Author Archives: Stuart

Diving off Portland – June 2014

Just returned from our excellent excursion to Portland to dive with Skindeep Diving Weymouth. Len, our admirable skipper, gave us the best dive sites we could ask for given the relatively poor underwater visibility. Maggie gave us cups of team, support and encouragement.

We stayed in the ‘Bunker’. A ten minute walk from the Marina and just across the road from Chesil Beach and convenient hostelries.

The weather was glorious. Shorts were the standard dress code (not just for Steve).DSCF3250 DSCF3251 DSCF3253

Over three days we managed four lumps of metal – The M2, James Fennell, St Dunstan and Black Hawk (bow) and 3 drifts. The viz on the M2 and St Dunstan was disappointing at about a metre driven by the recent poor weather and a lot of plankton (good news for the fishes !).  The shallower drifts all had better viz at up to 5m. The first started with the scattered wreckage of the James Fennell and merged into a nice sedate drift. The drift to Portland head was a little more exciting especially for those going shallow. There was plenty of life to glimpse on the way.

The dive of the weekend was undoubtedly the Black Hawk. Scattered wreckage creating wonderful shapes emerging from the sand and gravel ridges. Teeming with life. All kinds of beautiful Wrasse including male cuckoos, large Tompots and Bib of all shapes and sizes (including huge), Pollack and sightings of parts of Congers. Lots of crabs of varying persuasions -including spiders and huge edibles. Some very pretty irridescent lobster. This must a be a truly awesome wreck in better visibility.

Our Barbi on Chesil Beach was undoubtedly the catering success of the weekend. Watching the sunset into the distant coastline.

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2015-06-15 10.52.52 2015-06-15 10.21.28 2015-06-14 19.22.39 2015-06-13 21.28.36

 

Thank you to Emma, Steve and Paul for the additional photos

 

 

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Sound of Mull – Oban 2014

Final instructions from the ‘director designate’ at T -7 days. Forecast was exceptional, flat calm and high pressure. Much to our surprise the communication was every (wo)man for themselves for catering on Thursday evening. After many complaints this was rescinded and our chef Sorrel was confirmed to be catering for us for everything.

Lots of grumpy early morning divers as it was an early start getting up at 5:30am for our trek to Oban. A breakfast stop at Westmorland (Tebay) was mandatory for the majority. We powered through Glasgow to get to Dunstaffnage Marina  by 12.00. The rain was relentless as we unloaded the cars to the boat moored at the farthest pontoon. A few prematurely sodden divers.

We departed the marina and headed for The Breda, 30 minutes away. Lots of excited buddy checks took place as we entered a flat calm sea to do our first dive. Jill had a free flow and her regs froze so had to go back on the boat for a refill and a defrost whilst Karl and Matt waited patiently in the rather cold water. The wreck was a little silty especially at the bottom of the shot line but vis improved to around 3m further into the dive. Post dive snack was a delicious triple layer raspberry cake (courtesy of Jill – way to go Jill !!!).

Onto a long steam up the Sound to Tobermory for our long standing appointment at the Mishnish. We had tea before we went out, a lovely feast of mustard pork, potatoes and kale followed by rice pudding with raisins. We went out for a leg stretch to the Mishnish and had a couple of rounds but tiredness had got to many and an early night was suggested by one and agreed by all! It turned out that the only opportunity to see the Northern Lights was missed (although it was cloudy and raining heavily in that part of the British Isles).

DSCF6744 DSCF6749 DSCF6750A leisurely start and porridge for breakfast we headed for the Hispania. A lovely wreck with lots of swim throughs and exceptionally colourful with life. It was a bit dark, viz ok but not great. A light luncheon of soup and bread and we had to decide whether to head for Coll / Tiree or stay in the Sound of Mull. We decided to stay in the sound as the forecast was variable. So time for a quick snooze before heading off to dive the Shuna. On the wreck we could clearly see the boilers, block and spare prop and we all managed a round trip dive to see the whole wreck. Some divers headed over the gunwhale down to 30m to see the prop and stern. It was beautiful but was well worth a look.

Staying in the Sound had the additional advantage of the Yard Arm time arriving early (pre-dinner drinks!) Richard had confirmation of his new job and we were out to celebrate so we headed to MacGoggans but under strict instructions to be back at 6pm for dinner. Richard kindly bought some champagne and we had a toast.

As we were in Scotland it was the mandatory Macsween’s haggis, neeps and tatties followed by scrumptious apple crumble with custard, although some fools had it with crème fresh. The evening continued for some as we headed back out to MacGoggans with the crew for some post dive drinks. Some ‘partied hard’ into the evening and return to the Mishnish but most went to bed. The main challenge to returning to the boat was the extra icy pontoon (not to be attempted on your own !).

Saturday morning was a visit to the Rondo. It is a wreck lying almost vertical against the rocks. The viz was ok and it was a little difficult to find the swim throughs but as people came back up the shot that got a little crowded. We then dived the Thesis. There was a little tide running and Huw and Syd had to make a swim for it as they missed the buoy. Lovely wreck, a traditional steam ship with boiler and bits. The bow plates are removed and make the view from inside and outside of the ship very atmospheric. Great viz, an excellent dive with Sea Eagle’s waiting to greet us on surfacing.

We harboured at Lochaline and whilst we waited for dinner we discovered how much we ‘didn’t know’ by doing a group effort at Jill’s quiz book. We then had an epic supper of Morroccan lamb and couscous followed by chocolate pudding, that was to die for. The weather was appalling and we decided to stay on board and we had a huge game of Yatzee. Eventually the skipper said the crew were heading to the pub and a hardy few divers decided to join them. It was very wet and very windy but we made it to the pub by walking through the silica mine grounds. We all had to ‘sign in’ to get a drink as it is a community pub. We only managed a couple of rounds before the rain stopped and we headed back to the boat for another early night.

Sunday was our last day and an early start was requested. We dived the Lochaline Wall. It was a lovely wall dive where you could pick your depth. Some took the advantage and did some depth progression. There was lots of life, Ray and Syd saw a cephlapod, Sorrel saw a dogfish, lots of squat lobsters, leopard spotted gobies and there were other fish hiding in the crevices. The wall is particularly picturesque with the life crowding the purple granite. There was another Sea Eagle watching us as we emerged at the surface.

The last dive was the Breda again but a couple of people blobbed. They missed a wonderful dive with excellent viz, much better than the first dive. It was full of life and the holds were fab. We could actually see the tiles and tyres which Bob had talked about during his dive briefing. A great last dive and time to pack up and leave. This was done quickly however it was discovered an hour into the journey that we had left several items and one car had to head back to the MV Halton to collect them. Not an ideal end but a wonderful dive trip with excellent diving and great people.

Our thanks go to Richard Ward, our trip organiser. Bob, our skipper, his memorable dive briefings and excellent skippering to drop us in the right place, and ensure our more mature members of the club don’t have too far to swim at the end of the dive. Sorrell, our wonderful chef, diving buddy and drinking partner. Liam and Teresa our very attentive deck hands who provided hot drinks instantly after our dives. Already booked again for 2015 !

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Trip Report Northern Ireland – 2013

DSCF6640DSCF6576 DSCF6636 DSCF6633 DSCF6608 DSCF6598 DSCF6589 DSCF6584 DSCF6583 DSCF6579  DSCF6573 DSCF6566 DSCF6561 DSCF6540 DSCF6519A fantastic week aboard the live-aboard MV Salutay with Norsemaid Charters – Al and Freda.

An altogether unpromising forecast for the week saw us driving to Stranraer in very mixed weather.  However, we have agreed to meet at Portpatrick for lunch if early and the majority managed that. Despite the wind and occasional rain (heard that before somewhere !) we have a little wander about this very pretty port.

The welcome as we met Al and Freda for the first time was great. Telling us exactly what we needed to know and getting our kit stowed.

The crossing in the morning was a little rough for some of our team (we’re all fair weather sailors) but we made it in the end to the security of Rathlin Island and our diving appointment with the Loch Garry ! What an excellent first dive. 10m vis and lots of life. A wreck that looks like a boat, identifiable pieces everywhere.

Into Ballycastle for the evening and the start of our culinary adventure. We were kept wondering all week just what Freda would produce next, how much we could eat and still fit into our drysuits at the end of the week.

So good we dived it twice. Loch Garry again in the morning and just as enjoyable. Better for knowing where to look the second time. Tide was picking up at the end. Finished with divers on a washing line for the deco stop.

For the afternoon the HMS Drake was calling in the shelter ofRathin Island bay. An island in a sea of sand. Really have to explore the kelp to understand that this is a wreck not a reef it is so well assimilated into the natural world. Lots of nooks and crannies, a few swim throughs with life galore.

Over to foreign lands the next day – Donegal – for the Castle Eden. Fantastic vis and so many fish. Exploring the scattered wreckage was a joy. In the afternoon the William Manell. Poor vis and hard work (against the current) to find the wreck.

A long steam back to Port Rush for the evening. Then setting out for the Castle Eden again. How could it be this good again?  Then for our afternoon workout (got to be payback or all the cakes) the Towey (nowhere near Essex). Nice upright frame and then a sniper crawl to the 2nd piece of wreckage. Fantastic growth colours and thousands of fry.

Back over to Rathin. The weather closing in forced a diving in the shelter at Black Head. A scenic dive with interesting tides ! Lots of hiding life. A strange late afternoon with glorious sunshine (as in sun bathing) and sea mist all around closing in – very eerie. Then all clearing for a glorious sunset.

Sadly the final day and an easy steam to Stranraer taking in the Longwy on the journey. Great colours and lots of life but very murky.

A great week was had by all. Many thanks to our hosts for their excellent hospitality, great organisation and fantastic skippering. We are all desperate to dive with them again sometime soon.

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Farnes 11th – 12th May 2013

Jill has arranged a trip with Farne Diving Services (Stan Hall). Staying in Beadnell.

The accommodation will be Friday and Saturday and diving will be Saturday and Sunday.

The cost of the weekend will be £120 and includes B&B accommodation and 2 boat dives per day (boat has a lift).

If you are interest please email me and I will need a £70 deposit to secure your space

Thanks

ps there will be seals!!!!

http://www.farnedivingservices.com/

 

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Loch Fyne 26th – 28th April 2013

So far we have 5 intrepid souls signed up for this early season adventure. The trip is going ahead, Malc will add a couple of local divers, but it would be great to see a few more of you join us !

Loch Fyne, based in Tarbert, for diving April 26th, 27th, 28th – Fri/Sat/Sunday with Fyne Diving (2 dives per day).  Accomodation the nights of 25th, 26th, 27th Thurs/Fri/Saturday at West Loch Shores in lodges.

Costs are £195 for diving and accomodation. Air fills, fuel, food and drinks you need to budget for.


My plan will be to set off from Huddersfield late Thursday afternoon, arrive around midnight. Have a leisurely start on Friday. Options to eat in or out Friday / Saturday. Early (ish) 9.00 start Sunday departing by 14.00 latest. Back to Huddersfield by 22.00. (The drive is 6 hours that’s why it’s a long weekend)


This is aimed at Ocean Divers and those getting wet for the first time in 2013. The diving will be sedate and based around Tarbert. Likely going out and back in between each dive.


Non diving partners are welcome !  This is a very pleasant part of the world with tourist spots, walks, cycling trails and horse riding (remember it’s April in Scotland though – all weathers in one day).


www.fyne-diving.co.uk

westlochshores.com

If your interested please contact Ray

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St Abbs

Friday

Driving up on Friday filled with optimism. The sky was bright, we were going diving !

A select group of skivers managed to get up to St Abbs for a late afternoon dip on Friday and then enjoyed Fish & Chips in Eyemouth.

Saturday – over exposure saturday (only from Jill)

We awoke Saturday to sunshine and a flat calm sea. Had we been transported to some mythical land?

There was some initial hope of the Glanmire but because of the slow group before we arrived on station to find the tide already running.

So we travelled onto Back Carrs – Great visibility meant an excellent view of the wonderful anemonies all around. Plethora of lobsters throughout the whole weekend and Gary found an Octopus!  Wolfies were also spotted but swirling currents made for tired legs.

Back to shore for lunch and then out to Weasel Loch. There were Leopard spotted gobies,  Jumbo prawns and lots of Shellfish. Also spotted Butterfish & Topnot blennies. Diane saw a conger!

Excellent weather made a BBQ a must, excellent catering from Gaz with excellent supervision from Steve. We were treated to an excellent fruit salad courtesy of Julia. A hardy contingent braved the chill evening air as the temperature sadly dropped.

Sunday – Dizzy Sunday for Julia & Matt

Managed to get out of the harbour with some skilful driving by Paul due to very low tide, but it was a VERY long ladder for little people!

W. Hurca swim through –  Another Octopus found by Jill, or following her and Steve.

Inlet for exploring. The tide was going forward for 2 and back for one. Spotted; Pogge.

Wuddy Rocks – Caves to explore, which Kate enjoyed. Spotted;  Mackerel shoals. Faltfish. Anglerfish.

An excellent weekend, with surprisingly nice weather on Saturday. Great visibility and lots to see.

Emma & Ray Dawson

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Shetland 2012 – the team return

In August 2012 the BSAC 18 collective had such a fab time in Shetland that there was only one option – Go again!

So it was on a lovely sunny Saturday in August 2012 that the team gathered at Aberdeen Harbour in great excitement to board the ferry. As we were early and the kit was loaded into the cargo crate we retired to a local hostelry for refreshments.

The ferry was boarded and finally we were on our way.  Being of the mind that the holiday starts as soon as you leave home, we had agreed to eat in the posh a la carte restaurant on board. This proved to be an excellent call. The smoked Salmon and Gravlax was excellent, the lamb cutlets were Gorgeous, the prawns wrapped in haddock was delicious and the fillet steak was the best I have ever had! This was just the best way to start our holiday, which also was doubling up as “Jill’s hen do with her diving friends”.

We retired to our cabins at various times in various states of inebriation and met up again for breakfast.

The excellent project management of our leader Richard Ward meant that we were met by a minibus taxi to take all our kit to the MV Halton which was to be our home for the next 6 days.

Bob Anderson, skipper of the Halton, welcomed us with the news that as soon as we had sorted kit we would be diving the Pionersk. This was the same first dive we did last time and was every bit as good.

The thing about diving in Shetland is that there is so much to see and you can actually see it, because the viz is astonishing! Not just 10m type good but easily 25 metres and gin clear! We dropped down the shot line to meet the wreck at 10m; a perfect shake down dive. The wreck is huge with lots of fish canning equipment and spread over a wide area so on our dive my buddy and I only met two out of the 10 other divers on there. There were two large shoals of coalfish, plenty of little scorpion fish, a fair few ling, a conger and lots of macro life. The golden tin lids reflected the sunshine perfectly and we felt that this was indeed a gold medal dive!  Everybody returned to the Halton excited about the stunning viz and having had a fabulous dive.

Pionersk wreck details : Klondiker ,fish factory ship, sunk 31.10.1994. Depth 0-22m

Location:  SW tip of Trebister Head, ran aground on unicorn rock.

After a tasty and welcome lunch of soup and bread and cheese we prepared to dive the giants legs. Another favourite scenic dive site with a cave and two gullies teaming with anemones.  The cave has lots of bits of metal and a long tube which causes a fairly alarming noise when banged, according to Frankie. We also witnessed a galaxy of marauding starfish feasting on a dead dogfish. This caused a lot of discussion!

The two gullies have a wealth of stunning dahlia anemones and an orgy of seahares mating! So basically on our first day we were subjected to wildlife porn.

After the die we sailed in sunshine back to Lerwick to enjoy a dinner of tacos, salad and home made rice pudding courtesy of Sorrel, our chef for the week

Monday 20th August:

Early start and breakfast before kitting up for our dive on the Gwladmena.

Gwladmena ; Steam ship sunk 02.01.1918 on South side of Breikwick, outside of Lerwick. Coming into Lerwick with a cargo of coal she collided with another steamship, the Flora. 22 crew all saved.

Depth: 34-39m

The shot was positioned just to the stern of the two huge boilers which became visible from 15m. A good amount of daylight meant that the visibility was excellent (20m + ) and we all did the total tour from shot to stern, back to bow and back up the shot. No current at all and the wreck was covered in fish and other marine life. Lots of edible crabs, tiny hermit crabs and Frankie befriended a ling. The wreck is still very ship-shaped  with lots of places to swim through, and so the team spread out nicely to enjoy this scenic wreck.

Later we steamed North East to Outskerries to dive a scenic wall famed for it’s collection of crayfish. The crayfish were keen to show them selves off and as a bonus we also came across some old rusty canons and canon balls. When we returned to the boat we discovered that these were from the wreck of Wrangels Palais which was sunk nearby in 1668! In the meander across the kelp we came across many lesser spotted catsharks upon which Matt demonstrated his ability to charm them by stroking.

We tied up for the evening at Outskerries and went for a walk until dinner, the views were stunning but no-one managed to find any mobile phone coverage. Like so many remote places the people that live here are amazingly resilient and we enjoyed a conversation with two local ladies who gave us some insight into what it means to live in a community of 70 people.

Tuesday dawned and our plan to dive the Jane on the way up to Unsk was scuppered by fog. Since the Jane is tidal and the divers are likely to scatter then this was well understood.  Instead Bob proposed that we steam up to Unst and dive the submarine E 49. This was met with enthusiastic agreement.

E49 details ,  Submarine, sunk by german mines on 9th March 1917.  Depth 29-33m. location: Baltasound, Unsk.

Bob had given us a detailed briefing on the wreck which lies on white sand and is visible from 10 m. The bow is completely blown off and resting about 10m away from the rest of the wreck. It lies party buried in sand and is home to 3 resident Tusks – these are fish from the cod family but distinctive by having a single dorsal fin. These were all spotted by our team and renamed Bob, Terry and Sorrel, after our friendly boat staff. There was also a reported sighting of a conger, which was confirmed and subsequently named Frankie. This is only a small wreck so to ensure that everyone enjoyed it as much as possible we split into two teams of 6 to dive it. Everyone returned with reports of an enjoyable dive, appreciating the detail on this fascinating wreck. When the weather conditions and fog had not improved, we agreed to dive it again for the second dive. A pleasant surface interval was spent walking from the jetty at Baltasound and a visit to the Unsk community bus stop. This is world famous! A legend in the world of customised transportation terminuses! The locals take great pride in making their bus-stop into a tourist destination with a different theme every year. Two years ago when we visited it had a distinctly orange theme.  This year it has a diamond jubilee theme; including some lovely regal memorabilia, thrones, crowns and even an Olympic torch (made from a traffic cone). It is excellent and well worth a visit.

We moored up for the night back at Balta Sound and spent the evening “having Jill’s Hen do” at the most Northerly pub in the UK; the Balta Sound Hotel. This was a totally empty bar with a TV showing football when we arrived but we loaded up the juke box with some decent tunes and had a few polite beverages. As it was a hen night we really did require some sort of male stripper or exotic male dancers, unfortunately none was available at short notice. We have all seen enough BSAC 18 naked male flesh so a contest was devised to see who could do the sexiest wiggle. The competition was fierce! Matt definitely has an alternative career if the garden design takes a downturn, and Wardy should never ever rely on a second career as Brad Pitt’s bottom double. The “Chocolate Starfish” being a sighting that we really could have all done without!

Jill returned having enjoyed her alternative hen night and struggled to get into her bed as she found it full of balloons.

Wednesday 22nd dawned to slightly more fog than we had hoped! The original plan was to dive Muckle Flugga, the rocks that are the most northerly point of the UK, but the fog put paid to that plan so we dived the Jane instead.

Throughout our trip so far we had experienced flat calm seas, amazing viz and next to no current. The Jane was to be the exception and there was a surprising amount of current on the shot line. This caught Stuart and Huw out and they lost contact with the shot and experienced the joys of a sea bed dive.

For those who made it to the wreck, the current had not subsided at all so we hunkered down inside the wreckage to take a better look. The Jane is home to lots of very hungry wrass ( harwrassment???)  and the most enormous lobster any of us have ever seen. The propeller is extremely impressive and Kate experienced it in the company of a free swimming Conger eel.

The Jane details: 198 foot long Swedish Steamship, sank 19th July 1923 with 475 barrels of herring on board, ran aground pilot error. Depth 20m

For some reason this was the one dive where Stuart didn’t hold a film show afterwards to relive his dive as recorded on his go-pro camera. Apparently the video resulting from his seabed dive was event less interesting than Bobs 1000 picture film show of birds attacking other birds.

Some people opted to finish their dive on the Jane and return to the surface via the shot-line, others opted to go for a scallop dive and gather some tasty sea food for lunch.

Wednesday afternoon’s dive was Noss head. This offers the opportunity to tour one large cave, a smaller one and a swim through. Several seal encounters were reported and the caves were fascinating. This site has a wealth of sea life and out side of the caves the walls have horizontal cracks which act as shelves supporting a host of crabs, squat lobsters, scorpion fish and shrimp. A pleasant bimble along these are we ascended before swimming out into the blue to surface nearer the Halton.  Many of us had a long surface swim and then an even longer one as the Halton moved away just as were within two strokes of it. Nevermind! the exercise was definitely needed as this week the food had been plentiful and highly calorific!

We stayed overnight at Lerwick and set off early on Thursday morning to dive the Glenisla in Bressay Sound. This steamship was built in 1878 , sunk 24th November 1917 in collision with steamship. Depth 39-46 m upright and intact. It is situated in a shipping lane so it can only dived with permission of harbour master. This was simply stunning. The wreck is ship shaped, upright on the sea bed, with lots of open holds that make amazing swim-throughs. There is so much to see and the main instruction in the dive briefing was NOT to recover anything from the wreck, especially the white blocks of material that look like cheese, these are in fact white phosphorus, used for armaments. Phosphorus is safe enough when immersed in sea water, but when it is removed from water and dries out it spontaneously combusts, not a good thing to happen on a wooden boat.

Everyone enjoyed this dive and Wardy was pleased to see that the donkey boiler still looks like a nuclear reactor (????), not sure what gas he was breathing last time he dived this!

Our final evening meal was delicious Lamb and apricot tagine with vegetable cous cous. After dinner Kate introduced us to Frankie, a sock puppet that looked exactly like the conger Frankie identified on the E49. Frankie the sock puppet conger was destined for a great dive tomorrow!

We did two dives on our final day. The first one was Lunokhods, a Latvian Knodiker that was  driven ashore during storm dragging it’s achor, 9th Nov 1993 below Kirakister Lighthouse. It  is broken with a large bow section at 40m, a debris trail and a shallow section lying up the wall. The shot was on the bow section and this is cleanly severed and on its side so you can see the multiple deck levels. The plan was to dive this section then head slightly east of north across the debris field to the shallow section. Kate and failed to find it and had a good 20 minute swim seeing some debris , clocking up a lot of additional decompression obligation along the way. In the end we gave up! It seems we were not the only ones to fail in this respect. Those that did find it said it was rusty, kelpy and interesting. Frankie the sock puppet decided to stay here, so if anyone returns to this wreck please look out for it.

Our final dive was the Fraoch Ban, A small fishing vessel that only sank in 1999. It sits at 25m on a sandy bottom which is home to loads and loads of flatfish! These are extremely friendly and seem to like divers. They were truly hilarious to watch and at one point there was a feeding frenzy with a host of them attacking an orange anemone, but this looked very much as though they were playing football with it! Seriously hilarious, made worse I suspect by narcosis. Even though this was only a 25m dive we clocked up a fair bit of deco as there was a huge amount of macro life to photograph: tiny scorpion fish, interesting decorator crabs and various anemones.  This was the dive that sounded least interesting but was an unexpectedly stunning experience and a fantastic way to complete our trip.

When you have had a fabulous trip previously often it is hard to recreate the same magic but on this occasion it was agreed that this was even better than last time. The weather was excellent all week, the seas flat calm (astonishing when you realise how far in the middle of no where Shetland is!) and everyone pitched in and made it a fun time.

Many thanks to Bob Anderson, and his crew Terry and Sorrel, for a fantastic week.

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‘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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Channel Islands – 10th -16th September 2011

There have been some very famous British maritime explorers, Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, Earnest Shackleton and Richard Ward……………….who?
OK, Richard Ward may not be quite as well known as some but in the ranks of Huddersfield BSAC 18 he is known for single handedly organising famous expeditions to the Orkneys, the Shetland Isles, Oban and, most recently, the Channel Islands.
Commander Ward, as I shall now refer to him, has all the hallmarks of the great explorers. Great organisational skills, a steely determination, uncanny man management skills, a capacity to respond rapidly and positively to changing circumstances (mostly climatic) and a profound belief in the principles and process of democracy.
The long awaited exploration of the channel Islands became a story of both profound and very ordinary experiences to those intrepid followers of Commander Ward  – Steve and Diane, Kate, Gaz, Damien, Frankie, Scott and Lynne, Will, Ray and Matt – your humble author.

It was a trip of firsts. The first affected by the tail end of a hurricane (Katya) which frustrated the attempts of Commander Ward and his boat Captain Darren, to achieve the longed for goal of land fall on the channel Islands. The first time Frankie had been seasick but certainly not the first time Matt had been. The first trip, for Scott, to the James Egan Layne in all its rusty abundance (but no John Dory). The first trip where two, almost legless dogs (Daschunds or sausage dogs to you) called Sinbad and Popeye, held court on the upper decks entertaining us all with their vertically challenged antics. The first trip in a steel hulled ex. auxiliary fleet tender which was well appointed, well organised, well spacious (mostly), well equipped, well skippered (apart from shot placement ) and various others wells I can’t think of.

It was a trip of dangers. Descending to the Scylla, our intrepid explorers were confronted by the guillotining action of a huge metal plate at the bottom of one shot line or a huge barrel drumming its deadly tattoo on the hull at the bottom of the other. Only their great skill and buoyancy control saved the team from that great watery dive site in the sky (or is that a contradiction in terms?)
It was a trip of spookiness with a ‘hangman’s head’ on the Scylla – you’ll have to ask Diane about that as I haven’t a clue. The deep Clyde like gloom on the Armed trawler (no it was not a boat with arms) and the weird current on the Scylla that tried to suck you into the bowels of the ship. Perhaps it was the ghosts of those poor, unfortunate divers that had so recently perished inside!

It was a trip of love. A trip where Steve formed a deep and abiding devotion to Sinbad, or was it Popeye, with the devotion being returned in full measure. Or was he just sitting in the right place? A trip where the obsessive/compulsive ‘love gift’ purchasers were frustrated by closed shops whenever we were able to make land. They resorted to sending IOU’s on postcards to their loved ones…………how romantic.

It was a trip of unmentionables mostly blocking the shower waste pipes. This was variously blamed on foaming shower gel/shampoo, disposable contact lenses but was really just a load of………………no, I can’t say it. Of course it was all the fault of previous passengers/divers most of whom were foreign……….probably French or Belgian and probably women. (thankfully no photograph available)

It was a trip of democracy in action with Commander Ward giving his devoted followers the opportunity to vote on whether to push for the Channel Islands for one day, or not. It was a ‘hung’ vote, three in favour of a push to the island, three in favour of the security of the south coast and three wanting chips with their tea (actually it was for an attempt on the Scillies). Commander Ward had the casting vote. This is where his steely determination came to the fore, as he was driven to fulfil his promise of getting all his disciples to the Channel Island by hook or by crook. So we settled in for a 10 hour steam there and a 10 hour steam back where much sleeping, reading and listening to music went on. It was quietly mentioned that there is a lot to be said for benevolent autocracy.

It was a trip of accommodation inequalities with Commander Ward and his cabal of youthful (well relatively youthful) followers, commandeering the largest cabin and the rest of the group squeezing into the remaining couple of square metres. To be fair, however, we were constantly reminded that we (Matt, Ray, Gaz and Will that is) had the best cabin
for rough seas as it lay at an exact rotational pivot point such that, whichever way the boat rolled we would be completely motionless………………..yeah, right.
It was a trip of discovery with Steve finding an almost full set of kit over the week – probably on ebay soon. Matt finding a handy double clip which, in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, benevolently gave it to Gaz. He later realized that he could have done with said double clip for his Practical Instructor Exam (doh). Ray decided it was time to buy a new bottle for his auto inflate blobby a determinedly chucked his current one into the briny.

As in all feats of exploration and derring do, there were times of social conflict, personal irritation, tedium and tiredness. But, there were also many times of humour and even hilarity, wonderment, excitement, close camaraderie, a sharing of experiences and enthusiasms (often underwater), of help and encouragement and an overall sense of achievement and personal satisfaction. We all came away happy and desperate to, yet again, follow our beloved Commander Ward to the far flung reaches of the United Kingdom and toward the setting western sun.

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Llyn 2011

The much vaunted but oft cancelled trip finally happened. The weather on the drive there was disconcerting. Hailstone in June ? Fortunately there was a warm welcome and some excellent beer (Purple Dragon) waiting in the pub in Criccieth when we finally arrived.

However, waking on Saturday to a bright blue sky and a few whitecaps out in the bay was a revelation. Only slight problem was the early start (7.00 am) to avoid being grounded on the river at low tide. New Shearwater is a fantastic boat. Much more luxury and space than we have ever seen in the UK. Full internal seating area, walk though onto bow area, flying bridge deck seating, storage and kitting area for 12 divers !

Glorious trip out to Bardsey Island spotting for wildlife on the way; some dolphins out in the distance, lots of sea birds, including shearwaters. As a consequence of the previous rough weather the surge was still strong on the south west tip so we opted for the more sheltered option to the SE of the island. Jumping in close to the cliffs we headed down to 20m for a bit of exploration. Vis was about 5m with lots of life and colour – lobsters, crabs, blennies, gobies, pollack, wrasse and nudibrachs.

With the early start everyone was ready for a feed, so off to the islands off Aberdaron for a quiet mooring. The puffins, gannets and a lonely seal entertained us as we lounged in the sunshine. Eventually we had to emerge from out stupor to consider the 2nd dive. We agreed on the drift between the two islands. Jumping in at intervals, stopping to admire anything wasn’t really an option ! The kelp and the wildlife fairly whizzed past.

After everyone had had their bit of excitement we made our way towards Pwllheli. At the ‘dolphin spot’ we were rewarded with the sight of these always exciting characters at play. Don’t know where the day had gone (a little too relaxed I think) but we didn’t get into the marina until 5.00. So then the dash for fills and showers ! The remains of the Wakestock festival day and start of the evening events slowed us down only a little.

If you have ever dived this part of the world then a visit to Tynrhos is essential. In a ramshackle outbuilding lies a wonder of Engineering, the compressor system, and you get the chance to talk to Chris. As an added bonus the drive up there gives outstanding views over Abersoch and the bay. On that day, with a clear blue sky reflecting on the water, there couldn’t be any better place to be in the world.

Well, pub again for an excellent meal, beer and talk of exploits old and new. Then another early, but slightly more civilised 8.00 am, start. Can you believe it, sunshine again ! Although we didn’t get much time in them everyone said the B&Bs in Criccieth were really good.

Headed out to Bardsey on fast burn ! Not quite flat calm but pretty good. Does it get any better than this: blue water, fast boat, comfortable accommodation and sunshine. Looking for the early slack. SW tip this time but coming back along the shore to avoid any current. Classic Bardsey terrain with sculpted rocks and boulders – lots of places for the life to scurry into. Great colours and lots to see. Everyone came back with the stories of what we each just missed seeing !
The back to the Aberdaron bay islands and the bird watching for a well deserved break. Since this was our last day we didn’t lounge about too long and headed off to the cliffs around Hells Mouth for a very gentle drift. Lovely location for small critter spotting, just at the edge of the sand as the rocks start up.
Well worth the wait to this dive weekend. Many thanks to Alan, our skipper, and Roy, the first mate.

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