One day in 1970, Pat Finn was watching pioneering divers Hans and Lotte Haas on TV and decided he just had to give scuba diving a go. He enjoyed it so much that he went on to form the Sudbury Scuba Club with a mate and soon after was joined by five more friends.
In those early days diving was limited to local sites, including Acton Pits – now a landfill site.
Original Sudbury Scuba members at Acton Pits
Equipment was fairly rudimentary at the time. Diving suits were homemade from neoprene that had to be cut from a paper pattern and held together with glue. ‘Surface Life Jackets’, the forerunners to BCDs, were inflated using a pneumatic cylinder, but only when absolutely necessary as refills cost 5 shillings each. Instead, the divers used what they could to control buoyancy, including rocks!
Diving practice took place in the open-air pool at Belle Vue park in Sudbury and the club would get together with the Ipswich Scuba Club at Fore Street baths, Ipswich.
Trips included Gildenburgh Water, which was even more basic than it is now – with old brick kilns acting as changing rooms.
Gildenburgh, 1972 (Pat is on the right)
At Stoney Cove the intrepid group achieved their first 100 feet dive, using a single, capillary type, depth gauge between them.
The River Stour was often dived at Ballingdon, where old soda bottles thrown from the bridge were to be found. The river was ‘full bore’ at the time (becoming more controlled in later years), so the flow could be very fast at times.
Removing old oak bridge posts at Ballingdon, 1972
Pat and the other club members had plenty of diving adventures around this time, but in 1977, with local work hard to come by, Pat left Sudbury to work in Brighton. Other club members also went their separate ways and so the club folded.
Fast forward then to January 1991, when Pat got together with mates in the building trade, fire service and others to re-form Sudbury Scuba. The club now had eleven members and the decision to become a branch of BSAC was made – primarily in order to borrow diving kit!
The club then started to travel further afield, including dives in Weybourne in Norfolk, Hallsands in Devon, Eyemouth and Scapa Flow in Scotland, Peterport in Guernsey, Gozo near Malta and even to the Truk Lagoon in Indonesia.
The club gradually continued to grow and at the turn of the century had around 35 members. Numbers have fluctuated since then but interest in diving is on the increase again and Sudbury Scuba Club is thriving once more!
Many thanks to Pat Finn for the memories, brochures, photos and cuttings.
Land's End, 2001