John Kerr

The “Bankies”” head north for the Summer Isles                                                            13th May 2021

by John Kerr

The winter had been very, very long, being further exacerbated by the Covid lockdown and diving gear being banished to a dark and lonely place, or was it just me?  Not completely despairing and always looking on the positive side, the time had been put to good use in doing some research - where was to be the next boat dive for the club?

North was the answer, the Coigach Peninsula, just north of Ullapool for the Summer Isles was the cry of five members of the Clydebank Scotsac branch (Davie, Andrew, Neil, Martin and the writer) who took up the challenge.  

The Summer Isles acquired that name because that was where the local crofters used to transport their sheep for the summer grazing. Summer it was not, the month of May was always a reasonably safe bet weather wise, the sun had passed the celestial equator, the nights were longer and there was meant to be some warmth in the air. On the contrary the gentle wind from the north/north east giving a particular chill as the tents were set up at our base camp at the Port a Bhaigh campsite, just 5 minutes away from the Old Dornie slip soon had us all huddling around the fire pit.

Our fair weather talisman Martin had done his magic, no doubt his neighbours questioning his (or their) sanity on witnessing the pagan rituals that surely must be required to again provide the sunshine that followed.

Day 1 started with a dive at the Black Rock ( Sgeir Dubh), which is a rather exposed skerry, or rock, found between Tanera Mhor and Glas-leac Mhor and finished with a dive at Conservation Cave, also known as Cathedral cave on the south west point of Tanera Beag. Both dives were remarkable and completely different in their own rights.  Black rock dropping off quickly to + 30mtrs on a wall before bottoming out on a boulder field, no fish present yet (apart from a very grumpy and exceptionally well camoflaged “Angler”) with a chilly 8 degree water temperature, visibility of 10 to 15 mtrs once you drop through the plankton bloom, soft corals plumrose anemones, squat lobsters and  seven fingered star fish it was a perfect aperitif for what was to come.  Cathedral Cave as it was originally was renamed Conservation Cave following an expedition by members of the Marine Conservation Society who classed this cave as one of the best sites on the north-west of Scotland.  It is very weather dependent and reported to be like getting caught in a washing machine if there is any swell present, so be careful. At six metres you are greeted with wall to wall colours, the large smooth boulders covered in creeping algae and breadcrumb sponges, nudibranchs, cup corals, jewel anemones and dahlia anemones, good buoyancy control is critical to avoid damaging this wonderful delight to the senses. Truly a dive we will not forget.

Day 2 was to be a wall dive day at Isle Martin.  Taking the boat down from “Old Dornie” to the slip at Isle Martin to rendezvous with the remainder of the team who had move the dive gear by road.  Isle Martin was originally a centre for the fishing trade, with a curing station, before Ullapool was founded and has some great wall dives on the northern side of the island in the channel, both on the island and the mainland, the latter having a little more daylight being southern facing.  It has been reported to have been described by Gordon Ridley as one of the most impressive wall dives in Scotland.  The submarine cliffs going down almost vertically to approximately 80mtrs did not disappoint and certainly for the team from Clydebank the 35 mtrs, with +20mtrs visibility was both awesome and quite humbling – us mere mortals, blowing bubbles as we floated along the wall of this great cathedral like space carpeted in sea loch anemones and sea squirts, with the occasional pin cushion star fish and squat lobsters adding some colour.

Day 3 was taking us back to Tanera Mhor, the 1st dive being Latto’s rock an otherwise un-named skerry on the Admiralty chart found between Tanera Mhor and Sgeir Nam Feusgan. Dropping down through the kelp we were quickly back to the vibrant colours and a complete contrast to the previous day wall dives.  My first sighting of a “sand mason” and “Dendronotus frondosus” nudibranchs, wall to wall plumrose anenomes was fantastic and again set us up for what was to be our last dive of the long weekend.  The Boston Stirling, a 33 mtrs stern trawler that sank in 1985 is found resting in a sheltered cove to the south of Tanera Mhor in 6 to 15mtrs of water.  Again, a great  dive with the hull having an extensive cover of plumrose anemones, soft corals giving good cover for the numerous nudibranchs and sea hares that habitat the vessel.

In preparing the boat for the journey home we all agreed it was a fantastic weekend, the weather was great, the banter was fast and furious (as always) and with the six dive locations barely scratching the surface of that area, a perfect reason for a return in hopefully the not to distant future.  Special thanks has to go to Andy Holbrow of Atlantic Diving Services for giving up his Friday/Saturday evenings for filling the bottles and providing some local knowledge on the dive sites as well as David at the Port a Bhaig campsite for access to a drying area and power charging points for the torches/cameras/etc. Where to next is the cry !!

Clydebank “Break Out” on the Easing of Covid Restrictions                                                   Sunday 9th May 2021

Story & Photos: John Kerr

It had been a long, long winter which was further exacerbated with Covid but we were all delighted to see some light at the end of the tunnel; the lighter nights were coming in; the summer was on its way, (the sun having allegedly crossed the celestial equator 😊) and the lifting of the travel restrictions allowing us to get back in the water!!

Eight members of the Scotsac Clydebank branch (Michelle; Yvonne; John M our BDO; Neil; the two Davies; Martin our fairweather talisman and the writer) had decided to dust down the club boat and take her up to the Argyle caravan park, the target dive sites being Stallion Rock and Kenmore. 

This being a pre-curser and shakedown opportunity for the coming planned trip to the Summer Isles. With the Covid guidelines in mind we operated as two dive teams of four, using the boat as a taxi for the respective teams.

The first team was dropped off on the shore at Kenmore, the 2nd team then being collected and diving Stallion Rock, the teams then alternating locations for the 2nd dives after the shore interval back at the caravan park.

Loch Fyne, it is, but as the saying goes “west is best”. The topography, with the vertical walls festooned with sea loch anemones, dropping down to approx. +30mtrs being completely different to the usual easier accessed sites of St Cats and Anchor point.

The weather was kind with the occasional burst of sunshine courtesy of our fairweather talisman to take our minds off the blustery wind and showers that peppered the day. Around 8 metres visibility, still a nippy 8 degrees water temperature, with lots of the usual critters and wonderful colours of the soft corals, (no fish yet), to keep us entertained. The highlight for me being the candy stripe flatworm (bottom photo), a couple of large sea toads and a highland dancer with freshly laid eggs. Oh !! and of course, not forgetting the Gnome Grotto at Kenmore, something I personally found a little un-nerving when coming across it for the first time 😊 

Just Another Day in Paradise
Story & Photos: John Kerr
 

It was a joint special birthday treat, my bus pass had safely arrived and the good lady’s was to follow shortly. Where too was the cry !. After some quick research on the monsoon seasons the chosen destination was the Meeru Island Resort located in the northern atoll region of the Maldives. A direct flight from Glasgow via Dubai had us standing at the ferry terminal in what seemed to be jig time for the 1 hour boat ride to the Island. Little did we appreciate that just across the newly constructed bridge lay the 2nd to Tokyo as the densest populated city in the world. Male (pronounced Maalay) being an island of 2.7km by 1.2km in size with a population of 126,000 people, the capitol of the Maldives which consists of 20 atolls, with 1,190 islands, 200 of which are inhabited and 112 island resorts hosting a total population of 408,000in total.  The rightful concerns regarding climate change and potential impact on this beautiful part of the world are well documented so on a lighter note I will say that with a height above Sea Water Level of 2.4 metres my decision to join the Maldivian mountain rescue team with “T” shirt provided was and easy one.     

The Euro-Divers Meeru dive centre having being contacted in advance were standing by, the paperwork was quickly completed and with a 10 dive package being signed off by the good lady I was good to go.  The centre which was exceptionally well equipped provided access to 50 dive sites (classed easy, medium to very difficult) by boat rides ranging from 45 minutes to two hours, options for a 1, 2 or 3 (all day) dives, a single night dive if there was enough interest, and the use of Nitrox for those suitably qualified all being available. Thanks to the team at Scotsac for putting me through the BSAC Nitrox course – I finally got to put this to good use.  The dive selection process could not have been simpler, you putting your name against the choice of the dive options being made available for the following day (full details of
these sites being given in the available book), turning up at the allocated time for the boat departure and double checking that all of your dive equipment was in your storage box which had already been brought on board, this numbered box having been allocated on your registration for storage of weights, wetsuits, BCD, etc..

Both the safety briefing’s on boarding the dive boat prior to departure and dive briefing being carried out approx. 20 minutes prior to arrival were comprehensive and detailed.  Options for the actual planned dive were kept open until arrival at the chosen location and only agreed after a quick entry and final check by the dive leader on the current strength and direction all of which was subject to the vagaries of both the tidal and ocean currents was the actual entry point and planned dive agreed.  Oh - don’t you just love mother nature ! .

So we were off - 28 degree water temperature, +25 mtrs visibility and a couple of white tipped reef sharks to greet this virgin to the delights of the Indian Ocean. Yes the currents ranged from ok, to medium/strong and the reef hook was used on more than one occasion but as a reward for the 10 dive sites visited with the sloping walls reaching up from the sea bed, small crevices to explore, latticed sea fans, soft corals and sponges, giant clams, very large shoals of reef fish, sting rays, sharks (White tipped, Nurse and Leopard), White Lined Lion Fish, vividly coloured Oriental Sweet Lips, Bat fish, Parrot fish who you can actually hear gnawing the algae off the rocks, various types of Grouper, Turtles (Green and Hawksbill), Napoleon Wrasse, Moray Eels and the delightful Maldives Anemone fish with their special coating protecting them from the poison coating of the anemone, then acting as bait for the other fish to be enticed into this venomous trap – the reward being a share of the spoils. These named were just but a few that made the diving absolutely stunning.

As an additional bonus the Euro Divers office also hosts a representative from the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) which was established in 2005.  Founded by Dr. Guy Stevens the MMRP is the charity’s flagship research project and after more than a decade of research across this island nation has evolved into one of the largest and longest standing manta conservation groups in the world.  It consists of a country wide network of dive instructors, biologists, communities and tourism operators with approximately a dozen MMRP staff spread across several atolls. Since its inception the project has identified over 4,300 different individual reef manta rays, this allowing researchers to record and identify key patterns within this population over time, giving invaluable information on our understanding of these animals.  Jessica (Jess) based in Meeru who has the unenviable job of attending both the weekly snorkelling and diving trips with the mantas share her knowledge with infectious enthusiasm at Manta trust and Meeru Divers weekly presentations on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings respectively.

On a more worrying note and has been well reported through the media following the “Blue Planet” series plastic is now a major issue.  I had sailed the oceans for 15 years in the merchant navy and never really saw any evidence of this problem but did see it first hand during this holiday. It was straight out of the David Attenborough nightmarish scenario – I can only assume that there had been a storm at sea with a change in currents, as on wakening one morning the lagoon off the island was littered with floating plastic debris consisting of bottles, bottle tops, straws, spoons, etc. – all of which was coated in some form of marine growth – this therefore not being a new addition to the oceans.  The beach was duly cleaned up and the following day (and for the remainder of the holiday) you would never have known.  The hotel complex is doing their own bit by issuing glass fresh water bottles for the complex rooms and bars, the water being produced from the desalination plant on the island, by doing this they are reducing the plastic bottle consumption by 230,000 per year, it is becoming ever more clear on a daily basis that we are all going to have to do our bit if this monster is to be put back in the bottle (glass).   

Special mention has to go to the Euro Divers team at Meeru who were all extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful and at the risk of repeating myself the diving was indeed truly stunning, mother nature did have her say with the currents playing their part in ensuring that I did not get to dive with the Manta’s on this occasion but with the “piece de resistance” for me being both the pod of dolphins that passed us by during a snorkelling excursion to turtle reef with the good lady and the 6 meter safety stop of my last dive of the holiday.  Could it be the dolphins were saying – hurry back the Manta’s will be waiting ?