It was with a degree of excitement and trepidation that after many months of consideration, I had decided to join the submarine service. The lure was the submarine pay. Back then, as soon as you had qualified in the Submarine Escape Training Tank (SETT), you were awarded your submarine pay.


I joined HMS Dolphin in October 1984 and spent the next six weeks learning what makes a submarine dive and surface again, the construction, propulsion and systems. I found it extremely interesting and absorbed every word. Every evening, I would write up my hastily scribbled notes into something vaguely legible and redraw the diagrams before memorizing them for the final exam.


I must have worked hard at it, in hindsight as I can still reproduce the drawings now and still have my old course notebook. Of course it is now a little ragged around the edges. It will be of little surprise, therefore, that I managed to achieve a final exam result of 98% and was subsequently presented with the Course Prize for best student.

Before any trainee submariner can be permitted to work onboard a submarine at sea, he has to be taught how to escape. This is conducted in the Submarine Escape Training Tank  (SETT). The initial course is a week and includes stringent medicals and lots of lectures. If you get it wrong, you die!

Instructors in the water with you the whole time and if you are not breathing correctly, they will give you a ‘friendly’ tap in the stomach to persuade you to breathe out.




The Golden Rule:

If your head is in air, breathe normally.

If your Head is in water, breathe out hard





Having successfully passed the SETT, I left HMS Dolphin to join HMS Sultan for Nuclear Short Course to learn some of the intricacies of how a nuclear reactor works. 


It was at about this time, at the tender age of 22, that my wisdom teeth started to come through. So some kindly dentist in HMS Dolphin invited me to have them removed. Some may say this accounts for a lot of things.

Submarines only carry a Doctor on long patrols, but never a dentist, so if I encountered a dental problem when dived on a boat, there would be little anyone could do, so it was a few weeks later that I was admitted onto a ward at RNH Haslar in Gosport for a procedure that ended up with me minus 4 wisdom teeth and looking like Gus Hunnybun (from Children's West Country TV). It took a week for the swelling to subside sufficiently enough to manage solid food. Before that, I could only get a straw between my teeth.

After a couple of weeks of sick leave, I was eventually deemed fit enough to return to work and to continue my submarine training first of all at HMS Sultan and then on a dived submarine

By the end of the week, I had completed two 9m free ascents, one 18m free ascent and a fully suited ascent from the bottom of the 30m of the escape tank. You are most certainly not alone, there are ‘swim boys’