Friday, 30 December 2016

Christmas Came Early - 21/12/2016

A conversation in Aquatron about Frocktasia not ever having seen a cuttlefish led to her and Mad Marx joining Jester and I on some St Catherines' night diving to find ourselves our target.

With Jester working late and the rest of us finishing early we headed up and did sneaky dive before Jester arrived. It was nice enough, but cuttlefish or bobtail squid as they are called in other parts of the world were conspicuous by their absence. My reputation as a cuttlefish wrangler was in tatters.

We emerged and re-tanked and went down again with Jester in tow. Then it happened, I was just swimming down past 10m when I spotted one crouched behind a rock. I signalled and we stayed and admired this stunning little creature for a bit before heading off to enjoy the rest of the site at night.

For Frocktasia it was another diving experience checked off. For me it was two of my lowest ever SAC rate - 12l/m.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Hunter Gatherers -17/12/2016

With the amateur football season currently in a hiatus, I took the opportunity to dive with the Something for the Weekend crew, who this week were diving at much more civilised hour that encouraged my participation.

We did a couple of dives at the A-Frames, Finnart. Our group consisted of Cptn Al, legendary underwater photographer and proprietor of Bridge of Weir's finest restaurant Shafiq, the Walkman and a relative scubie-newbie Hunter - not the star of 90s tv show Gladiators.

We plunged into the icy cold diving in Red Arrow formation. The vis was pretty decent but, the life was a little limited and reminded me why dark is best. After a fairly lengthy potter at 20m we got the cold signal from one of the divers. It was cold to be fair - 7c.

On the way up it went a little wrong when Shafiq lost one of his dive computers. That meant that after a short surface interval our second dive was ultimately to become a failed search and rescue mission. 

We had fun and I managed to squeeze two dives out of one tank which saved me a few bucks. So that's my win for the day. As for our scub-newb it turns out he was pretty proficient  and has dived years ago and had just returned to it saying he was a beginner. So not really a newb at all.

The camera is still out of action.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Two Season in One Day - 17/11/2016

Four Seasons in One Day by Crowded House was one of my favourite songs as a teenager. I still love it. There is a lyric that resonates with me:

"Smiling as the shit comes down

You can tell a man from what he has to say"

Tonight that was Jester and I. We arrived in monsoon like conditions despite the false promises of Accuweather for cloudy but dry. We waited 10 minutes for the downpour to restrict itself to a drizzle. At which point we made a dash for the water. It was cold - my computer said 6c.

I was still without a camera so floated between the A-Frames, just having a cold old time trying to spot interesting things for Jester.

The highlight was a catshark, but I couldn't get the idea of a more sinister shark in the water out my head. Largely because we watched the opening scenes of The Shallows while we waited for the rain to subside. Perhaps this wasn't the best pre-dive preparation. :/

We surfaced an hour after entry only to find a shift in the seasons. It was now cold monsoon with a blizzard hurrying our packing up.


It Flooded - 03/11/2016

OK, so not every diving experience is perfect. I think we can all agree on that. 

Tonight wasn't a great night. It started with a getting kitted up at St Catherine's in the dark, buddy check and descent down to around 8m. At which point Jester and I paused to take a picture of a cuttlefish. You can see my picture below. At that point I noticed some water inside my Sealife camera housing and my camera starting to misbehave.

I knew what was going on. I immediately went for the surface, left my camera on a rock and headed back in to continue the dive. We swept down by the bottom of the reef to around 31m and then back up the far side enjoying gurnards, nudibranchs, more cuttlefish and the resident cushion star. None of which were photographed by me. 

Instead I took up photobombing. Jester hates it. I love it. If you have a photography daft buddy here's how to do it.

  1. Enter stealth mode - switch off torch 
  2. Swim round buddy in the dark - they'll think you're still behind them 
  3. Approach head on as they compose the photograph
  4. Sit 1m from the target
  5. Await strobe flash 
  6. Boss it Zoolander style

We returned, I collected my camera and dekitted to confirm what I already knew. It had flooded, but not horrifically. 

I took it home, nursed it back to health, couldn't get the battery to retain charge. So I've ordered a new battery for £4 on ebay

The Last Cuttlefish Photo
Photobombing is fun

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Free Fallin' - 20/10/2016

It was my 70th dive when I first got a real taste for night diving. My buddy was Mike Diver and while I'd done a few night dives that was the one where I found my confidence. From there diving with the Zookeeper made me the diver I am today and I passed that experience onto Jester.

I say this because Jester and I were talking about why so few people take the plunge at night despite perfect weather, sea conditions and more life. Anyway, that's their loss.

With the tide at the lowest we'd seen in a while, we briefly wondered where the loch went before stepping in and 'free fallin' down the ledge to10m.

It started well with the first of a few cuttlefish and a two types of nudibranch. We pottered about for around an hour before returning to the shore, the car and the timeless tunes of Tom Petty.  




Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Giant Shark vs Mega Octopus - 18/10/2016

With the Mermaid determined to get a few more twinset dives under her belt before heading up to Scapa for a liveaboard with her teckie other half, we headed to Loch Long and Conger Alley for a couple of day dives.

It was to be two dives defined by two creatures often featured in B-rate horror movies including Giant Shark vs Mega Octopus. However, neither encounter was as one would expect in the world of bad cinema.

The first dive saw us head down to 25m. While en route down the Mermaid was scanning with her torch when I caught a glimpse of the octopus. I was surprised at first, I've never seen one in Scotland during the day. I signalled to Avril and we stopped to watch this deep sea monster before moving on to enjoy the congers, wrasse, lobsters etc.

The journey back was a little eventful with the Mermaid being slightly under weighted. I'd gone down a little overweighted to compensate, which proved to be useful as I held her down on the safety stop. That's what buddies are for.

The second dive saw us go in looking for an illusive firework anemone, but instead turned up a gentle catshark along with the usual reef life.

Great fun.

Just hanging around



Conger Eel


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Return of Fast Ed - 09/10/2016

Chuck Norris
With my chest infection all but cleared up, I took the opportunity to join the Something For The Weekend Group down to Capernwray. As always they had an absurdly early start. I mean we met at Fast Ed's new gaff at 6.15am. It is a well documented fact that I don't like early starts. Even in Starbucks I don't have the energy to say my real name. I chose Chuck. Fast Ed chose Norris for the win.

With that, our little band (Captain Al, Fast Ed, Jester and The Jackal - so named because is an international man of mystery) headed south.

The weather was fair and with Captain Al and The Jackal test driving new things myself, Fast Ed and Jester teamed up as a buddy three.

The dive, Fast Ed's first Capernwray, took us from the plane to the Podsnap, to the pig gnomes, to Helo 2 and up to famous Devil and other shallow attractions. In all honesty, I found it pretty dull. Even the new addition of albino sturgeon couldn't save the day. However, it was good to visit my Ninja Gnome, who after a while is starting to wear.

After lunch while kitting up Jester ripped his drysuit cuff. Being noble and the site slightly dull I kept him company on the surface while the others went in for another potter about.

Ninja Gnome

Pig Gnome

Albino Sturgeon


Fast Ed

Monday, 19 September 2016

Beagles About - 18/09/2016

Beadle's About was a pretty crass TV show here in the UK during the eighties and nineties. Basically it's presenter would play stress inducing pranks on the public before coming in disguised to remove the tension and allowing hilarity to ensue. Today, our adventures on K-Peps RHIB were pretty similar for me. 

Jester and I had agreed to meet K-Pep for a dive out of Largs on his boat. Once we were there we decided on one of the Clyde's most famous wrecks - The Beagle.

The Beagle collided with another boat in 1865 only a year after her launch. Much of the structure has rotted away over the years, but you can definitely still make out the structure of the boat with most of the hull still intact. She lies upright in about 32m.

The day started well with a smooth ride across the channel to Great Cumbrae , but as we neared the wreck site the swell picked up. As Jester and I kitted up  a couple of Minke whales passed by the port side of the RHIB. It was surely a good sign, but when the handle on my tank broke any good feelings I'd picked up vanished - I was nervous.

I won't lie, whenever I do a new site I get a nervous tingle - it's part of the reason why I do it - but I'm also fairly confident that I don't like small boats, a swell and descents down a rope to nowhere. It's probably my trinity of bad conditions. As such, both Jester and I opted to leave the cameras on the boat. 

Then just as I was about to roll in, K-Pep said something. Something that inspired confidence and caused my nerves to dissipate. Here's what he said, "You'll come back laughing." I've been here loads of times and every time it has been true, I have come back laughing.

At that, I went to the line and dropped. I found myself at 20m before I realised Jester was 5m behind me and struggling to equalise. I waited a moment and then he was there. Down we went and we were on it. A wreck that has quietly sat here for 150 years waiting for me. It was recognisable as a boat. The hull was intact, the stern clearly visible. The point where the Napoli had pierced her hull could still be seen. The only difference was that today it was crawling with sea life:

  • nudibranchs
  • cod
  • anemones
  • cup corals

I wished for a moment I had my camera, then I remembered how I'd felt on the surface. 

We pottered about for 20 minutes before the spectre of deco began chasing us back up the line. As we did deep stops and safety stops we messed about chuckling to ourselves. Then, just like that, we were back on the RHIB laughing - just as K-Pep had said.

With the weather worsening and Stugeron not taking full effect on one of our party we headed back to the marina with a win tucked safely into our log books.

Afterwards we went into Nardini's and had an ice cream. When in Largs...

The size of his head


Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Last Hurrah of Summer - 29/08/2016

Monday 29th August 2016, is pretty insignificant to us Scots, but for our friends south of the border it represents one of the last hurrahs of summer. You see the last Monday in August is for most in England a Bank Holiday. As such it presented an opportunity for me ol' mucker from Leeds, Josh, to come up to Scotland for a dip.

This time Josh was joined by Ricky and I brought Jester along for the ride. The weather forecast had been for rain, but the weather gods were with us we enjoyed nothing but pleasant sunshine.

After meeting at Glen Loin we headed to Anchor Point, Loch Fyne where we kitted up, buddy checked and headed. I had before the dive made a list of all the things that it was possible to see here including the list o the exceedingly unlikely, including:

  • Pod of dolphins
  • Basking shark
  • Types of whale

I then went on to say that it was more likely we wouldn't any of these things and we all laughed.

Anyway as he headed down we bumped into the first of a series of large catsharks. When I signalled shark Josh and Ricky looked at me with hint of 'that guy's crazy'. Then they saw it. Their first sharks in British waters. OK, they are spectacularly small in the grand scheme of sharks in the sea - but they are sharks.

I'd have taken a picture of the encounter if it hadn't been for the fact that I'd put my camera in the housing upside down!!!

Back on the surface we all agreed it had been a great dive with visibility around 10m. From there we had a spot of lunch, before driving back along Loch Fyne to Loch Long and the Caves. Jester and I weren't too fussed about this dive, but Josh was keen to do it and I hadn't dived in about a year. 

It actually turned into quite a nice dive, with a nice sea lemon, a few anemones and lobster etc. That said the visibility was a lot less - around 3m

All in all, two great dives with some tolerable buddies and some fantastic weather. I suspect this will be the last diving hurrah of summer.

Sea Lemon
Closed Anemone
Open Anemone
Bloody Henry

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Gurnards & Not So Fast Cars - 24/08/2016

With what seemed like the last glimpse of summer, the Zookeeper, Jester and I met up for a twilight dive in Loch Fyne. This wasn't our original plan, but parking at our chosen site was full. 

We kitted up in fast fading but brilliant sunshine, buddy checked on our march down the beach and skipped into the water. 

It seemed like the fates were with us as we landed on our first huge catshark of the day. I haven't seen one for a few months. So it was nice to reacquaint myself with an old friend.

As we continued down in search of an alleged firework anemone that Jester is convinced is down there, my torch caught a glimpse of what I think was a seal. Moments later there was a flurry of large fish swimming towards us using us for shelter. This confirmed my theory. However, the initial sighting never materialised into a full blown encounter, sadly.

Instead, we stumbled along the bottom chasing langoustine and gurnards before hitting the reef and heading up to the shallows. 

It was, however, catsharks that were the atars of the show as we encountered at least two and the largest one twice. They were very relaxed around us especially as Jester approached with his National Geographic-esque camera set up.

We emerged 67 minutes later, hampered by hunger and cold on my part, packed up and cruised home behind some not so fast cars. 'Twas a good night.


Red Gurnard



Friday, 19 August 2016

The Deep & The Disaster - 17/08/2016

At the dive club one of the members was saying he needed to get in a few dives below 30m to work towards his ScotSAC Master Diver award. Myself and Campbell volunteered to go with the Bearded Mountain Man of Cambuslang to help accomplish the task.

We met up at our usual spot and headed to Loch Fyne for some fun and games.on what was probably the last sunny day of summer.

We kitted up in the warm, relatively midgie free glow of the sun and headed into the water after a buddy check. I should point out that all of us were trying out or using new pieces of kit including the BMMC who was using a drysuit he had hired from Aquatron while his own Otter suit was away for repair. So we were acutely aware that we were only going deep if all of us felt comfortable. As it was, we did and we pottered down to 32m before turning and heading back. It was all uneventful and we even managed to spot a particularly nice cushion star.

Back at the surface the world had changed. Midgies were swarming to such an extent that we spent most of the interval in floating in the warm water away from our nemesis. The sun was setting and by the time we reentered the water to dive we were going to be night diving.

Again, checking everything was OK we headed in and down. As we approached 10m disaster struck. My own drysuit hose stuck on - which I quickly removed and replaced solving the problem - Campbells mask started giving him grief and I looked round to find BMMC floating to the surface, looking like the Michelin Man. I looked round at Campbell and we both signalled "up".

At the surface we found BMMC with a stuck on drysuit inflator valve - something he'd never experienced before.I took off the hose and it seemed it was the valve on the suit that was stuck, rather than the hose.

We called it and went home.

Cushion star

Monday, 8 August 2016

Mark A-ah! Saviour of the Universe - 07/08/2016

OK, so perhaps I'm exaggerating a little. However, when you arrive on site and you realise you've forgotten your drysuit, then a guy called Mark let's you use his because he's done for the day - it's pretty sweet and you do feel a little indebted. Jester too felt this, as we went on to have an excellent dive which would never have happened without the intervention of Mark. 

The guys from Aquatron were packing up for the day when we arrived. They reported pretty poor visibility, but the incoming tide was bringing fresher, cleaner water.

Feeling a little awkward in Mark's snuggish suit, we entered the water and went down. The visibility, it seems , wasn't as bad as the guys had made out in fact, it was alright - probably up to 4m.

We swam from frame to frame hitting a very definite thermocline at around 20m. We bimbled along staying deep enough, for long enough, that my computer ordered a deep stop.

The visibility was clearing constantly and by the time we exited the water, despite the wind and the rain, even the shallows had cleared up.

A good day. All thanks to Mark.

Bloody Henry


Bloody Henry


Edible Crab

Friday, 5 August 2016

Back to Life, Back to Reality - 05/08/2016

With my one month sojourn to the USA complete, this week it was back to the hard grind of work and scuba diving locally. Jester picked Seal Reef, St Catherines as our spot. While packing the car I noticed that my tank was out of test so if I did two dives then I'd lose out on the ability to dive at the weekend. So while Jester was keen on two dives, I wasn't so much.

As it is we did one nice 57 minute dive down to 37 metres. The vis was chronic in the first 6 metres, but cleared up markedly as we got deeper. To the extent that actually it was like doing a really clear night dive.

We saw some nice crustaceans, but the nudibranchs stayed hidden. 

Afterwards we headed to the pub leaving the fishermen to the beach.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Escape From LA - 09/07/2016

My original intention when I decided to come to Los Angeles for a month was to use the opportunity to head up to Washington State and dive there. However, poor communication by the dive shop that runs the trip meant that the opportunity slipped through the cracks of life. As B*witched once said, "C'est la vie "

Instead, as though in compensation, my Los Angelino friends offered to take me to Santa Catalina Island and dive at the Casino Point Dive Park in the city of Avalon. 

Santa Catalina is primarily a resort island, which in its hay day was the playground of LA's rich and famous it and owned by the Wrigley family. Today, it's a kitsch entertainment district and wildlife reserve that includes a vibrant marine reserve.

Our plan was to take the 6.30am (yes, early starts are the domain of divers the world over) ferry from San Pedro to Avalon. I won't lie I'm not a fan of the early start, but to be amongst the first in the water was satisfying ex post.

We arrived at the site where Gill (my wife) and I hired tanks, weight and BCDs. We were diving as part of a mixed ability group that ranged from relatively new open water divers to me, amongst the most experienced in the group with a little over 300 dives.

Gill and I buddied up, did a quick buddy check and swam out to the marker buoy that marks the edge of the park and the wreck of a glass bottom boat.

The vis was a respectable 10-15m at a depth of around 25m. I was glad of my Fourth Element Thermoclines beneath my 5mm wetsuit as we passed through a thermocline that tipped the water temperature below 17c. Gill, in her drysuit, was oblivious to the cooling temperatures.

In terms of life there was lots to see. The star of the show is California's state protected fish, the Garibaldi. The Garibaldi is essentially a bright orange damselfish. For those with a keener eye you'll see moray eels, a variety of bass, spiney lobster and nudibranchs all lurking amongst the giant kelp forest.

It's not unheard of to see a variety of sharks at Catalina too - including Horned, Blue and Great Whites. Unfortunately for me, the closest I came to a shark was a 5 foot Bat Ray gently passing between myself  and my buddy for the second dive - by coincidence named Ray. Perhaps I should have dived with a buddy named Shark. I'm sure someone in California has a name like that, right?! Sadly, I got no pictures of it as I had just packed away my little camera in preparation for exiting the water at the steps 

I wouldn't describe this as the best dive I've ever done - that accolade naturally goes to the A-Frames, Loch Long *coughs*. However, if you're in LA with a day to spare you could do a lot worse than spending $75 on a return ferry ticket and up to $75 for full kit hire at Casino Point. Beyond getting there, there is no cost to diving in the marine park, Which means that you can squeeze in up to 4 dives for $150.

Entry Stairs

Moray Eel
Spiney Lobster

Friday, 24 June 2016

Sometimes a Dive is a Metaphor - 24/06/2016

While the last few Brits decided whether or not hey wanted to leave the European Union, Jester and I decided to head to Seal Reef, Loch Fyne for a quick dip. In many ways, the weather had been kind to us:
  • It was warm
  • There was a breeze keeping the midgies temporarily at bay
  • There was drizzle, again discouraging the midgies.
So we kitted up and casually headed into the water.

There was a bit of chop and the silt had been stirred up in the shallows. This led to Jester dropping his GoPro and us then having to spend 10 minutes trying to find it in poor visibility. He did, thankfully.

After that we headed down to St Catherine's famous speedboat encountering a small red gurnard and a lobster en route. It was nice. Although dark the visibility opened up and it reminded me of my preferred night diving exploits - dark but clear.

In total we pottered around for an hour finding numerous nudibranchs and yarrell's blennies. It was all rather pleasant until we surfaced and dekitted in a midgie infested hell hole. What a difference an hour made.

Britain choose to leave, Scotland to stay. Scotland now must leave.

Flabellina Lineata

Red Gurnard

Flabellina Lineata

Flabellina Lineata

Friday, 17 June 2016

Portencrossing Over - 16/06/2016

Meeting locals
In search of some variation Jester, the Zookeeper and I headed southwest as opposed to northwest for a change of scene. With weather conditions ideal it took us to Portencross, Ayrshire for a dive round the point and into the small bay next to the castle.

If you're into history or an american with a fascination with Scotland, this dive site will appeal. It has a castle, a sunken Spanish Armada galleon  (we never knowingly found it) and a quaint little fishing village.

It's shallow, and requires a light northerly or easterly wind to make diving conditions ideal. We followed the Finstrokes guide to the letter, although our good friend - the Mermaid - recommends a dip around the pier to the north of the castle for a shallow photography dive.

Before entering the water we went for a stroll and met some of the locals. They were a fine mix of local cyclists and high, drunk hippies. It made for an entertaining start to the evening.

We kitted up, continually pestered by midgies, and waded out into the sanctuary of the water. There was a lot of seaweed which made finding interesting life a little tricky. However, we found:

  • some good nudibranchs
  • tompot blenny
  • macropodio rostrata

As a dive I'd probably not revisit again without a site expert (I'd like to actually find and see the wreckage of the galleon) and I'd possibly do a different type of dive at the pier. 

The views
Considering the dive
Polycera quadrilineata
Castle and boat
Polycera quadrilineata
Macropodia Rostrata
Tompot Blenny
Rope to boat