Late June 2019 I turned 50, it’s kind of a milestone year so I thought to myself what the fuck!! lets go crazy it only happens once! So despite being in the middle of building garages and renovating my house I threw caution to the wind and became my bank managers worst nightmare. I fired up the plastic and bought the equipment Id been dreaming of and jumped on every chance I could to have a good time, the laughs were plenty and the diving amazing ! 50 was to be a special summer indeed 😀
Cearban under the Connel on the Falls of Lora …. fantastic photo by James Lynott
The year had started well with spring trips up to the North of Scotland diving out of Dunstaffnge with Shane Wasik and Diveoban, exploring the falls of Lora . The scene of a few of mine and Neils kayak capers over the years. Clyde adventures on the Wallachia and Akka with Neil, skippered by the Clydes finest Jason Coles of Wreckspeditions and some amazing spring MarineQuest adventures on the North Sea including the amazing J6 Submarine dive. 2019 was a good year already and the summer was still to come!
Summer is here 😀
First week of the summer season saw me doing my JJ CCR crossover with the infamous Stevie Sanders 😀 , that was a weekend to remember – see for tales of green slime and hippies The next few weeks saw me practising skills up St Abbs with Jim on the Silver Sky. My plan was to get familiar with the new rig before committing to anything more serious . I really enjoy these dives, the St Abbs coastline is beautiful and recreational diving is slightly more relaxing than its technical counterpart.
As luck would have it the first big day out of the summer season was my birthday weekend and the plan was to dive the amazing Not Silvio ? ….. the wreck is an unknown mark discovered by Marine Quest not long ago, where they found a beautiful bell inscribed “Silvio 1880 Hul” but it is unlikely that this is the ship, as the Silvio is reported scrapped in 1912 and differs in size from the wreckage found. It wasn’t unusual back then to re-use these magnificent bells on other ships after scrapping the original.
Diver on the Not Silvio ?
There are theories that it may be the Otago but there is nothing as yet to prove this so she remains unknown sitting majestically on the bed of the North Sea until eventually a diver unearths more clues to her identity and finally is recognized for who she truly is.
The wreck was a beauty , a long long way offshore, 70m to the sea bed and rarely dived due to the need for perfect conditions. The day was indeed perfect and with a great bunch on the boat we set sail at 4.30am on a sea like a mill pond. A day like this on the North sea will blow even the most experienced divers away! and man !! what a day this was , with amazing viz at 70m and a pristine wreck found in all its glory. It was breathtaking, the dive went well and it felt akin to being on the red sea, well worth the very looooong day at sea. Happy days and Happy Birthday 🙂
Steve Sanders , hes a legend alright 😀
The next morning, still buzzing from the “not Silvio” I met up with Steve Saunders at StAbbs. He had asked me to be his safety diver for the weekend and assist with a rebreather course he was running. He is a good sort Steve so I was keen to help and no doubt I would also learn from it. Sue was his student for the weekend and it was very nice to meet her, a lovely lady who I think (Did I mention memory issues at 50) was a teacher. She was taking her Mod1 rebreather so was in for a tough couple days of skills.
Sue and Steve 😀
We were diving with the StAbbs skipper of the high sea, Paul Crowe. A well known local character, top skipper and lifeboatman and runs the excellent dive company Dive St.Abbs We were in safe hands and the course went smoothly over the first two dives.. Dry and changed we debriefed over coffee and a tasty toasty at the brilliant Ebb cafe Steve went over everything with Sue and she was happy with how it went.
Strawberry 50 !!
Iain Steve and I headed out on Saturday night to Oblo for something to eat and a few beers to celebrate my birthday although Steve kept plying me with big Strawberry cocktails!! Eyemouth wasn’t the worst place to turn 50 😀
Sunday was the last day of the Mod1 course and we were at the dock early, Steve briefing Sue about the skills that were required during her last two dives of the course. Paul arrived dockside and we set sail for Black Carr. Soon we were on the bottom and workign through the course. Sue was doing great , confidently doing exactly what Steve was asking and I was happy floating around keeping an eye on things in case Steve needed me to help. Her last dive of the course went the same way and Soon it was time to surface and we set off DSMB and headed for the surface .. Upon our arrival at the surface the Jacob George was circling us , skippered by Iain they approached and the divers on board were singing happy Birthday to me as I floated around in the North Sea 😀 Happy Days !! what a great weekend I was having 😀
SS.Exmouth Prop .. Credit to Steve Sanders for a cracking shot.
Part 2 coming soon ………….A couple of weeks later I met up with Stevie again for a few days of diving, including an anniversary technical expedition to the famous Exmouth Wreck , later featured in Scuba magazine …. Part 2
What can I say! All weekends are not equal and this one stands out like Johnny Holmes’ cock at a naked pygmy convention, Fuck me it was a riot! I apologise for the profanity below but it was that kind of day .. 😀
Wasdale and the Wastwater .. Great Gable in the background
The plan was that I meet Stevie Sanders, one of the UKs top divers and JJ-Ccr instructor to sit my crossover course in the Wastwater, over in Wasdale my favorite part of the Lake district. I was to arrive late Sunday morning as Stevie was just finishing off a Mod3 with a couple of champions of the North sea, AlanP and DaveC. Stevie had agreed to fit my training in straight after to help get me going quickly on my new rebreather. I packed the car and headed off early Sunday morning. The forecast was shite! Heavy winds and rain, if it was the North sea I would have stayed in my bed but the Wastwater is dive-able in all but the worst conditions so all was good.
Wasdale Head Inn …. legendary climbing haunt
I arrived on time and Stevie and Alan were chilling sheltered in Stevies Van. After Alan had his course debrief we headed to the Wasdale Head Inn for lunch, a cracking place famed for its climbing history and still a popular outdoor destination with all the climbing and walking on the mountains that rise steeply from the basin.
I love Wasdale! It is a valley full of legendary tales of mountain exploits helped by the fact that legends like Joss Naylor farmed there and UKs top climber Dave Birkett, a cracking guy with whom I was lucky enough to boulder with up here in Northumberland also haling . Over the years I have spent a lot of quality time climbing there. With the Great Gable and Scaffel massif offering amazing mountain adventures I was drawn like a moth to a flame. There seemed like nothing better than ascending the amazing airy climbing routes up on these high mountains in my early years of climbing. More routes thn I now can remember but I wont ever forget ascents upo the Tophet wall,definitely a favorite and a couple of 3 star VS crack climbs that saw me solo them one night in semi darkness. Good times 🙂
The Wasdale roof at a respectable E3c on Napes Needle
The famous Napes Needle up on the flanks of Great Gable, home of probably the first ever recorded rock climb and steeped in history saw me visit regularly over the years with various climbers who when wanting to top out on it invited me to help. Napes Needle and the Inaccessible Pinnacle are probably the routes I have repeated most over the years because of this and I have always enjoyed a visit to both and the look on my climbing partners face when they summit …Good times 😀
Anyways back to story ! Driving along the single track road towards the Inn my car started to buzz, a puncture … FUCK. I jumped out and sure thing a VERY flat tyre! I couldn’t think of a worse place to change it so I drove further along the road to find a passing place. My car was full to the roof with diving kit so I emptied it all out on the road. I knew I didn’t have a spare tyre, why they don’t put them in cars these days blows my brains !! Even my last Landrover didn’t have one ! a fucking LandRover! But there was definitely a latex repair kit with pump, that should do I thought.
puncture repair kit , or not ? 😀
I lifted the boot floor and reached for what I thought was my puncture repair kit and after unscrewing the securing bolt I tried to pull it out, it was on a wire, WTF ? I examined it closely and tried to unscrew the top, it appeared to be glued! double WTF! I headed for the glove compartment and reached for the cars manual , I still couldn’t find anything … until I saw a picture of a big black round sub-woofer while flicking through the pages, it was a fucking sub-woofer ! a bloody great big speaker right where my Landrover had its puncture repair kit, lulling me into thinking it was the same thing when I saw it. I was quickly realising that I didn’t have a hope in hell.
Alan,Stevie and I looked at each other .. fuck I wouldd need to phone a rescue service , no service !! this is just getting worse .. We would need to leave the car and head for the pub at least we could get WIFI and see what we could do from there. We abandoned my car in the passing place , sorry about that! And jumped into Steve’s van before heading to The Wasdale Head Inn.
On arrival at the bar there was a sign that said “No WiFi ! talk to each other” FFS! come on God give me a break here!! I asked the lady at the bar for change of a pound , I was going old skool and using a phone box and directory inquiries, luckily I have a few years under my belt and can remember these things 😀
Just a typical day in Wasdale 😀
Then the strangest of happenings !! A guy was looking at me, a friendly wide eyed and smiley looking fella , I said Hi , he said Hi and started chatting, telling me he was from Somerset and was headed up to Moffat to start organic gardening with a friend who just bought a small holding, cool I thought. He then asked me if I liked a smoke, as in a bit of green. I laughed and said today I could do with a mile long joint and started to explain my situation … I can help he said , my camper van has a latex kit I will give it to you .. then he fires in with but I’ve just dropped a couple of acid tabs and will need the trip to settle down a bit before I can ride my bike ..ah man this day just keeps on going ! I bought him a pint and he joined Steve , Alan and I .. he was hammered , what a fella 😀
We ate dinner and eventually he disappeared off to find his bike so he could cycle to the van and back … his van was a couple of miles away up at the Wasdale camp site. This day just keeps on rolling !! a hippy on beer, smoking green and dropping a couple of acid riding a bike trying to find a camp site in the thumping rain and then come back with a puncture repair kit .. FFS! what could go wrong !! 😀 Steve was laughing , no chance hes coming back !!
Common sense ? where ? 😀
We all agreed and I started looking to plan B. Alan was trying to contact his Green Flag recovery to help when in walks the hippy, puncture repair kit in a huge rucksack and a whopping great smile on his face.. WOW! what a man ! not to look a gift horse in the mouth we jumped in Stevie’s van and headed to the car still buckled by the road side. I tried to pay the hippy, he wouldn’t take it but I insisted. He gave us the kit and I connected it to the tyre, Zmmmmmpop …the pump kicked into life and the tyre looked like it was inflating 🙂 happy days !
Alan took his leave at this point and we thanked him for his help. Now when a helpful fellow like Alan disappears sharpish you should know things have been tough and just as he shot off into the distance BOOM!! the latex barrel exploded, covering Steve and myself in the green goo !! The tyre valve had become blocked because the latex was so old it had congealed, causing the pressure to build up in the latex barrel and not escape to the tyre! MAN!! MAN!! FFS! … we are all looking at each other, speechless, this was hilarious but shit at the same time !
WOW !! man , is it really so green ? can you smoke it ?
The trippy hippy had his mind blown, looking on in quizzical disbelief. We were laughing but had our heads in our hands at the same time. OK plan B! I will have to drive slowly out of Wasdale to my digs, before getting the car on bricks and taking the wheel to a garage in Egremont first thing Monday morning, loads of hassle but our only option. We took the hippy back to the Inn and said our goodbyes, what an amazing guy ! Generous , friendly and super-wasted!! Legend!
Ok! plan B activated….. I drove very slowly to the digs with Stevie tailing me in his van. We stripped the now fucked tyre and wheel in readiness for the morning. It was pure magic to be finally sitting our arses down with a cup of tea .. Can we get on with the course now must have been resonating round Stevie’s head 😀 among other things like ****##@** !!
A crossover course is to teach an existing rebreather diver to dive safely on a different unit. Rebreathers are relatively complicated and each unit has its own unique “personality” which requires skilled instruction to safely use. I chose to move from my existing AP unit to the JJ-Ccr mainly because there are no bells and whistles, just simplistic design with a bombproof build and was very happy that one of the top divers/instructor in the North Sea had agreed to train me on it. Stevie is quite a character and soon I would discover I was about to learn more than just diving 😀
start of the Stripdown
The course included a full strip down and rebuild of every single part of the JJ-Ccr unit to ensure my understanding and ability to maintain it. Rebreathers are life support equipment and under no condition should you dive one you are not happy about and to confidently do this you should understand it fully right down to the last nut and bolt. I enjoyed this and Stevie’s instruction was clear and methodical and over the course of a few hours we took apart, maintained and rebuilt my unit taking notes and photos on the way so I wouldn’t forget. I have a huge respect for rebreather diving and the discipline it takes to do it safely. Maintaining the unit is a huge part of this and I endeavor to learn my trade and do it well. The week after the course I repeated this strip down several times while it was fresh in my head, took more notes and hopefully I continue to maintain it perfectly. Finally the theory part was finished and we headed out to eat. The western lakes is a cracking spot but pubs dont like to serve after 8:30 apparently! Eventually we sorted out some grub and Stevie introduced me to a coffee thing mixed with I think Tia Maria ? in it, certainly helped me get a sound sleep before the skill dives the next day.
Jubilee motors Egremont !! 5 stars , big thumbs up
Up early on Monday morning and off to Jubilee Motors in Egremont with my wheel, I could not recommend them enough, they really helped and gave me a bunch of schrader valves to boot.. It needed a new tyre which wouldn’t arrive until 1pm so we would have to return later. We dropped it off to be fixed and grabbed a breakfast before heading to the lake. I was very grateful to Stevie for all the running round, he was definitely getting more from this course than he bargained for, but so did I mind …. probably a life time of abuse 😀 😀
ready to go !
We headed back to Wastwater and kitted up. During the dive Stevie would grill me on the various rebreather skills using the new unit. The JJ-ccr was a breeze to operate and hopefully Id be able to replicate my skills on this new unit. It was my first dive in Wastwater and I was looking forward to it. It was a breezy day up top but once we were under it was peaceful and clear. Stevie grilled me as our dive progresses and we slowly worked my way through all the skills. The dive was good, a nice banked descent then a line across to a large pinnacle of rock that disappeared down into the darkness in crystal clear water.
Buzz Goodyear … to flat tyre and beyond !! 😀
A surface break and soon we were back underneath the lake and more skills practice ensued. All too soon though again it was time to surface and debrief. Stevie during the course was clear, concise and patient, a good instructor although last time I asked him a question he called me a thick cunt but you have to take the good with the bad 😀 😀 He is solid , I look forward to my next course with him 😉 Time to pack and head for the wheel !!
After picking up the now repaired wheel from the garage at Egremont we headed back to my car and put it back on, a quick coffee with Steve and I hit the road …. more hair to cut 😉
Many thanks to everyone that helped on that trip, from hippies to dive pirates and garage mechanics .. I arrived home certified to dive a JJ and in one piece ………. happy days 🙂
Credit to Brian Goddard for the use of his amazing video from the dive……. because mine was shit 😀
Another cracking video from the dive by Pete Baker
The J-class submarines were seven submarines developed by the British Navy prior to WW1. The objective for these submarines was to be able to keep up with the Navy’s fleet of ships. However, though more powerful than previous submarines, the J-class subs were still unable to keep up. On 15 October 1918 J6 was on patrol on the surface outside her base, Blythe, off the Northumberland coast when she was spotted by the Q-ship Cymric. The captain of the Cymric Lieutenant F Peterson RNR mistakes the identity lettering on the conning tower of J6 for U6. Assuming U6 to indicate a German U-boat, Peterson raised the White ensign and opens fire on J6. J6 tried to signal, but the signalman is killed. J6 flees into a fog bank, but Cymric locates J6 again. After a number of direct hits, J6 sinks. It is only after the survivors are seen in the water that Peterson and the crew of Cymric realise their mistake and recover the survivors. Of the 45 crew of J6 15 were killed; a subsequent court of enquiry found that no action should be taken against Peterson. An order under the Official Secrets Act prohibited mention of this incident until 1969… credit to IWM for info.
Neil and I headed off early Saturday morning to MarineQuestHQ in Eyemouth. A 4.30 am start had been called for as the mission to sail over 50 miles out into the North Sea to the North East Bank in the hope to catch the slack and dive the wreck of the J6 submarine demanded it.
My immediate mission though was to recover from Neil’s snoring, he had been sleeping in the room below me, it was like the Canadian lumberjack squad were practising down there, so with less than 10 minutes sleep under my belt we headed off to Eyemouth, moon still in the sky 😀 😀
Everest … just like Tescos
We were both very excited, and for sure its a rare occurrence to get a chance to dive a wreck like the J6. Neil’s own words to me as we sat there were “you know Mark, fewer people will have seen this submarine than have scaled Everest” N.Farmer 2019 😀 It’s a fact but according to the stories of late, fewer people have been up the Eiffel tower ….. 😀
The J6 sits in 69m of water and is remote for a small dive vessel like the Jacob George but the forecast was mint and we were going for it ! Neil and I were treating it very seriously and were unsure on a plan. However the boat was full of all the usual faces, a friendly group of battle hardened North Sea divers. We were in very good hands , ideal in fact for any advice we would need. Several hours sailing later and we were in position above the wreck, the plan was to drop the shot near the conning tower and if Iain missed then Brian Goddard, Legend of the North Sea 😀 would position a line from the shot to guide us on the wreck so as not to waste any bottom time. Iain, “shot line sniper” dropped the shot and we waited for slack. Soon the top boys were dropping off the back and heading down to the wreck to sort it all out.
my best side … 😀
A short while later it was time Neil and I were heading down .. Iain put the boat into position and off the back we went … dropping first to the easy shot, leaving our markers before heading down to the wreck. We arrived to find the shot bang centre of the wreckage ! the sniper nailed it again . The conditions were good and visibility amazing !!
The submarine was big ! way bigger than the U12 and the U74. I cannot compare it to the K-boats as even though I had dived them last year .. the viz was so bad that weekend that I had touched them then ran scared back up the shot 😀
But today was different !! Neil and I cruised up the big sub in 15m+ visibility taking in the conning tower, port holes , periscope and all in scary fish netted glory … far too soon it was back to the shot to head up and start the long decompression plan.
Hanging around the trapeze we looked on as a young Sam Broom nailed his MOD. He had been with Marinequest all week training with Steve Sanders, top instructor and the Vegan king of the North Sea 😀 Sam has been hitting all the bucket list dives in training !! Its all waiting for this young lad 🙂 A name to watch out for !
Diver soup 😀
With divers on long deco it gets busy around the trapeze but for fear of a whacking great 11 litre batting you one it certainly keeps you from nodding off 😀
Neil hanging out on the trapeze
A spot of 6m meditation and soon Neil and I were free from any deco obligations and we headed to the surface to be picked up by the North Seas finest , sorry Iain but legend of the North Sea is already taken and I am seriously running out of names here 😀 😀
THE Skipper !
All in all another day to add to the list of BEST DAYS EVER !!!!! thanks to all involved . BLOODY MAGIC !!
Grandad and I in search of what lies below the whirlies 😀
As white-water kayakers of old, Neil and I had spent time on that most mythical of Scottish play waves, the magical Falls of Lora … Formed by a huge tidal race flowing over a shallow reef and through the Connel bridge near Oban it was a place to surf , cartwheel and shit your pants in the huge whirlies below when you blew off the wave 😀
So when Neil rang me regarding exploring what lay beneath this beast I jumped at the chance . Shane Wasik, diver, skipper, conservationist, lover of Haribo and the man behind both Basking Shark Scotland and Dive-Oban was running a weekend based on a special tide giving the slack needed to safely navigate the channel , a perfect time to explore…. we were on it !! Our good friend Alan Dorricott was also in for the ride so it was sure to be a great time , especially as he makes a cracking video too.
Shane’s company is based out of Dunstaffnage marina near Oban. It’s a nice and quiet, and a location with all the facilities you will need on-site . His Boat the CearBan is a little beauty too! Just enough room and with its powerful engines and fast hull it handles the rough seas easily and slides comfortably through the waves en-route to the dive-site .. So after an early R.O. of 7.30 am we were headed in the direction of the falls to catch the first of the slack tides. A beautiful morning and with a great mix of friendly divers onboard, the day was starting out perfectly.
Cearban under the Connel …. fantastic photo by James Lynott
Upon arriving we discussed a dive plan and I was quickly suited and booted before rolling backwards into the North Atlantic sea … a balmy 8 degrees froze my lips and soon I was descending into the dark. The first dive saw us follow a deepening ravine to a depth of 30m . It was different from what I had imagined but there were many unusual parts to explore on this large reef. Subsequent dives took us further out into the middle and ended up with us drifting in the current under the bridge much to the amusement of Neil who had probably been there before clinging to his kayak 😀
After a couple of long dives it was now getting late and we needed to head back to the Marina to prepare for the night dive. First we hit the Marina Pub for grub, a diver marches on his stomach 😉 . Inside we bumped into the larger than life Claire Simpson who was along for the night dive with her long suffering dive buddy Steve 😀 . We enjoyed a few laughs before heading out again in total darkness under a magnificently clear sky to dive the wreck of the SS.Breda ….
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket Never let it fade away!
On these night dives Shane has several humongously bright flood lights that he hangs from under the hull of the Cearban which illuminate the bow section of the wreck .. its very very cool . If I am honest , deeper diving in Scotland is very akin to night diving , 30+ metres and below is often pitch black but it was definitely cool to be doing this with a starry sky and at a safe depth. Kitting up went smooth considering I couldn’t see half my kit and soon we went in. It’s a great wreck in the daylight and during the night , not deep if you stay high on the deck but a respectable 28m to the prop if you want to head down ! On this occasion there was a massive Moray eel looking out at us . The wreck is incredibly intact and very close to port making it a west coast classic and a pleasure to dive. Magic !! and the sky was so clear it looked like you could just grab a few stars to take home ! <3 As usual, all too soon the fun was over and we headed back to port around 10pm.
Night Diving … photo coutesy of the legendary Claire Simpson
The next day started well with a later R.O. courtesy of the clocks changing and the tides going the opposite way 😀 Another fantastic dive on the falls. we spent an hour following what felt like a huge deep wall across the channel . Made better with stunning viz and low currents with 33 m bottom. Later that day we returned in daylight to revisit the Breda. The conditions were good , sun high in the sky and Alan and I headed to the prop to see the big Moray from the night before. He was gone !! only a large Pollack looking at us this time. A superb final dive topping off the amazing time we had all had …. Check out Alan’s excellent video of our weekend below
Many thanks to everyone, especially Alan, Neil and Shane for making it one to remember . I really need to get up North more often. 😀