Mark Evans and his son Luke head north to Lancashire for a dad-and-lad trip to Capernwray inland dive site
Photographs by Mark Evans
The distinct wing tip of Capernwray’s signature dive attraction, the 30-metre-wingspan Hawker Siddeley 748 aircraft, appeared out of the blue-green water, and I glanced across at Luke. He was nice and horizontal in the water, looking very calm and collected, but as I caught his attention, I saw his eyes go wide as the fuselage emerged in front of us. He quickly regained his composure, gave me a casual ‘okay’ signal and then tucked his hands back together in a relaxed position under him. This was only his second-ever dive in a drysuit and he looked like he had been doing it for years. I felt a warm glow of parental pride at how well my 14-year-old son was diving in the depths of one of my long-time haunts.
After last year’s action-packed year – Junior Advanced Open Water Diver in Egypt at Easter, 10 days of diving in Malta in August, a few wetsuited dives in Anglesey, North Wales during the summer holidays, and then a week at the Grenada DiveFest event in October – 2020 turned into a massive disappointment on the diving front for Luke. I was all set to introduce him to drysuit diving at the beginning of the season, envisaging lots of dives in North Wales and beyond through the rest of the year. The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. Months of lockdown through some of the best early season conditions in many a year only compounded the misery!
Fast forward to October, and what better way to celebrate turning 14 than by going off for a few dives with Dad! We had got Luke an Aqua Lung Fusion Sport drysuit late last year, and so for his first experience with it, I opted to take him into the shallow, sheltered bay of Porth Dafarch on Anglesey. I have dived here many times, and knew that there would be plenty of marine life to keep him occupied.
Bundled up with various undergarments under his drysuit, and with a new hood and gloves from Fourth Element, it was a much different feeling than his 2019 dives in Egypt, Malta and Grenada. However, he was not phased, and after weight checks in the shallows and some skills and drills to get to grips with the mannerisms of a drysuit, we ventured off on an exploratory dive along the kelp and seaweed-covered reef. Shoals of pollock were everywhere, along with wrasse of all shapes and sizes, some aggressive velvet swimming crabs and a large spider crab lumbering along the sandy bottom.
We never got any deeper than 6m, the vis was around two to three metres, and there was a bit of surge in the shallows, but on surfacing after some 45 minutes, Luke had a big smile on his face and declared that drysuit diving ‘was not that hard’.
Successful first drysuit dive in the bag, the following weekend I arranged to head north into Lancashire to the popular inland dive site of Capernwray. Luke had been wanting to dive Capers for years, after seeing various articles in the magazine over the years showcasing its sunken attractions, and so I was desperate for it to live up to expectations for him.
Getting kitted up in the car park, Luke was not at all phased by the fact that apart from the odd other teenager among the myriad divers bustling about, most other people there were at least 20-25 years older than him, if not more.
As we slowly walked down to the slipway entry point, we went over the dive plan. In, weight check, then a nice relaxed dive to the airplane – for the classic ‘diver-in-the-fuselage’ shot – over to the container to see the oil rig and Cessna airplane, then back along the wall, coming up into the shallows to see Sandy the She Devil, the horses Shergar and Lord Lucan, and, hopefully, the resident sturgeon, which I had found congregating in the beginner’s area on my last visit.
It was quite busy on the slipway with divers heading out, or returning from their dives, but Luke remained focused, and within a few minutes we were descending towards the airplane – cue my aforementioned flush of parental pride.
Luke has always been very natural underwater when diving, and one comment we often hear is ‘I thought he had done far more dives than that’. So while I didn’t think he would have any issues, it was nice to see him take to drysuit diving so smoothly. I started on my path into diving with a drysuit from very early on, and so it was good to get another cold-water diver into the family – wife and Mum Penney will don cold-water garb under extreme sufferance, but is a firm warm-water devotee.
Point a camera at Luke underwater, and he instantly knows how to pose. I tried not to have him in ‘model-mode’ too much, as I wanted him to enjoy the dives themselves, but he was often waving at me and indicating for me to take a shot here, or there. I have trained him well.
We’d seen a few big trout when we first entered the water, but just as we started up the wall towards the shallows we encountered our first sturgeon. These bizarre-looking fish are attaining quite epic sizes, and they are not afraid of divers. This particular specimen was foraging in the silt, and was creating clouds of detritus in the water – no one has obviously given them a peak performance buoyancy course!
Barely had we left this individual than a real monster showed up. Looking almost prehistoric, the huge fish was totally oblivious to the presence of Luke right next to it, and the delight in his eyes as we left the sturgeon to feed was easy to see. I get a buzz out of seeing the sturgeon to this day, but when it is nearly the same size as you, you can imagine the impact!
Up in the shallows, Luke had fun playing with the ‘machine gun’ sculpture placed by a local dive club, and further encounters with smaller sturgeon, lots of trout and some chunky koi carp rounded out a solid 50-minute dive time.
Did Capers live up to expectations? The wide grin on his face when we exited the water from dive number one showed I didn’t have anything to worry about!
We trudged back up to the car, dropped off all of our kit in the back and then went to get a much-deserved hot chocolate and slice of cake to refuel before dive two. Luke was up for a bit of an explore for dive two, so we aimed to head for the HS748, then on to the oil rig and Cessna, before trying to find the Podsnap, a Dickens-class harbour minesweeper. Now, a few weeks ago, I took the guys from The Dive Line Podcast on a tour of Capers and was quite pleased that I – eventually – managed to locate the minesweeper, but this time I was on fire and we hit the vessel within seemingly a few fin strokes of the Cessna. I vaguely remembered the direction of the diving bell, and so we set off at a leisurely place to see if we could find it. I don’t know who was more surprised when it emerged from the gloom just a few minutes later! Making it an epic three-in-a-row, we went from the bell in search of the Wessex helicopter and, sure enough, we located it in short order. Could I repeat the feat? I doubt it, but I basked in the glory of my – lucky – navigational skills on that dive, I can tell you!
Leaving the Wessex and venturing back towards the exit point, we again found a few of the bigger sturgeon, before repeating our previous run through the gauntlet of shallow-water attractions and other buddy pairs of divers.
We hit the surface near the slipway bang on 50 minutes again, and Luke announced that he would like to return to see some of the other sunken goodies that we didn’t chalk off the list this time around. This will hopefully include the new attraction of Treebeard, who was lurking in the car park ready to be transported to his final resting place.
Enjoying a final drink and snack before packing up for home, I asked Luke for his thoughts on what had been a typical dive day at a UK inland dive site. He said that he had really enjoyed it – the HS748 was a particular highlight, along with the monster sturgeon – but that he couldn’t understand why there were not more young people diving. His exact comment was ‘diving is so cool, why aren’t there more kids here’. Here at Scuba Diver, we have long been campaigning to get more youngsters into diving, through The Next Generation section, and I think Luke is now set on a mission to get more people around his age range to explore the underwater realm.
Three successful drysuit dives in the bag over consecutive weekends, and Luke is all set to head out again. So where do we go? Regional lockdowns allowing, exploratory trips to different inland sites are on the cards, plus I’d love to get him in the water with the seals at the Farne Islands. Watch this space!
Capernwray Diving Centre
Capers is one of the most-popular inland dive sites in the UK, and boasts more in-water sunken attractions than many of its rivals, including the HS748 airplane, Podsnap minesweeper, and Wessex helicopter. Facilities include a well-stocked shop, air-fill station, cylinder testing business, café, toilets, and more. New attractions are always being sourced and sunk for divers.
Scuba Diver's Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. 30-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.