I’M FORTUNATE ENOUGH to be asked to give talks at adventure festivals, outdoor sports gatherings, club nights and, of course, the Dive Shows. A smattering of very nice, some would say charitable, people often come up afterwards and say how much they enjoyed the talk (no accounting for taste), but another common comment is that they would love to go on underwater adventures and explore a few places.
But, they conclude, they are only a (insert-qualification), have a job and a family and can get only a few days here and there to go diving. They assume that they simply don’t have the skills or time to mount an exploration project.
I’ve met lots of people who have called themselves explorers, but on closer examination of their achievements the terms “adventurer” or “extreme athlete” would be better descriptions.
To truly explore you have to go somewhere new, somewhere unseen by human eyes and, crucially in my opinion, to bring back new knowledge.
So in these days of Google Earth and global satellite-mapping, it seems difficult to find any corners of the Earth left to explore.
Well I can assure you that they are out there, and that there are still discoveries to be made. But here’s the good news – here’s where we spin the whole thing on its head. If you’re a diver, becoming an explorer is actually fairly simple.

SEVEN-TENTHS OF THE EARTH is, as we all know, water, and only a fraction of that has ever been explored, studied or even witnessed by the human eye.
A few figures make the point and bring it home. Depending on which source you use and on how small a scale it was measured, Britain has between 11,000 and 20,000 miles of coastline. Even if we go only a few miles offshore, that’s still up to 60,000 square miles of seabed.
Now add to that the 10-12,000 miles of rivers (admittedly some of these are only centimetres deep in places, but forgive me in my attempts to make a point) and about 10,000 lakes, and what you end up with is a whole lot of water.
This doesn’t include all the flooded mines, caves, wells, ponds, quarries and heaven knows what sources of aquatic environments into which manically enthusiastic British divers will throw themselves to “take a dip”. And, of course, only a fraction of all this has ever been seen or explored or recorded.
This is not an article about mounting an expedition to Papua New Guinea to spend six months searching shark-infested caves at 200m for the golden booty hidden in the depths of an infamous pirate’s ship (although that would be pretty cool, I’d have to admit).
It’s simply to offer a few starting points and ideas for your first foray into something a bit more exploratory, and to make you realise that time, kit, skills and money need not be a hindrance with a little creativity and effort.
All great trips start with an idea. This is often, certainly for me, the hardest part. Once I have an idea that I believe to be strong and engaging and, most of all, that fires some passion in me, the rest of the work that follows is easier.
In the UK you have no end of material from which to work, but I find a large topographical map of the country on a wall a real help in finding inspiration.
I have a passion for the more remote parts of the country, and look for those stretches of coastline far from cities, town and villages… even roads.

BY WAY OF EXAMPLE, I organised a little trip to live and dive the remote Monach Isles off North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. In October this becomes the second-largest grey seal breeding colony in the world.
We not only dived with the seals but dropped off into deeper waters on the west side of the “islands” (they are little more than rocky skerries dusted with sand), which I am certain is an area as yet unexplored.
Such remote areas of the UK are the least likely to have been explored, most adventurous in nature, spectacular in backdrop and most challenging logistically.
And you could try thinking outside the box, or at least outside the sea.
Apart from the miles of unexplored underwater coastline, think about freshwater areas. I have dived some spectacular rivers and lakes in the UK, not to mention caves, mountain pools, quarries, ponds, wells, mines and a bog (the last one is probably worth a miss).
These are not all lifeless, dirty brown pools with visibility like minestrone soup, as is often thought.
In 2008 I came up with the idea of the 3 Lakes Challenge, and dived the highest loch in Scotland, lake in England and llyn in Wales in 24 hours. Yet only the English lake, Red Tarn, had been dived before (in fact it contains a Mosquito aircraft that crashed in 1940).
So pick a place you think may be unexplored, either because it’s remote,
a bit different, hard to get to or so incredibly obvious that it’s been hiding in plain sight.
High Force Waterfall is, by volume, Britain’s biggest fall and attracts thousands of spectators every year. People have been known to swim in the calmer areas of the plunge pool, but I could find no record of anyone diving it.
I attempted to dive right under the falls themselves and it proved an impossible task, but there where numerous coins scattered around the areas into which I fought my way.
I think that if you waited for a period of relative drought you might make it into the eye of the storm. Who knows what relics await Places like these have been attracting visitors making offerings for millennia.

IT MAY BE THAT a famous local shore dive starts out from the bay and turns left, and in all the decades it’s been in use no one has thought to go right.
Do a bit of research using the Internet and contact the local club or divers. Just be wary of people stealing your good ideas. The more off the beaten track, harder to get to and further from a dive shop or club you go, the more likely the terrain is to be unexplored – people can be lazy.
Of course, there are still shipwrecks left to find and explore around the UK, thousands in fact. Locating these can take a great deal of time and effort and they are often closely guarded secrets until they’ve been dived.
Local fishermen can be a great source of information on potential sites. I’m working on a new wreck in the Channel, but more on that in the future.
So with your undiscovered underwater site in mind, the next stage is to make a plan.
The kit you’ll need depends on the type of diving you’ll do. By far the most flexible item is the humble snorkel.
Before you scoff, I have done a great deal of exploration with one of these. Anything in only a few metres of water is easy game, they cost little, require you to have no qualification and are light, so reaching dive sites a long way from the road becomes a possibility.
They also don’t need refills – handy when you’re a couple of days’ walk from the nearest pub, let alone a dive shop.
I did a project in 2011 called “Britain By Snorkel” and covered 80 sites in 34 days around the UK. Many of these, especially those in north-west Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, had never been dived before.
Once you’re on scuba you need to consider the logistics of the operation in detail – this is the most important part of any expedition. And diving is more involved than a lot of other disciplines.
You may need to think about charging torches, filling cylinders, drying and washing kit, refilling Sofnalime canisters and, often most restricting, transporting all this equipment to site – as we all know, nothing in diving is light.
Just as the logistical requirements can be dictated by the plan, so the plan can be constrained by the logistics.
You may consider taking a small compressor and fuel if there is nowhere to fill cylinders – which means that you can dive only on air. This, and the lack of immediate medical services, may mean that you restrict depth to 20m and might force a plan change.
You have to decide what is essential for the project to work and what can be sacrificed, and from there solve the problems that will always arise from trying to mount a diving operation from, potentially, the middle of nowhere.
And check the weather. You don’t want to drive for 12 hours and trek with dive-kit across a couple of mountains to a river in full spate.
People often cite their inexperience in diving or lack of advanced qualifications as a reason for not venturing into pastures new. The simple remedy is to choose a project within your reach.

IF YOU CAN UNDERTAKE GENUINE exploration with a snorkel, armed with even a single seven-litre cylinder and a self-imposed depth limit of 12m there are still plenty of lakes, rivers, shorelines, ponds, pools and patches to tackle.
Bear in mind that it’s always best to have something in reserve skills-wise, so I’d advise you not to plan on diving at your absolute limit. This is exploration, after all, so you can never be 100% sure of what you’ll find, and conditions and factors may be more serious than you anticipated.
Of course, you can always rope in more experienced divers to help. I am always surprised at how many responses I get when I put out a call for volunteers on a project. People want to get involved in an adventure, and many are just waiting for someone to kick the whole thing off – that doesn’t have to be the most experienced diver, just someone with an idea and a bit of get-up-and-go.
The final excuse I hear is lack of time. Well, ladies and gentlemen, Great Britain is not all that big, I’m afraid, and even if you decide to drive to Cape Wrath from Brighton, you can do it in a day. I’ve driven from Bristol on Friday night to arrive early morning in the Appin Mountains of Scotland, done a full day’s cave-diving and driven home in time for breakfast on Sunday.
Granted, I was a broken man by Sunday lunch. If you don’t fancy such a tortuous, and arguably stupid, strategy, pick a location that’s close to home.
The expression “in the UK you’re never more than 70 miles from the sea” is true, and if we consider fresh water you’re probably closer to a new dive site than to a pint of milk.
And my final point is have one – a point. Whatever you do, whatever you find, be it a colossal success or a glorious failure, let people know. Let them know so that we all have a better picture of what’s out there, so that no one else wastes time exploring something you’ve already covered, and to take the rightful credit for diving forth and pushing the boundaries.
You may write it up for a magazine, send it to the publisher of the local dive guide, stick it online, on a forum, or tell a club that is the keeper of local dive-site knowledge or a suitable institution if you think your discovery warrants it.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS, but I’m afraid the nature of exploration is that you don’t really know what you’ll find.
For every pile of ancient Mayan artefacts and preserved human bones there are miles and miles of empty cenotes; for every Mary Rose a hundred old shipping containers; for every new reef a thousand endless miles of not-really-very-much-to-see.
So don’t let the lack of a great discovery hold you back – revel in the journey and adventure, the grand potential and the fact that even a site that bears little fruit is still a sight no one has seen before.
I said it was simple. I didn’t say it was necessarily easy, but few things in life worth having are.
None of what I described requires mountains of cash, nor necessarily any real skills or equipment, and much can be done in a day. What it does require is a little effort, a little imagination and thought and a bit of motivation.
The hardest part of any expedition or adventure project is generating the idea, then getting up off one’s shiny, drysuited backside and getting on with it. But I offer by way of validation that it’s worth it.
Everyone I know who began an endeavour like this – every single one – has always come back for more.