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Researching History of BSAC 406 Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club

muscat_diver

War Hero
The email below was circulated to current members recently and the author is looking for additional information if available:

Hi all

This year marks a major milestone in the history of BSAC 406. This year we are 50 years old. The actual birthday comes later in the year in October, but to start with, I have tried to put together an account of the formation and early days of the club.

The story is incomplete and some speculation is required, but I would like to express grateful thanks to Sandra Crowley of BSAC HQ who sent me some documents from the early days and former members, John Lewis and Alan Locker, who supplied some other details noted below.
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The club as currently constituted, came into being on 29th September 1970 at an inaugural meeting at the flat of Mr. Jeremy Bonnell in Dubai. Jeremy was formerly a member of BSAC 001 in London.

To quote the minutes: “It was unanimously agreed that a Dubai sub-aqua club be formed and it should be a branch of the B.S.A.C.”

The founding committee was:

Jeremy Bonnell – Chairman (Sir William Halcrow & Partners)
Robert Kerr – Secretary (Sir William Halcrow & Partners)
Blair Littlejohn – Treasurer (Eastern Bank Ltd)
George Featherstone – Diving Officer (Trucial Oman Scouts)
William Cook – Equipment Officer (Not recorded)

Pool training would be Wednesday evenings at RAF Sharjah and lectures would be held on Tuesday evenings. Dive fees were set at QDR 5 per dive, QDR being “Qatari-Dubai-Rial”, the UAE Dirham not having been invented at that point. Not surprising really as the UAE didn’t exist at the time.

Clearly some groundwork had already been done, as the application form to turn the club into a BSAC branch was signed and dated on the same day. Full membership of BSAC in those days cost £ 4. 0. 0. This was posted to BSAC a week later. BSAC replied within a month confirming the branch name (Dubai) and the number (406). Also included was an invoice for 10 log-books at 3/- each making a total of £ 1/10/0d. Such were the vagaries of pre-decimal British currency.

The letter of confirmation was dated 22nd October but the actual date of formation of BSAC 406 was 21st October 1970, initially as Dubai Diving Club.

However, the roots of the club go back further. Two of the founding members (U.P. Schoch and D. Kelly) were transferring from an existing and earlier Sharjah branch, BSAC 270, and the founding DO, George Featherstone, transferred from the even earlier 1st Foresters branch, BSAC 257. Both of these were “special” branches, presumably part of the British military presence in the region, but this is speculative as I have no information.

What the club used as a base in those very early days if in fact it had one, there is no record but in the event, the name “Dubai Diving Club” lasted less than six months. In March 1971, the club informed BSAC HQ of the name change to “Trucial States Diving Club”. It seems likely that this coincided with the move into the clubhouse on Ajman beach, but I don’t know for sure.

To digress slightly: BSAC diving in Dubai was later re-born as the Dubai Sports Diving Club (BSAC 1339) in the late 70’s or early 1980. Later renamed Desert Sports Diving Club to avoid upsetting the local authorities, they remain active and in recent times have been a bigger club than BSAC 406 although regrettably they have lost access to what used to be a very nice clubhouse in Al Quoz.

To return to the story…

John Lewis:

I got there in 74 and the club was in the beach house in Ajman.

Beach House Ajman.jpg


The UDF guys were stalwart members with their base just down the road it was easy for them to have the bar and club open most afternoons and the place was a real gathering center for the expat community of that time.

The UDF guys I remember most were CoH Mark Haine who was best man it our wedding, Sgt Barry (Scouse) Thomas who was the guy who introduced me to the 44 Magnum, Sgt John Davies, Sgt Jim McGrath, Sgt Geoff Taylor.

The club was also a popular watering hole for the local Civil Engineering expats who were housed and working just up the road. Darts was the popular game of the evening and with the original club on the beach we could do some good night dives right from the club.

UDF refers to the “Union Defense Force”, the military force that was formed from its predecessor, the Trucial Oman Scouts, when the UAE came into being. The TOS had a strong British Army contingent, which continued into the UDF, in the early days at least, and it was these people who were the backbone of BSAC 406 in Ajman.

Union Defence Force Plaques.jpg


The “Union Defence Force” and “Trucial States Sub-Aqua Club” plaques look remarkably similar. The TSSAC plaque was sent to us by John Lewis from Alaska. The UDF plaque picture was copied from Wikipedia.

Time and tide ultimately did for the original clubhouse which was claimed by the sea. It was then, in early 1977, that the club moved to the airport building in Sharjah.

John Lewis:

When Clive Frost and I converted the old Sharjah Airport Control tower into our living accommodation we also got access to the building on the MAT camp where the club first moved to after the Ajman shore disappeared into the Gulf.

Alan Locker has sent me the following recollections of Bob Hindley, an early Chairman who now lives in Sydney:

The clubhouse was an old villa on the beach at Ajman. With extensive beach erosion (no doubt caused by all the port and harbour works that Halcrow was doing). The high tide mark eventually reached well into the front bedroom, at which point we had to abandon it.

Unfortunately, the owner of the villa was an influential and avaricious Arab who accused us of vandalising his "valuable" property. I was Chairman at the time and so had to sort it out. Gavin [I presume Gavin Halling] and I fronted up at the Ajman police station where they kept us for most of the day with dire threats. With a bit of smooth talking and a lot of bullshit, we managed to talk ourselves out of jail by making a deal.

The deal was that we would demolish the "valuable" property, transport the rubble to the owner's own villa a couple of kilometres up the beach and build a rubble groyne to protect his house from the same fate. I borrowed an earthmover and a couple of 4WD Bedford three-tonners from Tarmac and completed the work in an afternoon - at no cost to the Club and a lot of fun for me.

I can't remember how it happened but, before we moved out of the old clubhouse, I had stumbled across an old RAF hut and, with the Committee's approval, it soon became our new Clubhouse. I always pitied the poor Indian family who lived in the other half of the hut. Can you imagine having BSAC 406 move in next door! I think I would have preferred Hells Angels!

I’m not sure whether the “old RAF hut”, referred in the last paragraph, is the building at the airport or somewhere different altogether – perhaps an interim clubhouse before moving to Sharjah. I would welcome some more information on this.

The club remained at the airport for 20 years, twice having to rebuild after fire gutted the building, taking some of the club’s artefacts with it. It must have been around this time that the club became Sharjah Diving Club although I have no information as to when this happened.

Eventually, the Sharjah authorities wanted to convert the airport buildings into a museum and the club needed to find a new home. With many club members already members of Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club, a move to the Wanderers was the logical answer although I believe there were some at the time who favoured remaining independent. The Wanderers got the vote and the present clubhouse was built by Geoff Taylor and Harry Adamson on land behind the swimming pool that was made available to us. Peter Blanchflower, then the Chairman, was involved in the negotiations with SWSC. The new clubhouse at the Wanderers was opened in January 1997.

In the event, the move proved wise. The club has had its ups and downs since then, but it is debatable whether to club would have survived as a fully independent entity. There has been a downward pressure on membership due to the limited appeal of Sharjah as a place for expats to live and what became the hellish difficulty of getting there from Dubai, on weekday evenings at least. The Wanderers has proved both an excellent base and a very valuable safety net against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

The club continues to uphold the principle established 50 years ago:

“The object of the Branch shall be the promotion of the sport of Skin-diving and associated activities within the Dubai and Sharjah area. Full emphasis shall be placed on safety in all of the Branch’s activities and training”.

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A couple of points arise from the above:

  • I would be extremely grateful for any further details, clarifications, corrections or anecdotes that anyone can supply, for any period in the club’s history. It would be good to publish a fuller account in time for the actual anniversary in October.
  • On which subject, we will organize some kind of celebration around the 21st October, which is the formation date of BSAC 406, as recognized by BSAC HQ. This is all Covid-19 permitting of course, but if we have to postpone, we can at least say we’re in the same position as the Olympics.
  • My thanks to Paul Clarke who has designed the amended logo at the base of this email, which I will use for the remainder of 2020.
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Meanwhile back in the 21st century, the diving goes on or at least for some people it did…

The following from Allen:

We arrived at the club full of the joys of Friday diving and again having 2 full boats and many waiting in the wings if we had a drop out or 4! Destination this time was Ajman Glory and Dara on the way home.

Off we headed to Al Hamriya as has been the norm in the last few weeks. However this week upon our arrival the Police were just finishing taking their boat out of the water and locking the gate to the slip. On enquiring we were told to go to the office beside the ice factory and they would surely give us the key. After 45 minutes and a few fruitless stops to talk to security guards with ‘mafi english’ we found the office locked up and empty.

We returned to find a police car at the gate simply saying ‘it’s closed today, maybe tomorrow Inshallah’. After a bit of a chinwag we decided to head to Al Khan and get some diving in. I made it there first, reversed, and dumped SP 312 in the water, parked up and returned to the boat a bit too quiet and not really moving. The engines wouldn’t start while in the water. I say this as they jumped to life with great joy when being tested in the yard that morning. However the GPS was working! So it seems you can have GPS or the engines, but not both.

The mood for diving was now waning quite profusely with the SP 312’ers. So we literally manhandled her back on the trailer and broke the bow hook strap in the process – one of those days! We threw Graham, tanks and gear on SP 125 and waited for them to make it past the coast guard. Paul, Cara, Connie and I set off back to the dive yard where a quick hose down of the boat, emptying of the tanks and gear were followed with a swift exit home at midday to have a snooze and hopefully start the day again with better luck!

I will now hand you over to the SP 125’ers for what happened next . . . .

Thanks to Graham for the rest of the story:

Friday’s plan was to visit the Ajman Glory and then the Dara from Hamrya Port with two boats and friends from the Dubai sister club making up the numbers as has been the practise for the last two Fridays.

The day turned out differently. All went well as the convoy set out save a nervous driver of the smaller boat navigating without indicator lights.

As soon as Hamriya port was reached an unexpected obstacle (a padlocked gate atop the slipway) caused a significant delay whilst part of the team went to find the key. This was fruitless and we headed to Al Khan.

Unfortunately, the SP312 wouldn’t start (battery problem) and under Angela’s command, ribmaster Graham, a heavily armed Denis, with DSDC’s Paul, Gavin and JT were lucky enough to head out on the smaller boat to the Victoria Star. Graham’s hat wafted off at the helm which given subsequent events may be an ominous portent to watch for on future dives. The Williamson turn manoeuvre was not performed with sufficient alacrity or accuracy and this stimulated discussion on other improvements which could be made on the topside.

The visibility was zero with strong current on the way down. Thankfully there was sufficient viz (4m) to proceed with usual circumnavigation of the wreck and investigation of the interior.

Graham and Denis went first and had an encounter with a trapped fish whose reluctance to return to the wild entangled Denis in a tarantula’s web of peril when his first stage was snarled up. Luckily his buddy’s sangfroid saved the day.

Denis pointed out a number of nudibranch’s including a chromodoris annulata which could be the younger brother of the one discovered on the Dara a couple of weeks back. The elusive spectacled form where the two rings are connected is yet to be seen, however.

Paul and JT enjoyed their first couple of dives on the Vic Star but bailed out early from the second dive as the current picked up to a level requiring vigorous finning. Paul’s overwater experience was marked by his heroic endurance of an lengthy spell of seasickness. Fortunately he recovered his usual gusto after a short nap in the bar and a few sugary drinks.

Gavin and Angela went in last on both occasions for a good hour or so. No scallops on the menu unfortunately but Angela’s batting average is ticking up as she approaches her second millenium.

The anchor was displaced using a lift bag. The boat drifted. The divers were picked up eventually after untying the propellor. Lessons will be learned.

The journey back to the club was mercifully uneventful and we pulled into the boat yard around 5.30pm which may be a record to be greeted by Paul and Allen who had stuck around to help out which was much appreciated.
 
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