Diving - The adventure continues!
2015 diving adventures.
2015 has been a quieter year than 2014, diving wise, but it wouldn't be fair to say it's been a disappointment.
My personal target for 2015 was to reach 200 logged dives, a modest 35 dives.
The year started in March, with a couple of dives in a chilly (6C) Vobster Quay. Sadly cold water didn't equate to clear water and neither dive was really that enjoyable, but it was good to get started again.
Early April saw us at NDAC, Chepstow which was as chilly, but at least a little clearer.
Early May saw me back at Vobster for 3 dives, but not exactly racking them up and it wasn't until the late May bank holiday weekend that I got in the sea, having decided on a trip to California to forgo any diving this time, that I finally got in the sea and that was only to 5.2 metres as we did some training dives at Selsey Lifeboat station in the absence of our boat tow-er. At least we enjoyed a good pint in the pub after! It was also a chance to try my new Gopro out and, although it was hardly thrilling diving, it did prove the quality a Gopro is capable of!
We finally got a proper set of dives in, in mid-June with a charter weekend to Pembrokeshire with the club.
Aldershot Dolphins adjourn to the excellent pub for a meal between diving days.
We dived at Skomer Island and Stockholm Island on the first day and then dived the Dakotian and Behar wrecks on the Sunday and all 4 dives were enjoyable, especially Sunday's when the weather was better. It's a long drive from Hampshire to Pembrokeshire, but we all had a great weekend (enjoying some great food in Little Haven in the evenings).
The wreck of the Behar
Above the water, I spotted a large Thresher Shark leap clear out of the water as we headed for a dive and a few weeks later the biggest ever caught in UK waters was caught in Milford Haven! It was an incredible, if brief, sight and it was a shame we didn't see it during a dive!
This year we took our summer holiday in Malta (We'd planned to go to Gozo, but late problems with the villa we booked saw us relocated to the mainland). We planned for Lauren to have a few dives too, but she trod on a sea urchin on the first day and couldn't dive all week!
I joined Bezz Diving to do a couple of days diving and the first day was on the impressive wreck of the Um El Faroud.
This was a small tanker that exploded during work, killing a worker, in dock and was later sunk as an artificial reef.
Um El Faroud Propellor and Rudder
It's now a very enjoyable dive for visitors to Malta.
Stern of the Um El Faroud
Swimming along a companianway
As with the Thistlegorm last year, I did two dives, an internal and an external one. We jumped in at the steps at Wied Iż-Żurrieq, where the boats go to the Blue Grotto and swam a few yards before descending and swimming out in the blue.
As we reached 25m or so, the stern of a large ship appeared from the blue and soon we were down by the rudder and propellor, looking up at the almost intact stern.
Down the stairs on the Um El Faroud
Um El Faroud is an impressive sight - Here at the bow
We swam through over the propellor and then up the deck level, along some external companianways and then through a little of the superstructure, before emerging into one of the holds. We then swam on and over the hull to the bow, before turning and starting to head back.
Bubbles from divers inside rise from the superstructure
As we did it became apparent that there was a bit of a current running and we were swimming directly into it. Midwater, this soon started eating into my air and we got back to the reef near the inlet with me very low on air. At this point the current was so strong on the surface that only by ducking back below the surface and pulling myself along the reef, hand over hand, could I reach the calm of the inlet. I was glad to be back in slack water, although it had been a good dive.
For the second dive, the centre found me a 15l tank, and this time, we ducked into the superstructure and explored the engine room, galley and numerous other rooms. It was an enjoyable dive and we signed the visitors book on the upper deck, before dropping back to the sea floor in an attempt to avoid the current. This was successful and the return to the inlet was a lot easier this time, although the current was still running strongly.
Engine room inside the Um El Faroud
Diver silhouetted against light inside the Um El Faroud
Divers signing the guestbook
A couple of days later, I joined Bezz Divers again to dive at Cirkewwa, which is right by the ferry to Gozo.
On the first dive we visited the rather Disneyesque wreck of the tugboat Rozi. It sets bolt upright and intact looking like Steamboat Willy on the seabed.
There were a decent number of fish around it, so it's doing its job as an artifical reef, but opportunities to penetrate the wreck weren't forthcoming and it looked pretty uninteresting anyway, being extensively gutted.
Some fish live around the Rozi
It's certainly a picturesque wreck, but not as impressive as the Um El Faroud or as interesting as a 'spontaneous' wreck.
Huge, ancient looking anchor
After we left the Rozi, we headed back to the wall, via a large anchor, but I had about 100bar of air left, so a few of us explored the wall for a while before returning to the surface.
The second dive of the morning was to the Archway.
Entering the Archway
This is a cave where the roof has collapsed leaving the entry as an arch to swim through.
We jumped in and swam along the wall, through a couple of small tunnels in the wall, and then to entrance to the Archway, where we swam through and then looked up and back to take in the geology. It's quite impressive, but really rather tame as a dive.
Looking back through the Archway
Going back there was a mild current, but nothing like at the Um El Faroud and we got back without any issue and with plenty of air left.
As Lauren wasn't able to dive, I only did the two days in Malta, but I enjoyed it, the water is lovely and clear, if there are relatively few fish to see (It wasn't as bad as some people had suggest, to be fair).
Back in the UK, we did a couple of dives at Vobster again before 3 of us set off to Swanage to dive the Kyarra and Aeolian Sky from one of the charters that runs from the pier.
This was my first experience of diving out of Swanage (I'd had one quick dive at the pier before) and the Kyarra dive was a bit of a mixed bag.
Sadly the vis, reportedly excellent a couple of weeks earlier, was limited and I didn't find the wreck enjoyable as a lot of it is the typical 'flat pack' wreckage, with just lots of unidentifiable panels and pipes to look at. Better vis may well have improved my enjoyment as it would have been easier to take in more of it at a go.
We did, however, stay together well as a 3 in poor vis and saw a huge Conger as well as a massive, bright blue, lobster.
One thing marred the dive slightly too, as I think I became 'narked'. This is the intoxication caused by too much Nitrogen exposure and usually affects people from around 25-30M and deeper. At 30M, I didn't really expect a big problem, but looking back I definitely felt a little euphoric, a bit like a couple of pints makes me, enjoying myself and being a little more relaxed than I would normally be.
One of my buddies, Iain, indicated it was time to think about going up, but I indicated we'd swim around for another 5 minutes as I had plenty of air. This should have been a warning to us all, but I was more experienced and Iain and Alan deferred to me. A few minutes later we decided to deploy the DSMB, as the current was getting up, but to avoid it, I dropped down a 3-5 metres to find a sheltered spot.
The result of this was that we tripped over into Deco time and by the time we reached our 'safety stop' depth, we had 9 minutes of deco/safety to carry out. Iain and Alan were both a little low on air, especially Alan, who I gave my pony reg too to alleviate any concerns, but we completed the deco and only cut our safety stop element short by a minute.
Alan never planned to do the second dive and, after a lengthy interval, involving Ice Cream and Fish and Chips, Iain and I returned to take the shuttle out the Aeolian Sky.
The wind had picked up and the journey out was pretty choppy and it's quite a lengthy run to 'the Sky' from Swanange and a couple of people were sea sick.
However, once in, we were ok and, as planned, descended to the bottom of the superstructure and then gradually worked our way back up the outside of it. This was a good plan as you can clearly comprehend what you're looking at on the superstructure, even in poor vis, and you are increasing the no-deco time throughout the dive.
After the 'narc-ing' on Kyarra, we were focussed and launched our DSMB from the top of the superstructure with 2 minutes no-deco and 70 bar left, surfacing with air to spare after an uneventful safety stop.
The ride back, mercifully, was much calmer (with the wind to our backs) although it was after 8PM before we left the pier.
A few weeks later we carried out some training for trainees at the club at Cromhall, near Bristol. This is a very basic dive site, with only a couple of containers housing a compressor and a shop/office, but it was nice and quiet, the weather was good and we carried out some useful training dives, although the vis was little better than the sea had been and I wouldn't rush back. If you're local though, it's a decent little site for kit tryout and training.
Determined to get some diving done, despite some negative reaction to the deco-incuring dive on the Kyara, I asked if anyone in the club wanted to join me on a trip to the M2 Submarine.
To my surprise we quickly took 10 of the available 12 places, but concerns over liability sadly reared their heads and a few were discouraged and dropped out. Still, 8 of us made the trip and whilst vis was again pretty poor, the M2 proved a popular dive.
At around 30M, it was quite dark and very murky, but the between the wars Submarine featuring a hanger for a seaplane, sits upright on the seabed virtually intact, so even with a few metres' vis you can clearly orientate yourself and understand where you are on the wreck and what you're looking at.
I dived with Will and we descended directly onto the hanger top, right ahead of the conning tower. We tried to peer into the hanger, but it was darker than a very dark thing and even our torches revealed next to nothing.
We moved forward along the hull, but a gentle current pushed us off it and to the sea bed, so we swam back to the hull side and forward to the torpedo tubes and the bow. Moving around the front, we swam back up to the deck and along the hull, spotting some Congers living in holes in the outer hull. We had another look at the port side of the hangar, but as we moved back Will indicated he'd reached 80bar, so we quickly popped a DSMB and ascended to 6M.
Oddly Will had serious trouble maintaining his buoyancy here (Tris had had similar issues the previous summer due to a new, more buoyant, undersuit, but Will's kit was unchanged). We managed to maintain the stop, partly by me dropping all my air and acting as an anchor for him!
By the time we surfaced, he'd burnt through half his 80Bar and returned to the boat with only 40Bar! I seemed to being plagued with low-air exits, although, at least, this time we'd played it by the book. We never really did get to the bottom of that incident, I suspect his undersuit may have blocked the suit vent valve, causing expanding air to be trapped in his drysuit.
Although vis wasn't great, everyone on the boat was very positive about the M2 and vowed to do more boat dives in 2016! The M2 is a 'war grave' and the remains of most of the crew remain inside, so if you do dive it, treat it with respect.
August Bank Holiday monday saw Iain and I take in a quick couple dives at Wraysbury. As you'll know if you've read other posts here, this is my local dive site and is a former gravel pit. I quite like diving here as it has plenty of sunken 'attractions', including a taxi, a bus and a number of boats, plus a lot of Carp and Perch and a few big Pike.
Sadly, the silty bottom and the site's popularity with dive schools means vis is often limited and this weekend was no exception. However, it was very quiet and we spotted a couple of big Carp.
A couple of weeks later I got a few hours free on a Wednedsay afternoon and John Taylor and I decided to visit Wraysbury to take in a night dive.
I'd long wanted to try a night dive, but circumstances had always conspired against me until now.
We hoped the mid-week vis would be good, but it was as bad as it had been the time Iain and I visited, but we did spot a few fish, including one of the big Pike.
After a couple of hours break (and a bit of food to warm us up), we kitted up again and dropped in behind the shop for our night dive. The plan was to swim to the bus, explore that a bit and then head back to the slipway we entered from, but the combination of limited distance visibilty and darkness meant we somehow missed the bus, which is usually hard to do even if you're not looking for it! We did find the Reliant Scimitar and 'the hole' nearby and it was interesting to see how many young fish there are in the lake, we spotted dozens of tiny Perch and a number of 4-6 inch long Pike as well!
I found the night dive experience interesting, but not a little claustrophobic in Wraysbury. It was certainly a baptism of fire and John, who had done a number on a liveaboard in the Red Sea commented that it was much more challenging than that, echoing my feeling of claustrophobia. That said, it was a new diving experience to add to my catalogue and it was to stand me in good stead a month or so later.
A planned trip to Vobster to do some training a week or so later was also relocated to Wraysbury, so it was back into the murk for another couple of dives then. From going half the year without a single trip to Wraysbury, I'd done 6 dives in a few weeks and this visit was good as I finally got to see the 'newish' attraction, the lifeboat which is the biggest boat in the site and big enough to explore inside as well as out.
With Mandy off to Cambodia for 10 days to visit Ankor Wot (or what!), I had a fair bit of holiday left.
I toyed with going to Sharm again, but felt I'd done that too recently to really enjoy it and I fancied somewhere new. Some of my club had dived in Lanzarote 3 years earlier and were very positive about the whole experience, so, failing to drum up interest amongst them, I booked myself a week diving with Safari Divers at Puerto Del Carmen.
I arrived Friday morning and checked in at the Costa Volcan. I had a clean, spacious 'apartment' - Plenty big enough for two, maybe a squeeze for 3, but it depends how much you plan to use it - Clean, although not luxurious. Lack of air con or a fan would have been a big problem if it'd been hot - it was only pleasantly warm - and my room was on the street side, so I had to sleep with my bedroom window shut, but I slept well most nights.
1. Boat dive to Punta Tinosa - Took the boat from the nearby jetty to the nearby town of Tinosa. We were told we might see Rays here and quite soon we found a good sized Stingray in a cave, it swam around and then out into open water. We moved onto another small cave, with shrimp in and as I backed out to let others take a look another diver spotted an even bigger (2-3M) ray, which a couple of us followed for a while - It was then joined by another, smaller Ray, before swimming out into the blue. We then swam on, taking in Baracuda, Jacks, Sardines and lots of other smaller fish. - A good start.
Small boat at Puerto Del Carmen on the way to 'The Hole'
2. Shore dive to the 'The Hole'. We jumped in at the Jetty and swam out before descending into a large expanse of sand, full of Garden Eels. We swam down to the tunnel that leads into the 'Hole'. It was noticeably colder here (mostly water was 22-23) and we quickly spotted a couple of big Groupers. We continued along and up the wall of the 'Hole' and onto sand again, where we hunted for, and found, Seahorses. Then we swam back to the bay by the Dive Centre an exited right in front of it.
3. Boat dive to 'Old Wrecks' by the Harbour. This was a little murkier than the two crystal clear dives we'd done and felt a bit rushed. We dropped off the boat (pretty choppy, we'd had to swim out to the boat as it couldn't safely moor at the jetty) and onto a biggish wreck. We swam over that and then down to more wrecks (a wheelhouse for one), but didn't seem to have time to really explore. There was an Irish woman on our trip who was, frankly, useless and flapping like a flounder for about 15 minutes before running out of air - Fortunately, one guide took her back to the boat and the rest of us continued around, returning to the first wreck, where we had time to explore a bit more. Whilst here we saw a shoal of Barracuda swim by and we'd seen a Trumpetfish too. There were also quite a lot of Jacks and Tuna around the wrecks. A little disappointing (as I like wrecks), but not a bad dive.
Large Groupers are a common sight in Lanzarote
4. The Cathedral (shore dive) - Another really good dive.We entered off the beach and then went off to the left at the end of the bay, passing a solitary Barracuda swimming around the shoals of smaller fish. We descended to about 30m and spotted two large Groupers and then onto the Cathedral - A large cave- for a few minutes. There's reckoned to be a fresh water inlet causing a halocline here, but I didn't see it. As we ascended up we saw a Moray sharing his hole with a couple of shrimps which clean for him and spotted a large ray below us at about 40m. Returned to the beach.
Another Grouper - None were quite as big as I'd seen in Madeira
5. Playa Chica, shore dive - This proved rather exciting! We swam out of the bay to look into a small cave/tunnel which at high tide you can sometimes swim through. As we hovered at 5m, waiting to go in, I was suddenly caught in a strong upsurge and thrown out of the water onto rocks above! I managed to battle my way back into the water against the waves and back down below the surge. I lost a fin on the way, but it helpfully followed me back down! After that the dive was pretty uneventful, with plenty of life to see and not exceeding 20m, we had almost an hour underwater.
Inside 'The Cathedral'
6. Night dive - I'll be honest, this was only my second ever night dive. The first was about 3 weeks ago at Wraysbury and, whilst I didn't panic, that had been a very claustrophobic experience (although you wouldn't believe the number of small, young Pike in there!). This however, was a wonderfully enjoyable dive. We found the seahorses again, this time swimming around a metal structure, and also found a reasonable sized Ray. Probably more surprising to me was the little box fish that were asleep all over the place, some on their sides or backs! The final treat of the dive was spent with our torches off, watching the biolumescent krill sparking blue and green around us. Possibly my favourite dive of the lot!
7. The last day saw quite a strong current running. In the morning we shore dived to the 'Red Coral', which was a good dive until we had to make our way back into a strong current that saw most of us reverting to using our hands to pull ourselves along the sand for a good distance until we reached the bay entrance. We'd seen Groupers and Eels on the dive and an impressive anemone.
Old wrecks outside Puerto Del Carmen harbour walls
8. The last dive of my trip was a boat dive to 'Richies Place'. Billed as a drift dive, along a wall peppered with caves, looking for Groupers and Eels, it started well, with a couple of good sized Groupers, but fairly soon a head on current was detected and the group started to break up. We reached the point at which the guide reckoned we'd 'definitely get to and maybe further, depending on air', with my air just hitting 100bar. However, by then, we were crawling along the sand again and the guide told me and my buddy to go to a line to do a safety stop. We were the only two still with her, so we did and watched the huge shoals of sardines swarm around us as another couple of pairs of divers appeared from the blue.
Wrasse on Old wrecks outside Puerto Del Carmen harbour walls
Back on the boat we spotted another couple of pairs far away,with their DSMBs up, obviously giving up the struggle into the current to focus on something closer by (one pair had already said they'd hang back and take photos).
Abundant Sardine shoals seen frequently
We all made it back to the boat safely, but it had been hard work on the last day and it might have been possible to predict the oncoming current and dived in the opposite direction on the final dive, but it did seem to develop as we went along, so maybe not.
Overall, I really enjoyed the diving in Lanzarote - the big Rays, barracuda and Seahorses were firsts (or at least in number) for me and the night dive had been a really enjoyable experience. I'd go back, for sure. Not soon, I suspect, but only because there are so many places to go, but if you fancy a cheapish trip which is a change from the Red Sea or Malta (Lanzarote certainly has more fish than Malta!), give it a go.
The town of Puerta Del Carmen was ok. Pleasantly low-rise, it's a mix of tourist tat shops and restaurants (and lots of 'Irish Bars'. The place is clearly a popular destination for the Irish) with a few nice restaurants around the harbour (prices were impressively cheap too for the quality of the food I ate in the main).
Sunset over Lanzarote
I enjoyed my short break (sure as hell beats working) and came away with some enjoyable new diving experiences (and one less enjoyable one!) which I'm sure will stick in my memory for some time to come.
Most of the people I dived with were regular divers and included Belgians, Dutchmen, a Lithuanian, some Irish and a few other people from the UK and there were few incidents (my surge surfing and the Irish gas-hog aside) that were negatively noteworthy.
In early November, we trecked down the M4 to dive at NDAC, the aim being to carry out some more training dives for various people.
I was allocated an Ocean Diver Trainee, Alan, for the first dive and we dropped in and carried out a few drills and an exploratory dive to 12M.
This went pretty well, but I started to get wet pretty quickly and by the end of the dive, it was clear something pretty serious was wrong as I was soaked.
On exiting the water I peeled off my drysuit and about a gallon of water poured out of my socks. It transpired that I had a 1/4" round hole in my neck seal.
With no way to patch it, my day's diving was ended - I wasn't going to get that cold twice in a day - and until I got my neck seal (already slated for replacement this winter anyway) replaced, so, it seemed, was my 2015 diving.
However I was recommended Predator Drysuits, in Sway, and had them fit me a new set of the easily replacacble silicone seals on neck and wrists (whic were also getting a bit worn out). With a new zip, too, it wasn't a cheap option, but hopefully now my suit will last me a few more seasons and it was remarkably dry on a couple of quick test dives in Wraysbury, although there's obviously a small leak in the lower part of my suit, which I'll try and find and seal over the winter.
I've only done 41 dives in 2015, and I suspect that's it for the year, but on the positive side, we have a two-week diving trip to Lembeh and Bukanen Island in Indonesia planned for April 2016 and Mandy and I are also visiting the Azores later in the year, where I will hope to dive with Manta Rays (a long held ambition) and Blue Sharks.
Read some more of my diving experiences, by clicking the icons below.