Loch Fyne Expedition

30th June – 2nd July 2012

Written by Kevin Thompson

Photography by Richard Booth, David Hyde, Kevin Thompson and Tiago Moreira

With the North East of England having just experienced a major super cell storm; thunder, a months worth of rain in a single day, the Tyne Bridge struck by lightning and floods meaning thousands people stuck in traffic for hours and many more evacuated from their homes, we wondered whether our planned trip to Loch Fyne would go ahead.  However, the storm passed and in the following hours there was little trace that it had ever existed.  The floods receded, the cloud broke and the sun began to shine.  Checking the road conditions and the forecast for North West Scotland we saw there was nothing too threatening to deter us from our expedition – the trip to Loch Fyne was on!!

This was to be an interclub expedition of two Tyneside and two Durham SAC members – or put simply four men and a small boat.  The boat was the small but perfectly formed “Sea Flea”.  With the cars packed and the boat hitched, we made our way across the A69 and up the M74 past Glasgow and onto Inveraray.  Our accommodation for the weekend was a static caravan on the Argyll Caravan Park situated in Quebec Bay –named after HMS Quebec, a training site in Inveraray where over 250,000 troops were trained in amphibious landing techniques on the shores of Loch Fyne ahead of the D-Day landings.

The Loch itself extends 40 miles from one end to the other and is the longest of the sea lochs, despite sitting alongside the more appropriately named Loch Long.  Our dives would cover a fraction of this this distance.  Oh, but what dives they were…

Dive 1: Stallion Rock

It was late when the group arrived on the Friday so we opted not to get a previously contemplated shore dive in on the evening, instead opting for a dinner of ‘flying’ spaghetti bolognaise and a couple of glasses of red wine.

Waking up fresh and ready the next morning we prepared ourselves for our first dive, Stallion Rock.

Kitted and loaded, we set out on Sea Flea right on time to hit the high tide.  It was overcast and surprisingly for Loch Fyne there was quite a swell kicking up, ensuring that all on board were suitably drenched as Sea Flea punched through the waves.

As we approached the dive site we could make out the faint yellow glow of Stallion Rock just a few metres below the surface.  The rock is the top of an underwater cliff that has rounded edges and then drops down to an undercut base 35m below.  At low tide the top of Stallion Rock protrudes from the water inviting divers to explore what lies beneath but at high tide a keen eye is required to spot the ingress point.  Buddy pairs were arranged so that there would always be one experienced coxon on aboard.

Entering the water, the visibility was around 3m due to silt run off from the shoreline and the consequential halocline.  Dropping under the silt-line visibility improved to over 8m but at the same time sunlight was quickly absorbed by the combination of silt above and depth below.  The rock disappeared into blackness.  We stopped descending at 32m. Pitch black.  Torches are a must here.

As we followed the wall down there was an abundance of life.  In the first 20m the face of the wall is covered in Sealock anemones, and a wide variety of squirts – yellow ringed, light bulb, gas mantle, leathery, red and fluted squirts have all made their homes here.  A high concentration of squat lobsters also spread around the rock along with less frequent sightings of cushion stars, sea lemons and decorated crabs.  Beyond this, there is darkness and much less life.  Still, exploring the dark wall is an exhilarating experience, with the light beam of the torch cutting through the water providing guidance on where to proceed.

At 32m we found the undercut which provided a dramatic overhang to explore.  The rock formation, darkness and depth made for a very atmospheric experience.  It also instilled a need to be alert.  Below 30m is nitrogen narcosis territory for many.

Once all of the party had dived and been recovered to Sea Flea we headed back inland feeling energised from the excitement of the first dive.  We used our surface interval for a spot of lunch, a change of cylinders and then it was onto our next dive, Kenmore Point.

Dive 2: Kenmore Point

Kenmore Point is a wall dive that follows the countours of the shore.  The rock face has several deep fissures and cracks which make excellent homes for a variety of life.  The abundance of squat lobsters on this dive site was astonishing – virtually every nook and cranny hid a lobster sitting with its long claws held out as if making some sort of prayer.

Reaching the bottom at 20m we followed the base of the submarine cliff, keeping the wall to our left.

We attempted to take some shots of the many Peacock worms which were found in this area – their brush like ends suddenly disappearing into their tubes at the slightest disturbance from bubbles or minute vibrations in the water.

Following the base further we came across a bicycle which had somehow found its way to the bottom – the rider was nowhere in sight, and we didn’t think anyone would mind if we had a go!  The attempt was not very successful – underwater bike riding is off the menu for future excursions.

There were also several large Spiny Star fish scattered around this site, their arms intertwined among sea squirts, rocks and whatever else happened to be in the way.  A Cadlina laevis sea slug was also spotted.  Another satisfying dive.

That evening the group took a trip into Inverary to the George Hotel for a couple of well earned pints and dinner.  The food and welcome atmosphere in the George made a good end to a successful day of diving.

The following morning after a hearty breakfast, kit was gathered and assembled, Sea Flea loaded and launched and things were running in a very efficient manner.  Everything was going smoothly until someone commented “Everything is going very smoothly today!” as we were launching the boat.  A pull on the cord to get us going and…nothing.  The engine wouldn’t start.  After quarter of an hour of tinkering, checking the oil, fuel, pumping more fuel into the engine we eventually got the engine running and off we set for FM Rock, remaining conscious that the engine should not be switch off at any point during the dive.

Dive 3: FM Rock

FM Rock is a distinctive stone tower.  None of the team had dived this site before and we spent several minutes scanning the area with the echo sounder to ensure we had pinpointed the exact location of the submarine rock formation.  Once we were satisfied that the location was accurate a shot was dropped onto it.  Dropping into the water and following the line brought us right on top of the rock which gently slopes down towards the North for several metres before suddenly dropping away steeply to a depth of 32m. We swam out over the edge, heads pointing downwards and made our way into the black depths of Loch Fyne.

The speed at which the light disappears here is startling.  With torches on we slowly followed the wall down to the base, pitch black surrounding us except where the torch beams once again cut a path through the water.  Again this rock had big fissures and cracks running up its vertical face, each hole hiding more squat lobsters like block flats for crustaceans.

All members of the team were talking excitedly about this dive afterwards and were debating if this could be the dive of the trip.

Dive 4: Argyll Campsite

The second dive of the day was off from the campsite itself.  A shallower dive of with a short journey to the ingress point meant we could manage with just 3 people on the boat whilst the extra person could relax on the shore until it was his turn to dive.

We dropped into the water among the many small boats moored there, following one of the mooring lines to the bottom at 17m.  Care has to be taken here not to stir up the silt which carpets this particular site.  We explored the wrecks of various small vessels which had come to find their final resting places beneath water over the years.  The setting is very atmospheric with the old rusted chains and mooring ropes pulling towards the surface and the wreckage of long forgotten boats lying beneath, now colonised by a rich variety of squirts, peacock worms and other life.

This area is also home to a colony of fireworks anemones.  More than 30 fireworks anemones were observed waving explosions of tentacles in the water.

Another successful day of diving over, we retired to the caravan for a fiery meal of creamy chilli and garlic chicken washed down with wine.  We discussed the options for the following day and agreed Furnace Quarry as the first site and a possible visit to Conger Alley on the way back.

Dive 5: Furnace Quarry

Furnace Quarry is an industrial looking site and an above water inspection of the surrounding site leads one to wonder if there will be much to see beneath.  A quarry factory, which once employed over 200 men who hand cut granite to provide cobbles for the streets of Glasgow, looms over the site.  The quarry is now fully mechanised with only 4 operators required to run it and now provides crushed stone and concrete.

Blocks of stone from the quarry have created a slope and reef for underwater life to occupy.  This sight is known for dogfish and we were keen to find some.  However, it is also popular with anglers and 114 expeditions have in the past had the misfortune of finding several of the local fish snagged on hooks and lines as well as opportunities to save some of these hapless creatures.

Entering the water from the shore we gingerly made our way over the rocks and made our descent.  The slope of boulders has created an underwater rockery for sea life to reside in.  We began our search for the dogfish that are known to congregate here.  Torch beams scanned for life but sadly, other than a couple of very small specimens, the dogfish were nowhere to be seen.  We did manage to rescue a rather large crab that had become entangled in fishing line though so at least a good deed was achieved and of course the now customary ‘gangs’ of squat lobsters were spotted in and around the rocks!

Surfacing from the water and checking times we all agreed a second dive would be over ambitious given the time to drive home, stow the boat and kit and be ready for work the next day.  So we closed our Loch Fyne expedition there, feeling satisfied that we had caught the best of the weather of the weekend.

Many thanks go to Tiago Moreira for organising this excellent trip.