This year club DO Davs Brander is aiming to complete his Advanced Diver qualification. Part of that qualification is planning and going on a trip to an unknown location. The location chosen was the Summer Isles, then heading north up to Handa Isle and all the points in between.
A lot of research went into the trip, sniffing out marks on charts, researching sites on the web and pulling all the admin together to make sure all trip participants were in the right place at the right time and planning the dive management and emergency procedures.
Below is a map showing all the possible planned sites, including the ideal good weather sites but making sure there were plenty of plan B sites in case the weather was not our friend that week.
Days one and two of the trip involved a lot of packing kit and travelling as people came from all corners of the UK up to Ullapool in Scotland. Those of us travelling from Nottingham packed cars, drove to Woz’s house, unloaded and repacked and got on our way. Of course as this is NUSAC there was plenty of standing around watching someone else do the work. To break up the monotony of motorway driving, we treated Chris to his first experience of My Dad Wrote A Porno and it felt oddly right to be listening to MDWAP as we passed cock forest.
We arrived at our overnight stop Loch Insh Watersports Centre, met up with Brian/Lorna and grabbed some fabulous dinner at the near by hotel The Rowan Tree and bedded down for the night. In the morning we couldn’t resist a visit to the kiddies play area on the way to breakfast where Woz/Ed/Chris tried to bounce each other off the equipment.
Since we were only a couple of hours from Ullapool and we couldn’t get on the boat until 4pm we decided to spend the morning at a distillery, fortunately the Dalwhinnie Distillery was close by and we managed to get on a tour at 11am. Too early for a whiskey I hear you ask? Absolutely not, especially not for Brian who went the whole hog and had the tasting experience with six different whiskeys! Fortunately for him, Lorna was driving!
The road into Ullapool is beautiful, with bright yellow flowers lining each side of the road at points, mountains in the distance and Loch Broom by our side with the sun blazing down. Everything was pointing to a fabulous week. As we arrived at the harbour Bob Anderson, skipper of the MV Halton, had not long arrived before us. We quickly hurried aboard and put a claim on our favourite cabin and started to unload the cars onto the boat. Slowly the boat started to fill with cake, diving equipment and good quality booze. Jen informed us that the sea had been less than calm on their trip up from Oban but upon inspection the weather forecast was looking good at the moment for us.
The weeks diving started with a short steam out to Isle Martin, we were off to investigate the north face where the wall drops down to 50-70m. Bob was practically touching the wall with the bow and still had at least 35m water beneath him. The pick your depth and sheltered nature of this site meant it was a good option for a shakedown dive, we kitted up and jumped in! Unfortunately it was not the most interesting site but we saw the first scallop of the week, plenty of crabs.
The trawler MFV Fairweather V sits upright and intact in around 25m in Annat Bay, at the mouth of Loch Broom. It sank in 1991 so is still fairly fresh but covered in plumose anemones and other life. Bob shotted the wreck and we descend to the bow, we start by swimming down the starboard side, a crab is digging a hole in the sand under the hull and we leave him to his work. Around the stern we come across the prop/rudder and start to swim back towards the bow up the port side. Our second circuit (it’s quite a small wreck) we spend more time on deck, looking into the wheel house where we see the chairs still sitting there. There are a number of entry points to the wheelhouse and other if you want to push into the wreck a little but we decide not to and head back to the bow and ascend up the shot.
Once the last pair has ascended we decide to make a beeline for Lochinver for the evening, it’s the first stop of our tour of Scottish industrial fishing estates. This particular village has a particularly good pie shop and is well worth a visit!
Our first dive of day two is on A’Chleit pinnacle, just out of Loch Inver, as sites go, it perhaps was not my best choice of the week. Under the water it was ok, but the lasagne in the oven was not faring so well. We dropped in to about 10-15m of water and followed the pinnacle down to around 30m, we followed a wall for a while before coming across some small gullies with squatties and flat fish hiding in various cracks. As we ascended we came across a kelp forest with plenty of little snails holding on to the stalks.
The weather was turning and we decided to push North towards Kinlochbervie as soon as possible to get some shelter for our second dive. Most people had a snooze over lunch or felt sorry for themselves as we motored North.
Sheltered from the southerly winds we picked a wall in Loch Inchard for our second dive of the day. By now everyone was feeling better and had eaten their fill of lasagne soup (tastes better than it sounds). The wall of the loch extends down to about 60/70 and we dropped in near the light at Creag Mhor. Chris and I descended to around 40m before deciding there wasn’t a great deal of life this deep so we ascended again towards 20m where we found far more life. Plenty of spider crabs were hiding amongst the regular crabs and sea squirts were found on the rocks, I found a snail too! We even found a couple of scallops but they were too small to land and so stayed on the sea bed.
After everyone was back on the boat we travelled the small distance to Kinlochbervie, our stop for the night.
A short steam this morning out to a pinnacle in Loch Inchard marked by a cardinal buoy. Today I’m diving with Lorna and we descend to around 30m to find a sandy bottom, hoping for scallops we set out North to hunt, however we find almost none, it seems the area may have been dredged and we find a few bits of fishing line and nets. Turning back on ourselves we swim south and find the pinnacle again, it has plenty of rocky bits to poke around on and we find a butterfish who seems to not be too bothered by our presence.
I find a particularly unbothered squattie and have lined up the perfect shot just as Woz decides to come put his crotch in my lens, he gets a punch in the nads for his trouble. On our ascent Lorna practices with her stage and switches to a rich mix. Our next site is Handa Island so we head South.
Handa Island isn’t far away from Loch Inchard so it doesn’t take long to get there. However we now need to wait around for a while so we have a longer surface interval. Handa Island is a nature reserve and each summer, nearly 100,000 seabirds breed there, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills and great skuas. There are spectacular cliffs and we’re aiming to dive around the base of the Great Stack. While we wait the birdwatchers in us come out and so do the DSLRs, the skuas are particularly adventurous and come in very close, enough for even a phone to get a decent shot.
While we have been decompressing the current has been building up, so as we drop in on the shot Bob helpfully dropped in we decide to give up trying to follow it and go with the current We sink to the sea bed at around 30m, the landscape around us is rocky and covered in dead men’s fingers. Lorna and I followed Mark and Rosie for a little while swimming/drifting down gullies and poking around.
In one gully we come across a little octopus, who is really not overly bothered by our presence, I manage to get plenty of video and photos of him before he tires of us and swims off. Lorna finds us a purple nudibranch to stare at and shortly after we fire a DSMB and ascend as we drift on. Overall this was my favourite dive of the week and I would have loved to have done more dives around Handa island but unfortunately things didn’t work out like that. We are heading South towards Kylesku and Loch Glendhu.
This site is a special request from Mark, and I am diving with him in the morning. Slack is at 9:42 and we are aiming to dive just as the current is starting to pick up. Mark manages to split his seal as he’s suiting up but luckily has quick change cuffs on his suit so we manage to get the seal changed and get in the water.
Once in the water we descent to around 30m, roughly my MOD which means my computer occasionally beeps at me, we are on the right (north) of the channel as you come out of the loch. Right under the bridge the channel gets very narrow at depth and both sides are covered in dead man’s fingers, feather stars, urchins and crabs. We drift along and bump into Woz and Rosie, at this stage the current died off a bit and we were able to poke into the cracks on the walls and we find a little purple nudibrach.
As the dive continues we continue ascending slowly, Mark fires his blob and we find the current again and continue to drift. Mark comes across a butterfish before we ascend enough to find some kelp. Once we surface we see that we have travelled between a quarter and a half mile from the bridge. This dive is second only to Handa Island for me.
TWELVE FEET ROCK (NW SIDE) – DAY 4, DIVE 2
We need to push South before the weather worsens, we’re expecting southerlies in the next day or two and no-one has any desire to be caught out. Twelve feet rock is back in the Summer Isles, West of Eilean Dubh, there are three pinnacles near to each other and Twelve Feet Rock is in the middle. We drop in after Bob shots it and get to around 20m to find some rocky ground and I come across another purple nudibranch. We follow the rocky area down to around 35m but there wasn’t much down there apart from some sand and small scallops. We turned North and found another wall which had some huge anemones and was covered in feather stars.
As we ascended to around 15m we hit a bit of mild current and decided to go with it and ended up in a kelp forest so we sent out DSMB up and ascended. After the dive we chugged over to Tanera More to mooring up for the night and come across the XXX and wait for them to vacate their spot.
The weather forecast predicts that the wind will swing around to the South but is currently coming from the East, so we head to the West point of Priest Island when we hear there are some pretty gullies to explore. Unfortunately for myself and Rob we don’t find the gullies and only manage to find a boulder slope between 20 and 25m. Those that did find the gullies reported a pretty dive site.
For the second dive we head to the wreck of the MV Jambo, this sank on the 29th June 2003, as it’s a new wreck it’s not got a great deal of life on it yet. We headed down shot to wreck on starboard side, saw Jen who told us to check the port side as it is more interesting. So we swam over the hull to the other side and could see under the hull to the smashed superstructure and holes in the hull where she ran aground.
The bottom is sandy around the wreck and there were scallops there so the goody bag made an appearance. However Rob got a little annoyed with my scalloping as he was trying to avoid deco. Came to bow and found the plimsoll marks and the name was still visible. We turned about and headed to the prop which was covered in life. A couple of failed photos later and Rob then decided his deco was getting high and we hooned it back to the shot. Rob had 12 mins and I switched to 80% so only had 3mins. I debated switching buddies with Chris and ascending with Woz who was on his rebreather but thought better of it.
Plenty of other scallops had been found by our divers but there was a question about whether they’d be ok to eat due to the zinc
sulphide cargo, however helpfully the Food Standards Agency (Scotland) had produced a paper where they had tested scallops and crabs and found that there was no implication that the Jambo had cased any related increase in zinc burdens.
For our last two dives were we looking for something sheltered from Southerlies so we went back to the same area the Fairweather V sunk. There is a nearby wreck called the Innisjura sitting in around 35m of water which Bob had dived earlier in the week. Since it is quite small we decided to dive in two waves and I was on the second wave. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan, as I headed down the shot with my buddy below me, I was sinking faster than him so went past around 15-20m. I carried on descending and found the wreck and looked around but buddy wasn’t with me. I followed standard lost buddy procedure and looked around for a couple of mins and started to ascend the shot. I ascended up to around 6m and he was there. We did a safety stop and got back on the boat. The inflator had come off during the descent and my buddy had experienced some serious suit squeeze just as I was passing him on the shot.
Our final dive for the week was a wall on the South side of Loch Broom on the way back into Ullapool. As we arrived there was a RIB there who we thought had some divers in the water but they were just enjoying a spot of lunch. We dropped in to around 20m had a poke about with a few other divers near us. Dropped to 30/35m and went with the wall to our right.
It was a very pretty dive, plenty of life, crabs, fish, starfish, hermit crabs, feather stars and more. We ascended slowly up the wall as the dive went on and eventually hit kelp around 6-10m. We had a little deco to do but while on our stop we found some sizable scallops.
Trip particpants (left to right)
Jen Smith (stowaway/cook for the week)
Bob Anderson (skipper)