The trip had been booked months ago, so whatever the weather, we would have to deal with it. But as we neared the weekend, it became clear that a rather large storm, now carrying an amber weather warning, was due to land on Argyle, Clyde and Glasgow areas. Not so much high winds, but at least a months worth of rain in 36 hours…. would we still be able to dive?
We all headed up in our car shares, most of us not knowing that when you get the Western Ferry from Gourock, you must buy the ticket from the Co-op supermarket you pass on the way there, otherwise you pay twice the price on the ferry – lesson learned. The ferry is very frequent, so we were all able to head over on the Friday night, as the rain began, no problem. We then drove the 2km up to our accommodation (not to be recommended in future) at Hunter’s Quay Holiday Village. We had received a couple of messages from Jason Coles of Wreckspeditions saying he was optimistic that we would find somewhere to dive on the Saturday, and that meet up time was 9am.
Wow, it had definitely rained through the night. Large puddles everywhere. We also found that the local rat population had taken up residence in our Kitchen, helping themselves to chocolate biscuits and bread…. We reported this to reception, then after agreeing to move accommodation on our return, set off down to Holy Loch Marina, where Jason’s boat is kept. On arrival were weren’t inspired to dive, the rain just seemed so heavy. But after meeting Jason, and his optimistic briefing, we all agreed to give it a go, with the first dive just beyond where the ferry docks (Hunter’s Quay) on a rocky nobble called the Gantocks. The reef here is about 5 – 10 metres high, and runs around the rocky knoll. We all kitted up in the rain, and jumped in what looked like zero visibility brown soup, complete with the odd wardrobe and shelving unit floating by.
The reef as promised had a lot of life on it including huge scallops, long clawed squat lobsters, an octopus (seen by the other group), conger eels, big array of starfish and even a pink spiny starfish (usually they are grey). There were zillions of prawns too, Palaemon serratus the common prawn, which isn’t so common on our east coast. Towards the end of the dive we found a small spotted catshark, it posed quite nicely for a photograph.
After an hour we ascended, Jason picked us up, the rhib ladder was easy to climb, and de-kitting simple too.
This was the first dive off Starfish Enterprise so we had a bit of getting used to the system, which was easy and comfortable. Two divers kit up at once, using the flat benches at the back of the boat. Jason then takes you to the get in point and then you fall in backwards, and descend. The water looked muddy, and we did wonder if we would get any visibility… so we went down holding hands. By 4 metres depth, the murk cleared, visibility was probably about 5 metres, just dark. We followed the reef to the left shoulder as advised and kept an eye out for interesting life….. all the while the damp was taking a tole on my camera. The lens slowly misted up!
Following the dive we were treated to the famous Wreckspeditions hot chocolate. Complete with whipped cream and marshmallows. Then, once we were all back on board, we headed back to the Marina for lunch in the café, which due to rain we subsequently found out was closed. No problem, we headed to Jason’s office and ate our packed lunch in the dry while he gave us a brief on the second dive, a Bucket Dredger called the Greenock.
Off we went back down past Hunter’s Quay in the boat, and across the water to the Greenock. Jason expertly shotted the wreck, and we as divers were dropped in upstream of the shot, to drift down on to it. Once on the shot, we again descended through about 4 metres of brown murk, then in to the clearer black salt water below.
The Greenock was an iron steam dredger which sank in 1902. Being a dredger, there is a lot of gearing and cogs on board. The dive was dark at 28 metres, with about 4 metres of visibility (torch on). There was a lot of life on the wreck, anemones, squirts, Tom-pot blennies and some conger eels hanging out. It was a bit spooky down there, but Jason’s dive brief was good, so we were easily able to find our way around as instructed. After 35 minutes or so we ascended the shot line to be picked up by Jason. The rest of the group dived as a three, two on open circuit, so they had a slightly shorter dive!
So that was the first day of diving. Two good dives, despite the huge amount of rain that had turned the water brown. Great skills by Jason finding us two dives with visibility.
So back to the Holiday Village to change accommodation, one without rats, dog hairs and ancient wire filled mattresses…. Move completed, we all sat down for Shepheard’s pie with vegetables, followed by apple pie and ice cream. A long soak in the hot tub wasn’t bad either. I guess the accommodation could be described as a shack with a hot tub.
Anyway, the good news was that by Sunday morning, our food was safe, no rodents. The rain was still falling but not a deluge. The BBC news was saying the Rest And Be Thankful road had suffered a massive land slide – much of south west Scotland had suffered flooding.
We all regrouped and boarded the boat, with Laura too, who had driven over, early doors from Edinburgh to join us. First we headed up Loch Goil, but it was so brown, the heavy rain was still washing down the loch, complete with some rather large tree stumps, and other assorted bits and bobs. So we dived a reef called Anemone garden on Loch Long, just south of where Loch Goil joins in. Again there was a couple of metres of murk to descend through, but then it was dark but clear. After a while we found the anemones of anemone garden… all three of them!
The walls of anemone garden are covered with sea squirts of all types, yellow ringed seasquirt, gas mantle sea quirt, fluted sea squirt and light bulb seasquirt to name a few! The light as we ascended back up the reef was quite eerie, the clouds had thinned, so the brighter daylight was shining through the peat laden water, making everything look so yellow.
Following a swift pick up, we headed back to Holy Loch marina for lunch, and to plan the last dive of the weekend.
The final dive of the day was on the Akka, which was a large bulk cargo carrier that was full or iron ore when it sank in 1956. It is quite a large ship and is slowly collapsing. We came down the shot on to the upper deck, then crossed over to the port side. We then did a bit of a round trip of the boat. We noted that the bow had started to collapse and didn’t look like a bow anymore. We then followed the companion way back down the side of the wreck. At times the decking was so collapsed it was difficult to work out if you were on the inside or outside of the wreck!
The wreck will be a great dive in the summer with a bit more light. It obviously does get a bit of current running across it as we found a large patch of pink jewel anemones on the port railing. There were some big pretty horseman anemones too. The amount of brittle-stars on the companion way was quite a sight. After following this to the end, we turned across the wreck again, tracing our route as on the way out, past two ladders, lots of piping and bots of machinery, on to the upper deck, where SiFish found the shot line again – and did a bit of an underwater jig. 🙂
Soon we were all back on board safe and warm with our cups of hot chocolate. It sounded as if Dave and Tiago had a nice dive on the Akka too, but unfortunately Laura experienced the great ship HMS vicinity. She stayed calm, realised she was not on the target wreck, and put up her DSMB to safely ascend. Meanwhile after a 5 minute stop at the bottom of the shot (of the Akker), her buddy Richard ascended too. A short dive, but a safe one.
We all zoomed back to to Holy Loch onboard the comfy rhib, spotting lots of debris in the water on the way – the rain really had been heavy. At one point I think we saw part of a static caravan. Oops. After we docked, our kit was sorted and washed down in fresh water on the pontoon. We all said our thank yous…. and for some they headed to the ferry, for the remaining few, a final night in the cabin, with hot tub and sausage casserole. For the weather that we had that weekend, it was a great two days of diving. This was the first Wreckspeditions trip we had done as a club, so thank you to Tiago for organising. We must organise a return trip for 2024, summer time, with warmth and hopefully less rain.