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

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

First dive of 2012

Apologies for my lack of communication.  It's been almost 3 months.  Having a real job again has put paid to an awful lot of my leisure time.  So, what have I been up to since October?  This and that.  Apart from gifts for friends and family my jewellery making has mostly had to take a back seat for now, although I have had time to make a few new things.  The weather has been too awful for cycling and I don't have time to go to the gym any more.  I have still been diving - yes, at this time of year, in Scotland.  During November and December I was working towards my PADI Rescue diver certification.  As a result of achieving that and several other PADI specialities and having logged more than 50 dives I am also now a PADI Master Scuba Diver. Woohoo! Go me!

Don't think that because it's now officially winter the diving has stopped.  The Boy and I are still managing to dive every week or two.  We made sure we had enough full air cylinders to be able to dive throughout Christmas and New Year while we were on holiday.  On 2nd January eight of us had our first dive(s) of 2012.  The plan was to drive to The Slates at Ballachulish in the west of Scotland.  It's a former slate quarry and a pretty good dive site.  Even I can get in & out of the water there without too much trouble.

Sadly, the weather forecast was for snow at Ballachulish which meant the 3 hour drive could turn out to be impassible.  We had a bit of a confab and decided to try for St Catherine's on Loch Fyne instead. It's almost as long a drive but as long as we could get past the Rest and Be Thankful the road is more accessible.

When we set off it was cool, verging on cold, and damp.  It seemed no worse by the time we reached Arrochar so we carried on.  As we approached the Rest and Be Thankful pass the weather took a turn for the worse and the road started to look like this:

Thankfully, once we reached the other end of the pass the snow turned to rain and the journey was less of a white knuckle ride.  We drove through the village of St Catherine's and turned off on to the old road that serves as a parking area for the dive site.  As we were getting ready for our first dive the wind really started to get up and there were waves on Loch Fyne that looked more suited to surfing that scuba diving. Here we are getting into the water:

This little video taken by The Boy might give you a feel for the surf:

Once we descended into the loch it was a great dive.  We even went back in for a second dive.  There was a surprising amount of aquatic life to be seen.  There were the usual Squat Lobsters, from the teeny to huge ones. This was quite a big one:

There were Velvet crabs, Harbour crabs, Spider crabs, Hermit crabs in all shapes and sizes.  There were loads of fish, a lot more than I've seen in ages including this Ballan Wrasse:

and this Butter Fish that looks like it was posing for the photo: 

Then, on our way back to the surface at the end of our second dive we found a shoal of silvery fish, the first time I've seen more than a handful of fish in one place in Loch Fyne.  Apologies for the lighting in the video, I tried to provide light with my torch while The Boy filmed but, as usual, we weren't always looking in the same direction:

The water was a toasty 10 degrees centigrade compared with the barely above freezing temperature on the shore.  We didn't hang about getting changed. In fact, I packed away my drysuit, kept my thermals on and finally changed into real clothes in the car on the way to pub to fill in our log books.  The Rest and Be Thankful pass was at least being consistent on the way home:

Let's hope this is the start to a fantastic year's diving.