A Tale of Five Wrecks, Two Walls, Forty Scallops and Three crabs….

Ok, you don’t have to organise a full week’s expedition for the Advanced diver badge but since I’ve fancied going to Mull ever since Kerrie enthused about here first wreck dives there I though I’d take the opportunity to run a trip there and get to go! Fortunately 11 other divers thought it was good place to go too. Thankfully Kerrie took on the catering organisation leaving me the fun bits of the diving to plan!

The trip up there was quite an adventure in itself for some of the divers – Richard and Jill had two goes at getting up there after their camper van blew up in Birmingham first attempt. Fortunately we were renting a huge place with plenty of beds so we managed to fit them in somehow.

img_0679The rest of us made a two day journey, staying overnight at Kerrie’s Mum and Dad’s place, who spent that night in their caravan to make room – a big thank you to them both., and also for all the lasagna….

Second day of the journey we all eventually made it up to the Old post office which was to be our home for the next week. It was a lovely spot, just next to the seafront – with an 80m shore dive easily accessible just 10 from the front door!

Once we were all settled in the skipper (Dave) came by to say hello and let us know where to pitch up the next day for our first dives.

Sad to say Kerrie’s master plan of eating lasagne that night was foiled by the fact that her mum froze them so well we couldn’t defrost them in time – instead had them the next day….

As we were self catering it was not a huge problem since we’d got lots of supplies laid in at Tesco helped by Kerrie’s Mums staff discount!

img_0611The first day of diving dawned with the TV saying that the weather everywhere else was awful (but we had a nice blue sky with fluffy clouds – the only place in the UK that was good weather all week in fact.

All arrived at the boat after big breakfast in the dive centre (couldn’t be bothered with cooking our own) and loaded it up with all the kit. It always seems a bit mad when you pile up 12 divers worth of kit on a harbour wall and see just how much stuff it requires to get 12 people underwater and back again safely.

img_0518First dive was a scenic dive on the drop off just on the point to the south of Lochaline – Ardtornish point. Good vis, and a rocky seabed totally dominated by squat lobsters which were quite annoyed when we moved their rocky homes around Good marine life dive and not a bad warmup. Some people warmed up at 19m and a few others (mostly of the Waterhouse clan) did a warmup to 29m…..

After this we had a good 3hour break for lunch provided by the dive centre, and steaming down the sound to the wreck of the Breda, we kitted up for dive 2. Nice to have a boat with onboard compressor which saved bringing extra spare cylinders etc.

The Breda is the first of the big, intact shipwrecks for which the Mull area is rightly famous. Of the 5 big wrecks( Breda, Hispania, Rondo, Thesis and the Shuna). Lying in Breda bay, just south of the end of the sound, the Breda is a very nice wreck, standing upright from the seabed in a slightly silty area. To be honest this was the worst vis dive that we did on the trip with vis varying from about 4m down to 2m in places. Mostly the dive was rather a dark green color due to the plankton bloom above our heads. One side of the wreck was covered in hundreds of long sea-squirts whilst the superstructure was topped by a complete carpet of plumose anemones. Having dived so much amongst the smashed wrecks of Weymouth and Portland finding such a ‘Disney shipwreck’ img_0680standing upright is a joy in itself.

boatraceDive times on the wreck were fairly long as there is a lot of explore – mostly in excess of 45 minutes. On returning from the dive we headed back up the sound past a veritable armada of sails – some kind of regatta was going on.

Throughout the week we found ourselves surfacing facing a menacing array of sails as they raced up the sound and around the Island of Mull.

Returning to the old post office under a blue sky we dined on the (finally) thawed out lasagna and planned the next day’s diving. What could top an intact steamship wreck though ?

Well, obviously another one! Day two we headed up to the wreck of the Shuna – a 1500 ton steamship wrecked after colliding with the grey rocks in 1913. This ship has been on the seabed for over 95 years. Descending once again into a very green sea we found another upright shipwreck, with superstructure largely intact, holds still full of coal. Big peacock worms hung off the side of the wreck which stands at least 6m off the seabed. At the seabed (~35m) a few divers were rather narced and had to be shepherded back to the wreck…. A few went coal mining in the holds, one pair found a very ornate toilet apparently welded to the deck by corrosion and a good dive was had by all (although pony usage was a bit higher than planned – er hm.)

img_0551After this fantastic (long, deep) dive we headed off to the picturesque town of Tobermory where the ‘dry’ party (and Richard who’s suit died the day before) met us for fish and chips. Following a very relaxed surface interval during which we were all roasted alive due to the hot sun being totally incompatible with hanging about in thinsulate undersuits, we leaped back into the boat and headed for the Calve island sound which offers what diver magazine calls ‘one of the UK’s best wall dives”. It doesn’t disappoint. As a treatment for near fatal heat and sunstroke it was ideal. A god long drift past walls covered in life. Phil and Oliver even managed to find a pair of scuba scissors near one end so they came home in profit!

img_0631After the previous evenings planning session had resulted in the ‘BBQ plan’ being adopted we persuaded the skipper to put us in for a third dive to shop for dinner. He was a little skeptical about the chances of finding scallops and crabs but gave us the benefit of the doubt and put us in at Kilundine bay. There was little current, and depths of only 17m so not ideal for scallops you’d think. Clearly we all did think that and when we all returned we discovered that we all thought we’d been the only ones finding scallops – the boat groaned under the load of 5 goodie bags full! Three unlucky crabs also found themselves introduced to the MV Brendan”s decks. Fortunately the dry party had stocked up in advance on one shot BBQs and we had a huge scallop crab, sausage and chop feast that evening. Having spent a cumulative 2.5 hours underwater that day we were all a big tired and mostly retired to bed (or sofa in Stu and Karen’s case) quite early whilst the ‘techie divers’ (John, Steve and Brian) sat up at the kitchen table planning their descent and conquest of tomorrows target – the Rondo….

decoThe Rondo is probably the strangest of the 5 wrecks laid on a very steep slope with her stern and rudder at about 5m and her bows buried in the seabed at 53m. She’s kind of like diving a wall made of ship! As this was an opportunity for the techie divers to ply their trade and see the bow they went in as a threesome and the rest of us visited the midships region. All went well although the 25mins of decompression was apparently a bit boring. Most of the rest of us passed them on the way up.

The wreck is very odd to dive, feeling like it’s nearly vertical although it’s at more like a 60 degree angle. The rudder sticks up from the stern making it feel oddly like the dragon prow on a viking longboat!

brian_photoSecond dive of the day was off to yet another big wreck: The wreck of the Thesis. This was a lovely site, the wreck intact and upright on the seabed absolutely covered with dead man’s fingers – it reminded me of all the rabbit ears in ‘Revenge of the Were rabbit’. Sadly Richard’s suit chose this dive to fail yet again so he had to sit most of it out (whilst drying himself out) but the rest of us had a very good time around the wreck with lost of opportunities for penetration. Steve got really excited as we entered the smallest room in the bow and had to show us a nudibranch he’d found! Poor thing was nearly frazzled by his 50W HID torch though.

Thursday dawned a very overcast and stormy looking sky, but, despite weather forecasts to the contrary, was pretty much a flat calm day – unlike the rest of the country HaHa! Ideal day for us to dive the top wreck in the sound – the Swedish Hispania. Sunk on 18th December 1954, after striking rocks, with her Captain still aboard and saluting as she went down, the Hispania is an amazing wreck. Strong tides sweep past her for most of the time, and these are often quite hard to predict. When we arrived there the skipper said ‘We’ve arrived but the tide is going the wrong way! – What kind of dive were we in for ? A fixed shot line provided an easy route to the wreck which was sitting in amazingly clear water. I can’t really compare the Hispania to any of the other wrecks I’ve dived in the UK. She’s been on the seabed for ~55 years but is nearly intact! Superstructure, deck, railings, spare propeller, cranes, lifeboat derricks and masts – they’re all in place! only the masts show any real damage having fallen across the deck but still connected at their bases.

hisp1The surface of the wreck shows strong evidence of why it’s so intact – everything is covered by plumose anemones – big ones. The nearest comparison I can come up with is the Thistlegorm on the Red Sea. Yes – it’s that good.

The wreck is tipped over on it’s port side – evidence perhaps of the fact that she listed to port before sinking ?

We were able to swim around the superstructure totally free of silt and to enter the holds. Here there was a considerable amount of silt, and lots of coal in her engine room area. Several pairs of divers were able to swim the length of the ship inside the holds and corridors alongside them

Outside the holds, the hull is totally covered in anemones and big peacock worms. This was definitely the dive of the trip for me and I know several others expressed the same sentiment.

nudi_rescueSecond dive that day was a drift alongside the Grey rocks – lots of kelp and small cod. Steve and Sarah went on a serious nudibranch hunt, and Kerrie and I followed them rescuing the poor things once they’d been blinded by Steve’s torch. Kerrie got quite expert at catching the displaced Gastropods…..

Having had such a great time on the Hispania on Thursday morning we planned another dive there for the last day and toddled off to have a curry in Fort William where the locals had laid on a whole pipe band (or does this sort of thing happen every night in Scotland ?)

img_0922img_0912Final day of diving dawned bight and sunny and we got out to Hispania again (where the skipper was again annoyed to discover misbehaving tides). The second dive on Hispania was just as good as the first and several buddy pairs entered the wreck and explored the interior.

This time a lots of large Pollock schooled about her masts and the slack was better enabling some longer dive times on the wreck. We all ended up joining up on the shot at 6m doing our deco whilst Steve went nudibranch spotting in the weeds growing off the line at this depth (found 3)

For our very last dive we returned to the water just offshore of our home for the week and dived the wall and the wreck of the John Preston. On any other trip this would have been a great dive – lovely wall dropping into the depths >80m down, covered in life, especially large featherstars and a couple of big edible crabs too.

img_0940Returning to Harbor we got our kit together and cleared the decks ready to leave on Saturday. For the first time I had a skipper congratulating me on the skills and ablilities of our divers – he said “The next lot won’t get half the dives you did – they’re never going to be that good at kitting up and I don’t fancy their chances in a current” We must have impressed him after all!

Finally, a huge thank you to Kerrie who did all the non diving marshalling on the trip, planned the menus, organised the food shopping and generally made staying in the old post office fun. Thanks also to Gill and Bethany for keeping the home fires burning (and the DVD player running) whilst we were all away diving for the day.

Lets do it again soon!