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!)

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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)

 

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.

Dolphins at Insh Island, Easdale: 6th October 2013

06:00 am, What! Another early start ! It’s that time of year when dragging yourself out of bed while it is still dark to go diving is a real test but we did well arriving on time at the club shed to load the boat and set off for Oban. The objective of the day was to firstly get some diving in and to allow Neil to complete his Dive Management practical session.

Plans were a little fluid this weekend with a couple of people coming down with colds and back problems but such was the turn out that we still had a full boat , a good chance to get Deep Dancer out and exercise her engine putting in some time on the water. Of course the first problem was starting the engine which was reticent to say the least, still we are getting very adept and cleaning the plugs, ululating and rending cloth before Paul laid his hands upon the console and she coughed into life. With a boat brief and radio check completed it was time to get the show on the road! So a couple of extra checks to ensure the gear linkage was secure and that we could stop and restart the engine and we were away.

The trip down to Insh Island was rough and Paul did a good job punching his way through a nasty chop to arrive at the northern end of the Island. The small Island and the skerries were not an option today due to the swell and waves but there was sufficient shelter in the little bay to the NE of the Island to allow safe diving. Chris and Euan were first in and found a sandy bottom, good for a few shells but not of great interest. The visibility was reasonable though a fine sand stirred up easily the tide then drifted it with you so you had to continuously move out of the silt trail you raised. The divers found themselves in an eddy and having tried to go south in the direction of the tide eventually gave up and drifted North where the current took them. Towards the end of the dive they reached the reef that joins Insh to the Northern skerries where small walls provided a little interest. Unfortunately the current meant that the dragging an SMB stopped the divers sheltering in the kelp and they surfaced slightly earlier than plan. Mo and Fred went in in a similar place and reported a reasonable dive within the bay, having a good long dive and making a safe ascent. A quick change over on the boat and the dive manager sent the next wave in who followed the edge of the reef taking a few photos and picking up the occasional scallop.

With a full team recovered we decided to head back to Puffin dive center rather than go across to Easdale for lunch as the afternoon was chasing. The trip back proved to be one of the great highlight of our diving this year and goes to show that diving off boats is about the day as much as about time in the water. Half way back the shout went up ‘Dolphin’ and we throttled back to watch. Initially a few animals were surfacing and we weren’t sure how many there were, three or five perhaps. Clearly something was going on and as we watched a tight group started splashing about with much tail waving, a smell of fish suggested they could have been feeding but it was most likely that the smell emanated for the old diver that we keep in the stern of the boat. However the splashing was only the prelude to the main act , dolphins started to jump with supreme grace and it was slight disappointing when the school drifted away from us. With everyone enthralled we set again towards Puffin but the dolphins decided they had not finished with us and started jumping, easily clearing six or even eight feet out of the water. Initially in ones and twos, some right next to the boat and then in synchronized form giving us the kind of show you would have paid top dollar for in Orlando. Here it was off the West coast for free !

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A much easier passage back to Puffin followed, with a following wind we made better time and having secured the boat spent a leisurely hours over lunch, ‘grilling’ the Dive Manager on his theory (he he he he!).

Ardnachuil bay was the next site, a short ride from Puffin and while not calm, a safe option. Chris and Euan were in first and having bushwacked their way through the swell and the kelp, found a sand and gravel slope disappearing off into the depth. Chris reported a couple nudibranchs with dendronotus-lacteus and it’s brilliant white body easily spotted standing out on a brown kelp frond and being a new one for him. (No camera today so I’ve included a link from the Scottish nudibranch site – Ed) later in the dive, they also found a small red sea hare, perhaps the smallest one, you could possibly imagine being less than half a centimeter long. Mo and Fred reported a short dive, struggling to get out of the kelp in the challenging swell they encountered. A good effort in challenging conditions and as it had a safe outcome merits a success in my books.

With the second wave of divers in the water, the opportunity for a bit of boat handling skills development was presented and man over board and indeed board overboard skills were practiced before standing on station over the divers waiting for them to surface. Paul and Steve surfaced and having had a stern debriefing from the Dive Manger they were allowed onboard before we departed for Puffin. Well done to the Dive manager there for demonstrating control over the group! The boat was recovered and kit washed down on the slip and with a final debrief from Neil the day was wound up with the boat heading off to the club store followed by Chris and Euan.

Congratulation go to Neil for successfully completing his Dive Manager practical as part of his Sports Diver grade training, he did exceptionally well keeping control over some experienced divers with an accumulation of years of bad habits. The committee have yet to validate his qualification level but I look forward to diving with our newest qualified Sports Diver in the not too distant future.

Thanks to Steve for organising another successful days diving and to Paul for towing Deep Dancer.

Photos Added PS

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 evening puddle at Campsie Linn, 24th July

Nearly four weeks of glorious summer came to a crashing end with thunder and lighting just in time to raise a few doubts about river diving on Wednesday evening, however driven by an insanely enthusiastic Paul, the cats were herded and we rallied at the Angler’s Inn in Guildtown at the appointed time.

Diving the river Tay raises a few eyebrows, locals who have an interest, whether commercial or environmental, keep a sharp watch on suspect activities and a group of divers on the Tay meets this description to a tee. So it was that we met one such local and explained our intentions who promptly hurried off to beat the drums leaving us with the equipment to strenuously carry down to the river and watch the canoeists play on the rapids for a few minutes while we caught our breath.

The overnight rain had raised the water level by about a foot but the river looked dive-able so we went in in two groups, hugging the wall beneath the linn to avoid any strong currents. The vis was not very good (Is this an understatement? – Ed) and the further into the pool the worse it got and with all light penetration gone at about 8m most of the dive was carried out within a torch beam.

Underwater obstacles are always a concern and with overhung ledges, trees and current we took a great deal of care not to work our way into a corner though we had no idea what was above us, as Steve put it, it was as close to cave diving as we would be likely to come without going into a cave!

The plan on this sort of dive is to slowly crawl along the bottom, using boulders to pull yourself along rather than fining. You creep up on the life or let it come to you and it was remarkable just how much life there actually was. Several large salmon as well as numerous smaller ones were either asleep on ledges or wedged between boulders, occasionally one shot out of the darkness and making straight at us turned at the very last instance and was gone. dum dum dum dum dum dum ….. Trout were there as well , large brown trout, speckled and dark. These were much more timid than the salmon and harder to approach. What was interesting was the number and the size of the eel population, some really large specimens gliding past while others had taken up residence beneath boulders.

Eels

Flatfish

It was interesting to see this little chap, obviously lost !

The freshwater mussel occurs in the Tay system and we came across this specimen below the falls. Clearly washed down from further upstream. Initial thoughts of relocating it to a gravel bed were tempered with it’s protected status so we left well alone. It has always puzzled me how the spat of these molluscs get back up the river system after spawning?

Freshwater muscle

Having made it across the pool we turned and using a compass made our way back finding a tree noted on the way out and then a wall, eroded with pockets where golf balls had become wedged. Finally as we started to ascend, surface eddies and current became noticeable and only avoidable by hugging the edge of the pool. Here while doing a safety stop we had the opportunity to have a good look at the fresh water sponge that appeared white on the rock. Finally, completing the stop I had the opportunity to pick up round lead shot, which looked initially like musket balls but turned out to be harling weight.

All in all a very esoteric dive, would I do it again, yes absolutely but only after another three weeks of glorious summer weather.

Thanks to Paul for organising and to Spike for coming and providing local knowledge and shore cover. Paul has loaded some excellent photos here, the water was a little murky for my camera without a strobe. Just for the record a standard summer low water for the river (bit like tides – Ed) the team recorded 17m in the middle of the pool and the water temperature was 21 degree C.

Paul’s photos, which are a lot better than mine!

Saturday 13th July, Regional Diver Training Program, Loch Fyne

Most of the club’s active members had departed for Lewis on the Summer Expedition on Friday leaving a remnant of keen enthusiasts to make the trek across to Loch Fyne to support the Regional Training event run by Fyne Divers. The training is run on a voluntary and free basis for any BSAC member who wishes to learn skills and complete lessons towards their diver grade, or just come for an ‘experience’ dive or for divers who want to practice and hone their instructor skills, as such it is well worth supporting.

This Saturday we had a very successful trip, with one club member completing SP1, the final practical session of her Sports diver qualification. Hip Hip ! We also had another club member successfully completing OS3 and while this is a refresher signifies good steady progress. As something slightly different I had the chance to supervise an A-OWI delivering a rather enjoyable and technically correct lesson plan, Well done to both the Instructor and his student, who absorbed the lesson like a sponge. An interesting experience and completely different paradigm.

In the afternoon our members had a chance to practice the skills gained in the morning session with emphasis on buoyancy control and good progress was reported. I taught DSMB deployment using the lesson plan I was shown on a recent Instructor development course and had an enjoyable and hopefully useful session with a student from Dundee University.

Have to say that while Perth basked in 26 degrees we were somewhat cooler with overcast skies and a westerly breeze. There is still plankton hanging around Loch Fyne so the vis was restricted but the water was refreshingly warm. Some large moon jellies in the water column today which added an ethereal quality to simulated deco stops

No photos today as these were training dives.