“Shake down”

Getting organised this year just seems to have been hard ! Mid March and I felt I needed a shakedown dive as it had been so long since I’d been in the water, I was starting to lose interest. To be honest the winter weather had promised snow conditions and the lure of winter-sports held sway in the weekend’s activities but fickle as the weather is, the few days when I could actually get time off coincided with gales, closed snow gates and a general lassitude that saw me going no further than the shops. But March and still thinking about shake down dives seems almost implausible for an all year round diver. And we won’t mention Man-flu. Was I going to get in, could I still do it and would the kit actually work.

Nothing was further from my mind than diving when I rang Paul up for a social chat, “how you getting on ? what! the girls are off doing what! Oh! er Sunday, will be out late on Saturday, where, don’t know where that is but I’ll find it, keep your phone on ?” Lassitude, effort, followed by grumpiness and then the realisation that all the shinnies were spread around the house is various states of dis-assembly – “Oh Sh*t!”.

First off I had to find the shed keys to fill tanks, then I had to find the tanks buried as they were under tarpaulins and general garage gauno. An hour later and behind schedule saw standard OC equipment thrown in a bag and a mental note to find hood and gloves and not to forget the undersuit, BCD and weight belt when I packed the car. 01:30 am I found a pillow and drifted into the arms of Morpheus quietly swearing about …. everything.

I’m not sure if the dog or the alarm woke me but with lots to do I was up and still half asleep packed the car, remembering the torch and there was something else I couldn’t quite remember so walked the dog. Ah that was it, the undersuit, where did I put that.

The plan was to drive across to Finnart terminal and meet up with Ewan and Paul who would drive up from near Dunoon in Ewan’s boat Carrick Castle to pick us up. I met Edward at the ‘overspill’ car park and having informed the incumbent Dive School that there would be a boat coming in to pick us up (very considerate – Ed) set the kit up and transported it down to the low water mark. Ewan and Paul were just about on time and having stowed the kit aboard we crossed the loch to Cnap point below the beacon on the north shore. The sun shone and the weather was fine,

The chart suggested a small wall and the topography looked interesting so having moved over the ‘wall’ a couple of times with the depth sounder we decided that two waves was safest and Edward and I kitted up, buddy checked and rolled off on the point. &^^$$£$%%^&^&*& , the surface layer had zero vis! Literally side by side, we descended and luckily once through the fresh water, the vis cleared and we landed on a small wall and gully that led down past an anchor to boulders. Lots of plumose anemones, shriveled up in the dark and cold covered the glaciated rocks while a few small pollack swam nervously past, flashing in the torches before escaping into the darkness. A scallop or two, small and lonely were left and horseman anemones, large and fat provided a dash of color in a greeny grey world. Perhaps the highlight of the dive was a large mature pipefish, fattened by eggs it was carrying. Edward and I descended until we reached mud and just edged into a decompression penalty before returning to practice a couple of drills in the shallows while doing our stops.

The pickup was excellent and very professional, mind you we would not have expected anything else! Diving pairs swapped over, Paul and Ewan dropped in on the point and followed a similar route, spending more time at the anchor and on the life encrusted boulders that provided the photo opportunities for Paul. Excitement was briefly injected to the job of surface cover when two MOD Police rhibs sped rather close to the divers and we had to position ourselves to divert them away. The MOD use the far side of the loch for high speed travel in deference to the popularity and use of the Finnart dive sites, so we must have provided some variation to their patrol routine. Paul and Ewan’s bubbles moved up-slope and a DSMB popped up which they quickly followed. After recovering them we skimmed back across to the A-frames to beach and disembark the kit after a excellent little dive. With everything unloaded, Carrick Castle majestically disappeared down the loch and all that was left was to pack the cars and head home.

An excellent day. Thanks to Ewan for providing the boat and the Edward and Paul for the company.

From a collective shakedown perspective , I was over-weighted but also a little cold, but things will warm up soon. My trim was all to pot, tank way to far up the BCD and the trim weights I had in the jacket for pool use (and forgot to take out) didn’t help at all. Seemed to be a lot of dangly bits and revisiting how gauges, torches and regulators are stowed is no bad thing remembering to check you can reach them underwater. I think this months Diver mag had an article about getting back in the water and yes we had issues with DSMB reels running smoothly and tangled lines, computer batteries saying no and the proverbial mask straps and buckles….

30th August, Advanced Lifesaver SDC, Loch Long

The Advanced Lifesaver (ALS) skills development course is one of those SDCs that people put off doing until they have to, the reason being because it is hard work and tests a skill that we all think we are brilliant at, but are we ?

Paul and Chris  joined a Scotland Southern region event at Loch Long being run by Rob Sewell,  the regional coach and ‘Boss’ed’ by Pete Bicheno, one of our locally active National Instructors who is always willing to help out on such events. Guy from Aberdeen and Alex from Stirling made up the rest of the course candidates. The venue switched from Largs due to the wind was the Loch Long Chalets, diving off a boat lent by Thistle divers and the conditions in the bay were fair (enough) .

So what is it all about ?   The ALS assesses diving lifesaver skills at a level that an Advanced Diver would be asked to perform, so rescue from a depth of 20m and following the BSAC safety principle of lifting to 6m then stopping, doing a safety stop, ascending normally to recommence the rescue drill once on the surface. Of course diving in Loch Long you will always have the challenge of low vis and darkness which adds a degree of realism to the proceedings. Once on the surface, recovery to both boat and then to the shore after an exhausting 100m tow with rescue breaths which was undoubtedly the most strenuous diving activity I’ve done in years.  Landing a casually on your own putting them in a recover position and then, using a manikin, provide Basic Life Support until assistance arrives.

All these skills we have covered many times during our training, but the effectiveness of the course is that it provides a scenario where you link the skills in their natural order and thereby providing a realistic vehicle for assessment. And yes it is an assessment, not a teaching course!

Additional, written , verbal and first aid scenarios finished the day after we had recovered the boats and changed into dry clothing and moved into the rather nice cafe at the Chalet reception and shop.

So what was my opinion and thoughts on the day ?  Firstly and to be completely honest I could have done much better! I felt rusty and slow on the practical aspects and my theory was not quick enough.  So here are my areas for improvement !

On the lift, I could not see my computer so was using the shot / datum to gauge my ascent rate.  That was fine but I was late in stopping at 6m. Next time, I’ll switch the back light on or perhaps just learning how to turn it on would be a good idea. Usually I just shine my torch on it but not enough hands to do that during a lift.

Lifting people into the boat , need to review different techniques and practice parbuckling.

Throwing and non-contact rescues, all good stuff. No problem for the men!

Towing and rescue breaths while making a good seal, practice practice and practice! You can always do better and a 100m tow is a long long way! Fitness could be better as it impacts effectiveness of technique.

Landing, need to do this without trying to break peoples arms and should note that techniques will differ and are dependent on the ease of the exit, so learn more than one.

Recovery position:  How can you get this wrong……?  very easily, let me explain! Well it wasn’t really wrong, it was just another way of doing it!

BLS practice, practice and practice again, again was far too rusty for comfort, but it did get better as I got into it.  Good extension,  checked for effective breaths and lots of ‘Nellie the elephant’ and ‘Staying Alive’… casualty assessment every….

Communication, communication and communication.

If anyone was interested in doing this assessment, I’d either recommend being 100% up to date with your practice or a complete refresher session beforehand, it’s the full on nature of the exercise that is so useful and at the same time so challenging.

 

All in all a very worthwhile event. Thanks are due to Rob and Pete for managing it and to Thistle Divers for the use of their boat.  For prospective Advance Diver candidates this is a really good course which covers off several requirements in the training syllabus, for other diver, unless you have an alternative requirement to do it, it is very hard work , a good level set of your rescue skills and ultimately very rewarding.

( It should be noted that some people forgot certain pieces of basic equipment.   Certain people forgot their fins while others didn’t even bother to bring their dry suits..  I suspect that some people did not really want to dive in Loch Long which with visibility of less than 2m and being dark at 4m was perhaps understandable.  Names will be named unless performance improves on future trips!  – Ed)

 

The Caves and the Chana, Sunday 16th March

Two divers ventured out on Sunday. Leaving Perth in glorious spring weather, by Crieff we were in cloud and by the time we were driving down Loch Lomondside it was raining. The Pit Stop cafe was the start point for the day where we finalised our plans and having had a bacon roll and a coffee drove down to ‘The Caves’ where much to our surprise we came across some friends from the Regional training.

Today was a check out dive for the upcoming Trimix course that both Steve and I were doing and as Steve chuckled mercilessly I struggled down the culvert with a twin set and stage to arrive at the waters edge exhausted….

We buddy checked and literally slid into the water when the first of several kit problems surfaced. Having mounted my torch battery on my twin set I was peeved to realise it was the same side that I carried my stage which meant that I was lopsided, well until that is, I had drained the right hand cylinder! Next issue was the torch was playing up ! Looks like a connection problem with the umbilical so resurfacing to ensure it was securely screwed into the battery and we were off, again. Vis was not that good but improved with depth and as the life ran out and we moved onto mud we decided to turn and explore the boulders. Perhaps too early in the season for any really good life, only the usual suspects were on show though a good sized lobster did put in a surprise appearance. Problem three presented as I switched to my stage and the regulator started free flowing (which it did not do on descent) but as we were within our no-stop times it was not a real problem but highly preferable finding out now rather than with a hard ceiling to contend with! We finished the dive by gently drifting with the flood current to surface beneath a canopy of trees somewhere on the side of the loch which presented the slight issue in finding the exit point. By swimming out from the shore we were able to spot the culvert a mere 25 meters away and made our exit. All that was left was to haul ourselves up the culvert and land exhausted at the cars having completed another good dive and necessary check out. (Annual medical! – Ed)

Back to the Pit Stop for a cup of tea and a piece of cake and then a delightful drive to Loch Fyne to check out the access to some dive sites and then across to Taynuilt on Loch Etive where I introduced Steve to the delightful little wreck of the Chana.

Loch Etive was dark today and the water temp struggled to reach 7 degree but once on the wreck visibility was good enough to see all we needed to as we explored. I had the chance to have a close look at feeding Horse muscles and a cheeky little blenny that had made a home in a pipe hole. Hatches, rudders, props and wheel were all checked and the little portable generator on the deck made an interesting discovery. Having circled the wreck twice we made took a bearing for the shore and made our way back via the bottles and rubbish that has piled up hereabouts over the ages. A tea pot and a wine glass stopped us for a while before we surfaced slightly further along the shore than we had planned.

The trip home was broken at Crianlariach before arriving home somewhat later than usual but today we had been exploring !

Sunday diving, Loch Long 28th July 2013

It was a rather damp when Steve and Chris arrived at the Three communities tea room at Arrochar (the Pit Stop cafe), not the dreach miseries of a depressing winters day but damp nevertheless. A mug of tea and a bacon sandwiches put the world to rights as we joined Maureen and Fred and waited for Alison and Emily to arrive.

The venue today was Conger Alley and to avoid the long carry we decanted all the heavy equipment at the top of the access track before parking the cars in the layby and changing in relative safety. For those that don’t know, this is an exceptionally busy road and traffic is a significant risk.
Changing in a steady drizzle although warm was unpleasantly sticky and with the midges being out there was a certain urgency to get into the water.

There were two teams on the first dive, Maureen and Fred off for an experience dive, putting their honed buoyancy skills to good use and showing off their rather nice new kit. What a transformation and well done! Both enjoyed a leisurely exploration of the reef. Kudos to Mo at Puffin, who certainly has done a good jobs somewhere along the line. Steve was taking Emily in for OO3 and I tagged along for a bit of experience. The lesson initially went well with all the mask clearing work completed. A few problems with equipment configuration led to issues with the AS ascent so the drills were suspended and we returned to shore. Have to saw the vis in the surface layers was appalling.

People took lunch where they fancied, some folk disappearing off to a cafe while others stayed on the beach but the weather was not brilliant so with a minimal surface interval we prepared to get back into the water. Only Steve and Chris opted for a second dive and they made an exploratory visit to the base of the reef, struggling to find 30m at low tide. They did however find fireworks anemones which are always a fantastic spectacle when you see them as they seem to have a luminescent glow.

So with everyone back on the surface we had a final cuppa at the Pit Stop cafe before making our way back to Perth, getting home at a very reasonable time.

We have not dived this site for a while and it is well worth visiting though perhaps not as a training venue due to the traffic. Perhaps that will do us until next year !

Wednesday at Loch Long. 21st November 2012

A quick splash in our nearest sea loch saw three intrepid members making the most of Scottish Autumnal weather and braving a dive in Loch Long.

The weather was calm and very mild with the recent snow having melted and the water was flat calm. Unfortunately the visibility was very poor with a stunning 3m max though totally dark at 10m, still the water was relatively warm.

Here are a few snaps

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Conger@Conger 13th November 2012

I had the opportunity to steal either a short hillwalk or a quick dip on the West coast today as a result of visiting offices in Glasgow. So with the kit in the boot off I went, picked up a piece of equipment and then sat waiting in the designated car park for my buddy who duly arrived from Kilmarnock, wound down his window and shook his head somewhat dejectedly. 20 – 25 mile an hour winds and good sized waves were crashing into an exposed shore, the SS Kintyre was definitely sunk ! Plan B, Loch Long. You can always get into Loch Long and so we agreed to drive up and have lunch in the Arrochar Pit Stop and then try our luck at Conger Alley.

Wet was something of an understatement as rivers pouring down the Lomandside hills flooding across the roads, but we arrived safely, enjoyed a bacon sandwich and then changed into drysuits at the rain soaked car lay-by as lorries and speeding cars sprayed us in passing. The original plan, exploring a deep wreck, surprisingly lends itself to a different kit configuration than that required for loch shore diving and carrying a twin set along the 300 yards of pavement to get access to the water took a little resolve but we made it and were quickly in the water.

Down, along, down a bit further, out across the mud and then slowly up the reef was the plan. It turned out to be a good dive too. Poor surface vis led to 5m+ lower down and apart from rather colorful sea squirts, and sealoch anemones, starfish, urchins, crabs and blennies, we saw a shoal of coppery codling, several small dragonettes, numerous corkwing wrasse, an enormous ballan wrasse and of course we can’t forget the rather impressive conger that came partly out of it’s lair to inspect the bright shiny thing that was being waved about in front of him.

A layer of fresh water, fed by streams peculating into the loch from the gravel gave some rather chilly conditions as we reached the shallows and did a short stop, while just before surfacing, a rain shower came in which was audible, quite amazing. That was it, apart from the oh so long, 300 yards back to the cars where once again we changed in the rain before decamping to the pub for a beer and chat and finally making our separate ways home after a surprisingly good dive.

No photo’s today. I didn’t take my camera as is not rated for what we had initially planned to do. (– excuses – Ed!)

Plan C , Sunday 17th June 2012

With the Bell rock being blow out for the second year running despondency crashed into the weekends diving plans as miserable weather got the better of diving on the East coast.

Steve, Colin and I, determined to get out and dive somewhere, drove across to “the Lochs” where all being in one car , we took advantage of the limited parking above the Caves just past Arrochar on Loch Long. I don’t think Colin believed us that this was the first site of the day but soon we were kitted up and abseiling down the culvert to enter the loch just before high tide.

Today saw everyone using Nitrox and while we were not intending to extend bottom times we were hoping to feel less fatigued on the way home. Having done our buddy checks at the car and then a bubble check at 3m we continued down the initial horse muscle shell bed before reaching our MOD in a field of sea loch anemones where there was still some ambient light reaching us from the surface. Here we started on the first of the days objectives, a close encounter with the fireworks anemone. Initially our search was unproductive and it wasn’t until we had started to ascend that Steve found the first of these fantastic animals.

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Moving up the slope Steve took the lead and we cruised across to the boulders where forests of Peacock worms snapped back into their tubes as we disturbed them. Finally having reached the pinnacles area we turned to come back at around 10m to satisfy the 5 minutes decompression penalty that we had accrued. From a life perspective there was a great variety on show at this depth. Not only the famous plumose anemones, but a very good variety of fish life with one spot shinnies, saithe, pollock and wrasse (both corkwing and ballan). Unfortunately we also came across the fishing line and witnessed the damage it can do picking up a crab so well wound in line that it couldn’t move its legs and was caught as a fly in a web of monofilament. Steve produced his keep bag and we popped it in, taking it back to shore where we did our best to remove the line before releasing it back into the loch.

That was it for the morning session save for the midges which were particularly fierce, chivvying us along and away down the road to the A-frames site where we though that a slight breeze might keep them at bay. As it turned out, the A-frames proved to be a very popular site with two Glasgow based dive schools and several independent divers all splashing about doing various exercises and drill and with just over a two hour surface interval we joined them.

With his recent knowledge of the site Steve had the honor of leading this dive and took us on a fascinating tour of the remnants of the pier stoops that were covered in squidgy life. Of note was the gas mantle sea squirt (Corella Parallelograma). Having explored the bottom of the A-frame and reaching the MOD of one of the gas mixes we slowly turned and made our way back up the slope coming across two fireworks anemones and an enormous and solitary Dahlia anemone. Taking a few extra minutes in the kelp we saw butter fish and various crabs covered in camouflage before surfacing just about were we went in after a much better dive than expected.

Before dekitting we washed down taking advantage of Colin’s in car fresh water spray a superb idea! Steve reported a major leak in his left arm and decided to sit out any further diving until he had identified and fixed the cause. Back to Splashsport I think!

Pulling over in the first layby on the North shore of Loch Earn just past the fish farm on the way to Perth we had our final adventure of the day and washed the kit off again in fresh water. The dive followed a steep slope festooned with angling lures which gave way to mud where a single solitary trout was seen sleeping on the bottom. Large golf balls were dotted around but clearly had been there a while. As we crept us the slope we came across little life though these fresh water porifera were of interest as were minute hydroids in the shallowest rocks which were covered by an algal mat. Overall the dive was dark and the bottom silty with an interesting current that moved both ourselves and the silt that we disturbed. Colin has loaded some really good atmospheric shots of this dive and the Loch Long sites, on his website

The short ride back to Burnbrae didn’t take long and Steve got a quick demonstration of Gas blending before enjoying a coffee and setting off home to arrive at a reasonably early time after a varied and interesting day.
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