.
“It’s because of the sporting activity itself,” said Len. “You meet people from all over the country and there is some tremendous scenery under the water.
“Every dive is different and we maybe do 50 or 60 dives a year.”
East Durham Divers, based at the old ambulance depot in Parkside Cresent, Seaham, is a branch of the Sub Aqua Association (SAA) which is the national body for the sport in England.
Formed in 1976, the club system enables people to get the most out of the underwater world by training them to dive.
And the qualifications are recognised all over the world, as the club is affiliated with CMAS, the World Underwater Federation, which was founded by legendary French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who invented the aqua-lung.
East Durham Divers’ members take a great deal of pride in their training.
“There is so much you can do with it,” said Geoff Bird, a qualified open water dive supervisor, and training officer at the club.
“You can do archaeology, or underwater photography – we’ve got so much to teach.”
The club, whose members, in their own words are “a group of ordinary people, with a thirst for adventure,” wants to encourage people to get involved with the sport.
“We want to attract social members,” said Len. “Twenty or 30 years ago the only way to learn to dive was to join a dive club, but now PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors courses] has come along from the USA and I think that’s why we have seen some of the dive clubs die off.
“People can just go away for the weekend and get the training over and done with, although we don’t do that.”
Becoming a qualified diver with CMAS means undertaking thorough training.
Budding underwater explorers can go from novice to qualified diver by taking four lectures a week, for four weeks, and completing practical training in two months.
“We are focused on getting divers competent in the sea,” said Len.
“A PADI instructor can take maybe 30 pupils in the water, but we can do one-to-one in the water until you progress.
“Someone won’t qualify until they are completely competent in the water.”
The self-funded club, which trains every Wednesday night at the base in Parkside Crescent, has its own boats, and members can even go on to learn to drive them.
A six-metre boat can carry eight divers and the cox, and a 5.5-metre boat six divers and a cox. Based just five minutes drive away from Seaham Harbour Docks, club members can launch them into the North Sea.
Geoff Bird only began diving five years ago.
“I’ve gained a wealth of experience over the years,” he said, “and I just think everyone should at least try it .
“It’s what you see in the water, but for me it’s also the training which I thoroughly enjoy.
“Taking someone into a swimming pool for the first time and seeing the smile on their face when they have their full gear on, it’s an amazing sense of satisfaction.
“And taking someone into the water and knowing they are confident.”
East Durham Divers also want to appeal to more women to take up the “amazing” activity.
Currently the club has just one female member.
“We would like more women to join, because it can’t be fun for a woman walking in and seeing all men in their 50s,” said Geoff.
“And it is a sport for everyone and people of all ages. We have three lads in their early 20s at the minute.”
He continued: “It’s just a fascinating thing to be part of. Diving in the North Sea is incredibly exciting.
“We have our own coral and there are more than 1,000 wrecks between the Tees and the Forth. You can fall in love with it. I’ll dive anywhere and anytime.”
• Membership price for new trainees is £185 per year, and for fully qualified divers £110 per year.
For more information or to book, call Geoff on 07775 680 614, 07857 174 125 or visit www.eastdurhamdivers.com