Scotland 2007
  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 Rangie.

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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.

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Dive one.
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.

Dive two.
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 up.

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 up.

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 Hebrides.

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Oh and Ylva and Lindsey went swimming.

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Dive three
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 easily.

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.

Dive four.
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 too.

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Dive five.
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 drysuit.

Dive six.
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...

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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 for.

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.

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Dive seven.
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 on.

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Dive eight.
An unknown trawler.
Loch Hushnish.
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 several times.

Dive nine.
West Taransay.
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 course?


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.

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Dive ten.
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.

Dive eleven.
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.

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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!

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Dive twelve.
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 aboard.

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.

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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 available.

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 it.

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 team.

Terminally insane?
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

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