Veterans of the deep - Woolacombe pair have been diving together for 50 years

IMMERSING your head in a washing up bowl of water while trying to breathe from a Calor Gas valve attached to a bottle strapped to your back might not be the best introduction to diving, but for two Woolacombe men it was the start of a lifetime of pleasure

IMMERSING your head in a washing up bowl of water while trying to breathe from a Calor Gas valve attached to a bottle strapped to your back might not be the best introduction to diving, but for two Woolacombe men it was the start of a lifetime of pleasure that has taken them to the far corners of the world.

Both men, Brian Watts and Roy Lancaster, had an interest in the sea and both had been inspired by the underwater films of Hans and Lottie Hass. In early 1960 Brian built a boat with a glass bottom section in an effort to uncover the mysteries beneath the surface off Morte Point near his home.

The experience wasn't quite what he had expected, so when he heard of a company converting Calor Gas valves for underwater use he and Roy ordered some and so started their undersea adventures which to this day, 50 years on, they still enjoy.

So enthralled by the experience of his first dive Brian, was in the forefront of establishing the Ilfracombe and North Devon Sub Aqua Club being one of the 13 founder members. Roy, who was busy building a holiday-based empire in Woolacombe, didn't have the time to get involved immediately, but later joined the club and has held the role of President ever since.


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Both will be guests of honour at the club's 50th anniversary celebrations early next year.

Diving became a passion for them both which lasts to this day, when at the age of 78 they still dive twice a week in the summer when the weather allows. During the winter Brian, along with Roy and two other friends who have been diving together for more than 40 years, travel to warmer climes to continue their underwater experience.

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"The feeling of weightlessness is wonderful and the same as experienced by astronauts," said Brian who claims it enabled him to walk on the ocean floor 10 years before man walked on the moon. "We just went in different directions", he claimed.

Following his underwater washing-up bowl experience Brian and his fiancee Muriel drove to Plymouth to buy an engagement ring. Having chosen the ring Brian found a dive shop a couple of doors down the street and immediately bought a mask and snorkel and in his words "embarked on the two things that can give man the most pleasure in life"!

Brian and Roy have logged thousands of dives travelling all over the world experiencing the colourful and varied life beneath the surface, but both claim that the diving at Lundy Island just off the North Devon coast is among the best in the world.

The Ilfracombe and North Devon Sub Aqua club started in 1960 and two months later by a unanimous decision joined the emerging British Sub Aqua Club to become the 86th branch of what is now the biggest diving club in the world and the governing body for the sport, with more than 1,100 branches.

The local club has gone from strength to strength, acquiring two hard boats as well as RIBS (ridged inflatables boats) for the divers' use in the Bristol Channel.

With the club's 50th anniversary approaching and Brian being a founder member still diving with the club, he is providing much of the information needed to compile a definitive history of the club over their 50 years. He has even donated some of his older equipment to the club which brings gasps of astonishment from visiting divers who with their state of the art equipment have no idea of how the early divers led the way with the likes of converted Calor gas valves and hand-written tables rather than dive computers, something unheard of 50 years ago.

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