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Octogenarian diver from Plymouth celebrates 50 years underwater

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18 January 2016

Ray Ives is a popular and familiar face at Yacht Haven Quay. His museum, Ray's Plaice, is a collection of Ray's underwater collection while his life has also been filmed in an award winning documentary, "Ray: A Live Underwater". Watch it here

On his 80th birthday, Western Morning News visited Ray once again to further document his fascinating stories:

A Devon man who may lay claim to the title of Britain's oldest active diver has reached the milestone of half a century working as a commercial diver... at the ripe old age of 80.

Grandfather Ray Ives long life and career was celebrated by over 100 close friends, former colleagues and family as they gathered to pay tribute to his amazing longevity – which could so easily have ended when the rangy octogenarian suffered a near-fatal brush with death in the 1970s.

Mr Ives, of Plymouth – who shares his January 8th birthday with one Elvis Aaron Presley - came to worldwide prominence when his 'diving museum' was discovered by filmmaker Amanda Blugrass.

The museum - open to the public and is known as “Ray's Plaice” which started out life in a shed in the pensioner's back garden before finding a permanent home in two massive shipping containers at Plymouth's Yacht Haven Quay, features swords, propellers, cannonballs, small arms, muskets, bottles, diving suits, leather buckets plus an assortment of recovered cargo.

“I was told of Ray's collection, which he kept in a metal container at the marina,” explained Amanda, an Associate Lecturer in Media Arts at the University Of Plymouth.

Looking over his incredible collection of vintage dive gear and salvaged 'treasures' amassed during Ives' incredible 50-year career led her to produce a 15-minute short film entitled “Ray-A Life Underwater” which went on to became a multi-award winning hit across the globe.

“He also has over 15 dive helmets which chart the course of dive technology over the last century,” continued the former BBC journalist. “Ray is extraordinary. He even still dives in a hand-pumped 1900’s Siege Gorman diving suit with copper helmet.”

Joining the Royal Marines at the age of 17, the Gloucestershire-born Ives spent 12 years as a Green Beret serving in Egypt, Malaysia and Borneo before commencing his diving career with the MOD at Devonport Dockyard.

“I’d messed about in the water with equipment in the Marines, only getting wet, really, but when I learned to dive I was hooked.”

Working primarily in salvage before going freelance in the early '70s, the North Sea oil boom of the time saw Ray diving on rigs and pipelines at depths of up to 170 metres.

“I was one of the first in England to do saturation diving,” says Ray. “It changed completely the way deep divers worked. Instead of being limited to spending just a few minutes working before you had to start decompressing, you could spend your whole shift down there.”

And it was during one such dive off the coast of Norway that Ray nearly lost his life.

“My partner was Matt Egan, an American. He was inside the diving bell monitoring everything and I don’t know what happened but I went unconscious within minutes.

“Topside told him not to go out into the water after me because it was too dangerous. Luckily for me, he disobeyed them and got me.

“He resuscitated me and got me back to the surface and into a decompression chamber. I was in there for 40 hours decompressing.

“The doctor on shore told the ship I would either be all right - or suffer serious brain damage.” Luckily, Ray went on to make a full recovery and only a month later was back at work.

Working in the Gulf of Mexico, Ray crossed paths with famous firefighter Paul Neal ‘Red’ Adair - portrayed by John Wayne in the Hollywood movie Hellfighters – when he was called in during a blowout that left oil spread across the suface of the sea.

“He was quite laid-back, a very nice chap,” says Ray, before adding tongue-in-cheek “for an American”. “My life has been quite adventurous really - I’ve dived and worked all over the world, but to someone who’s never dived I couldn’t explain it really.

“I suppose it’s like being on the moon - it just reminds you of space.

A father of three - his wife Shirley died in 2000 – Ray Ives' late-flowering fame and shows no signs of slowing down.

Article writted by Western Morning News JBayley, first published on January 14th 2016. Read the original article here. Photo credits to Neil Hope