My family (Michelle and Xander) and I only joined the club in August 2017 (I know it seems like we have always been here lol) and whilst doing the Ocean diver qualification one of our club members Mike Rickard was advertising this Hard Hat dive. It sounded to me like you were diving in some cave or something literally wearing a hard hat like the ones you wear on a building site. I must be honest when I thought to myself. I’m not up for that thanks… (Know your limits)
Every Wednesday this announcement came that spaces were still available. So, I decided to inquire what exactly this was… Mike Rickard explained to us that this was a Hard Hat dive wearing the Traditional diving gear from years gone by…. Followed by a 50m dive in the Hyperbaric chambers. Michelle and Xander and I decided we would do this as the experience may not come around again.
As a club, we took 17 divers to the York Diver Training College. Upon arrival, you were greeted by the college team whom simply checked everybody off, did the usual Health and safety drills, fire points etc and then split us into two groups. One group will do the hard hat dive to 8m first whilst the other group would do the Hyperbaric chamber and swap over after lunch.
Group one: Hyperbaric chamber AM.
Me, Michelle, Xander, Mike Rickard, Mike Court, Gerry McEvoy, Dave Chase, Sean Kelly from Bolton Area Divers.
Group Two: Hard hat Dive AM.
Alf Draper, Adam Chase, Peter Balenski, Nick Worthington, Paul Williamson, Thomas Williamson, Matt Hindley.
The instructor started to offer his dive brief and started by asking if we were all BSAC which we all replied yes apart from Sean Kelly who said he was PADI. When all of a sudden Gerry piped up, I am Paddy too… we all started laughing when the instructor twigged…. Ahhh you’re a proper Paddy…
I was in group one and our group was again split into 2 x 4, so to go first in the chamber was me, Michelle, Xander and Mike Rickard. We were allowed to take our dive computers which needed to be placed in a bucket of water inside the chamber… The entire chamber was explained to us in fine details. No question was too much trouble. In fact, the Dive brief was very clearly detailed, with very clear instructions. We entered the chamber which consists of two partitions. This is to allow doctors to enter the chamber to access the patient. The Doctor would enter the chamber one which would then to taken to the same depth/pressure as chamber two which would then release the door and allow both chambers to be at the same pressure.
However, in our exercise, we held the chamber door closed to chamber two and within seconds the door was pressurised closed. Before we knew it, we were dropping in depth quickly. Mike Rickard showed us a trick of clapping then equalise, clap and equalise… it took many squeezes of the nose and swallowing to get the ears to equalise however at 10m Xander could not get his ears to equalise. Mike Rickard shouted “stop” and the operator took up a couple of meters whilst Xander Cleared his ears. Then we were off back down… this time we went to the full 50m depth. The voice sounded Donald duck like, people giggling for no apparent reason, the Tennis ball and piece of neoprene were squashed… Licking your lips felt like they had Vaseline on them, your voice sounded strange… We remained on the bottom for around one minute… then we started the long trip back to the surface.
We left the surface at 11:19 am reaching the bottom at 11:29 am where we stayed for around 1 minute… we reached our first stop at 11:39 Time at first stop 5 minutes, we reached our second stop at 11:46 where we had another 5 minute stop and we reached the surface at 11:54. Total descent time 10 minutes, Total ascent time of 25 minutes, total dive time of 35 minutes.
Then it was the turn of the second batch of four… This was incredibly entertaining to see Gerry, Mike, Dave and Sean all singing “Old McDonald had a farm” at 50m with Donald Duck Voices. Very Hilarious.
By the time these lunatics had surfaced, it was dinner time. The York diver training college had its very own restaurant/kitchen and bar complete with pool table. 😊
Dinner was Potato pie or whatever those Yorkshire folks call it… with mushy peas washed down with a pint of lager.
The best entertainment over lunch was watching Thomas and Xander play pool… normally pool can be a quick game, this was like watching a snooker match… slow and painful… The white was pocketed far too many times, it became so painful that the Dads and other club members wanted to get involved 😊 (More practice needed boys)
In the Bar area was a viewing window of the 8m pool, you can literally watch the hard-had divers step by step… Lunch was over and it was our groups turn to go to the pool area ready for our dive briefing.
The two guys at the pool area were brilliant, very helpful and no question was too stupid, although with majority of us coming from Lancashire you can imagine the comedy/rivalry… war of the roses etc… 😊
“Who wants to go first” One of the instructors asked… “Go On then I said…” I sat down on the bench next to the hard-had equipment. I put on the antique dry suit, I recall asking “does this leak”
The instructor replied “DON’T BE DAFT, No it doesn’t” but I wondered why he was smirking at that time… The dry suit was on, the shoulder brace was fitted by my trusted (heheh) colleagues… and I stepped up to the platform… I took a seat on the platform and put my feet into the biggest Frankenstein boots I have ever seen. The instructors then set about tying my laces… scratch that I meant rope. Then they place a front weight and a rear weight fastened by rope over your head resting on your shoulders. Then the fit the actual hard hat, which was a little strange and almost fishbowl like. I recall sitting there thinking I have the hard hat on, but what about this little porthole… I even asked, “are you going to close this porthole”? obviously, with laughter, they replied “of course” and then started to wind/ screw the porthole… communications tested and I was complete and ready… The entire additional weight (AKA known as the Neil Hickman weight belt) is about 12 stones… I stood up and OH MY GOD! I don’t recommend wearing this gear as a disguise whilst trying to rob a bank… Talk about heavy…
So, I stand up turn my back to the pool and steps. The instructors have hold of you to assist the initial steps. And one foot at a time you step down the ladders… “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind” klunk…….. klunk……. Klunk….. slowly down the ladder… unless of course you are Mike Rickard or Alf Draper whom fireman slide down the steps…
Obviously you can’t equalise the normal way of squeezing your nose, so moving your jaw and swallowing worked well for me. Eventually after a minute or so I reached the bottom of the pool, It was rather spongy underfoot, to be honest… I recall thinking I don’t want to fall over head first, Id never get back up with all this weight… The air is pumped in under pressure so you have a constant shhhhhhhhhhhhhh behind your head combined with comms so the guys on top could communicate with you. Which they did regular to make sure you were happy and ok.
If you wanted you could engage in a couple of exercises, The guys had provided an air line and a couple of lift bags, one attached to a shopping trolley and the other attached to tractor tyres… I enjoyed these exercises due to how it demonstrates how little air is needed to actually lift something of substantial weight.
I posed for the usual pictures and after about 8 minutes or so I made my way out of the pool… Step by Step I climbed the ladder to the top… getting out was a real challenge. I sat down and the Hardhat was removed, then the boots and the weights…. I stepped off the platform made my way to the bench to remove the dry suit… I was drenched…. It's debatable whose fault this as… was it the dry suit that failed due to its age? Or was it my “trusted colleague’s”who didn’t tighten the shoulder brace bolts correctly… The Yorkshire lads found it funny.. and come to think of it so did the Sub C divers team… I looked like I actually wet myself…
You had a choice of trying the traditional hard hat Dive from days gone by, or you could try the more modern Kirby Morgan…. With all the bells and whistles… Personally, I was more than happy with the traditional hard hat dive, whereas Mike Court, Alf Draper and Mike Rickard and possibly more all got to try the modern kit.
This was a truly awesome event, Big thanks to Mike Rickard for organising this event, I would highly recommend this to anyone if the opportunity came your way.
The day was full of fun and laughter combined with numerous lessons along the way. The Hyperbaric chamber was especially important and gives you a flavour of what to expect should you ever fall foul of a DCI (Bends)