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Monday, 28 May 2012

Misty Mountain Hop

Finally! It's only taken us till the end of May to get the conditions we should have had two months ago, but beggars cant be choosers. Sun was blazing with a cool Easterly coming off the water but the Abbs head was shrouded in mist all day until the end of our last dive.
The mist rolling in and rolling out
We opted to dive round the back on the Skellies as the mist wasn't quite so thick there and quite a few of the boats had already left the dive site so we had the place to ourselves pretty much. Viz was touching 10 metres with plenty of light coming in at the surface with a water temperature at 9 degrees. Lovely. As soon as we glided into the first gully we were greeted by wolfish all over the place. We had to fight them off with a stick just to complete the dive!
My name is legion, for we are many.....
And on top of the multitide of woolfies, corals, anemones, pollock, decorator crabs, we had the amzing aquatic display of flocks of guillemots diving with us. We stopped around 23 metres just to sit and take pictures (ok, try and take picturse as they move so fast) and shoot some video. They look more at home underwater than they do flying through the air.
One of the few shots actually centred and in focus
They really are inquisitive and it's amazing how long they are able to remain underwater for and some have been recorded down at depths of 180 metres apparently. Astounding. Check out the footage below.

The current was running West but with careful tracking through the gullies we headed East to get to the plateau at 12 metres just before it turns into the Craigs site. Always guaranteed to get to get wolfies and nudibranchs and today was no different.
A pair of nudis get it on for the camera
The place was crawling with them, not to mention an explosion of sunstars and devonshire cup corals and pink prawns.
Pink prawn on a platter of dahlia anemone surrounded by a garnish of brittle stars. Enjoy
With having so much quality play time, it was hard to leave it behind but I had to call the dive ealry at 75 minutes as this time it was myself that had the mouse bladder. In my defense I did drink a couple of litres of water prior to the dive to keep hydrated but it came back with a vengeance at the end of the dive. I've never got de-kitted so fast before.
Elaine on the Skellies before my bladder emergency
 With the agony and ecstasy of the pit stop out of the way, we settled in to enjoy some rays and watched the mist roll in to cover up Seagull Rock. Despite the blazing sun, it just wasn't burning off which would limit us for options on the second dive. 

The group on board voted for the Peanut Boat which if you've never dived it is a boiler, couple of deck plates in 8 metres of water and sod all else. We jumped in on West Hurker on the way past for a more interesting and enjoyable dive.
The wrasse more interested in watching me
The urchins were spawning big time in the water so it was a bit cloudy, but with wrasse, nudis and crabs scattered about we had more than enough to focus our lenses on.
Lovely little decorator crab
We had a gentle current pushing us East on the start of the flood so we went the flow and made the most of the excellent light from the surface. on the way past a particular outcrop I managed to spot a Yarrell's blenny sitting quite happily out in the open without a care in the world and it was more than happy to pose for some shots.
"Do I look bothered?"
You could practically hear Elaine squeal with delight though her regs when I showed it to her. It's the little things...... 

We crossed from Hurker, past Skellies and ended up on the Craigs to nail some final shots before calling it at 79 minutes and no it wasn't my bladder this time, thank you very much for asking. 
Juvenile scorpionfish amongst the brittle stars
Heading for the Craigs
And best of all, when we got to the surface the mist had finally burned off and it was blue skies all the way to the horizon. Smashing.

Monday, 21 May 2012

All for the love of sunshine

With the weather being hit and miss on the East coast this weekend, we packed up and headed West to worship some sun, sea and sand. It was a glorious day with 16 degrees at the surface, 8 in the water and some decent visability although there was still a modicum of particulate hanging in the water today.

Deckchairs and sunscreen at the ready
We were meticulous as ever in our pre dive planning, which went straight out the window in the first three minutes due to circumstances I will not mention here although I think a length of bungee cord might have to be used next time...

Shooting mostly mid and macro given the conditions, there was plenty of opportunity for the most ardent photographer.

Butterfish in the muck
Swimming crabs, hermit crabs, butterfish, gobies, blennies, squat lobsters, langoustines, plumose anemones, nudibranchs, dog fish, conger eels, cuckoo wrasse and even a cuttlefish (which Elaine claimed to have seen), they were all out in abundance.

Squat, hairy and lobster like
Starting out on the shallow reef at 7 metres on the left, I worked down to the mid reef at 15 metres on the right and spent some time down there befroe heading straight down to 30 metres to try and get some shots in the muck. The langoustines where pretty quick off the mark today and where down their holes like a flash.

Diver ahoy, down the hole, double time!
With some shots in hand and a quick flick of the fins, it was off further to the right to land on the mystical 30 metre reef. It's called the mystical reef for a reason which I will not go into here, but maybe Elaine will relate the tale to you one day......

Exploding firework anemone
After a bimble on the mystical reef it was back up to the shallows and a saftey stop after 71 minute run time and some well deserved bacon butties. The second pre dive planning was even more meticulous and thankfully bungee cord was not required this time as we both headed to the right to do a couple of laps around the platforms and carry on down to the second mid reef to watch an orgy of nudibranchs getting it on.

A goby soaking up the rays
The conger eel that Elaine found proved too tough to shoot as it just didnt want to come out from under it's rock. A particularly shy example if ever I saw one. Still there were plenty of giant starfish, decorator crabs and nudis to keep us occupied.

Juvenile dogfish
I found a really nice pair of flabellina verucossa on some weed in the shallows who proved to be a veritible challenge to shoot as they just wouldn't sit still, the little scamps.

For something so small it sure is active!
With 81 minutes of run time and a bladder full of tea, it was time to wrap up and head for the shore. Another great days diving in superb sushine, if only we could have more days like this.

The creature surfaces up from the depths!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Main Event

As usual Mother Nature proved to be a fickle and callous mistress as the weather was absolutely atrocious this evening with driving rain and high winds.

It's not always like this, honest
However this did not deter the masses from desending upon the St. Abbs Visitors Centre to hear the tales of derring do and high adventure over the past six decades from the lips of Jack Law, Vice Chairman of the St Abbs & Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve and representative of The Sub-Aqua Association.

The warm welcome and free drinks at the door certainly kept the evening chill at bay not to mention the pleasing sight of a packed room of diver, non-divers, locals and visitors alike. A fantastic turnout.
Happy hour!
Jack proceeded to keep us enthralled and entertained for the next sixty minutes with a glimpse of his life and diving experiences over the last sixty years. From his earliest memories of diving by making a mask and snorkel out of a converted gas mask and length of tubing to explore the depths of the bath tub as a lad, Jack had the audience hooked. 

I took a couple of pictures during the presentation for records sake, but deliberately left the flash off so as not to disrupt Jack or the audience, so no complaints about the dark shots.
Jack and gang in the early days

Some of the slides Jack showed us were incredible, especially the early days as when we think about what we use/need now to dive comfortably in the water, back then didn't exist. They just got on and dived. 

Could you imagine going for a dive around Seagull Rock in swim trunks? That's exactly what they did back in the day and I consider myself to be hardened for getting in 3 degrees of water but you'd never catch me in my Speedos going for a dive in the UK! (not least because I'd probably be arrested...).
Before IAHD was even thought of, these guys did it first
Another great tale was one of their number was afflicted with Polio as a child but that didn't put him, Jack and the others from facilitating his habit for diving. They made webbed gloves for him to propel himself through the water and they would just pick him up and carry him down to the water when he was ready to go, as you can see from the picture above. 

Thinking about organisations like the International Association of Handicapped Divers (who do a fantastic job by the way) who arrived on the scene in 1992, Jack and others like him were making the sport accessible for everyone regardless of ability, decades before these sorts of things became officially recognisable.
Ice diving for men....
The shot of the club chiseling their way into the water in a frozen quarry to go for a dive in Winter is one of my favourites though. As a devotee of ice diving, it's incomprehensible to think these days that you'd grab a pick axe to knock a hole in the ice to jump in wearing just a rubber wetsuit but that's exactly what they did. The mind boggles!

Jack the lad at St Abbs harbour in the good old days
Jack has many stories, not just about St Abbs diving but from all round the world with how Sharm and Egypt was 20-25 years ago (just a couple of sheds), how underwater photography has evolved, exploits in the Caribbean and Indonesia to his last ever dive.

A very poignant end to great evening's entertainment as Jack described that his dive on Black Carr in 2010 proved to be his last due to crippling back problems. But one thing Jack did say was that in all his years diving, he was glad that his last dive was at St Abbs as he couldn't think of anywhere in the world he would rather have ended his diving career.

That sums up St Abbs in a nutshell. There are so many nice places to dive around the world and we've done most of them, but I'll always be drawn back by the siren's song of St Abbs. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Underwater Love

Finally!! With the weather being utter pants the last three weeks, it was so good to jump back in at St Abbs. Everyone else must agree because come 9am all the boats from St Abbs and Eyemouth converged on Black Carr for a free for all!
Boats all over Black Carr like stink on a monkey
On the plus side, when they all came back in , we went out so there was only two of us on the whole dive site. Awesome. Viz was still sitting around 4 metres and the water temperature had crept up to 8 degrees. You can tell Summer is nearly with us.....

We caught the tide just on the ebb so swam out the back of the Carr and headed East to get a little depth and pick up the wall and anchor. None of the usual lump suckers hanging around and a lot of the wolfies were not in their usual holes but we did get a surprise visitor. 

We had just passed the second pinnacle and I was so focused trying to encourage a wolfie to show its face, I didn't realise that 3 metres off to my left Elaine had found a nice sized octopus sitting amongst the Dead Mens Fingers. And what a photogenic cracker it was too. It didn't get agitated and was more than happy to sit and pose for photos and swim around for us.
Octupus giving us the fingers. Or tentacles
I got a little video footage as well but I apologise in advance as my rig was set up for stills and I just quickly flicked to video mode as I didn't want to mess with settings in case she decided to disappear. And as usual the white-outs are from Elaines strobes.

And here's some more shots of her in all her glory.

I must admit that we did predict wolfies, octopus and angler fish for the dive so two out of three ain't bad. We bimbled on in and out of the swim throughs and picked up some nice scenic shots with plenty of nudibranchs and prawns scattered over the corals.
Lovely nudis sprinkled generously all over the Carr
Not to mention the pink prawns
After we hit the front of the third pinnacle, we were closing in on our deco time and air reserves so we knocked it on the head at 60 minutes. And I can tell you that it's an absolute joy to be coming back in from a dive on a boat that feels as though it's gliding on ice compared to the bloody roller coasters we've been hanging on to for grim death the past 4 months! Four point harnesses should be mandatory on boats in crap weather.......

Like a mill pond inside and outside the harbour
Bacon butties and a flurry of teas took care of the hunger pangs and we made a second jump on the Skellies, again perfectly timed so that everyone had pretty much left the water and it was just us and the lovely scenery. 

The Dahlia anemones where out in a riot of colours and I haven't seen the Skellies looking this nice for a good long time. I mean they always look good but I think they made an extra special effort for us today.
Lovely, lovely colours
And they were pretty prolific as well. Normally you'd get the odd one dotted here there and everywhere but there was nice big groups of them opened up and ready for photos.
More beautiful colours
The vis was gracious enough to improve to 5 metres but still pretty pants for this time of year and to be honest this year is the worst I've seen it for the last 10 years. The weather and conditions haven't been this bad for so long a period, we can only hope things will start to improve over the next 3-4 weeks. The weather has definately been playing silly buggers the last 4 months.
And this cheeky tyke popped out behind me when I wasn't looking
The Skellies weren't particularly bustling with marine life this dive, the odd hermit, edible crab, lobster, couple of wolfies, shoal of pollock, but even if you don't see a lot of marine life it's still a stonking dive just for the scenery alone. 

I know it seems like we only dive Black Carr and the Skellies lately but we go where we know we're going to get the best conditions. No point jumping on a site where the viz and conditions are going to be crap. When the weather gets going, the other dive sites will open up.
Elaine, looking smug, because she found an octopus
We cut the dive at 70 minutes after the universal signal was given for needing a pee (Elaine with the mouse bladder *ahem*) and headed for a pick up. And right on cue, as the forecast predicted, the wind was getting up to speed and I lost my tea off the back of the boat it was that windy.

Lesson for the day; when the winds starts running at 24 knots, you hang on to your bloody cup of tea!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Can you guess what it is yet?

There's some weird and wonderful stuff down there. I'd certainly have a moment if this went past me.

So did you guess what it was then? Apparently Deepstaria enigmatica, is a jellyfish first described in 1967. The bell of this jellyfish is very thin and wide (up to approx. 60 cm), and resembles a translucent, folding sheet or "lava lamp" as the animal moves.

Or what I first thought was a large plastic bag or crisp packet! I don't think marine biology is my strong point.....ahem. 

The older you get, the stranger things become.

Saturday, 5 May 2012


No, it's not a public health service announcement but something far more straight forward. I thought we got some big 'uns in the water here but this one's a bit of a beastie.

"...Claude weighs a mighty 15lbs and measure 15 inches wide. When he is fully grown he will weigh a whopping 30lbs and gain an extra three inches."

At least he got saved from the pot and went to a good home in the end.


Serious claw action going on