Shetland 2011

Thursday (12st 3.5lbs)
It wasn't looking good.
I wasn't sure I could cope with this trip.
OK the rebreather was broken again but that's pretty normal around here, I can cope with that (aside from the usual toddler temper tantrum). The big question was: Could my weight take week on Helen's cooking?
Be brave and face it like a man.

Hoses and cables Three cells a bolt I spent the day fixing things. It took a few goes to get three working cells and somewhere along the line the secondary handset decided it was only going to work with the charger plugged in but I guess we can survive that. I wish the main handset didn't look after all that stuff for me as I really like having all three numbers. Also the BOV regulator decided to hiss at me so I put in the blanking plug and stuffed an Apeks50 on a necklace on the end of the hose so I had something instantly to hand to breathe if it all went belly up while I sorted out the bailout.

My abusive relationship with the canister continues. If it's going back for a new secondary battery it's going back with the bottom on and they can try and remove it without a pry bar. I'm sure it's supposed to be easy but it never has been.

I had a problem getting fills for the second part of the trip where I wanted 'normal' OC gear. 170 bar was all I could get. Not good for a good dive time so I Haskelled the air in the twinset that wasn't coming on the trip into the tanks that were. It's a bodge but it's a good bodge.

And... You really don't want to know how long I searched for the little screw I dropped. It is one of those holding the sensor panel in place. A momentary fumble and it tinkled down somewhere. So I carefully lifted everything so it didn't go on the floor and when I finally ran out of places I searched the floor. It had actually gone down into the head and was in the counterlung. Oh well...

Right. My sister has come down to spend the week with our 84 year old mother who lives with me so we go out to have a meal together. Mum likes to entertain but she can't cook for people any more so we eat out. I ate reasonably to make the system get into training for the shock to come.

The problem with eating is that controlling my weight gets harder and harder as I get older. When I was a lad of twenty something and the bike leathers were a bit tight after Christmas and the new race season was looming I eased off on the sizes of the puddings and the weight just dropped off. I now only eat a couple of puddings a month and I can maintain weight on 1800 calories a day. I have a target: I want to get back to the 11 stone 11 pounds that I was at for years but I'm afraid I lost the plot on healthy eating for a bit when my wife died and ballooned up into the 13 stone plus territory and getting back down hasn't proved to be as easy as it once was.
So why am I going on a trip on that Valkyrie boat again I ask you? It's a diving thing.

Friday (12st 4lbs)
Just a bit of kit Looking good. I finish packing the clutter into the car that I started last night. The rebreather goes on the back seat held by the special strap that I made for it. The suit and basic kit does on the seat next to it and a few cylinders go in the boot. That's three cylinders on the rebreather, two bailout sets so that's another four, two OC cylinders and three ponies for filling and lifting duties. Mum wants to help and gets in the way a bit. She's a bit doddery now but remember this is a woman who learnt to fly in an open cockpit biplane so she's earned a dodder. Then it's off for a long drive to an overnight stop at Sterling. Motorway food and diet coke. I hope nobody notices the bathroom scales stuffed in the laptop bag.

I let the GPS con me into going up the M40. I should know better. That always leads onto that linear car park they call the M6. If I go up the M1 I'm on the M6T, end up a few quid lighter in the pocket but breeze through the Midlands on the cruise control.

Stirling is 485 miles from home so it only left a relatively short run for the next day. I found the hotel and checked in and bought some Wi-Fi so I could sort out the trip back. I phoned a hotel in Invarary for the Saturday night but they were full however they put me on to a B&B locally who did have a room. Then I booked another Travelodge near my daughter's place for the Sunday night. Then it's down to my usual diet of web forums, cartoons and a reasonably early night.

Saturday (12st 3.5lbs)
Annoyingly I discover that 'a day' of Spectrum Wi-Fi times out before morning so I might as well get on the road and look for some food.

I stop in Dundee for a Little Chef breakfast and try to atone for extra bacon with Diet Coke. Their free Wi-Fi shows the forecast for Aberdeen for the following week is mostly F1/F2 winds. I think I'll still take the seasickness stuff for the ferry though, it makes me drowsy and I'll sleep better as it's a long overnight haul to Lerwick.

I arrive in Aberdeen and top up the fuel so the run back to Loch Fyne will be without complications. I poke my nose into the ferry port and the guy on the gates tells me they open at three and suggests some quasi-legal free parking or the local mall. I opt for the mall but that only kills an hour before I'm bored with shops. I don't want to eat yet so I wander back to the car for a bit and run down the laptop batteries. I promise it a charge in the queue when I'm outdoors again as I'm expecting to run it flat on the ferry.

I killed time badly and ended up back in the queue for the queue at about ten to three only an M&S salad and a packet of sweeties the worse for wear.

When they let us into the queues my plans for a laptop charge from the car came to naught as they loaded me at once to the lower deck so, in the bowels of the ship, I could hardly just sit there so I gave up and dragged myself upstairs to start the long wait that is a ferry ride. Still I had nearly two hours of charge and if I am careful it runs longer than that. Just hit the display off button if I need to pause and think because the screen eats power.

I can't say I'm impressed by the 'sleeper seats'. They recline about as much as an airline give you in cattle-truck-class and I'd rather hoped for more. It's a boat for crying out loud so we're not packed in. However it's mine and that counts for a lot when you're me. However I settled down...

Now on this ferry were other people on the trip. Some had travelled together and a group had already met up. Now I'm not good with faces and names. I can just about recognise family on a good day. Fortunately this is not true of everybody so they, specifically Frank Price, found me and I joined them to talk as divers do...

Sunday (12st 5lbs)
Valkyrie I don't think I slept more than an hour in a run and I woke up frozen. The lesson was obviously take very warm stuff to wrap up in if doing this again and, annoyingly, I have a bag full of just that in the car. No exercise and boredom eating are already doing the damage and I haven't faced Helen across a table yet. The laptop was still running by being charged on a convenient power point near my seat. The same seemed to be going on all over the ferry so I guess it is not objected to although probably not encouraged. Oh and the free Wi-Fi connects well enough, it just doesn't seem to work. I can connect but no internet. The iPhone makes the same complaint so I don't think it is my client settings. The sun is up early and hence so am I.

Dug We arrive in Lerwick and despite the promise that the ferry will still be serving breakfast pile into the cars and head off to look for Valkyrie. The instructions were probably correct but I scaled them wrongly. However we find her and I start heaving the usual 'too much kit' aboard. After all the messing about of the previous week I am hopeful that everything will just work and the only time it will be tiresome is when I want to put a new fill in it and I have my heavy tools to fix that. I get a nice slot in a corner and park my clutter around it.

Of course we have to meet Valkyrie's newest crew member Dug. Dug is the fluffiest, cuddliest, friendliest puppy imaginable. Oh and there's some guy called Rob but everybody wanted to meet Dug while Rob just did fills, clipped fins, sorted harnesses, made post dive tea and everything else on the dive deck. Poor guy. Utterly eclipsed.

Hazel was planning a nice 'warm up dive' (if you can refer to any dive up here as 'warm' is debatable) but it was a long way up the islands. This gave me time for a snooze and I actually slept and felt much better for that. The fact that it was oily calm really helped. If I'm not on the tablets I enjoy things more and a slight roll doesn't give me too much trouble.

Just to add to the sense of adventure we ran into a pod of Orcas who were in show off mode. I suspect it's a game to them. "Let's see if we can stop that boat by swimming near it". "Oh drat they've started the engine again, try jumping in the air. That's bound to stop them again." Whales! No sense of decency. We have a tide to catch.

At the shot E49 A British Submarine 31m
Everybody told me it was quite good with vis ranging from 10 to 15 meters depending who you talked to. I pulled out early because I realised I was massively over weighted. I was perplexed at this as, yes I had switched to a new undersuit that was deliberately bought to decrease the quantity of weight I carried but I'd tried it out in the pool and got a new value and I had added three kilos to account for diving seawater but I still felt massively negative. A rough sum said ten kilos over?? That is so impossible. I knocked the dive on the head before it went any more wrong. I probably got near to the submarine but never noticed it.

Helen did soup, bread, salad, more salad, meat, meat and meats plus half a dozen different cheeses. This was a light lunch by Valkyrie standards. I ate too much.

Grutwick Wall
I didn't take this dive seriously as what I really wanted was a proper weight check. I left the computer, the video camera, the 7L steel stage and the weight belt behind and added an extra base layer as a first guess. It felt much better. Why this is so different from my pool tests I don't know. Yes, I have the Kent Tooling blob reel clipped on but they're not that heavy... One thing that does come to mind was the way that the undersuit compressed during the pool dive, I needed a disappointing amount of lead at the beginning but every ten minutes or so I knocked off another couple of kilos. I thought it was stable by the time we finished so I carefully logged the weight however I've been using it to 'cox the club RIB since then. Maybe it carried on compressing. Either way diving with no weight belt, although there is a lot of Stainless Steel in my rig, is a very happy situation. I might drop one of the bolt on weights and take the 7L stage tomorrow.

I didn't see much of the scenic dive but I don't do scenic. I did a slow descent, a hover just off the bottom and a slow ascent. It was mainly a confidence rebuilding exercise after a bad first dive. Grief it was a 'cold face' hit, I didn't enjoy that but by the time I was swimming back out towards a depth Valkyrie could pick up in I had ceased to notice it. 12°C said the Suunto. I'm not a highly skilled diver but I do know a bad dive when I see it and I felt the first one was a bad dive. Tomorrow now starts from a clean slate.

Helen served a starter, a 'bamby' shepherd's pie followed by strawberries and cream in gargantuan proportions. I literally ate myself to a standstill and went to bed about 10. It still looks like early evening at 10 up here. It never really goes dark so it's easy to kid yourself it isn't late yet.

Monday (12st 6lbs)
I got up and had a big hit of Muesli then wandered out to top up the gas. This was the point where I discovered that the transfill whip was still in the car. It was only drizzling a bit so I walked off to the car park to fetch it.

Tow home This was 180 meters of Russian Fish Factory ship that dragged its anchor with the fuel heaters switched off and ended up on the rocks before they could get the engines started. There was only about three or four meters vis and it was a bit gloomy on the wreck. I mooched about and tried to avoid getting inside something as that could be a bit iffy solo-diving so in the end I went over the edge and down to the rocks. It was quite fun. The rocks were ground and scraped by all the metal but when crunch came to crunch the rocks won, they always do. In the end I reached for the blob and the reel jammed as I launched it.
Jam today <sigh>
I did a 'slowest bubble' ascent and passed on a 'safety' because I has over 45 minutes of no stop and, thankfully, spotted the blob quite close by. I paddled over to fetch it then looked around and started to swim out away from the rocks. Hazel obviously spotted me and the 'Big Green Diving Machine' started to close in but the wind was moving her sideways faster than I was finning and the moment I relaxed I started loosing ground. Rob grabbed the throw rope and it landed nearby but a bit far. It was pulled back in and came again and hit me. Hazel does not mess about when she throws things. I wasn't complaining. I just made sure it was securely clasped and I was towed into the lift.

The reel jam perplexed me. Mister Perin's reels just don't jam. It is not morally acceptable to have a jam, it would be an offence against the very nature of things but the blob inflated and I thumbed down the catch and it just didn't go round. The truth was odd. The line was an exact fit to the gap between the reel and the guide. I do mean exact here. The slight swelling at the end where the line had been heat sealed to stop it fraying couldn't slide through the gap even though the reel could turn the line wasn't free. I suspect that all I need to move the guide out half a millimeter and the problem goes away. The fix for the trip was an extra half-hitch so the end got used up and didn't reach.

Since we'd had a diving interval since our last meal Helen hit us with a big grill-up (like a fry up but not everything went in the pan).

The Giant's Legs
For our next dive 'towed to the lift' was institutionalised. The cliffs meant that Valkyrie wasn't going too close or it would be featured in somebody else's 'Wreck Tour of Shetland' so Rob was sent out in the inflatable to tow divers back within range of a pick up. The drill was lie on your back with your fins sticking out of the water 1) so they didn't drag and 2) so Rob knew you were pointing away from the prop. Giant's Legs I wussed out on this dive basically because I had been to lazy to change after the first dive and had got cold but it gave me some opportunities to shoot some pictures of the above-water scenery. This one is just a taste as I took quite a lot. There was also a cave locally which is diveable and a tour boat services it.

A Lerwick resident Helen ambushed the returning divers with a huge cake which oozed creamy filling all over the place. It was probably a normal day's calorie allowance for a fit, labouring man per small, sensible slice but there were only nine of us so we didn't do small, or sensible for that matter. Remember this is just a post dive snack to munch on as we run back to Lerwick for a full three course meal. Back in harbour we started setting up for the following day. A passing Lerwick resident stopped past hopefully and Helen threw them a sausage.

Dinner was a soup starter and a Thai Curry with the fire sauce separated out so you could blend your own mix depending how deep you wanted to go. I can do restraint on soup easily as I don't have much sense of taste and the texture isn't particularly appealing. I then mixed up a reasonably bland curry as, although I might like hot food as it comes over my taste threshold, my large intestine doesn't and makes me pay for my pleasures. I was doing OK until the pudding came out. I'm not sure what it was, lumps of fruit in a spongy base with pots of double cream passed round but I had two good helpings. Oh well...

Tuesday (12st 6lbs)
More Muesli and tea as I'm not really a morning person. Do the transfill and refill the blob bottle from the suit cylinder before refitting it. Wake up slowly.

Some other Russian fish factory ship
Stupid... I'd love to tell you what a good dive this was but I got Sentineled again. Now I'm already diving sans the secondary handset and the BOV regulator plus I'm only carrying minimal bailout so I have to be wary. We get the 'half an hour' warning and so it's duck down to the cabin and dress up as a diver in the thermals, upstairs for the dry suit, out on the deck and grind through the procedures and finally onto the setup sequence.

It's all going well until I hit the prebreathe. Well this is normally a display with a lot of roughly equal red bars and you breathe for five minutes and they start to display the temperature in the scrubber can and finally turn into yellow bars and the 'move on' tick appears.

No bars???

Breathe it anyway, maybe it's just a display problem. Five minutes comes and goes and there's still no bars and, rather as I suspected, no tick. I'm annoyed. Going wrong I'm getting to expect but don't make me kit up then go wrong. Kitting up is the pits of diving. Even Valkyrie's thoughtful provision of a wussy hot water bucket to dunk your hood before putting it on only eases the pain a bit. Going wrong when I'm just a pair of gloves and a set of fins away from ready to splash is just plain bitchy. I am very tempted to push the Abort button, answer yes to the 'You do know you're going to die don't you?' question and step off the boat but I'm carrying two faults already and no major bailout. I tell Rob he's lost a diver and sit tight so I'm out of the way while Hazel drops the others.

I go and change so I won't get cold like I did yesterday and come back and run the sequence again. It doesn't want to play but I've now done ten minutes on the loop and it hasn't been dismantled so the scrubber must be good. I'll dive it this afternoon and just count it as another accumulated fault. I rate temperature sensors in the scrubber as a good idea provided that you remember all they are telling you about is temperature from which you might be able to infer usage but the old three hours max and not deep on part used mantra worked before we had them. I've got plenty of 'lime so I can change it out early easily.

I just like this shot This was a bit better, well if you can describe diving a rebreather with three known faults as better rather than a Darwin Award application. This was a Sand Eel dredger that had a slight design error and the catch sloshing about tipped it over. It lies in 30 meters on flat sand and it is as promised a lovely little wreck. Rob and Hazel shotted it and Rob preceded us down to tie the line in.

It had been described to us as the only haven for wildlife in the bay and it was rather encrusted for a wreck less than twenty years old. I did a swim round and noted it's serious diver infestation then got all wussy about having to clear my mask every 30 seconds and since the shot was easy to hand I did a slow ascent.

During the prebreathe period the bars came back on, which suggests to me the plug on the canister is playing up but that allowed me to actually finish the start up process. However part way through the dive it stuck up a message "Filter?" and the helpfully little graphic telling you how much you've used vanished.

Hazel took the route back via a huge seabird housing estate but my camera wouldn't be up to resolving the huge scale of the place while simultaneously resolving a bird as more than a couple of white pixels so I hit the shower. Helen did another huge cake to tide us over until dinner landed. I sat and looked at it and warned myself "I'm going to have to do more than one dive a day if I'm going to keep up with the calorie input here."

We were getting close to our tables limit for food but Helen was determined to max us out to H. She served up Lasagne with veggies plus Garlic bread/cheese followed by Apple Crumble and custard. It was obviously far to much food but we tried hard not to let her down. We needed to check it as we only had a night's sleep and Hazel's promised dive the next morning before we have to face her again. It might not be long enough to get back to A on the food tables.

Wednesday (12st 9.5lbs)
Everybody needs a Rob I get up worried. Helen has me reeling. Maybe it's just the scales. Or maybe I shouldn't have finished off the custard before going to bed. I'd better go easily on the Muesli this morning.

Also it was windy first thing. Windy means bouncy and my tummy doesn't like bouncy so I checked with Hazel on the weather wondering if it was time to award myself an archaeology day ashore rather than be polluting the seas on one side of the boat while divers are entering on the other. Hazel reviewed the weather forecast and made some checks and they said I was safe so it was to be a diving day. It was still cold but that's just the wind. The sea doesn't change temperature in less than a week.

I kitted up and accepted all the faults. I was going to take the 7L of 18/40 but when I hit the final key check for a solo dive "Would you dive to XX meters with this man?" I failed.
I've promised myself as I get older that I can walk away from any dive no matter how good it might be. That is one of advantages of solo diving - I'm not messing anybody else about. This means I'm allowed to wuss out early or even not dive. Yes. It's annoying to look back at a week away and think I missed out on some diving for no reason but that's me.

Did I miss a good dive? From the sound of things I certainly did. The wooden deck had rotted out leaving the engine room and the engineer's workshops open from above. The engine came in for particular praise from those that understand such things. Yes I missed a good dive.

Cross town traffic We bounced back to Lerwick and the general consensus was to call it a day. Some people went on a Puffin spotting trip while Colin and I went to the Jarlshof historic site.
Now I must confess I'm a bit of an archaeology buff. I do like my share of history ranging from the prehistoric and up to late Medieval so a site with occupation going back about 4000 years is just me. It was about twenty miles south. I'm going to play fair and not do a write-up on Jarlshof in a dive report but if you're historically inclined it's a good way to kill an hour or so. You get to walk the wall passages of a broch and walk round inside a wheel house. A good site with a nice presentation. Admittedly the spiral staircase up to the point from which you can view the whole site feels a trifle 'exposed'. Google for it if you're interested in that sort of thing.

On the way back we crossed the end of the airport runway and other traffic took priority which was novel.

Helen hit us with starter, a major meal and Banoffee pie. If you realise I have already forgotten what the meal was you will understand my relationship with Helen's Banoffee pie is not good for me.

Thursday (12st 9.5lbs)
We started early to get the right tide. We've run out of Muesli.

old rusty metal This was 35 meters and still in the silt-o-cline so I didn't stay too long. The mask leaked which perplexes me because I might have drilled holes in it to fit the video cam but it does the suck test very well. I might just have it too slack. A bit more vis would have been nice also my primary torch is playing up.

We went back to Lerwick for lunch and it was a bit bouncy so I was feeling a trifle dodgy so I didn't have much. My predilection to seasickness isn't always bad.

Dales Voe
The afternoon was supposed to be on the Unicorn Reef but the plan to use the inflatable to tow divers out of the shallows into the deeper waters for Valkyrie to pick them up was defeated by the swell being a bit more than hoped for so we diverted to another nearby area. I didn't bother.

Sea dog in training Since there was a swell, however, I couldn't stay inside or the seasickness would build up but I was getting cold on deck. Now cold is a problem to me. I get cold and I don't want to dive. This is beginning to make me hesitant to take another trip up here next year. Hazel had a simple fix for cold. She grabbed a Fladen 'Rescue System' jacket and said "put that on". With that rather than my little, supposedly windproof M&S thing I happily stood on the top of the bow section to take pictures. I feel a wander into the chandler coming on. I think it's Scapa on Valkyrie next October.

There was a huge sponge cake with strawberries in the filling and then a few hours later a huge slab of paté followed by stew and dumplings and a chocolate cheesecake. The paté won praise but didn't appeal to me as it came over my scent thresholds and what everybody else raved about was a no go area to me. The stew and dumplings was sufficiently filling to protect me from the cheesecake.

The final evening's entertainment was Dug getting a run out in the inflatable to make sure his skill set as ship's dog covered all the aspects of the job that he might encounter. He managed it like a pro.

The bad news on the torch appears to be the cable union at the light end. Bother. Something else I'll have to send back for repairs.

Friday (12st 10.5lbs)
Ferry I'm not going to even try to dive today but at least a blinding flash of the obvious hit me in bed. The reason the mask leaks in the water but doesn't leak when I'm testing is is that huge Mantabite mouthpiece changing the shape of my face. It is big and I only push it in whole way at the last moment. Oh well, I switch back to the original mouthpiece first thing so it's ready for the Loch Fyne part of the trip, it's in the box.

It starts as a warm day. Well a warm Shetland day so I shed one woolly for a bit. The general consensus was a one dive day as most of us were facing the ferry tonight. The dive of choice was a repeat on the Genisla but I had already decided not to dive as I can't afford to mess up the next bit of the trip.

Not diving let me play Dug warden so the ship's dog snuggled in my arms to watch all these silly people jump off a perfectly good boat. H&H are being careful to expose him to everything that happens on the boat in these first few weeks so nothing spooks him later. Dug already swims off the beach so he knows Shetland waters.

The Ferry back
So we finished with another major meal. It was only lunch but it was a pretty bulky pile of baked potatoes, meaty goo, baked beans, vegies and stuff on stuff. I knew I was going to pay for it but I ate it anyhow. Then we sat about until we were bored and beginning to wonder if the decision to do just one dive was right (Hazel offered two). Then we fetched the cars, loaded our diving clutter, sat around some more then headed for the queue at the port. Finally we reconvened in the bar at the front to the top deck to talk and those that wished enjoyed a beer or four.

Rather than go for a proper meal I rectified the one deficiency in my diet over the last week and went for a chocolate hit. We took turns to go of for a meal so we kept our corner bench seat as Andy and I, lacking a cabin, were planning on sleeping there.

Saterday (12st 9.5lbs)
It was so cold again. I will remember the cold against Northlink Ferries forever. Getting a reasonable amount of liquid into me was good but it kept waking me up and sending me off to the loo which wasn't so good. Finally we had a cherry voice telling us it was six o'clock and we would be in Aberdeen at seven. I had past caring by then but at least I had got some sleep so I just felt ordinary 'morning sub-human' rather than 'no sleep dead to the world'. I have to drive and dive today.

OK so I drop off Andy to find his car and then wait for him to come back with it and fetch his stuff. Then it's off on the four hour drive to Loch Fyne. Ben Panter is a BSAC person who as offered to try and help me through the last stages of the Dive Leader qualification. He has sent me a Google-Earth reference to the place I need to meet him. I probably shouldn't have done it in one hit but I did and I was pretty zonked when I got there. Ben ran through his plans and we kitted up so he could do DO2, Dive Leading demonstration.

dive briefing Now the first problem was weight. I haven't dived this undersuit on the single so I expected the same hilariously wrong numbers as with the rebreather. I went in with 5Kgs on the belt...
Laughably wrong. This time I'm way under. The final total was about 12Kgs to give me enough negative to actually put some air in the suit and not freeze to death. I also have problems shore diving the site as it contains some novel features. However I didn't drown which is probably about the only way to fail DO2.

Try not to fall over... DO3. My turn to do it back to Ben. This didn't go so well. You would think that having just had something demonstrated it couldn't be that hard. OK Ben was very polite and said that in the water I was reasonable but my briefings were not really up to standard. I am forced to agree. So, just to prove I've learnt my lesson here is the briefing I should have given.

"Welcome to Loch Fyne and the shore dive from hell. Right this is a second dive so a quick check on the tables is called for. What did we do? Read the coloured number on my dive computer 9.7 meters for 22 minutes. Right now the training says 'round up' but what you are really doing is looking for a dive that includes our dive so 9m doesn't include 9.7m but 12m does. 27 minutes includes our 22 minutes so down at the bottom is group C. So apply an hour and a half surface interval to group C and it makes not a jot of difference, we're still on C. Doesn't matter, find the C tables. How much time is there on the last dive to 12 meters again before we start needing deco stops? 122 minutes. So we can have 2 hours. Well you aren't going to get 2 hours as I hoovered my tank down to 140 bar on the first dive. Most of that before we actually got below the surface.

So onto the dive brief. Well the first thing we consider is safety. This dive isn't safe. Forget all that guff about an alien environment where you can't even breathe lark. If you even get into the water with all your limbs intact to use that diving stuff you learnt in the pool you're doing well. The place we start from is a huge pile of highly mobile broken concrete fragments cunningly hiding pits and holes under an all enveloping layer of bladder-wrack and kelp. Bladder wrack has the adhesive properties of lard and kelp is cammo coloured net curtains backed up by mono-filament netting. Any place you put your foot may spontaneously become thirty centimetres deeper as your weight goes on it, your foot may instantly slide off in any direction, some known only to quantum physicists, and there are places on this pile that we'll have to amputate you leg to get you out alive.

Equipment. We've tried to keep the equipment down to a minimum. Remember you have to carry it down and into the water. Don't worry about bringing it back. Anything you bring home from this dive is a bonus. Even the quick splash to rinse you mask has now become a horrific problem and getting your fins on is an adventure Harrison Ford would balk at.

Exercise. You'll be be getting a lot of that. We're parked about a hundred yards up the road from the site so we'll kit up over there and walk back and out along the arm. It's not so bad coming and going back feels so good because you've nearly escaped the place. OK changing out of your suit in the rain sucks but this is Scotland so man up. If it didn't rain you'd think you were somewhere else.

Right onto the dive. Forget all that stuff I told you about keeping your regulator in your mouth. That a good plan most places where drowning is a danger. Here drowning is sweet release and you'll chuff through 100 bar before we get into enough water to float in if you try that. What we mean by Exercise is the Plan but SEPDS isn't supposed to be as memorable as SEEDS. What is the plan? We move down the slope to about eight to ten meters, we'll keep the slope on our right shoulder, we'll mooch along and see if we can find anything, we'll do a stop at five meters on the way back up not because we need it but because we can. This is the easy bit. Please remember to clear your ears, please remember to show me your SPG when I show you mine because after the entry the rate we'll be breathing at will be hilarious and I enjoy a good joke. Oh and stay with me, I'm supposed to bring you back alive so work with me on this one.

Discipline. No, this is not Brighton's lively S and M scene, this is just to remind you that I'm leading the dive so when I signal up, down, left and right I probably have a reason. I might call the dive early if I worried how much air we are going to need for the exit. We ain't going to run this one down to 50 bar and then put our heads up.

Signals. You remember all the ones on the course? Good. I just want to add a couple of specials. If I throw my arms out wildly: this means I am falling over backwards, stay out of my way. If I point in a hole there is probably something interesting to see. If I leave my finger in the hole but gesticulate madly with another hand it is a lobster/crab. Forget wild life conservation and hit it with a rock so it lets go. Also note that my SPG is on quite a long hose so if you realise I'm banging you on the head with it that means you really must stop ignoring me and show me yours because I might need an excuse to call the dive rapidly before I run out myself because it is always a bit naaf for the leader to empty his cylinder first and have to exit on your octo.

I think that just about about covers it. OK there were a few bits on how to manage falling over with a tank on your back in water just deep enough to drown in that we will have to improvise live and the skill of crawling over rocks and then turning over to sit in the surf to take your fins off that is inexplicably missing from the BSAC manuals but divers are supposed to be creative.

OK? Right let's go diving and have fun... Hey... Trust me...

After that Ben and his wife was kind enough to suggest that I joined them for dinner so I crawled back to my lodgings in Inverary, had a shower and followed them over the pass to Arrochar for a very pleasant evening.

Sunday (12st 9lbs)
Kitting up Today we hope to polish off the skills stuff that I need for DL. It's a skills review on mask clearing and a couple of air share ascents with a level out at 6 meters. Basically a green water ascent with a buddy on a hose. I'll take the 7L stage.

We dived as a three. Ben, Derek and me. Derek and I will do the air shares both ways round. OK things started pretty well. It was an entry that I think I remember from a cave. You clamber down a muddy slope over some recent rock falls to a sump. Except you do it wearing a rebreather. From then on it was a gentle swim down a slope to about 15 meters to 'review' mask clearing. Boring. I'm an ADI. We teach this in the pool until the students get habituated with it. This ensures that the first time they barge into something and the mask goes sideways they are all 'here we go again' rather than 'ARGH! I'M GOING TO DIE!' I flip back my hood as I wear the mask under it and go into drill mode. Off comes the mask. Turn it round flat. Turn it end over end. Demo finding the alignment with the thumb in the nose pocket and pull the strap round the front. Pop it on. Wiggle it to seat it nicely and give it a quick blow as you're pulling the strap over your head.

Only it felt all lumpy and didn't clear.

Sigh inwardly. Oh bother one of the sides has tucked in. It's an old mask and it happens. Take it off. Pull the strap round the front again. Do it nice and quickly so Ben won't think I'm a Muppet. Still won't seal. OK I'm a Muppet. Stop and do it properly. Still wont seal. Stop, breathe, think. I pinch my nose because that just puts everything on hold. You can sit forever like that. We're only at 15 meters. Now do it again. It still won't seal. OK I have a problem but I have a time served BSAC Instructor Trainer slap bang in front of me and another rebreather diver next to me. They are watching. They obviously know by now that I have a problem. Signal 'problem' so they know I'm admitting that I'm not coping and then 'up' hopefully as I'm not in a position to deliver much 'up' in a controlled fashion.

Suddenly there is a hand on my arm. The problem management machine is clicking into gear. My knees lift off the bottom so we're going up. OK I'm the casualty so they make the decisions. My drysuit is conventional, my wing is virtually empty and as soon as I feel the counterlung fill I start bubbling it round the mouthpiece. Provided I don't let the rebreather become buoyant they can control everything else and they are both rebreather divers. They know what to do.

That seemed a very long ascent, time passes very slowly when you can't see what's going on, but all I can to do is wait. Unfortunately the build up of water in my sinuses from several failed mask clears hits the back of my throat and I coughed rather a lot which I gather worried them that I might cough out the loop, but I still have fingers on my nose so that hand presses the mouthpiece into my mouth. My other hand is waving about uselessly with a mask in it. We surface and Ben doesn't bother to ask he just tells me I'm being towed in. That's pretty good casualty management.

So what happened? The HUD, the Head Up Display (aka Disco lights), had flipped back towards my face and was virtually touching my cheek. This covered some prime mask real-estate and probably pushed it to the right. The mask moving right meant that I felt the edge of the mask on the left and assumed that was creased in. My next solution would have been to reach for the spare mask in my pocket and that would have not helped at all. I kneel in water you can stand in and do a mask remove and replace with Ben ready to pounce and this time I move the HUD around to feel it before I put the mask back on. It's almost trivial when you know what to do. The clip must have come loose since I did this on the crossover course or perhaps I just dress the cables differently. Do I want to go back and do it properly, continue the drill? Sorry Ben but no. My sinuses are enjoying a seawater scrub and I've guzzled through rather a lot of my DIL. Also I'm not really in the right frame of mind any more.

The Derek also has a HUD on his Evolution. He and Ben duck down to play mask removes. I promise myself that I will play this one until it get's boring but at the moment it's a bit too exciting. It is suggested that mask under hood contributed to my problems. Well I got a hit of cold on the ears which wasn't fun but it was going all right until it wouldn't seal. This is going to have to be practiced off Brighton. To add insult to injury I realise that I have cured my mask flood problem that I had in the Shetlands. So it was the Mantabite. I wonder if I can find a mask that works with that or if just tightening things would help?

Climb out, partly de-kit, wind down, de-kit and run back up the road for lunch. It's rather sad that I goofed up the 'simple' mask clear when we had been discussing the complications of doing an air-sharing ascent on a stage with two rebreather divers (you need to vent the loop and the Sentinel does not have a pull dump anythere) but I feel I've learnt an important lesson. The one troubling idea is that solo diving at about 30+ meter a few days before I had debated swapping out the mask that was leaking for the one in my pocket and had not realised there could be a problem as mask swapping is so basic. It would not have pleased Hazel any if I had done a free ascent from 30+ blind even without stops pending.

I drive south and stay overnight just South of Liverpool. It was a two packets of sweets drive on top of the Cod and Chips at Arrochar.

Monday (12st 9lbs)
It's a long haul south and TomTom keeps insisting that I take the M6 and as soon as it routes the M6 it looks up all the congestion so I'll know where I'm parking up. I find this is less than funny so I drag over the Pennines and come down the M1. It probably took more time than doing the delays but it was a nice drive. Why is my life full of computers that think they know what I want them to do and prefer that to doing what they are told?

Home. Log into the office and clear the backlog of spam, a mere 6000 - a cursory check on the 'killed' ones and a quick sort through the possibles. Thankfully not much real mail to demand attention. Check the notes left by my sister (I didn't know I had newts in my pond!) and fill the washing machine with a week's clothes and a set of thermals. Stow the dive kit away in the workshop. Sending things off for a fix will have to wait until I have caught up with office shaped jobs.

Overall: 1545 miles at 19.6 mpg (Ouch!)
Incidentally... I've put my money down for October 2012 on Valkyrie in Scapa.

Pictures by Nigel Hewitt unless I'm in them © 2011. I don't mind you 'borrowing' them, just ask and I let you use a copy of the original from the camera. I'd just like a credit.
Pictures with me in them by Helen or Ben Panter.

I've got some head cam video but the vis wasn't good enough for that to be so good although quite a few of the pictures are captured from the stream.