Sound of Mull

Sunny, sunny, Scotland and the Sound of Mull.

By Nic Faulks

A few weeks have passed since we did this trip, so I am sitting here on a drizzly day catching up on trip reports. One thing that strikes me about the dive logs for this weekend of diving, in the Sound of Mull, are the three words on the top of all four logs “SUN CALM BRIGHT!” And this is what I remember….

The trip took place on the 25th – 26th July 2015, with eight divers heading up to Lochaline Dive Centre where we stayed in their accommodation, self-catering and sailed on board Sound Diver. We all arrived on the Friday evening and met up in the social club by the ferry terminal. The weather forecast was looking good so we kept our fingers crossed that we may make the Tapti on the Saturday morning.

Saturday morning brief

Saturday dawned bright and sunny. After a brief discussion with our skipper, it was decided that we would head out to dive the Tapti, a long ride out, some 62km to the west of the dive centre, located on the southern end of Coll. The British steel cargo vessel Tapti was built in 1945 and ran aground in a storm while navigating the Treshnish Isles on its way to the north-east of England. Heavily salvaged, but still an excellent wreck.

Tapti

We arrived on the site and dropped in to find the wreckage lying out before us, with railings, engine parts and winches all clearly recognisable. As we continued to swim towards the bow we found that it lies in 25m of water, and rises up some 10 metres above the sea bed. There are lots of swim throughs here and the marine life was quite special with loads of nudibranchs and other colourful critters. This scenic dive gave me ample opportunity to try out my new camera…. For the bubble makers, they were able to swim back up towards the stern, which lies in about 13 metres of water so that they did not build up deco and could enjoy a full hour long dive. There is no rudder and propeller as both have been salvaged, but there is plenty of other bits of wreckage including steering gear to look at!

After an excellent first dive, we all fell asleep on the deck as we steamed back towards the sound of Mull, dreaming of sea creatures and wreckage!

Rondo

The second dive we did on the Saturday was on the Rondo. In early 1935, the Rondo left Glasgow in ballast, intending to round Scotland to pick up a cargo in Dunstan, Northumberland, and then to carry it to Oslo. On 25 January she sailed into the Sound of Mull in a hideous blizzard. She took shelter in Aros Bay, near Tobermory. During the night her anchor chain parted and she drifted down the sound, driven 10 miles by howling winds and strong tides. It was then that the rocky islet of Dearg Sgeir with its little white lighthouse got in the Rondo‘s way. She now lies bow down with her rudder at 6 metres and her bow down at 50 metres.

When we arrived on the site we kitted up, seeing that there was a bit of a current running, assuming that it would lessen off. The dive brief was quite detailed, and warned us on to go to 50 metres as everyone before us who has dived down there seems to have died… we have been warned! We all jumped in and went for a pootle. There were a couple of other boats on the wreck so we weren’t the only divers. The visibility was quite good, 10 metres plus, but the water was dark. At 40 metres it was very dark, but every inch of the wreck was covered with dead man’s fingers or plumose anemones. It was at this point I looked at Si, my dive buddy, and couldn’t quite work out what was going on. He was wearing a rebreather but his head had turned in to a calendar boot. I didn’t feel narked, but sense was not being made….

As we rose up the wreck a little and the light started to filter into the water I worked out what had happened. Si had found a 15l cylinder boot and shoved it on his head as a hat!

As prearranged we met up with Richard Moss and Dave Lindsay and Dave was able to demonstrate to Si his DSMB deployment skills, so that he could gain anther skill towards attaining Dive Leader. Richard and I admired the colourful life on the Rudder and surfaced in the sunshine.

The fantastic days diving was topped off with a meal in the Lochaline Hotel. The barman smiled, which we were told never happens…. But the pre ordered food all turned up a bit over cooked, salty and overpriced, but hey, it was edible and we had all built up a good appetite.  We then walked back in the evening sun, still in t-shirts, to our accommodation.

Sunday dawned, dry and calm – not as forecast or as expected! The decision had to be made, do we do a really early start 4am and do the Hispania, then the John Preston Wall, then have an early drive back south. Or, do we get up at a normal time, dive the John Preston then an early afternoon on the Hispania and a late drive south. Late won!

Seahare John Preston wall

I have to say the John Preston wall didn’t really excite me much. It is very close to the dive centre and is a big ole steep wall, but just reminded me too much of all those slightly silty brackish seawalls in Loch Fyne and Loch Long. We had come all this way to do classic wrecks! I took no photos, but Si did find a large sea hare to annoy. I think most of the rest of the group felt the same about this dive.

Hispania

We arrived slightly early for the Hispania, a raging current on the buoy. There was small rhib also waiting, so we used them as bait, if they went first and stayed down, then it would be good for us to go too. Sometimes on this wreck the surface current still runs even when the wreck itself is in slack….

On Saturday 18th December 1954, in the midst of a storm, Captain Ivan Dahn steered the Hispania into the Scottish Isles for shelter from the wild wind, rain and sleet. The steamer had left Liverpool the previous day bound for Varberg with a cargo of steel, asbestos and rubber sheeting. In the Sound of Mull, the weather had turned visibility to almost nil, but the Hispania nearly made it all the way up before striking Sgeir More (‘the Big Rock’) half a mile off the western shore of Mull at 9pm. There she still lies, pointing towards the shore of the Isle of Mull, on a slope with the stern at about 32 metres.

The wreck was in slack and we all very much enjoyed this dive. We swam off towards the stern, looking at the decking and holds on the way. The stern is covered with marine life as is the entire wreck. From here we swam along the port side of the wreck towards the bow. The bow used to have a number of northern sea fans growing on it, but this time we couldn’t find them. We then finned back down the wreck, swimming in to the holds and through to other areas where accessible. Every inch of the wreck has peacock worms, squirts, anemones, and sponges encrusting it. The divers with cameras were in heaven!

What makes this wreck so enjoyable is that most parts are very much still recognisable, but being tidal there is also a lot of marine life present, including shoals of fish, eels and crustaceans. It was definitely a good test for my new camera set up!

We all surfaced happy, the dive day had been put back on track with a fabulous last dive. Now for the long trip home….