Isle of May 19/03/16

A break in the miserable weather we’ve had so far this year allowed us to make the first trip of the year to the Isle of May on the club boat, Tay Explorer. Six divers made it out for this trip, Ken, Lewis, Joe, Graham, Myself, and Ryan.

After an easy 08:30 launch at Anstruther we made our way over the island, although there was practically no wind to speak of there was a larger than expected swell coming from the northeast. As we made our way around the south tip of the island and up the east side towards the first planned site, the boilers of the SS Island, it was quickly apparent that it was going to be too rough to safely drop off and pick up divers here. So we carried on to do a full circle of the island back to the Alterstanes landing area where it was perfectly flat!

Isle of May, Alterstanes

Isle of May, Alterstanes

The first dive of the day then was the small wreck of the Anlaby which lies well broken up on the boulder slope in 10-15m depth, just SW of the Alterstanes landing. The main features of the wreck are the prop and rudder at 15m with some large plates and remains of the keel/ribs following the slope shallower from there. Lewis and Ken went in first followed by Ryan and I. Graham and Joe stayed onboard and went in as the second wave.

Considering the time of year the visibility was surprisingly decent at about 4m. On our dive Ryan and I quickly found the scattered wreckage then followed the ribs and metal plates down to the small pile of wreckage at 15m which includes the rudder and prop. After a  look around here we moved off the wreck and followed the boulder slope back up to the shallows before sending up a DSMB at the end of the dive. There wasn’t  a huge amount of life about other than the usual urchins, common sunstars, and dead man’s fingers but a nice surprise was the number of sea hares on the boulders at about 12m. A nice first dive at the Isle of May for the year, and Ryan’s first dive off the club boat, albeit a little chilly at 6.5°C!

Dead Man's Fingers on the wreckage

Dead Man’s Fingers on the wreckage

Sea Hare

Sea Hare


Once everyone had completed their first dives we stopped for lunch on the island, tying the boat up alongside the tender for the NLV Pharos which was there to service the island’s lighthouse.

NLV Pharos

NLV Pharos

With the swell preventing diving on the east of the island we had to chose another site on the sheltered side. Ryan and I decided to try one of the large caves in the cliffs towards the southern end of the island while Lewis, Joe, and Ken opted to try and do the wreck of the Primrose as their second dive.

In the past I had done a number of dives along the boulder slope on this side of the island and always found it pretty bland so was looking forward to trying something different and we weren’t disappointed.

Large cave in the cliffs

Large cave in the cliffs

We dropped off the boat at the mouth of the cave into a fairly wide steep sided gully in 7m depth, the walls of the gully were covered in dead man’s fingers, sponges, plumose anemones, sagartia anemones, colonial squirts, along with a couple of very well camouflaged scorpionfish. The gully gradually got shallower and narrowed as we continued in, eventually we got to 3m depth with just enough width for one diver before turning round to make our way out. It was really calm thanks to the conditions but I’m sure in a westerly swell this would be very different! After leaving the cave we headed south to find some huge boulders covered in more soft corals before heading down the steep slope which turned to sand at 20m. After a short stay here it was back up the slope before again ascending on a DSMB. A really nice dive with a total time of just over 30mins and max depth of 20m.

Gully Walls

Gully Walls

Huge boulder reef

Huge boulder reef







Back on the boat we made our way over to the marked position of the Primrose wreck. The wreck is marked on the charts and we also had a position taken off which was basically right on top of the charted position. Despite this we just couldn’t pick it up on the sounder so unfortunately the others didn’t get the wreck dive they were after, instead they decided to dive an unexplored area off the SW of the island looking for lobsters.

Searching for the Primrose

Searching for the Primrose

Following the final dive of the day it was an easy trip back to Anstruther in the sun and going with the slight swell. Although we didn’t necessarily get to do the dives we had hoped, the Anlaby was a pleasant dive and the cave was certainly worth doing. We will need to go back and explore the caves in the cliffs further to the south.

For more photos go over to the gallery.

Posted in Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Conversion to a Rebreather Diver

In the very distant past when I was doing my Ocean Diver course, the only question I recall asking was “Isn’t there a more efficient way of using the air in the bottles on our backs?” after being told that we only actually utilise 4% of the air that we carry. In my mind, before I had even gone into open water I couldn’t understand why a system I was being taught that was so inefficient. At that time, rebreathers were very much in their infancy and so little was known about them.

Over the years as I progressed from a single 12 Ltr, to a 15ltr with pony then on to twin 10s I started learning more about Closed Circuit Rebreathers (CCR) and Semi-Closed circuit rebreathers (SCR). The former seemed like voodoo to me and very complicated with most of them using sophisticated electronics. The thought of sophisticated electronics and salt water made me unduly nervous. I’d seen CCR dive buddies tinkering with the sensors in their units in-between dives and this made them look prone to failure; the real problem was that AP Diving had produced a bad batch of sensors so this tinkering was not normal behaviour.

SCRs were a different kettle of fish. I loved the idea of a system that had reduced bubbles, warm air, more efficiently utilized the chosen gas I carried and yet had no electronics. This combination excited me and my research led me to the Draeger Dolphin. A beautifully simple constant injection SCR using Nitrox. In September 2015 I eventually bought one of these units with the aims to learn to dive it.

Draeger Dolphin

Late in 2015 I started to look for someone to train me on the SCR and I came across Ian Reid of Northern Technical Diving. Ian had a similar interest in the Dolphin as I and was willing to train me. However, before we could start training he offered to buy my Dolphin from me and train me on the AP Inspiration Classic. What could I say? I jumped and the chance and bought myself an AP Inspiration Classic with integrated Shearwater Predator computer that monitors my 3 cells. This is a beautiful piece of equipment.

AP Inspiration Classic (CCR)

My training was completed by Ian with Gavin Anderson as my buddy during the two weeks over Christmas and leading in to 2016. You are probably thinking “Was this not when we had all the severe storms and flooding?” Well, yeah, it was. We were hit by Storm Eva and Frank. They were a pleasure to drive through on my way to the West coast and I came across flooded roads on my way but with my masterful driving and with my car that is absolutely suitable for the conditions (a Mazda 3 Sport) I made it the dive sites.

Floods at Loch Earn #stormfrank

Only one day was cancelled due to a large landslide at the Rest and be Thankful. Needless to say that the diving conditions and overall visibility of all training dives were what could only be classed as zero visibility night dives.

Coming into the CCR course, everyone who had been before said that my buoyancy would be all over the place due to a CCR having a fixed volume of air in the system and therefore taking a deep breath or exhaling doesn’t change the volume of air. Therefore, fine buoyancy control is entirely different to when you are using open-circuit. Secondly, my weighting would be out too.

Prior to starting the course I had read through the AP Inspiration Classic manual a couple of times and it prepared me with a lot of useful information. Subtle things such as your aim is to preserve the air in the system and be as efficient as possible. If you come across a big rock, swim around it rather than over it so save adding and removing air from your closed system. Other tit bits included putting some lead in the pocket at the top of the rebreather case and an indication that people can find it useful to initially do a duck dive to get underwater initially.

For our first dive, we went to the A-Frames, a place that is will known for its excellent visibility even when Storm Frank isn’t battering it. I setup my CCR with the help of Grant. He taught me how to do a negative test; this involves squeezing the hoses so they are tiny and sucking the air out of the system and closing the mouthpiece. It’s quite an art trying to get the hang of this! The system is left in this way for many minutes to see if the hoses are still compressed afterwards. If they are then the system has no leak.

As is the case when you get a new unit (I came from a twinset with lots of hoses), and especially one with lots of hoses, you spend a reasonable amount of time routing all the hoses to places where they are comfortable for you and then figuring out where all the straps go. With my Inspiration I have front mounted lungs that need to be clipped down so there’s another couple of new straps to fit. It takes a few dives before you figure our the best arrangement for all the new hoses and straps and I ended up using coloured cable ties to colour code my different straps so I knew which ones matches where.

Ian discussed the plan for the first dive. It was a simple plan, get in the water, duck dive to get under if necessary and swim around to get comfortable with the unit before doing some initial exercises.

Remove and replace mouthpiece / Clear water from loop using exhalation

Because you have a closed loop with a rebreather that circulates your breathing air, you can’t simply remove the loop from your mouth as you want to prevent water getting into the system as it could eventually work its way to the electronics and that would be bad. Therefore, when you remove the mouthpiece you need to close it first before removing and then when putting it back in you breathe into the mouthpiece as you open it up to prevent water getting in.

Remove loop and stretch over head to drain water from loop into counter lung

The rebreather can take water on board and still function but if you have water in the loop you can hear it sloshing or making you feel uncomfortable when breathing. To resolve this you can remove the loop from your mouth and hold above your head to encourage the water to flow down into your unit’s counter lungs.

Recovery of loss of loop from mouth

This is similar to the technique we do for open-circuit where we recover a lost regulator.

When we all got into the water I initially struggled to get under. Due to the nature of a rebreather, you have more sources of air in the system that need to be emptied before you get under. For open-circuit your two main buoyancy sources are dry suit and BCD. With a rebreather you have those two plus two counter lungs strapped to the front of your chest. Therefore on your first dive, you are trying to expel air from all these places and do a duck dive!! Fun.

Once under we went for a little swim through the murk. The trickiest part here was keeping someone within view as the visibility was so limited. My buoyancy at this point was so bad because of this new way of doing things that my dive profile probably looked like the flight profile of the Wright brothers on their first few attempt at flight.

The next couple of training dives were at St Catherines (Loch Fyne) and the weather was suitably miserable again with doses of sleet and snow. This training session involved learning how to fill my scrubber. The scrubber is the part of the system that removes the CO2 from the air you expel by using lime. Packing the scrubber is very important as it needs to work efficiently to be able to remove the CO2. Packing it involve carefully filling it with lime bit by bit and to a particular level and so the lime is packed to a certain firmness. After a dive, if you put your hand on the scrubber you can feel a lot of heat from the exothermic chemical reaction.

The third and fourth dives introduced the fact that my weighting was all wrong and really struggled to get underwater. Once there,  we went to sufficient depths and tested the alarms on our rebreather handsets and computers. We tested the low and high oxygen alarms. The later needs to be done at a few metres as on the surface you can’t get sufficient concentration to trigger the alarm. It was an interesting experience triggering these alarms under the supervision of our instructor and listening to the alarms going off and the computers telling you everything was wrong!

We also got taught the most important of techniques; the Diluent Flush. If you are ever in doubt that your system isn’t reporting the true state of the content of your loop you do a diluent flush to get rid of the air / o2 currently in the system and to replace with new air and o2. It’s an odd technique, as you tilt to the side and then pull the dump valve on one counterlung while putting dilutent (air) into the other counterlung.

The final training dive was at The Slates and involved techniques relating to continuing to dive with a unit that has failed due to various scenarios. We covered the following:

  • solenoid stuck open so the unit has o2 constantly streaming in – here you manually open and close the valve while monitoring the setpoint on your handset
  • solenoid stuck closed – manually add o2 using the counterlung manual addition valve
  • Simulate no oxygen by closing tank valve
  • Unconscious ccr diver rescue

After all these training routines we had about 30 minutes to enjoy a simple dive with no training routines. This was the first time since using the rebreather that I actually felt really comfortable and had full control of my buoyancy; my days of doing impressions of bouncing bombs were behind me. When you choose a depth on a rebreather and get your buoyancy set for that depth, life is fairly easy as the volume of air stays the same so you stay level. While enjoying this dive at around 28-30 meters I had the realization that I no longer need to acutely monitor my air usage with respect to my depth as with a rebreather no matter what depth you are at you are using up the same amount of diluent and O2 – cool or what?

One of the other things my buddy and I found during my course was that we saw a lot more critters as we finned around and we were able to get right up close to them without them flinching. I’m guessing the lack of bubbles really helps with finding the underwater life.

Posted in Technical diving | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Island Magee wreck dive.

We’ve been talking about going back to this wreck with the club boat (Tay Explorer) for a while now after some of us didn’t get to dive it last time. It was a cargo ship owned by the Tay sand company that sank in 1953.



Large Winch

Large Winch

Dave & Callum inside the wreck

Dave & Callum inside the wreck


For more picture click here or the Gallery page


Posted in Technical diving, Trip Reports, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

K17 Submarine dive

HMS K17 Submarine

A few members of Dundee Sub Aqua Club and Fife Renegades diving the wreck of the K17 Submarine.

K17 was sunk on 31 January 1918 during the night time fleet exercises later known as the Battle of May Island when she was attached to the 13th Submarine Flotilla. HMS Fearless ploughed into K17 at the head of a line of submarines. It now sits broken in two in around 54 meters.

Here’s a couple of videos of the dive, one by me and the other by Peter Keelan. We cross paths near the props.




Posted in Technical diving, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon and Palau – Rod MacDonald talk


Dundee Sub Aqua Club and the University of Dundee Sub Aqua Club are proud to announce a talk by Rod Macdonald. Rod began diving in the early 1980’s and developed an interest in shipwrecks following a trip to Scapa Flow. He published his first book in 1990, ‘Dive Scapa Flow’, and has since published a further 8 books on diving and shipwrecks around the world.

The talk will be on Truk Lagoon where an air assault by the US on the Japanese naval stronghold during WWII sunk many of the Japanese merchant fleet and many naval vessels. Truk Lagoon has almost 50 major shipwrecks and Rod will talk about some of the history and what it’s like to dive there. More recently Rod has been diving in Palau which was attacked using the same approach as that adopted for Truk Lagoon. He is currently in the final stages of writing a book on diving Palau which he hopes to publish in October 2015.

Please come along to what will be a fascinating talk on both diving and also the Japanese fleet attacked during WWII. Rod will be available to chat afterwards and will no doubt be happy to answer questions. For more information on Rod please visit his website here.

The talk is open to everyone and if you would like to advertise it around your local club or organisation please download a copy of our poster here. For making a donation to the RNLI and for ordering tickets please click on the PayPal link.

We’ll take a note of your name and add it to the list, no physical tickets will be issued.

PayPal payment was adding £5 postage, all fixed now. Sorry!

Posted in Fundraising, Talks | Leave a comment