Taking the plunge

THE memory of diving with great white sharks and humpback whales leaves Ken Sullivan with a lump in his throat. Although 70-year-old Ken has been diving for 40 years he still finds the experience both exciting and deeply moving. We flew to Tahiti to snor

THE memory of diving with great white sharks and humpback whales leaves Ken Sullivan with a lump in his throat.

Although 70-year-old Ken has been diving for 40 years he still finds the experience both exciting and deeply moving.

"We flew to Tahiti to snorkel with humpback whales. That's a spectacular thing, absolutely awesome. We had people get back on the boat not able to talk," said Ken, who lives in Chilvers Bank in Baldock and is acting president of the Stevenage Sub Aqua Club, which he joined two years after it was founded in 1962.

"We went diving with great white sharks at Guadeloupe. That's just something again, they are the A1 predator of the seas. It was a very, very exciting trip, a very emotional experience."

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To make sure the divers were safe they had to stay in cages while the sharks swam nearby.

At the other end of the scale there are beautifully-coloured macro creatures, tiny fish that dazzle as they swim by.

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Even the coast north of Newcastle reveals its own magical underwater world although heavier equipment is needed for diving in this country, to ward off the cold.

"The seals are my favourite," said Ken, who is also a keen photographer.

"They are incredible creatures, they will bite you playfully and if you're not careful they will lift your face mask off. The youngsters are just devilish, they will play in the bubbles above your head."

On North Sea dives at St Abbs, which is a marine conservation area and unfished, flat fish, dahlia anemones and octopus can be seen.

But for colourful and more exotic fare, the club members travel to the Red Sea and other faraway places.

"I have dived round the world," said Ken who went to Egypt three times last year as well as the Seychelles and did a total of 130 dives. He is also a member of the Stevenage Underwater Photography Society, which is part of the Stevenage Arts Guild.

He does smile sometimes at the idea of being such a keen diver in an area as far from the sea as you can get in England but he doesn't want to move and leave his friends and family behind.

All three of his children dive too as well as two of his grandsons - daughter Katherine Blenkin and her son Nicky, 16, from Baldock, firefighter son Richard Sullivan from Hitchin and his son Jamie, 18; and Sean Sullivan, from Baldock.

Ken believes sports diving, which is what the club does, is no more dangerous than climbing or skiing. Although some deep sea divers will go down to 120 metres, he seldom goes below 30 and takes most of his photographs in the brighter light above that depth.

A small underwater computer tells him how long he can stay down safely and he is careful to come up at a steady and safe pace.

The more experienced members of the club train newcomers over several months to make sure they know exactly what they are doing. They meet once a week, at the Stevenage pool on Wednesday nights, and exchange information, practise, train and have a social evening together.

Among their UK trips are regular outings to Swanage and, nearer to home, Arlesey gravel pits - packed with pike, roach and tench - and to Gildenburgh in Cambridgeshire for diver training. But for Ken the exotic seas of Indonesia and the Galapogas Islands are the really magical places to go.

"In the Seychelles we snorkelled with humpback whales - they come up alongside you and look at you. They are very friendly, there is no aggression at all. There was one 10 feet away from me and it looked straight at me. It was 30 feet long and weighed about 30 tonnes, it was massive. It was great fun to do it."

On other occasions, Ken snorkelled with whale sharks, guided by a micro light and radiophones. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea but take little notice of swimmers and only feed on microscopic plankton.

Ken is a great enthusiast for diving and keen to encourage anyone interested to come along to the club where they can help out trainees with the loan of scuba gear. Many divers who only dive abroad, hire equipment, just having a wetsuit, fins and mask themselves.

If you would like to go along, call Vanessa or Clive Morley on 01462 638266 or email info@stevenage divers.co.uk for more details.

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