Skomer - 2009

Brixham - 20/07/08

Present: Oli, Mike, Keith, Kate, Ali, Matt, Jonny, Nick F, Kara.

A bright and clear Sunday morning found 9 divers arriving at stores to kit-up for a day of shore diving and scallop collecting in  Shoalstone near Brixham. After a reasonably small amount of faff, the 3 cars full of divers went hurrying towards the south coast. Following the obligatory (for some) McFatty en route, the group rolled into the carpark at Shoalstone where Piers and Jess were already waiting, having already spent a few days in the area. Pairings were shorty decided and before long all the divers (barring Keith who felt unwell) were in the water. The first dive saw most pairs bringing back a good number of scallops, which were collected together and checked for being a large enough size to land. Surface interval saw the divers wandering over to the nearby cafe for drinks and ice creams and lounging in the sun. After a spot of seafood wheeler-dealing (say no more), it was time to climb back into sweaty drysuits before hitting the water. The second dive of the day yielded similar results, with Mike and Oli bringing back not only a bumper crop of scallops, but a sizeable edible crab too! Having amassed a substantial number of legal sized scallops, the best were picked out and saved, and the rest were "gently" returned to the sea. Arriving back in Bristol, kit was packed away before all 11 divers (plus a lucky last-minute invited kayaker) reconvened at Oli's house for beers, scallop shelling, tomfoolery on the balance board and a delicious meal of fresh scallops, new potatoes and veg. Thanks to everyone that came, Oli's housemate Jon for tollerating noisy divers until the early hours of Monday morning and the hyperactive kids hanging around the Shoalstone carpark who kept us entertained.

OWIC, Wraysbury - 11/10/08

Present: Christopher

I spent Saturday on an Open Water Instructor Course at Wraysbury, an inland dive site near London. There must be people who enjoy going to Wraysbury, as it was packed, but I'm very glad Bristol is so close to so many fantastic coastal sites and we don't have to spend our weekends in a silty pond at the end of Heathrow's runways.

Plymouth - 18/10/08

Present: Edward, Chris, Oli and Mike

Having attempted to attract more interest in this trip by claiming that we would be having a late start, plans changed and four intrepid UBUC adventurers found themselves once again standing rather forlornly in the dark union car park at 6 am. Only after the mandatory stop off at the M5 McDonalds did spirits begin to rise. And we eventually found ourselves in Queen Ann’s Battery to meet our skipper Richard Kings (+44 1752 663247). The weather, as predicted by MetCheck, was fantastic with very low wind speed and even the odd patch of sun.

After an hour’s motoring out to the Persier we jumped in and descended 30m to find fantastic visibility (15m or so) on the wreck. The shot brought us straight onto the boilers which were surrounded by fish. The entire wreck was covered with life both of the buddy teams seeing fish which were either conger eels or Exogorths.

After a one and a half hour surface interval while chugging over to the other side of Plymouth sound, and drinking uncounted cups of tea, we descended to the Scylla. The visibility again was good although not as good as on the Persier. The Scylla was great fun with lots of opportunities for penetration. Penetration is great fun. There was only one minor mishap, during one of our penetration sessions Chris got one of his buddy tekwing integrated weights caught on something and it slipped out. We did not immediately notice and so we were both forced to empty all of our air to maintain neutral buoyancy while we fired off an SMB.

Both the Persier and the Scylla are fantastic wrecks, and most importantly we did not die. A good trip all round.

Top tip of the day: don’t use integrated tekwing weights with big toggles hanging off them.

Portland - 25/10/08

Present: Alex, Calum, Craig, Ellie, Kara, Laura, Luke, Lyn, Mike, Oli, Will, Christopher.

Eleven divers, including six who had never dived with the club before, met up at stores at 8am on Saturday morning. With the boats having been prepared the night before there wasn't too much to do and when the DO finally turned up with the van it was quickly loaded and we were on our way. We arrived in Portland two hours later, got the boats on the water and headed out towards the Countess of Erne. A quick motor across the harbour brought us to a likely looking shotline, but the GPS insisted the wreck was over two miles south of our position. With some uncertainty as to what would be found we sent our divers down. Fortunately the wreck was there and our divers returned with beaming smiles and reports of better than average vis and huge schools of fish. After a slightly more leisurely lunch than the DO's timetable allowed we were off again towards the Landing Craft and Bombardon Unit. This time the GPS behaved itself and there was no doubt where we were. With little daylight remaining the dives couldn't be long, but one pair still managed to find the line joining the two wrecks and explore both of them before surfacing. The increasing wind made for a bumpy and wet ride home, but that wasn't enough to dent our spirits. Back on shore all that remained was to pack up the van and set off back towards home. Our (mostly) uneventful return to Bristol heralded an exciting milestone for the DO, who has now brought an equal number of vans safely back from club trips to the number of vans he has crashed or otherwise written off (although he still maintains last year's PK van shouldn't count because Kate crashed it first).

Many thanks to Will who drove around Bristol picking people up Saturday morning, those who lent suits to our new members and to Calum who tolerated the delights of Christopher's MP3 player in the van. (Craig would like to point out that Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and REM are a perfectly acceptable choice of Music that you wouldn't have found in any other vehicle.)

Seasearch Weekend Course, Kimmeridge Bay - 04/04/09 to 05/04/09

Divers: Emma, Steve, Hannah, Elena Couldn't make it: Hazel and Sam

An early Saturday morning saw two sleepy divers leave Bristol before sunrise, heading towards Kimmeridge (Dorset) where a Seasearch Observer course was to take place in the first days of April. Upon arrival a bit ahead of schedule, Hannah and me were soon joined by Emma and Steve, who had some bad news: the other two would-be seasearch observers, Hazel and Sam, were experiencing car trouble and might not be able to make the course at all. This turned out to be just the first car trouble of the weekend…

The theory part of the course started at 10 and went on all day, with periodic breaks to assimilate the new information (used by some practical people to eat and visit the toilets). Unfortunately Hazel and Sam never made it. The other four of us were treated to a fascinating overview of all the living things inhabiting the cold British waters. By the end of the day enthusiasm had taken hold and several marine ID guides and slates were purchased before the four tired but happy divers left to sleep and prepare for the practical part of the course the following day.

Sunday’s weather was glorious, heralding the perfect diving day. After reaching the marine centre everybody got suited up and ready to shore dive. Slate in hand Steve and Emma entered the water and soon disappeared into the underwater world, blissfully unaware of the drama that was to take place on the shore. Meanwhile Hannah and me were nearly ready, and then the second technical problem of the weekend took place as we attempted to connect Hannah’s drysuit to the stab's hose: the suit’s valve decided it had had enough of this life and attempted to boycott our day. 

But well-prepared Hannah (obviously a boy scout in a previous life) was undaunted by this, and proceeded to change out of her dry-suit and into the semi-dry she had brought “just in case”. (And I wonder just how many people take an extra suit "just in case"?? It's impressive!). Unfortunately in the confusion of the procedure both her car keys and Steve’s managed to end up at the wrong side of her car’s locked doors, and, understandably upset, Hannah called off the dive. Several strategies were proposed and attempted to breach the car’s defences, but it was clear none of the people present had what it takes to steal a car (or at least wouldn't admit it). And besides Hannah flatly refused to let anyone break the window, so what could we do?? Finally she conceded defeat and the AA was summoned to the scene.

Meanwhile I had cowardly run away with another of the divers in the course (not a member of UBUC), and we both had joined the growing army of “observers” combing the bay for any sign of life under the waves. With maximum depths of 2 meters, computers that couldn’t decide if we were diving or not, heads popping out of the water to locate missing buddies, lots of swelling and wave action, and visibility less than a couple meters, it was soon clear that just about every living form that could move had outsmarted us and wandered off to nicer areas. That luckily still left all the living forms that couldn’t move, and 30 happy minutes were spent identifying brown algae and snakelocks anemones, taking pictures of everything, and sketching the sea floor on our slates. (All this wasn't as easy as it may at first appear, as we were enjoying many of the sensations that a shirt must experience while in the washing machine).

Steve and Emma got out of the water and enthusiastically reported having seen some crabs and a couple fishes stupid enough to still be in the area, before they were kindly informed that they couldn’t change or eat until the AA showed up. They decided to kill the time filling the seasearch report forms, and I soon was able to join them, feeling a bit seasick after my dive. Eventually and just as we thought we would starve (to the amusement of all other course attendees), the AA people finally decided to show up and rescue us from our misery. After witnessing how easy it actually is to break into a car, many of those present were left considering a career change, or at least a second career, since one can never be too careful in these uncertain economic times we live in. Having access to our food and clothes improved the general mood substantially (at least among UBUC members, because I suspect the other people were feeling somewhat sorry that their entertainment for the day was over...).

In the end everybody managed to do a second dive, and even Hannah went in twice in her semi-dry. Since the tide had been flooding more decent depths were attainable for our second dives, and some divers even reported staggering maximum depths, rarely reached from shore dives ever before in the history of our club! (About 4 meters). This at least provided more tranquil diving, improved visibility, and more interesting animal life to mention in the seasearch reports, including a sandmason worm invasion previously unreported in the bay.

After submitting and discussing their first two seasearch reports, everybody started heading off to their respective homes at around 6, and the four extremely tired –but victorious and triumphant– soon-to-be seasearch observers from UBUC got into their (open!) cars and drove into the sunset..


ps - Thanks to Emma for organising the course! It was a great weekend!

Land's End - 01/05/09 to 04/05/09

Divers: Elena Couce, Tim Walsh, Kara Cubbage, Mike Shepherd, Tom Noble, Ali McLeod, Dora Lengyel

Guest divers: Cris and Amanda Coates

On Friday the first of May, four of us met at stores at 4:30pm to start packing the things and have them ready for an early start, but it soon became clear that arriving at the campsite before it closed its gate at 11 was not going to happen. Still we managed to get the boats, an insane amount of cylinders and most of the other gear packed in the van, and set off for Land's End some time after 7. The car, already carrying Ali, Mike and Kara, did a small detour to Plymouth to pick up Dora, who had decided to join our party at the very last second due to some disagreement with one of her latest acquaintances (who, whatever he may be, is definitely NOT a travesty dancer, in case somebody is still wondering about that). Even with the detour the car managed to find the campsite long before the van+boats got there, and their occupants set up their tents and kindly offered asylum to Tom, Tim and me when we eventually arrived at around midnight.

On Saturday morning, shortly after 6am and nearly an hour before the official wake-up time, Tim "I-swear-I've-mellowed-out-a-lot"-Walsh couldn't contain his eagerness any more and woke everybody up by loudly announcing what a beautiful day it was (to the joy and delight of us all). Luckily most people managed to get some more sleep in before it was time to move the tents inside and leave camp. After some mechanical problems with the car we arrived at Porthgwarra beach, and were treated to the exciting view of a not-too-rough sea and the slope that we would soon have to descend while carrying tons of equipment, not to mention two heavy boats. (For those of you who have never seen that slope, let's just say that if it had been covered by snow it would have been a black run). After much suffering, the 7 of us + boats somehow managed to make our way down (and across the Great Slimy-Kelpy Wall) to the sea, where a seal was waiting to greet us.

The weather, though sunny, was also a bit on the windy side, and it was decided to take things easy that first day and head east to Logan/Seggy rocks and the coast nearby, where almost everybody managed to get a couple pleasant (if not spectacular) dives done. Visibility was pretty good at around 8 meters, and there was plenty of life visible everywhere, on big rocky boulders over a bright sandy bottom. The surface interval was livened up with a sandwich lunch that we had taken with us (and that only a couple people were unable to keep down), and by some boat handling lessons.

Tim, Ali and Dora's first dive at a swelly Logan's Gully turned out a bit more eventful than the others. In between Ali being busy getting lost and Tim being busy trying to find Ali, Dora gave proof of an unusual and laudable commitment to the protection of club's equipment. The DSMB she sent up surfaced in a nasty, wavy spot in between rocks, but in the battle with the sea that followed she refused to let go of her safety device if it killed her. She even went as far as attacking the rocks that were trying to keep her and her SMB apart, by repeatedly banging her head against them. Luckily she was dragged away by Tim (against her will, while holding on to the kelp in her efforts to get back to the fight) before she could inflict permanent damage to the coastline. The dive had a happy ending, with both Ali and the SMB safely recovered in the boat, and poor Logan's Rock still mostly in one piece.

Back at the campsite, the day was satisfactorily concluded with a very nice barbecue, some math and physics lessons, a visit to the local pub, and everybody retiring to their respective tents to recover from the day's work. (Regarding that last point, it may be interesting to say a few words about the sleeping arrangements, that had us 3 girls sharing a tent while the guys occupied one tent each, except Tim who slept outside alone: it clearly comes to prove that males are antisocial creatures).

Sunday morning started in a similar fashion, with Tim (not yet mellowed out nearly enough) cheerfully waking everybody up long before it was time. It didn't really surprise anyone by then that he could still be so cheerful after spending the whole night outside, in a leaky bivy bag, and under torrential rain. (However this did nothing to stop the wave of resentment growing in our party). We arrived at the beach at around 9am, just in time to greet our two guests, Cris and Amanda Coates, who joined us that day having responded to an ad posted on BSAC's internet forum, as a rather innovative -not to mention desperate- way of filling the trip. They turned out to be very nice people, who easily put up with our sense of humour and appeared to quite enjoy the day despite all the hard work. They have also expressed an interest to join our club in other trips, which future trip organizers should better take note of (it is certainly not easy to fill a trip!).

First dive of the day was to the infamous Runnel Stone. We had to hang around the beach for quite a while before it was time to go, and this is all due to Tim being unable to bear the thought of sleeping a bit longer that morning. I repeat, just so it's clear, it is NOT in any way related, as has been falsely rumoured, to us having erroneously calculated slack time looking at the tide information for the wrong date. That is just vile slander, and most definitely untrue. (And besides, in the hypothetical case that it had happened, it could have been a lot worse, if we had been looking at the following day instead of the previous one, and had thus arrived an hour too late, instead of too early).

Diving at the Runnel Stone was stunning. Visibility was amazing at around 10 meters, the better to appreciate the impressive sight of the rocky walls covered in Jewel, Plumose and Elegant anemones, in Dead Men's Fingers and other corals, in all kinds of sponges of weird shapes and colours, and in smaller delicate-looking things with tiny tentacles. All together they provided a bright and colourful background of mostly yellows and oranges, but by torch's light the true colours could be seen, and the purples, reds, whites, yellows, blues, pinks, oranges, and greens really came to life in all their splendour. To top it all there were all kinds of fishes everywhere, not to mention crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, worms, starfishes, and lots of other things, big and small, whose name I can’t even guess. It was simply glorious. As if the reef life wasn't enough, almost all the buddy pairs managed to find a wreck or other among the rocks. Imagine swimming in a rocky canyon between walls literally covered by life of brilliant colour, and just come upon a wreck that you didn't even know was there! So what if it is not the most impressive wreck you've ever seen?? It still makes for a breathtaking dive, and to a couple of the less-experienced trip goers, myself included, one of their best dives ever. (Sorry about the very long description but I couldn't stop myself...)

Cris and Amanda couldn't stay for the second dive of the day, but I think they did enjoy the one they had. Next we tried to do Longships Lighthouse, which incredibly is supposed to be an even better dive site. Unfortunately the day was windy, the area was quite exposed, and people, quite wisely, didn't seem very eager to jump into the large waves. Since we were already there, we headed to the coast near Land's End (a bit better protected from the wind), for some exploratory diving. The second dive was ok but not great, as even at 15 meters the strong wave action was still very much present. Mike and Kara didn't get to go diving at all, since engine Ruby chose that moment to fail us, and all the things had to be transferred out of that boat and into the other. After people surfaced we managed to get the engine started and working well enough to reach Porthgwarra, just in time for Tim to grab the van and run off to Penzance muttering some vague excuse of "getting some cylinders filled for tomorrow", and leaving the rest of us to do all the hard work at the beach. The day concluded back at the campsite with Kara's amazing pasta dinner, and everybody going to bed soon afterwards out of sheer exhaustion.

The Bank-holiday Monday started very early, at 6am. Miraculously Tim managed to stay silent on that occasion (!!!), wisely leaving the popular waking-up duty to the trip organiser. (Apparently all the complaints, criticism, attempts of bribery, and death threats that he’d been subjected to in the previous days did actually have some effect, to everybody's surprise!). After dismantling camp and a quick breakfast we managed to arrive at the shore shortly after 7. Carrying all the heavy stuff down the slope at such ungodly hours of the morning proved too much even for the enthusiastic trip attendees (all suffering from chronic fatigue by then), and there was a general mutiny that ended with half the people refusing to go on the first dive. Thus it was only Ali, Dora, Tim and me who went on a second visit to Logan Rock. A pity that, for it turned out to be a very enjoyable and relaxing dive, in a very calm sea. After the first day’s attempt, we finally got the chance to appreciate Logan’s Rock at its best, and spent a happy half an hour exploring the gully and enjoying the many living things growing, crawling, and swimming everywhere.

Afterwards we headed back to Porthgwarra and eventually managed to get the other reluctant divers into the boats for a second slack visit to the Runnel Stone. I really don’t have words to describe this last dive of the trip. Let’s just say that it was even better than our previous dive there the day before. This time we came upon the remains of the City of Westminster herself. Mostly laying at a depth of 30 meters and responsible, in the collision that was her demise, of breaking off the bit of the stones that used to protrude above sea level, it definitely was much more impressive than the wooden wreck some of us had seen the day before. It left me absolutely speechless (which was just as well, since we were underwater anyway). And right at the end of the dive, just as we reached the large boilers (which apparently belong to a different wreck! Just how many are there in those rocks??!), me and my two buddies Kara and Tim were treated to the impressive view of a large school of fish swimming above the canyon, alternately reflecting and obscuring the light from the surface: the nice finishing touch of a perfect dive. (I believe Mike and Tom also got to witness it). The ascent was however a bit too rapid for our taste, due to some strong current pushing us up the side of a group of rocks. It was even worse for Ali and Dora, who went in last during the final minutes of slack, but eventually we all managed to get back in the boats safe and sound.

The trip was then nearly over, with only some hard lifting up the slope left to do, several boring hours dealing with the holiday traffic to get back to Bristol (dropping off Dora on the way, after she flatly --and rather unsolidarily-- refused to come to Bristol to help with the washing), and some more hours to wash kit and boats and put it all back in its proper place. Everything was finished at around 11pm.

Nothing left but to thank the committee (and especially Craig) for putting up with dozens of increasingly panicky emails in the two weeks preceding the trip and helping out with all the things that needed to be done; our guests, Cris and Amanda, who were great and who I hope may consider joining our club at some point; and, more importantly, all the trip attendees, who not only made it into a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for me (and even bought me chocolate!), but made it possible in the first place, by dealing with all the things that I didn’t have a clue how to do. (It comes to show that anyone can organise a trip!) So thanks a lot, everybody! I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Kudos go to Kara, who took care of the meals and kept people fed and happy for the duration; to Tom, who took care of the boats’ fuel and drove the van much of the way; to Ali, who didn’t miss a single dive even though he was the only one in a wetsuit; to Dora, who I feel deserves her very own SMB after proving what lengths she'd go to for it; and, most of all, to Tim, who had the idea of doing this trip, showed me what organising it was all about (not to mention how to drive the boats and the van+trailer), and whose momentum kept things going the few times I was ready to give up, days before the trip had even started. A pity that we’ll never agree about the necessity of brandishing a sword while driving...


Skomer Mid-Week Report - 12/06/09 to 19/06/09

Hello all

It is with great sadness that I find myself back in Bristol with a pile of smelly clothes and soggy kit (yes my drysuit is still of questionable dryness!) after an amazing week of diving at Skomer with some really great weather, I am a little sunburnt! The reduced numbers for the opening week allowed us to get everyone on the boats at the same time and whilst one or two slack dives were getting a little currenty for the boat handlers everyone got to do the classic sites as well as some relatively undived sites.

The keen divers left stores at around 8pm and despite a half hour wait at the bridge due to the apparent popularity of Wales and jackknifing the trailer in search of Tesco's in Haverfordwest the van arrived last at the campsite at around midnight, tents were up and just time to pass on the plan of 3 dives for everyone on the opening day and an 8am wake up. This was in retrospect a little optimistic for the opening day but we preserved with Wooltack Point, Pains Rock and Rye Rocks/Lucy in what became a very long and tiring day but with highlights of some good vis, brilliant sunshine, the unusual for the club Pains Rock (next rock on from the Garland Stone) and the amazing Lucy for those experienced enough. The lowlights were finishing quite late and having a mountain of cylinders to compress.

With the mountain of bottles and the desire to eat whilst it was still light the idea of doing 3 dives every day was scrapped and we proceeded to work our way through the Club Classics of North and South Tusker, Garland Stone, North Cliffs and more Rye Rocks/Lucy. Divers were being recovered from each site in glorious weather with grins on their faces with talk of "Did you see the size of that crab?" or "Wasn't that Lobster inquisitive?" We even found time to try and help Jamie Stevens find some sea fans for his research and did an exploratory dive on Gateholm Island, a dive which was nice enough but one or two of the older members might be reminding Jamie about this one for a while! And he didn't find any sea fans!

Unfortunately the great weather turned and in the middle of the week wind and rain prevented the club from diving in the morning and by the afternoon when everyone could be found in the Lobster Pot the desire from an afternoon dive was squashed by the lovely food and drink being served! In the morning whilst it was raining it was evident who the veterans of Skomer were as the novices (just for you Jez!) were found moving trailers and vans to protect their tents whilst the older and wiser could be found still in their sleeping bags drinking mugs of tea having not left their tents! Before people start to worry the bad weather has more or less passed and as long as you take a bit of care when pitching your tent and remember that guy ropes are there for a reason other than as trip wires and should really be tight you will be fine.

There was an occasional seal sighting during the week both above and below the surface the best was yet to come as we headed to the south side of the Island to dive Dead Eye Wreck where all the divers were greeted by a playful seal which was merrily munching on fins and generally showing off its mobility as it swam laps around the clumsy divers I found myself over 15 minutes into my dive in a flash such was the enthralment of the majestic creatures.

It was after this dive that I find myself back in Bristol wishing I could have stayed a bit longer but glad I made as much of Skomer as I could and encouraging anyone who wants to go to head over as the club will be there for another a week and it really would be a shame to miss an amazing opportunity. I have uploaded photos to the web: (sadly all above water if you want to buy me an underwater camera then next time there will be underwater ones aswell!)

Hope everyone is looking forward to the summer and has some diving planned.


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