Small Isles walls, 24-27th August 2012

A week bobbing around the Small Isles has to be one to the most enjoyable diving holidays you can have in Scotland especially when you are blessed with good weather. So when Steve and I were invited to join a trip that was based at the Port Mor Hotel on Muck and diving off the Peregrine it did not take long to make up our minds and sign up.

You can’t rush these types of holidays and traveling over the night before to avoid a 5 o’clock start to catch the boat for ropes off was a sound idea and we booked in at the Morven Dive lodge. This had the advantage that we could enjoy some excellent food at the Whitehouse Restaurant, mentioned in the Michelin Guide 2012 before adjourning to the Lochaline Social club for a quiet libation ! Here we met the rest of the party and retired somewhat later on to the lodge where we continued putting the world to rights over a night cap.

The morning dawned grey and unappealing, a taste of parrot cleared only by a shower and a coffee. Loading the boat did not take too long although it was a rather damp affair. Finally having visited Jean’s snack bar on the pier for a bacon sandwich we were motoring up the Sound for the first dive passing a distant school of dolphin on the way as we did so. The first dive was Auliston Point, an excellent wall dive, covered in life and a great shake down.
All the usual suspects were there with the specialty of the wall being the red finger. With so much life there was a temptation to plumb the depths but that would have accrued a deco penalty that would have affected the whole weekend it was all we could do to stay shallow to maximize the time in the water.

Motoring North under the Ardnamurchan lighthouse where we soon reached the next site, Danny’s buoy, a wall on the massive underwater pinnacle that is Elisabeth Rock. This was duly shot’ed and we were off into a world of Soft corals and Jewel anemones above the proverbial drop off.

Again it was tempting to go deep in the vastly improved visibility, and even being very conservative we ended up with a requirement for a short stop. This was not an issue as the amount of life in the shallows was superb and kept us entertained and included a Long Spined Scorpion fish. All to quickly we surfaced with the next dive only two hours away !

Motoring towards Muck we had plenty of time to cruise, in rapidly improving weather, around the northern side of the island before coming back to dive the North side of Godag, a skerry that is almost invisible at high tide. Another excellent wall dive with an abundance to life including crawfish.

Then it was back to Port Mor on Muck where we unloaded our bags into Toby’s waiting landrover and took the short walk to the accommodation and arranged ourselves in suitable rooms. Dinner was served at 8 o’clock and a relatively quiet affair it was too, as we enjoyed some absolutely delightful fair, most locally sources or grown and cooked to perfection. Tales of quality had done little to compliment Mary’s cooking adequately and I shall certainly be going back to the Small Isles for the hospitality shown at the Port Mor Hotel alone.

The following day brought blue skies and warmth. The first site was close by, The Windmills, another Muck wall dive, named after a couple of wind turbines that a fish farm adventure had put on the shore. These have now been removed, but the name remains. The visibility was stunning, not quite crystal but 15m+ with shoals of fish of all shapes and sizes unperturbed by divers. It was here that the brilliant blues of a male Cuckoo wrasse kept appearing in the edges of my mask as he stalked us on our dive along the cliff.

For a surface interval we motored across to Eigg and landed to visit the community center passing a basking shark on the harbor approach. The second dive was off The Fences , a site off the Northern shore. This was another stunning wall dive covered in life with very good vis.

The last dive of the day was Camas Mor, a bay on the SE side of Muck and probably the best dive of the trip. Another wall but with one or two creatures at the limit of their Northern range such as the Tompot Blenny. This wall had a cave at its base which was very tempting but with so much life to see there wasn’t time to explore its confines as again we were concerned about maximizing our time in the water. It was interesting that by now the focus was shifting to food and it was little hardship to get back onto dry land and race back to Toby and Mary’s for a shower and dinner.
The Rebel Alliance have a theme on their dive trips and this trip’s theme was “une homage to Bradley Wiggins”, which saw us all sporting bicycle clips and an assortment of cycling apparel, as well as the obligatory sideburns, failure to conform saw the proverbial drinking penalty as indeed did losing at Ker-drunk kerplunk ! With a final performance at the karaoke the party started to fade at the late hour of 10:00 and people drifted off to their rooms.

Boarding the boat in the morning, Malcolm expressed his concerns about a storm warning that had been issued forecasting force 10 out of the SE by evening. This meant that while the chances of getting out to Canna were good the chances of getting three dives and getting back were slim. A general consensus was reached to dive around Eigg and Muck, returning early so not to miss Mary’s fabulous cooking and then make a dash for Lochaline and dive the sound the following morning, assuming we could find some accommodation. Luckily Malcolm was able to ring Richard and get us into the Morven Dive Lodge again so we were all set.

The dives on the Windmills, Godag and back to Camas Mor saw three superb dives repeating dives we had enjoyed previously. One of the surface highlights included was watching a young sea otter fishing in Camas Mor as we approached our dive site. Having enjoyed another sumptuous dinner at Port Mor we embarked Peregrine, poked our nose out into some waves and high tailed it for the Sound of Mull. Motoring under the Ardnamurchan light everyone started to relax and the disco got into full swing and a booze cruise attitude prevailed. It was pitch black as we arrived in Lochaline and Malcolm expertly berthed on the pier wall. Quickly up to change in the Morven Lodge and then back to the Social club for some Terrier throwing !

The last day dawned grey with heavy rain, great drops pounding the windows. But having vacated the accommodation we were soon forming an orderly queue at Jean’s snack bar for our breakfast before boarding Peregrine again.

The dives today were based in the Sound, sneaking what we could salvage from the robust wind that was blowing up from the South. The first was to be the Shuna which while a great dive in its own right is not ideal for a three dive day due to its square profile. Steve and I were joined by David as we inspected the prop and rudder then swam to the bow poking our heads into a couple of holds and the funnel. We returned to the shot with one minute bottom time remaining, strictly to plan. Still a very enjoyable dive was had by all with numerous nudibranchs identified. As we preparing to leave we watched two sea eagle on the shore, getting very close as we drifted the boat in, eventually they tired of the intrusion and flew off. Amazing birds absolutely enormous. Back to Auliston Point for the second dive and again the amount of fish life was impressive with shoals of large pollack cruising the wall and smaller ones hugging the shallows. Standing off this a bit you got some great impressions of scale as the wall dropped off below you. The last dive was the John Preston Wall relatively close to Lochaline and another good staple wall. This time we swam wall left looking for the slates that fell out of the John Preston, but although we came up quite shallow searching we didn’t find them.

All in all a very good trip ! Massive thanks go to the Rebel Alliance for organising the trip and inviting us, to Jan and Phil, Jenny and Howie, Richard, Double D, Dr Steve and Alan for the company and entertainment and to Mary and Toby at the Port Mor for being such wonderful hosts. As always a special thank you goes to Malcolm for his expertise as the skipper and for putting us down on some excellent sites.

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