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Trip Report

Isle of Mull


June 5th-11th 2021 – Trip report written by Jack

This trip had been a long time coming, I think I’ve been talking about diving in the sound of Mull and the week long trips my old club used to do up there since I first joined Hackney. I’m fairly certain I only managed to fill the boat because everyone agreed it was the only way to make me shut up about it!

The west coast of Scotland and especially the Isle of Mull is an amazingly beautiful part of the world, even before we get to the diving. Even the journey up is amazing, as soon as you pass Glasgow the road starts to wind through scenic glens and around stunning lochs, finally arriving in the picturesque harbour town of Oban. The main reason I love it so much though is (unsurprisingly) the diving. The Sound of Mull is a narrow channel between the island and the Morvern peninsula. Because its so narrow it gets a strong tidal flow which brings lots of nutrients from the Atlantic making the life there vibrant and abundant. it was also historically a very busy shipping lane and the unpredictable tides and hazards have provided plenty of wrecks for those of us hankering for some rust!

The plan was a tried and tested one, I’ve run a lot of similar trips in the past albeit when we lived much closer to Scotland. Go up to Oban, take the ferry over to Mull, stay in the large house in Salen by the pier and get picked up on said pier by Malcolm on the Peregrine to do some lovely dives in the sound.

My plan was slightly scuppered by covid restrictions meaning we couldn’t all stay in the same accommodation and I had to book what appeared to be the only remaining places to stay on the island at the last minute. The other places were of… varying quality, 6 of us were in a half-empty Salen pier house while the families had their own places. The Hart of Mull, while probably excellent as an off-grid retreat wasn’t particularly well suited if you want to use your phone or wifi, or wash your clothes… Thankfully the relaxed indoor mixing rules on the island meant the unfortunate souls staying there could hang out at the pier to get their internet fix and use the dryer and they were really cool about it despite drawing the short straw!

The first days diving was a relaxed shakedown day shore diving from the pier. The sun was blazing down and the viz was excellent. Its an interesting little dive, only about 15m max but there’s lots of junk that’s been chucked off the pier over the years to poke around in and lots of life, marshalling was easy as we could see the divers at the bottom from the pier! The diving might be easy but exiting the water at low tide isn’t. A precarious scrabble over the slippy rocks later and all were back safe, thankfully it was a lot easier for the second dive at high tide! 

I did my best Otter impression trying to lift a massive haul of scallops to the surface on my back which was well worth it when we fried them up with lots of butter and garlic for dinner! Later on a few brave souls jumped back in for a night dive which in the gloaming was more of a twilight dive, (it only really gets dark for a couple of hours in summer) they still saw lots of hunting critters and plenty of squat lobsters and took some amazing photos.

The next morning Malcolm met us at Salen to load up for the weeks boat diving. Having the pier right outside where we were staying was ace for meeting the boat in the morning but not great when  trying to load at low tide, it took many journeys up and down ladders and lots of knot tying practice and winching but we eventually got underway and headed north up the sound to Auliston point. there are a couple of great scenic dives here at the mouth of loch Sunart, a rocky bottom with numerous dogfish and a spectacular wall dive covered in anenomes and soft corals. A perfect day to ease people in to the week of boat diving. The sites are non tidal which is good when folk haven’t dived for a while and a lot of faff is going on!

On Tuesday we got the wrecky side of the trip off to a good start with 2 of my favourite dives. The morning was the Rondo, an 80m 2363 tonne tramp steamer wrecked in 1935 against the small islet Dearg Sgeir near Salen after breaking anchor in a storm. This is a really unique wreck as when the ship sank it slid down a steep wall bow-first coming to rest almost vertically with the bow in 54m and the stern between 6-9. This is a great wreck for mixed-level groups as each pair can pick their depth and dive a nice profile slowly ascending up the wreck. Brad and I planned a deep dive on this one as we were both on twinsets with 80% deco gas and its a great wreck to deco on as you can hang off the rudder on your stops! We descended down to 40 and both immediately felt very narked, there’s not that much to see down at the bottom anyway so after climbing out of our own heads we ascended up and spent most of the dive around 30m exploring the remaining superstructure and some very cool swim-throughs between the wall and the keel of the wreck. Finally we ascended through a large school of fish sheltering in the U of the remaining hull before doing our remaining deco around the rudder. This dive is already one of my favourite in the world and I’ve done it probably a dozen times over the years but I don’t think i’ve ever seen it this good, the viz was phenomenal, its usually good in Mull but it must have been 15m at times. Being able to see so much more of the wreck at once gave me much more appreciation of the size of the thing and meant you could comprehend it more as a whole vessel rather than just spots of wreckage in a torchbeam. 

The afternoon brought us to the SS Thesis. This steamship was lost in 1889 while carrying a cargo of pig iron. This is also a dive I remember fondly but I hadn’t dived it for many years due to tales that it had been hit by a scallop dredger and mostly destroyed. Thankfully the tales are somewhat exaggerated. While the damage to the bow section is extensive and sadly the anenome-covered hull ribs which made the wreck such a popular site for photographers are no longer there, it still makes a fascinating wreck to explore, the holds have opened up and you can now explore more of the internal areas and the main boiler still identifiable standing proudly in the middle of the wreck covered in dozens of large sea hares.

Unfortunately despite a conservative deco plan followed to a tee I found later that evening that I was suffering from minor DCI and had to go back to Oban and spend the night in the (thankfully close by) recompression chamber. I won’t go into detail about that here as there will be a whole juicy incident report if you are interested. Sadly though this meant no more diving for me on the trip, thankfully it ended for me on a high with a fantastic days diving and a real trip down memory lane to some of my favourite wrecks.

The next morning’s plan was the SS Breda, we were out with the affable Bodie this time while Malcolm had a couple of days off to get some diving in himself. This huge wartime cargo ship was 6941 tonnes and 122.69m long, Her 5 cargo holds were full of concrete, wire, cigarettes, aircraft and trucks as well as horses and dogs bound for Mombasa when she was sunk by Luftwaffe Heinkel bombers not far from Oban harbour in 1940. She now lies upright between 20 and 30m. As this wreck is further down the sound towards Oban it required driving down and loading up in Craignure. This also meant that I was able to meet the boat in the morning near the site after my thorough tour of the inside of the Dunstaffnage chamber! The afternoon’s dive was a scenic site in the sound of Kerrera, south of Oban and a quick detour via the puffin dive center for drysuit repairs and a lot of glue before returning to Craignure.

The next morning was an early one, the reason being the first dive of the day was on the Hispania, a 644 tonne Swedish steamship. This is a very tidal site in the narrowest part of the sound meaning catching slack was critical. Some of the buddy pairs were victims of the unpredictable currents on this wreck first hand, having to shelter from the tearing current, others were lucky in their timing and had a more relaxing dive exploring the anenome encrusted deck in exceptional viz! The enduring fact many share about this wreck is its one of the most recent known examples of the captain of a vessel choosing to go down along with his ship. Eyewitnesses in the escaping crew reported seeing Captain Ivan Dahn saluting them from the deck as the Hispania finally sank beneath the waves in December 1954.

The Calve Island wall was the afternoon’s dive, not far from the Hispania on the edge of Tobermory bay. The sheer wall is covered in life and the great visibility made for a spectacular sight as the divers were gently pushed along by the current. A lot of smiling faces after that one, especially since the morning’s dive was a bit hairy for some!

For the final day we met Malcolm up at Tobermory and ventured not far at all to the only site of the week that I hadn’t dived before myself, The Pelican. This wreck was originally an iron paddle steamer but had been relegated to a coal hulk permanently moored in Tobermory bay when it dragged its mooring in a storm and foundered against the west shore of Calve island in 1895. The thick sediment and proximity to the shore mean the viz is often very poor  and as such its often ignored in favour of the more reliable sites elsewhere in the sound (hands up, that’s why I’ve never done it). Considering how clear it had been all week we decided to try and were well rewarded. The divers were treated to a spectacular view of the clipper bow rising up out of the seabed and plentiful life in the wreckage. It was great to see this oft-overlooked wreck getting an opportunity to show its mettle (metal?) and I hope i’ll get a chance to see it next time!

Votes were overwhelmingly in favour for doing another dive on the Calve island wall to finish off the trip on a high as everyone had enjoyed it so much the previous day. We had it on a flood tide this time so the divers were able to explore the other direction and found it just as impressive.

We then popped back in to Tobermory to unload and bid Malc and the Peregrine farewell before heading back to Salen with a chippy tea and some well earned beer.

Favourite moments

As I wasn’t able to do a lot of the dives justice in my descriptions I also asked some of the other folk on the trip to share their favourite parts.

Driving in Scotland

Mull: well planned, well managed and well fed. A big thanks to Jack and Lizzie for looking after us and feeding us!

It was well worth the long journey to the Isle of Mull and where we stayed, Salen Pier Lodge, is a beautiful House overlooking the pier with scenery that’s something to behold.

Every dive was scenic with colours and lifeform in some amazing viz, and for me, the last day was memorable (when everything came together), cruising along the wall of Calve Island at nearly 20m and over the wreck of the paddle steamer, the Pelican with Anna.

It was well worth the long journey!

Elaine
Shrimp

Led by Jack & fed by Lizzie, with everyone pitching in when it mattered to make it a well orchestrated trip, thanks

The viz on all the wrecks, Rondo, Thesis, Breda, Hispania, Pelican was great, the colours to be seen on the walls of Calve Island quite stunning

I especially enjoyed    the Rondo, being positioned vertically gave an absolutely amazing clear & colorful view being covered in life, while looking back up into the Sun from 20m to the stern.

And not to forget the scrumptious meal of Jack’s impressive Otter inspired catch of Scallops, wonderfully cooked by Lizzie.

Chris
Tobermory harbour

The Hispania was the first ‘proper’ wreck I ever dived, back in 2012. While the currents on that wreck didn’t work out quite so well for Chris and I this time, it was wonderful to be back in Mull for what I think was my 5th or 6th trip there.  The journey is long, but staying on the island (rather than in Lochaline on the mainland, as many divers do) provides an amazing feeling of being removed from the rest of the world and any trip there feels like a true adventure.  

I’ve consistently had some of my best dives in Mull and this trip was certainly no exception, with the visibility topping any previous trip there.  Cooking for only 6 in the main house rather than the usual 18 ravenous students (as on previous trips there) meant that I frequently over catered.  The man organising the Tesco click and collect in Oban certainly wondered why we needed quite so much bread! I am already looking forward to another trip there and hope that we are all able to stay in the main Pier house next time around!

Lizzie
Squad lobster

My standout highlight of the Mull trip was diving on the Rondo and is probably my most enjoyable UK dive so far.  The spectacular setting of the wreck pointing bow down almost vertically with every surface covered in life, combined with the great visibility and bright sunshine illuminating from above made for a memorable experience.  We were able to spiral around the Rondo allowing exploration of the deck and also the side and bottom of the hull while a large school of fish hovered above.  The final part of the dive gave a stunning view of the stern with the rudder and prop shaft assembly, rising up towards the surface.  Hopefully in the future I will get a chance to dive this wreck again.

Robert
The attack of the jellies

A bag full of scallops,
A tasty fried snack.

A night dive from Salen pier.
A graveyard of shells ahead,
feasting creatures everywhere.

Angry, disturbed by divers at night,
Crabs, starfish, goby and shrimp in bright light.

Fee
Catfish

I think it was clear to everyone on the trip just how important diving in Mull is to Lizzie and I, We both did our first UK dives there and its the only place where I’ve consistently been back throughout the years I’ve been diving. That said I think the conditions were the best I’ve ever seen. The weather was changeable but the seas were calm and the vis was exceptional. I think the lucky 13 on this trip really did experience the best West Scotland has to offer and while it was disappointing that I missed a lot of the diving it didn’t matter so much as I was still able to share these sites which I love so much with new people who haven’t experienced them before. It does however mean that I will be even more compelled to run the trip again (even if I wasn’t already made to promise) so I can apologise to the Pelican in person for ignoring it all these years.

Trip Report

Elaine and Chris getting dived in… in COVID times


Saturday – Gildenburgh Water, Peterborough

Having booked 2x2hr afternoon slots at Gildy, (12.00-16.00), we travelled up Friday evening and booked a room local so as to be rested and have plenty time to kit up to make the most of the afternoons diving, (haha, that didn’t pan out as planned!).

11.00 booked in with Pauline and started kitting up in the car park, for in the water for 12.00, as currently due to social distancing, you’re not allowed to set up camp on the green as we used to.

Take 1
Amazing what you find out when doing yah Buddy Check, “Should we be wearing fins????” Is NOT what you should hear!

So, after taking the walk of shame back to the car to fetch both our fins. [Note to self, buddy check at the car, not just prior to giant stride in]

Take 2
No, still not getting in, Elaine snaps a fin strap, back to the car park for spare strap (God it’s damn hot walking in a drysuit)

Take 3
We’re in and vis is the worst we’ve EVER seen, and we’ve seen it bad – hey ho – we’re UK divers.

20 mins of bog snorkelling in the murk, we bump into the snooker table at 9m depth, some VERY close hand signals and we head (we hope), for the surface.

Def not the best dive we’ve had, but one to remember and to put a top on it Chris lost his brand new camera, (Pauline said if found they’ll let us know).

Cup of hot soup during surface break, and get re-kitted up only to be told, “Hope you’re only planning a short dive, as you need to be out of the water in 15 mins”.

[(Another) Note to self, make sure when you check the time using your computer you’ve set the correct time, damn this BST/GMT stuff.]

Was nice to see Pauline though 😀

Was going to have a meal in town near Gildy, but the nice Italian restaurant only doing take away pizza, and usual Indian has to be booked in advance.

So drove 90 mins to hotel in Tamworth and went into town for a VERY nice Ruby Murry meal at Jalali restaurant.

Sunday – Dosthill Quarry (AKA Dozzi), Tamworth

Nice place, small shop stock emergency (forgotten) items and air fills. This is the first National Inland Dive Site operating since 1958, previously owned by BSAC until they sold it to the current owner, Ian Forster, in 1988.

Again having booked 2x2hr slots to enjoy all afternoon. Only to find out on arrival, we’d only booked 1x2hr slot from 12.00,  but thankfully Dan said he was OK for us to extend for another 2hrs.

Kit up in the car park (FULLY this time), asked if possible and allowed to take one bag as site was not busy.

Site is back to front with 12m and 9m shelf at the back of the lake, which is where all the things are, there are 2x2m well-formed training pens, as well as 3m and 6m platforms as you get in.

1st dive – Vis a lot better than Gildy, 2-3m – hurray!
Both of us had difficulty getting buoyancy sorted, 2kg overweight (and that’s in addition to the Covid working from home diet) Up and down like ping pong balls, eventually sorted and hovered on a platform watching the Carp.
Pastries and juice in the car park for surface break.

2nd dive (getting the hang of this now)

Down to 10m swam clockwise along the wall slowly dropping down to cruise at 14m until we got to the “Conning Tower” (2m diameter dome), which you can swim under onto the plane fuselage, then on and up a bit onto the 9m shelf to a ParcelForce van, UXB Bomb and around the original quarry site concrete hut.
Had a 6m safety stop, and a slow surface swim looking down over the plants where all the small fish hide, and back to exit. Packed up and left car park, (last ones out as always) they do lock the gates.

Stopped for Nando’s in Tamworth before 2 1/2 hr drive home.
So what did “We learn this weekend? – Practice, Practice, Practice a Buddy Check at home, and double check ALL of yah kit!”

Chris and Elaine REALLY-COLLAGE

Trip Report

Alternative dive trip to Chepstow


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Storm Ciara blew out our Brighton dive earlier in February in spectacular fashion, but four of our club (Will, Jane, Jun-Ho and Ed) decided to brave the gales and headed to NDAC in Chepstow on Sunday instead.

It was raining so much that the marker buoys were 1.5m under the surface! The water rose 4 inches while they were there. Nevertheless, they had a great couple of dives with Jane and Ed signing off some depth progression. Ed even wore his twinset pearls…!

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Trip Report

Happy Days: HSAC’s 2019 Scapa Trip


Scapa Flow in Scotland’s Orkney Islands is one of the best places in the world for wreck diving. At the end of WWI, the German navy was handed over to the British and interned in Scapa during the peace negotiations. In 1919, just before the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the German crews scuttled their entire fleet. Of the 52 battleships that were sunk, seven remain. Massive, with their huge guns still intact, these incredible ships sit in the gloomy depths; ghosts of a bye-gone era. In October 2019, to mark the 100th anniversary of the famous scuttling, Hackney Sub Aqua Club made the long trip north (for some, the furthest north they’d ever been) for an awesome week below the surface and above.

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Home for the week was MV Halton, a cosy converted fishing trawler, crewed by Rachael and Ainsley and skippered by the wonderful Bob Anderson – a man with the world’s driest sense of humour and possibly worst cooking skills we have ever met: “The spaghetti’s boiling, we’ll eat in an hour!” What Bob lacked in culinary expertise, he more than made up for as a dive boat skipper. No-one of us thought it possible to dive on a day that started with a force 10 gale. But Bob managed it. His brilliant dive briefings gave us great understanding of the wrecks and plenty to look for on our dives. 

Massive thanks to everyone on the trip and to Bob, Rach and Ainsley for making it one of the best weeks of diving any of us have ever had. We’ll be back soon.

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Wet in and out of the water

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Here are some of our favourite moments:

“We dropped down the bow shot and saw the armoured control tower and then the 5.9″ guns at towards the stern. As Bob said, Scapa is all about guns. This was what I had come for. These were the ones that had fired at Jutland. I spent quite a long time concentrating on the breech of the 5.9″. After a while I was vaguely aware of squeaking coming from the direction of Olivia. I turned, feeling guilty I had ignored my buddy for so long, hoping she was okay. She was yelling at me and flapping her arms around in quite an alarming way. I then realised Olivia was doing an impression of a nosy grey seal that had come to see what we were up to. Grateful she was okay, I turned back to the guns reflecting that, ultimately, I’m more interested in rust than wildlife.” Will’s log book, SMS Karlsruhe

“The whole F2 is covered in a lot of life with lots of juvenile fish. We had a good swim around and found the huge gear boxes. After one languid wrasse caught Jane’s attention, she signalled ‘That’s you, that is’ at it. I laughed so much that I flooded my mask … We then had a long underwater argument using wet notes about our poor navigation. Jane had missed the bloody great rope that was clearly going towards the barge.” Will’s log book, F2 wreck & salvage barge

“At one point, Garry reached into a hole and dragged out a huge, dead lobster. He arranged it neatly on top of a bit of the wreck, looked straight at me, and pointedly drew his finger across his throat.” Jane’s log book, Tabarka with Garry

“So, it turned out I forgot to switch my gas mix setting on my computer. I was diving on Nitrox 32 but hadn’t changed the setting on my computer from the morning dive – which was on 27%. As I didn’t want to lock my computer, I wasn’t keen on overriding it. So, instead of 4 minutes of deco we did 13 minutes at 6m – with Jane needing the loo. Needless to say, I wasn’t in her good books when we got back on the boat, yet again.” Will’s log book, SMS Dresden

“Really stunning dive. Lots of life. Beautiful contrast between the dark interior of the wreck and the brilliant turquoise blue of the water, swaying with kelp and fish in the current. Inside the blockship there were so many crabs, it seemed like they were falling off around us. Beautiful colours cover every surface … We squeezed over the huge boilers and Garry headed down a corridor on the starboard side that got pretty narrow at one point. I was bit shocked to see Garry get stuck, all I could see were his squirming legs until he vanished completely in a cloud of silt and crabs.” Will’s log book, Tabarka with Garry

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Andy’s tribute to Scuba Santa (the magical fixer of dry suits)

You better swash out

You better not be dry

You better have gout

I’m telling you why, Scuba Santa is coming tonight

He’s mending your suit

Perhaps even twice

He’s going to find out

Who’s diving or not, Scuba Santa is coming tonight

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re all drunk

He knows when you’ve used wax or not

So use lube for goodness sake

Trip Report

Shore diving ~ Jurassic coast


On 7th and 8th September 2019 we shore dived Kimmeridge Bay and Chesil Cove along the Jurassic coast in Dorset. Thanks Anne for researching the sites and organising the weekend.

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Cuttlefish on my first UK sea dive! – by Ed

Kimmeridge bay was my first sea dive in the uk and I was amazed by the amount of colour and life on the bottom, especially the purple sea anemones. 

I was impressed with Kimmeridge bay but the diving on our second day at Chesil beach absolutely blew me away. The visibility was great and there was so much to see on the bottom. I also saw my first ever cuttlefish – an animal I have been interested  in since reading “Other Minds” by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

I have really enjoyed diving with the club and cannot wait to get back into the water. Thank you very much to Anne for arranging a very exciting weekend.

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Seas of anemone and patterns – by Fee

Kimmeridge Bay is a great spot for a gentle shore drive. With maximum 3m depth at neap tide, buoyancy is a bit of a challenge. With seas of purple and white anemone swaying in the swell and so close to the surface other growth with interesting patterns really shine their colours too.

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Amazing underwater scenery – by Elaine

Both Kimmeridge Bay and Chesil Beach were lovely in different ways. 

With Kimmeridge Bay, it was the beauty of colours, lifeform and strange designs on the floor, all under less than 3metres of good visibility of water. Some of the guys in the team had taken photos which highlighted some of the beauty. As I tend to swim slightly ahead of my buddy, in this instance, Anne, who deployed her SMB at the surface, we stuck like glue with a finger hooked around her SMB line, thus enjoying the scenery even more. As always Anne, thanks.

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Chesil Beach – by Robert

I have always wanted to visit Chesil Beach and was excited at getting a chance not only to see the beach but more importantly having the chance to dive there.  Sunday morning was bright sunshine and clear blue sky with thankfully hardly any wind meaning the dive was on. Overcoming the challenges of being kept awake the night before by various hen parties and then several unplanned circuits of Portland Village we finally arrived.  It is a spectacular site with the Isle of Portland looming above on one side and Chesil Beach stretching away into the distance on the other. The dive featured really good visibility with plenty of life, wrasse, pipefish and cuttlefish and also a small wreck. I found the shore diving experience ‘wobbly’ especially on the exit but great fun as although the beach surface seemed unstable the large pebbles meant you did not sink in too deeply and could stay upright (mostly).  Definitely a site to revisit.

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Hot Tub Time Machine – by Elliott

There was much anticipation for me on how this weekend would go; not only was it my first-time away with the club, but also the first-time diving in the UK outside of a quarry. Anne did a great job on booking everything at relatively short notice, and so myself and Jun-Ho (fantastic chauffeur) arrived late Friday evening, tired and ready to rest-up. You can imagine our surprise therefore at being greeted by not one, but two hen parties enjoying themselves in the adjoining flats. I won’t say too much more, aside from that the karaoke was as painful to hear as expected.

Onto the main event – the dives. We had some background knowledge on Kimmeridge bay thanks to various clubbers who had dived there before. It’s really a beautiful area, and driving down into the bay reminds you of the sometimes-overlooked beauty that England has. We dived in two waves, with everyone getting more than enough time to explore the various life that lurks beneath the surface (Fee has some brilliant pics). Funnily enough, despite the maximum 1-2.5m depth, this was a relatively challenging dive in the context of buoyancy. As a fairly new diver, keeping consistently on the bottom with only 1m of coverage was quite an experience, but worth it and some good lessons learned. We returned for a great BBQ that evening and sometime in the hot-tub (yes, Anne only books the best).

Chesil Cove was a very different dive. The visibility was amazing, 10m+ in some areas and depths to around 12m, with a little less coral than Kimmeridge but much more in the way of fish life. We dived in two waves again, this time sharing the site with various other divers who were obviously taking advantage of the great weather. Being only part-way through my Sports Diver and never having witnessed a DSMB in proper use, Ed gave a useful (and successful) demonstration (cheers!).

What a great way to spend a weekend. Beautiful weather, great vis and two hen parties to share your accommodation with.

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Pebbles!!!! – by Elaine

First I’d like to say a big thanks to the team who helped me over the mountain of pebbles to and from the shore! 

I didn’t see much in the way of sea life and bright colours as I did in Kimmeridge Bay, it had beautiful rockery against the sandy floor. It gave me the opportunity to get really close to the bottom at nearly 11metres and looking into nooks and crannies for signs of life with buddy Dylan, which we occasionally found. 

It was my first and most likely the last time I’ll be diving with Dylan before he leaves HSAC for pastures new, and it was absolutely pleasurable.

 

Spotbeam

HSAC Spotbeam: Richard Clegg


By Jane Ahn

Photos by Jane, Will, Martina

For the inaugural newsletter profile (and this blog), I try to get some sense out of Richard Clegg. As an instructor, Richard is a familiar face in both classroom and pool and can often be found afterwards in the Approach arguing utter nonsense with Brian. He is one of HSAC’s oldest members, in the sense that he has been diving with the club for many years but also in that he has been alive long enough to be Lizzie’s dad. His DIY drysuit repair endeavours (extensively chronicled on Facebook) and the resultant failures (warily supervised by the pool marshal on Monday evenings) are delightfully weird and soggy. But Richard is more than just entertainment fodder; here, we learn more about Hackney Sub-Aqua Club’s Diving Officer.

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From left to right: Red wine to the brim – class in a glass; teaching AS ascents in the pool on torch night; ‘What’s in the bag, Richard?’ – bringing the goods to Martina’s party; when two just won’t do – slates for a dive training weekend

Can I call you ‘Cleggface’?

Definitely do not do that.

I had always assumed you were grown in a lab, but now I’m told otherwise – out of what dark hole did you crawl?

I was born in lovely Blackpool in a hospital that was demolished soon after (I don’t think this was as a result of my birth). I grew up by the sea on the North West coast but moved to York when I was eighteen for university then to London in early 2007.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work at Queen Mary University of London as a lecturer in Networks and travel regularly to Beijing to teach Chinese students about how the Internet works.

Do you have any hobbies outside of diving?

When not diving I run (Brighton Marathon this year, 3 hours 51 minutes), go to gigs and the theatre. Anne and I are both running in the Hackney Half this year so wave to us if we go past your house.*

How long have you been diving? How many years have you been with HSAC?

I started in very late 2006 with my first open water January 2007 in Capernwray in Northern England. I joined HSAC, I think, in April 2007 so pretty much all my diving has been with HSAC.

What do you enjoy about HSAC? Any particularly treasured HSAC memory?

I think everyone would say something like this but there’s a great atmosphere round the club right now. Every Monday night I come to the Approach and there’s a good group of  people chatting about diving and making diving and non-diving social plans. I think we’re pretty good at bringing new people in and making them feel welcome.

It’s hard to pick out an individual memory but I always really love it when someone gets a new qualification, especially if they struggled hard to get to that point; so, without picking out individuals, I always love those training days when someone wasn’t sure they would pass a qualifying dive and then aces it.

Describe your first diving experience?

A friend of mine was moving to Fiji as an instructor and wanted to practice on some of his friends. The dive was cold water in January in a drysuit but I had a lot of insulation and felt toasty. That was a very nice experience as it was one-to-one with an old friend who I had known for eighteen years.

What was your most memorable dive experience?

If I had to pick a single dive it would probably be Darwin Island in the Galapagos where I estimate we saw 1,000 hammerheads in a single dive as well as whale sharks (large pregnant females), Galapagos sharks and eagle rays.

[But then Richard decides he can’t just pick a ‘single dive’…]

Other good dives: drifting over the length of the Kronprinz in Scapa was an amazing experience – being able to see the length of that historic wreck in good vis after spending 50 minutes diving around it; the crystal clear visibility of the cenotes in Mexico has to be seen to be believed;

[blah, blah, blah]

I did a dive in the southern red sea where a 3.5 metre oceanic white tip charged straight at us and my buddy kicked it in the face; back home I’ve had some excellent dives with the friendly seals in the Farnes.

Any bad dive experiences?

I had a somewhat exciting time when my DSMB tangled round a shot in a high current — the effect was somewhat like waterskiing but underwater. It was quite scary at the time and I was a relatively new diver.

Most people have heard me talk about extreme narcosis at 42 metres in Scotland on a very cold very dark dive where I was hallucinating rather vividly. Fortunately, I was with a safe experienced buddy (Caron)** and I was doing depth progression so it was handled safely.

What’s on top of your diving bucket list?

1) Truuk/Chuuk in Micronesia where some of the Japanese fleet were sunk. Because it is hard to access, the wrecks are in very good shape.

[ok, Richard, what’s next after the top…]

2) Socorro on the west coast of Mexico has a good variety of large life and reliably great diving.

3) There’s a beautiful yacht-based liveaboard that goes out of Komodo and I’ve never spent a long time on a yacht. I find sleeping at sea really relaxing.

As HSAC’s newest Diving Officer, what do you hope to accomplish?

I want to get a lot more people qualified as Dive Leader and Instructor. I’d like to see us regain the ability to train Advanced Divers. I am also quite encouraged by the number of people who are moving into twinsets and more advanced diving techniques.

Is it true you ate a Mars bar at depth?

I had a very good go. It wasn’t very deep, I should say; I think about three metres in the Farnes and after my safety stop. What I quickly found is that:

1) It is super hard to chew a chocolate bar while not chewing a mouthpiece.

2) Anything you chew in the sea tastes mainly of salt so it is not a pleasant experience.

3) It is super hard to breathe while all this is going on.

Say something nice about Brian

Brian is the easiest Hackney diver to see underwater; it makes him hard to lose (though we had a good try on the Zenobia off Cyprus).

Do you still double space after typing a full stop?!

I do.


*Richard and Anne both completed the Hackney Half ages ago but I’m terrible and didn’t write this up for months

**Caron is Richard’s long-suffering partner of ten years and HSAC member

Trip Report

Brighton – a little bit of a clustercuss


The Brighton trip weekend sadly began with a blow out on Saturday, but
the ever-desperate-to-dive Will suggested we have a splash in the
quarry before heading to Brighton in the evening.

image1Anne, Ellie, Jun-Ho, Will, and I took to the waters at St Andrews Lake
in Kent, while Olivia provided excellent shore cover and HSAC’s most
high fashion moment since Pauline went to Tesco’s on a beer run in a
full wetsuit back in May.

We enjoyed the bathtub warmth of the cloudy shallows (19-21 degrees!),
but had better vis (3-4m) at depths where temps were 12 degrees
chillier, and caught sight of a transit van, yacht, gnome garden, and
post box.

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In Brighton, we met with remaining divers Brian, Garry, Mick, Andy,
and Brad (and joyfully reunited with Anna!) at our digs for the night,
which were undoubtedly more geared towards the stag/hen crowd than the
responsible, early-rising diver (5 J Bombs for £5, anyone?). We
ventured out to a nearby pub and enjoyed a nice meal and quiet pint
before retiring to our beds.

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After a cool and restful night, we were up bright and early Sunday
morning for ropes off at 7:30 AM. Our first dive was on the SS City of
Brisbane – an impressive wreck torpedoed in 1918, 137m long at a
maximum depth of 20m at slack, standing approximately 6m off the sea
floor. There was lots of sea life observed in the incredible wreckage:
shy lobsters, angry crabs, wandering blennies, and menacing eels.

After a quick fill up at Newhaven port, we set out to Kings West Ledge
for a drift dive. Poor vis and a great deal of sand meant some lucky
divers got the opportunity to successfully rehearse separation
procedures, while other pairs had a relaxing 13m drift through a
sandbar.

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Sadly, Ellie couldn’t dive due to problems equalising, and Brian’s
cold kept him from a second dive; a blown boot meant soaking-wet Will
couldn’t join us for the drift. Although not everything went to plan,
we thoroughly enjoyed the dives we did and had a wonderful weekend in
the sun. Thanks to Will for managing an excellent trip and to all for
making it a success!

Trip Report

Farne Islands 2019


Return to the Scene of the Crime – by Jane

I completed my first sea dives in the Farne Islands with the club back in 2017 and was excited to return to where it all began. Were the fish and chips at the Craster Arms still bordering on inedibly huge? Could we still see Saturn’s rings on the late, bright skies? And, most importantly, could we generate enough ‘Seal Appeal’?

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Farnes 2019 did not disappoint. Anne needed to appoint several Deputy Cod Consumers after she couldn’t manage on her own, and the formerly sketchy Beadnell Towers was transformed into a stunning gastropub. Evenings were replete with sky- and sea-gazing: Dylan and Chris brought telescopes for viewings of Saturn, Jupiter, and the Andromeda galaxy; room 2 was transformed into Cinema 2, showing big screen dive films, courtesy of Jun-Ho’s projector.

My favourite dive was on the seal-saturated, last of the trip with Elaine. We were following Jun-Ho and Fee quite closely, and the seals behaved ridiculously – I’d never seen so many bubbles from laughing divers. And it was a real delight surfacing to the sounds of Farnes first-timers excitedly chatting about their encounters.

We never quite got around to figuring out whether it was possible to float a baby on an SMB or to clothe a diver entirely in the contents of the RNLI gift shop (if, say, one forgot to pack any clothes…) but there’s always next year!

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Birdies’ paradise – by Olivia

Seals were the basking, dipping and dozing stars of the show, but I also really enjoyed the island views and wildlife especially when we dived and surfaced so close to nesting sites on the middle day of the trip. Chris and I had a fun and calm dive around these and when surfacing at water’s height there was something humbling and amusing about being overlooked by thousands of yakking seabirds from their island cliff – as well as the curious bird watchers! The colours of the flora and the form of the seals amidst the kelp on other dives was marvelous and I definitely count these Farne Island sites among the favourite shallow dives I have done.

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Seals – by Jun-Ho

Seeing a few seals in Pembrokeshire back in May (including the two vigorously pointed out to me by Will ✌️✌️) had whetted my appetite for more pinniped action, and my first trip to the Farnes did not disappoint. One particular favourite moment was on the last dive of the trip. Fee and I spent much of the dive creeping slowly through the kelp sneaking up on seals. It seemed that every time we rounded a corner there was another either dozing on the sand or darting off having heard our bubbles. One particularly sleepy specimen paused from its ear-scratching as we approached and regarded us lazily with one eye, until it eventually decided it didn’t want to play. Whereupon it darted out and promptly became wedged in the small gully ahead of us. There was a moment when it looked around, seemingly to check that no one else had seen it before it turned and with a few flicks, disappeared.

Close encounter – by Robert

Throughout the trip the seals became more inquisitive, at first effortlessly gliding by and then approaching out of the line of site for closer inspection.  My first close encounter was a nudge from behind which I thought was another diver, but when looking around I was surprised to a seal staring back with an ‘all innocent’ expression and then darting off. I noticed adolescent seals played with other diver’s fins, reminiscent of dogs playing with toys, play biting and even sniffing fins.  Finally, as we about to ascend for the last dive my buddy pointed behind me and I turned around to see a young seal nipping on my fin, after having enough play it then zoomed off. This was all played out against a background of impressive canyon like walls covered in white soft corals, swirling kelp and abundant crustaceans.

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Drysuit fun –  by Elaine 

Descending into kelp was memorable as it was never my intention to sink into the unknown! My buoyancy had to kick in then!

Fine tuning my buoyancy in my dry suit was amazing… learning to slow down and also hover were major achievements for me. 

The abundance of colour and life in less than 15 metres down was awesome, and the seals were beautiful to watch on land and underwater. They were by far the highlight of my trip.

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Gun Rock – by Anne

We visited Gun Rock twice as dive sites were limited by a combination of winds, current and spring tides. However Lee always manages to drop us in sheltered water and so diving it from north to south on the first day and then south to north on the second felt as if we were visiting two completely different sites, (probably because Fee and I on the first day and Robert and I on the 3rd day spent so long time poking amongst the boulders, nooks and crannies looking for critters that we never got the full distance anyway).

What better way to start the dive season than to swim mid water on a wall completely festooned with fluffy cream dead men’s finger’s and yellow staghorn sponges beautifully back lit from the sun. Little spiny squat lobsters were lurking in the cracks with piercing blue eyes, red multi legged cannibal, sun starfish (I counted 13 legs) and eel like red and black striped butterfish.

Huge boulders sit on the sea bed at 14 metres, each one a macro sea garden topped with rich ochre kelp and dark red seaweeds being munched by tiny white and yellow tipped nudibranchs. Lobsters generally were seen lurking under rocks but Robert and I saw one magnificent specimen wandering about (lucky Garry wasn’t on the trip).

No seals at this location and although there was plenty of seal action for some on other dives I was disappointed to only see them darting about in the distance. However just as we were deploying the DSMB on the very last dive of the trip our luck changed and Robert had a personal encounter with a seal nibbling away at his fins. During the dive interval we could see many seals lounging on the rocks, guillimots diving into the sea and puffins busily flying to and fro to their nests to feed their young with their beaks full of silver sand eels. The Farne Islands are a must for anyone who wants a close encounter with the UK’s rich variety of marine life and all in Ocean Diver depths!

 

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A sea of colours beneath the waves – by Fee

Dead men’s fingers, spiky lace, sea orange, goosebump and boring sponge – a pallet of yellows, oranges and whites interspersed with sea urchins dotted around and kelp dancing in the far distance swaying with the swell. Peacefully exploring the nooks and crannies for the community that live amongst these colourful structures.

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Big Harcar and seals – by Shira

My special diving moment out at Farnes Island was most definitely Big Harcar. It was my first ever Seal encounter underwater and one I enjoyed tremendously. 

It was fun diving above large kelps that swayed to and fro and searching for more Seals that seemed to have hidden rest places that ends up crowded with curious divers. And so they swam away, leaving just their scent. 

Other beauties found under the Farnes sea included a decoration of deadman fingers, sea urchins and happy sponges spread quite widely. Making it quite a breathtaking phenomenal picturesque view. 

And hidden behind the cracks were a number of swimming crabs some resting while others looked like they were dancing to Staying Alive.

We did see the odd Octopus hiding away but what was fascinating to me was the empty patterned cracked egg shells that added to the jewels of Big Harcar! Truly mesmerising!

Trip Report

Swanage June 2019


By Elaine and Shira

Two excellent dives involving velvet crabs, a Prostheceraeus Vittatus (a candy-striped flatworm to you and me), Tompot Blenny, Cuttlefish, Balan and Cuckoo Wrasse. Swanage has certainly changed since we were there in May 2018 with swanky cafes along the pier serving amazing food.

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HSAC almost had another blown out weekend due to weather. What started out as a planned 2 days of diving with 8 people, ended up a one day of diving with 5 people (sometimes plans just doesn’t pan out, but that’s life). Saturday was a total blow-out (not even the pier was fit for diving), but Sunday looked a lot more promising.

We saw the positives with “Do all you want Saturday” and “Diving Sunday”.

Three of us still went down to Swanage on the Friday evening anyway and the two of us arrived early Saturday evening, had a lovely meal at Castaways followed by a couple of pints at the Black Swan. We stayed at the Railway Cottage, which isn’t far from the pier.

Sunday turned out to be a beautifully warm, sunny and calm day, a bit murky underwater, but we managed to see some lovely sights under the pier in the morning and on the boat in the afternoon, via Swanage Divers with Pete the Skipper out to the wreck Clan McVey.

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Our first dive was the Swanage Pier. Dylan, Robert and Shira were the first to go in. The water temp was 15°C with a depth of 2-3m.
There was an abundance of beauty with nudibranch, seaweeds, wooden or metal planks with sea life surrounding it, a very peaceful dive that stretches a far distance and has many hidden sea life in secret hide outs or cracks.

Elaine and Richard joined straight after with lovely Virginia keeping watch as shore cover. It was a good 40 minutes dive for us all, though there were swells that made you move about a bit.

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Our second dive was the Clan McVey, a wreck 19m deep, which is all broken apart, but you do get to see the pieces of wreck on the seabed with amazing sea life surrounding them such as dead man’s fingers and other sea plants, spider crabs.

Shira’s favourite was a large cuttlefish that caught her eye. Just tentacles to start off with, and as she approached it revealed to be a camouflaged cuttlefish. Moving closer and Mr Cuttlefish did a reverse and continued reversing!

The visibility was not that great going down, and there was a lot of plankton. The
water temp was 14°C and colder than under the pier. Yet it was a good dive to be able to witness the world beneath.

The skipper from Divers Down as always was friendly as ever and gave us warm hot chocolate after our dive, which was an added bonus.
I believe we all did have an incredible time.

We had 2 great dives despite Saturday’s blow out and the murky viz.
A big thank you goes out to:

  • The wonderful Virginia (Dylan’s wife, and previous HSAC diver) who looked after our car keys on the pier and provided a trolley for our kit after the boat dive. A true gem!
  • Dylan for renting the Railway Cottage
  • Chris for loaning his car out to Richard
  • Richard for driving Chris’ car……there and back from Swanage!
  • Elaine for driving Chris’ car to Richard’s – she only drives manual and
    his is automatic!
Trip Report

Pembrokeshire May 2019


Written by Elizabeth Elliott.

It seems the phrase ‘third time lucky’ stands for the Pembrokeshire trip. On Thursday evening 12 people travelled to dive the area around Milford Haven from the hard boat Eve Ann.

The trip was filled – many firsts and lasts. Pauline’s last dive to qualify as an Ocean Diver (congratulations!), Jun-Ho and Jane’s last Dive Leader lecture (thanks to Jack for fitting it in over some beers), my last Dive Leader dives signed off, and hopefully not last time time we’ll have such glorious weather in Pembrokeshire!

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Firsts included Pauline’s first qualified dive and also the probably the first time anyone has seen an octopus on so early in their diving career (this was swiftly rectified by her following dive on the HMS Muddy-Bottom)! For Vikki, Jack and myself, it was our first trip with HSAC and we look forward to many more brilliant trips.

The first day of diving on Friday consisted of two wall dives at High Point and Low Point which had some nice squishies and was a good opportunity for everyone to get back into the swing of diving at the start of the season.

The dives on the second day were at Stack Rocks (which look like a camel but actually had countless dogfish) and Skomer Island. Skomer Island had entertainment both above- and under-water with ever-adorable seals and flocks of puffins.

The third day was dedicated to wrecks, to the excitement of all the rust-heads. The Dakotian was a WWII transport ship carrying mines which ironically hit a mine and the Behar was a WWII cable laying ship. They were both very large and interesting wrecks with unique features and were a nice contrast to the scenic dives to finish the trip on.

The beautiful sunny weather and calm seas all weekend topped off a wonderful trip. Many thanks from everyone to Will for his brilliant organisation of it all!

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