Neale Byart tries a shallow-water diving course and a Mini B diving system designed to help sailors free props, scrub hulls and set anchors
Diving would make it so much easier to free a fouled propeller, scrub the hull, check the anchor set or the condition of a swinging mooring, or inspect for damage after grounding. And on idle summer days at anchor, you can explore the world below the waves.
However, normal SCUBA gear is bulky and requires extensive training. That’s why, when the Mini B diving system was launched in 2007, we were interested in testing it. Mini B, which allows you to dive to depths of up to 9m, is claimed to bridge the gap between SCUBA and snorkelling.
Since its launch, a dedicated ‘microdive’ diving course has been created for Mini B. The training is less comprehensive than a SCUBA course, as the restricted depth requires less knowledge, so you can qualify faster. A SCUBA course will take three to five days, but you can get a microdiving qualification in one day, once you have completed the theory.
The diving course starts with a DVD and book-based theory section (£79). It’s all straightforward, commonsense stuff because the study relating to decompression, dive tables, dive computers and logbooks isn’t required for shallow water microdiving. The theory course is completed in your own time and there is no final written exam before receiving your certificate. With some previous experience and knowledge, it took me four hours to complete the theory. A complete beginner will need to allow around eight hours, best spread over a few days. At the end of the theory session you receive a certificate and are cleared to proceed to stage two – the practical pool session.
This half-day session starts with a short theory recap followed by a first look at the microdiving kit and how it all goes together. After that, it was time to don our swim gear, grab our kit and get wet. I carried out my pool session at Andark’s 3.4m-deep pool in Southampton. The pool session, which costs about £125, teaches the procedures for assembling and inspectingyour kit, learning how to get into and out of the water, understanding basic diving signals, descending, ascending and maintaining neutral buoyancy using your buoyancy control device and weights. You also learn how to clear your mask, monitor your air supply and depth gauges, and the procedure for retrieving a lost mouthpiece while underwater. This may sound like a lot to master in half a day, but once in the water the kit is easy to master and by lunchtime I was diving like a natural.
The final stage consists of three 20-minute ‘check-out dives’ down to 9m in open water with a diving instructor, at a cost of about £125. You can do all three in half a day, but I spread mine over a few days. Hardier souls will save money by doing the check-out dives in the UK, using their own boat, but more delicate candidates tend to go abroad. I went to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, Egypt. Flights and accommodation for a week in October cost £309, but the warm seas and coral reefs made the extra cost well worth it.