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Lochaline Sound Of Mull
Last weekend saw me on the road to my first UK wreck diving trip, for over 20 years, this time on a re-breather. Given the comparatively new experience of diving with a RB I chose a location where the wrecks would be interesting enough but shallow enough that I could both brush off the cobwebs relative to UK boat diving and get more time on the unit in relatively benign conditions.
I booked to stay at the Lochaline Dive Centre, run by a very welcoming, easy going and accommodating Calum and Faith. The centre boasts bunkhouse style accommodation with small en-suite facilities in each room. They also run a cafe from the same centre so the communal area is spacious with effectively 2 kitchens, 1 for catered guests and 1 for self catering.
They also run a small shop and gas station on site, catering for air and nitrox (not helium) divers, but there is no booster so 02 is dependent on J pressures at time of use. A large drying room is also available but given our recent sojourn in a high pressure weather front, it wasn't needed and given the low level of crime in the area everyone was hanging kit up outside to cook off, shame it wasn't hot enough to deter the midges.
I went up as a solo diver and the rest of the boat space was booked by a long established BSAC club from Grimsby, including a few "lads" over the age of 70 (even Gobfish would have felt like he was amongst his own). They were a friendly bunch diving singles, some air, some nitrox and were more than tolerant of my longer run times and extra kit space on the bench. Amongst their ranks was a fascinating collector of working vintage gear, a former member of the HDG, whose knowledge of yester year gear was substantial. Until recently within his collection was a fully working standard dress assembly, which is something that is definitely on my bucket list as a dive to tick off.
Diving was from "Sound Diver" operated by the very competent Lorne, skippering a 12.5m offshore 125 licensed to carry up to 12 divers 60NM offshore. It is equipped with a much appreciated lift (how times have changed), a sluice toilet and well proportioned cabin that would be a haven in inclement weather, suffice to say we didn't need. Tea and coffee were on tap along with local knowledge and insight.
Given the location of the centre we were able to easily get to the Breda as well as the core sound wrecks, so day 1 was the Thesis and the Breda. I had never dived the latter and despite its advanced age, thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a break in Oban between dives which was pleasant and contributed to the laid back atmosphere of the trip.
Day 2 was the Shuna and Hispania and the Shuna turned out to be my favourite of the trip. The OC lads were gone within 20-30 mins leaving the silt to slowly dissipate allowing me plenty of calm, visibilty and solitude to potter about and although it's not the largest of wrecks there was enough to keep me happy, from the intact superstructure, remains of the engine room and abundant life, especially decent sized pollack and ballan wrasse.
We stopped off at Tober(Balla)mory to wait for the tide to dive the Hispania.
The Hispania still had some running tide on it, so it was a good exposure to using a RB in some flow conditions and led to me restricting the bottom time to compensate. Viz was also worst on this wreck, but the nutrient rich environment was obviously conducive to life given how much adorned the slowly rotting vessel.
Lorne was happy for us to return to the shot or bag off, I used the shot each time for simplicity.
For non-divers there is little of real interest in and around Lochaline in terms of commerce/entertainment as you would expect, but they are used regularly by walkers/runners, road bikers, mountain bikers, sea kayakers, bird watchers and even host a week long, annual pilgrimage from a lichen fanciers society............it takes all sorts.
The drive for me was 7 hours and there is a short ferry crossing, but beyond Glasgow the route is stunning, so the miles soon pass.
If shallow wrecks is your bag its an ideal relatively sheltered option and we didn't scratch the surface of the other more scenic options. There is deeper stuff like the Evelyn Rose and Buitenzorg which are very rarely visited if that's your bag and seals were in abundance along with the odd porpoise for the Blue Planet bods.
They do book up rapidly and it's ideal as a season opener or late season closing act, individual or pairs can often be fitted in, but groups should plan ahead according to Calum.
You didn't mention Faith's baking!!!
Calum and Faith's hospitality is second to none. Lorne is great on the Sound Diver. It's not such a long drive for us but it is always well worth it.