“When I started this adventure, I did not think after a week’s training, it would be so natural to be in an environment so alien to me. I was left literally breathless in its beauty and gasping for more!!”
WO2 Wayne Dunn
On 23rd June, 11 reservists and one regular soldier boarded a flight from RAF Brize Norton to RAF Akrotiri Cyprus to commenced Exercise Dragon Barbarian Odyssey 2, 159 Regiment RLC’s annual SCUBA diving expedition.
The expedition was the second installment of a 5-year plan to qualify personnel new to scuba diving from across the regiment and develop expertise in dive leadership and planning for existing qualified divers.
The expedition aims included qualifying 5 new ocean divers and delivering dive leader training to one sports diver and advanced diver training to three dive leaders.
Arriving at RAF Akrotiri on a typically hot and sunny Cyprus day, the expedition team collected three 4×4 vehicles and made the journey to Dhekelia Station & Nightingale Barracks – home for the next week. Needless to say, everybody was pretty tired after a long day of traveling and following a quick orientation briefing we took over the accommodation and settled in for the evening.
After breakfast, day two started with the short journey to the Joint Services Adventurous Training Wing (JSATW) diver training complex whose excellent facilities and equipment we’d be using for the duration of the expedition. During the morning we received a detailed set of briefings including instructions on how to operate the compressor and SCUBA equipment storage and care.
Having already completed an intensive weekend training package during May, the Ocean Diver trainees had covered the necessary pool and theory instruction to help prepare them for the week ahead which would start with their first open water dive from the JSATW jetty: a gentle shore dive of up to 8 metres in depth. Accompanied by their instructors and rescue divers the trainees were able to experience the thrill of open water diving for the first time in the clear blue waters. During this first dive the trainees were able to see some of the local wildlife including trumpetfish and red snapper. They were also able to see their first underwater wreck in the form of an old Ferret scout car, which had been sank some years ago around 10-15 metres from the jetty.
Following the first dive, the group moved to the 2nd site nearby at Green Bay. Here we completed a further two dives from the gently sloped sandy beach, allowing the Ocean Diver trainees to complete all the key practical and rescue skills and the Dive Leaders to assist with marshalling and other activities. After returning to Dhekelia and completing all the kit preparation for the next day, everybody went for some well-deserved fish & chips at ‘Lambros’ – a popular restaurant opposite the Barracks.
Day three featured the first boat diving of the expedition and early in the morning we loaded a large Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) at the slipway of the JSATW dive centre before speeding off to the site of a nearby wreck called the ‘Fraggle’ which sits on a sandy bottom at a depth of around 16 metres. Conditions were excellent with clear visibility and following a quick return to the slipway to change cylinders, we completed a second dive on a reef close to the power station in view from the slipway.
On our return from the day’s diving the trainees completed some essential revision with their instructors before sitting the Ocean Diver theory exam, which happily they all passed – officially qualifying them as Ocean Divers and setting the stage for the next two days of diving on one of the world’s top ten shipwrecks.
Days four and five were spent diving the wreck of the ‘Zenobia’ – a huge car ferry over 170 metres long, which sank on its side at anchorage just outside Larnaca in 1980.
Diving from a hardboat with a local skipper hired from Larnaca, this was a chance for the newly qualified ocean divers to see what diving is all about and they completed a total of four dives on the upper reaches of the wreck between 16 and 20 metres. Both days also afforded the three dive leaders and sports diver to complete some diving at depth, exploring some of the lower sections up to 30 metres deep and ticking off a bucket list dive.
The final days diving took place back at Cape Greco at two different sites both off the beaten track at sites only accessible to 4×4 vehicles. ‘Cow’s Cave’ was the first site and featured a shore dive from the base of some cliffs. Diving up to a maximum depth of 20 metres, this penultimate dive gave the Ocean divers a chance to practice underwater navigation and dive leadership before moving on to the final dive of the week.
The final dive of the expedition was undoubtedly one of the best. Taking place at a dive site known simply as ‘Tunnels & Caves’, this last dive had a bit of everything, including challenging conditions, fantastic scenery & sealife. The site itself took some finding and is accessed at the edge of an arid, rocky plateau. Getting to the water’s edge involved a short but tricky trek in full kit across a very uneven surface that had been formed by cooling lava.
After making a fairly high stride entry into choppy waters below, the divers descended to follow the shore at around 6 to 10 metres before encountering a series of open underwater caves and tunnels which are a haven for shoals of different fish and other marine creatures. Having spent a good thirty minutes exploring the caves and tunnels, all of the diver pairs returned to the exit point around 100 metres further along the shore and exited the water using what can be described as two blowholes at the top of an underwater cave underneath only a few metres from the edge of the shoreline. The ‘Indiana Jones’ style exit was the icing on the cake for what had been a fantastic weeks diving.
The final day of the expedition, a mandatory decompression day, was spent relaxing on the beach while the expedition leadership worked on the post exercise admin before taking the return flight back to Brize Norton the next day.
The expedition was a huge success, achieving all its key aims. The Regimental diving team will benefit greatly from the in-house expertise, the expedition has helped to further develop. This will have a significant impact on retention of our soldiers and for recruiting new personnel.
None of this would have been possible without the help and support of the Ulysses Trust to which we extend our warmest thanks and regards.
Exercise Dragon Barbarian Odyssey 2, 159 Regt RLC Diving in Cyprus
By Cpl Don O’Reilly