Loch Sunart was an area that the club had never really explored before, and after reading lots of great trip reports and site guides online (namely Finstrokes) I was really keen to organise a weekend there. Earlier in the year SNH published this great interactive map showing some of the interesting life to be found in the loch as well outlining it’s importance as a MPA (Marine Protected Area). It didn’t take long to have a trip full of divers, with the final list being Dave, Jen, Gillian, Callum, Steven, Joe, Veronica, Alistair, and myself.
Our accommodation for the weekend was to be the recently built cedar cabins at SunartCamping in Strontian, which would provide us with a great base within easy driving distance of the shore dives we had planned for the weekend.
Friday also happened to be Gillian’s birthday, so once everyone had arrived at the campsite (most importantly Jen with the cake!) we had a wee celebration with a few drinks followed by a relatively early night.
The site chosen for Saturday was Camas Torsa (Thanks to Darryl Mayer for the dive guide) which has plenty of parking, easy shore access, is dive-able any state of the tide, and has a good depth range. It was a pretty grey day with only few breaks of sunshine in-between heavy showers, there was also a fresh SW breeze that was causing a bit of a swell but this didn’t really affect the entry into the water or the visibility.
The qualifications of divers present varied from Ocean to Advanced Diver so there were a variety of dives taking place. There were a few different options regarding what route to take underwater but most opted to head south from the shore to find a rocky slope and reef, which is roughly the plan Veronica and I followed.
Heading straight out from the shore in good visibility and after passing through what
seemed like a forest of bootlace sea weed, which finally cleared at about 7m, we found ourselves on a pretty featureless sand slope, we then turned right at about 17m heading roughly SW where we came across a more rocky slope with various solitary sea squirts, queen/king scallops, spiny starfish, loads of feather stars, dragonets, and long-clawed squat lobsters standing guard everywhere just waiting to have a go or shoot off backwards if you got too close. We also found a couple of young thornback rays, one only a few inches long. After about 30mins slowly working our way up the rocky slope we headed back towards the entry point and after a safety stop amongst the bootlace weed we were soon back onshore.
Everyone else also reported good 1st dives of the weekend, with Jen/Gillian and Alistair/Steven also spotting a thornback ray. During the surface interval our tanks were filled with Dave’s portable compressor while everyone discussed what they had seen with Callum and Joe out on the loch in their kayaks.
Jen joined Veronica and I on our second dive and we followed a similar plan to the earlier dive but this time we headed straight on a south bearing from the shore to the rocky slope where, the 3 of us armed with cameras, spent a decent 40mins at around 14m taking loads of pictures of the huge variety of life to be found here.
On their second dive Callum and Joe found a huge carpet of brittle stars along with a deeper rock reef and kindly collected a few scallops for the evenings BBQ. A really nice site to start the weekend, and I’m sure there is still more to be found at the site than what we seen.
After a visit to the well-stocked Strontian Market and the weather looking clearer (albeit temporarily) we headed back to the campsite for a BBQ. When the rain started again we retreated to the campsite’s bothy where we found a game of trivial pursuit which Alistair duly won, although it was a bit unfair for some of us considering it was the 1983 edition! That’s my excuse for not getting a single question right anyway. After deciding trivial pursuit was a stupid game, Callum and I went and lit a Swedish candle he had brought along (with permission from Tim from the campsite of course), which we all sat around with a few drinks later on before having another early(ish) night.
Sunday’s dives were to be at a site known as Laudale Slip (Thanks to Jane Wilkinson for preparing the dive guide), another easy shore entry with good parking, easy entry, and not dependent on the state of the tide. Once all on site we were welcomed with much better weather than the previous day with sun, only a few scattered clouds, and little wind. A great day for diving.
Alistair, Dave, and I were diving together today so we opted to try the dive to the left of the slip and go a bit deeper. We went straight out from the slip down to about 5m before turning left then heading down the sand/shell slope to 40m. We must’ve missed the rocky reef mentioned in the dive guide on the way down but we came across it on the way back up so spent the majority of the dive at around 13m having a look around the reef and a few big mooring blocks which were home to brittle stars, sea loch anemones, dead man’s fingers, and various squirts. On the way down Dave spotted a solitary squid (not sure of the species) which would almost let you get close enough for a photo before shooting off again.
The majority of the life to be found was on the rocky reef but deeper down we did come across a young grey gurnard and a small Eckstrom’s topknot which along with the squid were new sightings for me. Visibility was good again, probably in the region of 10m.
Once back on shore Callum and Veronica were making everyone jealous with their reports of seeing an octopus (which later turned out to be a stout bobtail cuttlefish) but they only mentioned it a few times. During our surface interval Alistair and Gillian made the most of the good visibility and enjoyed a wee snorkel over the shallows.
Dave, Joe, and Amanda departed to begin the long drive home, leaving Callum/Steven and Alistair/myself to do a second dive, with Jen, Gillian and Veronica on shore keeping an eye out for sea eagles (and sea gulls).
Callum and Steven opted to explore to the left of the slip on the second dive while Alistair and I went on an octopus hunt to the right. After having a look around the area they had described with no luck we followed the boulder slope down to about 13m where it ended then from here headed down the sand slope. This was strewn with old robes and plastic containers (apparently waste from an old fish farm) now colonised with various squirts and tube worms, after a few minutes we came across a solid rock reef at 22m and continued down to 27m before turning back after having a good look around at all of the encrusting life.
On the way back up the sand slope Alistair drew my attention to a half buried goose-foot starfish and fortunately there was just enough battery left in my camera to get a few snaps before we continued back up the way we had descended and back to our safety stop before surfacing. Once back on shore we were treated to the sight of a large white-tailed sea eagle flying over the hillside just above us, a great end to the weekend.
Although the weather wasn’t always on our side it was still a great weekend with really good dives at interesting sites that were new to us. The cedar cabins at SunartCamping were great too and with another one in the progress of being built I’m sure we will be back soon. Thanks to Dave for manning the compressor and Tim & Lynn for accommodating us at the campsite.