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26 June 2012

Andrea Frankham-Hughes looks back at our first filming trip to Egypt

Andrea assists Sue with her costume after a dive

Image: Kirsten Tribe

Weeks of fervent organisation preceeded our first trip to Egypt in March and as the newest project manager, my task was to get the entire team, their specialist kit and the underwater wheelchair out to Sharm El Sheikh in one piece. Our first logisitical nightmare occured on the way out at Gatwick Airport- the wheel bearings gave out on the way to the departure lounge! We were a little worried to say the least.

We were met with a warm welcome, and great enthusiasm from all at Camel Diving. A peaceful haven in the madness of Sharm, Camel took the broken wheel bearings (could have been a disaster if they hadn't) and had them repaired ovenight so we were able to carry on with the project as planned. The hotel was so accessible- I was impressed. Travelling with a wheelchair user was an absolute revelation and I'm now so aware of what challenges that brings in terms of just getting from the hotel to the plane, never mind onto a boat! Camels' facilities and their positive, enabling attitude made it so easy for us all to work together. Cathy and Tamer, with their invaluable knowledge, skills and individual personalities slotted into the team perfectly as did the crew of 'Wasser'

The team sprung into action, readying the underwater wheelchair for its maiden flight in the Red Sea. The boat deck was a hive of activity, Norman setting up his Video Kit; Trish the 360 cameras, Kelvin, Rob and Mac assembling all the different components of the wheelchair, checking to make sure all was perfect & Kirsten documenting the preparations on her camera as we sped along to the dive site. Sue was looking excited, but nervous. Our time for filming was limited by the length of the dives and therefore invaluable to the project.

Sue dropped into the water in her wetsuit, to survey the conditions and lay of the sea bed. Then it was my turn to get her into her dress ( with a shorty wetsuit and rash suit underneath to try to keep her warm) so we could start the filming. There was no roadmap here- it's never been done before and so we were constantly breaking new ground.

When Sue got out of the water I was waiting with towels to get her warm. I had been volunteering as poolside support during the development of the underwater wheelchair for about a year and had seen how much physical effort it takes on her part to fly the underwater wheelchair, but I was totally unprepared for this new experience. Sue was so cold and tired that she could hardly speak. We gave her hot tea, but she couldn't even hold the cup, she was shaking so much that the liquid was flying everywhere. We put her into the onboard shower and doused her in warm water, but she was still shivering with cold. I was seriously worried that she'd become hypothermic, but the boat crew brought out buckets of warm water to pour into her wetsuit and warm her up, and gradually she started to respond. Tired though she was, Sue was thrilled by the experience and expert Videographer Norman Lomax managed to get some great shots right from the outset. Trish was Go pro girl, Filming with the 360 degree camera for the ICCI dome on Weymouth Beach. I was boat support, looking after Sue, passing cameras, putting away kit, finding cable ties.

The input and ingenuity of Rob Hughes and his team at C-Waves Diving, took the concept that Sue had in her mind together with the wheelchair and thrusters that she brought, and helped materialise her vision. She had approached various people with her idea only to be told that it was impossible to undertake, but C-Waves' 'can do' attitude and Rob's invaluable experience as a diving instructor, set designer and creative fabricator came to the rescue! The experts at Plymouth University, as well as Engineer Adrian Jones on Portland, input large amounts of expert work in the refining of the underwater wheelchair construction.

Rob's concept of a spectacular bubble curtain finally came to fruition in the following days. We had experimented with it in the pool but in the sea, logistically, it was a different matter. The team had to take the hose out to the seabed, arrange it, weight it down with 35KG of lead weight which had to be taken to the site by hand, stay with it at all times until the shoot was finished and then transport it all back to the boat. The use of the carbon fibre DPV (fantastic bit of kit) helped us immeasurably to achieve getting the equipment out there & Cathy's twinset came in very handy! Kirsten and Cathy developed their muscles, ferrying the weights back and forth to the boat.

I was constantly having to repair the dress, which was suffering from being immersed in the chlorinated waters of the Osprey Pool every few weeks. It was falling apart, but I promised, with the aid of iron-on repair tape, to keep it going until the end of the week.

Sue was developing the fluidity of her arm movements underwater & played me a piece of music which she was thinking of using for the film soundtrack. It immediately inspired me to start my Tai Chi Sea Plant meditation which asks you to imagine being a plant swaying underwater in an ocean current. Sue and Tamer took the movements; reinterpreting, redefining and recreating them in a graceful underwater choreography that seemed so calm and elegant.
The raw footage looks amazing, etherial & effortless (even though it isn't at all, I can assure you).

Everyone was very aware that they where involved in a unique, groundbreaking project. We were all tired, but elated, happy and proud of our team accomplishments and we all worked tirelessly to materialise Sue's vision. It makes me realise that it takes sheer single mindedness and a dash of madness to create and assemble such an unusual team to create such a project! I feel really priviledged to be part of that team.

It's not over yet and The Team will be working away behind the scenes, helping to 'Create the Spectacle!' with the pool performances in, August and September for the Maritime Mix 2012. I'm really excited to see the footage on the big screens and ICCI 360 dome as well as the live aspects of the performance. It's challenging, exciting and evolving!