Flying Castanets at “the Creran Steps”, 27th November 2011

With the planned trip to the Sound of Mull literally blown out of the water we were at somewhat at a loss for a dive. The inner lochs are usually dive -able even in the most stormy weather but when it is bad the viz is often atrocious.

Nevertheless Steve was able to muster a group of stalwarts, more in hope than anticipation and scheduled a training session or drysuit familiarisation dive for Kim our newest member. Having qualified and done several years diving in temperate climes, Kim was keen to get back into the sport and dive in Scotland.

So there we were, driving West along Loch Earn where three foot waves were destroying the wooden jetties of St Fillans, water was cascading down the hillside, filling the floor of Glen Falloch and wet snow clung to the Munro tops. Not surprisingly few people were out today. As we turned down Glen Lochy one particularly impressive gust of wind buffeted the car and lifted great sheets of water from Lochan na Bi sending sprites dancing towards Tyndrum. Prospects for enjoyable shore diving did not look good. The Strath of Orchy was flooded, Dalmally golf course being a series of islands, Lochawe was full and the sluices at Pass of Brander were open, giving an impressive sight.

Committed, we continued through Oban where white horses covered Oban bay to arrive at Puffin Dive center to a respectably calm sea but what could only be described as brown chocolate lapping at the jetty. Even the shop had not yet opened so we took our miseries into the Crew room and sat watching an unlit fire. Movement from the shop stirred us and we instinctively hid our credit cards. Still somewhat reticent about soup diving we chatted to the young lady behind the counter who encouragingly told us that their divers had been out the day before and that the vis was fine once out of the confines of the bay.

Kim hired a rather smart and well fitting Otter membrane and the rain stopped, a patch of blue appeared, and it was time to go diving!

For the first dive, considering the condition we thought we would keep it nice and simple so with Steve and Hamish providing shore cover, Kim and I did our buddy checks and finned out to the end of the pier where we slowly descended into 3m of water and 2m of vis. Basic buoyancy drills completed we swam further out to find better vis and at 10m we had 4m+, quite acceptable and more than enough to safely complete our drysuit buoyancy drills without any incidents. For the remainder of the dive we pottered around the 10m mark watching velvet crabs, hermit crabs and even finding an European Conch or Cowrie and a miniature scallop as well as various cracked cups, bottles, chains and concrete blocks. Not a bad first dive really.

Plan B for the second dive was to drive down to Easdale and dive the quarry which is both sheltered and has a bit of depth. Having discussed this idea with the Puffin staff, who described the quarry as an open cesspit, we changed our plans and took their recommendation for a site up in Loch Creran which turned out to be a good move.

The site, recorded as ‘The Steps’, provides a good shore dive incorporating a sandy slope, a small wall and an underwater pinnacle. More importantly today there wasn’t a ripple on the surface and the vis looked good. With Kim and I paired, Steve and Hamish led the way finding Queen scallops, Clabby doos and a small white skate which seamed healthy enough save for the lack of pigment. The dive rapidly got dark but with everyone well equipped with various light sabres we scarcely noticed that it was pitch black at 6m. Kim reported a large butterfish, that had wriggled snakelike under her torch. Finding the wall and pinnacle at about 12m added interest with encrusting life and swarms of queenies flying past as we disturbed them with our torches. Here Hamish found a group of Sepula worms which is really what makes this site special. (These delicate colonial tube worms can create large biogenic reefs. These structures are unique and have only been reported in two locations in Scotland, Loch Creran being one of them ~ thanks DT).

Squat lobsters, feather stars and minute ghost crabs and even a small poor code seems unperturbed by our presence as we slowly ascended eventually reaching fresh water at 2m to surface in the bay where we had started. A cracking dive.

All that was left was to return the drysuit to Puffin and head home making a brief pit stop to visit the badger at Crianlarich.
A very good day out that went some way to having had to cancel the Lochaline trip and saw another new member in the water, hopefully enjoying the delights of Scottish diving.

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