Between the 15th and 23rd July 2019, seven Officer Cadets (OCdts) from Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps undertook a sub-aqua diving expedition, Exercise Blue Zenobia, in Cyprus. All OCdts successfully achieved the aim of this expedition and were awarded their British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) Sports Diver qualification, whilst another was able to work towards his Dive Leader qualification. The support of The Ulysses Trust did much to facilitate this expedition and enabled its success.
The individuals on the expedition have gained invaluable experience during the seven days of diving they undertook. The first phase of the expedition consisted of four days training for the Sports Diver qualification, with two dives each day down to a maximum of 20 metres deep. These dives allowed the teaching of the key modules of the course such as underwater compass navigation, the deployment of a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB), and diver rescue training. Each evening consisted of theory lessons, with every OCdt successfully completing their exam on the fourth night.
OCdt Cuthbert said, “I had a really wonderful time on Ex Blue Zenobia, and truly appreciated the challenge that came with the progression from Ocean to Sports Diver. I will definitely be using the qualification to continue diving over the next few years and I will look back on the expedition with extremely fond memories.”
With the course successfully completed, day five allowed the OCdts to begin their depth progression on the wreck of the Zenobia, with a maximum depth of 30 metres reached. They then had the opportunity to explore the exterior and interior of the famous ship which sunk off Larnaca Bay in June 1980. This included the penetration of the upper cargo deck where you could see a lorry lying on its side beneath you, as well as the accommodation deck which takes you through door after door of bedrooms and bathrooms where children’s toys had floated to the upper wall of the rooms, and loos remain attached to the floor, now a wall due to the ship resting on its side. It was remarkable experience knowing there were people who lived in these quarters 40 years ago, and there we were engulfed in the Mediterranean 30 metres down in the same spot they were in. We were also able to swim the length of the 172.2 metre ship to reach the vast propeller at the stern, making one feel very small in comparison.
Throughout the trip, each diver took turns in leading a dive with their buddy which helped to develop their confidence underwater, skills and leadership. This was especially beneficial for OCdt Fearn who said, “Ex Blue Zenobia was an excellent opportunity for me to continue my diving skills. Having passed the Sports Diver course already, this expedition allowed me to start to prepare for the Dive Leader qualification as well as stacking up dive hours. The experience of leading a few dives, including two on the wreck of the Zenobia has allowed me to tick off sections of the dive leader package and has prepared me for the course which I will start this coming academic year.” All the Officer Cadets found leading the dives a character-building opportunity and it enabled them to use their developing leadership and team work skills in a totally new setting, helping to prepare those for potential future careers in the military.
Last but by no means least, the Mediterranean is notorious for being severely overfished and we experienced this to an extent at the numerous dive sites we went to around Cyprus prior to diving the Zenobia, seeing rather sparse fish populations. However, to our joy, there was an abundance of sea life which inhabited the Zenobia displaying a healthy marine ecosystem, making the experience all the more impressive. Over the course of the trip, we saw everything from stingrays, octopus and barracudas to lionfish, groupers and bearded fireworms. On top of all the diving skills we learnt throughout the week, we also understood the importance of the marine ecosystem and it would be fair to say it was an eye-opening experience to swim with these creatures.
On behalf of all those who participated in Exercise Blue Zenobia, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to The Ulysses Trust for their support for this expedition. Without their generous grant we would have been hard pressed to run the expedition, but as a result each of the participants were given a unique opportunity they may never have had otherwise, and have come away with skills and a qualification that they will be able to take with them to future expeditions and careers.