presentations

Worcestershire Camera Club Photo Talk

adventures in UK divingI will be giving a presentation to Worcestershire Camera Club on Tuesday 3rd March 2020, entitled “Adventures in UK Diving”. This photo talk will feature the best of my UK underwater photography over from over the years (including a number of award-winning shots) and I will showcase the amazing beauty and diversity of British sea life. The presentation starts at 19.30 in St Stephen’s Church Hall (Bishop Allenby Hall), St Stephen’s Church, Droitwich Road, Worcester, WR3 7HS. You’re welcome to come along, if you’re interested.

 

dives

Winter wonders

With all the bleak weather, it’s easy to forget that the underwater world serenely carries is n beneath the waves of the Scottish sea lochs. Today we had a dip in Duich this morning and returned to the Loch Carron narrows at Strome this afternoon. I love both these sites; Loch Duich is home to all three UK species of sea pen, and it’s my favourite spot to shoot fireworks anemones, but today I was interested in the communities with cram themselves on the rocks. Much of the Loch bed is mud and looks barren at first (though there is actually a lot of activity). One finds occasional rocks which give sea Loch anemones, brittle stars, sea squirts and squat lobsters something to hold fast to or hide under.

Strome this afternoon was alive with small critters (as always) and provided me with plenty of macro opportunities from tiny Isopods in the dead men’s fingers, to queen scallops filtering their dinner from the tide and gobies showing off in the shallows

dives

Defying Dennis

February half term is a favourite time of mine to make a pilgrimage to the west coast of Scotland. My buddy Rob and I picked Loch Carron, but had not reckoned on storm Dennis. The poor driving conditions did not deter us and we took the East coast route to Inverness, avoiding the winding A82 past Loch Lomond. Arriving at about 10pm, we chose our overnight camping spot thinking we had shelter, but it was a wild night indeed.

The following morning it was still pretty wild at North Strome, one of the best shore diving sites in the UK, but it was serene underwater. I was keen to try out my new backscatter MF-1 strobe and snoot, to grab some super macro shots. I hinted in on the tiny amphipods swarming on the dead man’s fingers, only a few mm long. On the way back, I could not resist also having a go at the little gobies in the shallows.

dives

James Eagan Layne

The “James” (or just JEL) is an iconic UK wreck dive, and one I have done many times. Last Sunday I passed my 40th  time on this site, a Liberty ship sunk in 1945 by a U-boat. After it was torpedoed, the ship was beached in Whitsand bay, just to the West of Plymouth, in order to recover its cargo. Fortunately for us divers, the ship sank, with no loss of life, before it went aground. It lies upright in only 20m and its superstructure rises to only a few metres from the surface, so it is popular with all levels of diver. We didn’t even have to put our shotline in, as it dived very regularly by the many dive boats out of Plymouth.

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The JEL was carrying a cargo of US Army engineering equipment when it was sunk and over the years, these neat stacks of equipment have been cemented into interesting piles of artefacts, which after over 60 years in the sea are not easy to identify.

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The deck, bulkheads and much of the side plating have rotted away now, and the wreck has changed a lot in the 30 years I have been diving it. Whereas it once felt quite enclosed, it is now generally rather open. Successive winter storms (this site is pretty exposed to the prevailing South Westerlies) are taking their toll, though there is much of interest to see.

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She was powered by an oil-fired triple expansion engine, which now stands proud of the sea bed so it is easy to look all around it.

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The many crevices between the items in the cargo have provided ideal homes for generations of Tompot Blennies which are found all over the wreck. This pair were having a territorial dispute when I came upon them and ignored me until they had decided who was top tompot!

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The bow of a ship is one of the strongest parts and so survives the sea for the longest. This is also the shallowest point, and where the shotline was attached; you can see that there is quite a bit of algae in this shallower water.

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dives

HMS Elk

Every classic cub boat weekend should involve diving a couple of wrecks. I had a most enjoyable tour of the Elk last weekend- late summer sun and a lack of particulates in the water provided us with good visibility. This ship was a pre-war steam trawler which was drafted into service as a mine sweeper during WWII, and sank in the mouth of Plymouth Sound in about 30m of water. It is a relatively compact wreck and sits upright on the sea bed, so can be seen from stem to stern and back in a single dive.

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The wreck was shotted straight on the bow and we were greeted by a large shoal of Bib.

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So many fish…ERB_4407

…happy to share the wreck with us

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Swimming towards the stern, the decks have mostly fallen through, the wreck is still very “ship-like”. The boiler is found amidshipsERB_4410ERB_4426

Stern of the wreck – time to turn back.

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Triple expansion steam engine.

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Back to the boiler again.

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Surrounded by Bib for the whole dive.

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Return to the bow for our ascent back up the shot line.

Uncategorized

Easter slugs

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I enjoyed yet another early-season pilgrimage to the West coast of Scotland this Easter. I have often been even earlier in the season and there was more life to see by going a little later. I joined friends from the Bristol Underwater Photographers Group, including regular buddies Trevor Rees & Rob Bailey and linking up with fellow underwater wildlife shooters Jason Gregory and Colin Samuel to re-visit Loch Creran (which was really murky) and then Loch Duich and Loch Carron. Whilst the South coast was battered by stormy weather, we experienced some good diving conditions in these cold sea lochs and were rewarded with some lovely photo subjects. This time there seemed to be an abundance of nudibranchs (sea slugs)- a range of species and some really large specimens. Great trip- thanks guys.

dives

It must be spring

Spring has sprung – despite distinctly murky conditions on the James Eagan Lane this weekend, there were Oaten Pipe Hydroids (Tubularia indivisa) aplenty to see. The numbers of these marvellous creatures explode in early spring, that is until the nudibranch eggs hatch and they all get munched!ERB_0443

Nikon D500, Nikon AF-S 60mm with +5 diopter

musings

Photosub judging

It has been my pleasure and no small responsibility to judge the work of the Photosub underwater photography group as guest of honour at their annual dinner, it was my task to pick out winners in advance from the four digital categories and on the evening from the print competition. Photosub is one of the oldest UK underwater photography groups and boasts a number of prominent UK underwater photographers. As a photographer it was humbling to pick out winners from such a high standard of work, but also a valuable experience to objectively critique the work of others. Thank you, Photosub; it was a pleasure to be the guest of such an active, passionate and talented group of underwater photographers!

Here I am with the competition winners.

trips

Fireworks and flame shells

Underwater photographers tend to take a different view of dive sites on a trip to non-shooting divers. We will often be keen to keep returning to the same site repeatedly on a trip rather than trying to see a different site on each dive. So it was on a recent trip to West Scotland, I dived in only two sites. In each of two sea lochs, I dived in a single area. However these were very much contrasting locations, one a very clean high energy site needing slack water and the other a slightly murky low energy spot. Each is home to unusual but “locally common” species, well worth braving the 6-degree water temperature for.

Loch Duich is home to the impressive fireworks anemone and the maerl bed of the narrows at the head of Loch Carron is home to hidden flame shells, as well as a mass of macro subjects. Here are a selection of images to give a flavour of the sites.

First of all, Loch Duich:

And here’s North Strome on Loch Carron: