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    Trip to Oban 2005

    Wednesday night had Jenny Cowling and John Ollerton arriving at my house where they were going to crash for the night in preparation for a 05.30am start to Seahouses for a mixed gas dive on the Buka, a very pretty wreck in about 43m of water.

    This all went off splendidly and later that afternoon 10 very happy GUE divers arrived back on Seahouses harbour, packed their respective kit and then went their separate ways, myself Jen and John were heading directly over to Oban to spend a long weekend on a liveboard.

    The drive over was very pleasant, we went around Edinburgh, past Stirling and onto Oban, this was the first time that I'd driven this way to Oban dictated by the fact that we were already so far up the east coast at Seahouses but it has now become my route of choice. We'd expected our ETA to be about 19.30 but actually got there about an hour earlier and parked up on the North Pier next to our home for the next three days, which was the MV Loyal Mediator.

    Jen introduced me to George the skipper who I have to say is THE most impressive skipper/cook/washer/gas filler/arsekicker and all round good bloke that I've ever had the good fortune to meet... over the weekend I became convinced that there was more than one of him, identical triplets maybe, I base this theory on the fact that it seemed simply impossible to achieve what George achieved alone, but infact he did.

    Anyway... with Jen and I being the first to arrive, I snaffled a neat little 2 man cabin at the front of the ship for myself, and my non-snoring mate Dave Dowson who was turning up later. Jen grabbed the remaining 2 man cabin all to herself as she was the only female on the gig, which seemed fair... Plus you don't want to argue with a woman now do you, the rest of the gang were going to be hold up together in an 8 man bunk area… thank god I was early

    Shortly after we’d arrived John Ollerton pulled up beside our car, followed thereafter by Gary Moffat who was accompanied by our Norwegian guest Eirik Kjos. Eirik is well known and respected within the European DIR community and is a serious cave diver who is currently working in Edinburgh, we were fortunately able to gather a load of equipment from far and wide to enable Eirik to join us on this gig, even down to Phill (NikNak) supplying a 24w Salvo beast for him to use…. Spoilt or what!! J

    After a wander around Oban, and laughing at Eirik’s shock horror at the deep fried and battered gastronomical delights supplied by a Scottish chippie, we returned to the Mediator for a few beers and some banter, soon to be joined by Phil Osborn (PhilO) who’d just completed a 10 hour mega journey to join us…

    Everyone was knackered and so we hit the sack early ready for the next day... In the early hours I'm in bed and can hear someone moving around up on deck, thinking I'm back in Teesside and that some robbing scrote is after my gear, I'm out of bed in a flash and run up the ladder to confront said scrote...

    Imagine my delight when I see a weary looking Phill (NikNak) Hopkins looking back down at me from high up on the harbour wall and Rick Huggins emerging from the other side of the ship with a big cheesy grin on his face.. lots of backslapping and excited chatter followed whilst we lowered some of their kit down and I then showed them down to the galley, pointed out their 8 man bunk room (sniggering to myself…. how glad was I that I'd snaffled the 2 man pit earlier?, the snoring was already horrendous and only a couple of the bunks were filled)…. I then pulled a couple of colds beers out of the fridge to welcome the guys on board, had a bit of a banter with them for a while and then went off back to my bed.

    Friday morning arrives and I'm woken by the sound of the engines firing up and the call that breakfast is ready, as I hit topside (<<-- ooh get me, talking all ship like) I see my best mate Dave Dowson had just arrived after driving through the night, more banter and back slapping followed and we’re down into the galley for breakfast

    After breakfast, which was a truly awesome but not very DIR full english fry up, we started to build our rigs on the various benches that are spread around the vessel deck, all the while taking in the passing views of the surrounding mountains and ocean of what must be Gods own favourite place on Earth.

    We'd arranged to have four J's of O2 delivered so we were ok for 32% for the whole gig and upon analysing my mix I wondered just how this guy George was able to cook breakfast, clean the table, drive the ship and fill the tanks (to a perfect mix) all at the same time... This was to become a regular pondering as everything was ‘always’ perfect ‘all’ of the time, at ‘just’ the right time..

    Our first dive was going to be the Thesis, a wreck I had fond memories of as the last time I'd dived her a couple of years back I was a massively over weighted and relatively inexperienced club diver who had just had a near death experience (at least my most terrifying experience) on a wreck called the Rondo and my confidence had been shot to pieces... Fortunately the Thesis brought back my love of diving within two hours of scaring the pants off myself earlier that same day on the Rondo, and so as I prepared my rig I was really looking forward to seeing an old friend again, especially now that I was much more experienced and trained.

    As Phill (NikNak) Hopkins only experience was in the bluer, more tropical side of diving, I was looking forward to introducing him to the UK salty stuff, he was teamed with myself and Jenny for the first few dives to break him in so to speak... I'd promised him some amazing viz and bucketloads of life, but as we hit the shot and I could only see a couple of metres of it I knew I'd be letting him down..

    We descended slowly letting the other teams pass us thereby allowing Phil to get over the shock of not being able to see bugger all, but finally the Thesis came into view, unfortunately it looked nothing like I remembered my last dive on her.. It was much darker, less colourful, more silt and very little life, but no matter as we still had a really good dive on her.

    Keeping Phil as No.2 between the two more experienced members of the team we got down and into the wreck where the openness of the whole thing allows even inexperienced divers to have a great little rummage around inside, while enabling comforting views of the outside between the spars and all of the missing plates..

    We called the dive after 30 minutes and I wondered just how Phil would cope with free ascending in darkness, limited viz and with no reference points except his buddies, I’d previously discussed giving him the spool to help with his ascent but as it happened he didn’t need it, Jen controlled the spool and Phill just free ascended, he did extremely well and was able to hold station at all times. Back on the boat (ship?) everyone was buzzing about the dive and Phill was grinning like someone insane, banging on about how good it was, I apologised and told him that I'd been very disappointed with the viz and the limited life to which Phill barked

    "I don't care, that was effing brilliant!" (So….It looks like he was pleased then) J

    Somehow George had been able to monitor the proceedings, manoeuvre his ship around the sound, and pick up all of his divers, all whilst magically producing two mountains of sandwiches and a bath full of soup...

    A surface interval and another unseen 32% fill later, we're ready to go again, but this time it’s on a wreck called the Breda...

    The Breda is one of those wrecks that is dived by just about anyone who’s ever dived in the waters in and around Oban, partly because it is simple to access being relatively close to shore, it’s also shallow making it a perfect dive for the new diver to cut their teeth on… I myself have dived the Breda a couple of times before (as the previously described over weighted and inexperienced club diver) and those times I found it to be a low viz, rather gloomy and a slightly eerie dive... Before this particular dive I was about to do I’d only ever swam over it and around it, the holds being immediately silted out by other divers dropping into them and very quickly kicking the shit out of the viz making them a no go area, so circling the wreck had been the order of the day back then.

    So… Once more Jen and I are teamed with young NikNak and in we go, when we hit the wreck I'm suprised at the viz.... it’s good!.. It’s bloody good!... the wreck was bathed in whites and oranges and looked really pretty.. “Is this the same wreck?” I wondered, so straight away we drop down into one of the holds (retaining the viz I might add ) and have a good look around, Jen points into a deep dark narrow section and gives me the glug glug bottle sign indicating that this is a hold that had originally contained some cool bottles of grog, so I fin in while Jen holds station with Phill at the entrance, the silt in there was treacherously soft and even gently trying to remove bits of bottle was going to wipe the viz out, so I left them alone and moved over the silt bed into the farthest corners looking here and there all the while being very careful not to disturb the talcum powder fine silt

    After a while of probing into dark corners I returned empty handed to the light and my waiting buddy’s only to see Jen thumbing the dive... L

    WTF!!! My heart immediately sank as this was looking like a great dive and I couldn't understand what was wrong, but you don’t argue with the thumb and as we're ascending I'm informed that Phil’s suit is flooding fast, so we get to the surface and get Phil back onboard the Mediator (total dive time was 22 minutes)

    Jen and I had already agreed on the ascent using an array of frantic underwater signals that we were going to get straight back down, we had loads of gas left and the conditions were perfect, so after George had manoeuvred the bloody big boat back around and brought us in close to the buoy again, we once more did a giant stride off of Mediator for what was to become..

    My very best dive... ever!!!.

    Now Jen is a great diver with excellent skills and is probably one of the most attentive buddy’s I've had the good fortune to dive with, but what makes her even more special in this circumstance is that she has been on the Breda about 40 times thanks to the facts that she’d previously worked in Oban (for George the skipper, on his previous liveaboard) and the fact that she has dived with her club there over many New Years spending sometimes five days in a row diving just the Breda from the camp site shore using their club RIB

    The Result.... Jenny knows every inch of the insides of this little beauty and I was about to be led through places that I and probably many other divers didn't even know existed. What helped to make this dive so special though was that it was the first time that all of the skills that we've worked so hard on together with GUE, getting up to and finally through Tech 1 came together allowing us to move through the ship without issue. As we glided through the tight, dark sections of the Breda (And later the Shuna and Hispania..) but especially the Breda... being able to move through areas where our bellies were only inches above deep soft silt and our fins sculling only inches from the roof required everything that we'd work on for so long. Loss of buoyancy or an errant fin kick and the viz would be reduced anywhere from low to zero. But as it was, everything came into play beautifully and it was the only the rust flakes falling from the steel above due to percolation that tainted the viz.

    The Breda has five accessible holds and each hold is split into layers, many of these also being accessible giving awesome amounts of access and swim throughs, travelling from layer to layer, hold to hold is just bloody awesome, although there were a couple of times when a voice in my head was showing concern and whispering “we should be running line” as we were presented with yet another twist or turn, but in reality we were never more than a few metres from an exit point or an opening and there was never any possibilities of taking a wrong turn.

    Jen has an uncanny ability to be aware of where she is at all times on a wreck, whereas I’m just generally lost, unless I can see a sharp end, or a round end its all a bit confusing for a landlubber like myself. Thanks to this talent and her knowledge of the ship Jen was constantly able to keep me informed of where we were, what hold we were about to break out into etc. although on dive two of the Breda I’m reliably informed that we hit virgin territory, even for her. J

    This wonderful dive lasted for 73 minutes, most of which was spent inside the wreck working our way from one end to the other, eventually we came to the end of the dive and ascended up the shot, surfacing to see the Mediator standing off a couple of hundred yards away with a bow full of buddy’s waving back at us

    So there you go… My most enjoyable dive, ever! And it was on the Breda for gawd sake!! Who would of guessed it?!? I spent the rest of the weekend fighting off everyone who wanted Jenny to buddy ‘them’ after I told the tales of my guided tour inside and around the wreck… LOL.. no way josé, find your own…

    So end of day one’s diving and as we steamed back into port to pick up the last of our merry crew (Andy Bryson and Brian Donaghy) we all stood at the bow laughing and grinning like kids at xmas, the weather was great, the sea was flat, life was good I actually felt quite emotional and it was still only Friday with the whole weekend ahead

    Saturday dawned similar to the day before, engines fired up, breakfast already prepared and we’re heading up the Sound of Mull, our first dive of the day was to be the Rondo.. For those that don’t know the Rondo she sits near vertically in about 50m of water, leaning against the sheer face of an island in the Sound..

    Not a lot to say about this dive really…. Other than it was pretty naff and frustrating for me… Multiple boats and diver soup just made everything a bit confusing and rather ugly, unknown divers from other boats were dropping like stones or just swimming right between the team and communication became a nightmare, we three also stayed shallow on this dive as the black as night drop down to 50m unnerved young Phill a little (it was only his second low viz UK dive after all) and so we never really got onto the wreck proper and stayed shallow up in the daylight area, because of this we were also in the thick of it most of the time with all of the other divers, eventually I thumbed the dive as I’d had enough and was just getting pissed off with being dropped on and swam through.

    Second dive was to be on the Hispania, a dive I was really looking forward to as I’ve only ever heard good things about her but had never had the opportunity to dive her before. It was agreed that Phil would join another team for this dive as it was the intention for Jen and myself to get inside of this wreck too, especially after the Breda’s experience.

    We dropped down the shot, the current was running slightly but not too bad. We then finned along the deck towards the bow, past lots of winches and holds, took a look at the bow and then dropped over the side and swam along looking at the railings and the mast which has fallen sideways and hangs over the edge of the ship. We swam along the walkway at the side of the wheelhouse and around to the stern holds. We carefully dropped into these holds and moved through them investigating nooks and cranny’s again careful not to disturb the silt as we progressed.. On the bottom hold level you can get into the engine room but as there’s lots of twisted wreckage in there and it needs proper line work to penetrate it we moved on.

    On the level above this, there’s a swim through (already lined) which runs beside the engine room and into the hold to the front of the mid-ships accommodation, with an I-beam at the far end which makes for a really neat restricted exit that you can just squeeze through, moving through this area was really sweet and the odd holes in the plates allowed us to see the other teams HID’s moving around outside, it was really surreal, really cool.. We slowly finned around the next hold, and returned to the previous hold again by a wider swim through and around the side of the engine room once again but this time on the starboard side.

    Up onto the deck once more and then off the stern and down to the big rudder and propshaft (minus prop) covered in white and orange plumose anemones. Some of the teams had decided that they may go scalloping at the end of this dive and it was at this point that Jen signalled should we go join them, I was having none of it I’m afraid as I wanted to get back inside the wreck again (I’ve found that I absolutely love exploring the ‘inside’ of wrecks) a few signals later and we were back up and into the Hispania, we covered all the holds and the deck once more (this time with me as number one and Jen behind.. no doubt checking out my cute ass..) :p

    The current was running much more quickly by the time we’d finished and so after making it all the way to the front of the bow, I bagged off and we ascended with Jen running deco.

    Another truly excellent dive.

    As we steamed into Tobermory for the evening, (What a beautiful place) I’m standing at the bow of the ship chatting to my young son over the mobile, telling him that we’re pulling into Balamory. (Tobermory/Balamory!! Confused?? Well Tobermory is where the childrens program ‘Balamory’ is filmed) and he’s describing Alistair’s house to me and asking if I can see it… and I’m replying yes as I was wondering “Who the hell is Alistair??”

    Anyway…. as we steamed in, the sea was like glass and the air deathly still, it was overcast and the rain fell silently making little shapes on the surface of the flat waters, yet we’d had reports of force 8’s coming in for the next day, hard to imagine in the stillness of the evening.. so plans were made that the next day we would dive off Calve Island which would be protected from the winds, followed hopefully by a second dive but we didn’t yet know where as the weather would dictate that decision, but guess what!.. Sunday dawned with little wind and reasonably flat seas… Woohoo!! The Weather Gods were smiling upon us once more J

    So.. plans were quickly changed again and we set off to dive the Shuna followed once more by the Breda, making her the last dive, reasons being that we’d all really enjoyed diving her on the Friday, she was also in protected waters in the bay should the weather become nasty and she was also close to Oban itself, facilitating an earlier packing up session and a early flyer home..

    So, onto the Shuna first, we dropped down onto what I think was the top of the superstructure above the engine room and then swam across to the starboard side of the ship and headed towards the bow, following the gunwhales along to the bow (which is very cool as the ship is bolt upright and the bow runs straight down into the sea bed about 8 or so metres below us). At the bow the decking is rotted away, which allowed us to drop inside into a small room with a silty floor and a couple of hawsepipes (the tubes the anchor chain runs through from the deck to the holes in the side of the bow). From there, we moved back along the decks towards the stern, dropping into and investigating each hold as we went (or at least all the holds that weren’t still full of coal). Through a nice swim through on the bridge, over the top of the engine room and then to the stern, dropping over the edge and underneath the impressive overhang to take a look at the very cool rudder and unmistakeable prop, complete with lovely white anemones with orange middles. Enjoyed a gentle narcosis buzz while hanging in the dark at 30m then back onto the deck of the stern to take a look at the spare prop (two props in one dive!!), and more mooching along the deck and the holds until we bagged of for some deco… One great dive after another!

    It was during this dive that it became apparent to me just how good the GUE training is, (Although a caveat to that statement is that all agency’s are capable of training divers to the same standard) all the divers in the group were showing great skills.. We had moved right into this particular hold that was very narrow vertically, upright stanchions every few feet and laden once more with a thick bed of the softest grey silt. It required great care moving through here, sculling so far along a section and then Jen having to do a careful 90 degree heli turn and moving off a bit further, followed by myself moving into position and then turning the same 90 and following her.. we worked our way through in this manner until we reached a point that required we come back on our selves, with me now having to lead out.

    As I turned I could see three more HID’s working their way through the blackness of the narrow hold towards us… At first I feared that this may get a bit tricky but all that happened was that we both held station near the stanchions on the left, leaving room to our right and Gary Moffat, Eirik and John Ollerton came skulling past, finite buoyancy control all round, an exchange of ‘OK’ light signals and they were past.. We then both moved on to the exit over the ‘still’ undisturbed silt even after five divers had swam over it with only inches to spare, me grinning like crazy as I suddenly realised that “Hey! As a bunch of divers we’re not too shabby, not too shabby at all”

    GUE’s policy of working on buoyancy and none silting techniques finally shone through, and all those hours spent in freezing quarries practising our asses off finally paid dividends…

    All too soon this dive was over and we only had one more to look forward to before the weekend came to a close. Lunch and another fill later and we were circling the Breda, the teams were ready and on the blast of the horn strode off the Mediator and into the sea for the last time..

    Whats to say… nothing really as it was just another great dive, once more we went from one end to the other investigating inside and outside until finally it was over, there was a current running at the end and we just let it push us horizontally off the wreck and as we drifted away, backwards, shoulder to shoulder, looking back at the wreck until it faded into nothingness I was filled with mixed emotions, of course I had all of the great highs but also an overpowering sadness knowing that it was all over and it might be a year or more before I was back here again…

    I didn’t need to worry though as we’ve already arranged two more gigs for 2006 Yah!!, the first starting early May bank holiday..

    So there you go, if you stuck with this write up this far then well done, my hat is off to you, and thanks for reading it.

    Best Regards
    Last edited by Clare; January 5th, 2006 at 02:55 PM.



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