The Seadogs of Lundy Island

The day starts with an early morning road trip down to the North Devon harbour town of Ilfracombe. The sea comes into view and in the distance the beautiful island of Lundy can be seen. A sense of anticipation has been growing ever since we left home and arriving at the harbour we can see we are not the only ones excited about today’s trip to dive with the super friendly seals that inhabit the rich coastal waters surrounding Lundy Island.

 

 

 

The rest of the Group have already arrived and are setting up their dive kit, ready to load onto “Obsession 2” the high speed “Cat” that Scuba Blue have chartered for the day. The skipper and crew are always hugely welcoming and we particularly enjoy taking less experienced divers to Lundy as it is an ideal first sea dive for those still new to the sport !!

 

 

Then, we are on our way and in just over an hour we are pulling into the calm clear waters of “Gannets Bay”. As we find our mooring line, the “residents” are seen sliding from the rocks which they have been basking on, into the sea, ready to interact with the new group of playmates that have just arrived. Heads then bob up out of the water to see what is taking the new arrivals so long, whilst we all kit up as quickly as we can to drop in and experience one of the highlights of UK diving.

 

Finally, the skipper opens the gate at the back of the boat and announces that “The pool is open!” and in we all go. We descend to the kelp covered bottom in only 3 or 4 metres of water and settle in to wait. The trick with seals is to ignore them…they can’t bear it !!! If you see one and swim after it, the seal will disappear…but pretend you haven’t seen it, or even better, ignore it, and it will soon be chewing and tugging on your fin, begging you to interact !!

 

It really is an amazing experience to have a wild animal, that is possibly 2 metres long with huge puppy eyes, begging you to scratch its tummy…..but you still ignore it…it may then “paw” your hood or gently chew your gloved fingers, in exactly the same way a friendly Labrador would, and in the end might even rub its tummy on your hand. We are briefed not to touch the seals but if they touch you, what choice do you have? Then you have them, their friends might also turn up and you have three, maybe four, of these very friendly, incredibly acrobatic marine mammals swooping around you and having the time of their lives!!!

 

All to soon, it is time to swim back to the boat…don’t be surprised if you feel some resistance on your fins…the seals don’t want you to get out, they want to keep playing and will grab your fins to try to persuade you to stay!! The diver lift gets you effortlessly back onto the boat and the dive deck is alive with chat about the experiences we have all had. Coffees, teas, hot chocolates and biscuits are served up by the fantastic crew and we all relax for an hour or so before jumping back in the water to do it all again !!!

 

 

Then, it is full steam ahead back to Ilfracombe. Sadly, I am unable to describe much about that journey as you will usually find me snoozing, all the way back, somewhere in the wheelhouse. Before we know it, we are back in Ilfracombe, the boat is unloaded and we finish the day, in the only way you can when at the seaside…fish and chips on the harbour wall.

The Pool Session

I am driving into Taunton town centre in the rain, on a dark January evening, thinking how nice it would be at home with my feet up tucking into some food… but I know that within about 10 minutes, I will be reminded why I am the luckiest man in the world not to finish work till about 10pm on a Tuesday night !!!

 

Arriving at King’s College, I am always amazed at how early our hugely enthusiastic staff turn up for the pool sessions, they just can’t stay away !! A quick chat and catch up, then students and members of the Scuba Blue Club begin to arrive. Try Divers looking a little apprehensive, but excited about the new activity they are going to experience…Open Water students looking forward to a session of learning skills and catching up with their new “Dive Buddies”, experienced divers who haven’t been in the water for a while and want to brush up on their skills and club members just wanting to blow a few bubbles and to hone their underwater skills.

 

The group then splits between the classroom and the pool…students complete any theory work with our instructors in the warm classrooms right next to the pool, whilst the rest of the Scuba Blue team unload all  the kit for the evening and set up ready for the pool. It always stuns us  that members and students alike always want to help the staff with the unloading, it just seems to engender a team feel and we love it. After what feels like 5 minutes, it’s time to get changed and do what we have all come here for…..SCUBA DIVING !!!

 

All our staff have been fully briefed and are ready to look after our guests for the evening…There is nothing worse than standing on the edge of a swimming pool, in your swimming things, not knowing quite what to do. So we make sure you are greeted at the poolside, whisked away, provided with whatever kit you require and then welcomed into the small groups you will be spending the session with.

 

One of the great joys of our Tuesday pool sessions, is that Try Divers and newer students have the opportunity to see a huge range of abilities in the pool. Some members might be practicing their SMB skills, others trying out their new twinsets or even rebreathers…it gives a great illustration of the endless possibilities diving can offer.

 

 

If I get a moment, I will take a minute to myself to just hover in the deep end and take in the view of between 20 and 30 people all having the time of their lives on a cold, wet Tuesday evening in Taunton… Bizarre isn’t it !!Then, before we know it, the time has come to get out and back to normal life.

 

 

 

HOWEVER, for me the highlight of the evening is hearing the chat and laughter in the changing rooms and reception area once the pool session is over. There are no signs of nerves or shyness from the Try Divers anymore, they are full of smiles and desperate to talk about their first breaths underwater and “How can I take this new interest further?”, Open Water students are chatting with everyone about the new found confidence they have and making plans for their “Open Water Weekend” and the experienced divers, who have come along for a refresher session, are remarking that the skills they have been put through have never left them… “It’s a bit like riding a bike” and…”Why did I leave it for so long?”

 

Then, just as you think everyone will want to get away as it’s up for work in the morning , EVERYONE gets involved in packing the van. We tell them that they are guests but they insist they “Want to get involved.” The van is loaded in minutes but STILL people don’t want to leave.

 

Finally, I HAVE to bring the evening to a close, so everyone disappears to their cars still chatting all the way and I turn off the lights and lock the doors!! After a drink, a quick bite to eat and a bit of a debrief with any staff and students that want to join us, I am on my way home with a huge feeling of satisfaction and a real joy that we have just been able to provide the base for people to come out, get active, try something new, make new friends and simply have a great time !!

 

By 11pm I’m drifting off, dreaming of crystal clear waters, coral reefs, pristine shipwrecks and talking sea horses zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………..

Just need to unload that van in the morning !!!!!

Our day began from the wonderful Swanage Pier

PADI Women’s Dive Day 2019

Here is a blog from Vicky Hayes who organised the recent Scuba Blue PADI Women’s Dive Day 2019.

 

Those of you who know me, know that I don’t need any persuasion to jump off a boat and explore the underwater world but this day was particularly special as it was a celebration of the growing numbers of women that are getting into the sport of SCUBA diving. 

 

At Scuba Blue we are really proud of the high number of women that dive with us with many of our trips being a 50/50 male/female split. 

 

The Valentine Tanks off SwanageAfter the successful shore diving at Brixham last year, this year we decided to take a trip down to Swanage and head off to explore the Valentine Tanks with ‘Sinbad’ from Swanage Boat Charters. The tanks are WW2 amphibious vehicles that lie at 15m in Poole Bay, 30 minutes out from Swanage. 

 

With ropes off just after midday, the excitement built as we gathered on the pier ready to jump aboard ‘Viper’ and head out to sea. It was great to see so many ladies from last year’s dive day and this year we also had some new faces join us, which is always fantastic. 

 

The Women of Scuba BlueFor a few of the group, this would be their first trip on a dive boat and along with excitement, naturally came some apprehension. Scuba Blue Dive Masters Carla, Jo and myself were on hand to guide, explain the process and build confidence in those who hadn’t boat dived previously. 

 

Aboard the ViperI love diving on the tanks. It will always be a Swanage favourite for me, as it was my first boat dive 3 years ago when I learnt to dive. I’ve been lucky enough to revisit the dive site several times since, but once again it took my breath away as we descended down the shot line and found ourselves surrounded by vast quantities of shoaling Bib. 

 

Conger Eel

The amount of marine life that the Valentine Tanks has to offer is amazing, especially given the limited size of the wrecks. Everywhere we looked we spotted life. Tompot Blennies, leopard-spotted gobies, large Wrasse, Edible Crabs, Velvet Crabs, Common Prawns and Conger Eels were all inhabiting the wrecks.

 

On the swim between the two tanks (roughly 70 metres – following a rope) we spotted a Dahlia Anemone and there was also a cuttlefish sighting by another buddy pair. We could tell that we were nearing the second tank because once again we found ourselves surrounded by fish. 

THe Ladies of Scuba Blue relax post-diveBy the time we had finished the dive the swell had picked up rather a lot, which made for quite an eventful exit for some of us ladies… along with lots of giggles!!

 

After some light refreshments at the pier cafe, some of us then headed off for a second dive under the pier. 

 

We finished the day off nicely, with fish, chips and ice cream. It was a fabulous day, great company, brilliant diving and loads of laughter.

 

Last year we had 9 ladies join us on PADI Women’s Dive Day, this year 12… who knows what next year will bring as Scuba Blue has already certified over 25 new women divers this year!!  

 

If you would like to join the next Scuba Blue PADI Women’s Dive Day then get in touch with us; check out the Scuba Blue website. If you fancy organising your own trip to Swanage then we can offer advice, contacts and kit hire.  Thanks to the fantastic folk at Swanage Boat Charters for looking after us all so well.

Carla enjoying some warm water diving

The Best Decision I Ever Made…Becoming a Scuba Blue PADI Divemaster

We are very proud to present a very honest account from Carla, one of our first group of trainee PADI Divemasters.  When Scuba Blue began we were pleased have six friends and dive buddies who wanted (OK, we did have to persuade one or two!!) to become PADI Divemasters with us. We were determined that their experience would be second to none and we worked hard to plan and deliver a great course for them.

 

It has been an honour to work with these fabulous people and it is so rewarding to hear about the course from the other side.  The bar was set high; all standards had to be clearly met and assessments were rigorous throughout. Having a group of trainees worked really well; they supported, cajoled and helped each other but throughout the level of humour and banter never failed!

 

Scuba Blue is now planning for a new group of Trainee Divemasters “The Class of 2019/20”.  If you want to join them then get in touch with Midge at Scuba Blue and reserve your space quickly. You can find out more about the course on this site and on the PADI website

 

I am not going to lie, when Midge talked to me about training to become a PADI Divemaster for Scuba Blue I had my doubts, mostly due to my limited confidence in my abilities as a diver and what I perceived as my lack of patience when dealing with others. I think I decided to start the course because there was a group of us who dived regularly together all agreeing to undertake the training.

 

Brian, one of Scuba Blue’s instructors, delivered all of our PADI Divemaster training; he was hugely knowledgeable, supportive and patient. The Scuba Blue approach to delivering the course was great fun, we would all gather around the kitchen table at Brian’s and go through the theory, it was great to have the support of everyone else and there were many laughs. Big shout out to Janet (Mrs Brian) for providing excellent cake each time! (Note: Mrs B says you were all a nightmare to cater for with highly specialised cake preferences .. how can anyone not like lemon drizzle cake???)

 

Not long after starting my course, my confidence took a huge knock when I had a bad dive at Swanage. I am the sort who is really hard on themselves and I remember getting back on to the boat and demanding a course refund! We still had another dive to go that day so I put ‘my big girl pants on’ and got back in and had a fantastic drift dive with no issues. Nevertheless, I  still had doubts about my ability to be a good divemaster and not let Scuba Blue down.

 

Shortly after this adventure/disaster, it was time for one of my PADI Divemaster assessments in the pool. As part of the course, I have to demonstrate one of the skills that a diver on their open water course needs to be able to complete. I was working with Midge on this occasion and he had briefed me beforehand on what skill he would like me to demonstrate, so I was all prepared. Unfortunately, Midge’s regulators malfunctioned and he was not able to effectively demonstrate the skills to the students so as the DM it fell on me to work through the skills with the students. This is the best thing that could have happened to me, I had not prepared for this but I had to come across as confident and professional to the students. They all paid close attention to me and successfully completed all of the skills. I was hooked from that moment on!

 

One student in particular, who I was lucky enough to work with closely throughout their open water course, only helped me further to realise that deciding to become a DM was the best decision I ever made. If I didn’t have a mortgage to pay, I would love to do this all the time! The student struggled at first with mastering one of the skills needed to qualify as an open water diver, I got the opportunity to work with them one-on-one and give them the confidence and a couple of tips to help them nail the skill. I think it helped that I had struggled with some of my learning so I understood how they felt.

 

That is one of the things I love about being part of Scuba Blue, they never rush you or make you feel silly, they do all they can to support you through any difficultly.

 

If anyone were thinking of undertaking a PADI Divemaster course, I would highly recommend doing it with Scuba Blue. We got to work with real students, had fantastic support from the rest of the team, who are highly professional but most importantly love to dive. I completed the course within 8 months, building up constant experience in this period. The Scuba Blue family has a passion for diving and teaching diving well and this passion is infectious.

 

Scuba Blue totally believes in their ethos of ‘start diving, keep diving’ and this is clear throughout everything they do and I will make sure I help support this in my time as a Scuba Blue Divemaster!  Scuba Blue is not all about how many courses you can do; Scuba Blue is about going diving, supporting each other, socialising and having fun.

THe beautiful shores of the islands surrounding Truk lagoon

Bucket List Diving – Truk Lagoon

Tony Reed is a passionate and highly experienced diver. We are so fortunate to have Tony associated with Scuba Blue; many of the photographs on the site are Tony’s and he is always willing to come along and help record the varied events and activities that go on at Scuba Blue.   Check out his brilliant website at https://cheapandcheerful.blog/ to see what brilliant photographs can be taken underwater using quite basic equipment.  Here Tony writes about a real bucket list dive destination – Truk Lagoon.

 

A poignant reminder of the people who once crewed these ships

Chuuk lagoon, also known as Truk lagoon’ is on many diver’s bucket list, and rightfully so. The lagoon is home to a vast number of wrecks that were sunk in 1914 from Operation Hailstone. Hailstone was an operation that lasted 2 days and saw the destruction of the Japanese fleet by the US in retaliation from the attacks on Pearl harbour.

 

Chuuk Lagoon is one of a small group of islands which form the federated states of Micronesia. Located in the Pacific the distance from the UK makes it a task to get there!  My trip there was broken up into 2 days. From Gatwick to Istanbul – Japan where I stayed overnight, then from Japan to Guam and then on to Chuuk.

 

I travelled as light as I could and with different baggage allowances throughout the journey it worked out quite well with a quick swap over of a couple of items in Japan. I flew Turkish airlines from UK to Japan with a 40-kilo allowance. From Japan to Chuuk I flew United Airlines with a 23-kilo allowance but the hand luggage was only restricted to size not weight. So the Olympus TG4 was perfect to take with me! I also took a couple of GoPros for footage and wide shots! Along with a small but powerful video light I had what I needed. This is the setup I now use for my photography!

 

I arrived at midnight and got shown to my room where I quickly found my bed. I woke in the morning to a view that took my breath away..it was paradise..clear turquoise sea, blue sky, green grass and palm trees. I was excited about the day ahead. I made my way to the restaurant for breakfast walking through the lush green trees. There were lots to choose from on the menu which was nice. I also noticed all the information needed for new arrivals on the reverse of the menu so I had everything I needed.

 

Inside the wreck

After breakfast I got my dive kit sorted and headed over to the dive centre. The set up was really good with a guide and skipper allocated too a small group of divers. For most of the week, I was on the boat with 3 other divers Dean, Sue and Paul.

 

The boat journey to the dive sites is usually no longer than 25 minutes so it’s not long before you are descending down the buoy line. The first wreck was the Fujikawa maru which is a favourite to start with. The viz was pretty good and it wasn’t long before the dark shape below resembled the bow of a wreck. The excitement from the start of the holiday only got more intense as we explored the magnificent wrecks one by one. Trying to take in all the different artefacts that remain on each wreck is a challenge so having a couple of cameras helped a lot with that! Between the 2 dives in the morning, we made our way to Etton island for a surface interval where the locals climbed the trees and cut down coconuts for us all to drink from! it was a lovely way to spend the interval.

 

unexploded ammunition

Etton island was a landing strip which resembled the shape of an aircraft carrier which confused the Americans as they kept bombing the island and reporting back stating it still had not sunk! There are a number of aircraft scattered around the end of the island. The betty bomber, the Emily seaplane, a Zero fighter and some wings of fighters. The betty bomber and Emily seaplane were great dives with quite a bit of life on them. The Zero fighter is in 6 meters of water so was a good surface interval snorkel.

 

Over the 8 days diving, I managed to do 18 different wrecks, some were done twice as a new group came through. A wreck playground for the metal fans but also plenty of life around the wrecks! Sharks, hundreds of fish shoals and a fair bit of macro! A great combination for the photographer. On the last day after diving, the guide took us to another island for a farewell BBQ! It was an amazing end to a fantastic 8 days diving! On the tiniest island miles from anywhere else sipping beer, eating good food sitting in a hammock watching the clouds go by! Perfect!

Jonathan obviously enjoys rebreather diving

Trying out the VMS RedBare Rebreather

Andy with instructor, Tim ClementsScuba Blue concentrates on training recreational divers but that’s not to say that we don’t also take an interest in more technical diving and equipment.  Tim Clements of Vobster Quay Dive Centre provided a day introducing Scuba Blue Divemasters, Andy Braithwaite and Jonathan Madeley to Rebreather Diving.  An arm of the Vobster operation both manufactures and offers training on the VMS RedBare Closed Circuit (CCR) Rebreather.

 

Both Andy and I are used to the early morning start for a trip to Vobster Quay, but this morning was different; today we were going back to being the students. The night before we had both packed all our kit and had exchanged suitably excited messages about meeting up in the morning. We had been looking forward to this since a brief conversation with Tim at the Dive Show last year. While I was waiting for Andy I was thinking how lucky we are to live where we do, we have fantastic sea dives that can fill anyone’s needs, wrecks off the south coast, blue sharks out of Plymouth, seals at Lundy but also facilities like Vobster Quay all on our doorstep.

 

Learning about the unitWe arrived at Vobster nice and early and after getting the obligatory cup of tea, we met Tim, went upstairs to learn about the RedBare rebreather, have a general look at rebreather technology and some of the unique features on the RedBare. It was an interesting couple of hours and Tim spent time not only explaining the technology but also the reasoning behind it and how things had moved on in the last few years. Although there is no denying that there is a lot of “science” in rebreathers the morning passed quickly, both Andy and I came out of it with a much better understanding and we had a few laughs along the way.

 

Now it was the bit we had both been waiting for, our chance to dive with the RedBare rebreather. Tim spent some time adjusting the harness to try and place the counterlung on the rebreather in the correct position, as getting this wrong can lead to it Andy adopting the "Cool, Tough Diver" pose.needing an increased effort to either breath out or in. Once he was happy with the position, we were ready to go. The plan was to start in the enclosed water area to check that we had the correct weight and to practice some drills, mainly switching from the rebreather to the open circuit stage cylinder that we were carrying. The issue with switching is that you cannot just remove the rebreather mouthpiece as unlike a normal regulator it is not sealed so it will flood the whole system and will turn the sofnolime that is used to remove the carbon dioxide into oven cleaner, which is not a good thing. Therefore, before you remove the mouthpiece you need to turn the switch on the front so that it is closed and sealed. Once we had run through this drill and were happy that we could switch from the rebreather to the stage cylinder and back again, we were ready to go and explore.

 

Both Andy and I have done many dives at Vobster so we knew the planned route. What I was not ready for was the silence. The biggest change for me was buoyancy; the way a rebreather works means thatTim is very helpful! breathing in or out does not change your buoyancy. (Tim had already warned us to go around the escort rather than just take a deep breath and rise over it as we normally would. I think his exact words were we would just run into the door!) The exhaled gas is not expelled as bubbles but is held in a counterlung (bladder) and then “cleaned” and reused. This meant that if you were swimming at a set depth then once your buoyancy was right it would stay perfect until you changed depth. Whilst this is great when you are not changing depth, it does cause an issue when you start to reduce your depth. As the gas in the counterlung will start to expand as the pressure on it reduces. This causes your buoyancy to become positiveWhat time is it? and means that there is no spare volume for your exhaled breath. To counteract this you breathe out through your nose thus removing gas from the system. In reality, this sounded much more complicated than it was in practice and both Andy and I soon got the hang of balancing the amount of gas in the system. I suppose the big question now is do I want one. Well that is easy. Yes!!! However, the current diving I do does not warrant that investment. Now if Vobster brought out a cheaper version that was aimed more at a recreational diver to a max of 40m with upgrade options then I think I may be tempted

 

If you want to take part in a similar experience then you can check out the details of the Vobster Rebreather Training. You can also chat with Jonathan and Andy at a Tuesday Scuba Blue pool session or via the Scuba Blue Club Members Facebook Group.  Find out about the club here

Scuba Blue Dives Babbacombe

Carla CookEnjoy finding out about a Scuba Blue dive trip as reported by our very own Divemaster, Carla Cook.

 

Saturday 12 January saw the first of Scuba Blue’s 2019 dive adventures. Fourteen brave divers took to the chilly waters of Babbacombe in Devon for a great early morning dive. It was so good to see Scuba Blue’s ethos of ‘start diving, keep diving’ in full swing with five newly qualified open water divers joining experienced divers for their first sea dive.

 

Babbacombe is a fantastic location for old and new divers.  Just one hour from our home base in Somerset, it is always teeming with life.  With a car park right next to the shore and an easy entrance and exit to the sea, makes it a great place to introduce new Babbacombe Beachdivers to their first experience. Also for those of us experienced divers who may have overindulged at Christmas, it is a nice way to ease us back in for another fun-filled year of diving.

 

I have been diving for over three years and have been part of Scuba Blue from the beginning. Last year I started training to be a divemaster so I could share my love of diving with others. I honestly do not think I would have enjoyed the experience as much if I had not done it with Scuba Blue. The team are so knowledgeable, welcoming and passionate; I have made friends for life.

 

Scuba Blue Divers at Babbacombe I got to support some of the new divers through their open water courses, so to be able to be part of their first fun dives was extremely rewarding. They were so excited to be able to spot their first crabs, lobsters and other sea life, having animated discussions with us afterwards, helping to identify what they had spotted during the dive. I would highly recommend Great British Marine Animals by Paul Naylor to help with this!

 

I have to mention Scuba Blue’s very own Mr Bluffield, who is, unfortunately, gaining the unwanted reputation of losing his dive equipment! Thankfully, the dive community are so amazing that within a few hours a fellow diver had found his camera.

 

It would not be a proper dive day without a trip to a local pub for some food, here we are at Route 16 (other pubs are available).Lunch at Route 16 in Babbacombe

 

I cannot wait for Scuba Blue’s next dive adventure, but in the meantime, every Tuesday evening you will find us at a pool in Taunton, ready to welcome the next generation of divers. If you have ever thought you would like to have a go at diving, why not join us? For only £30, you can take part in a try dive and meet the Scuba Blue team. To find out more call 07966 429239 and check out our website at www.scubablue.co.uk and for advice on diving at Babbacombe have a look at this blog article 

 

Scuba Blue loves to help people start diving, but more importantly, we want to keep you diving!

Andy and Tony

A tale of a dive day: a winter trip to Cornwall.

Here is a blog written by Scuba Blue’s first homegrown Divemaster (and soon to be Instructor), Andy Bluffield.

 

Well just as I thought the 2018 diving season was over I got a call from Scuba Blue’s ace photographer and videographer Tony Reed asking if I was up for a dive out of Falmouth with Atlantic Scuba. Well of course I was, I couldn’t think of a better way to help work off the Christmas mince pies and finish off the year in style.

 

A 5:30 am alarm call lead to a bleary-eyed meeting with Tony for our lift share down to Cornwall.  After a quick Costa coffee, we made good time on the quiet post-Christmas roads and arrived in good time for a pre-10:00 am ropes off fry up in the Mylor Cafe (so much for working off the mince pies!).

 

Atlantic Scuba

We met up with skipper, Mark Milburn, owner of Atlantic Scuba on the jetty.  He was wearing shorts (brrrrr), a smile and carrying a jerry can of two stroke.  Mark’s knowledge of the local area is outstanding; there are few who can match his intimate knowledge of Cornish diving.  Nothing was too much trouble when it came to making sure we had a great day – a freshly filled cylinder awaited Tony, who had been diving the previous day and been unable to get a fill beforehand (there are those who say he spends more time below water than above it!).

 

After a smooth trip out to the Manacles reef, Mark shot the wreck directly over the boilers enabling us to drop straight onto the SS Mohegan.  This ship sank in tragic circumstances in 1898 with the loss of 106 passengers and crew after making a navigational error which drove her onto the Manacles. As we descended onto the wreck, three huge boilers came into view. Visibility was over 5 metres and surface conditions screamed: “jump in, the waters lovely”. Swimming above the boilers you could see breaks in the skin and also notice that the middle boiler is, in fact, two smaller boilers back-to-back. These were covered in the life typically found on a UK dive. Most of the wreck is well broken up and cross sections are covered with an abundance of pink sea fans which hold out their arms perpendicular to the current to catch their current-borne food.

 

Maerl bedsIt was then back to Falmouth for a cylinder swap. Mark runs a rib which, although very comfortable, means that space is at a premium. After a quick turnaround, albeit with plenty of time for a hot chocolate, we were back on our way out to dive the Maerl beds.

 

This was my first experience of these beds and “Wow, just Wow”. Tony had told me to expect a floor of red twiglets that just went on and on and filled with life.  His description was spot on. Mearl is a term for a seabed densely covered by several species of red, hard skeletoned, seaweed, It is rock hard and, like most red seaweeds, needs lots of light to thrive so tend to be found in well lit, shallow waters. The beds at Falmouth are huge and the conditions are perfect due to a tidal flow that removes fine sediment but isn’t strong enough to break up the brittle maerl branches. Within these beds, layers of dead maerl build up with a thin layer of pink, living maerl on the top.  Mark explained how Mearl beds are such an important habitat for many different types of marine life that live amongst it and told us how it can be of importance to sustainable fisheries, providing nursery grounds for commercial species of fish and shellfish. It’s clear to see how the beds could be easily damaged and have declined substantially in some areas. Pressures on maerl beds include scallop dredging, bottom trawling, aquaculture and pollution. They are very slow to develop and are unlikely to return if removed or lost. The site is one of the largest maerl beds in south-west Britain and it was a privilege to dive them.

 

Crab closeup

Despite being an experienced UK diver I know there are always new places to go, wrecks to explore, and underwater environments which are globally rare to investigate.  This was a great day but not untypical of what we lucky UK divers get to explore. If you are inspired to go on a similar trip, advance your training or even learn how to dive, get in touch with Scuba Blue. We love meeting other divers, training people to become divers and helping them to keep diving.  Check out our dive club.

 

Check out more of Tony Reed’s pictures at Cheap and Cheerful Photography and Videography and Mark Milburn’s dive centre in Falmouth, Atlantic Scuba.

Chesil Beach and Portland

Chesil Cove

Kitting up at ChesilMost of the best-known shore diving sites on our South Devon/Dorset doorstep are exposed to winds from the South or East.  Where to go when the “Easterlies, damned Easterlies” are blowing? The answer is usually Chesil Cove.  When conditions are favourable then this is a fantastic dive site with visibility well over 10m or so.

 

You can check out conditions through the daily photographs published at https://www.facebook.com/diveportland  This site is maintained by the volunteers at Chesil Beach Watch.  The Facebook group “UK Vis Reports is well worth joining too.Ray at Chesil You may well find a recent report on the conditions at your planned dive site and, if not, just post a request and someone will usually get straight back with the information you need.

 

To get there drive towards Portland on the A354 and, once you’ve crossed the causeway with Chesil Beach on your right, bear right to Chiswell and see if you can park (free) on Brandy Row. Put DT5 1LN in your SatNav; this is the postcode of Quiddles Cafe and should get you there. If you can’t find a parking space there drop your kit off and head back to one of the other nearby car parking spaces.

 

nudibranch at ChesilFor a pre-dive breakfast, or just a bacon buttie if you are on a diet, walk along the Esplanade to Quiddles Cafe – great food and views right over the cove.Crab

 

The plan for diving the cove can be as simple as “Head West for a bit, swim around, head back East”. The easiest point of entry is probably straight down the beach from the ramp and for your first trip to Chesil I’d recommend this area as it has a nice mix of pebble beds, rocks, wreckage and patches of open sand. This variety means that there is an equally varied and abundant marine life to be explored. You can expect to find wrasse, crabs, lobsters, cuttlefish, pollack, John Dory, the occasional bass and often, huge shoals of sand eels. Alternatively, walk along the base of the Esplanade towards the cafe end of the beach and get in there. More or less straight out from Quiddles there is a disused sewage pipe (don’t worry –  it is definitely disused!) and this acts as a magnet for marine life. Follow the pipe out heading East and perhaps turn left (South) and explore the southern end of the cove where there are some huge boulders and rocks. This seems to attract big shoals of pollack and even some sea bass. Head North when you turn the dive until bearing East to get back to the beach.Ray eyeball

 

OK…its time to talk about the obvious problem here; there is no getting away from it… this is one steep beach. If there is any degree of surge or wave action then getting in, and more importantly, getting out, can be a problem so perhaps its time to adjourn to the pub to talk diving steep beachrather than doing it!  My preferred way of handling the dive is to, after doing buddy checks at the top of the beach, move towards the water with your buddy close by and to take steeper slopes on the diagonal to reduce the gradient. Once in the water fit your fins and have a fabulous dive. When getting out reverse the process and be available to help your buddy. In all my trips here I’ve always managed to get in and out with dignity (mostly) intact…just use a bit of common sense.

 

I’ve already mentioned the pub and the one to aim for is the Cove House Inn. which does great draught beer and has a fab menu of pub staples.  When the weather is good you can sit outside and watch other divers falling over!  Alternatively, do like Scuba Blue do when we come down here and have a beach barbecue.Chesil Beach Barbecue with Scuba Blue

 

If you need an air fill head for Underwater Explorers just a couple of minutes drive from Chesil Cove.

 

The Scuba Blue members are regular divers at Chesil Cove. If you fancy giving it a try why not post on the club facebook page and find a buddy to go with. Not a member…. check out the Scuba Blue Club page on the website and join…you know it makes sense 🙂

 

Most of the pictures on this page were taken by the wonderful local underwater photographer, Tony Reed.  Check out more of his work at his blog http://cheapandcheerful.blog and look out for his photography workshops with Scuba Blue.

 

Swanage Pier

Diving Swanage

If I was a gambling man I’d be tempted to bet that more new divers took their first sea dive under Swanage Pier than at any other site in the UK. I would also bet that many of them, no matter how long they have been diving for, still like a dip there.

 

The secret to getting a great dive day at Swanage is to bag a parking place on the pier. This can be easier said than done at weekends when conditions are good in summer. Then you need to be there well before the pier opens but in the week and away from the summer holidays thingsSwanage pier are far more peaceful. Even if you can’t get a coveted pier parking spot don’t worry. Unload by the pier gate and leave a kit minder while the driver parks at the long stay car park just a few yards up the hill behind the pier. Currently, parking costs £9 to stay all day and divers are charged £2.50 each. This charge is waived if you are diving from a boat leaving the pier. The pier trust kindly provides plenty of trolleys for diver use so just grab one or these and use it to shift your kit to wherever you base yourself.

 

Anyone who knows me or reads my blogs knows that dining opportunities are a key feature of my dive planning. No problems here, there are great breakfast, lunch and dinner options within a very short stroll of the pier. As I write this the pier is completing an extensive renovation programme and I understand the new, on-pier,  “1859 Pier Cafe & Bistro” is now open. No need to bring a packed lunch to Swanage!

 

Diving under Swanage Pier

This is a shallow dive and at high tide, you are unlikely to get below 5m or so even out at the far end of the pier. Conditions here are pretty good for most of the time.  The wind direction that can ruin the visibility and bring in the waves is an easterly.  I’m a fan of XCWeather for keepingPipefish snout an eye on wind direction and strength when planning a dive. Swanage Bay does have quite a bit of silt on the bottom so after a period of bad weather it can take a day or two for conditions to pick up.

 

The easiest option for getting in is down the steps just by the gents toilet! Watch out, they can be slippy. There is enough depth by the steps when the tide is up but at low tide you need to take some precarious steps across the stones to find enough depth to swim in. Once in, its an easy and short swim to the pier itself. I have never felt any current here so your dive should be nice and gentle… I have absolutely no issues with easy, chilled diving.

 

Navigation is dead easy. If its dark up top and there are pier pilings on each side you are under the pier. If not – you aren’t.  Just follow the pier out and then when your turn point is reached turn around and come back. When you hit a wall the dive is over.

 

This is a dive about the little stuff. Look out for nudibranchs, juvenile fish, pipefish, small flatfish, crabs and lobsters. Bass, mullet, John Dory and shoals of sandeels are regular visitors. Do look out for the delightful Tompot Blennies which always remind those of more senior years of DenisTompot Blenny Healey.  There are also the inevitable resident wrasse – I remember a small but feisty territorial cuckoo wrasse making it very clear that I should depart their territory post haste!  If you are a fan of close up and macro photography this is a dream location.

 

When diving the pier the only real hazard is navigating away from the pier.  It is used by fishermen so there is an entanglement risk while boat traffic is frequent so stay under the pier or deply an SMB

 

Boat Diving from Swanage

Two companies operate from the pier. Divers Down is one of the oldest dive stores and training centres in the UK, dating back to 1958. They operate a compressor offering air and nitrox fills and have a store in case you forgot anything. Divers Down operate two dive boats and visit all On board Mary Jothe local and sometimes not so local dive sites.  They keep an up to date list of trips with vacancies. They also post last minute places on a board outside the shop so you might be lucky if you just turn up in the morning. Many of their trips are shuttles – they accept bookings from buddy pairs, no need to fill the boat and simply take you out for a single dive and bring you back. You can organise your day as you wish, maybe combining a dip under the pier with one or more boat trips during the day.  Swanage Boat Charters offer a similar service. They too run two boats with one tending to do charters or shuttles to more distant sites while Mary Jo, generally skippered by the unflappable and helpful, Bryan, covers more local sites.  Swanage Boat Charters have a very useful website where, once you are registered, allows you to see all their trips for the whole season and book online.

 

Boat dives tend to be to local wrecks at slack water with a number of options for thrilling drift dives when the tide is running. Don’t miss the opportunity to drift from Old Harry Rocks or across the Peverell Ledges. The wrecks are many and various. Open Water divers will love the Fleur de Lys, a wreck of a trawler which sank in 1969 and which sits in 13-15m of water. I love taking a trip to the Valentine Tanks; amphibious tanks which sank (who’d have thought that could happen!) during trials before D-Day. There are two tanks linked by a line making navigation between them easy – although I know a diver who managed to get lost here 😉  They contain a prodigious amount of life far out of proportion to their size. Expect lobsters, edible crabs, conger eels, big shoals of pout and pollack.

 

The iconic wreck at Swanage is the Kyarra. Look at the display outside Divers Down for more detail and if you are on Mary Jo ask Bryan to show you his treasure box which includes old perfume bottles whose contents still retain their scent. This big wreck is in range for an Advanced Open Water or BSAC Sport divers.

 

Rather than attempt to catalogue all the Swanage wrecks visit this interactive map on the Swanage Boat Charters site.

 

I am lucky in that I can get to Swanage for a day’s diving and still be home at a civilised time but I still try to build in at least a couple of weekend trips down here. There is plenty of accommodation from campsites, self catering and a whole range of hotels and plenty of great eateris and pubs for post diving entertainment. Why not visit Swanage for a dive or two? As long as the winds aren’t the dreaded Easterlies you won’t regret it.

 

If you want to find a group of divers who love diving Swanage and go there regularly get in touch with us at Scuba Blue and find a recent trip report here.  Scuba Blue organise trips locally and abroad and operate a dive club open to any agency. We can offer training through PADI from Try Dive to PADI Professional as well as wide range of Specialities.

 

 

Here are some useful links for anyone planning to visit Swanage.

XCWeather

Swanage Pier Trust

Divers Down

Swanage Boat Charters