Club history - MKSAC in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s
From frogmen To aquanauts (a bit of club history)
By Colin, with archive information by Dave
It was at the 2002 AGM I was honoured to receive a couple of nice shiny trophies. The first was from my good friend Dave who told a tale or two about our early days of diving in the 1970’s. Why he ever wanted to be my buddy from that point on, I can’t imagine. He must have been looking for a mug to carry his kit around for the next 25 years. Well it seemed to work. I was deeply touched by his commemorative tankard inscribed ‘25 years as a dive buddy and good friend’. The second was a commemorative plaque presented by the club to both Dave and myself for 25 years club diving together. This will take pride of place above all my bits of Brass and Junk.
The club has seen many faces over the years and has moved from strength to strength but Dave and I felt it was an appropriate time to reflect on some club history. I apologise to the newer members for mentioning names that won’t mean anything to them, but some were very distinguished characters in their own right who have passed through the club and will be remembered by some of our long standing members.
Firstly, I must mention Brian, who sadly passed away in 2001. Brian was the club history book. If you wanted to know something he was the man to tell you. It was Brian’s long term contribution to the club that inspired me to put pen to paper and to tell how the club was born.
I was never in the club from the very beginning. It was 1975 when I joined and it is only from information that Dave, who is the clubs longest running member, has given me, that I have been able to piece the jig saw together.
Back to the 1970’s
Television programmes like SEA HUNT in the 1960’s with Lloyd Bridges and Diving with Hans and Lottie Hass, brought the underwater world to the screen and of course thousands of people wanted to be part of it. Sports diving equipment was being mass-produced, hundreds of clubs had been set up and the BSAC was well established.
Here in Milton Keynes, well it started off in Bletchley actually about 1972, a small group of divers who had been trained by a local private diving school called ‘Safeway Diving’ run by Ken, felt there was sufficient interest in the sport to start a local diving club. Their training had been done at the old Bletchley Pool, pre leisure centre days and included some of the clubs founder members who were Bill ,Dave and the two Brian’s. Dave joined the training programme with his friend Malcolm. At the same time, Brian, who was a member of Watford diving club found himself on the scene at the Bletchley pool. Brian had been involved in a fair amount of experimental diving in the early days and could not miss an opportunity to be part of a local club. From this group of enthusiasts, a club was born. The other Brian was the first club Diving Officer, Dave the secretary and Brian became the Chairman and was to remain so for about 12 years. The Milton Keynes Sub Aqua Club set up as an independent club but included a special branch of the BSAC for those who wanted the formal qualification and a logbook.
The next year or so saw a lot of negotiations with the council and various authorities. A licence had been granted for the use of the Blue Lagoon for training. Until now, divers had been travelling to Stewartby Lake and Bedford. Bletchley Leon Pool was used on Sunday mornings for running training courses.
The club had very little equipment to start with, so several members put their hands in their pockets and paid two years subscription up front. The MK Development Corporation also helped out with an interest free loan. This enabled the club to purchase its first portable compressor, a Rotax Driven Poseidon 3.5 Cu Ft per minute unit.
Committee meetings had been taking place in the meeting room of the Bull & Butcher, Fenny Stratford and it was here that the landlord offered the club the use of an out building for siting the compressor. This was to be the clubs first ‘Club House’. A brick plinth was made to mount the compressor on, and a couple of holes knocked in the wall for the air intake and the club was in business. Air at a penny per cubic foot (no, don’t ask me to convert that) and twenty five minutes later, (or two pints) and your 60 cu ft tank was nearly full. The only problem with the compressor was the vibration which caused one of the walls to fall down in the building, but a bit of quick drying cement soon put that right, and the landlord was none the wiser.
The next major purchase was the first Club inflatable boat . This was to be a self build project made from a kit. The club was fortunate enough to have a few practical guys, one of them being Dave the club secretary. Some body must have had a few dress making skills as well , because the result was a load of strips of rubber and hyperlon and hundreds of tins of glue, a very fine boat called a ‘Domino Double Seven’ was built.
Gradually, the club was acquiring some useful kit, a light weight trailer had been built for the boat, an Evinrude 35 hp engine was purchased and loads of bits either made or purchased from boat jumbles enabled the divers to get away to the coast for some great diving.
The Late 1970’s
When I joined the club in 1975 to undergo my training , it was not uncommon for Trainees to make their own wet suits from kits. A popular one was the Marlin suit. This could be purchased for about £15.00. Lots of members made their own weights and very often back packs were moulded from fibreglass and car seat belts used for harnesses and weight belts. My group were also lucky enough to be offered Ex Monarch Air Line life jackets for a quid each. They were ideal for snorkel diving and training. The biggest purchase for every trainee was a DV. Although we had all trained on Twin hoses, when it came to buying our own most people wanted the latest Snark 2 Silver or if you could afford one a Poseidon Cyclone. I, like most had a Snark 2 Silver priced £18 and ten shillings mailed direct from Greens Watersports, one of the biggest suppliers of diving gear at the time.
Around 1976 there had been a few changes to the committee. Brian had resigned as D.O. and George, an ex-commercial diver took over the post. George, sadly no longer with us, was a good D.O. He was one of the clubs most experienced divers; however it was George’s lack of tact that upset a few people and one particular member really got the arse with George when George failed him on his diving ability. This stirred up a right hornet’s nest because the member in question called in the BSAC, suggesting that an unqualified Diving Officer without authority was issuing qualifications. The matter was resolved when the BSAC paid the club a visit or two and George was given all the necessary powers to pass and fail whoever he felt fit. After all, his 20 years commercial experience did count for something!
Following this charade, the committee felt the appropriate action was to expel this member from the club.
A Rival Club sets up. Surprise, Surprise
I was working for the same company as my friend Mike, our third longest serving member of the club, when Mike told me he had joined a new club at Stantonbury Pool called ‘MK City Sub Aqua Club’. He had joined with Mac Macintyre another fine distinguished character who did so much for the club in the early years. The City club had been set up by, guess who? Yes, our throw out. Well, this club was going places, or was it? It certainly had loads of enthusiastic trainees but it lacked equipment, a diving site and a diving boat.
The city club had been going for about a year. The guy that started it off, had now disappeared and it was felt that it would be a sensible move to merge the two clubs, after all, the MKSAC, who had loads of diving gear, were looking for new members and here they were, all trained and ready to dive. And so, that’s what happened. After lengthy negotiations and a reformed committee, the clubs merged, retaining the title of Milton Keynes Sub Aqua Club.
Well, things were running really smooth now, until our old friend who we booted out, decided to take the club to court for unfair dismissal. I told you earlier that he had ‘The Hump’.
At the time, Brian was chairman and Mike was in office on the committee. Both spent considerable time corresponding with solicitors who represented the club. Finally the matter was brought to court in 1979 and the judge took one look at the case and promptly threw it out of court. That was the last we heard of the member in question.
The club was now in full swing. Pool training continued at Stantonbury except for one year when we moved to Wolverton open-air pool. The training courses were full and lots of divers were being qualified to what was called 3rd Class level, and lots progressing to 2nd class (a bit like the current Advanced Diver). Mac was running snorkel courses for the junior members. These proved very popular and really promoted family membership. Consequently lots of family holidays revolved around coastal diving trips. Places visited included Cornwall, S. Devon, Kimmerage Bay, Swanage, North Wales, Oban and the Farne Islands. Long weekend trips were very popular. When I started diving I remember sharing the journey to the coast with one of our more senior members at the time, Ron from Winslow, travelling in a long wheelbase Landrover that was governed to 50 mph. With the boat on the back and everybody’s kit inside it plus all the camping gear, the journey seemed to take forever.
A popular site in the early days was Alston’s Farm near Salcombe South Devon. It was not unusual to arrive there at 2:00am and then start setting up camp, then after about 5 hours sleep, start kitting up for a good days scallop diving.
Towing the boat in those days was just the same as it is now; someone had to do it with a fairly beefy motor. Then, some bright spark came up with the idea that a ‘Club Van’ would be a good idea. Well, before you could blink, Dave had managed to purchase a high roof twin wheel Tranny from London County Council.
The van was great. We managed to fit the rear of the van with two full width bench seats. One from an old vauxhall victor that I had just scrapped and another from some other passion wagon. It even had a couple of stretchers suspended from the roof to make bunks. We could now carry 10 passengers, 10 lots of diving gear, 10 lots of camping gear plus the boat on the back with our latest purchase, a 40 HP 3 cylinder Volvo Penta which weighed an absolute ton. Slight problem! This Tranny has only got a 1700cc engine and it’s clapped out. I can remember one trip where we seemed to put more oil in the thing than we did petrol.
The van was a great idea at the time and the members had loads of fun with it, however it did turn out to be a millstone around the clubs neck. The engine had to be changed more than once, although we always seemed to have someone in the club who could lay their hands on parts. We seemed to be throwing money at it from all directions. The other problem was that it had to be registered in one persons name. Ron volunteered this on the condition that he had use of the van, however, there was a disadvantage in being the registered keeper because Ron would receive more than his fair share of parking tickets and motoring offences. Several people ended up looking after the van, myself and Mac included. But finally the point came when we were spending more time under the van than we were under the water. And so it was finally sold, to the relief of the treasurer, and we could all get back to diving.
New Club House
During the mid seventies we moved out of the Bull and Butcher Club House. Well actually, we were kicked out by the landlord due to a bit of a punch up on the premises, but I think we’ll skip the details to avoid any embarrassment to those involved. After all, they did apologise to the club for the outcome.
Our new club house, although a temporary arrangement, was to be at Newlands Farm near Willen lake. This was the home of the Buddhist Monks when they were here in MK building the Peace Pagoda. On the farm site was a large building which was sub divided into units. Most of the building was occupied by street lighting contractors but we were allocated a small unit which was just big enough to keep all our equipment. Club meetings used to take place at The Swan, Fenny Stratford. Eventually the Development Corporation sold the Newlands Farm site for Development and once again we were out looking for new premises.
By now we had acquired another boat, this was also a Domino Double Seven. Both boats fitted on the trailer, one upside down and round the wrong way. The boat engines had been upgraded to Mariner 40,s. These were Ex-RNLI engines purchased from Secol Marine at Northampton. Mac always seemed to be able to get a good deal from somebody. The engines were very reliable and improved our diving greatly. We could now spend most of the day diving and not pulling starter cords. It became a club policy to change the engines every 3 years to maintain reliability.
By now, I had been Diving Officer for four years, having relieved George of the job, and was about to hand over to Tom. Military precision was Tom’s format. Although this didn’t suit everybody, his pre-planned calendar of diving trips certainly meant that a lot of diving was taking place.
In 1983 we managed to purchase two brand new Bombard C5 inflatable boats at £1295 each and in order to transport them, built a braked twin axle trailer capable of carrying all the boating gear.
The engine on the compressor had been giving trouble and it was found difficult to get a new one, so we purchased a Briggs and Stratton 8 HP unit. Although it ran in the wrong direction, I managed to modify the chassis of the compressor and reverse mount the engine. This worked very successfully and we were able to mount the whole compressor unit into a trailer and have a portable unit.
From 1985 to 1988 we rented some private farm stables at Old Farm, Wavendon. Here, we carried out extensive work to the buildings to make them suitable for our needs. Again we were able to store the boats and run the compressor from this site, but eventually this site was also sold to developers.
For the next two years we survived by operating the compressor at the Leathern Bottle Pub in Wavendon . The boats were kept at various places during this time, including a chicken farm near Salford owned by Charlie, one of our very valued and respected members and on other occasions at Frank Morris’s workshop. It was between 1988 and 1989 that Mac heard about the possible use of the Old Pump House at Newport Pagnell. After several meetings with the Borough Council the buildings were eventually rented to us. Extensive modifications were necessary and several major working parties were arranged in order to remove the old pumping equipment and make the building suitable for our needs.
Several members of the club spent considerable time evaluating the pros and cons of the big RIBS. Travelling the length of the country we tried Chinook, Humber, Zodiac and all sorts, before deciding on the Tornado 6.5, The club eventually sold the two Bombard inflatables and the big trailer.
Later in the 1990’s the big compressor and bank was purchased for the club.
The rest of the 1990’s is modern history. The club is now very well established and one which I am proud to be associated with.