Cris Ballinger - The Saturation and Deep Divers - by Ginge Fullen
Cris Ballinger BEM - Intro
The Saturation and Deep Divers - - In at the Deep End
These Chronicles try and give a little insight into saturation diving and the deep dives undertaken by the Royal Navy and ex CD’s operating in the commercial sector. The Royal Navy led the way for many years in diving generally and deep diving specifically. Since diving started in the Navy in 1843 the race between requirement, technology, safety and science would dictate the pace of going beneath the waves and later deep diving for the next 150 years or so of the Royal Navy. They worked hand in hand with leading equipment pioneers of the day such as Seibe Gorman and eminent scientists and diving specialists such as John Scott Haldane and later Val Hempleman. The Admiralty appointed the first ever Deep Diving Committee who’s aim was to investigate the prevention of Compressed Air Illness which trials culminated in a 210 foot dive (64 metres) in 1906 which is rather modest by today’s standards but was a world record at the time. A second Deep Diving Committee was appointed in the early 30’s in which the Royal Navy reclaimed the deep dive record of 306 feet held by the American Navy increasing it to 344 feet (105 metres). Rather incredible depths considering it was achieved on air.
During WW2 the Navy invented and pioneered various diving equipment and procedures required for far different underwater roles than deep diving. After the war though attention turned to Submarine rescue and again deep diving was at the forefront of navy diving. Several different experimental teams and units were set up and several deep diving ships were in service over the decades after World War 2. In 1948 the Royal Navy regained the deep diving world record once again from the Americans with a dive of 535 feet (163m) and by 1956 had put a man down to a record depth of 600 feet (182 metres) albeit for only a few minutes. In the 60’s and 70’s Saturation Diving and deep diving interest grew at a phenomenal rate both militarily and commercially. Divers could now stay at depths for longer and go far deeper. In the 70’s and 80’s Clearance Divers were involved in several deep saturation dives in America, Canada, the Royal Naval Physiological Laboratory (RNPL) in Gosport and the ships Clansman and Challenger.
By 1975 the record for an in-water dive was 350 metres held by the American Navy. This dive also included a Royal Navy Diver. In the civilian diving world ex CD’s have been involved in dives of over 400 metres. Standard Divers and later Clearance Divers had broken records for nearly a century until in the early 1990’s saturation diving and effectively deep diving ceased in the military and so ended one of the truly pioneering aspects that divers in the Royal Navy ever undertook. Few people have the opportunity to go really deep but history records those who have even if they are little known or forgotten about even amongst the Clearance Diver branch. I estimate only around 200 Clearance Divers undertook sat dives in the Navy and only around 50 of those Clearance Divers (serving or ex) have achieved depths of 300 metres or more either in water or in a chamber.