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How GUE’s Approach to Rebreather Diving Compares to My Previous Courses

No one will be surprised to learn that GUE’s got its own somewhat contrarian approach to rebreather diving. Scottish wrecker, Andy Pilley, contrasts GUE’s CCR Diver Level 1 course to what he learned in other rebreather courses.

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By Andy Pilley
Header photo by Marcus Rose.

At the beginning of March 2020, I completed Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) Closed Circuit Rebreather Diver Level 1 (CCR1) course with Rich Walker. Taking this course had been a long term goal since I began diving under the GUE framework.  By way of an introduction, even though I had been curious about GUE for a couple of years, my focus had been on training to use a CCR so that I could extend my diving and undertake more challenging dives. At this point, taking a ‘step back’ to participate in a Fundamentals course, the first step in the GUE education system, was not high on my agenda, and I pushed ahead with a 60 m/196 ft normoxic trimix and Cave CCR.

Andy with his teammates at the 2019 GUE Conference.
Photo by Owen Flowers.

In May 2018, I had joined a trip to Molnar Janos in Budapest, where we did some relatively deep dives to the 60m/196 ft section of the cave. During one of the dives I realized that if something were to happen at this point (deepest phase and farthest point from the entrance), the likelihood that any of the divers I was with would be  able to effectively assist me in an emergency, was slim to none. After returning from this trip, I completed my “Fundies” with Marcus Rose, and made the decision to pack away my JJ-CCR and dive with the growing GUE community we now have in Scotland. My end objective was to get back on to my CCR, but only when I was ready and could be an effective and vigilant teammate.

Since completing Fundies, I have built up experience, worked on my core skills to develop my capacity as a teammate, and undertaken more serious dives. Following up on this, I completed GUE’s DPV1 and Tech 1 courses in order to develop my abilities with mixed gas diving. 

We’re very fortunate in Scotland that there is such a wealth of maritime history around our coastlines, and divers can find wrecks to suit any level of depth and ability. The east coast of the town of Eyemouth provides access to a huge range of wrecks, which include HMS Pathfinder, U-12, the British submarines HMS K4 and HMS K17, as well as the NJ Fjord passenger liner. Many of these wrecks were on my list to dive; but, I wanted to do them with a team that I trusted, so it made sense to proceed with my training in the appropriate manner.

Andy diving on the the Cesare Rossarol in Croatia. Photo by CA HO.

A huge problem in Scotland is that helium prices  are astronomically expensive, and a fill of Trimix 21/35 can cost in the region of £180/US $219 if filled from empty cylinders. This of course restricted the frequency of when we could carry out these dives.  In addition to this, there are a number of very remote sites that we have dived in the recent past, and gas logistics became the biggest problem in being able to carry out these trips. We would often load up with two twinsets and two stage cylinders each for a weekend, and the cost of these fills soon adds up. As I’m sure you can imagine, the ease of logistics that is made available by using a CCR became appealing very quickly. 

Diving Into The Course

GUE On-site Checklist. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

What struck me about the course with Rich Walker was the level of detail that went into every aspect of using these machines. In my previous CCR courses, we had carried out checklists for pre-dive assembly and breathing checks. But, these were done as a group of individuals rather than as a team. Prior to this there had never been a sense of accountability toward my teammates, as it was very much a solo diving mindset. 

For example, with the GUE class, the pre-build checklist sticker,  recording individual measurements of cell linearity, and cell manufacture dates contained a new level of detail that I hadn’t experienced before. That is not to say they weren’t discussed in my previous training, but cell linearity went only as far as, “If the cells sit between 46-54mv (millivolts) they’ll be ok,” and, “remember to change your cells every 12 months.” It was left to us as individual divers to maintain our own equipment without any real accountability to those we were diving with. Needless to say, looking back on this from a GUE view point, I was shocked that I had once been prepared to accept that level of risk.

From the start of the GUE CCR1 course, the point was made that rebreathers are meant to facilitate dives that are infeasible on open circuit due to gas logistics. When you are venturing into these remote and hostile places, why would you be willing to expose yourself to an intolerable level of risk? Especially when something as simple as a checklist could identify faults and prevent a potential failure that could result in an aborted dive for you and your teammates. Teamwork requires that each member be accountable to the others. Something as simple as a completed checklist confirms that you are thinking with the end in mind, and providing reassurance that you have physically checked each element of your unit.

My previous CCR training had no prerequisites in terms of skill level prior to enrolling in the course; the only requirement was a minimum number of dives. I managed to complete Module 1 without too much difficulty; however, Module 2 was a different story. 

CCR diver practicing bailout to OC. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

In my previous CCR training, when I started Module 2, I felt as if I was ready to start undertaking deeper dives. However, my lack of fundamental skills, stability, and buoyancy control became apparent when we started diving with two bailout cylinders and trying to manage these effectively. My buoyancy fluctuated massively, and problems I encountered became progressively worse as new skills and increasing depth were introduced and I became task-loaded.

As with Module 1, I managed to pass the course; however, looking back on my performance at that time, I should never have passed. I should have been sent home to work on my foundational skills since what I was missing was the appropriate skill level.

After completing GUE’s Fundamentals, that solid base became apparent.

Capacity and Configuration

As we moved on to learn new rebreather skills in my CCR1 class, the necessity for solid fundamental skills was clear, as we now had to manage our loop volume in addition to our wing and drysuit buoyancy. As I mentioned previously, prior to undertaking Fundamentals I had perceived this as a ‘step back’ from the point where I thought I was in terms of my own diving. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a solid skill base from which to build your capacity, and progress in your diving. 

The capacity that GUE training instills in divers provides a common baseline for the team. It provides the reassurance that each diver is trained to the same standard, and will respond in the same manner to particular scenarios. In contrast, the skills taught in my original CCR courses varied depending on which instructor taught them. This could lead to a significant variance in an individual’s response in any given scenario without guarantee that the response will be correct, and more importantly safe. The difference led me to consider GUE’s rebreather configuration in particular, and the benefits it offered in comparison to a standard CCR configuration.

GUE CCR configuration. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

The rig, configured GUE style, looked very different from what I had seen previously, but after it was explained to me, and how it fits into the GUE framework, it all made sense. I first saw the setup about four years ago in a video demonstrating how a long hose deployment would work, and my first impression was that it looked very complicated and time consuming. ‘Why would you not just hand over a bailout cylinder and be done with it?’ was my thinking back then. In hindsight, I believe that deploying a long hose is much less risky than giving/receiving a bailout cylinder that may or may not have been analysed by that particular diver. Some of the CCR divers I had dived with prior to coming across GUE, don’t analyze their bailout gas before each dive. [Ed. note: GUE standards mandate analyzing and labeling gas the day of the dive.]

Incorporating a twinset of diluent into the rig reduces the number of external cylinders that must be carried on any given dive. As I alluded to earlier, I was carrying two Ali80’s (11 liter cylinders)—one bailout, one for deco—during my Mod2 course and was overweighted to the point that my wing was fully inflated and impeding my ability to manipulate the valve on my oxygen cylinder during a high PO2 drill. 

Maintaining muscle memory from using a twinset allows for a smooth and familiar manipulation of the valves when required, and mounting the O2 bottle farther back removes any risk of the valve being caught by the wing if it’s overinflated. Overall, the rig feels safer to me, particularly when bailing out to open circuit. As mentioned previously, my prior training had been to use an external bailout cylinder and deploy that if the breathing loop was compromised. 

I was not taught a set drill for verifying and deploying the bailout reg in my original CCR classes, and in a state of panic, I could very well have switched to a cylinder containing 50%, rather than a deep mix. In the case of the GUE configuration, it’s a case of either switching to a backup reg or using a bailout valve (BOV). Personally, I would prefer to do this, rather than running through a full gas switch procedure, especially if I was hypercapnic for example.

Andy post course, diving his CCR. Photo by Marcus Rose.

With this piece, I thought I would provide an overview of the particular elements of the course rather than a day-by-day account. I hope you’ve found this an interesting account of my experience and reflection on how the course sits in comparison to some other CCR training courses. If your objective is to move to CCR diving in the future, I would thoroughly recommend this course. I look forward to diving more with the GUE community and seeing you all on projects in the future.

Additional Resources:

GUE CCR1 Course

The Thought Process Behind GUE’s CCR Configuration


Andy Pilley is a Chartered Surveyor, team member of GUE Scotland, passionate wreck & cave diver and Ghost Fishing UK team diver. Andy started diving with the Scottish Sub-Aqua club in 2011 and began diving with GUE in 2018. Andy dives on the east and west coasts of Scotland where there is a rich maritime history and an abundance of wrecks to be explored. He has a passion for project diving and is developing objectives for a number of sites with the GUE Scotland team. He hopes to assist on the Mars Project and with the WKPP in the future.

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Brits Brew Beer Booty

What do you get when you combine British divers’ proclivity for shipwreck exploration with their strong affinity for beer? A tasty treasure hunt on the “Wallachia” that resulted in swilling 126-year old reconstituted British beer. GUE Scotland’s detective chief inspector Andy Pilley recounts the tale.

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by Andy Pilley
Images courtesy of
A. Pilley

Header Image: GUE Scotland’s brewmeisters enjoying their brew (L to R) Top: Owen Flowers, Andy Pilley, Wayne Heelbeck. Middle: Steve Symington, A. Pilley, O. Flowers, Bottom: W. Heelbeck, Sergej Maciuk, S. Symington

“Give my people plenty of beer, good beer, and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them.”

Queen Victoria

I never thought when I started diving 10 years ago, that one day I would be able to sit down for a pint of beer with the team from GUE Scotland recreated from a brew that has been hidden under the waves for 126 years. Let me explain.

The Wallachia was a single screw cargo steamer that was owned by William Burrell & Son of Glasgow, and employed on regular trips between Glasgow and the West Indies. On 29th September, 1895 she left Queen’s Dock, Glasgow at 10am bound for Trinidad and Demerara. On board was a valuable general cargo including whisky, gin, beer, acids, glassware, and earthenware plus building materials and footwear. By 1pm that afternoon she had settled on the seabed of the Clyde Estuary after colliding with another ship in a fog bank, she was forgotten until 1977 when a local sub-aqua club rediscovered the wreck site.

The wreck of the Wallachia lies on an even keel in approximately 34 metres of water on a sandy seabed. The wreck itself is largely intact and has six holds in total, three forward and three aft. In the rearmost hold there are thousands of bottles of beer, some still inscribed with the name of the maker, McEwans of Glasgow. This is where myself and the team from GUE Scotland enter the story.

The Wreck of the Wallachia 

The Wallachia is one of the more accessible sites on the west coast of Scotland, where we carry out most of our diving. Depending on weather and tidal conditions, visibility on the wreck can be +10m/33 ft on a very good day or less than 2m/6 ft if there has been a lot of rain due to the amount of particulate in the water. Other elements to consider are the tide as this can vary in its intensity, as well as surrounding boat traffic. The wreck lies in close proximity to a ferry route and care must be taken not to dive when the ferry is closeby. However despite the challenges, the wreck is very rewarding and offers a diver plenty of places to explore and items to look at. 

The main point of interest for most has been the rearmost hold, where the bottles of whisky and beer were stored. The majority of the whisky was removed in the 1980’s however a few bottles can be found on occasion, depending where you look. What remains are thousands of bottles of beer, still with the corks and contents intact. Over the course of 2018 & 2019, the team at GUE Scotland dived on the wreck and recovered a number of bottles from the hold. 

After a chance discussion with a friend at dinner one night, I was given contact details for a company called Brewlab, which is based in Sunderland in the north east of England. Brewlab specialise in the provision of specialist brewing training, as well as laboratory services such as quality assurance, product development, chemical/microbiology testing as well as long term research options. I made contact with Keith Thomas, the Director of Brewlab, to discuss whether he would be interested in analysing the beer and investigating whether it could be recreated. Needless to say the proposal piqued his interest and arrangements were made for the bottles to be shipped to his lab.

Unbeknownst to me, the recovery of historical beers is rare, due to various sources of degradation/contamination which can affect any residual microbial cells and chemical components left in the beer that were used as part of the brewing process. So these samples are a valuable source of information on past brewing and microbiology. Over the course of 2019/2020, Keith and I kept in regular contact over the progress of the investigations and the full analysis of the beer has recently been published.

A Brewing Interest

Between 1850 and 1950, the application of scientific principles to brewing was becoming increasingly prevalent and microbiology was playing an increasingly important role. A pertinent issue in brewing microbiology around 1900 was the application of pure Saccharomyces yeast cultures developed by Hansen at the Carlsberg laboratory in 1888. These were readily adopted by continental breweries as providing more controlled production and purer beers. Application to UK brewing was, however, less positively received, in part because of the belief that British beers possessed particular flavours arising from mixed yeast cultures and, specifically, the involvement of Brettanomyces species. This was especially believed to be essential for the character of ‘stock’ ales which were matured for extended periods.

While a number of breweries did try pure culture yeasts, UK brewing was resistant to change and, with the intervention of World War I, retained its indigenous yeast cultures. Since the 1940’s a more biotechnological approach to fermentation demonstrated the value of pure culture and was progressively applied to the larger breweries developing at that time. 

During the formative period of brewery microbiology after Pasteur, brewing yeast were identified as Saccharomyces species based on morphological features of shape, filamentous propensity and spore characteristics. Non brewing, ‘wild’ yeast was recognised and termed ‘Torula’ if non-sporulating. Of these Brettanomyces strains were identified as contributing important character to stock ales. It is also clear from brewing texts that bacteria were recognised as spoilage organisms in beer, as had been initially demonstrated by Pasteur in 1863. These species were mostly categorised as bacilli and typically portrayed as rods and associated with sarcina sickness – generally producing sourness. Some studies, nevertheless, identified lactic acid bacteria as indigenous components of standard beers.

Contemporary breweries are increasingly interested in using novel microbiology, either unconventional yeast strains or mixes of species and strains for sour and natural products. Identifying the specific strains and species of yeast and bacteria present in Victorian and Edwardian beers is directly relevant to this and has particular value if cultures of authentic microorganisms can be retrieved. Reports of retrieved historic brewery microbiology are limited but hold interesting promise for identifying novel microorganisms.

The specific parameters of the analysis are contained in a published research paper, Preliminary microbiological and chemical analysis of two historical stock ales from Victorian and Edwardian brewing.”

As I mentioned, the primary objective of the analysis was to confirm whether detail could be provided on the original brewing ingredients and the fermentation microbiology. The analysis confirmed the use of Brettanomyces/Dekkera bruxellensis and Debaryomyces hansenii, which are brewing and fermentation yeasts respectively. The presence of Debaryomyces is interesting as this genus has not been noted as a historic feature of historic brewing, but has been identified in spontaneous fermentations, for example in Belgian lambic beers. Although the strain was reported to the brewing industry in 1906, it has not featured as a major contributor to beer fermentations since.



The analysis has also provided relevant information of the beer character and has confirmed that the beer recovered from the Wallachia was a stout, close to style expectations of the time and had an alcohol content of c. 7.5%. The colour gravity was high, resulting in a much darker beer however a much lower level of bitterness. Again this was typical style of the time and differs from other modern stouts.

More interestingly is the presence of various types of bacteria, which will likely have been picked up during the brewing process. The table below lists these for reference. Needless to say, historic brewing was not a sterile process in comparison to modern methods!

Bacillus licheniformisPlant and soil bacterium
Finegoldia magnaCommensal skin bacterium
Fusobacterium sp.Possible pathogenic bacterium
Kocuria roseaPossible urinary tract pathogen
Mogibacterium pumilumPossible oral cavity bacterium
Shigella sonneiEnteric pathogen
Staphylococcus epidermidisCommensal skin bacterium
Stenotrophomonas maltophiliaSoil bacterium
Varibaculum cambriensePossible pathogenic bacterium

Table 1: The bacteria found in the Wallachia beer bottles

Due to the relatively stable conditions on the wreck, being in near darkness and at a relatively cold temperature (between 6º–14ºC/43º-57ºF depending on the time of year), the live yeast structures within the beer were protected from sources of stress and allowed them to survive over the past 126 years. Luckily, Keith was able to extract these samples and begin to recultivate the yeast, specifically the Debaryomyces, with the hope of being able to rebrew the beer.

Cheers Mates

Just before Christmas, I finally received word from Keith that he had completed a trial brew and seven bottles of the brew were on their way to me. A few excitement laden days later and a nondescript box arrived at my office with the beer inside. I called the guys on our Facebook group chat to show them the case and got each bottle packaged up and sent out to them. 

A few days later, once everyone had received their sample we got together again to try the samples. There was an air of excitement after the two years it had taken us to get to this point, the most anticipated pint ever! I’m no expert in the flavour profiles of beer so you will have to forgive me for my relatively basic analysis. In summary, I got flavours of coffee and chocolate and there was a relatively low level of carbonation, which made it very drinkable. The rest of the team got similar flavours, the only complaint being there wasn’t more to try!

There will of course be slight differences in flavour since we don’t normally add the bacteria listed above as ingredients. However, the recipe we have is as close as we can make it to the original stock version.

The next steps for the project are to carry out further investigation on the characteristics of the Debaryomyces yeast strain in order to determine their suitability for fermentation and potential use in future brewing production. We are making approaches to various commercial breweries in order to discuss future commercialisation of the recipe and produce the brew on large scale. With the story behind the original recipe, we’re hopeful that the provenance would be a key selling point to consumers. It is my hope that the recovery of these samples will open up new possibilities for different types of beers to be developed, and offer something different for beer enthusiasts to try.

I have also found out that there are other types of beer to be found on the wreck, specifically an IPA style. Once we’re allowed to begin diving again, I am hoping to return to the Wallachia and recover some of these bottles so we can carry out the same analysis and keep the project moving forward.

In the mean-time, cheers!

Additional Resources:

The Brewlab Podcast, Episode 2 (March 30, 2021): Lost Beers Recreated from Shipwreck Bottles

GUE Scotland vlog -Episode 1


Andy Pilley is a Chartered Surveyor, team member of GUE Scotland, passionate wreck & cave diver and Ghost Fishing UK team diver. Andy started diving with the Scottish Sub-Aqua club in 2011 and began diving with GUE in 2018. Andy dives on the east and west coasts of Scotland where there is a rich maritime history and an abundance of wrecks to be explored. He has a passion for project diving and is developing objectives for a number of sites with the GUE Scotland team. He hopes to assist on the Mars Project and with the WKPP in the future.

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