Handa Island and Loch Laxford Sept 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“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….

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!)

Third time lucky! Bell Rock and the Wreck of the SS Ugie

We had organised several trips to the Bell Rock over the last few years but due to poor weather plans had changed.  The Bell rock is a almost submerged red sandstone reef approximately 12 miles off Arbroath.  The Bell Rock lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson for Trinity lighthouse and completed in 1811 the same foundations are over 200 years old. which is impressive when you see that the Lighthouse is constantly being besieged by the seas.

We headed out from Anstruther on the Mako, a hardboat owned by Steve Haddow to Dive the SS Ugie a steamship Trawler which sunk on the 16th March 1900 after a collision with the Dundee Trawler Taymouth then travel onto the Bell Rock for our second Shallow dive on the reef.

The weather was in our favour and after Steve put in the Shot we noticed that the tide was still running but need to keep to a tight time table, Derek and I were the third Pair of divers in the water and after a long swim to the seabed. The shot had dragged off the wreck and after a 100 metre swim against the current we reached the midships of the the wreck in 34.5metres to the seabed.  The Midships of the wreck was broken up but you could swim inside the hold and then we headed towards the Stern of the wreck she is covered in lots of life including a few large Lobsters,  The Ugie is about 130 ft long according to Bob Baird but we only had a short window to explore the stern section.

We headed across to the Bell Rock enjoying the sunshine and calm seas.  After a cup of Tea Derek and I dropped in to dive the Reef and the remains of the HMS Argyll which struck the Bell Rock in a Storm on the early hours of the 28th October 1915, all the crew were rescued which included a heroic effort by the Lighthouse keepers. After being blown up by the Royal Navy she was heavily salvaged and in the summer of 1970 the two massive manganese-bronze propellers weighing 14½ tons each were recovered by the Local Condor Sub Aqua Club.

Most of the reefs are covered in Kelp and the average depth varies between 9 -13 metres we found some plates and ribs as well as a , Gary and Izzy found an Anchor probably from one of the many ships that have been wrecked on the the Bell Rock Reef, we also found some large Bollards which we reckoned were from the Argyll.  We didn’t see too much life other than juvenile Cod and Two Spotted Wrasse, overall an interesting dive and one to tick off the list; the highlight was being able to see the Bell Rock Lighthouse up close a feat of British Engineering.

 

 

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)

 

Learn to Scuba dive with Perth BSAC

Perth BSAC is starting their try dive season again soon.  For anyone who wants to see if diving is for them and try diving in the safe confines of a swimming pool then it’s time to get in touch and book your space.

Being located on the borders of the Scottish Highlands but within the Central belt, Perth is ideally situated to access many of the most popular dives sites throughout Scotland. It  is a great place to learn and start your diving career.

You can contact us https://perth-bsac.co.uk/contact-perth-bsac/

 

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)