Saturday 6th August – Menai Straits.
Not for the first time this season the planned Wednesday evening dive was blown out so instead the dive, which was down for the Straits, was moved to Saturday morning as slack water there was just after 9am. The only takers were Guy and Mary, Andrew and Mike. We met up at 8.30am at the Normal College with plenty of time to kit up. Andrew went with Guy while I took Mary, both having their introduction to the Straits. Mike was given the choice of who he wanted to tag along with and, for whatever snobbish reasons, chose to dive with the smarter looking pairing, which surprisingly didn’t include Mary!!
Mary and I did the full Sports Diver routine of mask clearing, with the preliminaries at 6 metres and removal and replacemnet at 10 metres, all perfectly. We then followed the 13-15 metre contour to the east, finding many assorted crabs, including a closely bunched convention of Spider crabs, and the usual variety of small fish, rock gobis, tompots, juvenile bib and butterfish plus 4 or 5 lobsters, all but one of whom were very big. We turned round and tracked back slightly higher up, past our start point and off to the west before angling back up the slope to finish about 10 metres from our entry point, having done just over 15 metres for 43 minutes. The other pairing also did mask clearing but went staight down to about 19 metres and missed seeing any lobsters, staying in for about 36 minutes. Although it was a neap tide it was already starting to run during the latter stages of the dive.
All in all, given the dearth of diving this season, it was well worth the effort. The one disappointment, although it doesn’t really matter in the Straits, was that the viz. was a cloudy 4 or 5 metres at best, rather than the gin clear impression you got from the surface.
Sunday 7th August – North Coast
There were eight expressions of interest so Mike brought Sparrowhawk. Dewi joined him and John, while Laura. Mary, Guy, Andrew and me were on Seawasp. It was a leisurely start, launching from Porth Colmon, as slack wasn’t until after 11am. The first dive was Maen Mellt, as we would be able to get the first divers in behind the rock while the tide was still running. Andrew and Mary and John and Mike were first in, keeping mostly in the shelter of the reef, with Mike and John getting blown off at the end while Andrew and Mary came up very close to their entry point. They reported a Ship’s mast and plenty of life but no congers with disappointing viz. of 4-5 metres.
It was pretty much slack when me and Guy dropped in shortly before Laura & Dewi. Our plan was to find the gap in the reef and come back round the west side of the rock. Initially the viz. was as poor as reported, with the most obvious life being numerous cuckoo wrasse, but as soon as we crossed the reef, where we were met by huge shoals of quite big pollack, the viz. improved noticeably. We ambled around amongst the huge boulders and reefs, some of which had impressive coverings of jewel anenomes on their underside, until we finally found a way through and came to the undercut vertical rock wall,which is a characteristic of the west face. Guy then saw his first lobster in it’s natural environment, before seeing a bunch more which were trapped in a stuck pot which seemed to have been ghost fishing for some considerable time. We released four quite big lobsters before finding the base of the pot strewn with the remains of at least several more. The pot is in good nick and could be retrieved for Brett on a future dive. We were too near the end of our dive to attempt cutting it free. Dewi and Laura must have followed a similar route as they reported seeing us messing about with the pot. Dewi confirmed how good the viz. was on that side by noting the surface glistening from 18 metres. We all came up on the north side of the island and could possibly have completed the circumnavigation if we hadn’t got side tracked as it stayed slack throughout.
Lunch was a very pleasant interlude at Porth Oer before we headed back out for intended drifts on the rising tide back towards Porth Colmon. However, Andrew decided to look for slack at Penrhyn headland but it was choppy and seemingly running. So they dropped in for an expected northerly drift just to the north of the headland where the water was calmer. Their buoy was soon up but they must have got a back eddy as they drifted slowly south before eventually drifting slowly north only to then drift back south again so they actually surfaced very close to where they had gone in. Andrew was beaming because they had found a couple of his favourite crustacean, one a very big specimen as hopefully a picture will prove.
Just as we were about to go in we heard that Dewi, who was coxing Sparrowhawk, way off out of sight towards Porth Colmon where Mike and John were undertaking a scallop survey, had engine failure and was on the donkey engine. Laura opted to wait for him so we went down a pot buoy line which was just south of where they had found the giant. Guy was saddled with an SMB reel as part of a SD exercise so getting down was no mean effort. The expected south to north current was reversed so we had it full in our faces as we searched, finding many edible and spider crabs and a lobster but not their giant on what was a very interesting seabed of rock and sand/shell filled shallow gullies We eventually gave up and drifted back south. We had by then both expended a lot of air, Guy in particular finding out what hard work it is to fight a current so our total dive time was only 26 minutes. We surfaced to find that Sparrowhawk was back, Mike having fixed a known idyosyncracy, and Laura and Dewi having just gone in at the same spot. They did find a small specimen but weren’t fool enough to take on the current and so managed about 40 minutes.
Porth Colmon was a bit congested on our return and Mike unluckily caught his tailgate on the jockey wheel handle of the trailer which took the edge off our day. However, it was otherwise an excellent dive day which reminded a few old stagers of what we have been missing for pretty much the whole of this season. By the law of averages we should have a few more days like it over the next few months. Inshallah
ps One other plus of the day was that Laura got a lot of practice with the rib, including dropping off and picking up divers on what was at times a surprisingly choppy sea.
Sunday 21st August 2022,
This weekend had originally been down to me to organize but I swapped with Melanie, who then swopped with Mike, who then gave it back to me late on Friday evening, after he had made a plan and taken the calls, as he had other, more pressing, issues to take up his Sunday. He had Melanie, Mary, Guy, Andrew, Dewi and me signed up and told me that he had sent out a What’s What message to tell all and sundry that the boat was full.
So I took his plan, i.e Maen Mellt again followed by a drift, and ran with it. His idea was to get a fix on the mast/keel that Andrew had discovered two weeks ago on the south side of the outcrop, as we had dived there many times before without seeing it, in case it got covered by sand again. The tide was almost identical to that of two weeks earlier except that it was an even better neap, so we launched about an hour earlier and were on our way out of Porth Colmon on a fairly big sea by 08.30. Saturday’s strong wind had dropped considerably overnight but was still more than forecast and the viz. was only expected to be moderate and then only because of it being such a good neap tide. As hoped it was already slack on the sheltered south side so Andrew and Mary were able to drop straight in followed by Melanie and Guy at the same spot, while the rufty tufty wet suit pair waited for the day to warm up a bit.
While they were kitting up a lot of water was coming in over the transom and the bilge pump, which was in frequent use, started making a very unhealthy noise, and almost as soon as all four divers were in the water it suddenly stopped working. A tag off the end of a zip was found obstructing the impeller so Dewi reasoned that the motor had probably burned out although it was strange that the other pump in the bilge was also not working, albeit that one could have already failed, as it has often done in the past. We worked out that we would have to recover divers at the front of the rib and stow more gear up front.
The plan was for Andrew to send up a dsmb from the keel/mast at the end of their dive and for us to put a mark on the GPS, which we did, being surprised at how close the location was to the outcrop. Both pairs reported decent dives with viz. poorer than 2 weeks earlier, each managing over 45 minutes. The recovery plan worked as Dewi and I kitted up as soon as Andrew and Mary were sorted and were able to drop in before Melanie and Guy were recovered. We headed along the reef and through the gap to the west side and although the viz. there was cloudy we could still see the surface and the shoals of big pollack above us from 18-20 metres. Although we encountered a current as we worked our way along the west side we managed to swim against it and eventually completed a full cicuit of the outcrop, the first time it had been achieved, to my knowledge within the Club, all due to the excellent neap tide as on all previous occasions a strong current had stopped us in our tracks at some point. The highlight of the dive was a massive bull huss, or nursehound as I now prefer to call them, which was head down in a hole on a boulder reef in a feeding frenzy, as I had only ever seen previously with sharks on TV. While we watched it exhasted itself and collapsed alongside a huge flat boulder which Dewi went and stretched out on. There wasn’t a lot of difference in the length of the two! The books say that huss can grow to 1.5 metres. This one was at least that. A really impressive shark, as I will now always consider them. The very secondary highlight was a really big edible crab, too big to get into pots I should think, which was sitting in a hole surrounded by what appeared to be the remains of his last meal, another crab it seemed. Either that or he/she had recently shed. We also managed just over 45 minutes.
The plan was to change cylinders back at Porth Colmon but the rib was struggling to get up on the plane on the trip back. Turned out the bilge had flooded so, after a failed attempt to locate the correct fuse, we had no option but to abandon the second dive. Back at Pendre the fuse was located and changed and both pumps started working. The reason for the flooded bilge was pointed out by Guy to be because the discharge hose into the back sump was too low and allowed water from a full sump to drain into the bilge. The pipe has now been raised, but the entire system warrants attention as tha bilge pump will now be operating dry a lot of the time. Andrew’s long held belief that we need float operated automatic pumps may be the way to go.
Not the way that we wanted the day to develop, but still well worth the effort nevertheless.
Bank Holiday Sunday 28th August 2022.
This day turned into a long lesson on when not to go somewhere, how not to go about it when you get there and the importance of having all your kit with you!!
It was the BH weekend, the weather was ideal, so the south coast was a no go area. Fortunately Dewi was available to tow and launch but it was a Spring tide with whatever slack water there would be either late morning or late afternoon, i.e. between dives, so it would likely be two drifts or one in an inshore sheltered bay. The answer seemed obvious, Bardsey, which it seems we had not visited for over 3 years. Furthermore, high water on the north face and at Maen Bigail, both normally excellent dive sites, was set for about 9.30am. So we met up at Porth Colmon at 07.45 with six divers and two ribs, planning to get away by 08.30. Andrew joined Mike on his rib, with Dewi, Sion, Keiran and me on the Club rib. However, as most arrived early we were in the water and away not long after 8am.
As Dewi kitted up in his 5 star semi dry suit the first of the days mishaps came to light. Someone had forgotten to pack Dewi’s dive boots. No problem I said, you can borrow mine. So we had a barefoot cox’n for the trip over on a mirror calm sea for much of the way. We were therefore at Bardsey nearly an hour ahead of schedule, far too efficient for our own good, with Maen Bigail something of a maelstrom. The north face was quieter so Andrew and Keiran kitted up followed by me and Sion. It was then that it turned out that Carol had somehow missed packing my mask and computer. No problem offers Dewi, you can borrow mine and I’ll dive on Mike’s computer, only to find that the battery on his computer had drained overnight. No worries says I, I’ll use your mask and dive on my console depth gauge and estimate the dive time, only then to find that I didn’t have a depth gauge on my console! Not a problem says Dewi, you can use my regs ’cause I do have a depth gauge, so we took mine off and fitted his. Fine, then as we were doing the buddy check, Sion noticed that I had not put the shorty part of my wetsuit on!! So, kit off and start again. By this time the first pair had been down for yonks. They had planned to do mask removal and refitting at 10 metres as part of Keiran’s Sports Diver but Keiran froze, but didn’t panic, and so had to be brought up maskless. They then continued with their dive, as did Sion and me eventually. However, the viz., which after several settled days was expected to be fine, was in fact quite poor. We headed out but instead of finding the boulder slope, which so characterizes this dive site, found ourselves on sand at 15 metres, so we turned back and followed the edge of the reef east but the current, which on the surface was running our way, was running west right into our faces, and was getting stronger the further we went, so we had to give it up and drift back. We then heard an engine reving above us and thus, fearing for what we might be heading into, we came up, managing only about 30 minutes. Sion handled the difficult conditions well. Andrew and Keiran had headed back inshore after they had also met the sand and found some nice gullies and managed a longer dive albeit in similar poor viz. As Maen Bigail slack, if indeed there was any, had long gone, Mike and Dewi decided to check out Lighthouse point and ended up diving the west side, where they encountered similar poor viz. but had an OK dive. Meanwhile we had worked out that we had dropped in too far west to find the lovely boulder slope!!! In actual fact, we had played it a bit too safe.
The highlight of the day, for some of us, was lunch on the island, watching Colin’s tourists coming and going.. Seems that there has been more erosion towards Lighthouse Point which may eventually threaten to break through to the west side. As we chugged out of the harbour after lunch, the catch on the front of the engine was seen to be open and flapping about. Inspection with the cover off showed that the restraining bolt and catch were missing. The cover was nevertheless secure so we had to use a string of cable ties and a bungee hoop to hold it clear of the steering rods before setting off once more. The plan was to drift along the east side of Lighthouse Point but when we got there it was slack. Sion and I were first in this time and had an unremarkable dive in the same poor viz. until a seal came to play with us. After puttting up a buoy we ascended the slope to about 12 metres before starting our open water ascent, only to have our legs pulled, quite literally, by the seal. While watching it cavorting below us we somehow became overly buoyant and ended up doing a fastish ascent and missing our safety stop!! So Sion has now had an object lesson on just about everything not to do on boat dives. We did, however, manage to fit in his deeper dives and the dive leading demos, so that he now just has to complete the CBL to qualify as an Ocean Diver. Andrew and Keiran had a similar dive but ended up with several seals bugging them, of which Andrew got some excellent video https://youtu.be/EK0PrZQHo4k . By the time Mike and Dewi went in it was running north away from the point so we dropped them in much closer to the point. The consequence was much better topography in the with big gullies but, regrettably, no seals.
The trip back was quiet except for the obstacle course of pot buoys, especially along the coast from Braich y Pwll, and Keiran losing his hat, for a while at least! The only boat traffic were a rowing boat moving north along the coast near Carreg Allan, seemingly into the current, a two man canoe doing the same thing near Maen Mellt, and two paddle boarders off Porth Colmon, about half a mile out and without life jackets, who told Mike, when he enquired if they were OK, that they were heading for Porth Oer. Presumably they made it. All three ventures appeared to be equally crazy.
Not quite the day that was had hoped for, but at least we got out to Bardsey. On reflection, we worked out that we only ever went there on Neap tides and that it was the Spring tide that was responsible for the cloudy poor viz. Not a mistake that any of us who were there will make again, I suspect.
BH Monday 29th August 2022 – Gimblet Rock
Seven turned out. Dewi took Mari, I went with Mary while Andrew and Guy joined Jake, seeking the best chance to see something of great interest. It was a biggish Spring tide and we were diving at about low water, which I’m not sure we’ve done at Gimblet before, so the advice was to look out for the current. Mary and I headed straight out, intending to have a search along the boundary between sand and shingle, but as there was no sand we just kept going. Although the viz. was excellent our progress was hampered by walls of vertical spaghetti weed, thicker than I can ever recall. This thinned somewhat as we got further out. There was all the usual small life, the highlight being a huge dragonet in a hole which was displaying all its fins, which is quite impressive. After about half an hour we found a juvenile pipefish but while watching it Mary went feet up and it took a bit of an effort to get her feet back down. A trial without ankle weights it turned out! As we were now in a blackout of silt we turned round and headed back in, passing Dewi and Mari on their way out. We then came across Jake crossing in front of us followed by his entourage. They were on sand, which we found out exists just to the east of where we went in. Seems that sighting was a window on their dive which must have been a hoot, especially as nothing of great interest was discovered. Even though we went out a fair distance we encountered only a slight west – east current. The beauty though was a minimum temperature of 20 degrees, really toasty.