Whilst wasting away, yet another evening on the delayer of productive things, i.e.Facebook, Wifebuddy finally spoke;
"Huh, Aquaholics have spaces left this Sunday; they're diving The Lochgarry and The Drake."
"We should go" was my response, raising an eye from my ithingy.
"Ok, ring Richard and book us on."
So i did. I rang Richard, the king of Aquaholics, and booked our spots via credit card; dead easy. Five minutes later i received a confirmation email which provided all the info i needed; where to meet, times and stuff. Having never dived with Aquaholics previously, i was dead impressed.
The remainder of the night was spent watching youtube videos of the dive sites, and attempting to determine what sort of boat we would be diving from. Regular readers of this blog will recall Wifebuddy doesn't do so well on RHIBs, and i wouldn't be the greatest fan of boat diving in general either. Nevertheless, we were undeterred and really looking forward to diving new shipwrecks.
|Molly says "GET UP!"|
An hour later i dragged myself from the bed of loveliness, grabbed some brekky, hauled two twinsets into the back of the jeep and hit the road, destined for Ballycastle.
90 mins later we arrived at Mortons Chip Shop, situated at the pier. The small car park was crawling with half clad divers, obviously gathering kit together for the pending dive; at least we were in the right place. I left Wifebuddy to get changed and sauntered along the pier in hope of finding Richard to find out what the score was.
In the process of hunting for someone important, i met a chap who introduced himself via his Twitter alias.
I love meeting people from the internet. Since beginning this nonsense blog i have had the pleasure of encountering many internet warriors, and it's even better to meet them at a dive site - proving they actually dive!
Chris and I had a brief chat, unfortunately he wasn't diving and was there as a gear monkey. This suited me greatly; i now had an allie on board to help me don the mighty twin set; gearing up on a RHIB is a skill i don't quite have nailed yet.
All the divers were on time, and as per Richards instruction we were aboard his rather fine, semi-rigid RHB thing and on our way to the first dive site by 09:30. I was dead impressed. I was more impressed that the guys on the boat were super friendly, and some nice fella had even brought Kerri's twinset aboard.
The SS Lochgarry was a troop transport ship that struck rock of the Mull of Kintyre, drifted and finally sank 21st January 1942 off the east coast of Rathlin Island. 23 men drowned when their lifeboats hit rocks; 32 survived. She lies in 34m of water. The hold was filled with chain by the navy as she was caring rifles and live ammunition. She is 265 feet long, 33.5 feet wide, 15.5 foot draft, 1670 gross tonnes.
Once in my twinset i was grand, and although there was quite a chop going on, i was ready to go diving. I fell off the RHIB first, Kerri followed and as she headed for the shot Richard handed me down my camera. At this point i managed to make the whole thing rather complicated. The idea was to swim for the buoy, and descend down the shot to the wreck. I finned for all i was worth but seemed to be heading away from the shot, rather than for it.
Yip, that worked perfectly and i met up with Kerri at the shot line. I was very out of breath, and had no camera. Not a great start to the dive.
WIfebuddy and I took a minute to reunite and i signalled, quite badly, i'd left the camera back on the boat. She thought i'd lost the camera completely, and spent her whole dive deliberating how to buy me a new one; isn't she sweet?
Finally, we made it 25m down to the deck of The Lochgarry. Visibility was 2m i reckon, which was poor for the area, but we didn't care. The wreck was huge. Having not dived it before, our usual plan applied; swim away from the shot for a bit, come back, check the shot, and head off in a different direction for a bit, and so forth. I find this tactic works very well in bad viz, or in unfamiliar territory.
We found the big chains dumped into the hold, which were simply mahoosive; quite a spectacular sight. Kerri finned ahead and located the tiled floor area we had read about on the internet reports. A light dusting, and the black and white tiles came into view; fantastic. It still amazes me that there are always elements of a wreck that remain completely intact, despite waves, fish, debris and the weight of the ocean levied upon it for the last several decades.
|Source: Nation Maritime Museum of Ireland|
Our planned 30 mins bottom time came and went, as usual, much too quickly. I must admit, i spent most of it wishing i'd brought the camera, and equally frustrated i'd made such a ball-ache of the descent. However; you live, you learn.
The ascent was good, stops at 12, 9 and 6 as planned. As we broke the surface i looked up to check where WIfebuddy was, only for a huge scything battle axe fall before my eyes! It was the hull of our dive boat. Holy shit, it had got choppy. The surface was, to quote Graham from Ocean Addicts, a little "squally." The waves escorted me to the other side of the RHIB from Kerri, and hand over hand i fed myself around the boat to the ladder were Kerri was de-kitting.
The exit was tough going in the choppy swell. I'd never boarded via a side mounted spine ladder, but with RIchard there instructing, literally step by step, i was soon back on the boat. Thank Christ. We weren't the only ones struggling though, other twinset divers appeared to be having as much fun getting aboard as we did.
With all the divers aboard we headed back to the pier for an hour of off gassing, coffee and some dive banter.
Those in the know will appreciate it turned out 'Mark Bickmore' was actually 'Graham Blackmore.' Not one for names eh Peter?
Nitrogen levels accounted for, we headed back out again to hit The Drake.
|Source: Irish wrecks online|
HMS Drake was an armoured cruiser that was torpedoed by U-79. She was supposed to be beached in Church Bay (NI) but on 2nd October 1917 she rolled over and sank. Of 900 crew 19 were killed in the incident. As she presented as a hazard to shipping in the area, the remains of the wreck were blown up in 1979 by the navy. She lies in 18m of water in Church Bay, Rathlin Island. HMS Drake was a 4 funnelled armoured cruiser of 14,100 tonnes.
Richard insisted the second dive of the day was more sheltered, thus we would be spared the fight to the shot line, and wrestling match with the ladder. Yeah right... Richard almost apologised for the weather once we arrived on site, and stated it was usually very good around that area. Well, not when Wifebuddy is about; the woman is definitely a scud when it comes to RHIB diving!
Kitting up was a bit of a task, and the sickness began to overtake the both of us. Richard was quick to pick up on it declaring;
"You feeling sick? - let's get you into the water!"
No messing with this guy, we were immediately dressed in twinsets, moved to the side of the RHIB and instructed to roll off. It was undoubtedly the best thing for us, as my inner monologue was talking me out of the dive completely.
I may be stupid, but i don't need to be told twice. As soon as i hit the waves i signalled 'OK', descended 3m immediately, and headed for the shot line. Job done. Kerri and I dropped 15m onto The Drake. The shot line was moored off to what looked like the prop shaft, according to Wifebuddy. A little research once home proved her to be most likely correct; as per usual.
The visibility was poor, but we made the most of it and had a good look around anyway. It was difficult to orientate, and i decided we would be bagging off at the end of the dive. I must admit i couldn't really determine what we were looking at, the visibility was just too restrictive; although some nice directions from other more experienced divers brought our attention to some ammo shells and a conger eel.
Again, it would have been nice to get a few pics, but the visibility was just too poor most likely.
30 mins in Wifebuddy signalled she was cold, so the dive was called, and we began our ascent. Amazingly, just as we decided to go, the shot line appeared from nowhere; happy days. A lazy ascent, and we popped up on the surface to be met by more choppy seas.
I was switched on this time, taking time to assess the behaviour of the boat and where i needed to be. I held back, knowing Kerri would need time to de-kit and board the RHIB. When i was confident Kerri was done, i allowed the current to glide me to the rear of the boat. I negotiated with the ladder, again following Richards instruction step by step, until i was seated alongside Kerri safely on the far side of the boat. Excellent stuff.
Slowly the remaining dive squad surfaced and fought the ladder, climaxing in a boatful of panting divers. It was an enjoyable sight. As if to reinforce just how rough the seas had got, Richard poked his head out of the wheelhouse stating;
He got my attention.
Actually, once we were moving i felt a lot better, and the whole event became more of a comedy, chortling as the sea threw us about at will. Richard did a phenomenal job of negotiating the 8 mile trek back to shore.
Changed and kit stowed we said our goodbyes and hit the local chippy for some splendid scampi and chips. Richard thanked us for coming along, and explained bitterly the seas are usually much calmer and visibility is usually much better. To be honest, i didn't care. I had gained yet more positive boat diving experience, dived another two of Irelands most famous shipwrecks, met a load of friendly divers, a twitter stalker, and had a bloody good time in the process.
Oh, and Wifebuddy didn't vomit; well done Richard.
Come dive Northern Ireland! - I don't usually post videos, but sometimes they say more than words can ever explain... (not safe for work incidentally.)
Safe diving folks!