The Lesser Yellowshell : 21st September 2014

Diving with an objective adds a little extra to a days entertainment and so it was that we engaged in a survey for one of the least understood of Scotland’s marine invertebrates. There are many organisations and groups that document sighting of our native marine life and when a rare species is seen many people will go out of their way to visit sites with a view to finding and photographing the organism.

Over the last few years an invasive species, the hard-shelled, yellow back sea slug , also known as the Yellowshell, has gradually increased in abundance around our coastline. While most sighting have been associated with extreme depth or sites requiring a hardboat to access them, more and more often, reports have filtered through that they have been spotted near the shore. This then was our objective, to find and photograph this elusive beastie.

Perth-BSAC is not without some academic expertise when it comes to marine life identification, BSc’s, MSc’s and even a PhD or two abound not withstanding the enormous experience of the lay person with decades of actual diving experience and yet with all our combined knowledge there was perhaps only a handful of people who had reported seeing these animals in the wild and fewer still who actually admitted knowing a few rudimentary facts about their habits. What was known was that these shelled invertebrates were slow moving, usually dragging themselves along the bottom trailing vast amounts a silt, presumably a defensive mechanism to stop themselves becoming prey of the more aggressive scallop baggers. It had also been reported that they had been sighted recently in Loch Leven and so the venue for the search was set.

A crack team of five divers met a local expert at Craft’n’things in Ballachulish for 09:30 opening and after a bacon roll and a coffee, a detailed briefing was delivered on how best , given the combined, or rather lack of knowledge, to approach, photograph and possibly collect a specimen. My copy of the Safe Diving practices booklet on close inspection seemed to be missing any guidelines on this subject but it was possibly included in the appendix marked fictional creatures and dragons.

A short transfer to the site and the first wave, equipped with torches, probes and specimen collection jars was duly dispatched on the initial search, the objective was to confirm the site details, identify any potential dangers involved in specimen collection, identify suitable survey areas and report back to the surface support team, where upon the survey teams would enter the water to photograph and collect a specimen. Soon it became clear, by the surface bubble patterns, that a battle royale was in progress and the second team was dispatched to provide assistance. In went the second team and immediately swan perpendicular to the direction the first team had taken avoiding all contact and enjoying excellent vis and fish life. The first team surfaced on time reporting no sightings but an enjoyable dive around the main reef. Meanwhile the second team, while feeling that they were always very close to a Yellowshell, never actually identified either a silt trail or the animal itself and surfacing an hour later reported drawing a blank. The final team, surveying the reef at a slightly shallower depth, reported finding a silt trail left by a yellow hardback but again did not actually spot the animal. They reported another excellent dive with some very large saithe, pollack and ling as well as the varied squidgy life this reef is well known for.

With all teams on the surface and time for lunch a review of the survey techniques was called for and changes implemented. A slightly different search area was called for and the first wave, wanting to complete the survey data for the primary search area, retraced their steps in reverse to ensure the beastie was not hiding beneath some small overhang. The remaining teams decided the second reef was more likely to be a potential habitat and set off to survey it. Out and back went the first team shortly followed by the last group who at the turn reported a sighting ironically as they passed the other group on the way back. Clearly group two had by this time become despondent and had given up surveying, looking instead for other marine life and fishing weights attached to mono filament which was collected where possible. The sighting was of interest but without corroborative evidence other than some Lochness monster style images taken from a camera, shaken in the excitement of the encounter and we are still not able to confirm the existence of the elusive Yellowshell. Anecdotal evidence provided by the third team seemed to suggest that the animal was a poor free swimmer, tending instead to bump along the bottom creating it’s silt trail. They did report that they would need a larger catch bag to land a specimen.

Well there you have it. Perth-BSAC first attempt at surveying for the Yellowshell, some success and a steep learning curve for all involved. With this experience it is hoped that we will be able to get much more conclusive evidence on future dives and unequivocally demonstrate the existence of this creature on some if not all of our dive sites. Thanks all for coming and supporting this event and I look forward to working with you in future.

(Ed- what a load of rubbish. Of course they exist, I’ll dig out an image from the Sunday Sport that shows one!)

Third time lucky! Bell Rock and the Wreck of the SS Ugie

We had organised several trips to the Bell Rock over the last few years but due to poor weather plans had changed.  The Bell rock is a almost submerged red sandstone reef approximately 12 miles off Arbroath.  The Bell Rock lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson for Trinity lighthouse and completed in 1811 the same foundations are over 200 years old. which is impressive when you see that the Lighthouse is constantly being besieged by the seas.

We headed out from Anstruther on the Mako, a hardboat owned by Steve Haddow to Dive the SS Ugie a steamship Trawler which sunk on the 16th March 1900 after a collision with the Dundee Trawler Taymouth then travel onto the Bell Rock for our second Shallow dive on the reef.

The weather was in our favour and after Steve put in the Shot we noticed that the tide was still running but need to keep to a tight time table, Derek and I were the third Pair of divers in the water and after a long swim to the seabed. The shot had dragged off the wreck and after a 100 metre swim against the current we reached the midships of the the wreck in 34.5metres to the seabed.  The Midships of the wreck was broken up but you could swim inside the hold and then we headed towards the Stern of the wreck she is covered in lots of life including a few large Lobsters,  The Ugie is about 130 ft long according to Bob Baird but we only had a short window to explore the stern section.

We headed across to the Bell Rock enjoying the sunshine and calm seas.  After a cup of Tea Derek and I dropped in to dive the Reef and the remains of the HMS Argyll which struck the Bell Rock in a Storm on the early hours of the 28th October 1915, all the crew were rescued which included a heroic effort by the Lighthouse keepers. After being blown up by the Royal Navy she was heavily salvaged and in the summer of 1970 the two massive manganese-bronze propellers weighing 14½ tons each were recovered by the Local Condor Sub Aqua Club.

Most of the reefs are covered in Kelp and the average depth varies between 9 -13 metres we found some plates and ribs as well as a , Gary and Izzy found an Anchor probably from one of the many ships that have been wrecked on the the Bell Rock Reef, we also found some large Bollards which we reckoned were from the Argyll.  We didn’t see too much life other than juvenile Cod and Two Spotted Wrasse, overall an interesting dive and one to tick off the list; the highlight was being able to see the Bell Rock Lighthouse up close a feat of British Engineering.

 

 

Perth BSAC Summer Isles Trip August 2014 – Fair Weather Five and Boston Stirling

After a Five hour drive up to Altandhu we pitched our tents quickly at the Port a Bhaigh campsite encouraged by the Midges we quickly headed off to the Am Fuaran Bar stopping to watch the beautiful sunset over the Summer Isles to plan our diving on the Saturday. 

Sunset from Altandhu
Sunset from Altandhu

After a full cooked Scottish Breakfast (Potato Scones included) we headed off to Old Dornie Harbour a 5 minute drive from the campsite to launch our Rib. Old Dornie is a excellent base to explore the Summer Isles with a short 10 minute ride you can drive across to Priest Island or 20-25 minutes to the Fairweather five on the other side of Loch Broom.

We decided to head across to the Fairweather Five as our first Dive arguably one of Scotland’s most prettiest wrecks the best marks we had for her are 57.56.350 N and 005.21.343 W which were spot on thanks to Andy Holbrow – Atlantic Diving Services in Achiltibuie.  After a bumpy ride across Loch Broom fortunately she was already buoyed with the seabed about 32 metres and the superstructure rises up to 19 metres so she is easy to spot on a sounder. 

I jumped in with Spike to take some photos of the Wreck and this is what we found:

What a dive! The plan was to dive the Key hole on Priest Island but the Atlantic Swells were against us making the dives dangerous, so we headed across to Three Skerries called Sgeir Nam Mult.  While preparing to dive Bethan’s Pony was so excited it jumped in first!  With the Man overboard button pressed, a shot deployed Chris and Bethan mounted a successful search and rescue mission.  Steve and I jumped in just on the Western Edge of the Skerries with the Kelp line at 18 metres we descended to 27 metres to spot Long spined Bullhead (Scorpion Fish) and a Ling hiding amongst the boulders. A second good dive.

With Strong winds and lots of Rain forecast for the Saturday night we headed to the Bar for some Burgers and a couple of pints, to help sleep through the rain in our tents. This definitely helped and Four of us emerged at 6:30 am on the Sunday morning to make porridge and break camp.  We had been able to put Deep Dancer on a mooring for the night to save time and we were off to the first dive site just after 9am.  All good!

Our first dive was a successful Scallop bash, with plenty of scallops to keep the folks at home happy. conciuos of time we headed across to the Island of Tamera More to dive the Boston Stirling wreck another Trawler that sank in the 90’s amazingly intact and only in 13 metres of Water. 

Here are some photos from the Boston Stirling Wreck (58°0’01” N 5°24’30” W) which is now buoyed – Green Buoy that drops to a Concrete Block and you then head along a rope 30 or so metres to where the wreck lies on its side tucked into the end of the bay please be careful that on some of the charts the Wreck is in the next bay along and you will end up diving SS Vicinity 😉  

Finally thanks to Hamish, Spike, Chris, Bethan and Steve for an enjoyable weekends diving and socializing.

 

Summer Isles – 1.8 – 3.8.14

Posted on Steve’s behalf:

Viewing the weather forecast with some trepidation, Spike, Hamish, Paul, Chris, Bethan & Steve headed for Altandhu for the second 2014 camping & RHIB diving weekend.

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All tents were pitched by 9pm on Friday & the team headed to the pub for a pre-weekend thirst quencher and a meeting with local commercial diver, Andy Holbrow, who had kindly agreed to fill our tanks as well as arranging for ‘Deep Dancer’ (DD) to be kept on a mooring by the Old Dornie slip.

Local knowledge is invaluable when finalising dive plans and the meeting with Andy was enjoyable and very informative with site co-ordinates being clarified as well as learning about intricate site details.

An al fresco Saturday breakfast preceded a speedy launch & loading of our trusty ‘Deep Dancer’ RHIB at Old Dornie and we were soon underway in fine conditions heading to the wreck of the ‘Fairweather V’.

A shot had been prepared but was unnecessary since Andy’s co-ordinates put us on top of a permanent shot mounted amidships on the wreck.
Trailblazers Bethan & Chris led the way to this spectacular wreck of a steel fishing trawler which sank on 4th February 1991 after running aground. As she was being pulled off by a tugboat water rushed into an open hatch to the engine room and she settled upright in 25-30m off the headland at Cairn Dearg.

Steve & Hamish formed the second wave with Spike & Paul the third, the broad grins on everyone’s faces on surfacing all telling a similar story.

All reported superb diving, the wreck being covered in plumose anemones and swarming with fish life in vis around 8m.

Lunch was taken on board DD as we reviewed options for the afternoon dive, our preferred site, the ‘Keyhole’ on the northeast corner of Priest Island being shrouded by white water. After looking at several possibilities we settled for the Sgeirean Glasa reef where all teams reported a site teaming with life with Wrasse, Luing, Pollock and shoals of tiny silvery fish.

With DD safely moored for the night, Steve & Bethan delivered the empty tanks to Andy’s house.

After reviving showers, we enjoyed a few aperitifs prior to well-earned dinners and a few more drinks before making a dash for the tents in pouring rain and gusty winds! Andy delivered full tanks to the camp site so all was set for Sunday.

Unfortunately, Hamish was unable to dive on Sunday; Spike kindly offered to head home with Hamish so the team was now reduced to four.

The bad weather had passed during Saturday night, chinks of sunshine appearing as Bethan & Steve swam to recover DD from her mooring.

Back on plan, we headed to the Sgeir Dubh rocks and adjoining reef. This was another pretty site, but as Chris & Bethan prepared to dive, Bethan’s pony tank quick release system released her pony which promptly disappeared to the sea bed!

15 minutes into the ensuing search and recovery exercise Bethan recovered her errant pony! Another excellent dive followed, spotting 3 dogfish.

Steve & Paul checked out the 30m isobaths during their dive, duly discovering Scallop city; Steve’s goody bag was quickly filled

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Bethan took the helm & we sped to the final dive site of the weekend, the wreck of the ‘Boston Stirling’ lying bows in towards the shore on the southern side of Tannara Beag Island. She sank in 1983, apparently while her crew cooked chips which caused a fire and in the ensuing confusion she hit the rocks! She lies on her starboard side in shallow water & is permanently marked by a green buoy which we tied onto for lunch, then dived in two waves. Again both groups enjoyed relaxing dives in good conditions to round off the weekend.

Quick recovery, kit stowed, we briefly stopped at the camp site to hose DD down prior to heading for Perth.

Unfortunately, DD’s trailer failed about 4 miles short of Ullapool, resulting in a 5 hour delay while we waited & subsequently had DD and her trailer recovered to a garage at Ullapool.

However, we’d all enjoyed an excellent weekend’s diving in fine conditions! DD will be home soon!

Isle of Skye – Chadwick, Waterstein Point and Port Napier

I was looking forward to diving the Northern tip of Skye, we had picked a neaps weekend as the tides in the Sea of the Hebrides are strong, in particular the Chadwick and Doris wrecks are tide dependent.  On the Saturday morning we headed across to the community Pier at Meanish to launch Deep Dancer our Club Rib.

The Slack on the Chadwick was either too early in the morning ( 4.15 hours Before HW Ullapool ) or about 3:30pm in the Afternoon ( 2 Hrs 10 mins after HW Ullapool ) So we headed south to Neist Point for an alternative dive site.  To get out of the current we headed across to Waterstein Head, there are several reefs, walls and Gullies to explore, as Gary and Izzy were kitting up for their dive, we looked at the swarm of jelly fish mostly Moon jellyfish and few Lions Main jellyfish moving around under the floating seaweed looking for small fry and zoo plankton to feed on.

Steve, Bethan and I dropped onto the southern tip of the reefs which gave us a nice wall covered with Dead mans fingers with boulder slope at its base dropping down to 22 metres to a sandy plain.  Swimming around the rocks large Pollack and Cod hunt for Crabs and Prawns to feed on, hidden in the rocks we found male and female Cuckoo Wrasse.

After heading 5 or so metres along the rock face we came to a gap and another Short Wall before turning south west onto a gentle slope with a current taking us on a nice drift dive. My air was starting to run low so we headed up towards the Kelp starting at about 15 metres depth.  After a few minutes looking under kelp for Craw fish we headed to the surface.

The Chadwick Wreck Dive – After lunch we headed out to the dive site on the Northern Tip of Osgill Bay

The Chadwick didn’t disappoint we dropped onto the wreck next to the main boiler hidden under the hull plates a swim through past the companion boiler, and out through a gap in the hull we find the second boiler standing on its edge with a Ballan Wrasse swimming down the side of it, we headed across the plates  and beams of the mid section covered in Dead Mans Fingers, We come across the Stern and find the Rudder and the Propeller.  On reaching the stern section moving out from the wreck we could feel the strong current pushing us North and we tucked back into the protection of the wreck to swim back up to the midships along the starboard side of the hull plates before returning to the surface.

We headed back to the Slip at Meanish to have just missed recovering the boat due to low tides, point for future reference recovery only after 2 hours either side of low water.  With the Rain coming in we headed off for dinner in Dunvegan at the Bistro in the Petrol Station a good little restaurant that has home baking and a good mix of comfort food!

On the Sunday we packed up and headed to Kyleakin on the East of the Island to Dive the Port Napier a Converted Minelayer which caught on fire in kyle of Lochalsh during the Second World War and was towed away from the Port before blowing up and sinking. It now lies on its side with the Port Side upwards  and drops away to 20 metres depth on the sandy bottom.

The hull plates on the Port side were removed by the Royal Navy who removed all the unexploded mines in 1955.  The Wreck was darker this time with poor viz possibly from the Fish Farm nearby.  The Wreck was buoyed on the Forward Mast and we dropped down here before moving to the Bows, the sheer size of the wreck which is still very much intact in shallow waters makes it such an attraction to divers.

AIC/AIE Cumbrae Watersports Centre, Millport, 5-7th July

Thought we would put a report together from the Advanced Instructor Course and Exam held at Great Cumbrae at the Watersports center. Three of use traveled over to attend so here are three versions of the same event.

Chris’ version :

“Come!” she said “You are to be observed by the Bene Gesserit !” Obediently he entered the room and subjugated himself to the test! Well that at least is what it felt like. Being the only person taking the Advanced instructor exam, apart from presenting administrative challenges to the examiners raised the pressure levels as the chance of hiding while others were in the line of fire and having a quiet think , was effectively removed. Still with a glass half full, I had twice the opportunity to shine and twice the chance to learn.

Friday afternoon saw me leaving Perth and after making a slight navigational error, driving towards Ayr. A short consultation of a road atlas (how quaint -Ed) confirmed the mistake and after a painfully tense moment as the car refused to start, in the rain, in some remote layby on some non-discript road I eventually arrived at Largs and the short ferry ride to get onto Greater Cumbrae. I was the second student to arrive and having introduced myself to the Course boss, Jim Watson, found Lee, an old friend from North Uist and spent an hour catching up before the course convened.

I was to take the Theory part of the exam while the remaining attendees got an initial intro and started their planning sessions, I sweated over a multi-choice paper that tested not only the core Diver training syllabus but also skills development course work with a few screw balls throw in for good measure. As I’d done a fair bit of preparation for the theory most of the questions seemed to be ok and the hour allocated passed quickly. A couple of questions that came straight out of SCUBA and the proverbial decompression and gas management ones saw me opening my tables for the first time since …… well a long time ago! Done and dusted, paper handed back and then we were off to find something to eat. Chips and Ale pie, chip shop fashion was the order of the day and they tasted divine as I avoided the gulls that swooped in an attempt to take chips. Next stop a leisurely pint in the pub where everyone was gathered before returning back the Watersports centre bar and a nightcap before sleep eluded me, interrupted by oyster catchers and half cocked lesson plans.

Morning dawned with a blue sky and a gentle breeze. After breakfast, I was briefed on the event and started my planning. I was to plan a day operating as an independent team within the overall structure as defined by the Assistant Instructor course. On top of this I would be working with two sports divers that wanted to develop skills in Dive Management and Position fixing and of course not forgetting all those ad-hoc opportunities that present themselves along the way. This provided an opportunity to develop their Personal Development Plans (PDP) and then teach, confirm and review their progress throughout the weekend. (A quick tip here is to prepare your dive kit the night before as once started the practical sessions are very busy). The first dive of the day was to be an adventurous dive on the Beagle just off the NW tip of Great Cumbrae. I was to dive in a three and was to teach DSMB deployment from the wreck to a Sports diver (played by Geoff Hyde my assessor) who was also doing a depth progression. This presents a problem, with limited bottom time and in planning a No-stop dive, teaching time was very limited. The AIC students shot’ed the wreck near the stern, port side mooring bollards and we waited our turn to dive in wave 2. Surface time was spent exploring teaching opportunities and working at the student’s PDPs. Then it was our turn to dive and having reached the wreck and with less that 17 minutes bottom time to play with we set off along the gunwhale towards the bow. Keeping a close eye on my sports dive buddy with lots of OK’s and gas checks, my buddy started to relax and we had a chance for some Marine life identification and a little finger walking practice in what can only be described as excellent vis for the Clyde. We turned back the way we came after 8 minutes and arriving at the shot with 3 minutes bottom time remaining. Not enough time to teach DSMB – bad planning! A slow and controlled ascent with a deep stop thrown in for the assistant assessor who was on Trimix saw us arrive at the safety stop uneventfully with a few teaching opportunities in the bag.(Descending a shot, bubble check, gas check, Bottom time check, marine life identification, finger walking, wreck orientation, ascending a shot, buoyancy control, horizontal positioning during deco stops, surfacing procedures…). The second dive was planned to be down at Trail island on Little Cumbrae and while the AIC students attempted to recover the shot, the exam boat headed off for more assessment! Departing the main group, I had the opportunity to discuss communication within the dive management framework and was able to reinforce this by suggesting that our intentions were relayed to the AIC dive manager and then we were off. Directing the coxswain on a bearing and course gave me a chance to teach a few skills before having a few issues identifying a poorly painted cardinal buoy at the South end of Great Cumbrae. Just then it all went peaktong, A call from the last boat reported that a diver had surfaced and had tingling in his legs and had been put on O2. Everyone sprung into action and the coast guard was called and a rendezvous arranged at Largs marina. A fast boat from C & C services came out and the casualty was transferred and taken post haste to the waiting emergency services. All boats followed as quickly as possible to assist were possible.

Once evacuated the AIE members completed a very short dive as part of the instructional feedback part of the assessment were an AS lesson was given and critiqued. This allows you to demonstrate the use of the STEP and REAP procedures for giving feedback to an instructor. Then it was back to the Watersports centre to unload the boat while the AIC group was practicing surface teaching techniques in small boats. With a final review in the class room it was time for the event dinner, the Golden Dragon in Millport and a sumptuous feast it was too, absolutely superb. Once again back to the Centre bar and a nightcap and then off to the land of Morphious.

Sunday dawned bright and warm and I arranged the boats to be brought from the pontoons to the slip to load the dive gear before breakfast. Dry runs for the days practical session saw us all struggling to manage large groups towards a single goal but it gradually came together. Here I took the opportunity for additional dive management and position fixing teaching opportunities where we took transects and then used them to find a compass left on the grass field. This was to reinforce the teachings given the day before which is an integral part of the AIE assessment. Before departing we joined in a dry run for the exercise and once on the boat, we again took time to practice skills for the PDPs. The project dive, a marine survey, using the techniques we had practiced earlier went off well. Additional teaching opportunities involved buoyancy and finning and a little compass navigation but after recording a dozen quadrats we had had enough and with a leaking drysuit reported, called it a day and made an ascent before returning back to the center to dry out and pack the kit away. All that was left was to debrief the dive and then present a report on the project before some generic feedback was given to me by my assessors. And the result, well they won’t tell me until Thursday….but either way it was a memorable and educational weekend spent in some of the best of company

What did I think? Well this is the most draining diving course/assessment I have been on. I went with a positive attitude determined to have fun which I most certainly did. Could I have done better, most certainly ! Did I learn something – absolutely.

(Ed – our diving casualty was transferred to Aberdeen hyperbaric chamber and was put on a 4.5 hr treatment. The symptoms were not conclusive and he was discharged after observation and is reportedly OK. )

Paul’s version (tbc)

Steve’s version (tbc)

Scapa Flow – the Best of Scottish wreck diving, 31 May to 7 June 2014

Posted on behalf of Steve:

After last year’s exciting trip to Scapa, I had the urge to re-visit and explore further the wrecks of these spectacular First World War German warships.

Time demands, budgetary restrictions & other commitments meant I was the sole representative from Perth but I jumped at the opportunity to join Dave, Simon & Matt from Weston-Super-Mare BSAC for another week aboard the liveaboard, MV Karin. Dave & Simon were on the 2013 trip, with Matt joining up to make a friendly foursome on board under the experienced command of skipper John Thornton.

The group gathered at the comfortable Weigh Inn in Scrabster for a convivial pre-embarkation evening with a bite to eat and a couple of pints. My king sized bed and marble tile lined bathroom were a notable contrast to the functional facilities on board the good ship ‘Karin’.
Simon brought his trusty Transit van up from Somerset and taking this over to Stromness eliminated the need for us to use the Northlink dive trolleys as well as having a vehicle to visit some tourist attractions when the dive day was over, usually about 3pm.

A smooth sail on Saturday morning across the Pentland Firth & past the Old Man of Hoy on the ferry ‘Hamnavoe’ brought us to Stromness and the MV Karin where it became apparent that we were the only divers for this week! Thanks to John for running the trip for only 2 buddy pairs!

Gear quickly stowed & twin sets prepared for diving, we headed out to the SMS Karlsruhe for our Saturday afternoon shakedown dive.
Simon & l slipped down the shot, excitement mounting as the hull came quickly into view at around 12m. Lots of big holes on the superstructure side of this cruiser which is covered in plumose anemones, deadmen’s fingers, starfish, urchins and crustaceans plus shoals of sprat like fish, large Cuckoo & Ballan Wrasse, Luing & Cod, notably more fish life than in 2013 probably the result of us visiting in early summer rather than late spring.

Buoyed up by our first dive we steamed back to Stromness then headed ashore to Scapa Scuba where spending cash on a variety of useful stuff like my new Fourth Element Arctic socks, T-shirts, hoodies & not forgetting a large bottle of lube, always seems easy in the company of their cheery manageress

The joys of ‘Scapa Special’ ale at the Ferry Inn beckoned us afterwards.

After an early night, Sunday morning saw us steaming to dive the battleship the SMS ‘Kronprinz Wilhelm’ lying on her starboard side in about 35m. From the shot we headed towards the stern area amidst plenty of life, large holes enabling us to see into the wreck (especially looking over Simon’s shoulder along the amazingly powerful beam of his ‘Light for me’ torch!). We passed one of the masts still lying on the sea bed, one of the gun turrets & admired the large rudders at the stern itself. We surfaced on Simon’s DSMB, followed by soup & sandwiches on the ‘Karin’ while mulling over the sheer scale of the battleship wrecks.

For the afternoon, we headed to the blockship ‘Tabarka’, lying in fairly shallow water at around 16m & surrounded by a kelpy, rocky bottom. Unfortunately, the tide was running pretty fast with the kelp adopting a horizontal angle as we hunkered down by the hull sheltering from its full force & looking inside through all the gaps alongside. We were unable to enter the wreck since the direction of the current gave us the strong impression that once in we probably wouldn’t be able to get out & despite the amount of gas in our twin sets we didn’t fancy taking a chance on it! The site is pretty photogenic so I had fun taking a short video. Surfacing was more than usually exciting with Simon appearing to fly away in the current when he deployed the DSMB, no way could I keep up!

Monday saw us enjoying two cruiser wreck dives, the SMS ‘Dresden’ in the morning & the SMS ‘Coln’ in the afternoon, lying in about 35m. Both were pretty stunning, the ‘Coln’ having the edge because the vis was at least 4-5m more than at the ‘Dresden’, a bit over 12m! Both sites offered a tremendous variety of life. I preferred the cruiser wrecks because although still large wrecks, they are significantly smaller than the battleships which gives you a better chance of touring most of the vessel & having the satisfaction of returning to the shot!
On returning to Stromness I headed to the Stromness Museum, covering the history of the Orkneys, their strong maritime traditions, Nordic connections, links with local explorers, whaling etc. I particularly enjoyed reading the log of an Orkney born skipper operating a cargo sailing vessel around the world in the mid-19th Century.

Tuesday, we enjoyed a visit to the cruiser SMS ‘Brummer’ another superb wreck dive, lying on her starboard side, from flat calm surface conditions! We passed a couple of guns, glanced through the large holes in her hull, though resisted the temptation to be drawn inside, whilst many large wrasse, Cod & Luing ambled around us!

We were moored at Lyness for the lunch break & took the opportunity to visit the Lyness Visitor Centre which covers the background to and scuttling of the German Grand Fleet comprehensively – a very good place to off gas before your afternoon dive!

After a light lunch we headed for the F2, a German escort vessel captured at the start of WW2 which sank at her moorings in 1946. The forward gun is clearly visible and Simon & I enjoyed a swim through the wreck. There is a line linking the wreck of the F2 to the salvage barge YC-21 which had been involved in salvaging anti-aircraft guns in 1968, but sank during a storm – so this site gives you two wrecks for the price of one dive, with little time restriction lying in only 17m!

Wednesday morning saw us return to the battleship Kronprinz Wilhelm – this second dive we were a bit more able to work out where we were on the wreck (rudders a good giveaway!). Loads of fish life surrounded us again on a relaxing slack water dive.

The wreck of German U-boat UB116 beckoned us after lunch; this was a superb scenic dive around the 30m mark with vis at least 12-14m, shoals of silvery sprat like fish, large Wrasse, Luing and a Conger snoozing quietly in a hole until Simon’s torch beam briefly woke him up with blinding light!! This sub was sunk by mines with the loss of all hands as she entered Scapa on 28th October 1918; rather sad as it appears she may have been looking to surrender just a few days before hostilities ceased on 11th November 1918. She was left until construction of the Flotta oil terminal began in the 1970s with the Royal Navy blowing her & the remains of her torpedoes up in an enormous explosion in 1975 which apparently shattered windows on Flotta!

Thursday took us back to two favourites from earlier in the week – SMS ‘Dresden’ & SMS ‘Brummer’. I played cameraman for another attempt at videoing the ‘Dresden’ but for the afternoon Simon kindly leant me his amazing light (he was flying south on Friday morning so was into the 24 hour no dive pre-flight rest period) – this was staggeringly powerful (might even interest Chris ….!!). We noticed how the deck is coming apart from the hull around the bows of the ‘Brummer’. Clearly 95 years under water is having a seriously deteriorating effect on these huge wrecks.

Late Thursday afternoon the Transit was pressed into use for a touristy tour taking in the Highland Park Distillery, the remarkable Italian Chapel (constructed by Italian prisoners of war in WW2) & the moving memorial to the sinking of HMS ‘Royal Oak’, the battleship sunk by German torpedoes from the U-boat U47 on 14th October 1939. 833 Officers & men died (some only 15 years old) when she sank in about 10 minutes after her ammunition magazine was struck. This war grave is the wreck that Royal Navy divers place a Royal Ensign on at each anniversary of her sinking.

Friday we rounded off a superb week’s diving by returning to the sites of cruisers SMS Coln & Karlsruhe, the final dive obviously popular since it was the only one we had to dodge round divers from boats other than our own MV ‘Karin’.

Another great week, thanks to buddies Simon, Dave & Matt and also of course to John & crew again!!

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Sunday shore diving, Loch Fyne. 22nd June 2014

“Sunday?”, “Yes, where?”, “OK, When?” Ah, the joys of shore diving ! And so it was that a small group of divers from Perth and Crieff met in Tyndrum before moving off to Furnace on Loch Fyne for a days diving.

Todays venue was Furnace were Dogfish reef was our chosen site offering a both a good scenic dive and a variety of depths to suit. Unfortunately the relationship between divers and the local community has been spoilt by a small and thoughtless minority whose actions have provided offense. The local community is now doing all it can to discourage divers and actively blocks the entrance to the council owner car park making it just that little bit harder to get in the water.

We had the site brief and then made a couple of trips to get the kit down to the water’s edge before the first team were off onto the reef. With a high tide they had a few meters of wall left to play with as they explored the depths of the main reef reporting nudibranchs, sealoch anemones and some very large fish. The second team explored the reef to the right which while not as rocky was still a steep slope leading onto a gravel and rock and then sand. Two sets of 40 minute dives in some very reasonable vis.

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An interesting temperature profile today. The shallows had a balmy 18°C , green and plankton rich which dropped to 8°C at 15m providing clear water and excellent viz, however there were two distinctive patches in the dive where the temperature dropped to 7°C which seemed to be associated with fresh water outfalls from the reef. These made for chilly interludes in otherwise very pleasant conditions.

(Ed- the boot award, goes to Chris who turned up with a half full tank. While he claims it must have leaked in the car, the awards committee thinks this is highly unlikely.)

With such glorious weather it was decided to go and explore another site and with an eye on the clock we opted for Drishaig Reef further up the loch towards the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Steve and I had checked the access out previously and thought it was worth a look. We as a club had not dived this site for many years and indeed it was a new one to both Steve and I, though Hamish and Maureen may have previously done it with the ‘Old club’, so we set off in the hope of more scenic surroundings and to find the layby.

Have to report that the walk down the bank from the layby is rather steep and not for the week of knee! However once on the cobbled beach we were quickly in the water and Hamish led the way over sand and onto mud where a forest of slender seapens appeared. Further down the slope we found a nephrops bed, with burrows and the occasional prawn displaying aggressively in the open. Some fantastic specimens of the fireworks anemones appeared iridescent in the gloom. Rather too quickly our bottom time was used up and we made a slow ascent passing a solitary pouting and a scorpion fish to watch blennies as we did out decompression in the shallows.

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A very different dive from Dogfish reef, this was more of the inner loch genre, darker and leading to muddy slopes but with a varied and interesting selection of life.

All in all a good days diving.

An evening splash at Fifeness, 18th June 2014

Crail was definitely cooler than Perth when we traveled across for an evening dive and BBQ, by almost 10°C in fact ! It looked deceptively calm with small waves breaking on the reefs as a high tide filled the gullies.

With a strong snorkeling contingent exploring Fifeness harbour (sic.) five divers kitted up to explore the gully below the WWII pillbox at the Coastguard station (now closed). After a few hiccups with direct feed hoses that didn’t fit and needed to be swapped, we were off in two groups to explore and dependent on the vis, throw in a few drills for the Ocean diver trainees. Chris and Aileen managed to slip off first and having been helped into the water by Gary found excellent vis above a sandy bottom and large brown kelp covering the rocks. Picking up the reef the colorful life was appreciated and a lobster tickled. This turned out to be a recently molted male, with a soft carapace so was returned unharmed. The brightly colored Galathea squat lobster was abundant hiding as they do in cracks and on the underside of overhangs. A good show of fish life hovering at the limit of visibility also made life interesting. Last winter’s storms seemed to have scoured the boulders a little and much more kelp was present that I can remember and loads of wreckage, rusted spares and plate fragments littered the sea bed adjacent to the reef. All interesting stuff.

(Ed – There are numerous wrecks hereabouts and speculation may suggest the metal came from the Vildfugl a 20th century motor tanker lost 1951 or The Brothers a 19th century Schooner lost 1856, and the Downiehills , a steam trawler lost 1926. All would have had some metal on them thought The Brothers and Downiehills had wooden hulls. While completely speculative the amount of rusted plates and spares suggests a metal hull and you can draw your own conclusions as to the likely vessel they came from. Storm and surge action concentrates wreckage in gullies so it is more than likely a scrap yard of multiple wrecks. Interestingly enough, another vessel that came to grief here, the Annette, a brig, lost 1879, was carrying a cargo of pit props and we certainly found several of those.)

We turned with ample air in reserve as Aileen was having a leaking mask day and returned to find a sandy bottom to practice AS drills and ‘ellami calls. No real issues were experienced but it would have been much easier without a flooded mask, still if you have confidence enough to rescue someone when things are not going well you are doing better than most!

The second team, Duane, Andy and Steve, followed us out, passing us towards the end of the reef. Again they reported good and varied life including lobsters of various shapes and sizes and found time to complete AS drills, another good result.

Returning to the shore, we were landed by Gary and Izzy who were providing shore cover and once everyone was back on dry land we joined the BBQ throwing our sausages on the monster grill that Neil had brought. Chat, stick throwing for the dogs and a chance to catch up and meet various family members saw us spend a hour or so before approaching storm clouds, a drop in temperature and the fading light saw the party disperse.

A very pleasant evening with a good result with a couple of open water lessons signed off. Thanks due to Steve for organising another dive, Neil for bringing his BBQ and Izzy and Gary for providing shore cover and of course all those who came along and made the evening such a social success

fifeness map

this extract from RCAHM shows all the wrecks that have come to grief on this part of the coast.

The June DTP at Loch Fyne

It’s a fact of life that the more you put in to something, the more you get out and this was very obvious at this months DTP at Loch Fyne. With the holiday season upon us and with other folk washing their hair Perth_BSAC provided the lion’s share of the instructor and people prepared to muck in and help out. Only fair really as we also took most trainees!

On what can only be described as a fantastic west-coast day with a flat calm sea, warm water and good vis the Perth club had three sessions running. Firstly a drysuit and buoyancy familiarization being led by Chirs and an Ocean diver completing his dive Leader lesson under Steve’s watchful gaze with another buddy pair practicing their navigation and buoyancy within the confines of the bay. One other pair from Dundee were undertaking Sports diver training under Edward Haynes’ watchful gaze.

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All the hard work was today rewarded with firstly a good session being completed covering drysuits and buoyancy culminating in two exploratory dives where the new skills were put into practice. Steve was set a hard task and asked to teach dive leading to a team consisting of an Ocean Diver and a Dive Leader trainee. By running the Dive leader sessions as examples of best practice our Ocean diver had some of the most comprehensive training for his grade possible. Well done to Steve for his innovative approach, clearly an Advanced Instructor in waiting ! Edward reported varying levels of success with his trainees who struggled with deco stops partly due in part to a poorly fitting drysuit and using skills no longer part of the BSAC syllabus and seldom practiced (never a good idea on an assessment). A greater emphasis will be seen here in upcoming months as BSAC reviews buoyancy skills in training.

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All in all a very good event with some good diving and with a diver competing his Ocean Diver practical sessions, a very good result.

thanks to Maureen and Fred for the photos