King Charles III, who was formally proclaimed reigning monarch today (10 September), two days after the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth I, counts among his accomplishments scuba diving, which he took up in the early 1970s.
This means that he becomes the first UK monarch to be a qualified diver.
The 22-year-old Prince of Wales joined Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in September 1971 as a naval cadet, and learnt to scuba dive during his time there. He was following in the footsteps of his father Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had learnt to dive with the British Sub-Aqua Club.
The Duke had been president of the British Sub-Aqua Club from 1960 to 1963, and Charles also took on that role as an active diver in 1974. He would remain BSAC president for 40 years until 2014, when the role was passed on to his son Prince William.
Outstanding underwater experiences for Prince Charles include a dive under Arctic ice in Canada in April 1975, and a series of dives on the Tudor warship Mary Rose in the Solent. The flagship of Charles’ 17th great-uncle King Henry VIII, the vessel had sunk in 1545 after 35 years of service.
Prince Charles undertook his first dive on the Mary Rose on 30 July, 1974 and remained actively involved in the huge wreck project for the next eight years, describing the usually poor visibility as like diving “in lentil soup”. He became president of the Mary Rose Trust, and was one of the last divers to visit the wreck, shortly before the hull was raised on 11 October, 1982.
He had been on the boat on that day, encouraging the team to persist with the lifting operation using their borrowed crane despite the technical challenges they were facing. He then described hearing “an almighty crunch as the chains and the ship dropped – and I thought it was all my fault!”.
On his 30-minute Arctic dive, undertaken during a royal visit, he buddied with polar diving expert Dr Joe MacInnis in Resolute Bay in the northernmost part of Canada, 1450km above the Arctic Circle.
Of warmer-water diving, he has also mentioned an occasion on which he had “shot off like a Polaris missile” after a moray eel had loomed out of darkness and sunk its teeth into his mask.
Prince William, now Duke of Cornwall, had been encouraged from the age of three by his father to enjoy in-water activities. “’I threw him in the swimming pool on occasions – instead of putting him off, it enthused him,” Charles has said, and William went on to become an enthusiastic scuba diver and marine conservationist.
On taking over the BSAC presidency from his father, William said that he hoped his own son George, then a baby, would follow him in the role in what has now become a royal family tradition, although “for the moment bath-time is quite painful”. Prince George is now nine years old, so will soon be eligible to learn to dive – if he shares that ambition.