TekCamp Part #1 – The Long Way Round to meeting Paul Toomer

Day T-1

TekCamp had finally arrived … well sort of.

It was 4.30am on the Sunday, the motorhome was loaded with twinsets, kit, food and 60 cans of Carlsberg; what could possibly be more right with that picture?

Kerri and I fired up “Frieda” the 22 year old camper and headed to the ferry terminal in hope of reaching TekCamp before Monday morning at least.

I appreciate logistically there are more efficient routes to Somerset from Belfast, but ferry timetables and financial constraints dictated the ‘Long Way Round,’ all we were missing was Ewan McGregor or Charlie Boorman. In hindsight a support team would have been appreciated in the days to come, but more on that later.

The crossing was only 3 hours; we docked quickly and hit the shores of Scotland at 10.30am. It was here that Kerri and I made out first navigational error, in that we followed the sat nav. Sat navs are lying bastards. We turned right rather than left and took a ridiculously long ‘scenic route’ through the hills of Stranraer. It was pretty, and I am sure my parents would have enjoyed the views, but all we wanted to do was get to TekCamp and not strain the grossly underpowered van any more than was absolutely necessary.

The 389 mile 11.5 hour journey was hard work. Traffic congestion was horrendous. How can such a big motorway come to a complete standstill, and then just start moving again? Thankfully we had AC/DC blaring through the speakers and we both settled for singing different variations of “aye-e-eye-e-yo - Shake Your Foundations.

We may have amused other motorists in the queue rather than just ourselves.

The day light faded to black, the roads became narrower but finally the lying bastard got us to the campsite. We arrived to find a handful of tents already pitched, but no sign of life, so i opted for a quick beer to wind down a bit.

2 mins later a car pulled in with German registration plates and the steering wheel on the wrong side. It was Richard Roethe from Diverscorner blog. The nutter had driven more than twice the distance we had, departing from Dresden, and arrived at the same time; bloody German efficiency.

We had a short chat while Kerri prepared some pasta then Richard built his tent. Kerri and I had dinner; Richard retired to his nylon palace until morning.

Sleep was sporadic at best.

Day 1

The morning came quickly with excitement waking the campsite early. Richard joined us for tea in Frieda; a fatal flaw by us as it was now clear to the rest of the camp that we had boiling water…

We soon met a few of the other campers; Tara (a crazy Canadian), Trudy (the woman with the unwritten rules) and John (so polite i'm surprised he survied). They were all very friendly, equally excited, and curious as to what the day would bring. Collectively we started up the wagons and headed to Vobster Quay convoy style for our first proper day of TekCamp!

Driving into Vobster was amazing.

The car park was filling up nicely and the rather splendid TekCamp banners were everywhere. I found it strange, at nearly 35 years old to be so excited, but I really couldn’t wait to meet the instructors, other divers and get into the water to do some diving. Kerri and I were beside ourselves with excitement, it was all I could do not to blast the horn as AC/DC continued to blare from the speakers.

We parked Frieda and headed over to the seated area by the quarry for our first TekCamp briefing from Martin Stanton; the brains behind the operation. Every morning Martin gave a very concise roster of that would be happening that day and who we would be with, at the same time I gave a little chuckle as he reminded me so much of Rik Mayall’s character from ‘The New Statesman.’ Totally unfounded, but amused me to no end.

As the briefing continued Wife-buddy and I were allocated Paul V Toomer for the day. This was fabulous news. We had already requested Paul as an instructor and were thrilled that he was our introduction to TekCamp. Within 5 mins of meeting Paul it was clear we were going to get along famously with the tattooed South African.

Despite being there to learn stuff, I don’t think we stopped laughing all day. To meet an instructor of his calibre was amazing, yet after only an hour the banter was really starting to flow.

We also got to meet ‘Jim the safety diver.’ Jim was great craic too; he had flown over from Egypt to attend TekCamp and is a pioneer in his own right, delving into the madness of cave exploration. More on that later.

Out first dive was a weight check, in which i lost all the weight I had on, then onto propulsion techniques. We were shown how to frog kick correctly, hover, back kick (a bit) and how to use our dry suit for buoyancy. Using the suit for buoyancy was a unique experience. I didn’t touch my wing inflator all day, and being correctly weighted I found once the squeeze was taken off the suit I was 100% neutral in the water. It was an amazing feeling and I had a great dive enjoying the control.

photo (c) copyright Jason Brown
BARDO creative

Half way through the dive Paul also decided to interfere with Kerri. He took away 2kg from her pouch initially and then went back for the rest. In total we lost 6kg between us. Frightening to think we carried so much additional weight, but not as frightening as watching a swarthy, tattooed South African fiddle around your wife’s crotch.

Over lunch we had a de-brief discussing what we would be doing in our afternoon session. Paul was pleased enough with our ability, offering constructive advice on the back kick which we had yet to perfect. It is a difficult manoeuvre, which undoubtedly takes time to become proficient. Personally I was still adjusting to the ‘neutral bouyancy’ thing. I constantly felt I was going to float off, but never did; it was so bizarre.

After lunch we were treated to the first set of talks.

Our new friend Mr Paul Toomer gave a talk on Into To Technical Diving giving an interesting insight into what makes a diver move into tech diving. The conclusion was that there should be more women tech divers – I don’t have a problem sharing a car park with lots of women getting changed at a dive site; so i’m with you mate.

Next up was Rich Walker from Global Underwater Explorers explaining Project Baseline. It was an excellent presentation and really made me think about conducting a small project myself on our local dive site. It seemed to spark off a new enthusiasm for sites that were dived regularly and would give a new purpose to my diving.

Duncan Price from The Cave Diving Group then proceeded to horrify me as he described cave exploration in Wookey Hole. To be honest I have no interest in caves, certainly not ones of that nature, and wasn’t going to attend the talk. However I quickly became enthralled with the project and filled with amazement at what the man had achieved. Don’t get me wrong, the poor man obviously lacks the ability to be afraid, and was only compounded when he demonstrated his homemade sidemount rebreather unit, which had an uncanny resemblance to a Dyson hoover. Fascinating.

With the talks all done we regrouped with Tall Poomer (he’s a big fella) and discussed our next dive plan further. Campsite buddy Linda joined us for the next dive and we wandered into the green for some more fining and advanced stage handling.

My backwards fining was coming along nicely now. I appreciate my definition of backwards may be different to most, but I wasn’t going forwards as fast anyway.

We levelled over one of the platforms and Paul unclipped his ali80 stage and fired it over to me like a submarine rocket; he appeared to be enjoying the neutral characteristics of the bottle.

That was one to the big man.

I caught it (just) and finally managed to clip it off to my harness, then I sent it over to Kerri and she repeated the rotation until the stage ended up with Linda. I have never really been great with stage handling so I enjoyed the practice. Kerri is much better and it was apparent Linda was very comfortable as she clipped it off almost immediately.

Up’staged’ by 2 girls.

After an hour the boss man ended the dive and gave the signal to send up a dsmb. I enjoyed the skill and got my bag up no probs – the power of Halcyon!

Kerri had apparently ‘forgotten’ her Frog (poor Halcyon rip off) dsmb and didn’t send one up. I knew her game. The Frog dsmb is shit, and almost impossible to inflate in the water without minor dental surgery afterwards. I suspected she may have ‘forgotten’ it was in her pocket the whole time – but who am I to judge?

I shopped her later to Mark Powell.

A controlled ascent followed and we re-grouped on the surface. It was a fantastic end to the days diving and we both had an absolute blast with Paul. It was amazing to dive with him and the man is truly excellent in the water.

photo (c) copyright Jason Brown - BARDO creative

A BBQ dinner was ready by the time we got our kit off and completed our de-brief. The consensus was we were all great. Well, more or less. After dinner we left our tanks in for a fill of 32% and roared up the hill in Frieda to the campsite.

Upon arrival I took care of the essentials, i.e. I filled a cool bag with beer and headed to the barn to enjoy Mark Powell give an Introduction To Decompression Theory talk.

I figured I would need at least 10 tins to make sense of that madness. It was fascinating, and within 45mins I fully understood how the different decompression algorithms compared, including the rather confusing “gradient factors.” Mark also proved to be the most important speaker of the week as he was the only one to get a microphone, or perhaps because he’s small… who knows?

Once the talks were done more beers followed and we began to mingle among the important people. For fear of making a complete twat of myself on the first day by 11pm, Kerri and I opted for bed, and to be honest with the excitement finally fading I was bloody exhausted.

Day one had been and gone, and what a day it was. I had dived with one of the top dive instructors in the world, listened to the leading man on decompression theory and then enjoyed a beer with them.

TekCamp was proving to be more fun than expected and it had only begun…

Proceed to DAY 2 - Mark Powell, The Karate Kid and ... the triangles..


  1. Enjoyed reading your TekCamp experience. To bad charlie wasn't there. Would love to join next year.


  2. You have to go next year - it was tremendous fun!


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Safe diving buddy.