‘A Tale of Two Trips’ – with apologies to Charles Dickens

It would seem impossible for two dive trips to be both very similar but astonishingly different. Yet the trips to Plymouth in June and St Abbs in July were exactly that.

Both trips were subjected to extreme weather which included wind, heavy rain – VERY heavy rain – but warmth and sunshine as well. Both trips exemplified the determination of Huddersfield BSAC 18 divers to get in the water come what may and subject themselves to the rigours that the sea and climate could throw at them. Mind, not all could cope with the stresses placed upon their bodies and they fell by the wayside only to resurrect themselves again and leap heroically once more into the salty depths or go home.

Plymouth

Our brave divers first sallied forth – actually south, with dire warnings of high winds and higher waves ringing in their ears, mostly through the latest smartphone technology, and headed to Plymouth.  Some had already seen the writing in the waves and stayed at home to cut the grass and earn Brownie points with the missus.

Those who made the trip – optimistically in shorts & Raybans- were met with glum looks by the Dougie, skipper  of the  Oucast, and the staff at Aquanauts who suggested short term patience would be rewarded by future submarine excitements as the winds and waves would subside.

Alternative plans were formulated which involved drinking lot, sleeping a lot and shopping. However, here we are an imaginative set of divers who would not be deterred from the thrill of an underwater experience – yes – you’ve guessed it – they went to the aquarium. Such a myriad of marine life was on view that it was possible that the actual diving, were it to take place, could have been quite an anticlimax. Some took their desire to dive even further and, armed with the latest swimming creations from Primark, headed to the heated pool on the Bovisand Caravan Park, scaring off all the other revellers – kids mostly – with impressive stride entries and forward rolls.

The much loved ritual of the dive trip BBQ had to be postponed and a shuttle of taxis took the still optimistic group to the Eddystone pub perched on the headland above the campsite. Indeed , views of the famous lighthouse were possible in the breaks in the cloud cover which, miraculously  merged into glorious evening sunshine.

Despite the welcome return of the sun the wind showed no signs of abating and a further postponement of diving was inevitable.  The group broke ranks and shopped, sought culture, or went back to bed to catch up on richly deserved rest. Those who had missed the delights of ‘virtual diving’  at the aquarium – actually, just Syd – could not resist the lure of giant Congers and fearsome sharks all safely behind 150mm of plexiglass.

Normal dive trip routines thankfully returned with the lighting of the Heppie’s BBQ,  one thousand year old, well travelled furnace . The mood was as buoyant , as bellies were full, with news that diving was a definite for the final day. Hurrah….  All retired to dream of the wondrous sights that would be experienced the following day or to nurse their indigestion. (Slippery elm is recommended)

So, on board at last, kitted up at last and heading out to the open sea and the prospect of a thrilling dive on the Elk. Down we plunged  and Damian, our stressed dive sheriff, (note the new title for the previously named dive manager, or , for the really old ones, dive marshall) and his deputy Matt, gracefully missed the wreck and became intimately acquainted with the minute detail of the sandy sea bottom. The others managed to become physically familiar with the wreck but still did not see it. Yes, the viz. was pants.  Returning, overwhelmingly disappointed with the dive our spirits were raised by the Captain saying that we were the only people out diving that day on the south coast and possibly in the whole of the UK. Our chests puffed out with pride and much back slapping ensued, which only goes to show how idiotic divers can be.

Finally the Captain dropped the five remaining hardy divers into a area  of the Sound where the Santander ferry usually manoeuvred  before docking.  Diving was delayed due to the imminent arrival of the ferry until the Captain checked the timetable and realised that he was an hour adrift. With explicit instruction to release their DSMBs early for subsequent location and possible signalling requirements  , the foolhardy five leapt in. The remaining wimps stowed their kit and enjoyed the sun and the views.

Suddenly, almost from nowhere, the ferry emerged and started to bear down on us. Three divers returned and safely re-boarded. But where were Syd & Will?  Minutes ticked by and no bubbles , and certainly no DSMBs could be seen. Concern mounted. Should the ferry be stopped until the divers were located?  Would we have to leave Syd & Will to their fate? (Fortunately a vote was not taken).

Finally the orange blobby appeared and Syd & Will secured on board again, we sped the scene as the ferry majestically rotated on the very spot our divers had surfaced minutes before.  And the reward for this life-threatening escapade  – a lot of silt-filled and dead scallops.  Chastened and wiser (well, some of us anyway) from our experiences we hastened home and were back in the arms of our loved ones in record time – well, Damian was driving.

St Abbs

Barely had we time to rinse and dry out our kit before we set forth again. North this time for the newly established mid-week/ weekend St Abbs trip. The signs were mixed as some travelled in shorts and T-shirts, and others in winter woollies.

Dianne’s Plymouth chilli was equalled by Richard’s culinary creation and enjoyed by the early arrivals. An early start tempered the usual first night revelries and most retired in good time to be fresh for the morning.  The early birds smugly informed the late arrivals that their kit was already assembled and stowed on board the boat, but …so sorry… the boat was now moored out of reach!  Such minor irritations however are of no consequence to our professional, technically masterful divers and a prompt start was still achieved.

The weather signs were difficult to decipher, but as we progressed north toward the Isle of May and our appointment with Primrose – not a character from Fifi and flowertots, but a wrecked trawler –it seemed  that the sea was going to be kind to us. We should have known better.

Warnings of gales from the south were heard and as soon as we had finished our second dive, ‘The Island’, we turned for home into the teeth of the gale.  Each coped differently with the conditions, some unaffected,  some queasy, some seeking the pivot point from where you should feel stationary – hah!  And your glass-bellied writer flat on his back, eyes closed, teeth clenched and  devoid of colour. We somehow survived and gratefully returned to the calm of the harbour. Unfortunately our first victim of the trip, Damian, inexplicably suffered perforated eardrums on his first dive.  He has not determined how it happened, and a visit to A & E next day set him on the, probably long, road to recovery. It is a statement to his ebullient self that he did not let it get him down.

Yet again the weather put paid to the dive BBQ and we trudged along muddy paths to the New Inn arriving just in time for our booking as the St Abbs bus had failed to arrive due to flooding. Typically, we were undaunted by our recent maritime tribulations and enjoyed good food and good company.  However, our second victim, Jules succumbed overnight and dizziness rendered her unfit to dive.

The full impact of the previous evening’s storm became apparent the next morning as the whole of Coldingham Bay had turned as brown as chocolate (sort of Dairy Milk colour) and even St Abbs Bay was a muddy colour. However, the sea was spent and swell diminished and our depleted band headed north again to the ‘River Garry’. We were surprised and not just a bit elated that the viz was not the expected chocolate soup, but a reasonable 4-5m.  Continued  calming of the sea allowed a further veg. dive off Brander Point and a calm return to harbour.

The weather was still not up to  BBQ standard so the energetic amongst us,  Matt, Syd & Ray – note, the older members of the group – walked to Eyemouth and feasted on fish & chips, mushy peas and ice cream – well, let’s be honest, diving is just a time filler between meals!

The appearance of Chris, Ros, Andy and Frederique seemed to trigger the desire for a party with much quaffing of beer and wine.  Frederique was monopolised by Syd, despite well meaning warnings in both English and French from the assembled group, and she retaliated with an immortal ‘Le piss-off’ to Richard, which will live in the collective memory for many a year.

We rose on Saturday to discover  a third victim, Richard,  had succumbed overnight to a stomach bug. Knowing looks and raised eyebrows suggested a degree of incredulity in the diagnosis given the consumption of the previous evening. Fortunately, the normal  late Saturday start permitted a degree of bodily recovery, also for Ray who had complained of being cold the previous evening, but for whom a good night’s sleep had helped recovery but had not made for any quieter night for his room mates.

Saturday dawned bright and cheerful we waved a sad farewell to Frankie who took the perforated Damian back with him. Jules, still unable to walk in a straight line, went back with Dave, intending to visit country houses and stately homes on the way. While, back in St Abbs the sun shone and sea slept, and with numbers bolstered by new arrivals we headed to a leisurely amble around Black Carrs. Everyone appreciated  the  benign conditions, especially the ‘Stugeronites’ who had a rare pill-free day.

The call of the Glanmire could not be resisted despite the usual misgivings about darkness and poor viz. But, hallelujah, the viz was excellent and the light good. In fact, there seemed more divers in the water than silt or plankton. Ascending a shot line liberally decorated with decompressing divers proved interesting.

Eventually the weather permitted the long-awaited BBQ cooked by Chris on Paul’s new shiny multi-burner, gas-fired monstrosity. Chris became well smoked and stirrings of cannibalism had to be suppressed. But  poor Richard had to be satisfied with a couple of muesli bars and a potato as his delicate stomach would not allow any of the usual fare that everyone else enjoyed.

However, before we could even begin our BBQ preparations, more excitement came our way. Paul and Rachel, in an eye popping skimpy hot pants  – no only Rachel was in the hot pants, emerged for a night out. At that very moment sirens wailed and Paul performed a creditable 10 second dash to the lifeboat station. Cars came rocketing down the slope and the life guard rib descended hurriedly into the harbour. Off it powered toward Eyemouth hotly pursued by the main lifeboat out of Eyemouth itself. We thought it must a major incident to bring both lifeboats out, but no, it was just some fool who had got stuck on a cliff and, to compound his idiocy, managed to climb back up again! We were all impressed with the speed and efficiency of the response except  for Rachel who was well miffed that her night out had been so delayed. I think she made up for it later!

On Sunday, the elements continued their benign state other than  the odd shower, so off to  the Skerries we steamed. Viz was so good and the marine life so abundant that your humble writer rated it as one of the best St Abbs dives he had experienced!  However, despite the presence of one of the greatest octopus finders of all time – Steve- no such tentacled cephalopod could be found. The challenge was on, and only one more dive to go!

Off to Wuddy Rocks we went, through the gullies and out into Black Carrs we finned and …yes… Steve pointed excitedly – it was an octopus …… but dead, and being feasted on by a starfish.

Could this be as close as your desperate writer was going to get to the submarine Holy Grail?  But…. only a few minutes later Steve pointed excitedly into a rocky hole…… and there it was!…. well, it’s eye anyway…. and it was definitely alive!   After a 2 year wait there it was , at last. Much shaking of hands and silly grins were evident – if you can have a silly grin with a reg. in your mouth.

Of course , no-one else spotted the elusive beast,  but then they were not diving with the octopus master!

So, dear reader, I know you will agree that only as divers can we have experiences so similar yet so different. It is our lot to cope with both the superb and the bloody awful. But then that’s what makes us who and what we are ……. Idiots.

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