The weekend of the 7th June myself and James, Dave, Ingo, Joe, Gordon, Dave Snr, Veronica, Callum and Andrew headed up to the Summer Isles for what was dubbed the diving weekend of the year. It did not disappoint! A few of us left an overcast Dundee to head up on the Friday morning hoping to catch a cheeky dive from Badluarach Jetty in the afternoon. Despite Rockness there were no problems and after a stop en-route at Aviemore Tesco for supplies we arrived at Camusnagaul and were greeted with the sun splitting the sky and water similar to a Visit Scotland advert, perfect.
After checking in to the Sail Mhor Croft Hostel 5 of us decided to have a dive from Badluarach Jetty mid-afternoon to see if the vis was as good as it looked, was it ever! Having only dived in Scotland myself I have never dived in water so clear with vis easily in
the region of 15m. This was a really nice shallow dive, heading out from the jetty we first passed over kelp, then white sand with tall bootlace seaweeds flowing in the current then finally, at about 9m, thick maerl beds that went on for as far as we could see. There was plenty of life to be found but the highlight was probably the quantity of sea hares that seemed to be everywhere. A great start to the weekend.
By 11:00 that evening everyone had arrived and plans were made for an 8:30 meet at the jetty where our boat, the Lady Nicola from Atlantic Diving Services, would be waiting for us. A FEW refreshments were had before turning in for the night in preparation for an early(ish) start on the Saturday.
We woke to an overcast day and light winds with the promise of sun later. The plan had been for Joe to pick up the re-filled cylinders from the B&B over the road and head along to the jetty. About half way to the jetty James and I wondered if Joe had remembered………….we thought not so headed back to the B&B and unsurprisingly the cylinders were lined up outside the filling station with Joe sitting at the jetty probably wondering where his other tank was! With Veronicas help James and I loaded the cylinders and headed back along to the jetty. Half way there, and at about 8:30 we saw someone looking suspiciously like Andrew heading in the opposite direction. Arriving at the jetty there was no Andrew and talk of him going to a jetty no one had heard of. After a small delay he arrived at about 9:00 the ropes were off and we were heading towards the keyhole at Priest Island over calm waters.
Kitting up as we were heading out there was no delay in getting in the water when we arrived at Priest Island. I was diving with Callum, James with Andrew, Joe with Dave Snr, Dave with Veronica and Gordon with Ingo, these were the buddy pairs for the weekend. A giant stride entry off the back and were in crystal clear water and swimming towards the island over a lovely kelp forest.
It was only after about 2 or 3 minutes that I saw my first rock scuttling to and fro on the bottom………but…….what….it appears that there was some ground swell!! Luckily this wasn’t too bad as soon we were exploring some lovely boulder gullies, walls, and overhangs which were covered life. In-between the kelp there was bright red/purple seaweeds growing and the walls/overhangs were covered in soft corals, sponges, and lovely jewel anemones. It was also great passing other divers swimming above, below and to the side as everyone made their way in and out of all the gullies.
The second dive of the day was the Fairweather V, a fishing vessel which sank on the 4th February 1991. The boat sits upright on the seabed at around 25m with the deck at about 19m and remains intact. Andy and Andy of the Lady Nicola put a shot line down perfectly on the bow and soon MOST of us were descending down the shot in great vis to explore this amazing wreck. I say most of us as 1 pair thought that a shot line would be too easy and wanted the excitement of discovering a wreck by themselves………….sadly they didn’t and spent 30 minutes exploring the featureless bottom before ascending to a chorus of ridicule which was set to continue the rest of the day weekend!!
The life on the wreck was amazing; practically every inch was covered in plumose anemones (not so good for the passing moon jellyfish!). There were also jewel anemones on the underside of the handrails, and various sponges and squirts occupying any free surface space. A couple of large pollack and ballan wrasse were also patrolling the wreck. Being quite a small wreck and with an average depth of about 20m you can easily explore the whole boat within no stop time, including the stern with prop and the wheelhouse which is incredible with the seats still upholstered should anyone need a sit down when exploring the wreck.
The final third dive of the day was the wreck of the Boston Stirling, a 100ft long trawler which sank in 1985 off Tanera Mor. The wreck was just breaking the surface when we arrived and first in was Dave and a couple of others. When Callum and I dropped off the boat we noticed that a DSMB was on the surface just at the point the wreck was breaking the surface. The general consensus was that due to the error of the last dive perhaps Gordon and Ingo the other divers may need some help in finding it.
Looking back towards the boat I saw Gordon entering the water shaking his head in despair but I think secretly happy that he and Ingo knew where they should be going this time. Once again the visibility was fantastic making it possible to easily identify parts of the wreck which again was home to plenty of life, most notably pair of huge ballan wrasse that weren’t afraid to get quite close to you.
One day done and the promise of another days diving like this we all headed back to the jetty in high spirits. Once or twice on the way back the Fairweather V was described in great detail to the pair that missed it earlier in the day, we thought they might appreciate it……
We all headed for Ullapool in the evening for a few drinks and something to eat in the Seaforth Inn before a (relatively) early night. The plan was to meet at the jetty again for 8:30 in the morning and we all hoped for another day like the Saturday.
Everyone woke to the sun splitting the sky and light winds again with no stragglers at the pier meaning that ropes were off by 8:45. The first dive was a wall dive on the south side of Loch Broom named “Bear’s Head” which went to a depth of about 50 metres. Kit was prepared on the short boat trip round to the site with everyone ready when we arrived.
We dropped into great vis again and through the moon jellies hitting a sandy slope at about 15m. Dave, Callum and I headed down the slope to about 30m before heading northerly keeping the slope on our right side.
Before long we came across the bottom of the wall looming in front of us with a slight overhang. We arrived at the wall the same time as James and Andrew who were about 5m shallower so we ended up pretty much shadowing each other as we made our way along the wall observing all of the life, there were dozens of red cushion stars in amongst the sponges and squirts, squat lobsters and edible crabs inhabiting all the nooks and crannies, at least 3 different species of nudibranch were spotted as well (including a number of the lovely purple coloured Flabellina pedata).
After all having got back onto the boat we cruised across the mouth of Loch Broom and out towards Tanera Beag to Conservation Cave, another site that everyone was keen to dive! Gordon and Ingo were fully kitted as we got to the entrance at about 11:30. Gordon keen to get a dive in before having to surface at 12:00 due to flying to the States the following day! Once again the sea was flat and we all went in and explored the cave and gullies in perfect visibility.
Due to the water only being about 8m deep in the cave the sun streamed down and lit up the amazing variety of life. A torch was only required at the back bowl of the cave which was covered in different sagartia anemones, jewel anemones, dahlia anemones, soft corals, star ascidians and other colonial squirts, various sponges, and in-between all of this there were numerous velvet swimming crabs and edible crabs hiding along with long-spined scorpion fish blending in to all of the different colours.
The final dive of the weekend was to be an island we called seal rock (a small rocky outcrop just off the island of Ardnagoine), a popular island to dive with seals. After a cruise by there were a number of seals staring warily at us so we decided to have a break on the Isle of Tanera Beag. We got off the boat and looked around the island with everyone feeling they had just stepped into a Visit Scotland advert! There was a beautiful bay with emerald water highlighting the sand and kelp beneath.
Where the boat had tied up to there was also a rock which allowed the opportunity for some tombstoning, an opportunity not to be missed! The rock was about 80ft above the water allowing for a good 5 second free-fall before landing. Being the bravest I decided to show how it should be done…………………………….ok……….maybe this was just how it felt to me!
The reality was that it was only about 20ft but as usual the idea grabbed me but standing up there my body had no desire to jump off. Credit has to go to Dave, Callum, Dave Snr, James, Joe and Veronica who jumped off whilst I remained trying to pluck up the courage. After about half an hour I managed to finally jump off and at 39 felt I had finally become a man!
After all this it was time to head to Seal Rock for the last dive of the weekend. We arrived and were soon swimming through kelp beds and gullies fighting a noticeable current. The plan was to see some seals but after my encounter at the Isle of May this idea didn’t grab me that much. Everyone else was keen to see some but unfortunately the seals proved to be elusive. There was plenty of other life with blue-rayed limpets on the kelp fronds and it was quite interesting exploring beneath the canopy of the kelp forests finding cushion stars, seven-armed starfish, and sea cucumbers poking out of the rock crevices, a large shoal of pollack were spotted as well.
Soon enough we were back at the Badluarach jetty and those that were travelling home got their cars packed and headed off. A few of us were staying an extra night in the hostel so we finished off the weekend with a couple of drinks at the Dundonnell Hotel in the evening sun.
You couldn’t really ask for a better diving weekend, great weather, great company, and great dives! Thanks are due to Richard at Creag Ard Charters and Andy with Atlantic Diving Services who put together a great weekend after Richard had engine problems with his boat. And to Gordon/Dave for organising.