We spotted an opportunity for some quality diving when Chris received an e-mail from Jan Love, a key mover and shaker in the Rebel Alliance divers group, advising of spaces available on their ‘Peregrine’ hard boat week 29 July to 3 August 2012 sailing from Scalpay, an island joined by a bridge to the Isle of Harris, focusing on sites in the Minch and the eastern shores of Harris.
Unfortunately, Chris was unable to get the time off, but Bethan took little persuading to join me, then found that her best friend, Kay, a Dive Leader from the Manchester University branch of BSAC, could also manage to join us for a trip based on traveling to Tarbert on Harris on Saturday 28 July 2012, diving 3 days Sunday to Tuesday, then heading back to Perth on Wednesday 1 August 2012 arriving in time for Kay to jump on a train back to Manchester later that afternoon.
Conveniently, the 2 remaining rooms at Dunard House in Tarbert were a twin & a single so we were all set for the trip.
As ever, we marvelled at the spectacular Highland scenery on the drive from Perth across to Skye and Uig where we met most of the Rebel Alliance team enjoying a pint at the nearest pub to the embarkation slip for the trusty CalMac ferry to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. A quick trip to the Hebrides Hotel for a sun downer finished the day!
Following a comfortable night and a full Scottish breakfast, revived and raring to get in the water, we headed to the harbor at Scalpay where all the gear was quickly loaded aboard ‘Peregrine’. We re-acquainted ourselves with Malcolm, our skipper, who we had previously had the pleasure of meeting on our Club Sound of Mull trip back in March of this year.
We headed off for the shakedown dive to start the holiday, a nearly intact wreck of a fish farm supply vessel (no one knew her name) which stood all square on the bottom at 24m not far from the shore of Loch Trollamarig. This was a beautiful site with shoals of small fish, the vessel itself being covered in Plumose Anemones with even the wheelhouse still being place. Kay, our expedition underwater photographer, warmed to her task with relish and we all had a cracking dive, being in a threesome no hardship in such clear visibility!
For our second dive, we headed south along the shore of Harris to Holm Island where the plan was to dive the Holm Island Wall, Bethan taking the lead this time to help her finish the few remaining tasks still to be signed off for her Dive Leader. A lovely dive down a boulder slope to the wall which had an impressive overhang, under which Kay spotted a small conger eel while Bethan was battling with a particularly large edible crab (the crab won!) and I admired a beautiful cuckoo wrasse.
Since the ‘Peregrine’ has an on board compressor we were able to complete 3 dives per day on this trip while only bringing one set each. In between dives we took the opportunity to get to know our hosts from the Rebel Alliance and to enjoy their warm hospitality which on the first day included a seriously yummy carrot cake prepared by Jenny, clearly their very skilful team baker!
Third dive of day one was a shallow bimble through and around the kelpie site of the wreck of the ‘Gulf Star’ of which there’s only a few remaining plates of the hull remaining in about 8m of water on a rocky reef not far from Scalpay. There were plenty of shoals of small fish around and I spotted a couple of decent sized Pollock towards the end of the dive.
We then headed back to Tarbert and freshened up prior to enjoying a tasty dinner at the Hebrides Hotel and an early night eagerly anticipating diving for Monday!
After a long steam, almost back to Skye, we enjoyed a cracking dive at Thon Cleats, a series of rocky islets, the dive being past kelp down a boulder slope to a really pretty reef where Kay and Phil (Jan’s buddy – vis was so good we could see all the divers on this reef!) broke open a couple of sea urchins to give some cuckoo wrasse a late breakfast. Phil almost had one eating from his hand while Kay maneuvered around for some photo opportunities and Bethan led us along most expertly again!
After the dive, the fishing rods were brought out to occupy some of the deco time and lots of Pollock rushed to take the bait, Kay catching her first ever fish and Phil bagging a particularly impressive specimen! Jan and Jenny skilfully gutted and filleted them having the fresh fish sealed in plastic bags and ready for the kitchen well before our second dive of the day at Sgeir Graidaigh, a reef in the middle of the Minch which we enjoyed in calm seas and warm sunshine.
We descended down a shot line then headed east to this beautiful reef, again in vis well over 10m. This site teems with life including Jan’s favourite, the jewel anemones coating the reef walls, plenty of nudibranchs, more cuckoo wrasse, Pollock, plumose anemones and a particularly large lobster spotted by Kay who moved swiftly back into his hiding place to avoid the pot!
Following a steam back to the Harris shoreline we enjoyed a very pleasant third dive around a rocky reef at Scoravick. Bethan was about to give my dive leading the thumbs down, since the first part of this dive was shallow and kelpie, but luck was on our side and about half way through the dive I came across a pretty wall dropping down to around 19m so smiles all round amongst more plumose anemones, shoals of small fish and more photo opportunities for Kay!
Our final day dawned warm, sunny and flat calm so we could hardly wait to get in the water though it was a fair steam south to the large and impressive wreck of the ‘S.S. Stassa’, a Panamanian vessel which struck the rocks on a clear, calm day in July 1966 – seems they were missing a lookout somewhere!
She is intact and lies on her starboard side and makes a stunning dive! There were large winches still located on deck with some teak decking still in place towards the stern. She had a cargo of timber, though apart from some lying alongside, we didn’t see much in the open holds we had a look in. This was, however, really atmospheric, and would warrant further exploration.
We then steamed back to visit Sgeir Graidaigh reef again in the middle of the Minch, having to take care to avoid being sunburnt on this glorious summer’s day! Kay led us around on the second visit to this isolated reef which was as beautiful as our first visit in equally good vis! More pretty cuckoo wrasse, sea urchin bashing for their benefit (and for our photographer!!), jewel anemones, Pollock, plumose anemones, nudibranchs etc., etc.!
More Pollock then jumped on board via the fishing rods, Jan and Jenny did more skilful gutting and fileting, Phil cooked these in the galley & we all enjoyed a five star fresh fish feast prior to our final dive back near Scalpay again, Bethan leading us along a wall with loads of life to enjoy (including humping crabs which we decided to leave well alone!) and more photo opportunities which Kay made the most of.
Then, just after we’d got on board and dropped off our tanks & weights, Jan suddenly appeared with a couple of bottles of Asti Spumante and cups for all to thank us for joining the Rebels!
The holiday was rounded off with us and the Rebels enjoying a lively farewell dinner at the Hebrides Hotel followed by some excellent shots of Mat’s Lagavulin whisky as night caps!
Many thanks are due to Jan Love for organising the trip and enabling us to join the Rebels for one of their main dive trips for this year.
Cheers to Jan, Phil, Jenny, Howie, Richard, Matt, Nick and Jane (and to Kay for kindly supplying the pictures).
Many thanks to Steve, Bethan and Kay for the contribution (ed)