Thursday, 23 November 2017

Becoming a Dive Professional.

I have been working in the Dive Industry for almost 12 years now and consider myself to be very lucky. From humble beginnings as a diver, who although not a natural fish, was in love with the underwater world from the start, to becoming a Dive Professional; this is a journey that I have enjoyed taking.

My job like any other can involve a mountain of paperwork – strange considering how well water and paper mix! It can involve the day to day tasks of drinks making, filing and cleaning. These parts are however not at the core of my job. I get to dive, explore and introduce people to this amazing world and sport. 
Training Dives on the Far Mulberry

I changed career to join the Diving Industry with zero experience. I knew I loved the water; I knew I was merely existing in my current profession; I knew something had to change. Then came the opportunity to use my skills in retail in a completely different environment, but with the caveat “you will need to learn to dive”. I have sold beds, TV computers, sofas, glassware, china and clocks so why not Scuba Equipment?

I started working as the Dive Centre Manager and began my diver training. It did not take me long to realise that I wanted to share this adventure with others – that meant becoming a Professional. Once a Professional I could help others enjoy the underwater world as much I did.  When people ask me did I have any regrets changing direction, career, home and lifestyle I say my one regret is that I waited until I was in my 30s to start this journey!

The Career Path Structure
There are many reasons to become a Dive Professional and my reasons might not be yours but whoever you are it takes your diving to a new level. That smile when a diver masters a skill they struggled with, the light in their eyes when discussing what they saw on their dive and knowing that you helped them get to that point gives amazing job satisfaction.
SSI Dive Professionals start as Dive Guides, who once qualified can lead certified divers on guided dives. We are contacted regularly by people who want to go diving but perhaps do not have a regular buddy, lack the confidence to dive without a mentor or who have never been in the sea, but want to move on to exploring the sites off our coast. Your experience and knowledge helps them on their journey.

Where will it take you?
If enjoy your diving and want to share this sport with others why not consider becoming a Professional? Part time or full time, there are opportunities for all levels of qualified Dive Professionals. It is often said that diving opens a door into another World but I can testify that being a Professional opens a door into working in some amazing destinations worldwide. I chose the UK where will it take you?

If you want to find out more about how to get started why not contact the Dive Centre to book a progression meeting. We can help you develop your plan to achieve your goals. Whether you are a new diver who knows where you want to go or an experienced diver looking to share your knowledge. and we are here to help. We have Professional Courses running on a regular basis and are very happy to explain the SSI Professional Structure and life as a Professional in the UK. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Helena Bourdillon - Two days in Selsey

On Friday 15th September, we announced the launch of Mulberry Freedivers with two events led by Helena Bourdillon.  

Helena is a member of the GB 2017 Freediving Team and has recently returned from competing in the AIDA Individual World Championships in Roatan. Mulberry Divers were delighted to be able to help with her sponsorship for this event as, like many non-Olympic sports, the athletes competing receive no funding for training or taking part. Helena used a crowd funding site to raise the money needed to represent her country.

The presentation, held at Selsey Town Hall, was titled “Go Deep: My Journey into Freediving”. Helena explained how she began in the sport, what it has meant to her and the recent World Championships. From her humble beginnings as a two-metre diver and with just a few years of dedicated training Helena achieved three white cards, in three disciplines. The official table ranked her 5th out of the 31 female competitors.

What is a White card? It is a clean dive – you reach the depth that you announced, retrieve a tag to prove it and complete the surface protocol on return to show you are in control. This being the sport of APNEA it is all done on a single breath of air.
The focus of the talk however, was a frank and honest account of what Freediving has meant to Helena. A long-term sufferer of severe depression and mental illness, Helena was kind enough to tell us how the sport has helped saved her life. From a dark place where she could not imagine being alive any longer to representing her country.

Freediving has allowed her to find a peace and acceptance of herself that she never knew before. It has built her confidence and trust in herself. The relaxation breathing and meditation, an integral part of the sport, has led Helena to a balance that she can take with her when on land helping to heal! The dark is now behind her. The overall message of the talk was that she wants to show other sufferers there is hope; there is a future and you can achieve – so dream. It is an important message and Helena actively seeks to talk and help others through her experience. This was the first talk Helena has given but it will not be the last, having enjoyed the experience she will continue to spread the message when home from training. 

The Relaxation Breathing was held on Saturday lunchtime at the Selsey Centre. Helena began by explaining to the class that as adults we tend to forget how to breathe correctly. The stress of everyday life gets in the way; but we should remember that “we can go three weeks without food, three days without water but only three minutes without air”. When we do not breathe with our diaphragm then we cannot fully benefit from the oxygenated blood that every inhale brings. We were shown some exercises to start using the diaphragm to breathe and then a guided relaxation body scan exercise.

I must say it was very relaxing and enlightening. We started by counting our normal breaths – do not change them but just count how many in a minute. The number varied in the class from 9 to 20 a minute…time for most of us to slow down! Learning how the body moves when breathing correctly, teaches you what to look out for. Correctly placing your hands to feel the motion and see how well you are doing, some of these muscles have not moved in a long time! The guided relaxation body scan was so relaxing than I could hear the gentle sounds of snoring as several people drifted off to sleep. I was awake, but barely there; just able to hear Helena on the edge of my consciousness talking me though the steps. I can recommend it as a way to unwind and relax at any time.
The time before the snores.

The class was very popular and we will run some more over the next couple of months. Helena has promised to come back in January to run an advanced class and more details of both events will follow soon. 

It was a great couple of days and we must say thank you to Helena for her time, dedication, enthusiasm and honesty. To find out more about Freediving or how relaxation breathing could help you contact  Mulberry Freedivers.  

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Changing Face of the Selsey Lifeboat Station Dive

A once familiar view
This year work on the new RNLI boathouse was completed and the old boathouse was taken down. Recently, I got to dive for the first time since the boathouse was removed. It was an amazing day, cracking visibility, flat calm seas and sunshine. The type of day that UK divers dream off in long winter spells. I must confess, it made me reflect on the dive now and before the boat house was removed. The Dive Centre is currently often asked - what is like now?  I thought I would share some of my experiences of Selsey Lifeboat Station Diving.

I completed my Open Water Diver Course at Selsey Lifeboat Station many years a go - scary to think this was over a decade now. I remember the joy of being in the water, drifting towards the worlds largest spider crab....well it was to me. I remember my Instructor and Divemaster telling me how lucky I was to see eels, sponge crabs and wrasse and me thinking "ooh is that what that was".

A number of dives later, I got used to spotting the normal suspects and could even identify them without a book. Over the years I have seen some changes; the spider crabs used to come in on mass. This event coincided with mating season and the bottom was simply a moving, seething mass of three or four deep crab. In the words of one diver on a Marshalled Dive "that is simply too much crab for me". In the early days, after almost every dive, people came in and talked about the Tompots and showed pictures of the smiley happy fish; after a while this changed to people showing me pictures of the Scorpion Fish. On my dives I saw less Tompots and some massive scorpion fish in beautiful colours.

August 2017 - Fish playing
A typical dive involved swimming out to the boathouse; descending down a leg, then heading out to explore. What and where I explored depended on the direction of the current, but I loved the anchors, moorings and old boat house legs. When I first dived there were only a couple of these legs but progressively over the years more appeared closer to the beach. Close to the boathouse, the shadow it cast would change the underwater dynamic and give you an idea of where you were situated.

I love the seasonal nature of the site and the way the life changes as the year moves on. My favourite time to dive is early, before the bloom; less growth of bootlace weed. It leaves the bottom clear for spotting anemones; this is where I first saw a strawberry anemone, with its delicate white strands across the bottom. By March and April, the nudibranchs are here and their egg ribbons litter the shells and rocks on the bottom; it is great fun to see how many you can find.

The first dive of the year is always exploratory. The storms of the winter change the underwater geography of the site. I remember coming across a sundial halve emerged from the sand and then in another year the sand bank that appeared and which meant I surfaced early for a couple of dives. My guide home, my compass and the bearing on the inshore boathouse.

The view today
Standing on the beach waiting for my divers, I looked out to sea and the biggest change was the view. There was an uninterrupted view from the shore, as the sun came up and flat seas to the horizon. We entered to the right and I fixed my heading on the new boathouse. Just at the end of the groyne we descended and began to explore.

Swimming out over the sand flat, the bottom then gave way to pebbles, larger rocks, anchors and chains. My camera ready, I snapped pictures in the 7 metre plus visibility, my target shannies and gobies dwelling on the bottom, then a greater pipefish, cowries, flabellina pedata, wrasse, bib, prawns, lobster and crabs. Anemones, sponges and squirts brightened the bottom.

Flabellina Pedata - August 2017
I did not cover the area where once the boathouse stood, but it was noticeable that there was not a shadow. Speaking to some of our divers that area is currently barren, with some short spikes exposed. Divers have reported it looks like a gash in the seabed. I was delighted that just to one side, all the usual suspects were present and happily going on with everyday life. This was simply put one of my top five dives at Selsey Lifeboat Station.

I know how dynamic a landscape this site is and I, for one, look forward to seeing what happens after this winter. For now, I will dive as much as I can, hoping to find that mythical sea creature of Selsey - the sea lemon. I have never seen one so they can not truly exist until I do.

Greater Pipefish - August 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Summer Snorkelling

There is nothing better than being on a beach on sunny summer afternoon. How often have you sat on the beach, enjoyed an ice cream or gone for a paddle? Many of us snorkel when on holiday but for some reason do not consider exploring the seas back in the UK. I am often told by people that they really enjoy snorkelling and watching the marine life whilst relaxing on the water; but they seem surprised when I suggest doing it here!

OK,  I will admit that our waters can be a little cooler than some of the holiday destinations that you may visit. However, with the right equipment you can explore the myriad of life you can find on our shores in comfort. Often you do not need to go far from the beach - an afternoon exploring the life along our groynes reveals a world that most people do not even know is there. You can watch young blennies sunbathe, anemones feed, prawns soak up the rays, crabs hunt and pipefish rest just metres from the beach.

Sunset at the RNLI Boat House
The marine life in the UK tends to be shy: rather than being bright bold colours it tends to camouflage. Better to avoid prying eyes! Once you know what you are looking for it is amazing just how much there is. An easy way to learn how to find the life is to have a guide, show you where to look and that is where we are delighted to help.   

For the last two years Mulberry Divers have been running guided snorkel tours from Selsey. In our first year concentrating on sites we could reach from the shore and then last year we introduced the chance to visit and snorkel some of the great sites accessible by boat. This summer our programme will cover both shore and boat events.

Great Conditions at Selsey
Mulberry Divers start the programme each year with events that are part of Selsey Walking and Outdoor Festival - a celebration of enjoying the outdoors. Walking, cycling and snorkelling are just some of the events on offer. This year we ran an evening tour on the 31st May, it was a great way to end a sunny day and we got to explore the Lifeboat Station for the last time. When the day changes to night, the life in the water changes; we find fish looking for resting places for the night and the hunters come out to feed. Selsey is famous for crab and lobster and they are much more active at night, one twilight evening we were lucky enough to watch a lobster catch a fish for tea and eat it.

The boat trips will visit some of the shallow wreck and reef sites. Last summer we took a ride out to the Inner Mulberry. This is part of the Mulberry Harbours used for the WWII D-Day landings. At certain times it is exposed and offers a good size site to snorkel and explore. The beacon marking it is also covered in life and small blennies were hiding amongst the barnacles.

The schedule this year is spread primarily throughout July and August to take advantage of the summer weather. We will be offering tours in the evenings and during the day. It makes a fun family day and we welcome children over 10, they need to be accompanied by an adult please if they are under 14. The shore tours are suitable for all levels of experience we just ask that you be a reasonable swimmer. The boat tours require some snorkelling experience and to be a confident swimmer. If you do not have your own equipment we can hire what you need to stay warm and have fun.

If you would like more information on dates you can find details on the website. To book a place you can either call or email the Dive Centre. We would love to show you the amount of life easily accessible from our shores.  

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A Window on Master Training

I can hardly believe that four weeks have passed since I arrived. The days are full and flying by, in a whirlwind of training and routine. This has been an amazing opportunity to concentrate and focus on my Freediving and I thought you might like to know what a typical day in Dahab is like for me.

Natures Alarm
The window opens on my day with the rising of the sun. I do not need an alarm clock; the nesting birds in the courtyard like to greet the morning with a cheery chorus. It generally lasts about 40 minutes, easing me into the new day. Just as the birds stop singing, the fountain wakes up; I have resisted the urge to look outside to see if the birds are playing in the fountain, hence the sudden quiet. These are as regular as any alarm clock, and a much more natural way to wake up.

Prior to going to the Centre I start with a routine of stretching, breathing exercises, table training, dry static, visualisations and a short mediation. All this before the coffee I no longer have! It has surprised me how easy it was to get into the routine and I can feel the change this routine is making in my Freediving.

Morning routine over; I pack my bag for the day and consider the option for breakfast. This is no longer a guaranteed meal. I determine what to eat based on the plan for the day; if static training just a herbal tea and some water; if depth training a couple of boiled eggs, to give me a energy base. Light food makes for more comfortable diving and I saw the result first hand when a fellow master had breakfast and then tried to dive. He will forever rethink the humble plain croissant, as an option to start the freediving day!!! My day today will be two dives at the Blue Hole, so a couple of boiled eggs and tea it is.
Blue Hole - beach front 

I arrive at Freedive Dahab for about 08:30 and pack up my kit for the day. The Masters then help to prepare the other equipment that we will need - buoys, bottom weights and warm water, for washing down after the dives. The taxi arrives and we all help to load up. The Blue Hole is a short ride away - about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how fast your driver likes to go. The road runs between the mountains and the coast; winding past a couple of out of town resorts and through the police checkpoint. The tarmac road giving way to dirt track, we wind past the camels and restaurants until we reach our destination.

The beach front is a series of restaurants and each school, or group of divers, have a favourite that makes you welcome all day. Ours is directly opposite the entrance to the Blue Hole and Ali and Mohammad make us very welcome. We claim our space in one of the downstairs bays and order the special tea - an amazing combination of warm fresh orange juice and ginger, that is just perfect for before getting in. Settled, we head upstairs for at least 30 minutes of stretching before getting in the water - often this is a bit longer as Flo guides us through new stretches and explains the benefits. He watches and corrects, giving us different options so we can develop our own routines and not get bored with repetition.

Entrance and Exit - Blue Hole
Time to get in the water!! I kit up and working with the others we take our buoy and enter the water, weaving around the divers and snorkellers. The entrance point reminds me of a busy traffic junction when the lights are out and the motorists are navigating it without any guidance; chaotic is another word!! Fins on I swim out to the surface line and we tie off and set up - diving begins. Commonly, we are in the water for the about an hour and half; alternatively taking time to dive and safety one another. Whilst breathing up you can watch the scuba divers swim underneath, the jelly fish float by (not the stinging kind) - they are a lovely purple colour, get eye to eye with a small pipefish under the buoy, or close your eyes and drift gently on the waves. Occasionally, on surfacing you find an exhausted snorkeller or two on the buoy; checking they are okay you politely ask them to let go. Session over we leave the buoy on the water and swim back in.

The break is a chance to reflect on the dives, get pointers from Flo and the other Masters on what you can improve; what went well, and off course, warm back up. It is amazing how chilly you can get in a 5mm suit - even with a water temperature of 21 degrees!!! This is also a time to re-hydrate - mint tea being my favourite. Break over, you place your food order with Ali before getting back in the water.

The second session is much like the first, We take it in turns to dive, working on the improvements discussed in the break. This session is a little shorter, about an hour and then we begin the pack up. The line has to be pulled up from depth - so I lie on the buoy and begin to pull the 25 metre line up. This is my first attempt at pull up and in the last five metres I have to fight to keep my balance!!! With my buddy we secure the bottom weight and braid the line, a team effort, before swimming in pushing the buoy.

Waiting for the dinner bell to ring!
Ali has spotted the exit and begins preparation of our drinks and food - his sense of timing is great. He quickly learns how long you take and the drink arrives as you finish getting out of your suit and are ready to sit down. Food takes a little longer, but is very welcome when it arrives; it is about 15:00 and my stomach reminds me the eggs were a world away. Amazingly my stomach does not vocalise more when in the water; but it is very much awake now. Lunch brings out the cats looking for scraps, most will try to sneak past and steal whatever they can from your plate. I am quickly saved from bother as they discover that Flo has ordered chicken - a taster option than my tomato soup!!

Fed and watered the taxi arrives and we load up. On return to the centre I wash my kit and put it away, helping to rinse the Centre buoys and ropes. The plan for the next day is agreed and I head to my hotel. Time to shower; then sit with a fruit tea filling out my log book - noting improvements in my performance, or areas to work on in subsequent days.

Day drifting into night, I head out in search of food and meet up with friends. We enjoy the food at Red Cat - tasty, nutritious and put together with Freedivers in mind. Fresh salads, vegetables and good carbohydrates help me stock up ready for another day. Many people say hello as you eat - there is a community of Freedivers in Dahab and they often ask how you day has been, listening and giving you tips to use from their experience. Fed, watered and relaxed; it is time for an early night to recoup through sleep.

The window closes on this full and rewarding day - the birds fall silent and the fountain in the courtyard shuts down as I drift off.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Postcard from Dahab

It is hard to believe that almost a week has gone by, since I arrived in Dahab. It is a place of contrasts with an easy relaxed feel, that is hard to describe. I was not sure what to expect before I came out, so tried to leave my preconceptions behind in the UK; I am glad that I did. I arrived in the dark so on my taxi transfer from Sharm I really could not see much, my first impressions came the following morning.

Dahab is a small community with the main tourist area concentrated along the sea front. Crammed with restaurants, hotels, dive shops and shops. To get to the sea there are places of public access; or if you prefer a little more comfort, you set yourself up on a sun bed in one of the cafes/restaurants. This way you can be waited on between dips in the ocean, very civilised, in addition you get to observe the dive classes and Freediving sessions taking place.

Forget long sandy beaches, the sand is under the water after a short rocky beach. The restaurants and cafes are so close to the sea that twice this week in a big tide they were closed whilst the sea washes in. Owners and staff move the seats and cushions out on to the walk way, whilst the children play in the waves coming over. Everyone smiles - it does not happen that often and in the words of one owner "it only for an hour, it is the sea. What can you do?"

The view along the sea front
It is early in the season. Walking the front most the restaurants are quiet and uncrowded. I have been advised that in a couple of months time that area will be heaving. The shop owners try to get you in to look at their wares but are not over pushy - it is a game and I never feel uncomfortable. My second long walk this morning and having failed previously to get me to enter and have tea, I received two proposals of marriage and a friendship bracelet. Only managed to get a quarter of way along the front! I pointed out I could already be married to one shop owner who replied "just come back when he is gone".

In the other areas of the town there is a often a stark contrast between developed and developing. At certain times of the day goats roam the roads and eat anything in their path. I have not seen a camel in Dahab, they have been replaced by the pickup trucks that act as taxis, and quad bikes for exploring the mountains. If you want a camel experience most of the tours offer you a choice of journey by taxi or camel. That means they must be here somewhere.  What I have seen is divers - Recreational. Technical and Free.

Dog Boy the camel meets Tech Diver
The Blue Hole is a short taxi ride up the road. We have had two days training there so far. The first was quiet and the second was very crowded. In a similar fashion to Dahab the Blue Hole is lined with a run of beach front restaurants. You set up in one for the day and then the water is just a short walk across the road. Outside most have tiled ledges for equipment and I saw them covered with rebreathers and Freediving buoys. The water is 21 degrees, blue and inviting. Snorkel tours are popular with people exploring the reef around the Hole so entry and exit points - on a busy day,  are an exercise in navigating around snorkellers removing fins, the hanging stage tanks, divers surfacing and Freedivers with long fins and buoys. Here I have seen camels, young boys ride them up and down and introduce you to them in the hope you might want a ride on their camel.

The diving at Lighthouse in Dahab is great. A shallow ledge drops away so you can, depending on tide, get up to 50 Metres. The sandy section along the beach attracts shoals of fish and the swim out to set up your line is accompanied with views of the fish feeding on the bottom. A great alternative to a swimming pool - the water is warm and blue and rather than swim over tiles you can swim over a fish. Whilst I am here I will snorkel the reef and let you know what I find when I go exploring properly.

My first impressions of Dahab, a warm inviting place filled with friendly people. It offers some amazing diving opportunities for all levels and type of diver. If I have found one drawback so far - it is very dusty; but then again no one minds if you have dirty feet.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

My Day Freediving with Lotta Eriksson

Some of you may be aware that I have been discovering a passion for Freediving. This started with me wanting to improve my snorkelling experiences and take advantage of being in the water without SCUBA. I found with a snorkel you could sneak up on the shyest marine life and there was less chance of scaring it away so you could observe it whilst it observed you.  I took my SSI Level 1 Freediver Course nearly two years ago and have not looked back since - as my experience and passion have grown we have looked to be able to introduce Freediving at Mulberry Divers. 

On 21st June, Linda and I were able to complete our Basic Freediving Instructor Course and had the great experience of having a day with Lotta Eriksson, SSI International Training Director, who has been working on a great new Freediving range of courses with SSI. Even better we got her to ourselves – an amazing way to benefit from a wealth of experience. 

The day started with a look at the new SSI course structure for Freediving development, they have introduced a number of specialities to support the core programs. I have already begun work on my Tables speciality and there are several overs I cannot wait to do – Dynamic and Monofin to name a couple. Of course Monofin goes with the secret inner desire to see what it would be like to be a Mermaid!!

A class discussion evolved around correct breathing techniques and the importance to Freedivers followed by a Dry Static session. Lotta was great with ways to help me with my urge to breathe which likes to arrive early and state its presence. 

We then moved to working in water for about four hours, concentrating on the skills. 
- Relaxation techniques for Static work and how to help loosen off that one stubborn muscle area we all tend to have. 
- Perfecting how to set weights for neutral buoyancy when doing dynamic and for surface before duck ducking. There is a dramatic difference between the two. 
- Common problems that can occur with fining techniques and how to solve them and then time spent perfecting the duck dive – this is critical to the success of your Freedive so really worth getting right – truly amazing how easy it is to reach depth when everything works right. 
The final portion of our skills workshop concentrated on the rescue skills you may need to deal with black out and loss of motor control. 

Buzzing from a great pool session we returned to the class room to have an in-depth look at equalisation techniques, the skills videos included in the course materials and take the exam. I completed the day with filling out my log book and taking part in a group picture. It is a day that has only increased my enthusiasm for a sport I love and am looking forward to introducing you to the world of Freediving.  

Thank you Lotta for the wise words, fun and helping me prepare for the next step....teaching others. 

Want to know more about Freediving and learning to Freedive?  Then don’t miss out click here and book your space today.

Anya Frampton