Not the booze cruise
(In joke - you had to be there...)
I'm not quite sure what made Steve Millard's trip to the Hebrides so attractive
when it appeared on the usual remailers but it was. I've never dived Scotland
other than the very first first dive and I've been meaning to go back as
everybody say such glowing things about it. However it is a sad fact that I do
seasickness big time and the Scottish islands do not have the reputation for
being the calmest waters.
The trip was on the Hjelmar Bjørge, an ex-Icelandic ice rescue boat, and
started at Oban. Oh well. At least I can get the bulk of the mileage done in the
I admitted defeat at the prospect of doing 550 miles in one hit and the trip up
was broken into two parts. It turned out to be 11 hours on the road, including
a protracted stay on that linear carpark called the M6, to get to the Travel
Lodge at Glasgow Airport, a night's sleep and then a further couple of hours of
what are basically back roads to get to Oban. A night in a hotel and 570 miles
at 19.4mpg... don't ask.
I was a bit early so I parked up and waited around for a while. I had Steve's
mobile number so, assuming he was already here, I texted him.
After a while I started to get restive and started searching for the address.
There were no signs for the 'Railway Pier' but the way the station was
positioned indicated a now defunct marshalling yard to feed the ferries and,
looking across the bay, I could see a blue and white boat there.
I parked up and put a quid in a pay-and-display machine and walked. It was her.
We could load from three(ish). It was a bit of a struggle getting the kit down
the steps and over the rail but it happened. Then I had to get rid of the car.
I tried the directions to a free carpark but it was full so I drove out to
Puffin Divers who charged me £7.50 and called me a taxi for the trip back
to the station.
Once we were all aboard and our trip organiser had parked his car too we set
off up the Sound of Mull and moored up at Tobermory for the night.
I was sharing a cabin with Simon the only other Inspiration user. We have some
friends in common so it was also a happy choice of buddy. I had the bottom bunk
and for the first few nights I clonked the one above with an elbow rolling
over. After that I adjusted to eighteen inches of separation.
Canna - the north west corner.
A general shake-out dive.
32 meters 39 mins
Well I was diving my new Fa-Mi LED75 umbilical torch and it was lighter than
the flood-o-matic Halcyon but it also displaced less so I had guessed that
about the same weight would do.
Wrong. I needed about 2Kgs more and had some difficulty getting off the
surface. Simon was very patient and found me when I finally reached the kelp
bed. It wasn't very interesting and when Simon headed on below 30m and I saw
the no stop time eroding into single figures I moved of back up the slope to a
nice sandy ledge at about 18m and played with my torch for a bit before running
up the blob for an ascent that I wasn't quite looking forward too.
It wasn't that bad. I did a token pause at 6m mainly to prove to myself I could
do it and then lifted to the surface and saw the boat, who had clearly seen me
already. The side ladder was a bit daunting but only because all those dive
boats with lifts have made me lazy. I don't think I'll be carrying the bail-out
this trip as getting that up the ladder with a couple of sevens hanging off
wouldn't be fun. De-kit and relax. First dive over. Nice.
The Doris at Neist Point on Skye.
24 meters 37 mins
There was a serious tide running so we were dropped with 'down at once'
instructions but the extra 2Kgs just dumped in the bottom of the case did it's
stuff. Our plan was to seek out the prop at 30m and then come back to the
boilers where we landed but a short excursion told us we weren't going in the
right direction and we returned to the boilers and did an inspect. It was an
early boiler on its end surrounded by metal wreckage but not enough plate to
make me think it was an iron ship. A wood clad I would guess. I must look it
We started off with the tide wondering if we could find the prop but rapidly
ran into a stiff current and ran out of wreck. There was virtually no choice
but to accept it and go with the ride and we finally ended up in a hollow in
the lee of some rocks and rested up for a bit. As there wasn't much left to see
we agreed to go up so I launched the blob and as it hit the tide above us it
set off pulling my line to an angle.
I started to ascend to get into the same flow to get my line back under
control. Even at 9m it was still pulling and I must have had over 30m of line
out and by then as it was virtually horizontal. I tried to do a token stop but
settled for winching in the blob so I surfaced with it and the boat picked me
So we anchored up for the night at the island of Taransay which is in West Loch
Tarbert on the west side of South Harris on the 'outside' of the Outer
Oh and Ylva and Lindsey went swimming.
Gaspar Rock - the South side.
27 meters 32 mins
Next morning the forecast was dire but fortune favours the suicidally insane so
we headed out to dive Gasker Rock. The plan to dive the exposed north side was
dumped as having the boat you are living on swept onto the rocks lacks style
(do you have to report your own kit if you have removed from a wreck to the
Receiver thereof?). Mark was nervous even so and put us all in as a stick with
orders to stay in roughly the same place and blob at about 30 minutes and be
out of the water in 45.
We were kitted up long before the required time but most of us realised it and
stopped short of full gear. I didn't and ended up fully rigged in fins, mask
and pre-breathed and Mark chugged on for nearly 25 minutes. The tablets kicked
into 'don't drive or operate machinery' mode so time passed quite
We found a gully and explored up and down that at in the mid twenty meter
range. I saw the biggest starfish I've ever seen in temperate waters and played
with my torch (having a torch that works is such fun) but in the end the kelp,
urchins and stuff was getting a bit samey so 30 minutes was about right. Since
I was in 999 no-stop mode I let Simon blob but when it took off into the
distance again I just tried to end up with it. It wasn't the best ascent but it
wasn't abrupt and it didn't yo-yo so I guess it will do. The recovery was
pretty uneventful and we made off to an anchorage at Holme next to Ard Morc
Madgester to eat.
Craigeam at Loch Carroway.
31 meters 44 mins
This was dictated by the weather. We ran north cutting straight into the swell
so it was reasonably survivable. It was raining when we got in and it was
raining when we got out. The VR3 threw me an 18m helium stop but we mooched
along at about this level on the wall and it cleared without giving me anything
shallower. It was another kelpy reef, interesting geology and I'm sure the weed
and critters people found it more interesting than I did.
With 5-7 forecast Mark pulled us into West Loch Roan so he could moor up to a
quay for the night. I got out the nice new laptop and singularly failed to get
Vista to download either the VR3 or the Vision head. Port Com22? My software
managed it so why can't they?
The hardened souls took a hard mooring as an excuse to check for a pub but it
was 5 miles away and it was raining so it didn't happen. I refilled the
scrubber as it had done three hours and was over half way down the temp stick
display. I'm filling from my stage bottles with the AP decanting hose so I can
keep using 18/40. Mark can pump oxygen but I might as well use that one
Oldhill - South West Face.
30 meters 44 minutes
A nice non-descript dive where, for a scenic, I quite enjoy myself.
We pulled into a sheltered bay for lunch. I really am going to have to stop
eating everything they put in front of me or I won't fit into my
Oldhill - South side of the channel.
26 meters 48 minutes
For the first time I decided to take the camera. I kitted up and Simon pointed
out a split developing in my neck seal. Maybe I let it distract me but as it
still felt tight I carried on. Waiting in the queue so that Mark could drop us
in a stick closer to the rock than he wanted to stay I realised "No camera".
Argh! It wasn't in the routine so it didn't get clipped on. Oh well. Then "No
computer". Sigh. It's in my pocket and I can't sort it out now as Mark is about
to shout "Go!".
Do the entry, do the decent, pull at Simon's fin and signal "Wait". Pull the
computer out of my pocket and strap it on. At least it reacted to the start of
the dive and is logging things. Simon may have laughed at me, I deserved it but
it's hard to tell in scuba gear.
Quite a nice dive. More interesting rocks and gullies but at one point I had
this feeling my fin was coming loose. Baby it. It's not coming off.
Then with nearly 35 minutes of the dive over Simon did a big "Look" pointing
sign. I looked. A seal. Light grey with spots. It looked at us and then decided
to leave. We followed hopefully but it had gone. Times up.
Ascend. Swim out from the rocks a bit but Mark has seen us and soon loomed over
us. Up the ladder and first step onto the deck *crunch*. I have stepped on my
fin clip. Sigh. I have a spare...
The next move was to de-kit and inspect the neck seal. It's a tear about half
an inch (12cms) long and if it grows I'm an ex-diver for the rest of the trip.
The undersuit and booties have been getting wetter and wetter so they are
dispatched to spend the night in the engine room and Aquashure is called
It wasn't Aquashure in the end but Alex produced a nice Halford's bicycle
puncture repair outfit and Andy put a patch on each side and made it look
simple. They rescued me. It worked very well. I think I will have to add the
puncture repair outfit to my collection of bits.
The Arch at Loch Tealasavay
26 meters 34 minutes.
This time I remembered the camera so the usual frustration continued. It is
time I admitted defeat on this thing as I did the torch. It is so nice having a
torch that just works on demand so why not a camera?
The dive had a big arch and a cave but after 30 minutes I was getting
preoccupied with feeling cold so I bailed out and left Simon to carry
An unknown trawler.
23 meters 15 minutes.
A nice wreck and it was my fault it was cut so short.
I was so careful to get the repaired neck seal over my neck without stressing
it and do everything and I even remembered the camera however I had not only
caught the end of the elastic braces of the drysuit in the zip but I had also
not checked it is closed and then not done up the outer zip. It didn't so much
leak as poured in. However divers do denial "It's just a trickle at the neck.
Don't worry." "It will stop if I don't move my head too often." "It isn't
really that much." "It won't make me cold"
After ten minutes it was impossible to deny that my suit was over half full of
seawater and I was seriously cold. Wave Simon bye-bye and blob up. Once I was
back on the boat the error of my ways was obvious so Lindsey took a picture to
preserve my folly for posterity. Idiot.
My undersuit was deemed too wet for the engine room and hung on the deck
dripping forlornly and I went out and wrung the extremities and the booties
23 meters 26 minutes
Another reef. The high spot was just closing in on Simon and holding the flash
so he could work the Nikkos directly as we sat in front of a lobster's lair and
he got some pictures. Then the VR3 gave me a battery low and I ran out of suit
inflate (hardly surprising after the yo-yo I had made of the previous dive) so
I decided not to play the hero and get out while I was still warm. I don't
think I had taken onboard a significant amount of extra water but things were
still very wet.
We bounced back to the South end of Lewis to moor up for the night and I
refilled everything and changed the scrubber. Then I changed the battery on the
VR3. Maybe it's me but I failed again. I've never managed to change the battery
on the VR3 without it dumping its memory. I really would have liked to download
the dives, I really didn't want to have to enter all the numbers but it had me
again. From when I started to slacken the housing to when I tightened it up
again was less than 15 seconds but it just sat blank and disinterested. I am
not impressed. I was even more unimpressed when I realised it had saved my logo
but not my dives.
Grief... How many years since I last did three dives in a day other than on a
We started early as we planned to cross from the Harris to Skye for the first
dive so breakfast was served on the rock and roll. It only occurred to me at the
last minute that we were setting off and I rushed outside to recover my
undersuit and booties that I had left out to dry in the wind. I was just in
time as soon all the outside decks were awash as the sea broke over us. We saw
one of the big Cal Mac Ferries and it made the sea look far too rough for mere
little boats like us.
We stopped in a bay in the lee of the Neist Light on Skye so that Mark could do
the gas fills we needed.
An-dubh-Sgeir (N W Skye).
23 meters 32 minutes
Quite a nice pile of rocks with things living in it. The orders were to swim
inshore and descend there but Simon and I got separated in the melee and I just
got bored with paddling shoreward, couldn't see him and descended into about
20 meters and had a quiet mooch about. I quite like diving like that as I can
flop just above the bottom, holding on to a rock, and generally inspect what is
going on. Being short sighted means I'm a bit of a bottom dweller. Crabs, weed
and the occasional fish. It held my interest for about half an hour and then
the cold began to register and I blobbed off and swam out to make it simpler
for Mark to do the pick up.
A Pinnacle West of Muck.
31 meters 32 minutes
A pinnacle they said. More of an island that ceased to be an island a long time
ago. I measured the top of the highest kelp as 12m but that was big stuff so
the rock probably started at 14 and a bit and sloped off in all directions.
I took the camera and bullied it into taking some pictures but then the battery
went flat so I never did get the picture I really wanted of the boat closing on
me taken from the water. That's always a happy sight and would make a nice
picture for me even if it wouldn't mean much to other people.
I was very wet again but that's the last dive and now the suit can go back for
new seals and a check on the zip. The neck seal patch was beginning to fall off
as the rubber solution doesn't seem to stick to latex but it supplied enough
support and the split didn't go the whole way.
We pulled into Tobermory for the night. Now I had thought that number eleven of
ten was the last dive of the trip so I started breaking things down but we have
to get up early as we have a twelfth dive to come!
The wall opposite Tobermory.
41 meters 35 minutes
The bonus dive. Well dive twelve of a ten dive trip. We dived the wall opposite
Tobermory. It was vertical with very little in the way of ledges. We dropped
into the dark and at 40 meters decided it wasn't going to get any better so we
zigged slowly back up. The VR3 threw me helium stops at 24 and 15 meters but
nothing shallow so when I got cold (I was still pretty wet) I decided to give
up and surface.
I messed up. I did my usual sequence of pulling the reel away from the blob
before filling it but I let it tumble in the water as I cracked the valve and
the line snagged. I tried for a moment to free it but the blob was inflating
strongly and I was in clear water so I had to let it go. <sigh>
Simon was watching and, in gentlemanly form, decided to cut his time short and
ran up his blob. Remember that rebreather divers don't make much of a mark on
the surface as the ascend so the blob is more to warn the boat that somebody is
ascending there than a stop depth marker. As we got to 6m I could see my reel
hanging from the surface not far away so I swam off to collect it. At least
this time I had the camera so I got a picture of Lindsey waiting to welcome us
Well that was about it. De-kit into the big blue box but fate had one last joke
to play. As I took off the suit the poor neck seal finally gave up on me and
ripped from top to bottom. Alex and Andy's repair had not only lasted the four
dives I thought I might miss but the two extras I wasn't expecting. That was
half the trip.
Box the kit up. Hang up the undersuit to drip. Breakfast on the way back to
Oban. Fetch the car, load up, say my goodbyes and drive to Lancaster where I
have a room for the night. It was about right as I arrived at seven and driving
further would have been a mistake.
OK so what's different?
Doing twelve dives on an twelve dive (ten dive) trip? This is hardly the nigelH
of uk.rec.scuba days. Well the big thing that has changed is that I have
modified my seasickness remedy. I finally realised that the old one didn't work
that well and, worse, made me depressed. What happened was that I felt ill and
that added to the depression and then I didn't dive for whatever reason was
Even my son noticed it. This wasn't the "I know it's a bodge but if we can get
it scrutineered I'll race it" father he remembered but he let me call dives
because he knew I wasn't happy. I didn't think the new tablets worked for me
when I had tried them before but now I know they needed several hours to kick
in (more than it says on the packet) and they only make me dozy not depressed.
"So what if the suit leaks a bit, my nose is blocking up and my ears are
squeaky? We're here to dive." Fortune favours the terminally insane. Go for
Well maybe I'm going a bit too far the other way. The dive with the zip open
doesn't bode all that well for the future but at least I'm going diving not
sitting on a boat watching the others do it. That's got to be better.
Proper chemical names when I get home.
All my dives this week were done on the APD Inspiration Rebreather (vintage
2001) with the Vision upgrade (2006) plus Bob Howell's ADV and DSV. I have a
separate 2L suit inflate, filled with air at this time of year, and a VR3
computer. The diving gas was 18/40 trimix because I had it and it saves
swapping about for the depth plan if I always breath the same stuff. I have an
Otter Britannic drysuit with Otter's 'Commercial 200' undersuit and hood,
Weezle booties, a Cressi 'Big-Eyes' mask with prescription lenses, old Mares
fins, Hydrotech 5mm wet gloves, a posh titanium dive knife, a Casio G-shock
watch and the shiny new Fa-Mi LED 75 umbilical torch. The pockets contain a
spare blob on a 20m spool, a yellow "Help!" blob on a clip, a spare torch, a
spare mask and a pad of wet notes and a pencil. With all that clutter no wonder
ladders are so daunting.
Thank you to Simon, as buddy, for putting up with me,
Steve Millard for organising,
Mark, Ylva and Lindsey the crew,
Chris, Alex, Andy, Emely, Maxime, Margrit, Mike and Ekki as the rest of the
I just booked a Jutland trip.
10 days out in the middle of the North Sea in May.
The pictures can be accessed by clicking the thumbnail but
they tend to be 900K+ files
Pictures by Nigel Hewitt
Thumbnails by Easy Thumbnails
by Nigel Hewitt