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.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Regal Community Theatre Open Day

I can't believe it's more than two months since I did my last blog post.  I've been a busy girl.  Anyway, I thought I'd tell you about my wee trip to the Regal Community Theatre Open Day at the weekend:

When I was a little girl, The Regal was the only cinema in the town that was still open as a cinema rather than a bingo hall.  I saw Bambi there and Snow White and The Sword in the Stone and loads of other films there when I was growing up.  The last film it showed before it closed was The Tales Of Beatrix Potter.  For the first time ever, my dad paid for seats in the balcony and we sat in the front row to watch that last film.  It was a sad day when it closed.  The Regal cinema in Armadale (a couple of miles away) also closed and was eventually demolished.  I was expecting our local Regal to suffer the same fate but it has re-opened and closed a few times in different guises since then.  It's changed a bit from it's original format and now has a bar, amongst other things, and it's now a community theatre.  It still shows films now and then and also hosts concerts and shows and has it's own resident stage school.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by the organiser of the open day and asked if I would like to rent a table.  Naturally, I said yes...... and then panicked.  Why did I panic?  Because I'd taken only recently a load of jewellery down to Kidzeco to put on display and didn't have a whole lot of stuff left to fill a 6 foot table.  I also had nothing to display jewellery on so I was afraid my table would look a wee bit sad.  So I set to work making some new things to take along with me:

I also splashed out on some displays:

So, on the day, I made a reasonable job of setting out my table:

My stuff needed two huge, wheeled suitcases to transport it, between jewellery and displays.  We had an hour to set up and it took me the WHOLE hour. I have learned some lessons, like don't attach the price tag to the organza bag that is going to be left in a box because it's extremely fiddly and time consuming to remove them. I also need to make some labels to explain what the dreadlock cuffs and phone/bag charms are and make a sign with my shop name on. Doh!  In the end, I had too much stuff with me to fit on the table.

My daughter, aka Missbaah, was able to transport her wares in a small bag.  She was a total smarty pants and was set up in no time:

There were all sorts of events on during the day and customers seemed to arrive in clusters.  I think some may have come in to shelter from the rain rather than to buy but it was still nice to see them.  I think Missbaah and I had a reasonably successful day.  Not a bad experience for my first craft fair.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Save The Whale (and other marine mammals)

I've always been fascinated by wildlife but have never really had the opportunity to interact with many animals apart from the usual household pets.  Scuba diving has given me the chance to see all sorts of varieties of of marine wildlife at close quarters but nothing very big (unless you include sharks at Deep Sea World).  I would love to get up close with dolphins and whales but, so far I've not even come close to seeing any while diving.  The opportunity came up to do a Marine Mammal Medic training course with BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue) so I jumped at the chance.  Thank you to Zan for arranging it and to Debbie for roping the divers in as well.  Thanks also to Rhona for the photos.

Saturday 7th April was the date and I'd to be at Largs in time to catch the 8:15 ferry to Millport on Cumbrae.  To say that was a challenge for me was a total understatement.  Anyone who knows me knows that I really don't do mornings and, as I live on the wrong side of the country, I had to get up at 4:30am to be sure of getting there  on time.  The gallant Allan had offered to drive so, at 5:15am, I set off to drive to his house where we met up with Sam and then picked Angela up on the way to Largs.

We arrived at the University Marine Biological Station in Millport in plenty of time and headed up to the classroom.  The class was more or less a 50-50 split of scuba divers and Glasgow University students studying a subject related to animals.  The course is aimed at members of the public so there is no need to have any prior knowledge of marine animals.  The morning consisted of a video about BDMLR and its work then a lecture on cetaceans by Alistair (Ali) Jack and one on seals by Jamie Dyer.  After lunch we all donned our drysuits and headed to the bay in front of the town for the practical session.  Thankfully the weather was kind to us considering it was a bank holiday weekend, so we weren't being battered by wind and rain.  It didn't look too different from this except there was more sand and less water.  The amount of water vs sand was significant once we started the practical session.

Some wee boys on the beach were having a debate about whether the whale was real or not.  Obviously they missed Angela standing in the water holding a pump while Ali filled our replica victims with sea water before we started.  They investigated all of our practical sessions, acting like we didn't know they were there as they discussed what was going on.  Maybe they thought they were wearing Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility.  The pump:

And the semi-filled whale.  You can just see our wee seal pup in the bottom right:

First job was to learn how to refloat a stranded whale - in this case a water-filled replica Pilot whale weighing over a ton. We all gathered round Ali and the whale on the beach while he demonstrated how to fit the inflatable pontoon around the whale and inflate it.  Then we were split into two teams of 9 to practice what we'd just learned, one team leader and 8 medics.  Team 1 (my team, not that I'm boasting) executed a textbook pontooning (is that a word?).  Sadly, the tide was on it's way out and there was no way we could wait until it came back in to float our pontoon.  That meant we'd to work as a team to move the pontoon down the beach and into the water.  It was hard work but we did it.  It takes an awful long time to get into water much deeper than your ankles at Millport when the tide is out.

Team 2 had a go and then went on to learn how to refloat a dolphin while Team 1 went along the beach to see Jamie and learn how to deal with a seal pup.  We gathered round the very cute looking, water-filled replica pup while Jamie explained how to assess the health of a pup and demonstrated how to get in close enough to examine it and remove it to a place where it can be cared for, if necessary.  Seal pups have teeth and, like any other animal that is injured and scared, it might try to bite a rescuer so it's good to know how to approach it without risking a bite.

Last task of the day for Team 1 was to learn how to assess a dolphin, then use a tarpaulin to transport it back into the sea and refloat it.  Ali explained the procedures and we set about placing our tarpaulin under our water-filled Common Dolphin.  The receding tide and lack of handles on the tarpaulin added a bit of a challenge to the transportation but we still got to the water faster than Team 2, not that I'm boasting. :)  Then we spent some time re-establishing it's equilibrium before letting it go.  Afterwards Ali told us that BDMLR do have dolphin stretchers with handles but at least we know that if we don't have access to one a tarpaulin will do the job just fine.  Our stranded dolphin:

We headed back to the Marine Biological Station to sum up and receive our medic packs that included an ID card, a Marine Mammal Medic Handbook and this rather nifty badge:

We are now, apparently, the West Of Scotland Marine Mammal Medic team and are waiting for our first call-out to go and put our new skills into practice.  Look out stranded marine mammals, we're coming to save you.:)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Getting to know Tinkerbell

I was sitting earlier this evening looking through photos on my Facebook page and I came across a whole album from 1st April 2011 that I'd kind of forgotten about.  I hadn't forgotten the event, only the photos.  It was an event arranged by Martin at Ace Divers.

1st April.  April Fools Day.  The significance of the date didn't escape me as I contemplated what I was going to be doing that day.  I can't deny I was looking forward to it but there was a small, terrified voice in the back of my mind that surfaced occasionally to ask me what on Earth I was doing.  What I was going to be doing was going to Deep Sea World to dive with Tinkerbell and her friends.  Tinkerbell is a Sand Tiger Shark who is over 3 metres long.  Admittedly I'd not heard any horror stories about customers being eaten but I tend to be a bit behind with the news so that meant nothing.

On the day, we arrived with our scuba gear which was swallowed by a huge dumb waiter and transported down a couple of floors below the car park.  We were allowed to bring a couple of guests so we brought Alan and Lomai and thanks to Lomai bringing her camera we have plenty of photos to remember it by.  We were taken into a presentation room and given a briefing about the dive, what to expect, the dos and don'ts,  the most important don't being "don't touch the sharks".  As if I needed to be told!  We were then split into groups of 4 for the dive and The Boy and I (or was it just The Boy?) volunteered to be in group 1.  The good thing about that was that we didn't have time to stand in the tunnel and watch the sharks before we got into the tank beside them, so I was spared this view until after I came out:

I'm not sure whether that's Tink or one of her buddies.  We went to get changed while the other groups went off to the tunnel to watch us.  We didn't need to wear fins as the water is only 3 metres deep in the shark tank so we would be (moon)walking along the bottom rather than swimming.  We jumped into a shallow tank in the quarantine area, did our weight checks then ducked through to the platform we would descend from:

Some of the smaller fish swim around you while you're on the platform and there's a rope to guide you down to the sandy bottom.

Once you get in there you look like a munchkin through the thick, curved glass of the tunnel.  The munchkin in the pink mask is me.  You don't really appreciate how much smaller everything looks from the tunnel until you've seen it all from inside the tank.

As you walk along the sandy bottom you have to keep your eyes open as there are flat fish and rays lying, hiding in the sand & I don't think they'd be too impressed at being stood on.  There were also two Angel sharks when we were there.  Since then, the female has given birth to almost 20 babies so there will be a whole lot more of them to look out for once they're all in the big tank.  There are photos of the babies here: Baby Angel Sharks

You can see a fish half buried in the sand in this photo in front of me & The Boy:

As you can see, we were both kneeling down in the last photo.  That means there must have been a shark nearby.  The Deep Sea World guides who were in the tank with us kept a look out and signalled to us all to kneel if a shark was near.  Like the one below.  It's behind you!

Or, in this case, it's above you!

I did find the view of Tinkerbell's teeth a little worrying when she was directly overhead but she was perfectly well behaved while we were visiting.  The Boy had our  camera and was trying to get a few up close, candid shots:

For a wee bit of authentic atmosphere, check out these videos The Boy took from inside the tank:

And then there's this one:

We had a tour of the shark pool and all it's wee nooks and crannies.  That meant jumping over the tunnel a couple of times.  Once again, the Deep Sea World guides made sure that our way was clear for jumping so that we didn't head butt a shark on the way over the top.  Here's me being ably assisted by Tina:

And here's the live action version:

Oops! I uploaded the wrong video, LOL.  Try this one:

Then it was The Boy's turn.  He managed to avoid the flat fish on top of the tunnel:

Naturally, The Boy couldn't resist messing about, he never can, so he posed for a few photos minus an air supply:

Eventually we went full circle and ended up back where we started so we ascended the rope to get back to the platform and out.

We enjoyed the experience so much we went back and did it all again in September.  The staff at Deep Sea World looked after us extremely well both times (Tina in April and Suzie in September) and the sharks are totally awesome, especially Tinkerbell. I cant wait to see the baby Angel Sharks in the flesh.  I've only seen photos so far.

Check out their Facebook page:  Deep-Sea-World on Facebook