19-21 January: Burns supper and dive weekend, Loch Duich
2-4 March: Training Weekend, Benderloch
5 divers went on the first training weekend over the past 2 days (Paul, Elisabetta, Susie, Jerry and Alex). On Saturday we dived Loch Creran. It was dry, but rather cloudy (no snow at all on the ground), with a chilly East wind blowing down the Loch, the swell kicking up more sediment than we are used to at this site, but all had good dives. After air fills in Oban, an excellent meal at the Oyster Inn, we retired to Rhum Lodge at Tralee for debriefs and refreshments. Today we dived at the slates, Ballachulish. Overcast, snow showers but nothing on the ground and again quite a cold East breeze did not diminish the fun, though Elisabetta and Susie suffered from slight cuff seal leakiness which isn’t so good in these conditions but hopefully should be sorted once their own suits arrive (these were core 94 suits….ho...hum). Viz was again fairly disappointing for this site, with a cool 7c water temp and not a lot of life around. Paul and Elisabetta completed their first 4 and 3 respectively 6-10m open water qualifying dives, Susie her first 2 dry suit cross over dives, and everyone was chilled out in the water (and very slightly cold)- well done to all
23-25 March: Training weekend, Oban area
As the Parks may still be making their way back from the west, I'll send a quick report on the training trip. We were a bit depleted in numbers as a result of illness (Jerry, Paul G and Rebecca dropped out and David wasn't 100%, although he made it and dived on Sat. morning) but the weather was lovely and conditions were great, although it is still a wee bit chilly underwater and it shows in how quickly hands and feet were cold (and the rest of the body for those who had various floods and leaks, which were quite a few, overall). On Fri. a few people (no students) dived in Ballachulish on the way down, apparently in appalling above-water conditions as they arrived but lovely by the time they got out. On Sat. we did two dives off The Steps in Loch Creran, in great conditions above and below the water. Everyone enjoyed it (we saw a juvenile skate). On Sun. we did two dives at The Slates in Ballachulish, again in great conditions (with the exception of the odd passing shower). In addition to the usual stuff, people saw another juvenile skate, a big John Dory and dogfish (dead and alive). Overall, there was also quite a bit of training, with Paul B and Betta getting quite close to finishing all Branch Diver open water training. So, it was a great training weekend, enjoyable and effective. Thanks to Jerry for organising "in absentia", to Andy for taking over the "in-situ" organisation and to all instructors and others for the good effort, and well done to all students. Now we just need to hope local conditions are also good for "standard" weekend diving.
1-3 June: Garvellachs/MV Porpoise
Last Thursday 8 of us arrived at Clachan-Seil (the Parks arrived on the Friday - breaking all their previous records for a late arrival!) for three days of diving with David and Jean Ainsley on the Porpoise.
Friday was bright and sunny and we started off with Jewel Wall followed by Dunchonnuil Sound wall with the sea state resembling a millpond.
Saturday was unusually very foggy with the sea state still flatter than a flat thing. Some very careful navigation from David and we dived Eagle's Wall followed by a lovely dive on the vertical wall of Slippers as the fog began to lift.
Sunday the sun shone, and we headed for Conger Wall which was as spectacular as ever. Once we were back on board we were entertained by some farmers herding sheep from an uninhabited island onto a boat, which would take them back to the mainland. The second dive on Crawl Wall was well worth the wait for slack.
As we returned back to the pontoon we watched a couple of sea eagles hunting down some goslings, which were saved by their parents who managed to see the eagles off.
30 June-7 July: Shetland (MV Karin)
10 divers (Jerry, Andy, Lil, Emily, Edna, Chris from Grampian, Anne and Jim from Ellon, David from Caithness, Geoff from Stirling) met on Friday 29th June at the Northlink terminal to head up to Shetland- weather:Calm and scorchio. We arrived early on Saturday, and after an efficient taxi transfer from Holmsgarth to Albert Wharf we boarded our boat for the week, MV Karin. Two more divers, Graeme and Ian were to join us the next morning.
There followed an excellent week of diving, though in the initial few days there were some uncertainties as to where we would be going (possibly even ending up in Orkney) due to an exceptional set of family health worries for our skipper. The conditions could not have been better above the water. The first few days saw a continuation of the heatwave experienced across all of Scotland (although of course in Shetland you can subtract a few degrees from the peak temperatures) and while the latter period saw more cloud, it was still warm, dry and the sea states were light. The glorious weather did have a negative consequence, and we arrived on what was something of a peak plankton bloom, which limited the viz on dives in Bressay Sound in particular, and while viz was better below 30m, it was quite dark. The exception to this was during our excursion in the middle of the week to Unst and a night in Baltasound, with visits to the famous Bobby’s Bus Shelter and the John Peel Memorial Traffic Island. Here the water was crystal clear and we had the two outstanding dives the trip. First was the Jane (21m), a stunning steamship wreck just North of Fetlar. And then the star of the show the next day, just outside Baltasound, the E49 submarine (31m), with viz a good 30 metres on a gorgeous white sandy bottom, followed by a scenic dive later on the Mainland Coast at Grutwick. Other impressive wreck dives included Glenisla (42m), Lunokods (44-5m), and Gwladmena (36m but a bit murky). Edna and I completely missed the Pionersk (everone else found it but then it occupies the length of two football pitches. The Murrayfield (off Mousa) proved more of a challenge as the shot was dropped on a ship like rock formation 250m from the wreck- Chris (with Emily and myself) excelled in wreck finding and we got to the wreck after 45 minutes of random guddlin1. We were so impressed with the Giants Legs (scenic south end of Bressay) that we paid 2 visits. On the wildlife side, we found octopus on nearly every dive, plus the usual fish and crustacea, and some nice Guillemot underwater encounters, but there was no cetacean activity.
This was a successful club expedition and a more complete account will be given in the Scottish Diver later in the year. We are aiming to organise a further Shetland week on the Karin in 2020 with a more exploratory flavour, visiting sites East and West of Mainland, Yell and Unst.
19-22 July: Bettyhill RHIB weekend
On Wednesday 18th July an advance party of 3 boats towed by Jerry, Andy and Ruud with Edna arrived on a warm, still evening at Bettyhill looking out on a flat calm Kyle of Tongue. It promised to be an excellent dive weekend. Also arriving early was Peter. After light refreshments and a good night, all set off on Thursday late morning for boat launching at Skerray on the high tide. With Ruud’s expert coordination, this exercise gets more efficient every year, and on this occasion all boats were in with moorings laid within an hour, and we waited in the warm sunshine for the others in the early diving group to arrive. This comprised Tomasz, Zibi, and Brian and Murray. The latter confounded all expectations by arriving an hour early!
Ruud and Edna decided not to dive but to boat handle, apparently anxious about getting back to the field centre or the Hotel for beer/supper in time. We headed out to the “big arch” on the SE of Eilean Nan Ron for a fine dive. The water was of quite a hazy/milky appearance probably due to a diatom bloom, but the viz was quite good, at least 15m.
We returned to Bettyhill where we were joined by the Graeme, Fiona, Daniele, Susie.
On Friday morning the conditions were fine in terms of sea state though it was quite wet and we head off to the West of the Island to a dive site we know well (Uamh na h-Oidhche according to the map) comprising a series of West facing rock spurs between which are a series of 3 short caves and then one long semi-open cave that runs through to a hidden lagoon behind the cliffs. All reported excellent dives with again 10-15m viz. As the day progressed the wind picked up from the NW so after a short lunch and cylinder change break at Skerray our second dives were limited to the SW of the Island, in the Bay to the North of the “Big Arch”. Here the kelp went down to near 20m in many places, so while it was an interesting maze of deep gullies and pinnacles, for Branch divers, the depth limits meant the best of the site was not accessible. We returned late afternoon to Skerray. Apparently there was some eating and drinking that followed at Bettyhill, but Andy and I drove to Thurso to fill 28 bottles at the Caithness Dive Club, with the kind help of Karen Singer, who gave up her Friday evening to help us.
On Saturday, the day started fine and calm, and so we decided to take the opportunity to head out to Eilean Neave, and dive a site on the NE corner, which provided another maze of gullies, pinnacles and caves. As on the previous day, in the afternoon the NW wind picked up and for the afternoon dive we were limited to revisiting the previous afternoons site. On Saturday evening we were treated to a delicious supper cooked by Edna and Fiona, and we continued to attempt to reduce the residual volume of malt whiskies in the dining room.
On Sunday, after a short clean up blitz at the Field Centre, we had a single excellent dive back at the “big arch”, then pulled the boats out and all were on the road by 3pm.
This was an atypical Bettyhill trip for a number of reasons. The most obvious was that it ran Thurs-Sun rather than Fri-Mon. Also a lot of Instructors/regulars were away. This limited to some extent the sites we chose to dive at, but it also gave fantastic opportunities for training and skills development by our Branch Divers, and it was a real pleasure to see them all doing so well in some spectacular locations. As ever the organiser started the weekend promising this would be the last time he organised it, but by the end of the weekend seemed to be amenable to persuasion for next year. The weather was mostly excellent and sea states just marred slightly by the amount of north in the wind. The prolonged dry spell also seemed to have wiped out the midges.
There were a number of “incidents” that have already been passed to the BDO for paddle league table purposes. While personally I would rank Ruud’s “butter wouldn’t melt” denial of the handling of (my) stolen wine gums at the most serious end, along with Fiona’s Wavy Kelp Syndrome, and possibly my own impalement of an arm on the trailer winch, Daniele did try (unsuccessfully though) to sink the Black Boat on two occasions, the first of which did take a crescent shaped lump out of a propeller blade. The second was narrowly averted when we in the Grey Boat, trying to untangle ourselves from creel buoy lines in the narrow channel into the harbour, by chance noticed the Black Boat at speed heading towards the big reef outside the harbour at totally the worst angle. Club members should note that while there are good grounds for wanting to sink the Black Boat, this manoeuvre should only be undertaken after first safely removing the engine which is quite new, ensuring the crew are safe, and avoiding a big clean up bill from SEPA.
1-7 Sept Knoydart: MV Mary Doune
5 Grampian divers (Jerry, Lindsey, Edna, Daniele and Jim I) spent the last week (1-8 Sept) at the splendid Doune Bay Lodge with diving from MV Mary Doune. This was a club week long in the planning; in fact ever since the last Doune week in 2014; such is the demand for space at the Lodge we finally got a booking in for this trip 18 months ago. At the time we had hoped it would be an all Grampian week, but we were unable to fill the week. There were a number of branch and nearly branch divers who were interested, but I was concerned that the diving would be quite challenging for non-experienced sports divers, and this certainly was the case at a couple of sites (especially Maxwell Bank, see below) so the decision to disappoint was the right one to make- sorry to all those concerned. Thanks to Edna casting an effective email net out, we easily filled the remaining places and were joined by Jim Anderson (West Lothian SAC and Nudibranch Professor) and 4 divers from Carlisle SAC, who were a really good bunch whom we hope to see again, maybe at the Burns Supper.
The only access to Doune Bay is by sea, and we were picked up by Andy Tibbetts, skipper of Mary Doune with a vast experience of diving in the area, at Mallaig early Saturday afternoon. Some explored the promontory around Doune Bay on foot on Satruday afternoon while 2 of us had a prleasant swim at the Beach. Evening meals are taken 200m away from the Lodge at the Doune Dining room, which is an award winning restaurant and suffice to say that the food for the week was exceptional (and there was loads of it).
Our first diving day, Sunday, was spent in Loch Nevis sheltering from a fresh Southerly where we dived alovely pinnacle by Eileen Giubhais (23m) and then Sea squirt wall (Sgeir a Ghaill, 25m).It was the only day we reallty had any limitations due to sea states. By Monday settled sunny and calm weather arrived. We headed out to Hyskeir, taking advantage of Mary Doune’s 16knot cruise speed. The big wall to the East of the main island (35m) was a spectacular first dive, with 15m viz, and after a pleasant lunch interlude ashore exploring this rarely visited outlier in the Minch, we dived the fascinating cave with its walls of columnar basalt and prawns with attitude (24m). During the long but glorious passage to and from Doune, we saw common and bottlenose dolphin and a number of Minke whales. Monday night was a brilliant mild stary night, and the organiser could not resist a late night swim at the beach with the stars above and the light displays of bioluminescent protists below- I still cannot understand how the rest of the group were able to resist the experience.
Tuesday was another fine settled day and we headed out to Muck to dive Go Dag in the morning (25m) and the Harbour wall (24m) in the afternoon. The Muck walls lived up to expectations with brilliant multicolour Jewel Anemome displays -there seems to be some special ingredient in the water here.
On Wednesday, for a contrast and also due to a weather system that threatened strong SW winds and heavy rain (which only really materialised in mid-Afternoon) we made a run up to the sheltered waters of Loch Hourn. The first site, Red Point (23m) just across the water from Arnisdale was a stepped slabby slope full of interesting small life. We then carried on the Barrisdale narrows (25m), an unusual high energy site for an inner sea loch/
On Thursday, fine settled weather returned and we set course for Rubha an Dunain, a headland between Loch Brittle and Soay in Skye. Two dives (32, 33m) on a brilliant wall with deep undercuts, loads of fish, and viz up to 20m. Our journey back led us through a remarkable “super-pod” of Common Dolphins in the Sound of Sleat.
On the final day on Friday we headed towards Eigg. The first dive was probably the most ambitious of the week. Maxwell Bank is a long outcrop midway between Eigg and Bo Fascadle with a big East facing wall and part of the same geological formation.It drops from a plateau at 14m to very deep, though we restricted our dive to 30m. Unlike BoFascadale, the wall is heavily fissured, as is the reef top. There were some very “interesting” up and down currents to add to the fun, as well as the largest Pollack I have ever seen. Then after a coffee stop on Eigg we finished with the dive I know as “Fences”(32m), a wall on the East of the island, just North of the harbour.
Sadly, we had the last full diving week at Doune before Andy Tibbets retires from offering diving trips at the end of this season, so it was a privilege to be there and I have “borrowed” quite a few marks for future diving in the area. I hope that in the late summer of 2020 we can put together a Muck-based 5 day trip with Lochaline Boats that will allow us to revisit some of these special sites. Of course Doune Bay remains very much open for business, and is highly recommended for hill walking, wildlife watching, eating etc…..
21-23 Sept: Kinlochbervie
6-8 October: Kyle of Lochalsh
Jerry, Graeme, Oran, Fiona, Brian, Lindsey and Lil met on Friday evening at Dornie Lodges, which offered very comfortable accommodation overlooking Loch Long and close to Dornie village. Due to space limitations, Paul and Betta stayed in Kyleakin and met us next day. So we gathered at Kyle slipway on Saturday and spent an excellent day with two rounds of diving on the Port Napier, a WW2 mine-laying vessel that sank in 1940 after a massive explosion. It is an ideal wreck in depth profile for branch divers and while the explosion and subsequnt mine recovery work did a lot of damage to parts, it is still very ship like with easily idenditfied features , and retains much interest for more experienced divers with possibilities of some mild penetration. It was a cool but calm day, and apart from a couple of showers, gloriously sunny. The Port Napier was looking much more impressive than I and others remembered it- possibly a combination of good (10m+) viz and the sunlight above.
After pulling the boats, we headed back to Dornie for an excellent meal at the Clachan Inn, and then some light spirits sampling at the Lodge. The forecast for Sunday was grim, so we had no intention of an early start.
Sunday dawned as predicted with gale force Southerly winds, and so boat diving was out of the question. The initial plan was to attempt a shore dive on the South side of Loch Duich at one of our familiar Burns supper dive sites, but first we needed to ceremonially start up the new club compressor, which was duly used to fill the requisite number of bottles. By the time air fills were done, the gale force winds were augmented by driving torrential rain, and so the difficult decision (not) was made to change plans. The new plan involved walking to the pub in Dornie, and then continuing to have a seaweed clearing session on Dornie slipway to allow us to launch from there on the Monday. Before being able to progress this plan though, Lil Paul and Betta left(they had intended to only dive Saturday and Sunday anyway) and then Oran and Fiona decided that the day was not for them either. That left hardcore Jerry Graeme Lindsey and Brian. Lindsey selflessly and bravely volunteered to tend the wood stove and reduce the excess volume of white wine in the Lodge while Brian, Graeme and Jerry set off to the slipway and the pub. They never made it to the slipway but got to the Dornie Hotel Bar where they steamed and dripped for a few hours until suitably internally rehydrated and returned the the Lodge where the tumble dryers got to work on the rain soaked clothes, Brian cooked an excellent meal, Jenga engineering was carried out and all attempted to reduce the stockpile of beverages that had been brought.
Overnight the weather forecast deteriorated for Monday so it was decided to only do one quick round of diving back on the Port Napier with Jerry boat handling so as to be sure to be out before the next gales arrived. Good dives were had and in the end we had the boat out and ready to head back home by midday.
This was the first Kyle trip for a few years, and while the weather was against us on Sunday and to some extent on Monday, the quality of the dives and fabulous day on Saturday sent everyone home happy. Dornie lodges made an excellent base, and hopefully we’ll have a reprise next October (with some garden forks to clear the slip at Dornie).