Don Shirley

So 50 years of diving to date and counting; 27 years of that with Otter dry suits and before that it was army dry suit or even a mail order pattern with neoprene, glue and through the post – this was in the 70’s.

A brief history: Don has been involved in diving since 1974, conducting recreational and technical training. He is an Instructor Trainer Trainer for IANTD, and Commercial Class 4 diver. He was an electronics engineer in the British Army for 22 years. The main reason he enlisted was because they offered adventure sports, and Don wanted to dive. He began this on “day one”, and as time went on organized and led expeditions for the soldiers to many destinations around the world.

He was a member of the first Army sanctioned sport Trimix Expedition in 1996 and one of the first divers to see the sunken HMS Pheasant at 86m deep off Orkney. His swan song expedition in the military was a 2-month diving exploration in the Falkland Island, diving totally remote sites on the furthest of the islands.

For the last 27 years technical diver training has been his full-time occupation. His base is
Mpumalanga, South Africa where most of the training is done at Komati Springs. This is a dive site next to a 186m cave system surrounded by a Big 5 Game Reserve. Don still travels worldwide to teach upcoming divers. Some expeditions to more remote locations which you can only reach by 4 x 4 vehicles, and where you need to take everything, including gas, compressors, camping gear, food and more. Some site the only access is by using rope work techniques to get to the water.

Don’s main passion is closed circuit rebreather, cave diving and his area of expertise is training all forms of technical diving. He’s also sometimes called in to help police divers in search and recovery situations while working in zero visibility, overhead environments, and deep sites.

Some of his favourite dive sites:
Anywhere there is a cave!
Obviously, Komati Springs which is in his back garden!
Boesmansgat – a great “journey to the center of the earth”.
Zimbabwe – Chinhoyi Caves.
Namibia – Lake Otjikoto, Lake Guinas, Harasieb, Dragon’s Breath.
Antarctica – diving next to icebergs a great thrill
The Mexican caves – where André must drag him back home.
Australia – Nullarbor
The South African coastlines
Red Sea
Florida caves
And more…

Don generally spends 200 hours underwater a year and works in unforgiving environments. He always says that any of his gear must take a lot of hard knocks and be backed up with great service. The Otter Drysuits fit that requirement. They are well designed made-to-measure suits. They seem to last forever despite being truly tested in harshest of conditions, like cave, wreck and messy no visibility searches.

Previously it was the telescopic Britannic that was the favourite, but since the Atlantic arrived, this has been the favourite by far, it is so well cut that uses it in the tightest of Mexican caves with thin undergarments, and the same suit works well in cold water with thick gear underneath. Any colour as long as it is black. Oh, and don’t forget, the suit bag is an added bonus as it functions as a changing mat as well and has been used as such plenty of times on an underground cave floor.

Some of his escapades: