28th March – 2nd April 2013
by Richard Booth
In 2010, the club made its first expedition to Glenuig. Now nearly three years later we were returning to yet again sample the diving delights that this area has to offer.
We again opted to rent Viking cottage as our expedition base for the long weekend, which also just happens to be conveniently situated next door to the Glenuig Inn.
The original plan was for 8 members and two Ribs to make the long journey north. Unfortunately two individuals were forced to drop out at the last minute due to illness. After a rapid rethink it was decided to make do with just one Rib to keep costs down.
On Thursday afternoon the advance party headed north with the club Rib Seawitch in tow, arriving in Glenuig in time to make last orders at the Inn bar.
Steve, the Glenuig proprietor, had worked hard to install a compressor before Easter but unfortunately had been let down by his local electrician. Fortunately we had brought one of the small club portable compressors with us as a contingency back up; otherwise the nearest air fill station would have meant travelling down to Lochaline, a long drive away across remote roads.
Next morning Seawitch was launched from the nearby slipway and we headed out for the distant island of Eigg some 10 nautical miles away.
Andy having forgotten his boat coat made do with an improvised black bin bag complete with arm and neck holes to keep the cold out. Apparently it works, although clearly does not score high in the fashion stakes.
Despite the bright sunshine, it was distinctly chilly on the surface.
We selected a site on Eigg not far from the small harbour. Here we quickly located our intended dive site and anchored the Rib in the lee of a small reef which was starting to break the surface on the ebbing tide.
Dropping off the Rib into the clear green water we headed down the slope, soon coming across the edge of the wall. Here the submarine cliff was alive with numerous deadmens fingers, feeding sea cucumbers and plumose anemones.
Drifting along, the wall became ever steeper and the marine life changed, as the rocky surfaces became mass colonies of colourful jeweled anemones. The combination of clear water and bright sunshine lighting up the submarine wall made for a stunning first dive of the trip.
We headed back across the Minch making a couple of dives on some pinnacles that looked promising on the chart, but in reality turned out to be a little dull and devoid of interesting marine life, one of the risks of exploratory diving. We nevertheless returned to the Glenuig slip elated by the memories of our earlier Eigg dive and with enough scallops for a starter dish for that evening’s dinner.
The following morning, with cylinders re-filled we headed off in convoy to Salen to explore the waters of Loch Sunart. Here we booked a berth on the newly installed pontoon at the Salen slipway to leave the Rib overnight for the duration of the long weekend.
First chosen site in Loch Sunart was Risga pinnacle. This particular site benefits from being situated out in the middle of the sea loch resulting in it catching the full flow of the tide ensuring that areas of the pinnacles are covered in colourful marine life.
The only downside to this site was its exposure to the cold easterly wind that blew straight across the loch, making it especially chilly for those waiting on the surface in the Rib.
Despite the sun being out and bright blue skies, we returned to Salen feeling very chilled. After recovering some warmth back into our bodies and with our enthusiasm renewed, we again returned out into the loch to investigate another pinnacle about a mile out from Salen. Sadly this site provided something of a mediocre dive, unless you were interested in brittle stars, as every exposed surface on the rock pinnacle appeared to be covered in vast armies of these creatures.
Hopefully the next day promised better things.
On Easter Sunday we again headed out into Loch Sunart and found a relatively sheltered site in the lee of Carna island. Here we also found some particular large scallops, which had managed to escape the clutches of the local dredgers. The most interesting feature at this site however was the submarine cliff along which the current flowed ensuring a rich covering of deadmens fingers.
For the second dive we picked another pinnacle off the chart, Ross rock, and hoped for the best. This time however we hit dive gold, with the north side of the pinnacle offering a particularly fine scenic dive with lots of interesting marine life including red fingers soft coral, alcyonium glomeratum.
That evening we celebrated our success with dinner in the Glenuig Inn.
Next morning, Dave and Brian headed home.
With Fiona feeling unwell, it was a reduced party that set off from Salen in search of the wreck of the trawler Tonn Vane lost close to the entrance of the loch in 2003. Members of this club first dived this wreck in May 2004 whilst on a Sea Otter trip with Chris Ireland. Now we had returned with some marks from the hydrographic survey for an unknown wreck. Could these GPS marks be the site of the Tonn Vane? In reality these GPS marks proved surprisingly accurate, and the wreck was quickly located, rising some 10 metres off the bottom. Thing were looking up. Dropping down the shotline Hubert and Richard were greeted by the site of the vessels masts rising out of the depths.
Exploring around the wreck soon revealed that it was indeed the Tonn Vane, still with the lifting bags in place on the deck from earlier attempts to raise it, as first observed when we dived this wreck back in 2004.
Time and marine organisms however have clearly taken its toll on this wreck and the wooden hull has clearly deteriorated over the last 9 years since the last time we dived it.
Nevertheless flushed with success we returned to Salen and recovered Seawitch from the water back onto her trailer for the trip back to Belford.
Back at Glenuig the compressor was duly loaded into the back of the Rib and the Hunts set off on the long journey home, leaving Richard and Hubert to enjoy one more evening at Viking cottage.
Later that afternoon they headed back to Loch Sunart for a last shore dive at the car park site just outside of Salen.
This particular site is featured in Anita Sherwood dive guide to top 100 British shore dives. It offers safe parking away from the road and easy entry into the water off the pebbly beach. On entering the water it was soon evident that there was a lot of marine life in the shallow water. Descending down into the depths of the loch however it soon became evident that the scallop dredgers had done their worst and below eleven metres it was just a scene of devastation with lots of broken shells and an occasional small scallop or starfish. Around 20 metres we came across a mysterious pile of round plastic ‘grills’ bound together with rope; was this an attempt at building a marine artificial reef?
Back in the shallows however it was a different story where marine life appeared to be thriving out of reach of the scallop dredgers trawl equipment.
This particular dive illustrated all too clearly the real vulnerability of the marine environment to damaging fishing practices like scallop dredging to special marine environments like Loch Sunart and made a slightly sobering end to the Glenuig adventure.
Once back in the car park it was time to pack away the dive gear as well as spend a last few minutes admiring the view as the sun started to set over the surrounding hills.
Whilst the cold wind had proved very demanding on the participants we had nevertheless enjoyed some excellent quality diving in this remote area of northwest Scotland.
Many thanks to Brian Dining for organizing this mini expedition.
Contact details Salen jetty: http://www.salenjetty.co.uk/#contact