Elizabeth G Late December Charter, Oban

13th to 17th December 2007

A hardy group of members ventured north for a long weekends diving off the North West coast of Scotland aboard the M/V Elizabeth G.

Driving up on the Thursday, we arrived and loaded our kit aboard this 23 metre charter boat tied up at the railway pier in Oban. For most of the group this first evening back aboard the Elizabeth G proved to be something of a happy reunion, with a number of participants having been based aboard this same charter boat back in July for a Norway based dive charter.

Friday morning saw an early departure out of Oban for a passage up the Sound of Mull. With a strong wind blowing up the sound however, suitable dive sites were limited by these challenging conditions.

Eventually however we settled on the first dive taking place on the wreck of the SS Rondo. This old tramp steamer was wrecked in bad weather in 1935 when she ran aground onto the rocks known as the Dearg Sgeir after parting her anchor. Here she remained stuck fast with much of her superstructure being salvaged and removed over the coming months as it became apparent that the vessel was beyond saving. During a period of bad weather however the remaining wreckage slipped off the rocks and down the face of the rocks with the bows plunging into the sound bottom at 50metres, and the rudder remaining within a few metres of the surface.

On this occasion descending down the wreck posed no problems although below 30 metres the ebb tide became more apparent. The angle of the wreck and its relatively sheltered setting result in a site that suits all levels of diving experience. The stern area around the stern of this vessel is also notable for the rich carpet of plumrose anemones that cling to the more exposed areas of wreckage.

For a second dive and with the strong wind still blowing the Elizabeth G took shelter in Loch Sunnart. Here the dive took place on the Risqua pinnacle, a large lump of rock that rises dramatically up to within a few metes of the surface and is noted for the richness of marine life that clings to its surface. This site provides an excellent scenic dive, particularly for those divers interested in marine life.

With all divers safely back aboard, the Elizabeth G headed across the Sound to Tobermoray. Once the vessel was safely tied up against the marina pontoon, it was time to head off for a well deserved pub meal in Tobermoray.

Saturday morning saw no decrease in the wind speed, so we headed back to Loch Sunnart to locate a good spot for a scallop dive. A sheltered bay was found which appeared to be too narrow for the local dredgers and sure enough a reasonable haul of scallops was soon obtained.

 Whilst at this spot we were suddenly joined by a pod of several dolphins who took it upon themselves to provide us with an impressive display of aerial acrobatics, as well as bow way surfing, when eventually we headed back towards the more open water of the sound.

For the final dive of the day we selected a small bay that allowed some sheltered from the wind and according to the chart, the distinct possibility of a good wall dive. Descending down the under water cliff face we were delighted by the sheer variety of marine life that we encountered, with several species of red and yellow sponges, wrasse and even a sleepy dog fish laying across a rock. With the sun setting early and the wall cliff face shrouded by the shadow of the surrounding hills, this dive required the use of a good torch. However this darkness had the benefit of making the colours encountered on this dive truly vibrant and vivid in the white beam of the torch. For those of the group who are into scenic rather than wreck diving, this particular dive proved to be the highlight dive of the weekend.

Once back aboard, the Elizabeth G headed back to Tobermoray for our final night out on the town. This included a meal out at MacGochan’s followed by a few beers in the Misnish public house.

Sunday morning dawned but with no apparent let up in the wind which was still blowing strongly up the Sound. A visit to the site of the Hispania confirmed that conditions were too rough for some of the less experienced members of the group. Instead, with sites still limited by the conditions, we headed back towards Tobermoray to dive the wreck of the SS Pelican. This particular vessel was built in Ireland in 1859 in steel rather than wood and as such was very much at the cutting edge of ship building technology at that time. Her lines and indeed her distinctive bow look more reminiscent of a traditional sailing ship rather than that of a steam ship. By 1895, the Pelican’s days as a merchant ship were over, and she was downgraded to a barge in Tobermoray harbour for the storage of coal. On December 5th during a gale the Pelican parted from her anchor line and was blown across to Calfe island where she was wrecked against the rocky shore and rapidly sank at the base of the under water cliff.

Today the wreck lies on its starboard side. The most impressive feature of the vessel is its distinctive bow which rises dramatically out of the gloom. The sea bed in this area is very silty and it is all too easy to stir up the sediment resulting in a rapid deterioration of visibility; the frog kick being the order of the day! Further back along the wreck the vessel is more broken up with the stern area totally collapsed and hardly recognisable as the rear end of such a historic ship.

For the final dive of the trip and with the light fading and the wind still holing down the Sound, we opted for a dive on the SS Shuna. Launched in 1909, the Shuna ran onto rocks in the sound of Mull on the 8th May 1913 and was holed below the water line. Taking on water her captain decided to make for Tobermoray in a last ditch attempt to save his vessel. His efforts failed, and the Shuna, her pumps overwhelmed, slowly sank beneath the waves fortunately without loss to her crew who abandoned ship in good time.

Today the Shuna sits upright and largely intact in 35 metres of water. She lies in an area of the Sound that is largely free of strong currents. The wreck is covered a thick layer of silt so good buoyancy control as well as good ‘frog fin’ technique is required to maintain good under water visibility on the wreck.

On this later dive we descended the shot and swam forward to the bow. After exploring this area of the wreck we drifted back across the open holds still full of coal and explored inside the remaining accommodation and bridge structures before retuning back to the surface via the shot line.

Once safely back on board, it was time for a rapid de-kit before taking advantage of the hot showers and warmth provided by the boats central heating system.

For many years as a club, we used to dive these waters from the club RIBs. In practice however, it is the temperature and weather conditions on the surface rather than underwater that limit the scope of the diving. Indeed, it would be unthinkable to contemplate diving the variety of sites dived during this weekend from a RIB, given the surface weather conditions encountered during the trip. However, with a state of the art liveaboard charter vessel such as the M/V Elizabeth G, diving the Sound of Mull in late December proved an enjoyable and fun experience rather than a test of mental and physical endurance. Many thanks to the Elizabeth G owner and skipper, Rob Barlow for another excellent dive trip.

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