MARC WEST jumps in feet first to help mark Oxford Sub Aqua Club’s 60th anniversary

For a club that’s almost as far from the sea as it’s possible to get, Oxford Sub Aqua Club has a healthy membership, who meet every week to indulge their passion and share their treasure trove of memories.

Formed in 1956, and recently celebrating its 60th anniversary, the club's trailblazing founders equipped themselves with whatever was available at the time – homemade neoprene suits and even woolly sweaters – to dive the Thames after being inspired by the legendary French underwater explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.

The club’s colourful history has even seen some members’ involvement in one of the most complex and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology: the raising of King Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose from the bottom of the Solent.

While no such treasure was likely to be found at Radley College Sports Centre’s pool, I jumped feet first at the opportunity to explore the world from a perspective, most will never experience – despite never having been particularly confident in water. The fact it was Friday 13th had not escaped my superstitious conscience, but I was reassuringly informed they've "not drowned anyone...yet".

Once kitted up with buoyancy jacket, mask, fins (“not flippers”) and a regulator set, I was ready to join my very patient and trustworthy 'dive buddy' Howard in the water. Starting with dipping my toe in the shallow end to acclimatise and build confidence, we eventually progressed further under the water, communicating through a series of simple hand signals. Thumbs down means “let’s go deeper”.

While most people in January are desperately trying to loose a few pounds, I needed to gain a couple of kilos of dead weight to keep me under the surface. And, to my delight, I found I was almost weightless underwater.

In this octopus's garden of sorts, we were indeed warm(ish) beneath the icy storm raging across the county above. And, this specialist equipment enables us to swim like fish and explore this watery realm. There’s great deal to remember – a bit like learning to drive – and most first-timers have a 'Marmite' reaction.

I found it quite simply thrilling being six foot under and still breathing. It’s overwhelming otherworldly – quiet, peaceful, almost meditative. Some say, it’s the closest you can get to being an astronaut other than training with NASA. It’s certainly an adventure.

Back at the cosy clubhouse, I get to decompress with my fellow aquatic action heroes over a nice cuppa. I may not have discovered gold aboard a coral-encrusted Spanish galleon in Montego Bay, but I’m certainly richer for the experience.

The award-winning family-friendly branch holds try-dives every week, allowing (almost) anyone with a sense of adventure the chance to sample this exciting sport and gain an insight into the fascinating world beneath the waves. Accompanied by a BSAC qualified instructor, you’ll receive full poolside tuition on diving techniques and equipment, before entering the water for an experience like no other.