EuroTek2018 & Thai Cave Rescue

This was my first scuba-related conference and naturally I had no idea what to expect. The conference was without doubt, a top five highlight of 2018, an absolutely fantastic two day experience that surpassed any expectations I had.

The show is in it’s tenth year and is scheduled every other year, being the tenth anniversary I understood it was a little more special than usual. We were one of the first through the door on Saturday morning, keen to get in a see what everything was all about. The organising team, who all have normal day-jobs had done a fantastic job of pulling together talks, merchandise, attendee bags and some very handsome lanyards and registration cards.

 Lanyard

Lanyard

The first talk of the weekend was from Emily, a boat operator and subject matter expert of all things shipwreck in the Orkney Isles. Emily explained the history of the famously scuttled German WW1 Grand Fleet, walking the audience through the salvage efforts that took place and everything that is left which can be seen today. Emily’s understanding, excitement and commitment to the subject was nothing short of absolute which made for a very gripping and interesting talk.

As many readers will know, Scapa Flow is one of my Scuba aspirations and the reason I began to explore technical diving. The talk did nothing but generate an even bigger desire to visit the ships and truly experience them under the water. Believe there is a Southern Scuba trip in the works for late 2020.

 Emily Turton’s Talk

Emily Turton’s Talk

Following the Scapa talk, Polish diver Krzysztof Starnawski talked through some of his cave explorations and world record-breaking diving achievements. His talk was incredible, Krzysztof is recognised as one of the worlds leading extreme cave explorers and deep diving experts. Regularly diving solo to depths of over 200m and many hundreds of meters deep inside cave systems. The videos he shared showed him pushing professional-grade equipment beyond it’s normal capabilities, a $1,200 dive computer imploded in front if this face (it lasted until 280m!). If Krzysztof’s talk wasn’t enough on it’s merit alone, the nuggets of humour he provided made it truly enjoyable. His blasé attitude to the most serious of diving protocols wouldn’t normally be forgiven, but his experience and expertise was without question.

 The Conference Floor

The Conference Floor

They keynote talk wasn’t missed by anyone present over the weekend, the talk was focused on what was without question the biggest diving-related news story of 2018; quite possibly the biggest diving news story of all time. The Tham Luang Nang Non Cave Rescue brought British cave divers into international headlines for several weeks while the world hung on to hope that the Thai football team were found alive and then ultimately saved. During the operation the British team shared only limited information (they explained why during the talk), so this was the first time anyone had heard a warts-and-all story from the team themselves before and the first time since the event that the entire team had been brought together.

The story was mind blowing, frankly. The behind the scenes glimpse of what went on didn’t disappoint and the team shared everything to the diving peers present in the audience. Rick Stanton talked about a largely un-reported initial rescue of four Thai workers who were also unknowingly trapped during the initial stages of the rescue, Richard Harris described some of the unprecedented medical challenges of the operation. The part that took me by surprise was just how difficult this effort was, it was made even more real with video and photographs of the cave route. The group had accepted that some loss of life was inevitable and received diplomatic immunity in order to proceed with their operation. Thankfully as we now know, all of the boys were brought out alive. The Cave Rescue Team received awards and a five-minute standing ovation from the 800 delegates, an incredibly moving moment.

 The Thai Cave Rescue Team

The Thai Cave Rescue Team

The highlight of the second day was a talk from Alex Santos from PhilTech on the difficult task of victim recovery following a maritime disaster. Alex shared a number of videos, best practices and potential difficulties with the audience with the aim of raising awareness of if/when anyone is requested to perform similar tasks. This was a very real presentation and while somber in places was very well presented.

As I write this on the train journey home I continue to be surprised at just how fantastic the conference was. Unfortunately we’ll need to wait until 2020 for the next show!

Thank you to Southern Scuba, the speakers and the EuroTek organising team. Great weekend!

Helsinki

2018 was very close to being the year that I broke my (now six-year!) trend of visiting a new country every year. By a touch of luck, a change of job (expect a post on that soon) allowed for the trend to continue by offering the exciting opportunity to visit my second Nordic country, Finland.

Three things spring to mind when I think of Finland:

  1. It's Cold
  2. Formula One Drivers
  3. There's a BrewDog in Helsinki

Unfortunately, Valtteri and Kimi were both out of town. I did, however, manage to confirm it is definitely cold and that there is indeed a BrewDog in Helsinki, keep reading for more on that.

Another unexpected treat was waiting at Heathrow, a three-month-old fresh-plane-smelling Airbus A320 NEO (G-TTND for those interested). One of only a handful of the new jets in BA's fleet. The plane is essentially the same as all the others but has some sexy Sharklets (see picture below).

 British Airways, A320neo

British Airways, A320neo

There was ice and snow on the ground in Helsinki which was good evidence that it was definitely cold. The water in the below picture is the sea, apparently, and I'm told that it does freeze over so it can't have been that cold while we were there. Come to think of it this is a first, I have never seen the Baltic Sea before! Can't say I'd want to swim in it.

The below picture is the view from the Hotel, where the view was quite impressive. To the right of the picture, but out of shot is a large rocky hill where the Finnish Civil Defense Museum is located, I was quite surprised to learn that Finland has one of the most comprehensive shelter systems in the world, capable of accommodating the entire population.

 View from the Hilton Strand Hotel, Helsinki, Finland

View from the Hilton Strand Hotel, Helsinki, Finland

It had to be done. BrewDog has become the newer and hipper, equivalent of Hard Rock Cafe. For what it's worth, I feel like BrewDog does actually differ from location to location, where Hard Rock is literally the same no matter where you are in the world (speaking from experience).

This particular BrewDog was unique in that it had absolutely no customers, which was kind of spooky. They did have a surprisingly large selection of local beers though, something I think BrewDog are doing a good job of in most international locations. I had a strange sour beer which was sour but still a little too sweet for me. One thing worth noting, although every beer-blog will do the same is that it is HIDEOUSLY expensive to drink in Helsinki, come to think about it, perhaps that explains the lack of patrons.

 BrewDog Helsinki

BrewDog Helsinki

My First Parkrun

Today was a big day - I decided that it was time to participate in my first ever Parkrun. The weather was great and I was up and ready for a run at 7:30 am. Paul and I arrived early and I was surprised at just how big the whole thing was, there were almost 400 participants, some seriously committed.

 Great Lines, Gillingham, Kent

Great Lines, Gillingham, Kent

Since this was my first run I didn't want to put the hammer down too hard but I also wanted to try and get a respectable time. The course itself was nice and level, with a mix of paths, track and grass. Having others running alongside you makes a huge difference to performance, I didn't want to be overtaken too much, but enjoyed the thrill of overtaking others!

 Me, Great Lines Parkrun #253

Me, Great Lines Parkrun #253

I clocked in at 28:08 for the 5km distance, which is a personal best time for me (outside of Parkrun too), it felt great and I am confident that I could shave more off of that in the future too. My position was 163rd although I was virtually last in my age bracket! As a complete novice, I am pretty happy with my time, It's certainly better than I would have been able to achieve earlier in the year.

I absolutely loved the run and am looking forward to hitting more events soon! Waving goodbye to my Saturdays.

Marsa Alam, Egypt

Can't get enough of that Red Sea diving! Shortly after getting home from Singapore I was heading east once again and couldn't wait to get in the water. My previous trip to Egypt was on a Liveaboard, a week-long holiday on board a 26-berth yacht, it was great (I'll get round to writing the blog at some point) but I wasn't a huge fan of being confined to a small space for an entire week. The trip this time was planned around shore-based diving and so allowed for better accommodation a more relaxed pace and the chance to get out more.

After some planning and coordination, part of my itinerary was a trip to Cairo; the plan was to join the group for the package-holiday trip in Marsa Alam and leave a day early to travel solo to Cairo for a few days. While Cairo isn't on the list (actually, I'm going to add it), I have always wanted to see the pyramids and thought that this would be a good opportunity to do so. I'd then fly back home to London from Cairo and get back in time to be in the office on Monday. The plan was sound but didn't quite work out, I'll explain...

 Me enjoying The Red Sea, Marsa Alam, Egypt

Me enjoying The Red Sea, Marsa Alam, Egypt

Landing in Marsa Alam Airport was a very different experience than Hurghada, the airport is tiny and most of the few flights are to European destinations to serve the tourism. After buying a visa at the exchange desk and a 10 euro SIM card it was a 40minute drive to the hotel and dive centre. The roads here are quite perilous, not the worst I've experienced but are pretty sketchy.

We were staying at the Dreams Beach Resort Marsa Alam and diving with the in-resort centre, Deep Ocean Blue. Janine and Tony had been here before so knew what to expect, they are good friends with the owner and have even instructed at the centre before - I knew we'd be in good hands!

 Ant, Me and Janine, Diving in Marsa Alam, Egypt

Ant, Me and Janine, Diving in Marsa Alam, Egypt

Over the week I did several dives with my dive buddy Ant, the house reef was particularly good, it was great to be able to walk to the beach and just dive in. The highlight of the trip was an excursion dive south of the resort where after waiting around in the water we were able to see a Dugong (Sea Cow) which was absolutely fantastic.

The resort was good but not amazing, we were visiting in the low season so there were very few guests in comparison with the size of the hotel. The quality and availability of food was, however, very good, as were the drinks and snacks. Unfortunately, a few days in I was not too well and spent much of the holiday recovering from The Pharaoh's Revenge. It didn't really stop me from doing too much but it certainly wasn't a pleasant experience!

The day ahead of my flight to Cairo I decided that I wasn't well enough so sadly decided to cancel that portion of the trip. Luckily the hotel and flight to London were both refundable, so it wasn't a huge problem. It was a big shame, I was really looking forward to getting to the pyramids and checking out Cairo.

 Zodiac in Port Ghalib, Marsa Alam, Egypt

Zodiac in Port Ghalib, Marsa Alam, Egypt

One of the highlights of staying in Marsa Alam was Port Ghalib, a large marina south of the airport where there is a collection of restaurants and shops catering to international tourists. The atmosphere here was very relaxing with great beer, drinks and food available at reasonably cheap prices. behind the major promenade, there is a small street where vendors sell knockoff handbags, watches and shoes. If you're in the market for that kind of stuff, this is the place.

 Dinner in El Qoseir, Egypt

Dinner in El Qoseir, Egypt

On the last day of the holiday Nader, the owner of Deep Ocean Blue took the group to a restaurant in El Qoseir. The town was a 40-minute drive from the resort in the opposite direction to everywhere else we had been. It was an excellent experience, we ate Egyptian bread, tahini, lamb kebab, chicken and soup. While in El Qoseir I was able to sneak away from the table and buy some unusual snacks and drinks for the way home, including some Egyptian cheese (of course). We spent only a short time in the town but It was very interesting, it was almost completely untouched by tourism, I loved coming here!

A great trip diving, with fantastic company and although there was less diving than the previous trip I really enjoyed being able to relax and get out to see some of Egypt. The pyramids will need to wait!

I visited Marsa Alam in April, 2018