Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Wonders Of The Red Sea and Finding Nemo

After three years of scuba diving mainly in Scotland, The Boy and I decided it was time to treat ourselves to a diving holiday in warmer water where we didn't need to wear a drysuit.  In November, we had the opportunity to go diving in the Red Sea on the Tiger Lily live-aboard boat.  The trip was organised by Martin at Ace Divers (web site http://acedivers.co.uk/) through Flowers of Sinai. We flew to Sharm El Sheikh and had a short mini-bus ride from there to the harbour where the Tiger Lily was waiting for us.



We were scheduled to do four dives each day: one before breakfast, two during the day and a night dive.  The first thing I noticed was that, diving in a wetsuit, I felt almost liberated - no drysuit, no thermals, no drysuit hose, no hood, no gloves.  I felt like I had forgotten something when I was kitted up, waiting to do my giant stride into the water, but I had everything I needed.  The second thing I noticed was the almost endless visibility.  It felt like I could see for miles in clear, blue, warm ocean.  Bliss!

Tiger Lily visited a few sites in the vicinity of Sharm El Sheikh (in the red box around Sharm below):

We started at a couple of dive sites near Sharm El Sheikh, namely Ras Katy and Ras Umm Sid, then headed towards the Gulf of Aqaba and dived the four reefs - Jackson, Gordon, Thomas and Woodhouse - in the Strait of Tiran.

There was an incredible amount to see.  The aquatic life was phenomenal - rays, giant moray eels, puffer fish, squid, cuttlefish, lionfish (which freaked me out on night dives as they are attracted by the light from your torch) and all sorts of other fish from the tiniest Anthea fish to huge Groupers and Barracuda.



Here's giant Moray eel coming out of it's hiding place for a look around:



I was delighted to find that Nemo and his relatives (aka Anemone Fish or Clown Fish) are alive and well and thriving in the Red Sea.  We first encountered them on Jackson Reef:




After the reefs in the Strait of Tiran we headed back towards Sharm to reach the Ras Mohammed National Park, stopping at Temple for a night dive on the way.  We met our first cuttlefish there.  We started the next day with a dive around Shark and Yolanda reefs which have some ship wreckage scattered around them.  That marked the start of our wreck dives.


The first wreck was the Dunraven where The Boy managed to drop his GoPro.  Thankfully he managed to find it again so no harm done.  Next we dived the Marcus which has a cargo of Italian tiles.  We finished the day with a night dive around Sha'ab Abu Nuhas reef.  It was The Boy's 300th dive and a little squid made it memorable by panicking and taking off like a rocket, inking all the way.

We had a full day of wrecks the following day - the Carnatic, the Ghiannis D, the Ulysses and the Barge at Gobal Island for our night dive.  We had our first distant sighting of dophins at Gobal Island.  Some of the wrecks were absolutely full of fish.  Believe it or not, The Boy is at the other side of this wall of Glassfish.  If you look hard you can just see part of his mask:


The wall opens up and there he is:


The next morning, our pre-breakfast dive was around Bluff Point.  We were taking our time, waking up gently when, all of a sudden, something big started to appear in the distance...... and we all got excited when we realised it was a pod of dolphins:


I was too excited to get decent photos but The Boy managed to film them.  They appeared from nowhere, swam around us for a couple of minutes then vanished into the blue.  Amazing!  That's me with the bright pink fins in the video.



Below is the view we had from the rib on our way back to Tiger Lily from a late afternoon dive with the sun setting on the Loullia wreck.  We had been diving at the opposite side of Gordon Reef.


We dived the wrecks of the Kingston and the Thistlegorm on our way back to Sharm.  The Thistlegorm is a very big wreck and we did three dives on her as there is so much to see.  Our very last dive was at Small Crack, for which we discarded out wetsuits for a team photo (which I will add when I find it).  We said goodbye to all our new friends, including this ray:


All in all, a wonderful holiday and an awesome experience.  The crew on Tiger Lily were fantastic and looked after us all really well, especially Kareem, our scuba diving guide for the week.  Thanks for a great time.

As a wee p.s., I read a book for the second time after my trip to the Red Sea, not something I do often but it had a lot more meaning for me after visiting the Red Sea.  The Boy reminded me about it on the flight home.  It used to only be available in Kindle format but is now available in print for those who prefer it.  It's an enlightening read.  It's called Lost Wife, Saw Barracuda by John Kean.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A Ring For Jackie

Here is my first blog of 2013.  I was kind of busy at the end of 2012.  I had a request to make a ring so I set about it just before Christmas.  The first thing to do was to size it correctly so I measured Jackie's finger and determined he was a size G.  That was the easy part.  I was making the ring from metal clay, which shrinks by 8-9% when it is fired in a kiln so the ring has to be made bigger to allow for shrinkage.  I keep a log of everything I make so that I can learn from experience.  As you can see from my calculations below, a size K was about the perfect size to shrink to a G.


And here is the 'before' photo.  This is the piece of silver clay that I used to make the ring.  it doesn't look like much does it?  It looks more like a piece of chewing gum than anything related to silver but this will be transformed into a Fine Silver (99.9% silver) ring.

First the clay has to be kneaded and softened, taking care not to dry it out in the process.  Even the heat from your hands can be enough to dry it out so it's usually kneaded inside a piece of cling film.  Once it was softened it was time to shape it.  For a textured ring, I would roll it out with a tiny plastic roller and use a texture mat to give it a pattern.  This time I wanted a smooth ring with a groove so I decided to use a mould.  I used plastic moulding material that is softened by hot water and a bamboo knitting needle to create a rounded ring mould then let it cool down to harden.


When the mould had hardened I removed the knitting needle then coated the surface lightly with olive oil to prevent the clay from sticking.  I rolled the clay into a snake shape and pressed it firmly into the mould.  After a couple of minutes, I carefully prised it out of the mould and laid it carefully on my cutting tile where I used a very sharp blade to carefully cut off any excess clay.  Next, I wrapped a ring paper around my ring mandrel and marked it where it was size K.  The next step is the tricky one.  This is where I had to drape my tiny clay snake round the ring paper and carefully turn the mandrel until the two ends overlapped then cut through the two layers where I wanted the ends of the ring to join.  I got there in the end and carefully removed the ring, still on the paper, so that it could dry.


Next is the time consuming part - waiting for it to dry then sanding and shaping it, inspecting for dents, cracks, etc. and fixing them, waiting for it to dry again and then repeating the process until it looks the way it should.  The clay is very delicate in this state so great care has to be taken not to break it or it's back to the drawing board.  After a few days of this routine it was almost ready to fire in the kiln but there was one more thing I needed to do.  The ring was supposed to have a groove all the way round so I carefully marked the location of the groove with a pencil.  I used a very fine, sharp sculpting tool to start off the groove then made it wider and deeper with a diamond file.  I fetched my kiln, set it up put the ring on a piece of firing blanket on the shelf and switched it on.  Silver clay needs to be fired at a minimum temperature of 650 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes so I'd to wait just over 20 minutes for the kiln to reach temperature then start timing it.  Here is the 'cooked' ring.


Yes, I know.  It doesn't look a whole lot different from the uncooked version you saw a couple of paragraphs ago.  To begin the transformation it needs to be brushed first with a brass wire brush.  This results in a matt / satin silver finish.  I gave the inside of the ring a gentle rub with some very fine sandpaper then checked it with the ring guage.  Size G  - perfect!  I started to polish it inside and out using a metal burnisher to bring it to a glossy shine and here is the finished article:


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fantastic Farnes

Last year Ace Divers arranged a trip to the Farne Islands and I was gutted that the trip was full before I could get my name on the list.  Fortunately, another trip was arranged for this year and my name was first on the list.  The Boy started a new job this month and for a few days it looked like he might not be able to go so I was preparing myself for having to go without him.  In the end it all worked out and we were both able to go.

We headed off early on Friday morning to the harbour in Seahouses, Northumberland in search of the "big white cat" that turned out to be the Serenity II, a lovely dive boat with a diver lift - heaven! We passed Bamburgh Castle on the way.  It looked like it could give Edinburgh Castle a run for it's money.  Awesome!  Must go back and explore it some time.  When we arrived at the harbour we paid our £4 for a day's parking, assembled our scuba gear and carried it all on to the Serenity.  There was a bit more room that I'm used to on a dive boat.  I'm used to boats that are fully loaded with 12 divers but the Serenity took 15 of us and still had space for more.

As we headed out towards the Longstone / Outer Farne lighthouse one of the crew gave me a bit of the background and history of the area.  There are a lot of sea birds in the area but, for divers, it's probably most famous for it's seal population.  We could see the odd seal popping it's head above the water on the journey. It didn't take too long to reach our destination and soon we were all kitted up and ready to jump in.  I was in a buddy team with The Boy and Niall so the three of us did our deep water entries off the lift for our first dive.  Niall was so busy protecting his camera that he forgot to hold his mask.  I got to the bottom and realised I'd left my dive computer on the boat.  On any other dive that could have been a big problem but we knew that to see the seals we had to stay shallow so it was just annoying not having it.  Ironically Niall's camera housing flooded as soon as he got to the bottom so no photos for him.

It didn't take long for the first seals to appear.  I think there were maybe 3 or 4 of them, but they were very playful and interactive.


That's me in the bottom left corner:


 They loved The Boy's white Seawings:



They were all juvenile seals and, like any human baby, they explore by having a nibble.  You swim along looking for seals and suddenly you feel like you're kicking something with your fin. You turn round to look and find there's a seal attached to one of your fins.

Black Seawings were nearly as popular as white. Niall having his fins nibbled:



This one was heading for me:


I couldn't work out what it was doing but apparently it was nibbling my hood.  I think it liked the white logo:


The Boy managed to coax them in quite close:



At one point Niall and I had to try and hold The Boy down and manhandle his integral weights back into place after they tried to part company with him.  Thankfully we managed to avoid a rapid ascent.  Eventually we made a deliberate ascent to get back on board the cat.  The skipper tied up on one of the islands while we had lunch in a calm little bay and the crew made us tea and coffee.

After a reasonable surface interval, we got kitted up for dive number 2.  I made sure I took my dive computer this time.  The tide was coming in so the skipper dropped us in the shelter of some rocks and told us to stay behind them out of the current.  We were also advised to drop down straight away rather than waiting for the whole buddy team to get into the water before descending.  That dive was a bit of a weird experience.  Most of the dive took place at a depth of between 3 and 5 metres, so almost the whole dive was a safety stop. What was weird was the washing machine effect of the current.We could all feel ourselves being moved back and forth in the surge but we were in the middle of a kelp forest which was also moving in the surge.  Unfortunately, the kelp wasn't moving the same way as we were so the whole effect felt extremely odd and, for the first time, I felt sea sick under the water.  The cause of the sea-sickness:



There were a lot more seals this time but they weren't as interactive as the ones we saw on the first dive.  We would come across each other swimming through the kelp:



The seals in action:



This one was vertical in the water, nose to lens with the camera housing:


Eventually we called it a day and decided to surface.  The Boy inflated his SMB to show the boat where we were and we started to ascend.  Then he turned round and showed me a reel with a broken line and no SMB attached.  Fortunately I had my own SMB and reel so I inflated my SMB and we ascended to the surface.  The Boy was not amused at losing his SMB.  The boat picked us up and we scanned the sea for something bright orange and horizontal (as an SMB with a diver attached below it would be vertical) and ..... we found it!  The skipper took the boat round and picked up the escaped SMB so The Boy could smile again.  At least now he only needs to buy a new line, not an SMB and line.

We counted heads on the boat, decided we were still a few divers short, and went in search of SMBs again.  There were a few dive boats in the area, not to mention quite a few curious seals on the surface, so it was a bit of a challenge deciding from a distance which heads belonged to divers rather than seals and which ones were our divers.  Happily, we found everyone fairly quickly and got them all back on board.

We all had a great day.  Thank you to Martin for another fantastic diving trip.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Basking Shark Safari in the Sound of Mull

Slightly later than planned, here is the story of my latest adventure.  I've been waiting almost a year for this one.  After last year's trip to the Sound of Mull to do some wreck diving, Martin at Ace Divers organised another trip to find basking sharks and to do some more wreck diving.  I was really excited about the thought of actually being able to see some of these fantastic creatures in the wild and in the flesh.  For the uninitiated, basking sharks only eat plankton, unlike their kin folk who get all the (unfair) bad press.  Martin was checking up all of the news on marine wildlife sightings in the area and it was looking hopeful for being able to see basking sharks.

The plan was to drive up to Lochaline on Friday via the Corran Ferry crossing and dive off the West Pier at Lochaline in the afternoon.  We'd then stay the night at Morvern Dive Lodge in Lochaline and board the Peregrine on Saturday morning to search for basking sharks.  We'd be staying overnight on Tiree then diving on the wreck of the Tapti and any other wrecks whose locations fitted in with the tides on Sunday.

Here is a view of the quaint little lighthouse at Corran from the ferry.


We arrived as planned, found the dive lodge after a slight detour, and headed down to the West Pier to dive along the wall there.  There were shoals of tiny fish there as well as the usual shell-clad suspects and plant life.  The Boy tried to scare me by messing about with the valves on his newly acquired twinset and unexpectedly slipping down a few metres.  Thankfully he came back up none the worse for wear.  Exiting the water at West Pier:


Just after we came out of the water someone spotted two porpoises not far from the shore so Martin and I grabbed fins, snorkels and masks and ran back into the water but we were too late.  The porpoises were more interested in following the ferry than playing with us.  A seal popped up as well, too far away for us to reach.  We all went to the Lochaline Hotel afterwards and I had a lovely meal of local produce : Cullen Skink followed by seared scallops and finished off with Cranachan topped with fresh raspberries (like I really needed a dessert).

The next morning we were all down at the harbour by 9:00 to load our gear on the Peregrine.  Malcolm, the skipper welcomed us on board and set off for Tiree and Coll.  We passed the Rubha Nan Gall lighthouse on the way out of the Sound of Mull:



That's when the spotters got the binoculars out and started their vigil.  Martin got a bit excited when he spotted ......... a big clump of of floating seaweed.  The cormorants floating amongst the waves caused a fair few false alarms as well.  They did a fairly good impression of a fin in the water.  The spotters:







After four hours of false alarms we were getting less excited about stuff in the water and I think we were all beginning to believe we'd never find a basking shark.  And then..... we saw this:


This photo tested the zoom on my slightly ancient camera to its limit.  Thankfully this was only the first of many.  Everyone rushed to one side of the boat to try and catch a glimpse and a photo.  Almost as soon as we spotted a shark it would change direction or submerge so photographing them was a real challenge.  In the end, I came home with lots of photos of water, a few photos of shark fins and no photos of actual sharks.  For such big creatures they move surprisingly fast.  Fin:


If you look REALLY hard you can just see the mottled pattern on the shark's body through the water.  Sadly, the plankton bloom that brings the sharks to the surface to feed makes it kind of hard to see them in the water.  Allegedly, while I was paying attention to sharks, a Minke whale breached a little distance away from the boat.  And I missed it.  I also missed it the second time it breached because I was on the other side of the boat taking a photo of the Cairns of Coll lighthouse:



There was a lone basking shark swimming near the lighthouse and he was a big 'un so we stopped to watch him for a while:



This is the only video footage that The Boy managed to get before he started drowning when his snorkel fell apart in the water.  :)  All I saw when I got into the water was his fins in the distance and the occasional bubble.




By the time we'd finished basking shark spotting it had become clear that we weren't going to be able to land on Tiree to stay the night thanks to a south-easterly wind.  So it was a four hour sail back to Lochaline and back the Lochaline Hotel for another lovely meal.  As a result we weren't able to dive on the Tapti.  Never mind, there's always next year, but I got to see basking sharks!  We also passed the Ardnamurchan lighthouse on the way back to the Sound of Mull.  The scenery in that part of the world is stunning.

On Sunday we were back at Lochaline Harbour ready to board the Peregrine again for a days diving.  Kit all ready and waiting:


We didn't travel so far this time.  We started off by diving the wreck of the Thesis.  Next was the Hispania.  The Hispania is the very first wreck I ever dived on and it's amazing.  We had to wait 45 minutes or so for a slack tide before we could get into the water and we found we were in competition with the Sound Diver which also had a a full load of eager divers.  There was a bit of light hearted banter going back and forth between the two skippers while we waited.  In the end, our wee Peregrine was in the right place at the right time so we were able to dive first.  This time I was 70 dives more experienced and felt a whole lot more comfortable and relaxed than the last time.  The skipper offered to take us to the wreck of the Rondo for a final dive but with the prospect of a three hour drive home we reluctantly decided to call it a day.

All in all we had a great weekend.  Thank you to Martin at Ace Divers for arranging it all.  Our names will be on the list again for next year.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A day at the races

It's probably not the kind of races you were thinking of.  The Boy spent Friday an Saturday at Innerleithen pracitising for the IXS World Cup.  That means downhill mountain biking.  We had torrential rain both days so The Boy phoned on Saturday to suggest that I might want to try and buy myself a pair of wellies for coming to watch him in Sunday's race.  I managed to find these ones, specially chosen for their extra wide legs, so that I could tuck my trousers into them:


On Sunday we got up early and drove to Innerleithen.  The normal car park was closed and competitors were being directed to a field down the road.  This is what the car like after driving 200 metres across the field to park:

There were more practice runs in the morning so The Boy prepared his bike and got kitted up ready for the practice.  I got my shiny, clean, new wellies on ready to go and watch.  The Boy, ready to go:


I teamed up with his friend's girlfriend, and the beasts - Z'ed, Odin and Sura to go in search of a place to watch the boys practicing.
Short dog hair was definitely the best option as the mud didn't stick to it in quite same way as it did to the long hair.  I didn't envy their owner the job of cleaning them afterwards.  We took a walk past the other car park and headed up the hill.  Eventually the path was blocked with coloured tape, a sure sign we'd reached part of the race track, so we stopped to watch for a while.  Just next to where we stopped was a stream that had to be crossed by the racers, with a very muddy, slippery looking bank at the other side.  A few poor riders came acropper there, one poor soul landing upside down in the water, still attached to his bike.  Eventually, we moved further up the hill to a spot next to a corner and a steep drop-off.  I think we managed to miss the boys while we were changing our viewing position. When we were sure we'd missed them, we headed down towards the finishing line and ploughed through the ankle deep mud at the entrance to the field.  We found the boys jet-washing their bikes.  I noticed The Boy had a graze on his cheek.  It turned out he'd misjudged the jump at the end of the track, just before the finish line and this happened:

 I missed it, of course, but a lovely Swedish lady who was photographing the Swedish downhill team caught it.  Apparently the handlebars hit him in the face at some point during this tumble. Here's the cleaned up version of the wound:


 Yes, that is his face after cleaning it.  Somehow he seems to have avoided a full-on black eye.  He had a puncture to repair before the actual race so he busied himself with that and checked his bike over before the main event:


My wellies were faring slightly better than The Boy's clothes at this point, but only just:


While we waited for the main event to start, the dogs got bored.  That's when Odin managed to roll in one of the plentiful cow pats and got unmentionable stuff all over that lovely long hair.  Z'ed decided to walk through the cow pats then jump up on me.  Thank goodness for waterproof trousers and baby wipes.

We ploughed through the ankle deep mud again to find a decent vantage point to watch the boys racing.  A marshall suggested a good place to watch it from and gave us directions to get there.  Unfortunately he neglected to mention that the route involved negotiating a very steep hill that seemed to go on forever.  Tiny Z'ed was extremely enthusiastic and did his best to haul me up the hill.  It was still hard work though.  I thought my face was going to explode with the effort.  Eventually we got there, just in time to see The Boy fly past.  I hadn't quite got to grips with how to set 'Action Mode' on my camera so that I could just press the button and the shutter would keep on taking photos.  So this is my feeble attempt at catching him in action:


Yes, his shoulder and elbow were all I caught before he disappeared out of view, down the hill.  At least they were in focus.   I played with my camera a bit more, got no shots that were worth the effort and went back to the finish line to find the boys again.  We 'walked' back down the Gold Run.  Anyone who has been to Innerleithen will know what that is.  It's a very steep, narrow trail with lots of roots and bumps and was a challenge for someone as clumsy as me, especially with a very enthusiastic Z'ed on the end of his leash bounding down in front of me. We all made it in one piece and, eventually, found the boys.  My washing machine is going to be hard at work trying to clean all the clothes.  Look at the state my wellies and I were in by the end of the day:


Now I'm off to take advantage of the sunshine and get the clothes hung out to dry.