August 2016 – Trip Report – Shetlands Liveaboard

A club trip to dive in the waters around the Shetland Isles was arranged for August 2016.  Trip organiser, Karen, summarises the weeks diving on behalf of the 12 adventurers…

 

boatThe Shetlands are the most northerly islands of the UK.  Travelling there from Towcester is a car journey to Aberdeen and an overnight ferry which arrives at the island’s main town Lerwick at 7am the next morning. It takes pretty much 24 hours to get there , although some of us chose to stop off at Carlisle the night before.  Why go all that way ?   Well this is one of THE best UK diving spots with fantastic marine life, shipwrecks and exceptional visibility.

There were 12 of us staying on the UK liveaboard, MV Halton skippered by Bob Anderson. Some of the group were liveaboard virgins but for those of us that have been on many a trip on the Halton over the years,  its a bit like coming home.  The boat is a converted fishing trawler and is very comfortable with 6 twin bunkbed cabins, 2 showers/toilets and an Aga in the galley. There is well-thought-out diving facilities including a diver lift and boxes under your bench to keep all your kit.

houseArriving on a Sunday we were met by Bob and his fantastic crew, Jen who was catering for us and Luke the Deckie/Tank topper-uppa.   Once your kit is all set up it stays set up for the rest of the week and your cylinders are filled whilst they are tied to the boat rails  – very convenient.

sea-slugOur first dive was the Pionersk  – a Russian fish factory ship lying at 22m just outside Lerwick.  A nice shakedown dive with an enormous ling tucked in under the stern.   Back into Lerwick for lunch and an walk in the sunshine spotting seals,  before going back out for a scenic dive on the Giants Legs.   The “legs” are two massive stacks that rise up the cliff at Bressay to form the cavern. The area is jammed packed with beautiful dahlia anemones, walls of dead mens fingers and many, many different types of colourful nudibranchs (sea slugs). Macro photographer’s heaven but with the slight surge my images were pretty disappointing  (or maybe it was just my rusty photography skills)  but a very enjoyable dive.

 

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After spending the night in Lerwick our second days diving started with the wreck of the Glwadmena at 38m.   With stunning visibility you can see most of the ship as you swim along her.  She has 2 massive boilers  and a very photogenic bow.

After the dive we started steaming north for a few hours before a late afternoon dive on what is one of my favourite wreck dives the British submarine E49.    She was sunk after hitting a mine in WW1 with a total loss of life.  She lies in 35m on a sandy seabed , with the sand slowly claiming her. My photo taken 8 years ago (on the right) shows this clearly.  With the fantastic visibility, you can see the whole wreck as you descend the shot line.  Marine life is prolific, with some lucky to see octopus and the conning tower and periscope with its mirror still in place is fascinating.

wreck-2 We spent the night moored at Baltasound on Unst –  the most Northern island of the Shetlands.  Most of us had a wander up to the famous Unst bus stop which gets decorated every year in a different theme, before heading to the Baltasound Hotel where we discovered and sampled the excellent Shetland Reel Gin, distilled on Unst.

Everyone was keen to dive the E49 again so that’s what we did for our morning dive with others in our group also declaring it one of their favourite wrecks too.   The SS Tonis Chandris wreck was our afternoon dive.  It has a large engine block where you can easily see the con rods and pistons and friendly dogfish willing to pose for photos.

shet-ponyWe spent the night moored at Uyeasound on the south of Unst.   This was a beautifully peaceful harbour and most of us took advantage of walking our evening meal off and enjoying the scenery including the Shetland ponies and a Standing Stone.

With the weather closing in we managed a dive on the wreck of The Jane which has a much photographed propeller still in place and very friendly Ballan Wrasse.  With the current running a little the dive was finished off with a fairly fast drift and some scalloping.

propWe set sail for Lerwick as soon as all were back on board  – the weather Jonah (me) had finally caught up with us and we had a rough journey as soon as we got out of the lee of the islands.   There was some fairly spectacular sea sickness from one of us  – the details of which I will spare you and with one large wave another of the team managed to face plant the  saloon table, leaving his spectacles behind, a hilarious manoeuvre !  We were all pleased to end up back in Lerwick and were happy to spend the afternoon having a wander round town,  instead of braving the seas for an afternoon dive.

orcasThe next’s days plan was to dive the Fraoch Ban but the tides, wind and wave swell when we got round Bressay was very uncomfortable , so we headed back into more sheltered water to have a second dive on the Gwladmena.  With the vis even better than the first dive this gave us a great opportunity to get some good wide-angle shots of the wreck.    When those of us that dived were back on the surface we were told that just as we dived  under,  Orca’s had swam past !  “Yeah yeah” we all said  – what wind up merchants !   The couple of weeks prior to our trip , Orca’s had been sighted around the islands and close to Lerwick and we were hoping to see them but assumed it was going to be one of those “Oh you should have been here last  week” moments.   Well,  we still didn’t believe they were there until they were sighted as we were coming back into Lerwick harbour.  The Halton followed them up all the way up Bressay sound. We had fantastic views of them, at least 3 of them with one mother and calf. The mother was identified as an Orca called Mousa, named by the Icelandic group that research them when they return to their home ground.  A very memorable surface interval, we were very very lucky to see such magnificent animals. I don’t think the seals that were looking very alarmed around the harbour thought so though.

cheese-wineThe afternoon dive was on the SS Glenisla. She was sunk in 1917 after being involved in a collision and now lies in 45m of water, upright  and mainly intact.  A stunning and very interesting dive.  You could see the spare propeller, steam pipework and valves, boilers and small donkey  boiler, which looked a bit like a mine !  There are pieces of white phosphorous around the wreck that look like wedges of cheese.  Hence the “cheese and wine” photos.  We were under strict instruction to leave them there as they can become dangerous on contact with air.

With the weather settling down for our last day we dived the Lunokhods in the morning.

This is a Russian Klondyker (fish factory) ship sunk in 1993 and lies just under Bressay Lighthouse The wreck is broken into two main sections – the bow section is in 42m and the stern breaks the surface under the light house.  It made for an enjoyable dive, exploring the bow before working our way up the reef seeing various pieces of wreckage as our decompression stops disappeared.  There is lots of life on the wreck and the reef.

crabThe Fraoch Ban, a small fishing trawler was our final dive. She lies in 32m on her side and is covered with marine life and very photogenic. The surrounding sandy bed is home to many flatties, mainly plaice, that swarm around you to  find food as you disturb the sand.  You truly feel like you’re a “fish whisperer” and Bob has taken some stunning photos of them posing around him, which of course we attempted to emulate including some video clips.   One of those dives that yet again brought a smile to your face as you surfaced !

As the Halton steamed back to Lerwick all our kit and packing was done and were were ready for the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen.   A highly recommended week – the Shetlands is pretty hard to beat as one of the premier UK dive spots and team Halton delivers yet again, with detailed dive briefings on the sites, excellent catering and service.

Nature and Scenery Add-on
A couple of us decided to extend our stay in Shetlands by a week. Having dived the Shetlands a  few times, it was about time we saw some of the other scenery and wildlife that the islands are well known for.   We split the week into two and spent a few nights on the mainland staying at Scalloway and the second half of the week in Cullivoe on Yell.  You do need to be lucky for both the weather and some of the wildlife sightings. We had some luck with the wildlife, especially the puffins at Sumborough Head down on the South of Mainland and close encounters with an otter on Yell but apart from a couple of days the weather was wet and windy.  Despite this the scenery, particularly round the coast is stunning and can be very dramatic.  Its a very unique place in the UK and I would recommend a visit.

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July 2016 – Trip Report – Mexico

Celine and Anna were in Caribbean Mexico for a destination wedding but diving was also high on the list of things to squeeze in…

 

img_9695-1Anna and I were heading to Mexico for a wedding, and although I was yet to complete my Ocean Diver qualification, I was determined not to miss the opportunity to go diving while we were there.  I spent quite some time researching dive centres in Playa Del Carmen, and found one I instantly liked among the many I contacted.  Blue Life Diving were totally understanding of my position as a novice diver, who’s never been diving in the sea, and who is yet to complete my qualification, which was a big help for my nerves.

Fast forward a few months and I found myself in Stoney Cove twice in the one week doing my last Ocean Diver sign off, and also practicing some skills that would probably be of use to me in Mexico – Thanks to our fab trainers for helping me get it completed in time!  BSAC were also equally as fab in turning my qualification card around in 6 days for me to take with me.

The plan was to squeeze in at least one days diving in the weeks were were there.  On my first day, I was diving with just a dive guide, Leo.  After spending some time going through kit, talking about what to expect on the boat and from the dives, we strapped all our kit to ourselves and walked the 200 yards to the beach to meet the boat.  The boat has all the cylinders and weight on board so we didn’t have anything too heavy to carry.

img_9651Our first dive was on a reef called Moc-Che which would see us diving between 7 and 15m on a slow current.  All kitted up, and sat on the side of the boat, it was time to backwards roll in and off we went!  The view on descent was amazing, the visibility was immense and warm water was lush, although the current made me a little wobbly to begin with.  I soon forgot about that as there was just so much to see along the reef; coral formations, fish, moray eels, and more.  Within the first few minutes we saw a massive Spotted Eagle ray which taught me a fabulous lesson; if you swim at it wanting to get a closer look, it invariably swims off!  Still, it was a amazing to see and set the tone for the whole dive.  The reef was amazing, with lots of little inlets where even more life gathered including lion fish, parrot fish, trumpet fish, sponges, crabs and so much more.  Towards the end of the dive there was an arch to swim through where tons of porkfish and grouper had collected. Forty eight minutes went by so quickly!

Max depth 16m
Total dive time 48mins
Safety Stop – 6m for 3 mins
Water temp 29degrees (nope not kidding!)
Surface interval 56mins

Back on the boat, sea sickness totally got me at that point, which wasn’t pleasant (no one warned me about this!)  I spent the surface interval staring at the land and sipping water, but I was feeling better so onto the next dive.

img_9647Second dive was along the Cerebros reef, where we would be diving between 6 to 12m.  Again, the reef life was amazing, with some huge Angelfish, spotted Moray and loads of lobsters, crabs and shrimp.  During the dive, Leo had said we would swim away from the reef, across the sand to find a sunken statue that was placed there to bless the waters and reefs along this section of coastline.  This is where we crossed paths with a Barracuda which thankfully didn’t seem to mind us being there.  We swam around the amazing shell statue a couple of times, and then headed back to the reef and to finish the dive.

Max depth 13m
Total dive time 45mins
Safety Stop – 6m for 3 mins
Water temp 29degrees (still!)

img_9677A couple of days later I was back with Blue Life, this time to do a deeper first dive, on the Tortugas reef (Tortugas being mexican for ‘Turtle’!). There were two other pairs on the dive boat with us that day, as Tortugas reef offers intermediate ~20m diving as well as deeper sections up to ~40m.  Lots of sea grass and massive barrel sponges lined the reef at the 20m area, with some huge Angel fish, Yellowtail Jack and Tarpon swimming around them.  However, it was the hawksbill turtles that were the star of the show in this dive! We didn’t see loads of them, which surprised Sarah (todays guide), but they were stunning.  In fact, I was so taken back after seeing the first one, I drifted over a large coral/sponge formation and came pretty much face to face with a 3m green moray eel who had decided to exit its hidey hole just at that point. Back on the boat, again feeling sea sick (why had no one warned me about this!?) but we spent the surface interval at the shore, so we all got off and cooled down in the water which helped.

Max depth 24m
Total dive time 40mins
Safety Stop – 6m for 3 mins
Water temp 30degrees (I’m now sweating underwater)
Surface interval 1hr 14mins

freeswimming_giant_green_moray_eelSecond dive today was on Sabalos reef, a shallow reef between 7 and 12m with amazing coral formations and some fabulous colourful Snapper, Triggerfish and Doctorfish.  By this point I was really starting to get the hang of the slow drift on the current and found I could steer myself a lot better to see things hidden in the corals and the reef walls.  I was also able to spend more time with my camera pointing at things rather than tying to use it as some sort of balance aid.

Max depth 14m
Total dive time 44mins
Safety Stop – 6m for 3 mins
Water temp 30degrees (I honestly don’t have my shower this hot)

By this point in our holiday, Anna was pretty bored of hearing me go on and on about diving, and was keen to get out to see some sea life as well, so we both went on a snorkelling trip to Akumal beach.  Akumal beach is famed for its green turtles, which we spent an hour snorkelling with, just a 20m swim from the shore.  Although there were a fair few other people there, it was still a magical experience.  After the beach our trip also took us deep into the Mexican jungle, to a Cenote; a fresh water hole in the ground.  We got to jump in and swim around the stalactites and stalagmites in the cold, but amazingly fresh water. After spending the day in the 40 degree sun, the water was just what we needed!  I think it was this evening that Anna had her epiphany and decided she was going to become a diver as well.

Oh, and the wedding was also amazing; on the beach in the evening sun, frozen cocktails, sunset.  We would definitely return to this part of Mexico again, as there is so much to do, and so many dive sites to explore – Hopefully next time we will both be diving!14500338_10157483094305257_9073863225373179790_o

 

January 2016 – Trip Report – Mauritius

Phil Bradley and his partner Dawn travelled to Mauritius in January of this year, here is his trip report.  SPOILER ALERT – it will make you yearn for the Indian Ocean!

 

My partner Dawn and I booked a holiday and headed for some sun on the beautiful island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Our expectations were high as our only other visit to the Indian Ocean (the Maldives) was fantastic.

We had booked into a small boutique hotel in Pereybere, on the northwest side of the island, with the most beautiful beaches on the island. We settled into our room with a courtesy bottle of champagne on the balcony overlooking the ocean.

Mauritius dive trip jan 16 philThe following day we went in search of a dive school. We found a professional looking school almost opposite our hotel (http://www.basediving.net/en). The school was indeed very professionally  run (and owned) by a friendly and very experienced PADI course director Barlen.  Joined by his wife Fi, who ran the shop and administration side of the business, Berty the dive instructor and Madlen the dive guide and boat driver.

 

Our first dive was a reef dive ……….. the water was warm and clear but compared to the Maldives it was disappointing, the reef was small and the fish life was both small and scarce. Over the following days we dived every other day, getting in two dives before a nice lunch overlooking the ocean.

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Once our expectations had been recalibrated, we thoroughly enjoyed the diving, the reefs were colourful and we found some excellent subjects for our camera lenses.

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Surprisingly there are not many wrecks around the area, but we did dive on one that was a 20 minute boat ride away.

On the reefs we found many beautiful coloured leaf fish, morays. On one particular dive site we regularly found turtles resting amongst the coral beds and we were able to spend considerable time observing them and taking copious photographs.

 

mauritiusphil5Over the course of the holiday we did 14 dives which we thoroughly enjoyed as well as spending many hours touring the beautiful island of Mauritius.  Whilst we are in some of these beautiful places we privileged to visit it is nice to take in some of the local culture. At the time we were visiting the locals came to the end of their fasting period and had a festival to celebrate, which we visited in the adjacent village.

The Mauritian people of a mixture of cultures, Indian, French and….. but are exceptionally friendly and very welcoming of the English, due to our colonial history.

 

 

Not only is Mauritius beautiful below the water but also on top, it had many areas of beautiful mountains and forest.

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