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.
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.
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.
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 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!