One of the world’s oldest active divers has set himself a target of completing 29 dives across Cyprus this year to celebrate his 92nd birthday. He is on track to complete his self-imposed challenge by the middle of October.
Ray Woolley celebrated his 92nd birthday on August 28, 2015, and is an active diver with the BSAC – British sub aqua club-at RAF Akrotiri.
He told the Sunday Mail: “I love swimming. I was about five or six when I was taken to my local swimming baths and I’ve been swimming all of my life. It’s a great form of exercise and more people should do it. Diving came along with the swimming. I still swim three or four times a day.”
The ex-serviceman looks and sounds far younger than his 92 years and says he doesn’t mind the attention he gets from people who are surprised by his age and the fact that he is still diving.
“Ninety seemed to be the magic age for me to get noticed, although I wasn’t doing anything other than I had been before,” he joked.
The hugely likeable 92-year-old is originally from Port Sunlight in Wirral, but now lives in Ayios Tychonas close to Limassol. He was born in 1923 and first started diving with the Portland and Weymouth British Sub Aqua Club in 1960.
Ray has witnessed a massive change in diving culture throughout the years, even down to the wetsuits, which so many now take for granted.
Divers couldn’t purchase off-the-shelf wet suits when he started diving, so they had to use a brown paper pattern to cut out individual suits from neoprene, using Evo-stick to glue pieces together; joints were sealed with yellow tape. The easiest way to get into these suits was to use French chalk or washing up liquid.
Ray’s first dive, in a wetsuit he made himself, was in the UK, at Ferry Bridge at the mouth of the Wey estuary. It was so fast flowing he had to hold onto the bridge supports to descend hand over hand, to avoid being swept out into Portland Harbour.
“I don’t think I would still be able to dive if I was living in the UK. Although that’s where I learnt, it was a great relief when I came to Cyprus. The water is warmer and visibility is far better. I have had twenty five years of living in Cyprus so far, and I love it.”
Diving Officer BSAC at RAF Akrotiri, Dave Turner, has known Ray for over a decade and said he is a pleasure to spend time with.
“I’m responsible for the divers and I often go out with Ray. He’s very relaxed and comfortable in the water and sometimes signals to me that he’s taking off his mask for a couple of minutes as he likes to swim without it, this would frighten a lot of people.”
He said that the nonagenarian is an active club member, attending practical rescue management and collective first aid training. He also regularly supports dive managers as an extra pair of hands.
“He is so committed and shows younger people up. He is very active and if he’s at the club, he is always fixing or painting something. He helps out with training and is an inspiration. He is a true gentleman and like an older James Bond.”
Turner said that Ray served in the Royal Navy Radio Branch from September 1942, joining HMS Hyderabad in April 1943 for convoy duties from the UK to Gibraltar. For the next 18 months he travelled the Mediterranean.
In September 1944, he was seconded to the SBS Special Force 281 to the Dodecanese and was one of the first of the allied forces to land on Rhodes, after the Germans left in May 1945.
After the war, whilst working for the Foreign Office, Ray trained as a radio engineer and was posted to Cyprus in 1964. He became involved with the Western Sovereign Base Areas Sub Aqua Club, at RAF Akrotiri.
He undertook three tours of duty in Cyprus and was Secretary, Diving Officer, and Expedition Member of the club. During this period he also became and an Advanced Diving Instructor and was considered as a prolific sponge diver.
“I like sponges and although I don’t dive for them in particular any more, I can obviously see which ones are curable sea sponges. I have a number of large ones, and gave many away during the past years.”
His professional career took him to Dubai in 1983 and he became one of the founder members of a branch of the BSAC, and the club’s first diving officer.
“Some of my favourite dives have been in Dubai. I once saw a lovely big shark just resting on the bottom, it was only about 20m down. He didn’t attack or anything. It was a lovely sight and the water was beautifully clear.”
Ray stopped logging his dives at 1,000 and has dived in many places including: Australia, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
He left Dubai in 1999 to retire to Cyprus where he resumed his club membership as an active diver.
“I have dived all over Cyprus and some of my favourite areas are Latchi and off the Limassol coast. I’m very interested in looking at all of the different fish I can see now. I want to keep diving as long as possible and although I’m sensible about it, I have no intention of shutting up shop just yet.”
Ray has three children, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren and served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Two years ago, he travelled to London during his 90th year to march past the Cenotaph in the Armistice Parade on Remembrance Sunday.
“I might go to Australia in a couple of years for a visit and I might go to the Caribbean again, as its one of my favourite places to dive. I believe the secret to life is everything in moderation and keeping active,” he said.
By Bejay Browne for Cyprus Mail