Classic Sound

16th – 18th November 2012

by Tiago Moreira

As we departed from Newcastle, the weather forecast for the weekend was uncertain but typically Scottish. This was no surprise as we were going to spend the next two days diving in the waters of the Sound of Mull, based at the Lochaline Diving Centre. While waiting for the Corran Ferry, we realised we had not eaten anything but a few snacks since the early afternoon and ordered a late supper from chef Gordon Malloch, which was promptly served on our arrival.

Early next morning, there was a full Scottish breakfast being served and I realised this is my sort of diving centre, where the quality of the food matches the excellence of the diving.

After loading kit onto the charter Sound Diver, we travelled north to Loch Sunart, where we were dropped for our first dive on Auliston Point. This is north-facing sheer wall encrusted with life, from unusually ‘cool’ Peacock worms, who wouldn’t retract despite our wildest movements , to Long -spined Scorpion fishes to Red fingers, an hydroid only found on the western and south coasts of the British Isles. Brian and I let ourselves be carried by the slight current pulling us out of the Loch, enjoying the sights and observing the changes in colour as we ascended slowly to our safety stop in the mist of kelp and the usual multiplicity of animals.

As we had an almost even number of closed-circuit and open circuit divers in the group, I was expecting a long post-dive wait for us bubble-makers, but our techie friends were soon in the boat smiling and commenting on how colourful the wall was.  On the down side, my camera continued to appear to have a mind of its own, shifting in and out of macro for no apparent reason.

After a stop at Tobermory, for some essential shopping and lunch, we headed for the Hispania, the wreck of a Swedish merchant vessel which sank in 1954 and now lies on the seabed with the stern in 32m and the bows in 24m of water. The Hispania is almost intact and should be dived in slack water. I have dived the Hispania twice before and must say that skipper Alan timed the dive perfectly.

The visibility on the wreck was not the best but, following the shot line to the bows, we swam portside past the foremast and the bridge, where we crossed to starboard and dropped down the side of the ship to be met by a fantastic wall full of plumose, white stripped and elegant anemones. We checked the rudder and propshaft before ascending to deck level and calmly exploring the life encrusted everywhere.

As we were digesting the wonders of the Hispania, it was suggested that there was still daytime to dive the wreck of the Thesis. It had been cold and raining or hailing  on and off the entire day, and I think if it wasn’t for the chef’s freshly made pies and cakes most of the group would have passed this offer of another dive. The Thesis was an iron steamer that sank in 1899, and while small compared to the Hispania, it is popular for its swim troughs and exposed ribs. As it was so dark, Sandy, Aidan and I swam above deck to the cargo hatch and then dropped to the engine room, where we explored the boiler and continued slowly through to the bows. It was a nice, short dive and definitely ‘narky’, as Aidan would later put it.

We returned to base in time for a much deserved warm shower and change, before we all met in the dining room to debrief and relax. On the menu later was a fantastic venison stew, another of our chef Gordon’s specialities, which further fuelled conversation around diving and other less important things. Despite this, most of the group was in bed at a sensible time. The ones that didn’t regretted their decision the next morning, I am sure, when, after another perfect breakfast, we headed up to the Pennygown Quarry, our first dive of the day.

 

 

 

Skipper Alan dropped us on a SW running current with the instructions to drift along the cliff face and then ascent to the sand slopes. The wall goes down to 70 metres, but Brian and I stayed around the 30 metre mark where, for whatever reason, the current was pushing us against the wall. This was slightly frustrating as, on this wall, you will find probably the most beautiful colonies of Celtic feather stars in the Sound of Mull! After a while we decided to ascend to 20 metres, deploy our SMB and drift along the sand, where copious amounts of scallops were mockingly eyeing us for having forgotten our goody bag on the boat…

 

 

 

 

Our final dive was on the wreck of the John Preston, a schooner which sank when it was carrying a load of Welsh slate tiles and is now an archaeological site. The wreck is scattered in around 14 to 18 metres of water and it was easy to find the slate tiles and bits of the engine, all encrusted with dead men’s fingers and an astonishing variety of Common sunstars. About halfway into the dive we ascended to 8-6 metres to explore the wall and seek for little critters under the kelp, which was fun.

We returned to base and after a short, easy unload, we soon were on our way back to Newcastle, gleaming with the classic signs of having enjoyed another late autumn diving weekend in the Sound of Mull.

Thanks to David Taylor for organising the trip.