The walls and wrecks of Melfort and Shuna, 2nd December 2012

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sealoch anemoneA bright and frosty morning with snow covered mountains made for a delightful journey across to Tyndrum where we all met up for the onward passage to Cuan Ferry. Here we launched the club Rhib, checked her out and moved her to the steps where she was loaded with the dive gear.

Slender sea pen
Slender sea pen
‘The Bruce’ arrived and set about launching as we departed for Eilean Creachan, one of the islands at the mouth of Loch Melfort where interesting contours on the charts suggested some spectacular underwater topography. The dive plan was to put the first wave in to explore the wall on the northern end of the island and swim slowly southwards on the West wall.

Both groups surfaced reporting a very good dive with highlights being conger eels and two octopi as well a shoals of small fish. With virtually no tide or wind the boat didn’t move and although slightly cold it was very pleasant as we watched the divers bubbles. ‘The Bruce’ came alongside for a quick hallo and blether before heading off to dive around Shuna. Back with ‘Deep Dancer’ and having recovered the first set of divers the second wave went in and explored the foot of the wall initially swimming northwards, collecting a few large scallops from the mud between tall slender sea pens and finally ascending to following the top of wall back towards the boat. An old ‘Fenzy’ crack bottle was discovered and brought up for the amusement of the crew, some of who actually recognised it for what it was, before someone even admitted to having used one !

Crack bottle

Lunch was scheduled to be taken at Shuna Cottage and Gary expertly drove us down to the southern tip of Shuna where we moored the boat, changed over cylinders and had our pieces. You can’t spend too long lunching with the short days so we were very quickly back in the boat and heading up the west side of Shuna for the next dive which turned out the be a cracker.

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In went the pathfinders, closely followed by the backup team, each following a roughly parallel course swimming South. Ten minutes into the dive for some reason up pops a partially inflated DSMB and the two teams were seen to converge. What’s going on here then wondered the boat crew ? The conclusion that somebody had sent up a bag of scallops which had subsequently sunk seemed to describe the scenario so we marked the spot with a depth reading and a transit to the shore and quietly sniggered at the easy picking that would follow !(Why not the position fixing facility on the GPS/radio ? – ED) The teams then separated and continued their fin south. On surfacing they both reported good life, a few scallops and a wreck. Unbelievable, a wreck down here. But it was and proved to be a small pleasure craft lying upright in good condition with it’s rather rounded bows pointing into the shore and CQR anchor deployed. Probably about 9m long with a large cockpit, and cabins fore and aft. What a fantastic find and a great way to end the day.

On surfacing we quickly had the engine started and got back to the launch site with just enough time to recover the boat before it got dark having enjoyed a fantastic days diving.

Well done to Steve for organising a great trip and many thanks to Gary for towing the boat.

Paul has kindly placed some of his superb photographs here and they are well worth a browse.

Wall covered in sea squirts
Wall covered in sea squirts

Stallion Rock and The Minard Islands, Loch Fyne. 21st October

On Sunday we had a superb turn out for a boat trip, taking the Club rhib across to Loch Fyne and being joined by David with his new boat. A 6:30am start was called due to low tide, coming off springs and the shallow slip at the Argyll Caravan park. By ca 09:00 everyone had arrived and the boats had been launched before a quick briefing from Bethan on the day and we were off down the loch on a flat calm surface making excellent progress.

Stallion Rock was exposed at low water and we dropped the pathfinders off, rolling in at intervals off Deep Dancer, while Dave’s boat dived in waves. Considering we had five pairs of divers in the water it was surprising that we didn’t actually bump into each other but it’s a big wall. Bethan and Chris jumped in on the exposed rock itself and went to explore the bottom of the wall before coming up to the 20m mark and gently drifting along the wall with the ebbing tide. An impressive amount of squidgy life with sealoch anenomies, sea squirts, encrusting and cup sponges and squat lobsters in every available crevice you could shine a torch into. Half way through this dive we come across the overhangs at about 23m which would have merited exploration (next time!). Finally with NST reaching zero we slowly ascended finding sand at ca 10m, a solitary scallop and a large berried crab. A couple of minutes watching a sea gooseberry was spent as we paused for a safety stop. Finally up with the SMB and a perfect pickup from the coxswain to find all divers from Deep Dancer returned and the second wave from David’s boat in the water about to surface.

A little colder than people had come to expect recently but everyone reported a good dive. Having retrieved the final diver pair we set off down to the Tea Rooms at Furnace where we landed for a coffee and cake and a short break before the short hop over to the Minard Islands.

Most divers explored the SW tip, taking advantage of the incoming tide and exploring either side as they drifted over broken rocks and past walls. There are some excellent walls on this dive with a good covering of plumose and an enormous dahlia anemone. Bethan spotted a pipefish which I carefully caught and to see if it was carrying brood, (which it wasn’t). before returning unharmed. A small butterfish wriggled across muddy slabs leaving a silt trail that gave away it’s movements and numerous juvenile flatfish, iridescent green and with protruding eyes lay still until panic caused them to flee. Cold set in and I signaled that it was time to go up so we again found shallow sand and shell beds before putting up the SMB and being retrieved by the boat. Again people were reporting good but cold dives with a bag of scallops having been retrieved from over 70m somewhere nearby at a secret location…… Waiting for the second wave from David’s boat we stowed the gear and enjoyed the mild weather as the sun started to shine.

Divers up and then a quick trip back to the caravan park to recover the boats, debrief and set off back to the club hut to wash everything down after a very successful days diving.

I am happy to report that in consultation with the DO and TO, Bethan successfully completed her Dive Management skills module which should allow her to complete her Dive Leader grade training once the committee endorse it. Well done to Bethan for organising such a successful day , thanks to David for bringing along his boat, and to Tony for towing Deep Dancer. With so many experienced divers, these trips are always a pleasure. With people helping out and sorting things before being asked, so thanks to all of you who mucked in.

I was very lazy and didn’t take a camera but the usual paparazzi were present so photos will be added as they come in.

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Plan C , Sunday 17th June 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short ride back to Burnbrae didn’t take long and Steve got a quick demonstration of Gas blending before enjoying a coffee and setting off home to arrive at a reasonably early time after a varied and interesting day.
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Loch Creran and Bonawe Quarry, Sunday 29th April 2012

A small team of Izzy, Gary and Chris, met at Colin’s and were joined by Frank, a guest for a trip across to the West coast to explore a couple of sites, that as a club we don’t dive that often.

After a short detour to Puffin Dive Center to pick up a set of regulators we headed North to a site know as “the Steps” on the south shore on Inner Loch Creran and arrived to find blue skies, a flat calm loch and temperature soaring into the 20s. Was this the start of summer we asked ourselves as we kitted up and then sweated profusely awaiting our turns to dive. Today’s plan was to dive in waves with the shore cover also minding Hamish (the dog) who on arrival had immediately found a grass snake so was keen to explore the brambles and under growth for other exciting residents.


On entering we were met by a swarm of Moon Jellyfish which distracted us for a minute or two before we pressed on. Once out of the little bay, the bottom shelves steeply over a bed of Horse muscle shells and then over a set of little steps before flattening where mixed sand and rocks and ultimately sand or gravel takes over. A small wall or reef to the left of the bay provides a good substrate for squidgy life and at its base large numbers of queen scallops had gathered that flew off as we disturbed them.

Not much fish life around today apart from the ubiquitous Gobbies. Having descended to the foot of the wall in what can be described as superb visibility, we took a clockwise circuit across the mouth of the bay where a field of sea cucumbers and small rocky slabs covered in Green urchins and a solitary fireworks anenome provided interested before we eventually ascended to the base of a boulder slope.

It was here that we found the beastie that we had come to see, the Sepulid worm that forms rare biogenic reefs. We found them, but you have to be a cunning photographer to get a good snap, if they detect any movement or noise from your exhaust bubbles, they snap back into their tubes. Needless to say I took several excellent photos …. of the worm tubes….

To make the most of the sunshine the barbecue was lit and a few sausages burnt before we moved sites stopping off at a very pleasant cafe at Columba Bay where we sat outside enjoying the sun.

The second dive site was the Bonawe Quarry site on the North shore of Loch Etive, here we were going to look for the little wreck of the fishing boat, sometimes know as the ‘Kingfisher’. This proved to be a bad choice as the breeze was blowing directly into the harbor and the visibility proved appalling. The first wave went in and very quickly came up again to inform us they were changing their dive plan to investigate the rocks of the causeway. They surfaced to report finding the old car wrecks but visibility of less than a meter. Not good! The second wave went in and were somewhat luckier, finding the running line that links the shore to the derrick and then the wreck. The derrick was found, with someone’s head, before moving on to the wreck where a slow clockwise circuit was made being very careful not to stir up the bottom. Unfortunately we weren’t careful enough and having got around the A frame at the stern of the wreck we re-entered our silt trail and decided to take a compass bearing to the causeway and work our way back via the cars to the entrance point.

All in all a very dark, low vis but atmospheric dive but certainly not the worst one I have ever done.

As everyone was getting rather hungry we decided to stop at the Crianlarich Hotel on the way back for a spot of supper. This is proving to be a regular stop, being about half way home and providing a friendly and convivial atmosphere. Salmon, venison and Cumberland sausages were ordered and the stalkers dispatched while we waited non to patiently for our tea. After some lively banter all fell silent as the important business of food was resolved, a process that didn’t take too long. With dinner finished all that was left was the remainder of the trip home and washing the gear off.

Certainly a day of two very different dives and hopefully the start of some long overdue Summer weather. Thanks are due to all who came along and made this trip possible.

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Alan’s reef, Kerrera Sound. Sunday 4th December 2011

It was Steve’s turn to drive today and I got to ride in his suped up Subaru, pre-warmed on the chilliest start of the year. That was the plan anyway but having dropped the exhaust just before Lix Toll and having to wait for the very nice RAC man to come and provide a running repair we found ourselves frantically trying to contact Alan whom we were due to meet at Puffin Dive center to advise him of our delay and suggest we would join him in the afternoon. Four and a half hours after leaving Perth, we rolled into Puffin as Alan, Dave and Tam were returning from their morning dive off Maiden Island.

Alan reported 1-2m vis and Tam reported a squall that had come through whipping the bay into wall to wall white horses. Dave and Alan had been blissfully unaware of this as they enjoyed a rather productive dive. Tam’s plight sounded only slightly more fun than watching the snow flurries at the Lix Toll garage.

Lunch in the Crew room saw everyone warm up as general diving banter was hurled around and all too quickly it was time to venture out and load Alan’s boat for the afternoon trip. The plan was to dive a reef that Alan had found previously where a broken wall reached 45m some 20m off the shore. Located on the southern of two little points just south of Ardantrive Bay, east of Mount Pleasant farm and identified by a metal spike sunk into the rocks, Steve and I rolled off the boat into a layer of cold, fresh water. Final OK’s and we quickly sank to find warmer water.

The dive was dark but some light penetrated down to 15m but beyond that a torch was essential. The broken wall was silty grey and had a scarce smattering of encrusting life but turned out not to be as dramatic as some of the walls in the area. At the bottom we found twisted wreckage, possibly a gantry and set about picking up the odd scallop. I managed to drop my torch head (it’s an umbilical) and everything went black for an instant as the head came to rest in mud. As an exercise it was quite interesting as I fumbled with a goody bag, feeling lucky I hadn’t grabbed a crab! Looking around we had about 4m vis as I watched Steve illuminated by his torch, scarring the wildlife.

Conscious of the depth I was keen to ascend to eke out the air in shallower water, so we slowly ascended steep sand and gravel where we came across a pipe fish that was determined to play dead. Further up we found an enormous concrete cube, artistic in it’s architectural rococo style, clearly a mooring block of sorts but unattached and age unknown. Possible associated with the flying boats but who knows.

 

 
Interesting life continued to find us as we climbed the slope, small scallops and flat fish and a large Scorpion fish that was determined to avoid being photographed as it deliberately stirred up sand around itself. Further up the slope we reached coarse sand and contoured back towards our start point trying to stay just below the halocline in the warmer water. Finding a few more pieces of wreckage, rusting iron and discarded bottles, we eventually surfaced as the cold fresh water took it’s toll. Tam expertly recovered us from the water and that was it, not a bad dive and much better than weather of late would have suggested. Alan and Dave surfaced shortly afterwards having completed a similar dive and recovering another bag of scallops for Christmas.
 

 

 
Retrieval of the boat followed a well worn procedure and having washed it off and secured it all that was left was to have a quick trip to the dive shop for a natter, square up and head for home.  A big thank you to Alan for the days diving and Steve for organising.

 
Steve and I decided to say hello to the Badger and have a quick chat with Andy at the Crianlarich hotel. I am pleased to report that the quality of the Colonsay Ale is still excellent.

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Kentallan and The Slates, Saturday 19th November 2011

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Thought we would try something different this weekend from an organisational point of view after a few comments about the inclusion of the occasional Saturday in the calender.

So 07:30 on Saturday morning at the club hut saw Steve and I loading bottles for the familiar drive across to Crianlarich where plans were finalised and we turned right to Tyndrum and on to Glen Coe. Autumnal hues of pastel brown greeted us as we climbed into the hills but the rain stayed off and by the time we arrived at Kentallan a few small patches of blue interrupted the monotony of grey clouds.

Kentallan really is a good shore dive, both the dive and the amenities are brilliant. So after a quick walk of the site and having poked our noses into the hotel we kitted up, walked down to the rocks to the south of the pier and completed our pre-dive buddy checks before the long swim out to the wall. A high incoming tide tried to push us up the loch and continuous use of the compass was required as we got turned in the gentle eddies a couple of times. Still we found the boulders that mark the top of the wall and with an additional buddy check and OK pushed off into the dark abyss below…

The wall was dark today and a good torch was a blessing as we slowly swam northwards along the wall. Peacock worms and squiggy things were found on every inch but a fine sediment seemed to cover anything that stuck out or stood still as a respectably large crab had found out. Twenty minutes on the wall was enough to see a small decompression penalty accumulate but more importantly and for the enjoyment of this dive, the minimum required air for the return swim had been reached! So to avoid a lengthy surface swim we slowly ascended the wall and finned on a bearing back to Kentallan pier. I’d like to report that we were navigationally spot on, but I can’t, we missed it, coming up amongst the mooring buoys to clamber out over the breakwater below the car park.

And that was it, an excellent dive.

Lunchtime, soup of the day with a roll in the Holly Tree Inn enjoyed with a superb view over Loch Linnhe, watching the tide change.

I’d promised Steve two dives at least today, so lunch over we drove back to Ballachulish to “The Slates” where we met and chatted to a couple of groups from Dundee and Cupar. A few of these guys I’d dived with before at the Loch Fyne Tea rooms on Regional training days so today the site had a reunion feel about it.

Kitting up and marching out to the point of the larger pier saw Steve and I drop into 2-3m of fresh water before descending into better visibility. Unfortunately the surface layer effectively blocked the light and once again we had a very dark, if some what ‘illuminated’ dive. The life was again good with more fish life this time, spotted wrasse, leopard guppies, poor cod and a few small saithe patrolling the reef which was itself covered in sea squirts, saddle oysters and sea loch anenomies. Exhausting our bottom time we ascended to finish the tanks in the shallows as we traversed back to the cars along the inner arm of the pier. Another good dive.

Next stop was a visit to Klondyke Darryl who was having a successful day out gold panning in the hills above Tyndrum, then onto the Crianlarich hotel for refreshments, a quick chat and final wrap up before the journey home. All in all another grand day out with two new sites and a new ale for Steve.

Contingency trips after Bell Rock cancellation

Unfortunately due to wind and swell the Bell Rock trip was cancelled. Great disappointment really as we are currently experiencing the best weather of the summer. Still the swell off the East coast would have been horrific and bouncing around in a boat for an hour and then getting the washing machine treatment at the rock would have been unpleasant if not outright dangerous. So a safety call was made by the boat skipper and the trip was cancelled and will hopefully be rearrange for later both weather and boat permitting.

So what did we do? Well the A-team went of to Oban and filled Alan’s boat and taking advantage of flat calm motored up the Sound of Mull and dived the Thesis. A good dive was reported. (If details emerge I’ll post them here later). Paul and I were still keen to get out regardless of boat space availability and decided that a bit of shore diving was the easy option. We made an early start to drive across to Loch Leven and visit the Slates for a bit of training and depth progression. Always an easy option and with the high light conditions promising to be full of interesting beasties to see.

For the first dive was off the Slates we got a wee bit of depth and explored the base of the slope, racking up a reasonable decompression penalty in the process. This also gave me the chance to get some use out of my twin set under Paul’s watchful gaze.


Several large dragonettes were scurrying along the bottom of the reef and off course the proverbial sealoch anenomies.

On the way up we came across this guy, the common ling, just a small chap but quite friendly.

For lunch we popped into Ballachulish and foraged for sandwiches which we ate slightly further along the road on the shore below Manse point which was our second dive. To access this site you pull off the road between a break in the crash barrier where very easy access down a landrover track leads to the water in 100 yards or so. This site is a series of small reefs, glaciated slabs, gently dropping down towards the middle of the loch. There are reports of currents if you stray to far out but we didn’t experience anything other than a gently eddy that brought us back to where we stated. With the incoming tide we had very good viz enabling Paul was doing his photography thing with some success.

There was some good life and a few small scallops to see on a sandy and rock bottom and on the numerous small reefs

further out brittlestars took over.

Brilliant navigation brought us back to the exact spot where we had entered. Not sure thought if this was skill or just pure luck (neither of us had a compass!)

The day was not over and the final dive of the day was a kit wash in the river Orchy. There are a couple of sites in the river, the one we chose was Easan Dubha and not the one more commonly dived site further down the glen at Eas Urchaidh.

An easy entry down slabs got us into a tail pool where the vis was initially good but with depth the light rapidly disappeared as we encountered the strong tea conditions of peat laden water.

The dive is linking four swirl holes with a maximum depths of 7m in the second hole. To join the holes you have to climb through the current before peering over the edge and dragging yourself down into the slack, dark water. Quite an experience but safe enough (honest). In the second pool we were circled by trout and salmon (no goody bags allowed!) an awesome sight. Getting into the third hole was perhaps the harder ‘climb’ but after that we swam easily up to the base of the waterfall where we could sit immediately below the water as if gushed into the pool (check out the video, it’s amazing).

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With not many bar left in the tanks it was time to surface and a last chance for fun, the drift, where you float back just in the current getting sucked over the pool junctions to be deposited back were we started far to quickly. An amazing dive and highly recommended in the appropriate water conditions, may be washing my kit more often now !