Lochaline 2019 – Sound of Mull
Everyone left early on Friday and made their way up north, over the Corran narrows on the ferry, and up to Costa del Lochaline where we were greeted by unseasonably good weather at Lochaline O2cafe and bunkhouse in the early afternoon.
The trip from Dundee takes over three and a half hours. Lewis, Robbie, Alex and Ken managed to get there early enough to have a dive from the beach, a nice wall that drops to around 100m! They just used the opportunity to check equipment and stayed at a more respectable 20-30m.
Early Saturday morning we met our skipper Lorne and his boat Sound diver at the dock next to the ferry terminal. On this trip there was a variety of different equipment being used including single cylinders, twinsets, sidemount and rebreathers. Once the considerable quantity of kit was loaded on board we made our way to the first dive site the SS Hispania.
As everyone else was getting kitted up I discovered that I’d left a very small but critically important part of my rebreather back at home………..on the sofa. Thankfully, due to the versatility of my equipment, the easiest solution was to dive sidemount instead with enough air to still make the most of what the Sound of Mull had to offer.
Lorne did a good job of getting us in for slack water. It’s notoriously hard to judge slack water at the Hispania for some reason. Once in, everyone had an enjoyable dive with ok visibility and no more dawning realisations that any key equipment had been forgotten!
Surfacing to what looked like the mediterranean Lorne decided to take us to Tobermory for our surface interval. With some people not having sampled the delights of the Isle of Mull, and the sun beaming down, it seemed appropriate ice cream weather for most! One member of the trip unfortunately had a failing neck seal and, through fear of missing the second dive if it totally failed, chose to remain suited up and scour the shops for a replacement. Somewhat unbelievably a replacement neck seal, and all the necessary cleaners and glue, was found. The plan was to replace it that evening………..I’m not sure if it was the thought of 10 people giving different advice on how best to replace it but later it was decided that a little trim would be good enough for it to last the weekend, this proved to be the case.
As I was using side mounted sevens I had very narrow profile. This allowed me to get into places I hadn’t been before. If I could fit my shoulders through then I was going in for a look! A few others were venturing into the holds and scouting around as well as the obligatory looking through the portholes near the wheelhouse. One of the cool things with this wreck is seeing the large spare propellor at the stern. Visibility wasn’t great with a lot of plankton in the water. Word has it that some salvage of the cargo was undertaken but I don’t think the pebble sized lump of coal taken from one of the holds will be making anybody rich soon!
After much debate the previous night, and on the Sunday morning, it was decided that we would dive the SS Thesis, a wreck most of us had written off as a waste of time after a bad storm made most of it collapse a few years ago. A few on the trip had never dived it and were keen to explore it before it totally disappeared.
The currents on the wreck are a little strange, on the surface the trailing marker was getting pulled under by the current with most thinking it was going to be a long wait before the dive. Lorne tried pulling all the tricks from up his sleeve in assessing potential conditions below the surface, running the boat hard towards the buoy and using the wash to see if the buoy settled, indicating just a surface current…..despite his best efforts it wasn’t indicating a surface only current and everyone was imagining a quick drift dive if we went in anytime soon! Lorne, however, was confident that it was just a surface current and was busy getting as much local knowledge from dive boats in the area, when he gave the signal to start kitting up most were unsure if it really was the best idea. Everyone dropped in and as we got past 4m the current eased considerably, he was correct, I never doubted him….much.
Despite low expectations it turned out we were wrong and everyone had a great dive, decent visibility and much more of the wreck the look over than many were expecting. The iconic ribs of the hull have now collapsed however there was still plenty to see including octopus and the anchor hiding under a plate at the bow. Ken, not having dived it before, went in with Alex and was handed what looked like an orange brick at the stern. If you come across it pick it up……it’s a little heavier than you would expect!
After everyone surfaced we were treated to the sight of, not one, but two sea eagles on the shore. We slowly motored over towards the shore where we spent 15 minutes watching the older and younger bird relaxing and surveying their territory. Next stop was to be the Rondo…….
The Rondo is another of the classic wrecks within the Sound of Mull always proving to be a popular dive. Due the different levels and experiences of divers on the trip we planned to have the wreck pretty much covered from stern to bow. After a while milling around waiting for slack we were finally given the all clear to get ready and jump in. Dropping in the visibility wasn’t too bad and everyone started dropping down the steep slope from the stern of the boat just below the surface. A couple of people made it to the bow but most stayed in the 20-30m range with plenty of life and rust to admire.
For the adventurous along the length of the Rondo there are some ‘interesting’ swim throughs…… Historically these have been very wide with enough room to go under the hull 2 or 3 people abreast. Over the years however the plates lining the hull have begun to deteriorate resulting in some slipping down and altering the size of the swim throughs. The term ‘altering’ however is relative and all I can say is that if you fancy trying the swim through at about 30m lay off the pies beforehand…… It all starts off nicely until the final bit where the opening has reduced to a size JUST about big enough for a diver to go through with twins and a stage. When I say ‘just’ I mean don’t expect to be able to swim through only grazing the sides, I actually mean you can get through with some wriggling and scrabbling at the sea bed!
After a good 30-40 minute dive everyone surfaced and was back on the boat enjoying a hot drink talking about what a great weekend it had been. Good company, good weather and good diving! Back at Lochaline the boat was quickly unloaded and everyone started the trip back home keen to arrange another trip in the future.
Thanks to Lorne for the skippering and excellent service, impressive to be able to manage the boat single handedly whilst ensuring everyone was kept hydrated with teas and coffees!
Argyll Boat Charters Ltd.
Also thanks to Callum and Faith at the Lochaline Dive Centre.
And of course thanks to Lewis for organising the whole trip and booking the sunshine.