Loch Duich Expedition

7th-14th May 2011

This year’s main club expedition was to be centered on the village of Lochcarron, a remote hamlet situated along the north shore of the Loch from which it takes its name. It stretches along the shoreline for over 2 miles, making it the longest village in Scotland if not the UK!

The expedition base was a comfortable house situated within the village which also had the added advantage of parking space for the expedition RIBS as well as assorted vehicles.

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Expedition equipment included one of the Club RIB’s, Sea Witch, and a members own 4 metre RIB, Sea Flea. Whilst we also brought along one of the clubs compressors, the intention was to purchase fills from local diver Dave Black.

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The journey to the expedition base at Lochcarron proved uneventful, travelling up via Edinburgh before heading across to the West Coast from Inverness. The final 20 miles proved to be especially exhausting, as the majority of it was along single-track lanes until we eventually arrived at Loch Carron.

Next morning after a good nights sleep we headed down to the old jetty slip a couple of miles outside Lochcarron situated close to the picturesque ruins of Strome Castle. From here we headed across the Loch to a site directly across from the village close to the avalanche shelter. There we searched the edges of the Loch with the echo sounder looking for a good submarine cliff to drop down. On entering the water we drifted down a muddy slope interspersed with short drops. Whilst there was no tidal current evident it was also clear that the lack of water movement meant that there were few nutrients floating by. We continued on down the slope passing the odd rock with a few starfish and small clusters of sea loch anemones.

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At 40 metres we halted our descent and gently started worked our way back up the slope.

Andy and Fiona chose a spot on the way back to Conservation Bay for their first dive of the expedition; there they located some scallops and a solitary crayfish!

For the second dive, one group attempted to dive the pinnacle in the narrows, discovering in the process the sheer power of the tidal current as it rapidly drifted them along the Loch over a muddy and rather barren bottom.

Richard and Dave, both armed with cameras, opted for a drift dive closer to the shore; here they observed first hand the benefits of the current being forced through the narrow channel and the resultant marine life that benefits from the strong tidal current flow.

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The following day saw both RhIB’s being taken down to Loch Duich. We launched from the slipway close to the picturesque Eilean Donan castle.

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For the first dive of the day we explored an excellent wall dive along the North shore with a second dive being conducted across the Loch in the sheltered anchorage off the small hamlet of Letterfearn, looking for seapens. This search proved successful with 2 varieties of seapens being located.

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The next day saw both RIB’s being towed across the hills to Loch Alsh and across the Skye bridge. Both boats were launched from the harbour slip at Kyleakin, and we spent the morning diving the wreck of HMS Port Napier, a fast cargo vessel built at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson yard at Wallsend. She was subsequently converted into a naval mine laying vessel but was lost on the 27th November 1940 as a result of a fire on board. Underwater visibility proved to be a reasonable 5-6 metres and with no other divers around we were able to enjoy good exploratory dives over the full length of the wreck.

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The weather however had by now deteriorated to the point where conditions on the surface were very unpleasant. We therefore abandoned plans for a second dive and opted instead for an early return to Lochcarron. On the way back over the hills however, the Hunt’s car developed a fault with its cooling system.

The next morning we said goodbye to Martin and Dave who had to return back to the North East because of prior family commitments.

The Hunt’s car despite its mechanical problems successfully towed the club RIB down to the slip in Lochcarron before it was duly retired into a garage for the next 2 days of repair work.

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We headed down the Loch and completed one very good dive on a wall close to Conservation bay, where we found excellent marine life, including numerous small nudibranchs and crustaceans hiding amongst the soft coral on the reef wall.

We also managed to successfully dive the pinnacle in the narrows but this time attempting the dive on slack water, finding dogfish and a couple of the more exposed rocky cliffs that were absolutely smothered in marine growth.

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On returning back down the Loch we were escorted briefly by the resident school of Dolphins that live close to the fish farm off Lochcarron.

On arrival back at the slip, we were informed that the Hunt’s car would be required for another day in the garage, as the problem was proving more difficult to fix.

The following day four divers piled into Richard’s car, which towed the 4 metre, RIB Sea Flea over the hills, back to Loch Alsh. Once again we launched from the slip at Kyleakin this time heading out into the small bay close to the wreck of the Port Napier with the aim of diving an old sunken ammunition barge. With the approximate positions marked on the handheld GPS a shot line was dropped and Richard and Andy duly descended into the depths, where they found a nice colony of tall seapens but no obvious signs of the wreck! After a brief search however the barge was quickly located and a DSMB sent up after being attached to the wreck.

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Once everyone had dived the barge, Sea Flea headed back to Kyleakin where she was quickly recovered from the water and the party headed down off into the hinterland of Skye before arriving at the small community of Camois Croix. There Sea Flea was successfully hand launched across the pebbly beach and we headed out into the nearby bay in search of the wreck of the HM Drifter Embrace lost in August 1940. The wreck lies in shallow water, upside down and well covered in kelp. Andy located its resting position by looking over the side of the RIB with his mask on!

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The most interesting part of the wreck is the upturned bow area, where it is possible with care to enter the wreck. Fragile boxes of ammunition can still be found tumbled about the wreck, a clear sign that this wreck receives very little attention from visiting divers possibly because of its remote location and shallow depth.

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Well satisfied with having achieved our aim of ticking off 2 more of the expedition’s objectives, Sea Flea was safely recovered from the water for the long journey back to Loch Carron.

For the final diving day of the expedition we again returned to Loch Alsh and headed up the sea loch towards the infamous drift dive of Kyle Rhea Richard and Simon were the first pair in, dropping in well clear of the ferry crossing point. Initially the current was not very strong but soon started to pick up to provide an exhilarating ride across the streaming kelp.

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Once the first pair was safely picked up the RhIB headed back to the drop off point and Andy and Fiona repeated the dive. On this latter dive however they both found an interesting wall at the end of the dive where the passage of water enters the Kyle of Loch Alsh. A degree of caution is required however as both Andy and Fiona encountered quite strong down currents in this area.

For the final dive of this expedition we headed back to the wreck of the Port Napier only to find that Hartlepool BSAC had beaten us to the wreck buoy. Despite all the extra divers, not too much sediment had been stirred up and we experienced another enjoyable dive on this spectacular wreck, a nice way to enjoy the last dive of the expedition.

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Next morning it was an early start for the long journey back home.

Thanks to Andy Hunt for organizing this expedition and Dave Black for sorting out boat repairs and spare parts.

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Further details of diving services in Loch Carron:

http://www.5bellsdiving.com

 Tel 01520 722100

Mobile 07812 605771

E-mail:
info@5bellsdiving.com
fivebellsdiving@aol.com