Diving activities have been restarted in accordance with advice from Government and Scotsac.
“Go big or go home”
By Andrew Sinclair
"on the day" photos by Martin Keeley
Library Photos (at author’s request) by Keith Waugh
John Kerr posted on the Clydebank Whatsapp chat asking if anyone fancied diving Saturday 17th October for one final boat trip of the year. With high pressure forming over the UK, conditions were looking great for the west coast, so why not see the boating season out in style. As the saying goes, “Go big or go home”. I suggested a trip to the Garvellachs, to which 4 others on the “chat” agreed. We looked all set.
Back in June 2016 we headed to Puffin Divers with the boat to dive the wreck of the Breda, but conditions were so favourable that day, that I suggested to the crew we take a 14 mile ride down the Sound of Kerrera, then down the Firth of Lorn to dive the Garvellachs. That was an epic journey on the boat and a great day’s diving. However, owing to the lack of advance planning, we only managed 1 dive that day. This time we would be better prepared.
After many text messages between John and I and a video call, we were ready. John had done a great deal of work, checking tides, compass bearings, chart routes etc, and had even found a slip closer to the Garvellachs than Puffin Divers.
So, on Saturday 06:30, 4 divers arrived at the Club Rooms to get the boat out and set off. Unfortunately, 1 diver had called off during the night. Disappointed as we were, this left us with a little more space on the boat to kit up.
A long journey up the A82 the A83 onto Lochgilphead, then turning off on to the A816, we would find Craobh Haven 17 miles up the road.
With a quick change and the boat launched easily enough on the wide concrete slip, we moored on the pontoon and loaded Clydebank Diver. With John at the helm and myself as navigator, we were quickly out the haven and speeding down towards the Gulf of Corryvreckan. With excellent compass bearings and distance measurements it wasn’t long before we headed up the Sound of Luing and through the Grey Dogs. Soon we were across the Firth of Lorn and on the southern tip of the majestic isles that make up the Garvellachs.
John and Martin kitted up first. John has it on good authority that the site we would be diving today was a good boulder reef with lots of life. We helped the guys kit up and watch them fall back over the side. Once the guys collected themselves on the surface, they dropped down to what we were hoping would be a great dive.
With a cold wind blowing from the north and the sea state picking up a little, we waited patiently until after 55mins the first “blobby” popped up. After 3 minutes or so Martin and John appeared with the ok signal clearly given, I headed over in the boat and picked the guys up. Once onboard we discussed the dive and the report wasn’t as we had hoped. The guys had said it was an OK dive but not great. 15m vis and strong currents with an ok amount of life.
I talked it over with Davie and we opted to move sites, just around the corner onto Columba’s point, which I had dived before. John took over Coxswain duties as Davie and I kitted up. John had us in position and over we went. We planned to dive down to 34m and dive 45mins. A fantastic wall dive covered in soft corals of a variety of colours. The current was running strong and I knew we were in an eddy. Even down at 34m (bottom of the wall) the current was running.
I lead the dive with Davie behind me. At one point I had stopped to check out a cod in a crevice when Davie came off the wall to pass me and he started picking up speed like a train. A frantic fin back on to the wall and we seemed to be ok. As we approached the end of the point of the island we came to huge overhangs where the roof was covered in fan-worms, anemones, and some Deadman’s fingers. This was the point I opted to turn back and fin into the current as I felt we were being pushed against the rock face. It was a bit of an effort to get out from under the roof of the overhang. It was a tough effort finning back into the current but we were rewarded with a huge Scorpion fish, a decent sized Lobster and a number of nudibranchs plus the highlight of the dive, a small Bobtailed Squid taking shelter in a pocket on the wall.
Making our way back up the wall we turned at 14m and drifted back down the Firth of Lorn and finally I managed to launch my SMB. Back on the surface we were met by John and Martin to pick us up out the water. An excellent first dive for Davie and me.
Bad luck had struck, as during our dive John had set his gear up for his next dive and realised the tank had bled off during the drive up. Plans were changed and we opted to take our next dive as a party of 3. John took his time steering us up to the next site. We were able to have our lunch and take in the fantastic scenery. It was surprising to me the lack of boats out on the water. Working and diving in Norway I get to see, first hand, the full use of boats on the waterways every day. It always puzzles me why here in the UK we don’t get out on the sea more often!
After 90 minutes surface interval it was time to get back in the water. John has researched the Eagle’s Nest or Eagle’s drop. “Nest” for above water and “drop” for below. John gave us a good dive brief on the site and also suggested that if we got down to depth and the current was going against us, we could come up and he could put us on the wall further down, to drift the wall.
Over the side we went and met up on surface. Once everyone was composed, we dropped down together. We dropped onto a boulder reef at 10m to check all was good with the 3 of us. Both Martin and Davie had the cameras, so I was hoping I could find some good subjects to photograph. The current was going in our favour, so on we went. I had checked the sounder on the surface and I had a good bearing to come off the reef and onto the wall. After a few minutes finning the kelp parted and the reef turned onto a verticals wall, found it 😃.
As we dropped down the wall to 30metres, I could see the sea bed at around 34m. I was pleased to see the wall covered in Jewel anemones, fan worms and lots of different soft corals. A stunning array of colours all over the wall. As we moved along the wall the topography changed from a vertical wall to a rolling drop wall with overhangs and sharp features. The vis was well over 15m with almost no impurities in the water.
The current was now running against us at depth and I remember thinking that this could have been the strongest current I had ever finned against. We were surrounded by hundreds of fish, Ballan Wrasse, Pollack, male and Cuckoo Wrasse, Corkwing Wrasse, all of which helped take my mind of the effort I was putting into finning. I managed to spot a number of Lobsters, a large Conger eel and a couple of Nudi’s. I did my best to show them to the photographers, but trying to stabilise themselves in the current was proving challenging.
Eventually I turned to the guys and signalled to turn back. They both agreed and we started our ascent up the wall as we drifted back.
Finally, we came off the wall and back onto the boulder reef. I was off hunting for an Octopus but today it was not to be. The dive ended a bit flat on the kelp at 10metres, but the effort on the wall was well worth it.
Back on the boat the 3 of us agreed we would most definitely be back in the spring to dive this site on neap tides. As we delighted, John spotted 2 White-tailed Eagles above us. Heading through Dun Channuill sound we spotted a young stag up on the hill. How odd to find Stag out on these isolated islands.
John powered us across the Firth of Lorn in flat calm seas. Excitement built as we entered the Grey Dogs where the calm seas had turned to a torrent of raging currents. Martin and I both shouted at a few whirlpools larger than we cared to see. The difference in sea levels at various points was spectacular and the bubbling sea in the Grey Dogs left us imagining what the Gulf of Corryvreckan would be like at the same moment!!
Safely through it wasn’t long before we had the Haven in sight. Apart from my poor navigation and making John head into the wrong bay it was an uneventful arrival at the Haven...... well, apart from the seal that we nearly ran over, as it surfaces right in front of us and literally jumped out of the way of the boat.
Boat safely out and gear packed away there was nothing left to do but take the 2.5 hour drive back to Clydebank with BBC Radio Scotland’s “Take the Floor” blaring on the speakers.
A big thank you to John Kerr for putting in all the hard work on planning and organising. I can’t wait for the spring to get back out there.
(KW Library photos taken on the Columba's Point dive in June 2016)
THE BANKIES POST COVID19 TRY DIVE
Text & Photos by John Kerr
4th July 2020
We are back, 3 long months awaiting but with the blessing of both the FM and Jason, (our sound of reason in these unprecedented times), the travel restriction for leisure has been lifted. Seven intrepid Clydebank Scotsac members taking advantage of this headed off following a 0700hrs start to St Catherines, Loch Fyne, the logic being that with the early hours and large car parking space available we could both beat the rush and comply with the latest government guidelines. The drive through Arrochar and over “the rest and be thankful” was greeted with astonishment, the car parks were already fairly full as the early birds headed off to the hills, were we to be greeted with the same at St Cats ?.
The gods were with us, the weather was kind and there was plenty of car parking space, with only four cars beating us to our quest. Surprisingly there was no other divers, we were the last to arrive.
We kitted up with excitement and some thought, how did all of this stuff work, was the cry as we again familiarized ourselves with the equipment which had been locked down in storage during these dark months.
With Niall providing shore cover due to a last minute dental problem that our resident dentist (Gerry) couldn’t even fix, we set off in two parties. Brian, Gerry and Shaz leading the charge who were quickly followed by Davie, Martin and myself. The buddy checks possibly taking just that bit longer as we went through our paces – our BDO would have been proud of us.
Our party set off to find the boat before heading back on to the reef. Two dives later we still didn’t find it (did somebody move it during the lockdown) but the reef didn’t disappoint. Lots of the usual critters scurrying around wondering where all of these bubble making intruders had come from. The lesser spotted dogfish (never missing the opportunity for a photo shot), the long squat lobster’s (whose lunch of crab I rudely interrupted), the unusual sight (fore me anyway) of the Norway lobster working its way among the rocks, as well as many of the usual suspects kept us fully entertained for the full 61 minutes of our first dive. The balmy water temp of 13 Deg C at the safety stop helped – it certainly wasn’t that back in March when we had our last dives. Brrrr., cold just thinking about it.
The surface interval passed quickly as the banter flew fast and furious with us all catching up on what had been going on over these months, before the midges who had clearly been rationed on their usual diving community food source drove us back in for our 2nd dive. The highlight for me in this being the simple Moon (or Common) jellyfish (Aurelia aurita if you really want to know) working its way along the reef. It really is great to be back !!
26th July 2020
The Bankies Go East
(photos by John Kerr & Neil Richardson)
Gordon, Davie, Neil, Martin and self were off for our first post Covid lockdown boat dive which was organised by Gordon.
It was Sunday 26th July and we, as was discovered, were the first dive party for Steve, our skipper for the day, since the lockdown. The pre dive advice and paperwork was comprehensive with the completed Covid 19 Declaration being sent on to Shadow Marine in advance. Face coverings, use of hand sanitiser, defogging of our masks and instructions on maintaining social distancing now being the new norm.
Our destination was the Isle of May, known locally as ‘May Isle’, which lies between the sheltered Firth of Forth and the vast North Sea. The winds were blowing in a westerly direction so the dives on the west coast cliffs with the caves, arches and stacks would have to wait for another day.
It was to be the SS Island, a Swedish Steam Yacht lying off the shores on the east side. She was well broken up with remnants of her hull littering the sea bed, the only evidence of her glorious past on the ocean waves being the scotch boiler, standing tall and proud in 18 meters of water, the brightly coloured sponges and deadmans fingers providing colour and shelter to all.
The visibility was 10 mtrs, the water temperature was 11 and as incongruous as it may sound, it was daylight, Neil commenting that he did even need his torch – this was clearly (pardon the pun) not the west coast where just last Wednesday any vestiges of light are lost from 15mtrs.
The boulder fields, the clean waters and tidal currents makes the location a natural haven for the marine life which did not disappoint. From the little sea hare that greeted me at the start of the dive, the Angler fish with its emerald broach like eyes looking on at me with causal disdain to the wonder of the lion’s mane jelly fish (Cyanea Capillata) at the safety stop. Its streaming tentacles providing a safe haven for the horse mackerel that was happy to shelter in its slip stream.
The surface interval flew past, our fair weather talisman (Martin) yet again delivering the sun to toast our fair skin to the sound of the call of the grey seals resting on the shore.
The second dive, known as the “lower lighthouse reef, was very similar to the 1st dive, the main difference being the topography of the large boulder slabs, these again providing lots of nooks, crannies and in this case large gulley’s for us to explore. The rocks and boulders were covered in sun stars, sea urchins, deadman fingers and sponges, again clear evidence of the rich nutrients that the tidal currents of the cold north sea waters provide.
The swaying kelp at the safety stop giving Davie a flavour of what was to come. The skipper warned us to secure our kit, it was going to be “lumpy” and he didn’t exaggerate. Davy got greyer (or should I say greener) for every long minute of the journey back, but as we came round the lee of the harbour all was good and well.
Many thanks to Gordon for organising another great trip and the guys for their banter and antisocial behaviour. You truly did not disappoint.