dives, trips

Shetlands – day 6

Our final day aboard MV Clasina began with a dive on another klondiker (like the Lunokhods-1 we saw earlier in the week), the Pionersk. This huge fishing factory ship foundered in the 1990s, but is rather shallower than many of the other wrecks we dived. Consequently, it is more kelp encrusted and sadly the vis was rather poor, so I was limited to very close focus photography. The fact that we were so disappointed with the vis on this dive (“normal” UK vis – approx 3-4m) just goes to show how good the visibility had been on the other dives of this trip. Good weather – calm sea and bright light – helps, as does the sandy sea bed under most of the wrecks we saw; however, the lack of large amounts of algae in the water here is a massive help too (many of my shots from this week have a bluish tint, rather than the pea soup we have come to expect in the UK.

Our week aboard Clasina finished on a highlight with a return full circle to the first site we saw – the Fraoch Ban. This marvellously intact and upright wreck on white sand did not disappoint, and we saw angler fish and octopus in addition to the flatfish on the sand, spiny spider crabs on the hull and shoals of small fish around the superstructure we saw last time. A fitting end to an excellent stay aboard MV Clasina.

The dives were finished early, to allow the disembarkation of the mountain of gear which ten divers bring onto a live aboard. Rob and I bade farewell to our buddies from East Cheshire BSAC, as they were on the afternoon ferry. It was a more leisurely end to the day for us, as we had a couple more days left on Shetland.

Links:

<– Shetland day 5

dives, trips

Shetlands – day 3

Another morning, another wreck!. In this case, the Jane, a cargo ship which came to grief in 1927. The wreck lies on its side, with a large propellor and rudder visible. It stands several metres proud of the sea bed but shows signs of collapse in several places.

Our second dive was a drift off Burra Ness, on our way to Balta Sound. The sea bed consisted of maerl and coarse sand with very large undulations caused by the tide. We saw many hermit crabs, one or two nudis and a huge plaice.

The evening saw us in Baltasound, where we chatted to the skipper of the Björn, a gaff Cutter rugged ketch flying the Norwegian flag. In fact the owner was from Iceland and had sailed to Shetland via the Faroes, on his way to Bergen and points south in Norway to overwinter.

We also walked up to Balta Light, the most northerly pub in the UK. In these Covid times, we decided not to stay inside and drank our pints in the surprisingly cold beer garden.

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Baltasound has several other notable landmarks, including the John Peel memorial bus stop (currently sporting a “2020 vision” theme in “honour” of a certain Mr Cummings) and also a memorial to the crew of the WW1 submarine E-49, the site of our dive the next day.

Links:

dives, trips

Shetlands – day 4

My buddy Rob inspecting the conning tower of E-49

As we pass the halfway point of the trip, this day was a real highlight – a site so good, we dived it twice. This wreck was the E-49, a British WW1 submarine which hit a German mine in March 1917 and tragically was lost with all hands at the mouth of Baltasound. The life of a submariner must have been terrifying and heaven knows what those men experienced when the mine exploded. It is always sobering to visit such war graves and though some feel that these sites should not be dived, I think that these wrecks are a memorial to the bravery of our forebears. What struck me was how small the submarine is; this 55m tube must have been an incredibly cramped place for the 30 crew to live.

She lies upright in 32m on coarse sand, which provides stunning light and visibility. The bow section is blown off and lies a few metres away from the main wreck, which lies mostly buried in the sand. The conning tower is broken off and lies to the port side. The stainless steel periscope is clear to be seen and many other details of the gears which operated the ballast tanks, winches and hydroplanes are visible. The wreck tapers off into the sand, with the propellor just visible.

The bow section, which was blown off by the mine which sank the submarine
Much. of the. external plating has corroded away, revealing the pressure hull
The conning tower has broken off and lies on the sand
looking down the. conning tower
Wonderful to see the. whole wreck spread before us
Reluctantly ascending from the E-49

Having finished our pair of dives, we returned to Baltasound and got a taxi to see the amazing colonies of Skua, Gannet and Fulmar at Herma Ness and which also gave us a marvellous view of the light house at Muckle Flugga. This marks the northernmost reach of both Shetland and the UK. It was amazing to think that the was only the Arctic to the north and the whole of the Atlantic to our west.

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dives, trips

Shetlands – day 2

The skipper’s briefing described our first site of the day as “Shetland deep”, in other words 40m, but in clear and calm water. I don’t often venture below 30m because usually there’s not much to photograph. My previous experience of wrecks at depth is that there is too little light to make pleasing images. However, our site this morning – Lunokhods-1 – was worth the depth.

Sunk relatively recently (1993), the Lunokhods-1 is a “klondiker” (factory fishing ship) which dragged its anchor and ran aground in a storm. Consequently, the bulk of the wreck is shallow, but the bow section sheared off and slid down the slope to about 40m.

The skipper put the shot bang on the bow, so we had an ideal dive profile – descending first to maximum depth to admire the view looking back along the bow with the divers visible in silhouette and their probing torch beams picking out details of the wreck. The clarity of the water meant that plenty of light penetrated to the sea bed, as well as providing great visibility.

After this highlight (sadly a short stay), we zig-zagged up the sloping debris field, so that by the time we reached 12m, our decompression commitment was spent. With additional time in the shallows, the safety stops were completed and it was time to send up the SMB and reluctantly return to the surface and the waiting Clasina.

We motored to the Out Skerries for the next dive. This group of small islands is so called not for being remote, but is derived from the Norse word for East.

Our second dive was under the lighthouse on Bound Skerry. The rocks slope steeply into the water and this contour continues under the water. Dropping into the clear water to 20m we followed the wall along to the point looking for crayfish (Palinarus elephas).

Along the way, I found a nice dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula) sheltering in wide crack in the rock. After searching for a while in the kelp, we were rewarded by discovering a nice crayfish. Despite the yellow antennae, these impressive clawless crustaceans are surprisingly well camouflaged among the yellow brown kelp and purple rock. This fine individual tolerated both Rob and I taking turns photographing it.

Links:

<– Shetland trip Day 1

Shetland trip Day 3 –>

dives

Greenends Gully

Greenends Gully is a site I first dived in the early 1990s and, although the shore access has changed much over the intervening years, it remains a shore dive which is emblematic of that lovely stretch of our coast. It is a deep gully that runs out from a small headland to the south of Eyemouth harbour and is stuffed with marine life – mostly crustaceans.

I dived it most recently en route for a ferry crossing to the Shetlands and having visited St Abbs only a few weeks ago in outstanding conditions, it was not so inviting this time due to the swell I could see a few yards off these rocks.

I dropped off the end of the concrete path, into a gully which led down and out towards the open sea. Although there was swell further out, the water was perfectly calm (though perhaps a little stirred up) within the gully.

This is an excellent site for several species of crustacean and I saw half a dozen lobsters (Hommarus gammarus) and many of the ubiquitous short-clawed squat lobsters (Galathea strigosa) in quite a short length of rock. The latter did not seem as nervous as usual and I was able to approach and photograph them. They are most often seen upside down, gripping the roof of their caves, most inaccessible for photography. I was able to capture several individuals and watched in one case, as it grasped the rock behind and elegantly turned itself upside down.

Short clawed squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) posing for its photo. Hang on, I’m usually…
… not this way round …
… but the other way up!

An aspect of photography I enjoy very much is to stop and spend time watching the behaviour of wildlife. On this occasion, I watched as a lobster manipulate stones accumulated in its burrow and bulldoze them out of the area. I noticed that of the half dozen individuals I saw, one had no claws and the other had a broken claw.

Lobster (Hommarus gammarus) cleaning its burrow of debris.

After 45 minutes, I decided not to outstay my welcome and return to my start point. I was caught out by how much the water had fallen and it was a bit of a scramble to get out of the water; I was very grateful to my buddy for being on hand to help me up with my kit!

A pogge (Agonus cataphractus) amongst the kelpGalathea strigosa
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.

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