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Mass Zenobia dive for ‘gentleman and legend’

Ray Woolley was for several years the world’s oldest active scuba diver, but the British expatriate died in Cyprus last year – and now a number of his diving friends have assembled under water to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.

Woolley had remained unusually fit well into his 90s through a regular routine of swimming and diving, although American centenarian Bill Lambert eventually took the Guinness World Record (GWR) from him with what amounted to a one-off dive in 2020. The British diver's death at 99 was reported on Divernet last November.

Woolley had long planned to celebrate his 100th birthday by diving the Zenobia ferry wreck in Larnaca, where he had set three world records when he was 94, 95 and 96, but after he became ill and realised that this would not be possible he had planned to sit on the boat while his old friends dived.

Diving the Zenobia: 
Ray Woolley in his record-breaking days
Ray Woolley in his record-breaking days

The mass memorial dive went ahead on Saturday, 26 August and included 30 present and past members of two local BSAC branches, the Western Sovereign Base Area SAC of RAF Akrotiri and Eastern Cyprus SAC, and others from Viking Divers. The group left a commemorative plaque on the Zenobia

62 years of diving

Woolley was born in Cheshire in 1923. During WW2 he served in the Royal Navy Radio Branch and was on convoy duties in 1943/44 before being seconded to the Special Boat Service in the Dodecanese. He was among the first Allied troops to land on Rhodes in May 1945.

After the war, Woolley worked as a radio engineer and started diving late in 1960, at the age of 37, with Portland & Weymouth BSAC. He was still able to fit in some 62 years of diving.

He was posted to Cyprus with the Foreign Office in 1964, and over three tours of duty was secretary, diving officer and expedition-member of BSAC 107S. He also became an advanced diving instructor.

In 1983 his work took him to Dubai, where he was a founder-member and first diving officer of BSAC 1388. In 1999 he retired to Limassol in Cyprus, having dived all over the world.

Ray Woolley
Ray Woolley

The mass dive was organised, as all Woolley’s record dives had been, by WSBA SAC diving officer David Turner. “I dived with Raymond from 2006 until he injured his back when he was 97 and, following that, his illness,” he told Divernet. “I visited him regularly while he was unable to dive.”

Kept descending

On his third GWR dive, Woolley had agreed to go no deeper than 30m, Turner recalled. “As we got to 30, he signalled to go down. I signalled no but, of course, he went to 35m and, again, he signalled down, so we went to the sand at 41m, where he shook hands with me and our two safety divers.

“At the surface, despite his age, he insisted on climbing the ladder onto the Viking boat in full kit, though he did consent to me discreetly taking his integrated weights out before he surfaced.

“On the surface he was welcomed by over 50 divers and all the press that Cyprus could muster. I raised the issue about breaking the agreed depth. He looked at me and said he just needed to go to the bottom and shake hands with everyone. A proud, independent gentleman to the last.”

Woolley's funeral in Limassol had been attended by “many divers, dive-company representatives from across the island, members of the British Legion, the military attaché from the British High Commission in Nicosia, friends and family”, said Turner.

“A sad day – I will be attending his one-year memorial day on 12 November with his family.” The plaque left on the Zenobia read: “Remembered by all who dived with him, as a true gentleman and legend”.

Also on Divernet: The myth behind the Zenobia, Zenobia divers hit back at ‘anarchy' charge, 60 pots to boost Larnaca’s dive appeal 

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Crispin
Crispin
5 months ago

Absolute legend, great diver.

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