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Diver who defies the depths of tragedy; A Merseyside diver discovers the secrets of brave men and extraordinary vessels lost in a world of water, magic and menace. David Charters reports.

THERE was a man called Cobb, a hero of speed, whose boat skimmed the waters at 200mph until it bounced twice on a wave, burst apart and then sank, ever so slowly, deeper and deeper into the water, which turned as thick and black as Irish stout and was cold enough to raise goose pimples on a penguin.

Some people with tartan caps, winking eyes and swollen wallets say that a monster lives in these ancient waters. Well, that's as may be. But we do know that John Cobb's boat, the Crusader, rests down there, 754ft (230m) below the banks of Loch Ness.

Now Brian Gilgeous, the diver who is going to lead the operation to bring her back to land, is standing at a Liverpool dock, gazing at some of the maritime relics he has hauled to the surface during an extraordinary career.

He was at Coniston Water three years ago when Donald Campbell's boat, Bluebird, was recovered, 12 days before the man's body was lifted for burial.

Brian, who is based at Garston Dock, Liverpool, has been involved in documenting and trying to preserve the Resurgam, Britain's first steam-powered submersible (a forerunner of submarines), which in 1880 sank off the coast of Llandudno, where she had been moored during a storm on her journey from Birkenhead to Portsmouth ( see panel). The 43-year-old still speaks in the gentle tones of his native Yorkshire, but this is a tough man, who can take care of himself and others.

His experience, athletic prowess, courage and sense of adventure have made him one of the country's most successful divers, in both the commercial and the recreational fields.

After an education in various parts of Yorkshire, Brian learned his profession at COMEX, Marseilles; Fort Bovisand, Plymouth; and the Exeter Diver Training School. He has also been a military diver on secret operations overseas.

He now lives in Mossley Hill, Liverpool, with his wife, Ann, and their 13-year-old daughter, Sian, having in 1991 established Gilgeous Diving Services, which employs between six and 12 divers.

``These are some of the things that I have found, salvaged or recovered, '' he says, examining items, which he has placed on the quay.

``That's a small porthole from a 130-year-old yacht that was lost in Liverpool Bay. Behind it is a ship's telegraph which has an unusual story. It was a sister ship of the Calypso, a teak minesweeper, made famous by Jacques Cousteau (the French underwater explorer and inventor of the aqualung). We found it in the Bay of Biscay.

``At the back, there is a large porthole from a Ukrainian vessel which sank off Scotland. That was a dive of 361ft (110m), very deep for a recreational diver on mixed gas. Then there is an inclinometer from a very old wreck. It would tell you on what angle the ship was lying on its beam.

``Lastly, this bell was found when we were diving off Belgium. We don't know what ship it came off, but we know it was British. It was cast in 1723 by Mears and Stainbank of London and recast in 1906. The fact that it was recast suggest that it could have been an important vessel. Universities are looking into it.

BUT can a canny chap simply slip into a frogman's suit, dip into the brine, suck on his snorkel, swish his flippers among the anemones, find a galleon and start collecting?

``No'' is the short answer. ``If you find something in the sea and lift it, you must report it to the Receiver of Wrecks, who could be the coast guard or any local member of government at the port where you land the stuff, '' says Brian.

``There are severe penalties for not reporting finds. But there are a number of measures you can take - you can report it to the Receiver or you can opt to become the salvor in possession if it's on a normal wreck.

``Recently, legislation has come into force whereby you cannot touch or remove anything from what is classed as a war grave or, more importantly, military remains, which encompasses a lot more. With those, it is strictly look and don't touch. ''

Of course, real divers like Brian need more than a snorkel. It is vitally important to have the correct mix of gases on your cylinders to enable you to breathe properly on the sea bed. The air contains 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. As you sink deeper into the water, the nitrogen turns narcotic and then poisonous, and needs to be replaced with helium or another light gas. Other specialised gases like nitrox (which has a high oxygen content) are added to ensure a safe blend, which is measured on a computer, to give the maximum exposure times in the water.

Brian has done much of his diving from the 34ft (10. 5m) Deep Star, but he is now seeking a replacement vessel.

The technical stuff can divide life from death. But, down there, divers have the blood-rush of new sensations in the eddying waters of the many-coloured gardens, seen only by the bulbous eyes of fish.

Of course, it isn't always glamorous. Much salvage work is dangerous, hard and unsung. One commission, however, would excite the interest of any diver. Donald Campbell was the darling of the British press, handsome and daring with a melancholic nature which seemed to see death on the other side of the mirror.

In 1964, he set a new world water speed record of 276. 33mph on Lake Dumbleyung and he followed that with the land-speed record of 403. 1mph at Lake Eyre salt lakes, both Australia.

But then he announced his intention of being the first man to travel on water at more than 300mph. The world's press was at Coniston Water to watch the Bluebird's record attempt. She crashed on January 4, 1967, sinking to the bottom.

``I was the commercial diving company chosen by the BBC and the original finder of Bluebird to document her on the lake bed with photographs with video and then to devise a plan to lift her in the full glare of publicity from everybody, '' Brian says.

AFTER lifting, she was transferred to Newcastleupon-Tyne, home of the team which found her. It is hoped that National Lottery money will be provided for her restoration, so that she can be taken back to Coniston. Eighteen years before Campbell, John Cobb, 6ft 6 ins and known as the ``gentle giant'', was killed on Loch Ness.

His boat was lost, but his body was taken from the scene. ``We've located the Crusader using sonar systems, '' he says. ``We intend to dive down to it and document it using saturation diving tech-nique. '' This is a complicated procedure in which divers in decompression chambers are lowered to the site in a diving bell. Serious precautions have to be taken to prevent bubbles of nitrogen accumulating in different parts of the body causing ``the bends'' - a sometimes fatal mixture of headaches, dizziness and paralysis.

Brian's team was invited to Loch Ness by the local museum. Two TV companies, which hope to film the event, have provided the cash for the salvage operation, with the special equipment to come from a diving school. The project should begin in about 18 months. The seabed is the grave of countless men and women. One woman came over to learn more about her father who was on an H5 submarine lost off the coast of Anglesey in 1943 when it collided with a British vessel, with the loss of all 85 crewmen. ``I told her it was no longerlike a weapon of war, '' says Brian. ``It was like a garden of remembrance. ``I gave her a video of me swimming along the length of the submarine taking a continuous picture of it. It was covered in plumose, anemones and weeds in these fantastic colours - pinks, greens, blues and everything. It looked absolutely fabulous. ''

But, at the bottom of Loch Ness, it's different: ``The best way of describing it is swimming through Guinness, '' says Brian. ``It's pitch black and it's cold and the water is almost solid, it's that deep. ``We will have a robot swim to the Crusader first and we will follow the robot down. ''

Divers have to be fit and Brian is a prime example of that. He trains athletes at the Liverpool Harriers' club, Wavertree, and is a personal trainer and conditioning coach to various sportsmen.

Well, you need noble qualities down there in waters, which some believe, are home to a shy and elusive monster.


John Cobb; Diver Brian Gilgeous shows some of the maritime treasures he has rescued from wrecks around Britain. His latest Loch Ness dive involves a decompression chamber and a diving bell
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2005
Previous Article:The battle to rescue The Resurgam.
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