Ron is a fellow author, who like me has books associated with Tempus Publishing (now The History Press), but more importantly he was a very active diver. It is fair to say that he has travelled extensively although he always counted diving off the north east coast as his favourite destination in particular the Farne Islands. Ron's story is best told in his own words.
I had always been interested in the sea since I was just small lad and used to dream what the world must be like beneath the waves. However most of my younger years took place during and just after the turmoil of the World War II. I first became seriously interested in taking up diving in the army when was posted to Malaya in January 1956. After experiencing the thrills of snorkeling over the coral reefs off Port Dixon in the Strait of Malacca, (a lovely tropical beach resort on the Straits of Malacca) it seemed to change my life. It was there that I discovered a different, fascinating new world, away from the biting creepy-crawlies of the jungle. Above the surface, the wide sandy beaches below the high water mark swarmed with little red fiddler crabs. Anyone approaching would have the whole beach moving en-mass, as countless millions of tiny crabs, with their relatively large single claws waving menacingly towards the sky, darted to the safety of their sandy burrows, in unison.
At the southern end of the beach, around the headland and separating it from a beautiful blue lagoon, was a small mangrove forest jutting out into the shallow green-blue sea. Here, the mangrove roots were a kindergarten for multitudes of young fish of every description and where the overhanging branches were lined with dozens of brilliant metallic green and brown and white kingfishers on the lookout for an easy meal. When the tide receded, quaint little mudskippers would emerge from the salty pools in search of insects and, the invertebrates that swarmed over the oozy muddy surface. By flexing their hind end they could move by giving a little skipping jump and the specially adapted fin-‘fingers’ enabled them to waddle over the mud. Occasionally, troupes of Macacque monkeys slipped cheekily down from the forest canopy to forage for their favourite crabs among the mangrove roots, while in the sky, majestic Fish-eagles gracefully swirled high up over the palm-lined tropical sea, sometimes sweeping down and grabbing fish in their razor sharp talons. Paradise?
Surprisingly, visibility underwater was usually only two or three metres, the result of so many working tin-mines and the heavy rainfall, which turned the jungle-rivers pouring into the shallow Malacca Straights a peaty brown in colour. However, the coral reefs within snorkeling distance of the beach teemed with the variety and abundance of marine life that you only read about in books and that in it made up for the inconvenience and hardship of a jungle existence. I had ‘caught the bug’ and purchased a full-face mask, complete with integrated snorkel and ping-pong ball valve, a set of fins (which I still have) and a small single rubber-powered harpoon gun, for protection against the Tiger sharks, which I had been told, cruised around the coastline. A friendly local fisherman explained to me what was dangerous in the sea and what not to touch on the reefs and that certainly saved me from some nasty stings. As far as the sharks were concerned, I never saw any, but that was because of the poor visibility. (When I look back, I often think how futile that little rubber-powered gun would have been against a 6-metre Tiger shark !!) From that time on I was well and truly hooked and the underwater environment lived with me long after I came home.
Early in 1965, I visited a sub aqua club on Tyneside, but with a very young family and mediocre wages, the cost of joining the club and then buying the equipment was seriously prohibitive. In 1973 however, with a little more money in my pocket, I joined the Durham BSAC club and commenced a long series of lectures and intensive pool training. After nearly six months and two bath sessions and three lectures every week I progressed to the ‘F’ test. The training was extremely difficult, because the tests were all done with faulty equipment, twin hose regulators with the return valves removed and usually half full bottles. Even if you were intending to use one of the ‘new’ single hose demand valves after qualifying, you were still forced to use the club’s faulty twin hose ones for training. Very often near to the end of a test, the air would run out, or the faulty gear ceased to operate completely and you had no alternative, but to begin the whole rigmarole again the following week and this happened week after week.
I had acquired a Spartan 55-cubic foot bottle and twin hose Siebe Heinke demand valve for £40 and over some four months, I had made myself a Long-John wet suit, during quiet periods on nightshift in the ambulance station where I worked as an Ambulanceman. The wetsuit was bought as a kit from ‘Aquaquipment’ in St Albans for about £20, however I had no lifejacket and in fact, only two of the members out of eight on a trip to Oban had one that Easter 1974. After some bad experiences and lots of the bickering in the club, I decided enough was enough and joined the newly formed independent Burnside Sub Aqua Club, which was also much closer to my home. I re-sat all of my exams and training again for my own peace of mind, but this time it was with some half decent gear and a totally different club atmosphere. I never looked back after joining Burnside (later to become SAA23) and eventually became the Diving Officer. As DO I organised club diving holidays all over the Med and Scotland, even the Butt of Lewis. My own holidays with my wife, Rose, have also been diving orientated, visiting far away places like: Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Penang and Baros in the Maldives, Kapos in the South China Sea, Sharm, Borneo, Bali & Lombok, Koh Samui, Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands & the Similan islands in the Andaman Sea.
However, my favourite destination is still the Farne Islands, even though the visibility is far better and the marine life much more prolific, in most of the places we’ve visited. Since 1975 my buddy Trevor Corner from Chester-le-Street and I have made over 3,600 dives and spent every available opportunity all the year round (weather permitting) diving around the islands, until they have become like a second home. I began writing letters to monthly diving publications in the middle 70s and progressed to writing articles for ‘Underwater World’ and ‘Subaqua Scene’, for which I was even presented with the ‘Golden Writer of the Year’ award at the London Boat Show. Then after doing a series about diving around the Farnes, I was deluged with letters from people asking for more information. I was continually asked to ‘put pen to paper’ and share our knowledge of diving around the islands, but I found that an impossible task using an ordinary typewriter. Well a Font writer Word Processor solved those problems and I wrote my first book and ended up publishing it myself at great expense.
I’m also proud to say that unlike many divers’ guidebooks, where the information written about dive-sites has been acquired from second-hand sources, every numbered site in my Farnes Guide has been personally dived by myself. The book is an honest and truthful account, reflecting in the form of anecdotes, a number of various incidents that have happened over several years. Diving solo was done out of necessity, due to shift work and other circumstances, otherwise we/I would have missed out on many hundreds of dives. I sincerely hope that anyone reading the Farnes book can make some good use of it on any future diving trips to this fantastic area off the North East Coast.
In October 2000, I had my last dive off the islands, primarily due to a number of health problems, but life has not stood still. I now spend most of my time researching and writing about my favourite subject, SHIPWRECKS.
Follow the link to access a page detailing Ron Young's books.
© Colin Brittain 1999 - 2013