JOINT FORCE HARRIER
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Date: 5 January 2010
EXERCISE ‘URINO PRIMORIS’ 1(F)SQN RAF COTTESMORE SUB-AQUA
EXPEDITION ASCENSION ISLAND 19 NOV – 1 DEC 09
POST EXPEDITION REPORT
B. JSATFA Application
D. JSSAD Regulations.
E. BSAC Safe Diving Practices.
1. Under the terms of Reference A & B, members of the 1(F)Sqn, RAF Cottesmore
and RAF Coningsby took part in a Sub-Aqua Diving Expedition to Ascension Island during
the period 19 Nov – 1 Dec 09.
2. The aim of this report is to describe the achievements of the expedition and
highlight any problems encountered in the organisation or execution of this exercise.
MISSION AND AIMS
3. The expedition objectives were:
a. To encourage the personal development of individuals through the
adventurous activity of sub aqua diving.
b. To give expedition members the opportunity to carry out adventurous diving
in warmer and clearer waters.
c. To gain small boat diving experience
d. To carry out diver training, enhancing individual skills
e. To promote leadership skills
4. The expedition was successful in achieving all its aims with personnel gaining
valuable experience in all aspects.
5. Due to the tight timescales the planning of the expedition proved somewhat of a
challenge in itself. However, with some good forward thinking and a rigid laid out plan all
potential show stoppers were dealt with in a logical and effective manner. It is very
important that from the outset the RAFSAA brief on planning an Ascension Island Sub
Aqua Diving Expedition is followed to the letter. Carrying out the actions highlighted within
this document proved to be very valuable and ensured that everyone requiring information
regarding the expedition were kept up to date.
6. Movement arrangements were as follows:
a. RAF Cottesmore provided Service transport for the journey to and from RAF
Brize Norton Airhead.
b. Concessionary Non Fare Paying (CNFP) flights were arranged through
Ascension Base Movements Section once the JSATFA had been authorised by
ACCOMMODATION AND CATERING
7. The Expedition was accommodated in the Ascension Base Adventurous Training
Centre at English Bay, where a self contained unit of dormitories 1 x 12 man room and 2 x
3 man rooms were available. A separate ablutions and utilities block is situated to the side
of the kitchen facility containing fridges, sinks and cookers. Unfortunately due to
environmental restrictions the use of this facility for preparation of expedition member‟s
meals had been withdrawn prior to the stay.
8. Messing throughout the Expedition was at the combined mess Travellers Hill.
Although this excellent facility was some distance from the expedition centre it proved not
to hinder or restrict the expedition in anyway. Breakfast and evening meals were taken at
the combined mess. Packed meals were requested by the expedition during the first day
and collected every morning and stored in the adventurous training centre kitchen fridges
prior to consumption.
FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING
9. Personal contributions of £100 per person, (2 instructors being partially subsidised
by AT Grant iaw Reference C) made up the total cost of the expedition. A detailed
breakdown of expenditure is attached at Annex B.
10. Civilian Dress was worn for the duration of the expedition. All personnel maintained
the appropriate standards of deportment and discipline at all times.
11. A nominal roll of personnel with their qualifications and expedition duties is attached
at Annex C.
12. The equipment pool at the centre provided all the equipment we needed for diving
operations, this pool included two ridged inflatable boats and compressor facilities, this
was in excellent condition thanks to the dedication of the Royal Air Force Sub Aqua
Association Ascension equipment officers and the Ascension Base GEF personnel.
Expedition members used some personal equipment through personal preference. A full
report is attached at Annex E.
13. A comprehensive in brief was given by Ascension Base outlining diving restrictions
(30m limit) and medical support. Oxygen cylinders were signed out from the Ascension
Base Medical Centre prior to the start of any diving activities. Oxygen administration and
first aid kits were taken by the expedition and were checked and signed for daily, thankfully
these were never required for „real‟ use, but were used during simulation emergency
exercises. One diver had to report to the medical centre for an infected finger due to a
puncture wound suffered by touching a spiny sea urchin. No other injuries were sustained.
14. All diving was carried out iaw Reference C, D and E. A wide range of diving
operations took place. A full report is attached at Annex D and F.
15. A comprehensive Training programme took place throughout the expedition with a
number of members gaining higher qualifications and experience in other areas. A full
report is given at Annex F.
16. As the Expedition Leader I would like to pass on my thanks to the following people.
Sqn Ldr P Maskell – RAFSAA, for allocation of the Ascension Expedition Slot
WO Greenhalgh – No 22 Group, for his assistance with clearance and JSATFA
PEd Flight RAF Cottesmore – for their assistance with the planning and JSATFA
Flt Lt Croson - OC Eng Ascension Base support throughout the expeditions stay on
20. The expedition fully met the aims of the Adventurous Training Scheme: there were
many character building events, and many opportunities for developing and demonstrating
leadership and initiative. The expedition members quickly demonstrated their willingness
to learn new skills and work as an effective team, enabling the expedition achieve more
than expected. Expedition „Urino Primoris‟ proved to be a great success and all the
participants are better for the experience.
B. Nominal Role
C. Equipment Officers Report
D. Diving Officers Report
E. Diving statistics
F. Training Officers Report
G. Expedition Diary
Stn Cdr RAF Ascension
RAFSAA Expeditions Officer
OC Eng RAF Ascension
No 22 Group WO AT RAF High Wycombe
PEdO RAF Cottesmore
Stn Cdr RAF Cottesmore
OC 1(F) Sqn
OC 29(R) Sqn
OC BSW RAF
ANNEX A TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
The Expedition Leader has made an excellent summary of our activities in Ascension. I
expect that in the light of the current spending round and PR 10, the question has to be
asked if this expedition was worth it and did it meet the aims of AT. The answer is yes for
the following reasons.
1 (F) Squadron returned from 5 years of operations in Afghanistan in July 09 and we
wanted to reward folk and enable them to see another side of the Armed Services. Our
aim was to allow a complete cross section of rank and service to take part (from AET to
Sqn Ldr) and to repay people for the personal investment and commitment they had made.
I was surprised by the value of having such a diverse cross section of ranks. First of all we
got to know each other better but also, because of the variety of skills and backgrounds,
we really worked well together and bonded as a unit. I think it also enabled the more junior
ranks to see SNCOs and Officers in a more human light (we all slept in the same dormitory
and ate together). The expedition was certainly not easy physically and allowed controlled
exposure to risk. Each dive involved a board brief (which we got everyone involved with),
cylinder prep, humping and dumping kit onto ribs via a small jetty, 30 minute transit to the
dive sites, an hour dive and then recovery. This process in itself would take 4-5-hours. By
the time we did this twice a day, with classroom sessions in-between, we had a full 12-14
hour day. Despite having 2000 hours of fast jet flying I was still challenged by the
experience, in particular by doing a night dive at the end of the first week with an equally
inexperienced 19 year old dive buddy. The sub-aqua environment although beautiful is
truly hostile if not approached in a professional manner. This fact meant it was a great
vehicle for enabling individuals to learn how to control risk and think through strategies to
avoid disaster. The nature of the dive buddy system also allowed younger members of the
team to lead seniors, which benefited their confidence immensely.
I was struck by the uniqueness of the having a dive centre in Ascension and how well
it fits into the ethos of AT. Firstly, the buildings are austere (but functional) and located in a
remote part of the island. Secondly, the centre is located next to some of the best reef
dives in the world; and thirdly, because Ascension is a military outpost and not a holiday
destination it offers an experience unavailable to civilians. These three factors mean the
centre offers a world class service which is only available to a select few. To lose it would
be a great loss to the RAF.
I enjoyed the Exped immensely. I felt the people who went deserved it and it allowed
individuals to refresh there belief in a Service which is hard pressed. When we finally
disembarked at BZN after the Exped, we were all physically tired, but we had all seen and
done a bunch of new things in a unique place. I felt truly decompressed.
OC B FLT
1 (F) SQN
ANNEX B TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
INCOME AND EXPENDITURE
PUBLIC INCOME (costs to be £ EXPENDITURE £
agreed by appropriate IAC
Hired Transport (if MT is not Transport (Land/Sea/Air)
Fuel (for Fuel (Vehicle)
Rail/Ferry Warrants Fuel (boat/generator/other)
Paid by PEdO
T & S: Equipment Hire (specify)
Motor Mileage Allowance(PTR) and Boat Hire
towing Trailer Allowance
Medical (1st aid kits/supplies) Accommodation (specify type)
BSAC Training Packs 850.00
RAFAT Grant (via PEd Flt) Ascension Base Administration
Including 4290.00 Charge 2160.00
Instructors, 2 x £100 (personal
contribution) iaw AP 3342
Ascension Island Utilities 516.75
Special Project Grant (via HQPTC) Hire of Guide/Assistance
TOTAL PUBLIC INCOME 4290.00 Other Costs (specify below)
Personal contributions Boat Launch and recovery
10 at £100 1000.00
Stn non-public Car Parking
RAF Sports Lottery
TOTAL NON-PUBLIC INCOME 1000.00
TOTAL INCOME £5290.00 TOTAL EXPENDITURE £4551.75
Return of under spend of RAF AT Grant: £738.25
Date; 15 Jan 10
Name; Averty Signature;
Rank; Sqn Ldr
ANNEX C TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
Service Rank Name Pre Expedition Diving Post Expedition Diving
Number Qualification Qualification
BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Sorts Diver
2636168R Sqn Ldr Averty
R8432905 FO Edwards SSI Open Water Diver BSAC Sorts Diver
BSAC Ocean Diver
C8139329 FS Hammond
BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Sorts Diver
F8283143 Chf Tech Brompton
BSAC Advanced Diver,
Open Water Instructor,
F8203267 Chf Tech Coates Joint Service Sub N/A
D8427416 BSAC Advanced Diver, N/A
Open Water Instructor
G8448783 Cpl Wright BSAC Sports Diver BSAC Dive Leader
B8515268 SAC(T) Bordas BSAC Sports Diver BSAC Dive Leader
L8501533 BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Ocean Diver
30005695 BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Ocean Diver
F8517182 BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Ocean Diver
BSAC Ocean Diver BSAC Ocean Diver
30060840 SAC Smith
ANNEX D TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
EXERCISE ‘URINO PRIMORIS’ DIVING OFFICERS REPORT
Exercise „Urino Primoris‟ was a 1(F)Sqn Sub Aqua Diving Expedition to Ascension Island.
Participants were drawn from 1(F) Sqn, RAF Cottesmore and RAF Coningsby, spanning 6
rank levels and two Services (Royal Navy & Royal Air Force. The majority of the
expedition members were complete Novice Divers having only carried out the sheltered
water training element of the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) Ocean Diver syllabus. The
remainder of the team consisted of 2 BSAC Open Water Instructors, 1 Sub Aqua Diving
Supervisor (SADS), BSAC Advanced diver and 2 Sports divers.
As Diving Officer for the expedition I was responsible for all diving activities. All diving was
carried out in accordance with AP3342, Joint Services Sub-Aqua Diving Regulations
(JSSADR's) and BSAC Safe Diving Practices. No application to the Royal Air Force Sub-
Aqua Association for deep diving clearance and no dive exceeded the Ascension Island
30m limit or the limits of the individuals diving qualifications.
This post expedition report contains detailed records of the exercise activities and
achievements. However, in brief summary, through thorough planning and safe practices
no incidents were encountered and all of the aims were achieved. A total of 255 dives
were carried out, although 1 day diving was lost to Ascension Island Beach Clean and
excessive sea swell conditions.
The close proximity of the English Bay Expedition Centre to all the dive sites and
the excellent standard of the RAFSAA loan pool equipment helped to ensure that dive
planning, marshalling and conducting diving operations were made a lot easier and safer.
All involved had a good cross section of adventurous and exciting diving. With the nature
of the dive sites being of warm and clear water, festooned in marine life, this greatly
increased the confidence and ability of all divers, giving the expedition the ability to
encompass reef diving at its best.
Overall I was very impressed with the ability demonstrated to me by all of the
participants of the expedition. It encourages me to see such professionalism and
dedication. It was both an honour and a privilege for me to be the Diving Officer on this
expedition. Our team ranged from SAC‟s and AET‟s experiencing Adventurous Training
(AT) for the 1st time to Experienced Instructors/Expedition Leaders. I say team, because
that is what we have become. A team ready to face any new challenge together. We are
all better for the experience and it therefore a major benefit to Joint Force Harrier the
Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Although physically tired, I believe we are all mentally
refreshed, recharging the "can do" attitude the Services are envious of.
My task as Diving Officer was made simple because of the level of skill, experience
and teamwork displayed by all participants and the unselfish assistance of the Ascension
I wish like to pass on my personal thanks to OC 1(F)Sqn and Sqn Ldr P Maskell
(RAFSAA), for giving me the opportunity to direct such a successful sub-aqua expedition, I
would further like to thank everyone for their support and to congratulate them all for their
part in making „Urino Primoris‟ a huge success.
RANK/NAME Total Dives
SQN LDR C AVERTY 22
FO R DWARDS 20
FS M HAMMOND 20
CHF TECH I COATES 23
CHF TECH J BROMPTON 21
SGT N BADHAM 24
CPL D WRIGHT 20
SAC(T) J BORDAS 20
SAC(T) R MCDOWELL 21
SAC(T) M WICKERSON 21
AET R PRICE 21
SAC K SMITH 22
ANNEX E TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
EQUIPMENT OFFICER REPORT
The expedition arrived to find the equipment complete and in a good condition. All boats,
cylinders and compressors were well looked after, with the relevant logs/paperwork
completed fully. The handover/takeover did highlight a missing air tester and depth
sounder, which were found to be U/S and withdrawn by Ascension Base GEF during the
previous expeditions visit.
After a few days, it became evident that one of the ribs had a slight leak in one of the front
tubes. The leak did not detract from the functionality of the boat, and was pointed out to
the RAFSAA working party, whose planned task is to remove the boats, and carrying out
the end of diving season maintenance to all equipment.
The trial Avtur/Petrol engine became unresponsive and lacked power towards the end of
the expedition. The 1(F)Sqn Mechanical tradesman utilised their skills, and carried out an
emergency plug change. The change was a success and brought the engine back into life.
Although Avtur is the preferred choice, it is believed that the occasional use of petrol will
reduce the failure of the plugs.
Other than these minor equipment issues, the rest of the expedition consisted of two split
pressure hoses, a lost torch and numerous mask/fin clips.
The expedition successes would not have been possible without the equipment made
available by RAFSAA. The continued support shown by RAFSAA has allowed many
expedition members to be trained in a challenging but worthwhile environment.
Equipment Loaned from RAFSAA
Humber 5m Rigid Inflatable Boat 2
Avon Inflatable 1
Diving Cylinders 24
Lead Weights 54
Med waterproof cases 2
Large O2 Waterproof Case 1
Air analyser 1 U/S on arrival
Depth Sounder 1 U/S on arrival
Shot Lines 3
Shot Weight 1
Nitrox Compressor 1
Air Compressors 2
Cpl Dale Wright
ANNEX F TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
TRAINING OFFICER’S REPORT
When we set off for ascension on the 18th November we where in the best possible
position we could have been in terms of pre requisites for training and training materials
however all the time fully aware of the potentially difficult task that lay ahead of us. The
task was to take 8 non divers or non BSAC Divers and train then up to the standard of
Ocean diver and to further the experience and qualifications of 2 Sports Divers. The
preparations started early with everyone requiring a medical so with that out of the way the
pool training could start. We had several valuable evenings in RAF Cranwell pool which
served as a safe and controlled environment in which to master the basics and as there is
now no pool facility at Ascension Base that meant once we arrived on Ascension Island we
could hit the ground running and be straight into open water dives.
Ascension has clear blue, warm water but it also has large mid Atlantic swell to go
with it which can make learning and training tricky if not potentially hazardous, getting into
the boats / water and then once in the water mastering the finer art of buoyancy control
can prove difficult. So one hurdle we were potentially facing was not being able to achieve
the required number of dives. As it turned out we only lost one day due to the size of the
swell. The effort and determination of all those under training ensured that once
underwater they would overcome the additional challenges that the swell presented. As
the days progressed and the Open water dives racked up I soon realised that the calibre of
people we had with us meant that it was now beginning to look likely that we would
achieve our aim of turning everyone into ocean divers and set them off on the first rung of
diver training under the BSAC Scheme.
Whilst the first week was firmly about the Trainee Ocean divers once we fell into the
second week the attention could now start to turn to the 2 sport divers we had with us.
Throughout the first week they provided valuable support to the 2 instructors teaching by
providing demo‟s, With the onset of the second week the Dive leader lessons, dives and
assessments came thick and fast, again these 2 individuals upped their game and carried
out additional dives to put the work in and effort necessary to attain their Dive leader
qualification. In addition to this once the newly qualified Ocean divers had a number of
dives post qualification under their belt both Instructors and several individuals identified
that there was scope to take advantage of the facilities, conditions available in order to
work towards their Sports diver qualification. Again these individuals put it incredible effort
and worked hard and by the end of the second week had achieved their Sports diver
Qualification. In summary, we arrived on Island with 2 Sports divers and 8 novices and left
with a total of 13 qualifications achieved. This was a fantastic result and testament to both
the service ethos and values and to the effort and determination of the 10 individuals who
8 Ocean Diver Qualifications
3 Sports Diver Qualifications
2 Dive Leaders.
My thanks goes to Chf Tech ILS Coates (SADS & Open Water Instructor), Cpl D Wright
and SAC(T) J Bordas for their help in making the training run smoothly and efficiently and
to all of the „Students‟ for their attention and hard work to achieve their qualifications.
Congratulations to everyone a superb result for all.
ANNEX G TO
DATED 5 Jan 10
Wednesday 18th Nov 09 (Day One)
As the wind and driving rain blew through RAF Cottsmore, an intrepid bunch of 12 RAF
and RN service personnel congregated for EX URINO PRIMORIS, a diving expedition to
Ascension Island. The brainchild of Exped leader Chf Tech “H” Coates, EX URINO
PRIMORIS was conceived whilst on Ops with 1(F) Sqn in Kandahar. With the Harrier force
relieved in Afghanistan after 5 long and hard years, 1(F) Sqn boss, Wg Cdr Dave Haines,
was keen for Sqn personnel to take full advantage of the change of pace and fully
supported Ch Tech Coates‟s plans for a diving Exped. An eclectic bunch consisting of 1
Avionics Tech, 2 Armourers, 3 Mechanicals, a Liney, a Royal Navy AET, a Comms Tech,
a Shift Manager, an Ops O and a Pilot took up the challenge. After loading the wagon the
group departed for RAF Brize Norton. In true RAF fashion they were there with some time
to spare so sampled the delights of the Gateway before returning for departure. Alas the
trusty Tristar fleet have been replaced on the Falklands run by a Globespan 767. This was
to cause much of the early banter in the group as two members of the team were
inexplicably separated from their team mates as they “lived it up” in first class. Keen to
assist the Movements staff and not wanting to cause too much of a fuss by having to move
to the cheap seats, the two unnamed thought it better to just stay put.
Thursday 19th Nov (Day Two)
After 8 and a half pretty uneventful hours where some members of the Exped got more
sleep and food than others, the aircraft arrived at Wideawake Airfield. The necessary
admin was quickly completed and the group were soon driving away in 1 SIF flat bed pick
up and 1 of MT‟s finest Landrovers. A quick familiarisation of the island followed before the
group finally arrived at their base for the next couple of weeks. The facilities provided were
excellent and the group wasted no time in getting themselves unpacked and ready for their
first “shake down” dive. With differing qualifications and experience within the group the
idea was to simply get into the water and familiarise themselves with the kit they would be
using, getting used to the buoyancy issues, establishing the correct weighting for the rest
of their dives and also carrying out some basic skills. Owing to the inclement weather and
sea conditions a well sheltered spot, Comfortless Cove was chosen. With the two
instructors (Sgt Nik Badham and H) sharing the tuition everyone gladly got their feet wet
for the first time. After a few shaky moments everyone completed their dive and was soon
comparing notes on what they had seen. Trigger fish were abundant as were the Sergeant
Major fish. H was quick to point out a large Stone fish and even quicker to point out that
they were not to be messed with (experience I wonder?) The sea swell was proving tricky
for some, playing havoc with their buoyancy and finning skills, not to mention reducing the
visibility considerably. With the days diving complete the group returned to the centre for a
shower and some food. Keen as ever Nik wasn‟t quite finished as he grabbed the
personnel carrying out their Ocean Diver qualification for a quick theory lesson. The theory
lesson complete, with varying levels of concentration by this point, the group finally
finished a very long day.
Friday 20th Nov (Day Three)
With the team fully rested an early start was the first call of the day. Once fed and watered
Nik had a quick reconnoitre of the proposed dive site. Not far from the Expedition Centre,
English Bay would be perfect for the next stage of diving. Sadly the weather conditions
were working against the team and boarding the dive boats was deemed too precarious.
Not ones to miss a trick, Nik and H quickly revised the days plan and cracked on with
some more theory lessons. Theory lessons completed Nik was happy that the sea state
was acceptable for the groups‟ first dive of the day. The purpose of the first dive was to
practice descending and ascending to 10m in a controlled manner. More difficult than it
sounded with the group now fully appreciating how key the art of neutralising their
buoyancy was. Despite some sore ears the team were upbeat and keen to tackle their
packed lunch. With the servicing of the dive rigs complete, H briefed everyone on their
second dive of the day. This was to be the first dive from a boat and the logistics involved
was sizeable. Just getting into the boat was tricky as the swell was affecting the sea level
at the dock. The sea level was fluctuating by a couple of metres at the drop of a hat. After
a few comical entries to the boat the team were away to their second dive site, off Guano
Jetty. FS Mick Hammond had taken the helm of the boat as his ears were still a little
tender from the previous day. The Jetty area contained the wreck of the ship “The Derby”
The sea was still rough and the less than gentle roll of the boat was proving a little difficult
to handle. Cpl Dale Wright and SAC John Bordas both of whom are experienced divers
were first out to explore the wreck. Sac‟s Matt Wickerson, Richie McDowell and Kim Smith
by this time were looking a little green round the gills. Richie and Kim took the easy route
and got into the water as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Matt he was on the second
wave so had to remain on the boat until they returned. It was to be his undoing as he was
soon reacquainted with his cheese and pickle sandwich. The remainder of the team were
fully sympathetic to Matt‟s plight and not wanting to miss this moment, clambered for their
cameras amidst considerable banter about Armourers not being “Man” enough. The first
team consisting of Nik, Sqn Ldr Chris Averty (Avers), Richie and Kim surfaced and were
quickly briefed about Matt‟s mishap. Still not feeling 100% Matt bravely got on with it and
along with H, Fg Off Rhos Edwards, Chf Tech John Brompton and AET Roy Price
commenced his dive. The Wreck itself was at 7m and impressive to see. Still reasonably
well intact it harboured many Moray Eels. The teams were also treated to some arches
formed in the reef nearby. Swimming through the arches and smaller spaces called for
good technique, testing everyone‟s burgeoning finning skills. In addition to the usual
suspects the teams spotted Puffer fish, Surgeonfish, Trumpet fish and even an Octopus.
Saturday 24th Nov (Day 4)
Another early start and this time the team were on their way to Red Rock, This was to be
their first experience diving to 15m. As well as the extra depth the instructors were keen for
the team to really master their finning and buoyancy skills. The boat trip to Red Rock was
eventful with Matt once again entertaining the crowd with a recurrence of his lack of sea
legs. The dive itself was universally the teams‟ favourite dive so far. The structure of the
reef was amazing and for the first time they could really see where the reef met the wall
and dropped off into the deep blue. On the reef itself there were large arches and tunnels
filled with Jackfish, Trumpet fish and thousands of small juvenile fish. Mick, Kim and H saw
an Atlantic Trigger making short work of a Sea Urchin, the poisonous spikes getting blown
straight out of its gills. In addition to the 15m mark John Bordas and Dale were, as part of
their Dive Leader qualification, to lead a team of 2 around the reef. John leading Avers and
Rhos, Dale leading John Brompton and Richie. Richie, not feeling 100% due to the big
swell bravely made it to 5m before he had a “moment” through his regulator. The dive
complete, with a good tick in the box for John and Dale, the team headed back to recharge
their cylinders and have lunch.
The afternoons dive was to be a boat dive ending with a fin to Comfortless Cove. The
heavens had opened by this point, the Ascension Island experiencing something
uncommon in rain. A point not lost on the team who began some finger pointing at Rhos
who already had the nickname Jonah. The main objective of the dive was to practice
Controlled Buoyant Lifts (CBL‟s) A tricky procedure but very important for safety purposes.
The CBL is used when your dive buddy has become incapacitated and must be brought to
the surface as quickly and safely as possible. Despite some sore ears after the repeated
ascents/descents, not least the instructors who had to run through it with 2 groups each,
the drills were completed.
Sunday 22 Nov (Day 5)
A universally welcomed lie in (0715) was followed by some breakfast and straight onto 2 of
the Ascension Islands‟ beaches for some conservation work. Ascension Island is globally
important to Sea Turtles. Prearranged by H before we arrived the work involved cleaning
up the beaches prior to the turtles arriving to lay their eggs. It would seem that no matter
where you are in the world you can‟t avoid a FOD PLOD! In true RAF fashion the team
formed line and swept the beach removing anything that maybe harmful to the turtles.
Though happy to help the deal was sweetened somewhat by the promise of a bbq at the
end. What wasn‟t expected was an impromptu “Handsome off” involving Avers and the
bronzed gym monkey that was OC Ops, Ascension Island. With a debateable “draw”
declared by Avers the team headed for the bbq. A real Island affair, as was the clear up,
the bbq was warmly welcomed as a replacement for the usual butty boxes from the mess.
With stomachs bursting at the belt it was time to get back to business. The dive for the day
was to be at a site known as China Wreck. The name of the wrecked ship is unknown but
substantial amounts of china (hence the name) were aboard. Another opportunity for John
and Dale to lead, the dive was to also to be used to take everyone down to their max
depth of 20m. The wreck was at 15m and spread out over a large area. In addition to the
serious side of the dive, H thought it prudent to introduce a new game to the team. The
peg as it is simply known is a standard clothes peg that is attached to a diver without his
knowledge. Though previously played whilst out at the Volcano Club Bar over a few beers,
the peg had yet to make its way down to the depths of the ocean. Unbeknown to Avers, he
was to be the first victim. Whilst busying himself preparing to enter the water, H handed
the peg to Richie who was assisting Avers in getting ready. With a steady hand akin to a
surgeon, Richie “pegged” Avers without his knowledge. All this whilst H was giving a more
than questionable rendition of “Peggy Sue” at the top of his voice. Having dived for a good
10 minutes Avers finally recognised the peg and needless to say was less than impressed.
Despite trying to pick on the most junior member of the team in Roy, Avers had to wait
until Dale was demonstrating something to him so that he could craftily rid himself of the
curse. The dive was enjoyed by everyone with Kim spotting the first Turtle of the Exped.
The instructors were both happy with the teams‟ skills and technique and thought the team
were making good progress to this point.
Monday 23rd Nov (Day 6)
The team were up early again and after breakfast, received their first brief. The mornings
dive was to be onto not one but two wrecks. HMS Tortoise and SS Sudan both ran
aground in almost exactly the same area. Lying in a shallow grave of 6m the ships were
scattered over a large area. The brief was to find a gully beside the wreck, drop down to
20m and follow the wall that dropped for considerable distance below. Following the wall
was a strange feeling as it really gave the team a feeling for how deep and large the ocean
by the reef is. The wreck was a really interesting site with loads of nooks and crannies with
allsorts of marine life living amongst them. In addition to the usual suspects of fish there
were some very large Grouper, a massive Moray Eel that didn‟t take too kindly to being
gawped at by Rhos and John Bordas. There was also some big Dew Fish and whilst
snorkelling post dive, Avers was fortunate enough to swim with a Hawksbill Turtle for a
For the second dive of the day the team moved to Eddie‟s Gulley, but not before a small
prank was played on the unsuspecting Roy. With SBS like planning and execution Roy
was unceremoniously chucked into the water from the loading area. Meanwhile some
carefully smuggled old sandwiches were thrown in after him. With the ever present Trigger
fish straight on the scene, they were soon nibbling away in the vicinity of an increasingly
nervous Roy. Ever keen to enforce health and safety principles, H allowed this to go on for
a few minutes before heroically rescuing Roy from the water (although he was the one
who actually threw Roy and the sandwiches in).
Eddie‟s Gulley was a nice dive with plenty of small cave areas containing some bizarre
looking Soap Fish (Fake Moray Eel). Finning skills were tested to the maximum as the
team tried to avoid disturbing the silt and sand. The smaller spaces quickly became
blackouts so some retreating was necessary. There were also a couple of large Crayfish
lurking in the gaps desperately trying to avoid the bbq. The dive itself was memorable for
other members of the team. Dale committed a school boy error by forgetting some
equipment on his way down, only having to resurface to fetch it. A casual nod to the
supervising Nik and a statement suggesting that there may well be “some sort of
recompense for his error tonight then” The rest of the dives all went ahead with the team
all now feeling quite confident of passing their assessment dive.
After the equipment servicing and some dinner the team returned to the Exped centre to
take their Ocean Diver Theory Assessment. After a lot of head scratching everyone was
very pleased to come out with a pass. The identities of the top of the class and class
dunce were not to be published.
Tuesday 24th Nov (Day 7)
After a long dive brief the Instructors had decided now was the time for the group to dive
without an instructor next to them. Though constant supervision was kept at the surface it
was with some trepidation that the pairs took to the water. A reasonably uncomplicated
dive to 20m and then follow the wall until your safety pressure is reached was the brief.
There the pairs would send up a delayed surface marker buoy (SMB) and after a safety
stop, surface and be picked up by the boat. The site chosen was Red Rock. Again it didn‟t
disappoint as both the marine life and reef structure were amazing. The whole team really
enjoyed the responsibility and freedom allowed on the dive. The peg was in play but
unfortunately it was lost at sea as it fell out of Avers‟ dive vest on the way down.
The second dive of the day was at Lion Reef. It was more pairs dive action with much the
same brief and advice given prior to the dive. John Bordas and H set out for some deeper
diving whilst Avers and Kim, and Rhos and Matt set out in their pairs. They were due to be
replaced by John Brompton and Richie, and Mick and Roy. Unfortunately for them Nik,
who had clearly been doing too much in the gym, snapped the pull cord for the engine.
Once the divers were recovered, the stricken boat was towed back to the jetty. The second
set of divers was not to be disappointed as they were still able to complete their dive in
English Bay. Given the task of navigating to the shore where the rest of the team were
waiting, John and Richie managed to find their way with little problem. Mick and Roy had a
minor “Nav Faff” as they decided that they could do with a little longer under air. They also
decided that cutting across a shallow reef area was the best way of recovering from their
navigation error. A lesson quickly learned when they finally managed to make it to shore
The night was to end on a high however as following the dives completed and theory test
results, H announced that Avers, Mick, John Brompton, Kim, Roy, Matt and Richie had all
performed to a high enough standard to award them with their Ocean Diver qualification.
After a couple of celebratory beers the team settled in for an early night as an early
morning and the potential of seeing some Sharks, Dolphins and Sea Turtles was on the
cards for the next day.
Wednesday 25th Nov (Day 8)
The team were up bright and breezy and ready to tackle the 45 minute commute to
Boatswain Bird Island. Unfortunately the weather and sea conditions were poor so the
transit was not enjoyable. With the possibility of diving with sharks it was with a certain
amount of trepidation that the pairs entered the water. The dive was once again set to 20m
and it was hoped that from the reef shelf we would be able to spot the sharks or big fish
below. Unfortunately the sea swell had caused bad visibility so the chances of seeing a
shark below were limited. Though disappointed not to spot any Sharks or Turtles the dive
was very enjoyable and gave the pairs another chance to practice their SMB deployment.
After a quick lunch on the boats the team headed back to the Exped centre. The
instructors had decided that tonight would be an ideal opportunity to complete the first
night dive. With a few hours to kill it was decided to have a look around the Island. A short
trip to the capital Georgetown for a walk around and an ice-cream, followed by an
entertaining drive up the highest point on the island, Green Mountain where they saw
grass for the first time in a week. The road winding its way up the mountain made the Alps
roads look like a motorway.
After the whistle-stop tour the team returned to the centre and prepared for the night dive.
The site decided was to be Eddie‟s Gulley. A site they had previously dived before albeit in
the day time. With torches charged they set off. Nik and Dale had gone ahead and placed
some Cylumes on the shot line and on certain other areas as points of reference for a
suggested route. The route included a swim through a cave system about 20m long with
only enough room to fit a diver and equipment. First down was Kim and Rhos. To their
amazement as soon as they come off the shot line and went into the first tunnel they saw a
large Green Sea Turtle. The turtle got so close Rhos was able to touch its shell. They
remained where they were watching the turtle with their torches until eventually it decided
to leave. Though Kim was wary at first she pressed on and made it through the tunnel. Not
far behind were Mick and Richie. It would seem Micks internal Sat Nav was U/S as they
opted for an alternative route. Avers and Roy did the opposite and managed to make it
through twice with time to spare. The night dive was enjoyed by everyone and gave a
totally different perspective. It was really appreciated just how easy it would be to become
disorientated or lost at night or in poor visibility.
Thursday 26th Nov (Day 9)
After H allowed an extra half hour in bed to recover from the night dive the team were fed
and ready for the first dive. It was to be at Power House Reef followed by a drift down to
Triangles. As the team arrived at the jetty to load is was clear that the sea swell was big.
After a few hairy moments with the water raising 20ft at times and nearly washing Rhos
away, the boat was loaded. After a quick inspection of the site it was deemed too
dangerous to dive. The team then relocated round to Lion Reef but the swell was still as
bad. As a final throw of the dice they transited to China Wreck. Though the conditions
were in no way ideal they were acceptable and so they belatedly got into the water. The
visibility was poor at China wreck but everyone made the best of a bad situation. Rhos‟
day was going from bad to worse as he could only make it down a few metres before
having to re-surface because of sinus pain. The only notable sighting of the day was a
Hawksbill Turtle spotted by Avers and Nik.
After servicing the kit it was clear that the diving was done for the day as it was too
dangerous to risk it. With the weather overcast but warm the team decided that it was time
for some team building of a different kind so out came the volleyball. Initially the teams
were split with the Oldies verses the younger generation. After a textbook performance
from the Oldies, reminiscent of a scene from Top Gun, they failed to concede a single
point to the youngsters in 2 games. With John “The Cat” Brompton dancing around the
court and the wily old hand H marshalling the troops at the back it was a forgone
conclusion. Getting a bit bored by the lack of competition and feeling a little sorry for the
youngsters they decided on a change. This time it was “Mechs” verses the rest. A closely
fought contest ensued and following some dubious line calls, the “Mechs” emerged
Friday 27th Nov (Day 10)
With the bitter taste of defeat still fresh in the mouth of half the team, the site for the
morning was once again to be Powerhouse Reef. Though the weather and sea swell were
still not ideal they were acceptable. The purpose of the dive was to navigate on a bearing
from the shot line along the reef with the current. Simple, well it would be with the aid of a
trusty compass, something that was sadly lacking in Richie and Matt‟s case. They
they were easily spotted, albeit not in an area they were expected to be in. The dive
proved fruitful for the turtle spotters as a large Green Sea Turtle was spotted by Avers,
Mick and Nik
The second dive of the day was back at Lion Reef. The swell was playing havoc with the
finning at shallow depths so the instructors‟ advice was to keep reasonably deep until
surface time. As finning against the swell is pretty much pointless this was good advice.
Visibility was poor once again, especially in the shallow areas as the sand was getting
kicked up by the swell. Though poor, the visibility was good enough for Matt, Richie, Nik
and Rhos, to all see the first Manta Ray of the Exped. With a wingspan of about 3m
across, the Ray swam past both pairs trailing a Ramora Fish in its wake. Though efforts
were made to keep up with it, sadly the Ray turned north and out to sea.
There was no rest in the evening for the 3 divers hoping to gain their Sports Diver
qualification. Avers, Rhos and John Brompton were sat down and grilled by quiz master
“Nasty” Nik Badham. An 80% pass mark was required for the theoretical exam and the
questions were not easy. With Avers clearly given the “GCSE” question paper, no
surprises there! It was left to John Brompton and Rhos to field the degree level Nitrox
maths questions. After a quick total up of the scores all 3 had managed to pass, admittedly
some easier than others!
Saturday 28th Nov (Day 11)
The day began on a sad note as Rhos finally admitted defeat and went to the hospital.
Following an altercation with a Sea Urchin, one in which Rhos certainly came off worse,
his finger had begun to go septic. So whilst he was hanging on for dear life the rest of the
Exped abandoned him and went for their first dive of the day. The site chosen was
Triangles and for the newly qualified Sports Divers Avers and John Brompton, it was to be
their first depth progression dive to 25m. The site proved a popular choice as there was an
abundance of Hawksbill Turtles in the area. Roy was particularly pleased as he had failed
to see a Turtle until this dive. As trigger happy as usual on the camera, Roy managed
some great photos of a Hawksbill with only one leg. Clearly he‟d been on the wrong side of
something bigger previously. Richie managed to miss most things as he was too
preoccupied chasing his new best friends, the resident Trigger Fish, something that only
Richie can tell you about!
By the time the team returned from their dive for lunch, Rhos had been taken out of
intensive care and was declared fit to dive again. According to H he had lost some serious
“man points” due to his trip to the hospital and must try hard to recover his position in the
group. With that in mind the second dive of the day was to be at White Rock and for Rhos
and the other two Sports Divers, to be another depth progression dive, this time to 30m.
The rest of the group were to carry out some basic navigation and enjoy the scenery at
20m. All this whilst doing their level best to avoid the rocks as the swell was once again
causing problems for the divers. Richie and Mick had another mission. They were on a
vital mission to secure some food for the evening‟s bbq. On the hunt for some Crayfish or
Grouper the intrepid pair set off. After a few near misses Richie finally bagged a Grouper.
Leaving it to his partner to stash he carried on with the hunt. Unbeknown to Richie, Mick
had somehow managed to drop the “massive” Grouper by the time they surfaced. They did
still manage a couple of decent size fish in the end though.
Sunday 29th Nov (Day 12)
With H and Nik on “Instructor time” the team got away to a later than advertised start. The
first dive of the day was Porpoise Point. A 20 minute transit and Matt, Kim and Richie had
just run out of their Sea Sickness pills. Though they made it there without any
interruptions, they all looked a little green round the gills. With still no Shark sighting yet on
the Exped, Nik thought it a great idea to start chumming the water as the first pairs went in.
Though this did cause a bit of a stir with the Trigger Fish and Morays, unfortunately it didn‟t
tempt any Sharks to the area. Roy managed to jettison a weight belt weight but promised
to find it on his dive. Well the ocean is a small place! Matt and Richie tested the coxing
skills of H by surfacing metres from an exposed reef. A very swift pick up and they were
whipped away to safety. Overall the dive itself was enjoyable for all. With the Sport Divers
finding it difficult to find any depth, everyone remained around the reef. There were no rare
sightings but everyone got to see a huge shoal of Squirrel fish gathering in a cave at about
The second dive of the day was a short transit to Triangles. The reef from Triangles down
to Eddie‟s Gulley was full of lots of small caves and crevices, a favourite with most of the
team. The first boat hadn‟t even made the 5 minute transit before Matt made an
unscheduled departure. Trying to spot a Turtle that H had pointed out, Matt was unaware
that Richie was about to full throttle the engine. Richie duly did and Matt cart wheeled out
the boat, much to the rest of the boats amusement. With the brief to last as long as you
could, up to 60 mins, whilst still staying within the safety limits, everyone was keen to see
how well they had learned to control their breathing rate. Roy, who had a fairly healthy
taste for air it is fair to say, was paired with Kim. Mick was with H and after lasting for more
than half an hour some debate remained as to whose air Mick was actually consuming.
John was paired with Dale, a man who everyone believed actually had gills as he usually
finished with a good 50 bar more than his partner. Avers set off with Nik intent on making
the 60 minute mark. They both surfaced after 60 minutes though whether they had strictly
stuck to the briefed plan is questionable. The dive was completed and thoroughly enjoyed
by everyone. Though there weren‟t any big surprises amongst the abundant marine life,
the caves and crevices were excellent to swim around and through.
Monday 30th Nov (Day 13)
The final day of diving had arrived and after a show of hands, Boatswain Bird Island and
Triangles were the chosen dive sites. After a long transit everybody was excited as the
conditions and visibility was excellent. It would be now or never for a Shark or big fish
sighting. The sports divers were cleared to 30m with the Ocean Divers down to 20m.
Boatswain Bird Island has large drop offs to sandbanks beneath, by far the easiest way to
spot a Shark. Alas it was not to be. All 12 divers had an enjoyable dive but despite
straining the eyes no Sharks were spotted.
The final dive of the Exped was part scenic enjoyment and part shopping list. With a
farewell bbq planned for the evening, as well as enjoying the amazing underwater caves
and reef, some of the pairs were given instructions to catch some fish. Nik and John
Bordass were assigned the task of spearing some grouper. The normally docile grouper is
not known for being hard to catch but they managed to outfox the duo. Richie and Roy,
neither of whom is exactly renowned for their ocean conservation, were tasked to get
some Crayfish. They duly obliged by catching a couple. They also managed to catch an
inedible Soap fish. Apparently mistaking it for a grouper? With a disappointing haul so far it
was left up to the old hand „H‟ to bring home the bacon. ‟H‟ went into a known hotspot and
in a frenzy of spearing returned from the cave with 8 Crayfish. With the shopping list
complete the diving had finally come to an end.
A celebratory bbq was held and in addition to the fresh local produce, the mess had
provided a meat like substance formed into the shape of burgers and sausages. To aid the
digestion a few beers were consumed before Avers stepped up and announced that he
had a list of awards that needed to be handed out. The list was long and undistinguished.
Nobody escaped without some form of award, though it was probably safe to say Mick
managed to top the trophy list.
Tuesday 1st Dec (Day 14)
The final day of the Exped commenced with the obligatory clean up and handover of the
facility to Ascension Island staff. After a couple of hours graft the place was spotless and
the handover was seamless. There was still a little time remaining before departure so the
team had one final tour around the island stopping off to collect some mementoes and
having a quick shower before checking in. The departures lounge or pen to give it a more
accurate description, at Ascension Island is not quite Heathrow but everyone felt a little
better when they saw the poor people getting off the Jet from the Falklands. To say they
looked fresh would be an outright lie, but the fact that they had another 8 hours to go made
everyone feel they certainly got the best side of the deal.
The flight was once again uneventful; though this time the officers were relegated to the
cheap seats, much to everyone else‟s amusement. With everyone feeling a little tired the
sight of MT coming round the corner at Brize Norton was most welcome. After a couple of
hours a rather shabby looking team arrived back at RAF Cottesmore. With everyone
feeling knackered after a very tiring but ultimately very rewarding Exped, the team thanked
H and Nik for all their tireless work and went home for some well earned sleep.