Wild swimming !! Ah yeah !

Wild SWimming …

I love Wild swimming !! the wilder the better and here in the Scottish Borders we have Lochs and reservoirs abound !!  ……

Early days up the Barnes …

I was first introduced to swimming in the lochs by my friend and first class outdoor sportsman Kenny Short. He had been loch training for his extreme triathlons and my Uncle Mick and Bongo had been joining him alongside Deeeksy, Steven Brady and Andrew Shanky ..  they took me to the Barnes Loch near Stobs military camp and I did a lap with them.  It was fantastic !!!  I was always a decent swimmer , using it on and off for training over the years, mainly for flexibility and stretching to help both the climbing and kayaking that I so loved. I took to it like a duck to water .. quack quack!  😀  the love was real !

Mad Dog Mick … Alemoor

After a short season in the Barnes I hungered for more ! So I persuaded “mad dog” Mick Lyons to join me on a recce of Alemoor, a local loch much larger than the Barnes. We jumped on our bikes and cycled out … In we went , it was windy but good to go .. we swam 2.5km out and back to the dam , the way home was hard work with surface waves and current , we battled on and son we were on the bank tired but laughing our heads off at our battle home. We trained away at Alemoor and soon we were hitting the long swim of St Marys and latterly entered the Coniston Chillswim , an amazing swim taking you on a journey to the Swallows and Amazons island and beyond .. see here ..

Good times on the Talla with Bongo and Deeksy

Since then I’ve began notching my away round some amazing Border swims and discovered some wild places that Ive never been before ……. many blogs to follow  🙂


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Climbing the Forth Road Bridge …..

Tam was ringing my phone,  maybe he had another bag of 20 oz sirloin steaks ?  I better answer I thought ! 😀 😀 …..   Hey Mark fancy climbing to the top of the Forth Road bridge he says  … , Sounds good I said !!

up there ? Aye right up there !

Tam had fallen heir to the opportunity from some Edinburgh top brass who won it on an “auction of Promises” a prize donated by Amey Highways, the company who maintains the Forth Road Bridge. We were to meet Davie Gill chief of maintenace from AMI at their Edinburgh control centre , the big glass building you see when you come over the bridge from the Fife side. He would give us a safety brief and equipped us with the relevant rope access safety equipment to get us to the top. Soon we were at the bottom of the Southside tower looking up ! Its tall 😀  Great link here for loads more info FORTH ROAD BRIDGE

In we went and the 3 of had to squeeze into a service elevator , Davie from Amey explained that it had a load of 435kg for equipment so could handle our weight no problem but it wasnt built for 3 burly fellows like us …. He wasnt joking !!  If anyone even had a “semi” we were all in trouble ! 😀

Up we went until it stopped and we had to climb a long long 90 degree ladder to the top , strenuous work but eventually we reached the top hatch and daylight !

We exited on the bridge and what a view !!  WOW WOW WOW !! we were looking down on EDinburgh, Fife , North and South Queensferry , all the surrounding are and best of all the 2 other bridges , the classic Rail Bridge and the New bridge which is approaching completion.

New bridge ..

Tam and I felt like we were eye to eye with the crane drivers working over it. Watching the traffic, both cars and Boats was mesmerizing and the shudder every time a lorry crossed under us a little unnerving !  WE were also able to see the HMS Queen Elizabeth the huge aircraft carrier being built further up the Forth.

Next stop , the very top!   Davie was happy we could handle it so we headed up the final ladders to he birds nest , the pinnacle of the main towers where the aircraft beacons were. We were flying high today , more than 500 feet above the Forth to be exact!

The Very Very top !!!

We hung around up top taking in the view and listening to Davie telling us all about his experiences with the bridge. All too soon it was time to go down but there was a surprise awaiting us, a visit to underneath the bridge !

Air under the feet under the bridge

me and my Dad tam 😀

Up in the birds nest

tap of the world !!! 😀

Facts and figures courtesy of Forth Road Bridge

The Forth Road Bridge is a long span suspension bridge which when opened in 1964 was the largest in the world outside the United States and, together with the approach viaducts is a little over 2.5 km in length.

The bridge has a main span of 1006 metres between the two main towers. The side spans which carry the deck to the side towers are each 408 metres long. The approach viaducts are 252 metres and 438 metres long on the north and south sides respectively.

The two main aerially spun cables from which the suspended deck is hung are 590 mm in diameter, and each is made up of 11,618 high tensile wires with a 4.98 mm diameter. The suspended deck is made up of a steel stiffening truss, with three longitudinal air gaps at roadway level to improve aerodynamic stability.

The main cables are anchored at each end to take the 13,800 tonnes of total load in each cable. These anchorages are concrete, cast in tunnels of tapering section, cut into rock at an inclination of 30º to the horizontal. The tunnel lengths vary between 56 and 79 metres.

The suspended span decks are hung from the main cables by 192 sets of four hanger ropes with diameters of 44.5 and 52.4 mm. These hanger sets take loads of 176 and 224 tonnes. Between 1998 and 2000 all these hanger sets were replaced without interruption to traffic.

The deck on the main and side spans carries traffic loadings to the main cables via the hangers and does not contribute significantly towards the resistance of the truss to global effects. On the main span the deck is an orthotropic stiffened steel plate. However, on the side spans the deck is of composite construction with a 200 mm thick reinforced concrete slab on steel beams. On all the suspended spans the surfacing is limited to a thickness of 38 mm.

The pier from the north tower was sited on the Mackintosh Rock, a whinstone outcrop that made an ideal foundation. The south tower was located about as far from the shore as the depth of bedrock would allow the construction of a foundation with compressed air working. Caissons were used to enable the pier to be founded on sandstone some 32 metres below high water. Pier defences were constructed around both piers in the late 1990’s to withstand collision loads from shipping.

The main towers are of welded cellular high tensile steel construction and rise up over 150 metres above high water level. The maximum thickness of the steel in the towers is about 25 mm. These towers were strengthened in the late 1990’s to take the ever increasing weights of heavy goods vehicles crossing the bridge.

The approach viaducts are significant structures in their own right. Reinforced concrete piers support a continuous deck structure that consists of twin steel box beams with transverse beams and outriggers having a reinforced concrete composite deck slab and 38 mm surfacing.

The traffic loading on the bridge is now significantly higher than expected by the engineers who designed the structure in the 1950’s. This has been due to the increasing weight and number of heavy goods vehicles on UK roads. A large capital programme to strengthen the bridge to take these increased loads is continuing.

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Diving the Kintrye ….


SS Kintyre

“Wednesday 18th September 1907 wasn’t to be Captain John MacKechnie’s day when, at 11:45 am, his steamer the SS Kintyre got in the way of the SS Maori, which was undergoing trials in the Firth of Clyde. The Maori ploughed into Kintyre’s starboard quarter, causing her to sink in just four minutes. McKechnie was hauled, exhausted from the water, but William Lennox, his Chief Engineer drowned. After the impact MacKechnie had vainly steered the Kintyre towards the shore, which explains the wreck’s final orientation. The bow rests at around 30m and drops to the stern around 50m and can be a challenging dive for experienced divers”  C.Divers

Beautiful day for a dive , Largs sea front home to the SS Kintyre

Renowned as a true diving adventure the SS.Kintyre literally shouted out for me to visit it down in the depths of the Clyde. I am not sure where or when I first heard about the Kintyre but for some reason I had fixated on diving it for years. It had come up in a conversation between Neil and I and it turned out he had dived it with Karon, who at one time had actually lived on the sea front right next to the dive site. Neil said he would ask Karon and crew if they fancied a return visit. And as luck would have it everyone was keen.

Map courtesy of John Nicolson and Finstrokes a great resource.


We planned it for end of November , the tides and currents were right, the weather hopefully high pressure day arrived and thank the weather gods for a perfect high pressure sunny day.  I left Hawick early to arrive at Neil’s house in Glasgow for 7:30am.   Our plan was to be in the water for 10am high tide and slack , and out by 11:30 before the tide sucked us out into the Clyde.  We quickly headed towards lags and joined the Glasgow crew of John , Grant , Callum and the bubble queen herself Karon.

in we go …

Our access was a rocky outcrop by the sea where we would drop into an 6m deep pool and swim out.  After a hard hour lugging our equipment down we finally entered the water just after 10am, gathered our group and took a bearing for the pipe then headed out and down into the darkness of the Clyde.

heading down the pipe..

It’s a technical dive that needs to be respected , a long dive from shore with tides to plan, currents to watch for, dark , deep and with decompression commitments. Neil and I would cut our deco short with a tank of 50% which would also give us a good margin of safety should god forbid anything unplanned happen.We followed the pipe until a fixed line left it heading east at around 33m. We followed the line out into the darkness until a large Bow appeared from the gloom. We had struck lucky with our viz and could see at least 6m into our torchlight and the wreck looked very intact except for in places its substructure was bare making it look like a huge whale skeleton you see hanging in the museums.

Reaching the Bow

We descended to 47m and at this point the wreck was broken and lying on the bottom so with deco clocking up and a little narcosis starting to fog the brain we reversed our dive and headed back up its carcass. Neil and I signaled to leave the wreck and we headed off up the line, eventually seeing the pipe welcoming us out the darkness to guide us topside and home.

Hello pipe………

At 18m we held , altered our computers and switched our gas to 50% , DECO had began and 25 minutes showed as we headed slowly up to 6m. The deco was easy playing around on a sandy bottom at 6m . And it was here that my infamous Irn-Bru deco movie was born , its amazing what you have to do to pass those deco minutes 😀

Eventually everyone had surfaced, the dive had been executed perfectly and everyone was safe and smiling. We were all buzzing as we sorted our gear and started the strenuous job of getting everything back to the car. I loved this dive , it was a fantastic micro-Adventure , it had everything I love about what I do, another amazing trip to see something fantastic and with good friends to share it with.   Result! another bucket-list dream accomplished.

the crew..

Thanks again to Grant , John and Karon for the superb photos……

CAllum , Karon and John enjoying a threesome 😀

The pipe, sealife microcosm of the Clyde ..

The boiler …. no ! not the ex-girlfriend 😀

Is it a bird ? is it a plane ? NO! its Callum the flying deco fish

Ahoy Kintyre ..

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Diving Scapa Flow ….

Riding the big gun ! 😀

Scapa Flow !!  What can I say but the dream destination for drysuit wearing , cold water adventure divers. Wrecks and history “flow”ing from every nook and cranny of the Orkney Islands makes it an unforgettable dive destination!  The Flow is home to the scuttled German fleet captured back in World War One and sank by their own crews to stop the British Navy using the ships. Theres history galore and If you want to know much more then please follow this link for a fantastic resource far better than I could ever do here … SCAPA FLOW WRECKS

meet the gang cos they are all here. The divers to entertain you 😀

I was lucky enough to get a chance to live on a boat diving the Flow with my friends the madcap Glasgow dive crew of Grant, John, Karon,Neil, Davie and Donnie , along for the ride with me was Undersea Wull and a special guest appearance by Laura from London and the sidemount magician Luca from IL Grande Blu in  Portofino all made for an incredible dive trip way beyond what I had been expecting.

The old man ….

Wull and I dragged our arses out of bed at 4:30am and headed North for for the Orkney Islands in what can only be described as inclement weather. Wind and rain battered us all the way to Thurso and we arrived at Scrabster half expecting the crossing to be cancelled but not up there in the North, oh no!  on we went, boarding as normal, rough crossing aye aye sailor !!  Holding down my dinner for most of it and sleeping the rest we survived the stormy crossing and as we hit the headland the mist opened up to give me the view I was waiting for, the Old Man of Hoy standing erect and proud against the headland welcoming us.

Stromness Harbour

We docked at Stromness harbour and met up with the rest of the troops. Heading dockside to board the MV Sunrise, a converted deep sea fishing vessel that was to be our lodgings for the week. Geordie was the captain and Chris his son was our 1st mate/main man aboard ship, both are characters of the highest degree so good times were sure to ensue.  Downstairs in the small small cubicles that were to be home for the week we unpacked our kit , I barely fitted into my bunk and couldn’t help wonder how my giant of a friend Neil Farmer would get on as the week passed 😀

MV Sunrise , legend of Scapa

Day one was a rough sea and a baptism by fire to the Flow. Thankfully the MV Sunrise has a sheltered gear-up so despite bumping my head a million times on the iron roof I was dry and wind free. The boat has a diver exit hatch with limited visibility and a long drop into the sea , as we approached the dive entry point a siren would sound and off we went like parachutists through it … exciting when all you can see is a big dark pitching sea!  We were in good hands though with Geordie and Chris in charge.  My first dive was with John on the SMS Karlsruhe , a battle cruiser with its large guns still intact. We exited nicely and dropped down to the wreck at 30m hunting for the guns to grab a photo opportunity or two. Our dive went to plan and soon we were daydreaming on a 35 minute decompression stop  before surfacing to a quick pick up by the MV. Sunrise. After all the divers were onboard we headed for our next dive site the F2 Barge sank in Gutter Sound. Karon and Grant were in charge of lunch, hot dogs and soup on the surface interval menu. The F2 was a worthwhile dive and a good end to day one .. Our teeth were sunk and time to dial it up on day two.

Now thats a gun breech !

Day 2 saw Neil and I dive the 150m long  battle ship KronPrinz Wilhelm and the cruiser Coln Wreck , it was amazing to dive a huge battleship and appreciate the massive scale of it just lying there on the sea bed. Our first dive was rough but the forecast was for the weather to break in the afternoon and true to its word it did just that , we cruised back to port in flat calm conditions.

Marwick Head and the Kitchener monument

That night we headed to Marwick cliffs, visited the Kitchener monument and I braved a “tree”on the cliff edge looking out at the most beautiful sea vista I have ever seen.

The morning start of fire !

Day 3 was an early start to a morning sun like I have never seen before, blazing orange with the birds following us out to sea swooping and crying over us. Every day the sky treated us to show of grandeur but this morning it had outdonr itself!  Our intention was  to dive the light cruiser SMS Dresden and return to the SMS Karlsruhe . Everything went to plan and we dived in dead flat sea.

A Bayern Turret looming

Day 4 another early start to the famous Bayern gun turrets and onto the mine layer SMS Brummer.  This day was one of the best , the turrets have fallen out from the upturned wreck and landed turtle in the sand at 47m deep.Laura joined Neil, Karon and I as we dropped down the shot line into the darkness. There are 2 huge identical turrets next to each other, it was a fantastic sight to see.

Boom Boom …

After the turrets and everyone was accounted for we headed for the port of Lyness. Its where the Scapa flow Naval museum is and well worth the visit just to see the big defence guns and a cinema inside a huge gas storage cylinder running a loop of “The history of Scapa Flow”. Sat alone in there watching the movie on a 100 foot high projection on the wall listening to the reverberating commentary, it was surreal, very surreal !

Hanging out inside the …

The SMS Brummer was next on the horizon and what a dive !!  Neil and I descended to the huge hull of the 140m long mine laying cruiser, following along , exploring and chilling until our dive plan required us to surface , loved that wreck !  that night we headed to Twatt and the cliffs of Yesnaby. Another place everyone must visit !!

The giants of Yesnaby !

Day 5 was to be the gargantuan SMS Markgraf sat in 47m of water,  and it was indeed huge!!  This has to be the largest wreck in Scapa and with our good visibility we could really take in the enormity of it.  This is what its all about I thought as we cruised along its bow.  Next up we had a visit to the Seydlitz salvage site and dived around all the broken wreckage. Not the best dive but huge shoals of fish spinning around in huge bundles made it a gem anyways.

EArly morning bliss .

Day 6 and our last day in the water had us choose to return to a couple of favorites from the week, the Bayern Gun turrets for another exploration and the Koenig to finish the week. Man Those turrets really were a sight sat upside down on that sandy bottom.

Geordi and Chris , legends of the sound !

Sadly it was our last night but we hit the pub in town for a meal, inviting Geordy and his wife to join us .  Steak, fish, Beer and great stories ensued, just as they should when 12 excited and battle seasoned adventurers get round a table.

Scapa Flow I will be back !

What a dive !

Anchor !!!

2 old men 😀

Mark Lyons ッ

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Chill Swim 2016



Chill Swim 2016 ….. “Long distance open water swimming isn’t just about swimming around buoys in a loop– it’s about the journey.  Travelling the length of a lake from one end to the other, swimming across a channel, or completing a swim from one set point to another gives the swim meaning.  You haven’t swum a lake until you have completed the full length of it”  ……

Lake Coniston

I had another Shoulder operation back in late 2015, 4 years since my accident and they were still hacking away at me !!  To aid my recovery and speed up regaining my mobility I hit the pool a few months after hoping for the best. Swimming definitely helped so I needed something special to keep me bashing out those strokes (repetition is my Achilles heel and swimming is definitely not the most exhilarating sport, especially when your doing serious mileage) so I was on the hunt for something to train for. Something needed to capture my imagination and excite me … its always something different, unusual, often daring and this time I found it in the Chillswim Coniston. A long distance swim from end to end on the famous Lake Coniston. Full of History and lore it is the 3rd largest lake in England , home to the Swallows and Amazons tale, Donald Campbell and his speed records in the Bluebird and the infamous “Lady in the Lake” murders…. Was this for me ? … yes! , Did I need any more persuasion ?  No! … sorted then I was in.  I fired off the link to my friends and Al , Deeksy and Lyn rose to the bait , a team was born!  We spent most of the summer on Alemoor , the best wild swimming loch within easy reach of Hawick. An occasional foray here and there  to mix it up including a cracking Sunday afternoon when  Al , Mick and I swam the length of St Marys loch with a now injured Lyn supporting us. We finished the day off with Steaks at the Gordon arms, for recovery of course 🙂

Chillswim 2016

On the day we were all feeling fit and my shoulder the best for years, Ill never have a good shoulder again but it was as good as it will ever be so I was buzzing for a 5ish mile cruise up the lake. We arrived to high winds and heavy rain !, pretty much the normal for the lake district  😀    The Event organization was professional , friendly and smooth running , we were on the bus and off to the start in no time and soon we were running into the loch and swimming out the bay …. next stop Wild Cat Island.  I stopped to take it all in as I swam along the famous Island , several times in fact. It’s all to easy in an adventure to be to fixed on the finish line or chasing a time, and not stop to take mental photos and bask in the feelings of being somewhere special.

Every mile and a half there was a food stop, I ignored the first and continued on , stopping at 3 miles for a banana and a blether with a guy from Wales. He was swimming in his trunks. I was in a wet-suit and it was chilly enough. To be honest swimming in a wetsuit isn’t that hard, it takes a lot of the hardship from wild swimming and sorts out your bad technique , heavy legs etc . Swimming in speedos 😀  is a LOT harder and you need to acclimatize your body to the cold as well as swim a lot better and harder. Kudos to the hardcore Welshman 🙂

the 3 bananas 🙂

The swim went great and the 5 odd miles went in very quickly , pretty soon I was swimming up the finishing straight cheered on by the crowds … picking up my medal and goody bag on the way through the sign off. We posed for photos by our beautiful assistant and photographer Jan 😀    The weather was cold and rattling with wind so very Quickly we headed to the pick up point and jumped in the bus headed back to the registration car park .. the driver was pumping out the heater … luuuvvvvverly !!!   what a day !

Deeksy the fish 😀

Champions !!! 😀


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Dive Dive Dive … The U-12 German U-Boat

I just had an amazing weekend with the top dogs of the North East wreck diving  MarineQuest over in Eyemouth. Fantastic North Sea diving with great mates new and old. I was fortunate enough to dive both the Glanmire wreck with crazy fins Undersea Wully (Saturday in questionable conditions) and the U-12 on Sunday in near perfect conditions , if cold both topside and undersea with the Zero Viz conquistador Neil Farmer. Both excellent and adventurous dives. The U-12 however just blew me away. A German submarine sat on a white sandy beach deep under the open North Sea , now there was a real adventure !!   Especially as a German submarine has been on my bucket list for years and this one was to be perfect !

U-12 sets sail

A little History ..  taken from here 

“Type: U-Boat  … Date of loss: 10/03/1915 …..Depth: 47m
 The wreck itself has great historical importance as it was the first submarine to have an aeroplane carried on its deck for deployment at sea, an unusual concept, which proved to be a limited experiment for this boat. An early WWI design of submarine, U12 had a two stroke engine running on kerosene (paraffin) driving twin stern propellers. The wreck is lying bolt upright on a seabed of fine sand which bounces the light making for year round visibility. Respect should be given as it is a designated war grave”

The Sinking of U12

It was against this backdrop that a ferocious naval battle occurred off the east coast of Scotland. On morning of the 10th March 1915 U-boat U12 was spotted by the trawler May Island east of Fife Ness. Three British warships, the Acheron, the Attack and the Ariel, were sent to track it down and engage it. Having earlier attempted to torpedo the HMS Leviathan, U12 would not be allowed to escape.

The HMS Ariel, copyright Graeme Govenlock

Image: The HMS Ariel. Copyright Graeme Govenlock

According to the Admiralty logs, at 10.15am the Ariel, the Attack and the Acheron found and attacked the U-boat. After being strafed with machine-gun fire U12 submerged. The Ariel spotted the periscope of the vessel submerged just under the surface. At full speed the Ariel rammed the U-boat. The boat resurfaced to a hail of gun and shell fire which damaged the conning tower and killed the U12’s captain, Hans Kratzsch.

postcard of the sinking of U12, copyright Jim Macleod

Image: A postcard commemorating the sinking of the U12. Copyright Jim MacLeod, reproduced by kind permission.

Badly damaged and under fire, several crew of the U12 appeared on the deck of the boat and surrendered. While these men were rescued, many other were not so fortunate. With the conning tower hatch jammed, 19 men went to their deaths as U12 sank within minutes. The crippled Ariel was towed back to Leith docks after the engagement.  The surviving crew of the U12 found themselves in the middle of a diplomatic row upon their capture. With U-boat crews perceived to be little more than pirates by the British authorities, there was a popular clamour in the press to see the crew hanged. Instead they were kept in solitary confinement and denied any privileges of rank – a fate not shared by other prisoners of war from more traditional forms of combat. The German authorities responded in kind with British prisoners of war. With the intervention of the Swiss the diplomatic row was eventually resolved.

Dive Dive Dive … The U-12 German U-Boat

Jacob George …

Without doubt the U-12 on the day rivalled some of the more famous dives I have done across the globe … World class diving right on the door step !!  Neil and I left my place early to be in Eyemouth at  8am for a 9am RO (ropes off).  The original plan had been to dive the U-74 20 miles north of Eyemouth  but due to favourable conditions a plan had been hatched to dive the far more elusive U-12 German U-boat. The day started good and kept getting better !

Heading East …. EARLY !!

Due to its position in the open sea 30 miles East of Eyemouth it is an exceptionally hard dive to catch, often taking a diver years of waiting. Luckily conditions were on our side and it was beautiful, sunny if a little cold at around 4 degrees topside morning on the East coast. We set sail with a full boat of technical divers on the Jacob George, a fast dive boat from the Marine-Quest fleet.

U-12 Conning tower

It took several hours of bouncing across the waves heading straight out to sea with land rapidly disappearing behind us before we arrived at the coordinates of the Submarine , Iain expertly set up and dropped the shot and explained that as we were all technical divers with different run times and decompression obligations that he would set up an “easy shot” where we would all have a tag and leave it attached to a separate line at 30 – 35 metres. We would take out tag as we ascended and the last person to leave would take his tag , disconnect the easy shot and we would all drift with the current and not have to hold on for our lives. Iain explained that it was far safer and he would stay together as a group out in the open sea so he could keep us all in sight. This relaxed me a little as the open sea is a disconcerting place , and there was a slight swell on and a mad current would appear at the end of slack tide. Nice call Iain, my comfort zone thanks you immensely  🙂

forward Propellor tubes ….

Pretty soon we were buddy checking as we circled the buoy ready to drop in when slack tide was ascertained … go go go we all plopped off the back and descended .. the visibility in the open sea was the best I’ve had in the UK , 8-10m crystal clear and even at 47m below there was enough ambient light to see but the torch still had to be on after 35m to pick out the detail. The conning tower came into view and soon Neil and I were off circling the submarine trying to see it all in our short bottom time.

We descended to our maximum depths to see the propellers, then the  torpedo tubes , one still with a torpedo loaded , the other with a man-eating 2 foot long lobster in it ! 😀

We slowly circled back and round to see the rest including a look down the conning tower , those guys had to live tight and all too soon it was time to ascend the shot , picking up our tags and heading up the “easy-shot” for a short decompress at various depths and stall for 25 minutes at 6m before surfacing .. I really need to get a waterproof copy of Game of Thrones for this 😀

Soon we were being picked up by Iain and I could again relax in the relative comfort of the Jacob George .


Iain was soon feeding us the tastiest Bean Casserole ever cooked and cups of tea galore just made Neils day !!  Earl grey to boot 😀     The rest of the divers including rebreather divers who I think must be impermeable to the cold water eventually surfaced and the shot was raised and we soon sped back to Eyemouth harbour two very happy men ……..

I really can’t thank and recommend Marine Quest enough for its professional and super friendly and accommodating diving. The day was perfect right down to the second helping of bean casserole 😀

Bean casserole was like Michelin cuisine after that long day 🙂

Wreck site details here 

Marinequest U-12 page here.

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Sidemount – The Trim Awakens


Mark, Steve and James ….. Sidemount divers !

my research led me here …  “Sidemount is a scuba diving equipment configuration which has diving cylinders mounted alongside the diver, below the shoulders and along the hips, instead of on the back of the diver” …….    I was to find out that Side-mount was that and much MUCH more.



Sidemount – The Trim Awakens

Good times in Egypt

It seems like a hundred years ago now that I actually started to dive and indeed I got off to a flying start. I did my Divemaster out in Egypt and was very lucky to be mentored by Hicham Ayad a fantastic Lebanese technical instructor and all round cool dude. I was also ear bashed into good diving habits by a stickler of a Russian ex Spetsnaz commando and Tech instructor by the name of Artur Zaloga . Drinking Vodka with him, watching old climbing movies and listening to his stories was always the highlight . And all this immersed in the diving culture of the top Red Sea school the Divers Lodge , belonging at the time to Karim Helal of TDI fame .Still , I eventually moved on , gained a little more experience elsewhere and for a while considered making diving my life .  I had been dealt a good hand of cards and I was having a great time … but life had other plans with the birth of my daughter and a return to white water kayaking , So I began a new amazing chapter back home.

Destination Japan , Nakajima and I floating around in the pacific ..

Since then I had been a “destination Diver” only pulling the fins on  during trips abroad until recently when I was finally forced to give up hope of ever kayaking again due to a long term debilitating shoulder injury sustained on a nasty Alpine grade 5 river. And now also unable to find the time for ultra-running I decided a new direction was needed. My old friend and kayaker Neil Farmer, a person with whom I have shared many an adventure had himself  become an accomplished UK diver. He had on occasion tried to cajole me into joining the UK scene as a replacement for our kayak adventures but I had up until then remained unconvinced. Maybe it was time, so I kitted up to go “cold” and dived right in so to speak! Since then the diving lust has returned with a vengeance and I feel the passion building every time I jump into the freezing cold foreboding  UK sea. So much so that I now have an uncontrollable compulsion to see all those wrecks and caves hidden beneath and to learn the art of diving to its fullest extent.

Enjoying the North sea off St Abbs

After “getting my feet wet” for a while (literally) I had arrived at the conclusion that If I was to make a return to any form of technical diving it couldi not be done safely in the classic backmount style due to my shoulder injury (3 operations after a white water kayaking accident abroad has left it seriously lacking in mobility and strength). Not only was backmounted twins and their weight causing me a lot of discomfort but my inability to reach my valves was a serious safety concern and one I would need to resolve if I was to venture further.  I had read about a style of diving called “sidemount” and all its benefits , one of which was the ease of safety shut-downs. So I decided to look further and finally to book a sidemount course to see what it was all about ……..

so much to learn , who to learn from ?

One constant that appeared everywhere in my research was that learning good sidemount is all about the instructor and finding one that regularly dives in sidemount style was paramount. I dug deeper and a few instructors stood out from the rest . A decision was now needed, whether to learn here in the UK or to learn in a friendlier more relaxed environment abroad. As I am now predominantly a regular UK diver the decision should have been black and white, but many years as a rock climber had made me a great believer and advocate of “bouldering” (hard but safe, hence more relaxed and fun climbing at near ground level) and its ability to safely develop skills far beyond where they would be if learnt at the sharp end of a run out.  The decision was made , I would put down my sidemount foundation abroad in bright warm dive sites with the sun on my back and develop from there.

Steve Martin of Sidemounting.com  .. El jefe’ de sidemount

Given the heritage of my past mentors I at least owed them someone special to take up the mantle of keeping me safe 😉 ….  Steve Martin of Sidemounting.com  was my clear choice and he would be charged with imparting his vast knowledge to make me a fully qualified sidemount diver. My choice was perfect and I would later find him to be a true advocate of Sidemount and a fantastic , fun yet very disciplined instructor.

I <3 Gozo !!

The plan was now to  travel to the island of Gozo and take the Sidemount Essentials course and stage workshop .This course has been specially devised by Steve to help divers develop into  experts of sidemount diving. A truly all-encompassing course covering equipment set up, skills ,  dive theory, dive planning and during the course every aspect that we touched  was covered with discussions, past experience and occasional whiteboard explanation.  The course would polish my existing skills, learn me new ones and enable sidemount up to my present technical qualification level and set me up for the journey beyond.

Steve Martin .. get used to his face on your telly

Communication with Steve before Gozo was excellent and part of his course is a set of online video workshop presentations  covering all aspects of sidemount including cylinder set up , Wing and Harness set ups , tips , skills … almost 15 hours worth.  YES! you read it right , 15 fucking hours !!  😀 😀   Luckily they are excellent and shot in a very easy to watch, friendly and informal format. Discussing all the aspects of the chosen workshop and explaining in-depth as it moves along a very logical progression. No watching the “Big Brother” this year for me , just a daily diet of Steve Martin, his dog and his very patient brother 😀

Gozo Technical Diving .. 5 star establishment

Gozo itself was a beautiful island and a divers dream with dive sites near every cove. Wrecks , caverns ,walls …. take your pick it’s all there in abundance. My course was based in part at the friendly and exceptionally capable Gozo Technical Diving.  Ran by the super chilled Tom Steiner and the beautiful Audrey Cudel. It was a fantastic dive centre to spend time and a hot bed of interesting and diverse characters . I always feel that I gain a lot from the people I have the pleasure of meeting on my travels  and Gozo was no exception. During  my time there I was lucky to meet Matt Jevon a very fine diver/instructor and sports psychologist, you can read some excellent articles written by him here at Psychological Skills for Diving and he was impressively way more knowledgeable about Hawick Rugby club than I was 🙂  I also bumped into Freddy and Andreas of 8 Days of Cave Diver training fame, these two very fine and friendly Swedish chaps were laughing,joking and smiling constantly. Also my pleasure to meet a very charming South African named “Scuba Steve” of course 😀  and did I mention James Walker ?  😀

James Walker .. Legend !


Day 1 Xwejni Bay  started at 8:30am when Steve rocked up to my hotel in Xlendi with a smiley sandy haired Londoner by the name of James Walker in the front seat. James was to be my partner in crime for the next few days.

Getting it right !!

James was friendly from the onset and an absolute legend who kept me laughing every day.   Steve keeps his courses to a tight 1:2 ratio so he can give you all the attention you need.  As James and I had covered the video learning back at home so we were able to move through the equipment and theory workshops quickly and it wasn’t long before we had left the diving centre and were headed for the sea. The fin technique workshop started with myself and James face down on a wall dry finning away much to the delight of the tourists nearby. 😀

Soon though we were gearing up to start our weight checks and get wet.  Steve certainly gives you his attention underwater , he is totally involved with you . James and I were subjected to drill upon drill , repeat repeat . no no pull your knees up , don , doff , don , doff , switch switch switch switch, don doff don doff …. After a solid 2 hours of skills training in the bay I waddled up to the car and collapsed on the wall….  And If that was not enough it was back to the dive centre for video analysis . In my head I am “Mark , master of the deep” yet on the video I have a dive double “Mark,the floundering seahorse” .. James and I look at each other ashamed of our past delusional self opinions and our new self realization of mediocrity 😀


Day 2. Hondoq..The Bay of Bad Buoyancy takes us to a new dive site and donning while floating around is our first skill of the day , my long hose is a slippery python who just doesn’t want to be contained and my buoyancy is so tuned in that my old sink like a stone while weighted to the max technique just does not want to let me leave the surface.

James and I working hard to maintain perfect buoyancy while don and doffing cylinders

Steve patiently waits while James and I sort ourselves out and make a team descent , butnot perfectly so its back to the surface , go again , again and then its perfect .. another LONG dive of skills , skills and a few more drills . It seems more fun this dive, we are definitely improving at Steve’s hand.


Day 3. MV Karwela is our mission this extends our training to dive planning , Nitrox bottom times ,navigation, wreck penetration safety , lots of points openly discussed and advised on by Steve …  We geared up , hit the water and went through our safety checks , descended , drilled then took a bearing …..

I was the depth man , James the compass … he headed out into the bay looking ahead for signs of the Karwela  , soon we were excitedly on her and while exploring her depths a fantastic hole opened up in the floor inviting me in , it was freezing in there so up I went , followed by James who was doing the full “Darcy Bushell” out the hole behind me 😀

Karewla staircase

We found the staircase and glided up it to escape out the windows above and make our ascent to shallower ground as our decompression limits approached … it was a great dive and we most definitely were a little excited to be exploring it, the dive wasn’t over yet though as we spent another hour at 10 metres doing S-drills , don doff don doff , OAE OAE OAE , drill drill drill ….. Such a nice guy above water is Steve Martin , a strict Sergeant Major under it  😀  …. I finished that dive happy , Steve’s thorough lessons and repeat practice were taking effect , I was dialling it in , it was all clicking into place.

P29 tight penetration ... easy cylinder removal and exit.P29 tight penetration … easy cylinder removal and exit.


Day 4. P29  Minesweeper patrol boat is the wreck of the day…  Another morning spent discussing dive planning and skills before heading over to Malta on the ferry. its only a stones throw and we are gearing up ready to go. It’s a little rough and the entry is surging but no problem to the sidemount diver as we don our kit easily in the water . Safety , team descent, drill and we are off on our chosen bearing .. there is a solid current and we are forced to swim hard to move forward, it takes us a while to reach the wreck but its worth it. It’s a beauty and there is a tight penetration that requires the removal of my cylinder , in backmount I couldn’t even consider going in there but no problem in sidemount especially after the amount of don/doff repeats I had done 😉

The Big Gun P29

I had a pose on the gun when I was topside to , sure why not, when in Rome  🙂 … We left the patrol boat behind and finned our way back to the drop off , It was the last day of James’ course so we celebrated with ……….. you guessed it , skills skills skills don doff don doff , S-drill S-drill S-drill ….and more back fin. Eventually after another eternity of skills our air was running out, happy days I thought  😀 😀 , so we set up for a cylinder removal and headed for shore happy !

That night we went out to celebrate properly our completion of the Sidemount Essentials course with a pint and a meal with Freddy , Andreas, Matt , Steve and Scuba  …When outdoor men get together stories abound , Mexican caves , huge white-water rivers, Pakistan Border post encarsements, deep dives and wrecks and more wrecks … men talk 😀 😀    Steve and James drop me at my apartment late that night and with a heavy heart I say goodbye to James, until next time compadre’ but as luck would have it he reappeared at St.Abbs the following week !


The awe inspiring Azure window and Blue Hole

The awe inspiring Azure window and Blue Hole

Day 5. Inland Sea to Blue hole with added “exciting whirlpool” exit 😉   This was to be a  deco stage workshop and dive . Learning to handle a stage in sidemount with the associated understanding of equipment set up,trimming,procedure, gas switching , donning , doffing and the now expected drill upon drill that Sergeant Major Steve gives me 😀 😀  We arrived at the Blue Hole to find a small swell  , not quite a maelström but looking uncomfortably white all the same. Water is a powerful beast and certainly the connection between surface and sea is the most turbulent….. We decided that we would make a decision on the exit strategy when we were actually under the blue hole , plenty air on our plan to reverse the dive if needed. We put in on the little pier at the Inland sea and after spending a short time discussing stage handling we finally put the thumbs down and dropped beneath the sea.

heading from the Inland sea to the Blue holeheading from the Inland sea to the Blue hole

The dive was beautiful , a narrow canyon winds its way between the cliff face to the open sea, then a long  wall dive before swimming under a huge under sea arch and ascending into the middle of the blue hole. We reached the blue hole and looked up … it appeared clear , the swell must have subsided. We continued on into a set of chimneys and a large cavern , all the time doing stage skills and the occasional sneaky “freeflowing” regulator drill … he’s a fly one that Steve 😀 😀

out in the blue ... and a beautiful blue at that!out in the blue … and a beautiful blue at that!

Eventually gas was getting low and our decompression limit running out so we headed up and back to the blue hole .. 40 mins must have passed since we last looked and this time it was decidedly more white and aerated above, we were already way beyond the point of no-return so heading back to the Inland sea was out, an exciting exit it was to be. On the deco stop I was constantly aware of the aerated water above and to be honest I have never exited in such an enclosed hole so I was a little nervous as I entered the white-out of the aerated maelstrom above…

Ascending into the whiteout of aerated swell :DAscending into the white-out of aerated swell

My head popped out the water and I quickly fully inflated my wing .. Aerated water is not as buoyant as hard water and even fully inflated I was barely head above when the surges hit. I was starting to worry a little as I was swirling round in wide circles and constantly being sucked towards the back corner where the surge was pouring into crashing rocks, finning hard to stay out of it but Steve looked calm and its not like my kayaking career hasn’t seen me swimming round in a few big whirlpools 😀  this one was a Himalayan sized beast, maybe If I had been in my kayak there would have been cartwheels, rolls and smiles but neck-deep laden with steel tanks I wasn’t having quite so much fun.  One of the positives of sidemount however is the ability get those tanks off quick and easy,  so pretty soon Steve was up on the rocks and I was handing single tanks out the water before a treacherous ascent across the hole. If I’d been backmount laden it would have been a different experience , in fact a nightmare. Thanks Steve for a fantastic finale’ dive to my week……….  Roll on cave training !

So what do I think of sidemount now ?…… Sidemount gave me just what I was after , superior mobility and excellent self-reliance. You can see all your own equipment, easily access and if necessary repair it. You can manipulate your cylinders safely. You can achieve exceptional trim and buoyancy. It’s a system so flexible it fits into every diving discipline from caving to open water recreational .. every one benefits. This flexibility requires you to learn a few more skills and gain a little more knowledge but this is only beneficial .   It begs the question why don’t we all dive this way ?   …… the answer to that is I don’t know, but maybe one day we will 😉

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UXB is the dive for me !

**info — after publishing this post the army put a exclusion zone around the loch(much to the disgust of the local fishing club and farmer) but thankfully sent a dive team to investigate very quicky .. the mortars were declared safe due to age and the loch opened to the public again …  sorry **

Hellooo there …

I am intent on getting my diving skills back up to scratch again for various reasons so most of my spare time seems to be spent on … you guessed it !! DIVING!  so heres another diving post 😀 …… with a twist 😉

Stobs Camp 1903

Since the early 1900’s Stobs Camp has been a huge part of Hawick and indeed the Borders history. Originally a training ground for soldiers, then a prisoner of war camp , a Polish refugee camp and even a territorial army stomping ground until it was decommissioned in late 1950’s. Above the camp was a series of lochs created to supply the water, some of the dams were blown up but the largest one remains and is now used for fishing by the local angling club. I use it regularly with friends for wild swimming so I thought it might be a great micro-adventure to explore beneath the surface. Stories abound as to what lies on the bottom, from Sherman tanks to Sten guns I have heard it all. So I enlisted the help of Undersea Wullie and we headed to the Barnes loch as it is correctly known.

Unloading at the Barnes Loch

You need a four-wheel drive to access the Barnes loch, so we were in luck. Otherwise a 2 mile walk in diving gear would certainly have put us off 🙂   we unloaded and geared up .. the water was  sub-10 degrees and had a visibility of about 2-3 metres. As we dropped to the bottom I lost sight of Wullie quickly so we surfaced again , swam closer to each other and descended again before setting out exploring the bottom. It was stoney at first but as we finned away from the beach it became obvious there was a deep layer of silt .  I put my hand in and it disappeared up to the elbow .. scary . It’s the kind of place you could hide a body in. Hmmm!! I shit myself as the thoughts of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th set in.  Slowly we zig-zagged and cross sectioned our way up the loch , finding only an old tyre and several cans with naked women on the side 😛 … every cloud has a silver lining 😉

Every loch has one 😀

But then finally we hit pay dirt as what appeared to be a mortar bomb loomed out of the murky depths just above the silt line … Aha !!  it was indeed , an old bomb from a bygone era , but was it dead? I resisted the urge to touch it , even photographing it I felt a little nervous. It’s not every day and unexploded bomb is 6 inches from your nose. I moved on and subsequently found 5 separate mortar shells  PIATS is what we think they are  … I thought of the times I have swum over the top of these, scary !  and I bet the fisherman would get a shock if they landed one of these babies 😀

Booom …

I don’t really know how dangerous these are, they are obviously wet and have been on the bottom for 80 years at least, better to beware all the same .. I have heard stories of someone finding one in Alemoor and taking it home and defusing it in his sink , sounds a right nutter by all accounts  !!!!  😉

Another beauty ..

We changed our wild swimming course to avoid crossing them, wet or not you never know !! I certainly do not need to be getting blown out the water , I have enough injuries already!

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Kushimoto .. Japan rocks the diving world.

Destination Japan , Nakajima and I floating around in the pacific ..

Recently back on the diving scene, I have been lucky enough to have had some cracking dives across in the Mediterranean sea off Cyprus , Lebanon , Italy , Ibiza and latterly the infamous UK North Sea !  So what better way to fill my weekends on a month-long working trip out to Japan than to hunt down some undersea adventure in the Pacific ocean. And man !! … I sure wasn’t disappointed with what I found ……

Kushimoto coast line…

After hours of research on the internet I decided Kushimoto was the place to be and as luck would have it I was working less than 100 miles North of there. A wreck called the Stellar Polaris looked very interesting but my February/March dates coincided with some very strong and exceptionally dangerous ocean currents so I was to look elsewhere.  Finding good information was a nightmare, It was scarce on the ground and even harder to find in the English language. My Japanese may be good enough for ordering a tasty Ramen but for nailing down technical dive lingo it certainly is not !  So I posted on the Osaka/Kansai Diving club website and I hit the jackpot when David Graham CEO of Fourth Element dive equipment got in touch. A real cool and very helpful guy indeed, he put me on to the Mr Miyagi of Japanese diving Akihiko Tanimai … What this fellow hasn’t dived isn’t worth diving and he even hooked me up with a stay at his legendary diving hostel, the Bayside Inn , full of fellow divers and right on the harbour to boot .. Aces !!  

Bayside ..

The trip finally arrived and soon I jumped on the train for a 3 hour trundle South through beautiful Japanese countryside and coast to the Kushimoto station.  Aki was waiting for me and after a short tour of the town we headed straight down to the dive centre. Time to sort out equipment and dive plans, the weather on the coast was wet and windy but Aki was keen to get me in the water. After a cup of sweet tea and a few tales of what to expect in the Pacific ocean (sharks, hungry ones) I met Nakajima who was also to accompany me on my first dive exploring the undersea pinnacles of Kushimoto point, the most southerly point of the Japanese mainland. We geared up and headed for the famous Nanki Seaman’s club. A dive centre, boat charter hub and a staging point for many famous south Japan explorations.

The most southerly point in Japan … and the site of our first exploration of the pinnacles.

The boat was ready and we loaded the gear onboard…. out to sea we went, in what can only be described as an “interesting” conditions. After 30 minutes of literally bashing our way across the ocean we arrived at the dive site. The dive boat was pitching wildly and I wondered whether we would be diving at all but Nakajima sat calmly on the edge in a kind of side-saddle position and dropped into the water on the lowest point of the pitch.. Oh well fingers crossed, when in Rome (Japan) 🙂  I rapidly descended to 6 metres, just below the swell where the sea was much calmer, met up with Nakajima to start our descent. Dropping a further 40 metres down into the darkening Pacific we had reasonable visibility even with the swell above. We started our exploration of the pinnacle and after a brief stint in a large dark cavern ,  ascending slightly to check out some amazing rock structures and marine life. Over the course of our dives that day I managed to see many new sea creatures that I had never encountered before and I was elated to see a Shark Ray which can only be seen in the early months of the year so my timing was perfect !

Going down …

My trip later saw me explore several other great dive sites and I had the pleasure of meeting many, many very friendly and accommodating Japanese divers. I also stood goggle eyed at some “out of this world” camera and video equipment that certainly put my Go-pro to serious shame 😀 😀

Camera club !! 😀

Kushimoto was exceptionally beautiful with a coast-line that will make your jaw drop. A fantastic place to visit and spend time, not just for the diving but for the scenery, culture and especially the people. . I will let the rest of my pictures do the talking ….

The most southerly point of Japan..

Aki and I hanging , he really was an amazing host.

Watch the sunrise on the most southerly point .. right here !

Picture postcard beauty …. it truly was a spot that no camera will ever capture

Shrine to missing divers :-/

Pacific Butterfly

Box Puffer

Clowns and their anemone host , always my favourite

Kushimoto Storms ..

parking the boat .. 😀

Bayside Harbour ..

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The indomitable Paul Giblin …. Ultrarunner extraordinaire

Paul Giblin doing what he does best !

I met Paul Giblin years ago,way before he was the running monster he is today. A modest, friendly and warm character that I liked instantly .. , we stayed friends and I’ve watched him grow into one of the UKs number one ultra runners. His achievement has been inspiring and what ever he is doing it works !! He was as happy plodding round the trails chatting with me as he was blasting to the podium in an Ultra-race. I really couldn’t think of anyone more approachable and better qualified to help ANYONE achieve their running goals .. It takes more than just medals to be a running coach/mentor, you need knowledge,communication and the ability to form a good relationship. Paul has it all in abundance .. Go check out his website and no matter your ability if you think this might interest you then don’t be afraid to make contact, there’s a friendly voice waiting. http://paulgiblin.co.uk/

The infamous White Sock run …


Posted in Fun, hill racing, Mojo, Motoviation, mountain running, Ultrathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment