Browsing articles in "Diving Log"
Jul 22, 2013

Kernow Divers Scuba Diving Club Day 14-07-2013

In the middle of this sweltering hot July, Keith from Kernow Divers came up with the idea of running a scuba diving club day BBQ, as well as clearing a few skills for some members Rescue courses. Swanpool was chosen for ease of parking, great beach, cafe and the bay having an abundance of life.

Swanpool Beach

Jason brought the Trout along and quite a few club members turned up (too many to list), some with their partners and it was an interesting start to the day.

Dive Boat, The Trout

Kernow Divers Diving in Cornwall

Yet I should really start at the beginning, we had arranged to meet at 10am as I was going to be the unconscious diver for the Rescue course skills and it was planned to get it done early and out of the way so we could enjoy the day. As it had been a hot night, about 30C in my bedroom with the windows open and fan on I hadn’t slept very well and woke late, starting a morning at home of calamity on top of calamity. I finally got going at about 10.30 and was praying to Poseidon for clear traffic, which it was apart from one holiday maker with their caravan who insisted driving at 40mph on 60mph roads with no other traffic around but no where to overtake thanks to the bends and junctions in the road. Then all the traffic lights around Truro were against me, last time Poseidon gets any prayers of mine as the god of the sea and my faith is now going to the great spaghetti monster.

Rescue Course Skills

When I got there at about 11.20 there was already a couple in the water and Keith was running through some of the skills with the guys doing the Rescue course and with the number of people there I wasn’t actually needed in the end anyway so I donned my gear to join other divers and ended up following Keith and the others around on the surface taking some pics, was a great sight seeing a female duck and her brood enjoying a paddle around the bay but when they headed for the beach to get out there was too many people moving in to see and she turned them around and took them out on the rocks. I did manage to get reasonably close to get the one sneaky photo.

Happy Duck and her Ducklings

It was really nice floating around on the surface and snapping things, should have just put my mask and snorkel on and had some fun but me being me didn’t think that way, was worth it for the practice with the camera though, as you can see from my duck pic that I haven’t got the arms outstretched and level technique sorted, even in millpond conditions.

Rescueing an unconscoius diver practice

Keith demonstrating recovering an unconscious diver from the bottom, what isn’t seen in this photo are the DM’s and Instructors that were with him helping the Rescue divers go through all this in the water. Everyone that was on the course successfully completed all the skills, only a couple of people had to repeat a skill, with everyone working together and Keith’s clear instruction they understood their mistakes and at mid day Keith called time for lunch, great timing as always because I am sure the quiver across the surface of the bay was everyone’s stomachs. We also now have 8 Rescue divers in the club to go with the 8 DM’s and 8 Instructors.

Scuba Diving Club Day continued…

After lunch some of the club members went off on the Trout to a reef that was a little further to swim than anyone wanted to in the heat, leaving 4 of us to dive around the bay and we decided for a change that we would go straight out to the Eel Grass beds and we were lucky as Clare Marshall, one of our resident Marine Biologists was with us.

Clare, one of our resident Marine Biologists at Kernow Divers

With the bay only getting to about 7 or 8m at high tide, it is a very shallow dive site but there are plenty of things to see if you go left or right along the rocky reefs; yet not knowing about the Eel Grass would make you miss the whole little ecosystem that exists in the middle out across the sand. It was good diving with Paul as he knew where the bed was and it wasn’t long before we found it.

Unidentified Seaweed amongst the Eel Grass Bed

Small clumps of Eel Grass, as can be seen in the pic above top right were in front of us as far as the eye could see and with a good 10-12m vis at least, as we moved forward it was clear this spread over a vast area. We only got to a max depth of around 3.2m as the tide was on its way out and the water temperature was a beautiful 16C, part of the reason I was only wearing my 5/4 Excel wetsuit that I normally wear surfing.

Scuba Diver Paul Freeman Examining the Eel Grass off Swanpool Beach

We spotted a strange crab that Paul hadn’t seen before and as Clare and Mat had gone to the left and we had gone to the middle we couldn’t ask her what it was.

Unknown Crab amongst the Eel Grass

The pieces sticking up were part of its mouth and not something it had added like other crabs for camouflage, I was amazed at how many Bi-Valves were in the sand which I think were Ensis ensis (Razor clam) or something similair, literally everywhere and as we swam over they closed up and buried themselves slightly deeper. The reason I liked them so much was the way they reminded me of the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi and I could just see little things getting caught under the jaws.

Bi Valve

Bi Valve

Paul and I were having a great time and to be honest I was examining the beds and often forgot to take a photo of what I had seen, it was a bit worrying to see so many Echiichthys vipera (Lesser Weever) fish though that would suddenly come shooting out of the sand and swim off a few metres and re-bury themselves, I managed to capture one shot of a rather large one but they were very quick.

Lesser Weaver Fish at Swanpool Beach

The look on Paul’s face was priceless when we spotted a couple of happy crabs.

Scuba Diving with Paul Freeman

Yet trying not to disturb them I moved in for a shot, the male seemed to think I was there to take his place and he danced around the bed trying to hide his prize female from me.

Mating Crabs amongst the Eel Grass Bed at Swanppol Beach

It was such a fun dive that I wasn’t paying much attention to the battery on my camera, Paul came over to me and tapped me on the shoulder pointing at something that looked a little strange to me (no not my reflection in a mirror) and as I moved in closer could see it was some slug like creature, I went to take a shot and my screen was black so i started to panic thinking I had a flood and killed my camera but it was bone dry. Paul wrote on his  board that it was a Sea Hare, I was gutted as I hadn’t seen one before. We carried on looking around for a few more minutes and I just couldn’t get back into it, I looked at my air and still had 120 bar left, this was 45 minutes into the dive so I signaled Paul a T and made the gesture of drinking, his first response was to tell me his air, I shook my head and made it clear we should have a break for a tea as we had plenty of air left for another dive, he still had 140 bar.

After a break and a great cuppa from the cafe it was decided to go look for a lobster or 2, we had a rough idea where one was and it wasn’t any deeper than 2m around the reef. What started out being a 20 min dive turned into another 42 min one and I still had 60 bar left when I came out. It was amazing around the kelp bed to the right of the beach, plenty of life and we did find the lobster but he didn’t want to come out of his cave. I hadn’t taken my camera as I hadn’t changed the battery, with no fresh water till i got home I wasn’t going to open it up.

It must have been around 18.30-19.00 when Paul and I were sorting our kit out in the car park and everyone else had left, it was a great scuba diving club day even though we didn’t break out the BBQ’s and if anyone in Cornwall wants to dive more regularly I can highly recommend Kernow Divers because for £10 membership, free shore dives and only a donation toward fuel for the club boat you couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people from all walks of life to dive with.

Jul 16, 2013

Little Fistral Night Dive – 12-07-2013

So I was asked on Tuesday if I wanted to go diving in the evening at Newquay headland again on Friday, I couldn’t turn it down and when I got there at about 20.30 I found the sea was still flat as a pancake and we could go off Little Fistral if we wanted, so we did and what a dive.

Keith had arranged for me to borrow one of his old torches and I had to get the batteries, which was fair enough; it is one of the advantages in being part of such a great club and there was 14 of us on the night dive going off different sides of the Headland.

I was diving with Kurt and Paul from Kernow Divers and after the hassle of car parking (was really busy when we arrived) and everyone chatting to catch up we finally got kitted up and wandered down the steps to Little Fistral on the West side of the car park. I had my camera with me but as the hole is a bit small for the clip attachment I was using a lanyard and then the clip which could be broken and leave the camera hanging on the coiled chord, it was a bit worrying with the length it dropped down and meant I had to keep hold of it all the time.

As I dropped down I turned the camera on and found the first things that came to view to do a couple of test shots, a bit boring but rather pleased with the quality.

Focus test, a snail of some kind

Focus test_2 on a limpet

We had agreed that I would indicate when I had 90 bar left as Kurt and Paul were diving on 15l tanks and I had a 12l, we all looked at each other to make sure we were OK, torches working and ready to go and off we set, we knew the headland worked round in a slight North-Westerly direction to due North and we were all enjoying the beauty of seeing things from a different perspective, Kurt and I had not done a night dive before and Paul had run through our navigation skills before hand and let us know to check on each other a bit more often than we would in the day, also making sure we didn’t lose track of checking our air as we hunted for things to see.

The amount of crabs was awesome, mostly common shore crabs I think and yet I only managed to take a picture of one as they all ran like they had nitrous injectors in their legs when the big shadowy objects (us) came into view overhead.

A crab

It was when I was chasing this one that my torch got stuck in a gap in some rocks, it became detached from my BC and because I had the lights on my housing I didn’t realise for about 30 seconds that it had gone; I quickly turned around and headed back to where I could see the light shining up like a beacon, retrieved it and calmly re-tied it to my BC as I was swimming to catch up with 2 patiently waiting buddies, I had made the mistake of letting it go when I was taking the shot as I am still getting used to holding the camera underwater so won’t be doing that again.

I had set the ISO to 200 and I think the flash was on 50% power, set to manual aperture and fiddled with that most of the dive, yet when I had taken the camera out of the housing when I got home to see all the pics I was so pleased with the overall results, still have to work on framing and approaching the little critters slow enough to not spook them though.

I was turning the camera off a lot in between seeing things to shoot as it gave me the chance to concentrate on my diving, it is not scary at all diving at night, you would think it was but it really isn’t, the ambient light made the vis down to about 3m or so so I could see the rock formations clearly, and the bottom but when I shone the torch around the full colour of everything came into view, as if it was a daytime dive; seeing the glow sticks on Kurt and Paul’s tank s and the coloured parts of their kits was easily at about 8m

What I did find incredibly difficult was shining the torch with one hand, controlling my buoyancy and position, and then taking the shot when it had focused from the torch light on the subject, going to save my beans for one of those £45 focus lights and all the bits that go with it as no one had warned me how hard it was to have everything separate like that. A decent set of strobes will come along one day but to be honest the quality of the pics from this one dive and the standard internal flash and macro lights on the housing aren’t so bad in my opinion, next time I will try turning the flash up to full power though.

Then again scenery shots don’t really work with the internal flash, don’t look so bad close up but not great.

A weed scene close up

A weed scene close up_2

So Little Fistral as a dive site, well with the way the rocks have been shaped over the years it is an experience and a half, following the gullies round and seeing the shapes the suspended sand and wave motion have made is just beautiful with many nooks for life to hide in. There is not a lot of plant or rock clinging life till you get round a bit further into some of the more protected gullies. Then you also have to take the rip into account, the headland is a natural barrier that causes a rip at its furthest point back across Fistral beach, what we did notice earlier when there was light was that at the moment it is very narrow and you would be able to swim through it very quickly, but normally it is pretty wide and can sweep you across the bay; the rule of thumb seems to be that when you get far enough round that you feel it starting to pull on you, you turn back and enjoy the dive on the way back to Little Fistral as your exit point.

Diver at night

photographing a diver in action at underwater photography

Kurt above and Paul below looking for things for us to photograph in the dark as we enjoyed the diving ay Little Fistral, I have to say as a dive spot that in Cornwall it is in my top 5 places to dive, know I only have a few dive spots here on the blog but we have been to more.

Flounder

Female Wrasse

The top picture above is a flounder I believe, I was hovering for about 2 minutes before the other 2 realised what I was shining my torch at and when I moved in to take a shot it swam away, I was lucky to just catch it in frame. The Wrasse below was hiding in a small crevasse and doing a pretty good job of keeping out of the way, Paul found it and got a few shots and when he moved away I slowly took his place and managed to capture this, the funny thing is I didn’t notice that next to my head was a spider crab till it moved.

Male Spider Crab_5

You can’t see in the shot but this thing was literally bigger than my head, as I said I didn’t see it till it moved a few inches from me as I was shooting the Wrasse, made me jump as I glanced sideways to see what it was.

As we returned to the exit point swimming amongst the rocks I saw a couple of Edible crabs hiding that were the size of dinner plates.

Edible Crab hiding

If I had enough time I would have taken more shots to try and capture the perfect angle but as I was running into 60 bar it was time to continue back to the beach and it was then I was surprised with a giant goby that I didn’t manage to photograph very well and this beautiful red goby like fish that I am sure one of the readers will inform me of its species.

Blemmey?

When we surfaced 20m or so from the beach Kurt and I were both chattering away at how great the dive had been, Paul wanted us to continue in on the bottom so we went back down, but I was very aware of my air and for the first time at depth of probably no more than 3m my ears wouldn’t equalise and it was extremely painful so I signaled to Kurt and Paul and surfaced, they came up again but decided to go back down, and I was keeping an eye on the headland and beach and shining the torch for them as we made our way back to the beach.

We de-kitted and had a tea, it was pretty late by now and we had had an awesome 52 minute dive, Little Fistral is a place I want to explore a little more fully and really have to return during the day before the extremely calm conditions we have had on both coasts here in Cornwall for the last couple of weeks change.

Jul 12, 2013

Newquay Lifeboat Slipway 09-07-2013

So back to this old beauty again, Newquay Lifeboat Slipway on Newquay Headland, or as the locals call it, the Gazzell. The Kernow Divers club members on the dive had arranged to meet at 7 but as I was in the area I went over at 6 to enjoy a peaceful sit down, make sure my camera was set up correctly (which it wasn’t but still a lot to learn) and a small bite to eat. I went to check on the parking and found they had started to charge from 18.00-00.30 but it was only £2.10 for the evening which is fairly reasonable considering it is a tourist hotspot; with that in mind it was unsettling to find the toilets were closed at that time of day with so many people around.

As I was too excited to be getting in the water I forgot to take photos above the water till i got out and took one of the sunset as you will see later, but Keith sorted it for Mat and I to be buddies, hadn’t met him before and he was a friendly guy, we went through a buddy check, agreed we would turn around on 90 bar and started down the old lifeboat slipway, this entry is not for the feint of heart, the slightest swell makes this a difficult entry and exit point; further down the headland there are the old boat loading platforms and back up past the car park is the steep path down to seal cove but we continued on.

As I had my camera strapped to my BC Mat kindly put my fins on for me, and he patiently waited as I screwed on the wide angle wet lens and then we went down, dropping just ontop of the slipway we then followed the coastline around to the East.

Newquay Headland Kelp Forest

Mat Green_1

When it was clear we were both OK we moved on, and Mat was getting his head stuck into the crevasses to see what he could find, as it was high tide there was obviously a lot of spider crabs about and we even saw one pair mating.

Mat Green_5

Male Spider Crab

Spider Crab Sex

Strangely there weren’t as many fish as there have been in the past but there was plenty of fry and wrasse, still haven’t got the hang of chasing a fish to get its picture though and the best wrasse shot I managed to get is a bit dark.

Fry at Newquay Headland

Wrasse

With plenty of air we carried on, and I saw the only jellyfish of the dive, a gorgeous little blue ringed thing, and I was pleased at getting a reasonable shot of it.

Jellyfish

The water temperature was a balmy 15C, which after a couple of weeks ago being around 11C is a great improvement and made for a really comfortable dive. Checking on my air and seeing I had managed to suck up 50 bar in the first 10 minutes I paused taking photographs to concentrate on my breathing for a bit and to watch as Mat was searching for his dinner, I think he hadn’t decided if it was going to be crab or lobster at this point but he was persistent and kept looking into the deepest crevasses.

As we continued making our way around the reef I spotted something in the sand a few feet to my left, I wasn’t sure at first and looked over my shoulder to check Mat was OK, he signaled he was and I moved out a few feet to try and take a snap of what had caught my eye, as always it only started moving when I was a few feet from it, even though I was drifting very slowly toward it.

Flounder at Newquay Headland

When I had just managed to take that shot he was gone, took off like a torpedo skimming across the bottom with a tiny cloud of sand left where he had started.

It was great being back in the water even though I have been at this site quite a few times (I think around 25-30) yet seeing the respect Mat had for the crabs and lobster as he searched for one for his dinner was really nice, and made me realise that while we should always respect our underwater friends, as an apex predator it doesn’t hurt taking one home occasionally to eat as long as females aren’t touched and it is over a certain size, but not too big either.

Lobster at Newquay Headland

This was the lobster that Mat decided to take home, while it doesn’t look it, was just over 10 inches and a beautiful male specimen, I hope he enjoyed it but will find out when I see him next.

We pottered around a bit after that and just looked to see what else we could find, when my air was at 90 bar I signaled Mat that it was time to turn around, was about 47 minutes into the dive so not great air consumptions but not bad seeing as I have not been able to dive regularly over the last year. I decided to take us back across the sand, knowing there were a couple of smaller reefs (rocky outcrops) on the way and I spotted the only Pollock I had seen on the dive, it was ambling along as a Spider Crab was heading to join the party with his friends.

Pollock and Spider Crab at Newquay Headland

I had a great dive, was fun getting together with Keith, Mat, Paul, Scott and Nick from the Kernow Divers Club, now going strong with over 50 members and growing every month, with the weather over the next weekend they are having a beach BBQ, going to be loads of fun and plenty of diving.

Enjoying the Evening at Newquay Headland

It was great to see a small group enjoying the sunset and having a BBQ at the headland, was tempted to join them for a burger and a beer after the dive but while feeling refreshed I was actually really tired and wanted to get home to take up the beer drinking position to relax.