Scotland Expedition - 31/08/12 to 09/09/12

Scotland Expedition 2012 (31/08/12 to 09/09/12) by Michael Pilkington

Other Divers: Georgie Delaney, Alex Harker, Anya Keatley, Andy Kiddier, Mike Shepherd

Day 1: After several days of collecting, reassembling and repairing we were ready to get the show on the road. The van was collected and packed, the trailer was assessed for its readiness by a sceptical Andy and after much tyre kicking we headed north (about two hours later than we meant to). We were kindly offered a place to stay in Leeds by Mike S so his parent’s neighbourhood were treated to us turning up at 1am with a van which inexplicably honked every time we locked it!

Day 2: In the morning bacon sandwiches beckoned and we commenced the eight hour journey up to Shielbridge. Having never been to Scotland before I was severely disappointed by the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign but we kept pushing on until stopping to swap drivers. Andy had been frantically trying to get Alex on his insurance and had finally managed it by 2pm. Georgie emerged from the service station looking triumphant holding ‘Greatest Karaoke Hits’. As we pulled away we had the volume in the van at max ready to belt out some fantastic tunes... only to realise it was a CD for a karaoke machine and it was only the backing track! After many a botched attempt at remembering the words to Bohemian Rhapsody whilst travelling through the beautiful highlands we arrived in our campsite for the night and set up before heading to dinner of haggis at the nearby Kintail Lodge.

Day 3: We awoke to find the most insects I have ever seen in my life, even Andy’s magic electrified tennis racket couldn’t keep them at bay so we headed up to the Kyle of Lochalsh for our first dive. We launched the boats from the public slipway with minimal faff and headed across the bay to dive the HMS Port Napier. Andy and Mike had assured me that we would find the wreck no problem so we left the GPS in the van; especially as the wreck protrudes above the surface at most states of tide.  Shame it was high tide and springs meaning we couldn’t find a damned thing! We eventually found the right buoy and Mike claimed he could see the wreck below so we kitted up and went diving.

The Napier is a wonderful wreck in relatively shallow water. Myself, Andy and Mike descended the shot and immediately moved to the stern; from here we swam into the chutes which were used to deploy mines on little wheeled carts. The mines are long since gone but the carts remain steadfastly stuck on their rails (for the most part) which is amazing considering the wreck rests on its side. Rotted floors and the lack of hull above you make for excellent and relatively safe wreck penetration. From here we moved to the club’s favourite Mull campsite at Fiunary carrying many scallops and squat lobsters Andy had caught for our tea.

Day 4: The morning was spent sorting fills of nitrox 32 using the mobile compressor (which seemed to be running unusually slowly) and launching the boats, which is quite difficult with only six people. By the time we were up and running and the boats were moored in the little bay it was already well past midday. It is worth mentioning that nitrox made the trip so much better and it’s a shame our nitrox kit does not get used that much, especially as we have a new stock of trained blenders!

I chose the Shuna as the wreck of the day as it can be dived at any state of tide with little to no current. The Shuna is a wonderfully intact wreck still carrying its vast cargo of coal and retains much of the above deck superstructure. I took Anya on a tour of the whole wreck including the exceptionally impressive propeller, unusual for a wreck of this size and the first I have ever seen. Pity that by the ascent Anya was so narked she was attempting to use her octopus to dump air from her BCD and by the surface she remembered pretty much nothing! Andy had a great dive finding a small perfume bottle in the silt on the floor of the accommodation.

On the way back Andy, Georgie and I dropped into the water off of the campsite to go ‘scampi scampi’ fishing. I soon learned this meant hand catching langoustine! Catching them was brilliant fun and they made a very tasty addition to dinner. Little did we know that the increasingly high winds would break the buoy we tied onto when we returned, beaching the boats. In the rush to get back out of the shallow beach the prop of one boat was caught on some rocks and heavily damaged. We returned to the campsite to find that the winds were high enough to break the legs of our cooking gazebo; not a great evening. That night Andy built the first of his campfires on the shore that would become a welcome nightly occurrence to keep away the midges.

Day 5: Once again we would be hampered by a slow compressor delaying our start then the starter cord on one of the engines snapped. Even working as quickly as possible, fixing this (as well as the replacing the busted prop) took us long enough that it was again well after midday before we reached the Rondo. Whilst putting his suit back on, after relieving himself on the little island the Rondo was wrecked upon, Andy broke his neck seal. We send Anya, Georgie and Alex onto the wreck whilst the rest of us waited; the twinsetters were planning on a 50m air dive.

The Rondo is a strange wreck as it sits at an angle with its rudder at 6m and the bow driven into the seabed at 50m. We dropped down the shotline to the rudder then rapidly descended through the wreck all the way to the bottom. This is a spectacular experience and also fairly surreal. Once we reach the bottom we began to work our way up the wreck slowly; exploring the wreck we found a huge conger eel and found excellent opportunities to swim underneath the hull. We returned to the campsite with a rather soggy Andy who had borrowed Alex’s rather ill fitting drysuit.

Day 6: Wednesday was the turn of the Hispania, another very intact cargo ship. Not at slack this can be a very currenty dive and we didn’t do a great job of timing it! Everyone’s dive involved dragging down the shot and hiding in the huge cargo holds of the ship. Only Mike decided to venture down the corridors connecting the two main holds, dragging a rather reluctant Anya behind him! Everyone came up highly enthused about the dive, I think we’d all love to go back to dive it again in better conditions.

In the afternoon we made our way back to the Shuna for our second dive. A few of us decided to see what other treasures we could find in the accommodation, in my case it seemed to be bits of jagged metal hidden under the silt. Andy on the other hand managed to find the lid for his perfume bottle! Anya came up from her second dive on the Shuna to comment ‘Oh my god, it actually looks like a boat!’ definitely less narked that time! Mike took me on a tour of the engine room which was very cool.

By that point the trip was starting to take its toll on the equipment. One of the wooden boat boards had almost completely snapped rendering that boat quite unsafe in anything more than small waves. It also happened to be the boat with the still broken keel making it travel even slower than normal. That night we also had to disassemble and clean the compressor carburettor. This actually had the upshot of us jamming the throttle on a higher speed and creating the fire breathing, rapid filling machine we remember.

Day 7: On Thursday the weather was appalling so we struck upon the idea of travelling to Tobermory. Unfortunately we had run Andy’s battery down charging torches, phones and radios so all six of us had to pile into the van and three people had to suffer my driving in the dark! The ferry from Drimnin has been reduced to one day a week so we had to travel from Lochaline to Fishnish and drive up to Tobermory. What we didn’t realise was that the van is classed as a commercial vehicle so it cost us £120 to cross. We enjoyed a tour of the whiskey distillery, wandered around admiring the tourist tat and just sat in the pub. Georgie, Andy and Alex got fairly merry and treated the guys on the ferry to their very own rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. When we got back tiredness, hunger and stressing about the next day lead to a bit of a sense of humour failure on my part. Let that be a lesson to anyone running a trip; if you feel it getting to you sit down, take five and relax. Remember you’re supposed to be having fun!

Day 8: On the last day we got up early to make low water slack on the Thesis and found the flattest sea state I think I have ever seen; just as well as we had a long journey to make. We loaded the boats then Andy and Georgie drove to Lochaline with the trailer. That way we had only half the remaining journey to make. The Thesis is a lovely wreck and is accurately described by JL as ‘atmospheric’. Once again we did a rubbish job of getting slack right so the dive involved a lot of hiding from the current but you can easily travel from end to end inside the wreck. Andy and I decided to have a long twinset dive (once again aided by nitrox 32) completing several circuits of the inside, we even managed to find a ling living under the wreck.

After returning to Lockaline for lunch we were pointed in the direction of the ‘John Preston’ by a charter RIB skipper. Unfortunately he gave us the wrong wall but we all had a nice relaxing dive to end the trip and Andy even managed to catch us a lobster for dinner! All we had left to do was load up the boats and head back to camp for our last night.

Day 9: The field we stayed on had turned into a bog by the end of the trip and in the end we had to use Andy’s car (with a freshly charged battery thanks to the campsite owners) to tow the van out. We then had the long and uneventful drive to Andy’s parent’s house outside Leeds where we were treated to the delights of Wetherby Whaler fish and chips as well as real beds!

Day 10: We washed the kit in Leeds before heading home.

Overall it was a fantastic trip with a fantastic group of people and I’d highly recommend the Sound of Mull to anyone!

Additional Trips

Skomer - 8-17th July 2011

Joseph sailed to Lundy - 26-30th August 2011

St Abbs - 3-11th September 2011

Plymouth - 8th October 2011

Sports Diver Training in Vobster - 16th October 2011

Babbacombe - boozeup - 19th November 2011

Shoalstone - kill, cook & eat - 10th December 2011

Babbacombe - night dive  - 7th January 2012

Shoalstone - 10th March 2012

Portland - hard boat diving - 17th March 2012

Pre-PK Ocean Diver Training, Brixham - 10-11th March 2012

Porthkerris - 23-31st March 2012

Plymouth - 4-7th May 2012

Lands End - 2nd-5th June 2012

Vobster Quay - 25th August 2012

Additional Trips

Skomer - 08/07/11 to 17/07/11

Joseph sailed to Lundy - 26/08/11 to 30/08/11

St Abbs - 03/09/11 to 11/09/11

Plymouth - 08/10/11

Sports Diver Training in Vobster - 16/10/11

Babbacombe Boozeup! - 19/11/11

Shoalstone Kill, Cook & Eat - 10/12/11

Babbacombe Night Dive - 07/01/12

Shoalstone - 10/03/12

Portland Hard Boat Diving - 17/03/12

Pre-PK Ocean Diver Training, Brixham - 10/03/12 to 11/03/12

Porthkerris - 23/03/12 to 31/03/12

Plymouth - 04/05/12 to 07/05/12

Lands End - 02/06/12 to 05/06/12

Vobster Quay - 25/08/12

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