Sidemount Diving

My dive count is currently at forty-six, I’m certainly still a beginner when it comes to diving and I feel the need to constantly remind myself of that. The feeling when on a dive is like nothing else I’ve experienced; for the duration of a dive you’re immersed in something immensely dangerous, with equipment that requires a great deal of skill to operate safely. What’s strange, is that the sensation on a dive is completely unique- it pulls friends and dive buddies together with a common sense of care, concern and thought. There’s a deep level of camaraderie that runs, even with complete strangers throughout everyone involved. This has taught me a lot about myself, about the way I need to operate, remaining calm, watching out for others and pulling a group together to make sure we complete the goal in hand. Diving is an addiction, but one I don’t intend to give up!

Sidemount cylinders

One type of diving in particular has always interested me: sidemount. This style of diving is where instead of having the scuba unit on your back, you place it (or them) on your side. The unit is usually a little different, instead of the typical single cylinder, two cylinders are placed with one to the left and one to the right of the diver. This brings multiple different issues, such as managing multiple cylinders, multiple regulators and controlling differentiating buoyancy. However, sidemount does have some great benefits: it’s much more comfortable(!)- no more heavy cylinder strapped as you waddle around, it gives a much more natural profile in the water making diving and swimming much easier and you have increased redundancy with multiple cylinders.

Buckland Lake

My first attempt at sidemount was in a swimming pool (a not very deep, pool!). It was immediately obvious how much more comfortable the dive was – I couldn’t wait to try more and loved the experience. Fast forward and I get the opportunity at Buckland lake to complete my certification. The dives were very different in an open water environment, buoyancy is a very different experience with a sidemount harness on. When ascending I found myself needing to almost duck dive and dump from the rear valve, fine, but a little different. The comfort was great and the reassurance of having a second cylinder was fantastic. Of course, it looks very cool too – which has to count for something.

Sidemount Shore

I passed my certification that weekend and am looking forward to trying it out again soon. Undecided if it’s the way forward for my diving future, there’s a lot to think about and to buy too - but it’s certainly appealing. Perhaps I’ll wait a while and think about if it’s the correct path, that said, very glad I gave it a try and would recommend to any beginner divers to do the same and see if it’s for them. Of course, the experience wouldn’t have been possible without Tony and Janine Mansford at Southern Scuba who have been nothing but fantastic in allowing me the chance!

Ascot Property Raceday

Laurence_Ascot

Never took myself as somebody who would enjoy horse racing, not particularly sure why, just had never been something I was appealed to. Every year, Cushman & Wakefield sponsor the Ascot Property Race Day, an event targeted at bringing together real estate professionals and providing some down time for employees. I have skipped on the offer of attending every time and instead carried on working through whatever was on my plate at the time – this year some of my colleagues and I thought it might be worth a day out.

The journey to Ascot via train was a new route for me, as is much of the South West Trains network, of course, this was a decision factor! The train provided a great atmosphere with everyone on board in good spirits, impeccably dressed, picnics in tow and looking forward to a fun day out.

The Ascot racecourse has a huge stand which seems to be of recent constriction, it provides absolutely spectacular views over the well-groomed course and the surrounding areas. I incredibly impressed by the customer service at the event, with everyone being polite, friendly and attentive. From the stand, we could all of the races projected on large screens with audio commentary during the event. Also visible were flights taking off from Heathrow, some nine miles away. Interestingly, the building also served as the set for Shanghai Pudong International in James Bond’s Skyfall, putting the long and prominent escalators into the film.

There were about seven races across the day, which before starting seemed to be very few, especially when they were only going to last a few minutes. When things got going it was clear that the cadence of races was spot on, with the interval providing just enough time to visit the bar, place a bet and watch the horses get to the gates. Before each race there was a parade with the horses led around an oval for attendees to see, with the same area used afterwards for the prize giving ceremony. One race was sponsored by Cushman & Wakefield and we saw Colin Wilson, UK CEO present awards to the winning horses’ owners.

The only slight disappointment of the day was that not a single one of my bets came through, but it was certainly an enjoyable thrill with some being very close. On the journey home the train was rather delayed, having to switch to a completely different route in order to get back to Waterloo; but spirits were high and a full carriage sing-a-long provided some entertainment! Yes, most people had had a reasonable amount to drink!

A Fantastic day out, which was absolutely made by the colleagues that came along, some who are certainly considered good friends. Looking forward to next year!

Scuba Diving - Vobster Quay

Janine and Tony from Southern Scuba offered me the opportunity to come along to Vobster Quay last weekend. Vobster is a fresh water inland limestone quarry in Somerset, about a three hour drive from home. A perfect chance to get into the water and start diving after the Christmas.

vobster

This was my first time I had been to Vobster and I was very impressed with their setup, a good flat area for kitting up and getting ready, with most spots under cover. They had a good sized shop, hot food/drinks and an attended fill station. The kitting up area is right next to the car park too, so no need to walk a long way or carry equipment very far. One of the coolest features is their wristband 'tab' system, which allows you to buy what you need, gas, food, drink, accessories and then simply pay when you're finished.

Vobster was the first chance I have had to try my new regulators and BCD out which I bought just before Christmas, they have been sitting patiently in the cupboard at home. The Regulators I had serviced by Kent Diving a few weeks back and was keen to make sure they worked as they should. Both BCD and regulators were fantastic, very happy with them and despite being second hand look and appear brand new. It really makes a huge difference using equipment that is mine to use and tweak to my preference.

Me with my new regulators and BCD

Me with my new regulators and BCD

Janine & Patrick at the car

Janine & Patrick at the car

We did two dives over the Sunday and saw some interesting underwater attractions, a very large boat, tunnel, toilet(!), commercial jet plane and a car. The dives wern't too deep, most of the time we were about 12 meters down. I managed to get quite cold in a leaky dry suit, but enjoyed all of the dives and can't wait to come back and do some more exploring.

This year is going to be a busy year for diving, aiming to get my PADI Sidemount, Rescue and Nitrox certifications in order to be ready for a liveaboard trip to Egypt in September. Once I have those certifications completed I should be in a good place to either move to Master Scuba Diver or progress into Divemaster.

The (Sleepy!) Pearl of The Adriatic - Dubrovnik

Last year was always going to be difficult to top, Monaco was absolutely fantastic and we had a wonderful time; we relaxed, enjoyed good food and embraced the rich and famous lifestyle – we even flew in a helicopter! This year I was determined to try and continue our February city break tradition and after nowhere near enough research or preparation I decided that we should give Dubrovnik, Croatia a visit.

Dubrovnik Old City

Dubrovnik Old City

Dubrovnik is not a place I had a particular desire to visit, although pictures of the old town, along the coastline certainly made it quite appealing and were definitely the biggest selling point. The town has recently become synonymous with the Game of Thrones franchise, many scenes from ‘King’s Landing’ are filmed here, which is pretty interesting. The other big reason for picking here is that Croatia is a country I have not yet visited and I have a personal quest to visit four new countries/territories this year (see my list); so there was that too...

The flight out to Dubrovnik was exceptionally and painfully early in the morning; of the many, many flights I have logged in flightdiary it is the earliest I have ever taken. Not really sure why it needed to be so early, but we didn’t have too much of a choice, there is only one flight every other day and nobody only British Airways fly direct from London during winter. Despite this, it gave us a good headstart on the day. Once we arrived it was a short taxi drive to the old city, getting there was far simpler than the internet would have you believe. Thirty euros to a transfer website and there was a chap waiting for us at the terminal, easy. The old city is completely pedestrianized so the closest a taxi will get you is a spot called Pile Gate where it’s time to grab the bags and walk!

Dubrovnik Harbour

Dubrovnik Harbour

St Lawrence Fortress

St Lawrence Fortress

The Airbnb was fantastic! A very strange bedroom downstairs and kitchen upstairs type affair but it was comfortable, cozy and all we needed. The street outside was absolutely to die for, old brick, with buildings squeezed in together with narrow, steep steps to the main street. I had some reservations that the streets might be fabricated for tourism or that many of the pictures online are of one tiny spot and the rest was nothing like it, I promise you, there is not an ugly street in the city!

Dubrovnik Old City Street

Dubrovnik Old City Street

On the first day we walked about the City Walls, these are the dominant feature of Dubrovnik and surround the city in order to defend against attack. The structures are a result of work that took place between the 7th and 17th century, the majority of their present definition is from work that took place around the 14th century where after the city-state of Dubrovnik flourished through maritime trade. The history of the walls is thoroughly impressive and it’s an absolute marvel that they are still standing in such great condition. They are along with the city itself one of Croatia’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Locations. If you plan on visiting the walls, be prepared for a reasonable amount of physical activity, it’s a good distance around the city and there are plenty of incline changes and steps involved, do take water, especially if it’s summer time!

Being winter there wasn’t a particularly large number of restaurants and bars open which was unfortunate, the city was quiet but there was a great place open called Posat. Not a cheap place but we were very well looked after; to eat we shared a fresh fish cooked to order and a soup made from the head and cheeks! We drank Croatian wine which was surprisingly good and even had space for deserts. Certainly recommended if you do choose to visit, I would expect that during summer booking would be essential.

Laurence & Victoria with Lokrum Island in the background

Laurence & Victoria with Lokrum Island in the background

The second day we took things much easier, we had a coffee on the square and took a slow walk around the city. We found that we could walk around the walls alongside the sea to get a great view of the surrounding islands and sheer vertical walls of the city. There are numerous small hidden doorways out to the cliffs, our favourite was one which led to a place called Buza Bar. This is probably the best view from any bar I’ve been to, with unhindered views across towards Lokrum Island and the Adriatic. We didn’t stay for the sunset, but apparently it’s quite spectacular. As with Posat, I imagine this place is an absolute zoo in the summer months, and certainly is one of the coolest bars in the city. If you ever go to Dubrovnik, it’s essential you don’t miss this. Towards the end of the day we had a nap (because we were completely exhausted form the day before!) and ended up watching the England vs Wales Six Nations game in the Irish Pub. Glad we did as the game was absolutely fantastic and England won.

Laurence on the cliffs

Laurence on the cliffs

By Sunday we were very tired indeed! We had a bit of a lay in, which was a bit weird, all we could hear was people walking up and down the steps outside. We got up, pulled ourselves together and decided to go on a big walk. We headed out of the old city and towards Lapad and the main marina area of Dubrovnik. It wasn’t the sunniest of days but the walk was pretty good and we found a cool street with cafes and bars that was much less tourist-focused. As with the old city a lot of places were closed for winter, but we made do and still had a good time enjoying the scenery. Exhausted and hungry we got the bus back to the town, which was really quite easy. Without much hanging around we hit the Irish pub for a beer and a burger – now regulars, along with almost everyone else who was there, who all of course happened to be on the same BA flight.

Gruz Harbour, Dubrovnik

Gruz Harbour, Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is certainly one of the stranger places we’ve been to, although I can’t quite put my finger on why that’s the case. It has some great history, fantastic food and a weird European vibe that we’ve not experienced before. That said, it was a great trip and we had a fantastic time enjoying the city and despite it being winter time, actually enjoyed the peace, quiet and new surroundings. Would we go back? Probably, although we wouldn’t rush back, where Monaco we certainly would rush back!