Handa Island and Loch Laxford Sept 2016

We decided to try September this year to see if we could get calmer weather for our trip to Scourie, unfortunately not, however we were able to launch the Rhib from the beach at Tarbet.  On the Saturday the winds were blowing 15-16 mph from the South and as the tide changed on the flood we noticed the wave action increased so we were only able to dive safely around Great Stack on the North side of Handa Island.

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We dropped our divers South of the Great Stack so that we could swim through the cavernous interior, there was some swell and the seabed was covered in smooth rocks a orange Scorpion fish was the only life we saw, heading down into area to the north of the stack we could see the waves crashing into the top of the rocks some 20 metres above us.

I could see some jewel anemones, mixed with large colonies of Orange Parasmittina trispinosa and white branching Bryozoa, we headed west over some boulders to a cave at the base of the cliffs, then headed back around the rock to the north of the Stack, Eddy found a Crab for his BBQ and we headed for the surface.

After lunch on the beach at the East Side of Handa Island we headed across to the Pinnacle about half a mile North of Tarbet, which was now dive-able with the change in tides. We dropped a shot onto the east side at about 10 Metres depth, the rock is covered in lots of interesting channels and we followed one of these down to 30 metres. Despite the gloom we could see the rocks down to 50 metres depth, then to our left a Crawfish standing proud on a ledge, we headed further round the pinnacle to spot a second Crawfish before heading back up to the surface.

On the Sunday the rain had passed, so we had the sun, but the wind and swell limited our options so we decided to head to Loch Laxford from Tarbet for a dive.  Hayden, Mark and I dropped down to 30 metres, after heading along the reef covered in feather stars, we found a couple of Ling and Hayden spotted a Octopus hiding in the rocks.

As we returned to the surface there were shoals of whiting swimming above the kelp.

 

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Diving the Arizona Wreck off Elie in Firth of Forth

Steve organised a Wednesday evening dive on the Mako with Steve Haddow to dive a World War two wreck the Arizona (Not the one in Pearl Harbour). the Arizona was a Merchantman carrying 600 tonnes of Coal from Methil, unfortunately she hit a mine and sunk with 5 of her 8 crew lost with her.  What remains today are a flattened hull section with ribs sticking out of the sand and the main feature her Engine, I understand the Navy swept her with a wire to a depth of 11 meters to reduce the chance of a hazard to shipping now she is home to lots of marine life.

We were lucky enough to enjoy a sunny evening and 5 to 6 metres of visibility on the wreck. Photos below:

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.

200 Metre walls, Lost in a storm and Sun Sets over Islay

After picking Steve up from Larne Harbour at 10:30pm we headed west chasing the sunset via the Antrim Coast watching it casting its golden, reddish rays diffraction through thicker atmosphere that surrounds the earth and provides us with the precious air we need to survive.

Upon reaching the cliff tops near the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge we stopped briefly to watch the light sky in the North and the Shadows of the Islands of Islay and Jura 20+ miles away with the Light houses on Rathlin periodically flashing to warn ships navigating to and from the Atlantic into the Irish Sea.

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After a good nights sleep and cooked breakfast Steve and I headed across to Ballycastle to meet the dive boat run by Richard Lafferty Owner of Aquaholics, an experienced Skipper familiar with the unusual currents and eddies that run around Rathlin Island. Our first dive was the Arches on the back wall of Rathlin Island. When diving this site you drop down onto kelp which due to the good visibility varies between 17-20 meters deep then descend a slab covered in dead mans fingers to about 26 meters and head west looking for the arches. There are three arches but I have only found one at ~ 25 meters. After this you can move across onto the Wall which drops to about 45 meters and then work your way across heading up to the Kelp when you are finished.

Our Second dive was the Pinnacle the top of which starts at 2-3 meters below the surface, covered with kelp which extended down 17-20 meters, with the wall dropping vertically to 200 meters a dive not for the faint hearted!

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After finishing diving at 2pm we headed across to the walk across the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge built originally by Salmon Fishermen who would entrap migrating Salmon into net traps.

The Second days diving was back at Rathlin and the Sea mist had descended but we had a clear run to the Lochgarry wreck and then were planning to dive the back wall of Rathlin again, unfortunately the Fog had come in and you couldn’t see the Cliffs which were only 100 Metres away, So we headed back to Ballycastle Marina and dived the Templemore Wreck a shallow wreck with lots of life on it including Congers, Ballan Wrasse and juvenile Crawfish. I’ve included a brief video of the Back Wall of Rathlin and Templemore Wreck.

After finishing up Diving we headed down to Belfast and visited the Titanic Experience a chance to do a 3800 metre wreck dive but without getting wet!

On the last days diving we stayed local to Portrush and Portstewart diving the Large Skerries a Reef / Set of small islands that stretches a mile or so near Portrush and then a second dive on the foul ground near the headland at Portstewart which is covered in lots of small life, dog fish and a good hunting ground for Octopus I have been told.

 

 

Hard Boat Diving at St Abbs – Black Carrs and Skells

After looking at various options for diving this weekend and with winds predominately from the South West, St Abbs looked like a good bet for calm waters. Steve had organised a dive trip with the hard boat Tiger Lilly for the Six of us. We were the 2nd wave that morning the first trip had mentioned that the visibility was poor and similar reports from the other boats so we decided to dive the Black Carrs.

Steve and I buddied up with our cameras and dropped down to 15 metres depth where the vis was about 2 metres the rocks were covered in Brittle Stars and there were plenty of different coloured anemones, as we dropped to 22 metres we found several reefs with walls of Deadmans Fingers after 40 minutes headed back up to the surface, Chris and Gary were lucky enough to see a Wolf Fish which are common in this area.

After lunch we headed further around St Abbs Head past the Light House and Fog Horn and with Slack approaching the Skipper dropped us in at the Skells which are Three narrow gulleys that drop down to 22 metres the Vis was slightly better about 3 metres.

I managed to take a few photos this time with a 60mm Macro lens, there was still a swell to deal with, whilst doing close up photos which added to the challenge. I’m starting to get to grips with using the Nikon D7000 underwater.

On the surface I managed to get a few shots of the St Abbs Lighthouse and the Fog horn which in the was switched off in 1987 and the Lighthouse automated in 1993. I used to remember the Fog horn in the 70’s it’s deep noise resonating across the bay when the Haar (sea mist) covered the Forth and the North Sea.

We headed over to the Coffee Shop and fortunately there wasn’t a Victoria sponge shortage so all Happy 🙂

Chili dip and salsa, 18th December 2011

Cold and clear, a day for skiing, Glühwein or staring at a roaring fire. As thoughts go, this one seemed constant as icy roads led west to a rendezvous at ‘The Green Welly‘. Todays plan had been somewhat last minute as Christmas had taken it’s toll. Usually stalwart scubapros had slipped away to do their christmas shopping and things were getting so desperate that I had thought of golf!

The roads were partly snow covered and while additional care was required the drive was spectacular today. Snowy mountains, frosted pink in the early morning sun, Lochan na h-Aclaise frozen and Rannoch, a sea of white. Not surprisingly Glen Coe was busy with skiers and mountaineers. We arrived at Ballachulish with blue skies and turned into the car parking to find the place to ourselves.

Dive site today was ‘The Slates’, chosen for easy of access and while nothing in diving should be assumed, the site is usually a sure bet for conditions. The site provides a straightforward dive that can be extended to satisfy any recreational diving requirement. As far a shore diving goes, it certainly has a lot to offer.

Kitting up in the cold and then carrying the equipment across to the entry point had it’s own dangers today as sheet ice covered the car park and shore line, but with our buddy checks done we were off, to amongst other things test Gary’s new suit. Dropping into crystal clear fresh water we hit the halocline at 2m and descended into 3m vis and warm water and moved West to find the steepest part of the boulder slope.

The rocks today were covered in sea squirts, peacock worms and sea loch anenomies and all that was needed was a little light to make a very colorful dive, today however the low sun did little for us and at 10m we were in darkness.
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There is so much to see at this site, a particularly large fish hiding in the rocks proved additional interest today, it looked like a large poor cod or a haddock with spots. This encrusting sponge took my eye, takes a little time to work out what is going on but the sponge has grown around a Sepulid worm tube.

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After a relatively short surface interval the second dive went around the smaller spit. Surface water temperature of 3 degrees warmed up with depth and with Izzy picking up a couple of scallops as we descended into the blackness. Some very interesting life on this dive, a dragonette and a large scorpion fish that lay motionless as we passed. This Arctic Cowrie proved a challenge.

To avoid a walk back along the icy track we turned around after 30 mins having used up our bottom time and retraced our steps somewhat shallower and taking advantage of a good long safety stop. Within the bay the life is much poorer, due no doubt to the more brackish nature of the water, horse muscles appear here. As we were about to surface we found a small flatfish and watched it propel itself forwards using its skirt. We surfaced as it started snowing!

That was it, another day off the rocks and all that was left was to pack up and head for home. A quick stop in the Crianlariach Hotel to warm up in front of the fire before rushing off back to Perth before it got dark and the snows really started and the roads got blocked.

and that’s all folks!
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Trip to the Aquarium testing new DSLR Cameras for Underwater Photography

Part of my pre dive briefs include that you have to smile, as one of the most voracious underwater photographers in the club it is easy to spot me as you just follow the Strobe flashes. I have been using my trusty Olympus C50-50 prosumer camera since 2003 however the world of digital photography has moved on and I’ve been thinking over the last 2-3 years about upgrading to a digital SLR system underwater.   As you start to research this it becomes a bit of a minefield as this is a niche area of photography where most of the major manufacturers of underwater housings are small family run businesses and therefore support for mainstream products is limited.

I had been humming and arring about whether to go for a DX or FX Format camera in particular Nikon D7000 (DX) or Nikon D700 (FX), What is FX and DX you may ask?  This the size of the Sensor that the camera uses FX is equivalent to 35mm Film camera and is what professional photographers use, DX is about 1.5 times smaller than the FX Format and is mainly aimed at Enthusiasts and Consumers each. Cost is the main difference with FX Cameras typically starting from £2000 and then add the cost of professional lenses which cost over £1000 each.  FX sensors have larger pixels than DX Sensors and hence they have better low light capabilities also the “Crop Factor of 1.5” has impacts on the focal Lengths of lenses for example a FX 100mm Lens on a DX Camera will be the 150mm and also each format has its own specific lenses such as the excellent Tokina 10-17mm Fish eye lens which works best on DX cameras  (This is discussed at length on many review sites).

For diving photography in the UK (Green Water Diving ) creates a set of issues / problems to overcome to get the good shots:

visibility – this is typically 5-7 Metres although occasionally 30 Metres can be had both on the East and West Coasts.

Loss of Light:

  • Reds are lost in the first 10 metres by 30 metres a lot of the natural light has gone so you need to use a Strobe (Underwater Flashgun)
  • Camera’s Automatic Focus ( Infra red doesn’t travel at all)  and range finder doesn’t work very well, so you have to use an additional light source such as a torch to light up your subject which can put them off.

Sand and silt in the Water:

  • This causes the dreaded back scatter suspended sand, silt and detritus act like tiny mirrors underwater so when you use a strobe the light bounces back from the particles in the water giving you a dandruff effect in the picture.

Few tips for the new underwater photographers.

  1. Get closer – even powerful strobes only work up to 2-3 metres so if your subjects are appearing Green or Blue (In Warm Water) with your Flash going then you are too far away.
  2. Use macro setting and get closer than 20cm to your subject – be careful not to disturb it.
  3. Using a wide-angle lens allows you to get closer to your subject
  4. Try shooting slightly upwards this allows more ambient light into the frame
  5. Move your light source away from the camera ie. buy a strobe (Or use a torch) which can be used or a arm 40cm – 60cm to the side or above, this will reduce back scatter so you can angle the light to not bounce straight back at the camera, be careful not to set the strobe too close to the edge of the picture otherwise you will get a bright spot from the Flash.
  6. You can use a Green or Blue water (Tropics) filters which brings back in the natural colours of red, this works only for depths to about 20 metres and for slow or static subjects not in shadows, you need good light.

Well last weekend thanks to our local photography shop in Perth, I was able to borrow a Nikon D700 (FX Camera) and a F2.8 24-70mm Nikon Lens to compare against my Nikon D7000 (DX Camera) and my Nikon 20mm F2.8 lens and I also tried my Nikon 60mm Macro Lens (Nikkor Micro).  To make the trip more challenging and fun I invited my two nephews along and Tara for crowd management.

Shooting Photos at an Aquarium has its challenges Low Light and you can’t use flash as it bounces off the glass ruining the shot, it is a good idea to shoot close to the glass straight on and you may have to switch to manual focusing if the lens locks on to the glass rather than the Fish or Crustacean.  I use aperture priority on my camera opening the lens up to F2.8 which allows the most light in and then as fish tend to move you need a fast  shutter speed 1/60th or ideally 1/125th  so the image doesn’t blur.  In this low light not using a flash the ISO (Speed at which the film or Sensor absorbs light) wash pushed up to 3200+, unfortunately the faster the ISO the more noise occurs in the image. The developments the last two generations of digital cameras in low ISO capabilities has been huge and I now wanted to see how the best DX Camera stacks up against a professional FX camera.

Using the wide angle lens, I noticed that both the Nikkor F2.8 24-70mm and the Nikkor F2.8 20mm both had issues with automatic focusing and I set the focusing manually.  Both the cameras performed well at ISO 3200 and on the wide angle the D700 when zoomed in showed slightly less noise, but not much in it.  After taking the boys through the aquarium and buying them a few toys and juice I headed back around the aquarium with my 60mm Macro (Nikkor) Lens on both cameras I was happy with the results from both cameras see below:

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