The boys have made a countdown calendar to Camp Bestival next week. Excitement levels are close to Christmas in our house. They have been listening to Madness and Brian Wilson, practising their skate tricks for the extreme ramp and generally brimming with energy about the weekend. The look on his face when the eldest (7) found out that Andy Torbet is hosting two talks in the Discovery tent at the festival was a picture.
Andy is an underwater explorer, deep and cave diver, skydiver, climber and outdoorsman. He presents programmes on the BBC, Discovery and History Channel, is an author and film-maker and if that wasn’t enough he is also the voice of Action Man.
My eldest has wanted to learn to dive since he was about 3, each year he visits the local dive shop to check whether PADI have brought the age down for learning (you have to be 8) and on his birthday next year he will have his first lesson. He is obsessed with nature and has a particular interest in the ocean and the life within it.
J (7) and the middle man (5) wanted to ask a few questions to Andy ahead of the talks next Friday and Saturday. Here is what they wanted to know.
1 How deep have you dived? (Jack aged 7)
I’ve been to 164 metres deep but my best deep dive was ‘only’ 120 metres deep on the shipwreck of Britannic, the twin sister to the Titanic.
2. What is your favourite type of shark?
Oh a hard one…the Mako is very cool as is the Thresher and I’ve swam with Blue Sharks off Cornwall and Ireland but I’d have to say the Basking Shark – it’s the second biggest fish in the see, a real ocean giant, but is safe to swim with as it only feeds on plankton and visits the UK every summer.
3. What is your favourite underwater creature?
I love playing with seals, they’re like big Labrador’s, and swimming with wild dolphins was fantastic but I always think Octopus and Cuttlefish are so interesting when you see them underwater, they way they can rapidly change colour and texture – like an alien.
4. How do you get back up? (Cody,5)
We can put some extra gas into our drysuits or a bag to make us float up. But we have to do it very, very slowly. We have to do something called decompression which means letting all the tiny bubbles that have built up inside out bodies come out slowly. It’s like out bodies are bottles of cola that have been shaken up. If you take the top of slowly it’s fine…but if you take it off quickly it explodes.
5. How long can you breathe for underwater? (Cody,5)
It depends on what you carry and how deep you go. Using normal SCUBA tanks you are basically carrying a big tank of breathing gas – the bigger the tank the longer you can breathe. But I normally use a Rebreather which is the same system astronauts use on space walks. It recycles one breath by removing the bad bits of the air you breath out. With this I’ve done up to 9 hours underwater.
6. How far out have you ever dived? (Cody, 5)
When cave diving I’ve covered miles underwater and underground in tunnels. I’ve cave dived all over the world from caves in Japan to abandoned mine in Finland.
7. What happens if you need the loo underwater? (both boys wanted to know this)
It’s always good to stay hydrated but that means you’ll need to pee. I wear a thing called a pee valve. Basically a tube that leads from the inside of my drysuit to the outside (sea) so I can go to the toilet. And the tube goes through a one way valve so the pee gets out but the sea water can’t come in.
8. What happens if you get thirsty?
If we’re doing long dives we can take bags of water of juice to collect when we can back to the shallow. You can drink underwater but it takes practice.
9. Do you ever catch sea fish and put them back?
Sometimes if we’re collecting them to tag them for research but I try not to disturb the fish unnecessarily.
10. Can you eat underwater?
It’s difficult but yes. We don’t often do it as we can go without food for the hours we’re underwater. Sometimes on long cold dives we surface in un underwater habitat – basically a little box full of air that’s underwater so we can eat and drink and get warm before we reach the surface as we may have many hours of decompression still to do.
The boys were over the moon to learn all about the answers to their questions and have plenty more lined up for the talk (good luck with that Andy)!
What will you be covering at Camp Bestival, Andy?
My Underwater Explorer talk with probably start off with some tales of exploring new underwater cave systems, finding lost shipwrecks, studying submerged cities and search for underwater life. I’ll cover the equipment we use, how we do it and the dangers involved. And I’ll talk about how I got into it. But then I’ll bring it back to basics and talk about exploring in the UK and how all you really need is a snorkel – something families or kids of any age can go out and do tomorrow and the cool things you can see right here in the UK with a snorkel to shipwrecks and underwater buildings to sharks and seals.
The Sky Explorer will cover some of the TV and Science work I’ve done whilst skydiving from High Altitude jumps to Wingsuiting and discuss (in a family/kid friendly way) the physics or trying to race a Peregrine Falcon – the fastest animal in the world.
I’ll also be announcing a brand new flagship CBBC show that I’m doing. (This sounds very exciting).
What should kids do if they want to get a job like you?
There is no one single path. Getting into the outdoors and gain confidence in their abilities to deal risk and gaining a curiosity about things. Although people see me cave diving or skydiving or climbing and assume I’m some kind of adrenalin junky but it’s not true.
As a bomb disposal officer in the Army I learned how to assess and mitigate risk. I approach cave diving or skydiving in the same way. I have a family and have no intention of killing myself, I’m one of the most paranoid people you’re likely to meet – that’s why I’m still alive.
I love to understand the science behind what I’m doing, I’m basically a massive geek. And I believe that e.g. climbing a mountain because it’s there is no longer good enough. What new information or study or discovery are you bringing back. Adventure should be an intellectual as well as physical pursuit and should be for something greater than you’re own fun (although that’s why we do it).
Although I have a degree in Zoology I’m currently undertaking a Masters in Archaeology (in my ‘spare’ time) so I can publish finding on some of the projects I have planned outside telly. But when I gives talks at schools and I’m asked for one piece of advice it’s this – work hard. Hard work can overcome most obstacles and will beat natural talents if natural talent is sat on the sofa. The world doesn’t owe you a living and wishing for something will not help. Anything worth having is worth working for.
Thank you so much to Andy for giving up his time to answer these questions. As far as role models go, I couldn’t wish for a better one than someone who has such a positive attitude to life. We are looking forward to seeing Andy in the Literary Tent on Friday and Saturday mornings (around 11/12 noon tbc). See you there.