The live lift

Image: Jamie Vaughan

There is a point in every Ghost Fishing UK divers’ volunteering career when they stop being a trainee and get ready to go on live missions, writes Alan Paice. Now don’t get me wrong, he says, the training is very good, and I think prepares divers very well for the rigours of lifting hazardous ghost gear. But training is training, and at some point you have to go do the real thing…

To be signed off as full member of the team you conclude your training by participating in a ‘live lift’ of real ghost fishing gear. This consists of taking each team position and operating safely over a mission – doing a survey, leading the cutting, being the assistant carrying the stage cylinder and lifting bags, and doing the overwatch (safety diver) role.

Mine was planned for July 2021 in the glorious sunshine, with nice visibility underwater, off St Abbs in the Scottish Borders. Lovely. Alas life never works out like that and due to a funeral I couldn’t make the weekend (my dad would have understood, alas the rest of my family…not so much). So the next opportunity I had here in Scotland was due in early January 2022 off Eyemouth and St Abbs.

The target was the wreck of the Glanmire at thirty metres below the sea. The Glanmire is a popular dive site now having been wrecked en route from Amsterdam carrying a cargo of sugar when she struck a rock in the fog in July 1912.

Those divers who know the Glanmire will know she can be dark and spooky sometimes. In January it was approaching the limit of my comfort level. As I followed my teammates through the gloom I did start to wonder why on earth I was there in the cold and the dark. As we settled above the seabed, the thing I remember strongly was a feeling of calm that came over me as the fishing net that had been surveyed in the dive before came into view. In that moment the questions of why I was in the cold North Sea, in less than two metres of visibility, in January, had vanished. A massive lost fishing net was before me, and the reason I had volunteered back in 2020 really hit me.

It was a great feeling that the fear and doubt left me and the training just seemed to come together. Each team member had a role and we trusted each other to do it. Jamie Vaughan was on overwatch keeping Martin Maple, who was inflating bags, and me who was cutting the net free, safe. Both my teammates are experienced Ghost Fishing UK divers so I needn’t have worried. The net seemed to come away cleanly. It was new enough to the sea not to have become entangled too much in the wreck’s rotting structure, and a few carefully placed lifting bags, and a few slices with the knife, was enough to see it floating gently to the surface.

Now I think I know what a reader might be thinking now. Why descend in the dark, cold North Sea in January and scare yourself? This certainly wasn’t a fun dive. I certainly asked myself those very questions.

I think if I am honest with myself I felt it was worth all that effort training, learning, and yes pushing myself a little further than I would have normally done to try and make a little difference to our marine environment. Ghost Fishing UK is full of people who are dedicated to the same thing, making a difference together, and all those little things add up.

Read more from this mission: January days in Eyemouth.

Diver profile: Alan Paice

I used to watch the Royal Engineers’ diving demo at Chatham open days when I was a kid and dreamed about being underwater. I got a chance to learn with the Army in 2003, and got hooked. I found out that HMS Umpire, a Chatham built submarine, was diveable off the coast near where I was living in Cambridge and it was so exciting researching and visiting the wreck. I just love the history and underwater world.

I have grown up around the sea and live in a fishing town called Dunbar. I really enjoy eating fresh seafood, but as a diver I have seen plenty of life (and almost me) caught in nets that are abandoned. I hate seeing that food and life going to waste. I also know how hard it is for people to make their living from the sea and what the loss of nets and pots can mean to them. Getting the chance to help my community, sea life and be a small part of protecting our marine environment is really exciting. After doing a diving class with someone who volunteered with Ghost Fishing UK, and attending the 2020 virtual winter warmer, I wanted to get involved.

I am a BSAC Dive Leader, with a GUE Fundamentals Rec pass. The UK in perfect conditions, on a wreck, is my favourite place to dive. I’m lucky that some of the best UK sites are around my home patch of St Abbs and Eyemouth. I love the Sound of Mull, Plymouth, and when conditions are right the wrecks North Norfolk coast as well.