Have you ever been mesmerised watching David Attenboroughâ€™s Blue Planet and thought how amazing it would be to experience the underwater world yourself? Fear not! There is a large and active diving community much closer to home, diving all year round and they are quite happy to dispel the myth that Scottish waters are cold, murky and uninteresting .
While it is true that the water temperature around our coast is not tropical, correctly equipped, the temperature poses no real problem.Â Contrary to popular belief, the sea life around Scotland is extremely abundant, varied and colourful with a myriad of interesting shipwrecks scattered about the rocky coastline. There is no reason to consider diving in Scotland to be second rate or of no real comparison with more tropical waters. Many divers come to Scotland from all over the world to dive on our wrecks and off our coast. Properly equipped, diving in Scotland is as rewarding as any exotic location.
West Lothian Sub Aqua Club (the Club) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The Club, originally known as the Bathgate Sub Aqua Club, was founded in 1962. In 1981 its name was changed to West Lothian Sub Aqua Club in recognition of its widespread membership.
In 2011 the Club moved to the new swimming pool at Balbardie Park in Bathgate where the Club now has a purpose built equipment room and use of lecture facilities. The Club meets here every Tuesday between 8pm and 9.30pm.
So how do you get started?
The best way to get started is simply to try it. Anyone over the age of 14 can learn to dive. Contact the Club to let them know you are interested and a â€œtry-a-diveâ€ session can be organised for you at the weekly pool training session. Equipment will be provided and an experienced instructor will explain what it does, how it works and take you for a trial dive in the safety of the swimming pool.
If this taster whets your appetite for more, the first step is to become a member of The Scottish Sub Aqua Club (SSAC). SSAC is the governing body for the sport in Scotland, financially supported by SportScotland. Once you are a member of SSAC training is free. SSAC membership also includes third party liability insurance, access to a well-equipped library and a bi-monthly magazine, The Scottish Diver.
For 2012 membership fees are Â£50 for Ordinary (single) membership, Â£73 for Joint (two persons) membership and Â£93 for Family (2 adults + 2 children) membership. Other categories and concessions are available and details can be found on SSACâ€™s website.
Once a member of SSAC you can start training to become a diver. Expert training in both snorkelling and aqualung diving is carried out at your local branch. SSAC has an extensive branch network throughout Scotland providing pool training, lectures and open water training, all leading to an internationally recognised qualification. The level of training is appropriate to diving in Scottish waters.
Prior to starting aqualung training, new members must undertake a medical. Following this, training progresses through basic pool work before moving into the sea, first in shallow, sheltered water then progressing to more typical diving conditions. In addition to pool training a series of lectures must be attended. SSAC prides itself on its safety record and with regular attendance at both pool and lecture training the skills necessary for safe and enjoyable diving are developed. It is said that if you can dive in Scotland, you can dive anywhere in the world.
So why join West Lothian Sub Aqua Club?
The Club is the local branch of SSAC for West Lothian, although membership extends beyond the County boundary. It is well established and has a current membership of approximately sixty people of all ages. There are many qualified instructors and experienced divers to help with training. The pace at which you progress through your training will be your own. Some people want to learn to dive before going on holiday and have a fixed timescale to obtain their qualification. On the other hand some people, perhaps due to work or family commitments, can take years to qualify. Everyone is different and learns at a different pace.
The Club is very well resourced in terms of facilities and equipment. The well maintained stock of diving equipment is used for training which means you can progress through initial training and actually try diving in the sea before you commit to buying your own equipment. Even when qualified, the stock of equipment allows newly qualified divers to hire Club equipment for a nominal charge (Â£15 per day trip) allowing them to purchase and built up their own kit gradually. The maintenance of the Clubâ€™s equipment is financed through branch fund-raising and an annual branch levy, currently Â£55 (2012).
Typical costs for snorkel equipment start from Â£20 for a mask, Â£20 for fins and Â£5 for a snorkel. Diving equipment can be very expensive.Â Prices for basic dive kit such as a weight belt and weights, boots, gloves and a hood range between Â£10 and Â£50. However, major equipment can cost upwards of Â£150 for a cylinder, Â£200 for a regulator, Â£400 for a dry suit and Â£300 for a buoyancy compensator. The Clubâ€™s members are always happy to discuss and recommend options and there is frequently second hand kit for sale.
So once you are a qualified diver what happens next? The size of the Club and the number of qualified divers means there are always experienced buddies available for regular diving. The Club organises a dive expedition virtually every week of the year. In one hour you can be in the water at Dunbar, making this a favourite spot for a mid-week dive during the summer. Another half hour takes you St. Abbs or Eyemouth, two hours to Loch Long or Oban and another half hour takes you to the delights of Loch Fyne.
Boat dives are also a regular feature on the Clubâ€™s itinerary with day trips organised from St. Abbs or further afield to Oban, the gateway to the many shipwrecks in the Sound of Mull. Twice a year the Club visits Knoydart for a long weekend of spectacular diving in the Inner Hebrides.
Regular expeditions further afield have seen members venture to the Red Sea, Ireland, Malta, Gozo, Sardinia, Lanzarote, the Maldives, Sulawesi and numerous other locations throughout the world.
On dry land
The Club takes its social side seriously too. Many non-diving spouses, partners and children are also members of the Club, enjoying a weekly swim on a Tuesday evening and the many social events organised throughout the year. Refreshments after Tuesday pool training and Sunday diving are standard, there is always a Christmas party night, a Christmas dive and an annual slide show when members are able to showcase many stunning images captured during the previous yearâ€™s diving.
This year to celebrate its 50th anniversary the Club is planning a black tie gala dinner to celebrate in style and an extra special summer dive weekend. The Bennie Museum in Bathgate will also host an exhibition of the Clubâ€™s history over the summer months.
So are you tempted to get out of your armchair and experience the stunning underwater world for yourself? There has never been a better time to join a club that is going from strength to strength.
To find out more:
Scottish Sub Aqua Club: www.scotsac.co.uk
All photographs courtesy of Jim Anderson