A REAL LIFE MERMAID

ALISON COOK – ANDARK AQUANAUTS INSTRUCTOR

TURNING A PASSION FOR SCUBA INTO A FUN JOB!

“My athletic prowess consists of being able to float and sink. And that’s it really! Even when I was a little kid I could dive in the deep end for pennies. My dad taught me to snorkel in the 70’s but it wasn’t until I was 28 (1994) that I learnt to dive with Hampstead BSAC. Inland dive site, Gildenburgh Water was my first dive, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Being able to ‘fly’ around in 3 dimensions up the stairs of a double decker bus was just surreal! I was hooked.

I upgraded to a drysuit after a year or so and would do about 50 club dives a year anywhere from Scillies – (seals and soft corals) to the wrecks of Scapa. Can’t say I was there for the history so much as the carpets of stripy pouting silhouetted in the gaps in the hulls. It was so theatrical! 3 years later I was a BSAC instructor and shared the girly love as much as I could.

The BSAC was still quite laddish back in the day and even in my pink and purple drysuit I wanted to be one of the boys. We’d climb over rocks and up lifeboat ramp-ways just to get to dive sites. I dived Dungeness 40 metres in near zero vis and did a 50m dive just to say I could. Nowadays its all about being warm, the people I dive with and capturing some memories to draw for the log book.

I moved to Hampshire and had 10 years of just being a mum and only holiday diving. It wasn’t until the kids were old enough to do a scuba party at Andark that I finally rehydrated. I was hooked again and persuaded cross over to PADI Instructor and have been running the Aquanauts Andark’s own kid’s course for 9-12 year olds at the weekends for the last decade. It’s all in the pool, we’ve done a wreck dive, Halloween night dive with spooky spiders and an Eco dive where the kids learn about how they can make a difference with simple underwater teaching aids.

Fave kit: Still love my tribal ‘Funky Fins’ 25 years on, but close second is my Beuchat snorkel. It’s all one piece, squishy, no bits to lose (KISS!) & it does the job admirably.

My bucket list: Diving with sea otters, I know they are protected but I love a kelp dive so hopefully I’d spot one passing by and diving Mexican Cenotes. The light in some of those caverns is AWESOME. Free diving definitely need to get that under my belt. And the Red Sea always a big draw. Took my baby 4 month old son on a live aboard 22 years ago, and I’m heading there next week for the 5th time.”

Top 10 highlights.

Ice diving in Tignes lake while on a skiing holiday

Finding fake pieces of 8 in the Scillies (victim of a practical joke!)

Being a scuba mermaid in a shopping centre fishtank

Diving on Roman Ruins in Naples with my 12 year old daughter

Diving with a basking shark the size of a bus on a Red Sea drop off

Sinking down through the Blue Hole in Gozo

Gin clear Salcombe dive with dogfish and kelp

Bio luminescence on a night dive in Turkey

Mantas in the Maldives

Diving with seals in Lundy

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When not underwater Alison is a free lance illustrator under the brand name @PingSweetie and a Graphic Designer at Marwell Zoo.

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ANDARK SUNDAY DIVE AT WRAYSBURY

COMFORT IS KEY

WRITER/SCUBA DIVER – KELLY GREENER

A nice 0745 start for our Sunday morning dive trip to Wraysbury. After making sure cylinders are were nice and full, everyone accounted for and set up with equipment we were off.

Though quite a dreary start to the day … it didn’t get much better. We set off into teams of 2 or 3 buddy pairs, and briefed the dive. As the visibility wasn’t great, which is nothing new for UK diving, we decided to take a few bearings and see what we found. This presented a great opportunity to test out our gear, and get comfortable with our set ups. Especially for newer divers, who may not know what works for them, there were some common themes that came up after the dives that were causing just a bit of discomfortable or making the dive that little bit frustrating;

MASK

This is vital. A bad fitting mask means a foggy mask, which means a disorientated and possibly panicked diver. If the seal around your face isn’t fully flat, whether that’s because your mask just might not fit your face properly (very common), your hood or a tear, it can be a real pain during a dive when you’re constantly clearing it. To make sure the mask fits your face properly, you want the mask to stay in place when breathing in and not loosen around any part of your face. For you guys rocking the moustache, Vaseline should work a treat. Another thing, if a mask is too tight before going down for a dive, the pressure will just make it worse, so make sure the seal is tight around the face, but the strap isn’t too tight around your head before diving down.

FINS

Nobody likes cramp. This part of your dive kit, I might say is the most important. This is because fins are very much a personal preference, and it takes time to test out what works for you. Today we had a diver who got toe crap, wearing her dad’s borrowed XL fins … and she did not have XL feet. Wearing fins too big or too heavy for you often gives you crap and it can take a while for it to go away. There are many different variations of fins on the market, many different colours too, but if its possible it’s great to test them out in a pool before buying to see if they fit your feet, and way of diving.

WEIGHT

Weight can decide whether you come up gasping for air feeling like you’ve run a marathon or whether you struggle to keep your feet down. Weight checks are really important to get this right, along with logging your dives. Logging your dives means you can see how much weight you used on one dive to help advise what weight you need when using different types of equipment (i.e. wetsuit or drysuit) or in different environments (i.e. freshwater vs saltwater). Another thing is where you put your weight. Some people prefer to have all their weight at the back and around the cylinder, other prefer it all the way around their body. You’ve got to figure out and find what’s comfortable for you, and what is the easier for you to dive down and stay down.

These elements take time to get right, and even experienced divers will test out a new piece of kit to figure out how it will work in their set up and adjust accordingly before taking them on more advanced dives. We often don’t get everything right first time, but its worth the trial and errors to get that comfortable, go to dive kit set up, ready for your next Sunday dive.

ADVICE & SUPPORT FROM OUR ANDARK STORE

We offer the best service & advice in getting the right equipment suited for your level of scuba diving. Come and visit us at our Andark store to speak to one of our friendly team or trial your new equipment out in a safe enclosed space at our Lake.

EASY LIKE A SUNDAY MORNING DIVE

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JORDAN PONSFORD – ANDARK SCHOLAR