Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Diving in Scotland's Firth of Forth

"If you can dive here you can dive anywhere".  That was how Mark Blyth of DivebunkerBurntisland, summarised the challenge of diving in Scotland's Firth of Forth. Although I've dived in many countries around the world (some diving trips are mentioned here), as an expat I had never dived in my home country and it was time to set things right!

The occasion was our forthcoming trip to Iceland where we would be doing six drysuit dives. Our only previous drysuit dive was in Russia's Lake Baikal three years before, so we decided to get some more practice while we were staying with my family in Scotland.
As someone who can feel the cold when diving in water at 29°C with a 3mm full length wetsuit, I was rather apprehensive about diving in Scotland, albeit in 'summer' - which is generally colder than Reunion's 'winter' - in a drysuit. However although I can't say I never felt the cold during our two dives, it's not what I remember, despite water temperatures of only 12°C.

The Dive bunker (source)

The club is actually installed in an old railway bunker from where it take its name. After we suited up and put our material (including 14kg of weight per person!) into the boat we were towed 300m to the slipway.

Looking back at Burntisland, heading out into the Firth of Forth


Mark Blyth and I, pre-dive

Our first dive site was the Vows, and we had a welcome committee waiting for us before we even got into the water.

our welcome committee of seals at the Vows

Once underwater we did some buoyancy exercises (drysuit buoyancy being different from that of a wetsuit), but it wasn't long before I felt something tugging at one of my palms.

When I turned round and looked I was surprised to see a seal nibbling my palm, almost playfully. When we'd been on the surface they hadn't come too near our boat, but underwater they were almost within touching distance. Apparently seals interact by nibbling each others flippers, so maybe they though we were giant seals? Or they just wanted to see our reaction?

In any case they seem to be curious animals, and one seal in particular would repeatedly spend a few minutes with us, swim off and then come back.

They rather made me think of underwater dogs, with their big soulful lash-rimmed eyes and their long whiskers.

Although they were - to me - the most impressive animals we saw underwater on this dive, there was also plenty of other things to see too, most of which were new to me. Fish were few, but there were multiple crabs, sea stars and jellyfish (moon and lion's mane), as well as lobster and soft corals such as dead man's fingers. On our second dive in particular (at Blae rock) we saw literally millions of sea stars (brittle stars?) on the sea floor. They were so plentiful that when I started the dive and saw the sea bed I thought it was blanketed by plants.

Diver on Blae rock (source)

All in all for me an unforgettable and unique diving experience!

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