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

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

Chris’ version :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s version (tbc)

Steve’s version (tbc)

An evening splash at Fifeness, 18th June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fifeness map

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

The June DTP at Loch Fyne

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

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

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

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.

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!