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Monday, 20 August 2012

Red sails in the sunset

Action packed weekend of diving. Saturday we kicked off at Sunset House which is another quality location for shore diving (and boat diving). They open at 7 am which is ideal for people like us that want to get a coupe of dives in before the crowds arrive and still have the afternoon to do what you want.

Plenty parking and less than 30 seconds to the waters edge and less than 5 seconds to the bar. There's three possible entry/exit points, I recommend using the rock pool round to the right as the water is usually level with the top of the ladder and ledge which makes it easy getting in and out with big camera rigs. You're also more sheltered for access/egress when the surface conditions turn rough and less likely to get battered off the wall.
View from the bar. Beware of boat traffic
Once in the water drop straight down and follow the channel from the pool entrance out due West where at 6 metres you'll hit the chains for the twin buoys (one blue, one white). At this point another gully starts up, running roughly WSW. This will take you directly to the the statue of Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon and resident mermaid of the house reef at about 16 metres. Plenty of photo opportunities here, especially if the fish are nice enough to co-operate!
Amphitrite and some fishy friends
From the mermaid, keep heading out West over the sand and to the left you'll see the remains of the LCM David Nicholson, a landing craft from the second world war era at around 22 metres.
The LCM (landing craft, medium) David Nicholson
You can get into the engine room via the hatch at aft but there isn't exactly much to see, unless you want bragging rights about how you penetrated a world war two wreck all the way through to the engine room! :-P
You've seen it now, move along
Just beyond the LCM is the start of the drop off and wall with plenty of coral heads, barrel sponges and whips to keep you entertained as you swim through the clouds of triggerfish, groupers, majors and basslets. Turtles are of course a mandatory requirement.
A teenage turtle of the non-mutant variety
You will of course without fail end up the centre of attraction for the multitude of  snappers that roam around wanting attention. We always seem to have the same one follow us every dive, so I called him Spot. I think Jill calls him Gary because he apparently looks like one. Don't ask.....
Jill with her faithful fish, Gary the snapper (or Spot is you prefer)
Visability was a real problem all weekend and Sunday especially was exceptionally bad for current. Although compared to Scotland it would be classed as the best diving ever. It's one one of the few times I've ever had to swim 90 degrees to the direction of travel just to make headway. A truly ripping current.

It's akin to drift diving on Cozumel. Just without a boat to pick you up if it all goes pear shaped, so unless your experience level and SAC is really, really good, it's easier to sit in the sun and wait for the conditions to settle down.

We knocked out a 70 minute dive followed by a 105 minute dive to make the morning completes. The second dive was especially entertaining, as soon as we hit the water we were buzz bombed by a squadron of low flying squids. Unfortunately I only got a chance for a quick , haphazard shot before they flew off into the depths, so excuse the quality.
Dive, dive, dive!
As always on the second dive, for me, its about the macro/close up work. And although some of the smaller stuff was proving to be elusive, there was still plenty to be found for the eagle-eyed diver. I am still consulting my books, but I think the little tyke hiding in the sand in the shot below is a female sailfinned blenny. If I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me.
Correct answers on a postcard
Jill made a nice find of a spotted drum fish and as usual with drum fish, they like to hide in the most inaccessible, impossible spaces which never makes our lives easy when trying to get a shot. Not my best ever shoot of a drum fish but considering the small space I had to shove myself and rig into, it could have been worse.
Next time, drum fish, next time......
The flamingo tongue cowries were out in force and everywhere you looked they were either on the sand, on the coral, on the rocks like someone had scooped up a bucket load and thrown them over the reef. Maybe they were having a party and we weren't invited.
Snails, lots of them
Further up the reef on the right hand side, I came across the Caribbean twin of Grandfather lobster from St Abbs back home. This thing was enormous. Easily the size of Grandfather, minus the pincers and it wasn't afraid to get into a staring contest with my camera. 

For a moment he looked like he was going to drag me down into the depths  but I think he thought it would be too much effort to get me out the neoprene wrapper.
Grandfather's warm water cousin
We headed back into the shallows and on the way back, I checked out one of the little sandy holes than pockmark the hard pan and was delighted to find a lettuce leaf slug which was the icing on the cake for today's diving.
This little fellow made the morning's diving worth it
Out the water by 11.45am and sitting at the bar for cocktails by noon. Perfect. As always when shore diving here, you can swim out at the surface to get to the made drop off, but that's not something we personally do as the surface conditions are occasionally pants and you also have the issues of boat traffic. So unless your gas management is especially chronic, just get in the water, get down and enjoy the fantastic scenery.