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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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.

Leading_a_dive_training

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.

completed
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

South Scotland Regional DTP, Loch Fyne, 8th March 2014

It’s not until you step out of your comfort zone and try something a little different that you really appreciate the effort that other people put in. This month the usual organiser had asked me to stand in and run the event, well how hard could that be? I was about to find out.

Preparations starts in earnest about a week before the event with a trickle of notes coming in from people asking to join and as these increase you start to worry about the number of instructors that you have in the pool to assist. You can count on most but illness and other potential commitments sees you phoning each in turn to get that oh so important commitment to show up and coach trainees. A late surge of interest and finally the ’11th hourists’ and we were set with just enough instructors to cover the variety of skills that had been asked for. Of course on the day it never follows the plan!

This month I am very please to report that Perth-BSAC played a lions share in the days events with two instructors, an assistant diving instructor and an assist Dive manager, all of who were key to the days activities. Well done guys!

Having completed the Welcome speech, site brief and allocated trainees to instructors, it was on to the first lesson. Paul went off to start sports diver training with two trainees from Dundee, Hamish practiced his instructional abilities under the watchful gaze of an NQI and while various other groups went about their lessons I supervised a trainee OWI putting Hadyn and another trainees through a weight check and their first dive in the bay area. After an initial shout for more weight we sank into terrible vis which we had to put up with until, basic drills completed, we were able to move into slightly deeper water (3m) where we found the vis actually improved. The stour was an edge effect and in real terms vis was quite good once you got away from the beach. Conscious of the fact this was a first dive for Haydn we didn’t go far or deep just bimbled, looking at crabs, starfish and the other life that we usually take for granted. We ended up doing a clockwise circuit onto the shallow reef to the right of the bay were much to Haydn’s delight and my intense surprise we found a very large and old, admiralty pattern anchor. Next week we will go back and find the rest of the wreck!

After the break and now with Euan performing the role of Assistant Dive manager things flowed more smoothly and the dive slate no longer languished forlornly neglected on the beach. Paul continued with his trainees who both performed well, another great performance there. Hadyn went for a dive along the inner reef seeing some good life including a superb Polycera nudibranch and coming out with a smile broader than his hood.

Some impressive stats on today’s dives but from a club’s perspective some good training delivered, a couple of lessons signed off, a first open water dive and we found a wreck ! (anchors don’t count – Ed!) Many thanks to all the instructors and helpers who made the day possible. Remember the event runs every 2nd Saturday of the month, looking forward to seeing you in April.

Sunday shore diving. Loch Leven. 23rd Februry 2014

A couple of hardy souls drove across to the west coast for a shore dive on Sunday through some very wet landscapes. Loch Earn was full and the Glen Falloch was flooded and in spate. Loch Tulla was lapping at the A82 and sheep stranded by the rising water where clustering on small islands waiting to be rescued.

We arrived slightly early and had a look at the Slates dive site and were very pleased to see that it was sheltered from the Southerlies that were sweeping across the loch raising water sprites which flung themselves along the far shore. Retiring to Craft and Things to meet ours guests and friends we were soon enjoying egg rolls and fresh coffee and watching squalls stravage through the glen wreaking havoc while we sheltered in the friendly warmth that the cafe had to offer. With one new member in the team and admin completed it was back to the site to give a short brief and get the first wave in. Edward and Alan and then Hamish and Alistair were in first which gave Chris a chance to work with Claire doing some prep for her upcoming PIE while providing shore cover. The first pair circumvented the main spit while the second pair did a there and back coming back to their entry point, both pair kept good time and stuck to their dive plans ! (Kudos — Ed). Chris and Claire went into the bay to practice AS drills and then extended the dive along the wall, coming back on time and again to plan. Both waves reported exceptionally good visibility with numerous dogfish and a superb Nudibranch (possibly Cadlina laevis)
Cadlina laevis

After a brief surface interval, the afternoon dive saw the same teams back in the water squeezing out a second dive from the mornings tanks taking advantage of a shallower profile. Hamish and buddy went off to explore the reef again getting some impressive perspective of the angle in the excellent visibility while the other teams bumbled around to the right of the bay exploring the large anchors and chains and finding some big glacial slabs. On the way back and in the shallows, the rocks supported colonies of sponges. Of note was a blue rayed limpet reflecting iridescent in a torch beam and of course a couple of nudibranchs, much smaller than the mornings specimen.

That was it, a final warm up in the cafe to chew the cudd before driving back to Perth although we couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay our respects to the badger! Another superb day in the water with great company and a good lesson that you can always get in somewhere if you really want too.

Spare Rhibs to Oban, 5th May 2013

The plan was brilliant in its simplicity, we were going to take ‘Deep Dancer’ out for its early season shake down with support provided by Dave in ‘Grace Cameron’ should anything unexpected happen and possibly be joined by Alan who was diving with Neil having brought ‘The Butcher’ across to its Oban ‘mooring’ for the summer.

As with all good plans, the odd spanner can get thrown in and today was no exception. Arriving at the boat shed we found the brakes on Deep Dancer’s trailer were rather sticky and having tracked the fault to the Bradley hitch we made a few calls and Dave kindly agreed to run a two wave days within Kerrera Sound with Jane and guest providing additional boat crew. As it transpired the weather would not have allowed traveling much further anyway but it is always enjoyable diving off a Rhib.

Travel across to Oban takes a much followed routine these days, the pit stops and coffee shops being well-known. Arriving at Oban it was a relief to see the relatively calm sea as we turned down Kerrera and arrived at Puffin to see the rest of the team assembled and Grace Cameron prep’ed for launching. (That would be Chris and Steve in catch up mode again would it ? – Ed). Tanks loaded and the boats launched and we were off up the North Channel to Maiden Island. Entering the Oban bay and the North Channel, the sea state got a bit choppy and Dave pushed us close into Maiden to kit up before dropping in on the Southern tip. As usual the path finders were in post-haste followed by the ‘P-team’ and last but not least Bethan and ‘the Camera’.

Dropping close into the wall at about 12m we reached the sandy bottom and were moved briskly along by a rather stiff current which provided a very entertaining drift over numerous eyelash works, until we deemed it prudent to take a bearing and start trying to swim up current hauling our way along the bottom back towards Maiden Island. Somewhere on this leg we came across an interesting find , a scattering of live .303 ammunition, obviously dumped at some time during or just after the Second World War. Accepting that we were not making significant headway the urge to ascend started to kick in but just as we were about to deploy DSMB and start the ascent when we heard the CalMac ferry passing overhead. Not wanting to foul his props we decided to wait for a few more minutes before coming up.

Lunch was taken in the ‘Crew room’ at Puffin, no stove lit today, but a far better option that standing outside in the rain as a heavy spring shower came through.

The second dive was in South Kerrera, in one of the small bays just north of Gallanach bay, at a point where the maps indicate there is an old Iron Age fort. Once again the pathfinder went in first (well they are the quickest to kit up! – Ed) this time followed by Steve, Paul and Chris diving in a three. Better vis perhaps but onto sand and with a few scallops in the bag we followed the slope up to find a boulder reef at 9m and a small wall. Not an exceptional amount of life today, sometimes this site can be very colorful. We did our safety stop bobbing around a goody bag , secured to a SMB, all very sociable really.

All hands to assist recovering the boat although we did have to wait for a while until a rather large rib had been recovered and washed down. While we waited we chatted to Fyne Pioneer’s Simon Exley who was diving the Sound of Mulls wrecks and was on his way down to Crinnan.

That was it, another days diving. All that was left was to grab a quick air fill (very reasonably priced – ED) and head for home.

While the weather could have been a little more ‘summerish’ everyone seemed to enjoy themselves although it was a bit cold immediately apres dive. A big thank you to Steve for organising the trip and a massive thanks to Dave for saving the day and taking us out in Grace Cameron’

No photos from me today but Paul might add one or two later one.

Regional diver training program at Loch Fyne, 8th December 2012

Doris pseudoargus
Doris pseudoargus

A rather grey and gloomy day at the Regional diver training program at Loch Fyne today. It was pleasing to see though, that even with the bad weather there was a good turn out of both trainees and divers who had come along for a recreational dive.

I had the pleasure of putting a trainee through the full drysuit course which apart from getting rather cold on the first dive was rather successful, but there again teaching fish to swim is always easy. As part of this session we swam onto the reef in rather poor vis and then up and down the slope to tune these drysuit buoyancy skills. A rather beautiful ballan wrasse interrupted the lesson for a while as it swam up to us and was only too pleased to be fed. Almost but not quite eating out of our hands!

The afternoon session was a clockwise circuit of the reef checking buoyancy control and ensuring a well controlled ascent. No problems. Again some very large fish, cod and pollack with a few small flatties as well as the usual squidgy life peppered the reef but it was very dark making a torch a necessity which is unusual for this site.

That was it, after a quick natter and signing of books in the coffee shop, people started to drift away and I drove home in the dark after another rewarding day helping out in the instructor team. I can report that the chocolate cake was exceptional good today.

The Slates, Loch Leven. November 18th 2012

A small team of keen divers ventured out on Sunday for a leisurely dip at ‘The Slates’ at Ballachulish in Loch Leven. A reasonably early start saw three cars carefully making their way on icy roads towards Crieff where I for one had a very exciting moment when the car decided to firstly to go in a straight line when I wanted it to turn and then perform a slow waltz before coming under control. A salient reminder to pack the cars carefully, keeping as much weight forwards as possible and of course to treat the winter roads with the utmost respect !

With the roads starting to improve once we got to Loch Earn we reached Tyndrum and had a short break, a coffee and a chance to stretch our legs after a very exciting couple of hours. Next stop Ballachulish over Glen Coe where the first of the blue sky edged through the clouds and the tops held more that a dusting of fresh snow .

On site we had a briefing and then wave one comprising Kim, Briagha and Chris, went in to do a Ocean Diver, dive leader review exercise and I’m happy to report that Chris passed. Staying in the bay area we swam between the large anchors, over chains and poked our torches under boulders before surfacing at the perscribed time. An enjoyable dive which apart from a few buoyancy problems at the start went very smoothly. Notable were the numbers of Queen scallops swimming around.

The second wave had a few buoyancy issues and apart from a few choice expletives of a frustrated dive didn’t have much to report. Next time guys.

Keeping an eye on the time and momentum going in the group, wave one went in again to do the second part of the exercise which I am happy to report was successfully completed by Briagha who had now completed all her Ocean Diver course training. The dive itself was quite interesting with lots to see including a brilliant Cuckoo Wrasse and his mate, a good sized Corking Wrasse, a very large Common Sunstar, loads of brittlestars, sealoch anemones and sea squirts and hermit crabs and gobbies by the bagful. Briagha also found her first scallop. As we surfaced a heavy rain shower was soaking the surface crew so we didn’t hang around for long, decamping into the local, highly recommended cafe (Craft and Things) for a hot drink and something to eat. I can positively recommend the hot chocolate and marsh mallows which looked absolutely scrumptious.

That was it, a quiet drive home on much improved roads getting back at a very reasonable time.

Thanks all for coming and well done to Briagha on the successful completion of her Ocean Diver training.

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