Nitrox – When to take the plunge…

A question that comes up quite regularly, but what is the right answer?

To give a proper thought, we must first look at the history and current events of Nitrox.

Used in a commercial setting for as long as there have been divers, nitrox didn’t come into mainstream use until the early 90’s and even then is was only really supported by “fringe” technical diving agencies such as TDI. In fact the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC), the “governing body” of UK diving didn’t accept it’s use officially until 1994, after outright banning its use in 1992!*

Put simply, it’s the practice of using more oxygen in your breathing mix which in turn lowers the amount of nitrogen available to be absorbed into your bodies tissues while at depth. The result of this is longer no-decompression limits, shorter decompression times or the perceived safety factor if diving to air limits and a more energetic post-dive feeling. I say perceived, because when it comes to safety, it’s statistically null and as for the lack of lethargy, that’s subjective and difficult to measure. Mainly because if you dive enough to notice a difference, then it may be improved dive fitness rather than any benefit from the nitrox.

The downside of this higher oxygen, is far shallower depth limits than air and a requirement to track your cumulative dose of oxygen. For example: Air is 56m, Nitrox 32 is 32m and Nitrox 100 is 4, yes 4m!

Sounds simple, but is it…

Well, yes and no. While it is very simple to implement, it depends on your use as to how easy it is for the diver to manage.

If you are only diving on holiday with a guide, then it really is just a case of plugging the mix into your computer, then following the guide and any instruction from your computer during the dive.

Diving locally though is a different story. For one, you’ll likely be autonomous and not have a “higher being” watching your every move, leaving you free to make your own decisions about depth and time.

Diving on air, this isn’t such a problem as you are very unlikely to reach any of it’s physical limitations, due to your own decisions or not – tide for example.

On nitrox though, to get the benefit of using it, you need to have a mix that is as “strong” as possible for the maximum depth of the dive. This means that you have an absolute depth limit which lies inside recreational depths, that you must adhere to or face the risk of very nasty consequences.

A scenario that comes to mind, which has actually happened. You dive at Anfre post with north running tide. You pull up to a bobber and check the tide and notice a nice trickle. You know that because it’s half tide up, that the tide will continue in that direction. So you select a start depth of 20m, knowing that if you run north, the maximum depth will prove no more than 25m. After getting in the water, you notice that it’s getting slightly deeper, so you angle yourself into the tide slightly to make your way shallower, at this point you reach a steep slope and wooooosh – you’re in 40m!

On air, this isn’t a problem. You’ll either make your way up the line, or deploy your smb and head for the surface. Either way, provided you have the gas, there is no immediate danger.  On nitrox, you’ve just exceeded your depth limit by some margin! Alongside the danger of the nitrox itself, you now have an added danger of panic, due to knowing that you have exceeded this limit. Neither are good for your health, or an issue on air.

So straight away, we have 2 extra things that you need to think about before and during the dive. How deep am i going? (before) and How deep can i go?(during).

You’ll also need to need to make sure the mix in the tank is what you think it is, by religiously analysing it before every dive. Another step and thing to remember.

This is why nitrox was always considered a semi-advanced qualification, until it’s mainstream use got high enough to where the agencies could start to make money out of it without too much fear of it being dangerous. Now for example, you can use nitrox from pretty much day one, even on your Open Water course!

So to be a safe nitrox diver, you need to:

  • Have the knowledge of the dive sites to be able to know how deep they are, and once in the water be able to navigate a route that keeps you inside the limits
  • Have comfort around the methods of calculating the depth limits and tracking your cumulative exposure to the elevated  oxygen.
  • Have the confidence and skills to be able to control your environment and equipment while underwater. To make sure that you don’t get pushed around by the tide.
  • Finally, you’ll need to have a good comfort level whilst underwater, this will enable you to have a clear enough mind to make sure that you are thinking about these new limits.

So why use it at all?

For dives of 30-45 meters, you can nearly double your no-decompression time. That makes a big difference to your dive times, especially on multiple dives. Diving up the Platte scalloping in the summer would be almost impossible without nitrox, as by the 3rd dive of the day in nearly 40m the no-deco limits are just a few minutes.

Are you going to benefit?

Simply, if you are ending most dives because of low gas, then nitrox will be of little benefit. If however, you are frequently ending dives with plenty of gas left because you have hit a no-decompression limit, then absolutely nitrox is for you.

One final note, the nitrox courses offered by all agencies are “theory only” with dives being optional. I personally believe that this is a bad example of “bare-minimum” teaching, and will always make sure that my students get a dive in as part of the course. That way, we all go diving which is the whole point of learning, secondly, we can all make sure that we are happy with actually using nitrox. Also, be sure to pick an instructor that actually uses the stuff, the number of instructors teaching nitrox with no experience in using it is pretty scary!

As always, i’m keen to hear your thoughts on this. You can either comment below, send me a message or pop in for a chat.

Cheers and i hope to see you in the water soon! #nobullshitjustdiving

 

*from wikipedia, so probably wrong dates, but the gist is correct

Just a puddle, a Bloody Deep Puddle…

Dorothea

A disused and flooded slate quarry, found in Northern Wales on the Western side of Snowdonia National Park – a very pretty place if you’ve never been. Slate production was stopped in the 60’s and the pumps keeping the water at bay were turned off in 1969. Assuming that it takes a few years to fill up, it was probably dived in the 80’s and i know that it was dived in the 90’s. A private area and not an official dive site, there are no facilities apart from a carpark and a scaffolding jetty, apparently left by a film crew from a recent shoot.

As you drive in, you are greeted by a mixture of old slate and more modern block type buildings, all of which are in disrepair. I was somewhat surprised by the cleanliness of the area as it struck me to be a great place to hang-out as a youf and also a top site for the fly-tipping inclined. Just as you are getting bored of the buildings, you round a corner suddenly to be presented by a sheer drop to a water-filled quarry. This you soon learn is to be your dive-site – Dorothea herself!

Just a bit further, and you come to a small car park, which i’m told can get pretty busy on the weekends. For us though, we had it to ourselves during the week with only 3 or 4 other people there on the weekend. Maybe this was a special circumstance though, as we were in the middle of the “Great Storm” of October 2017 and it was the NEC dive show – bit of a strange week all round really, it hardly rained, and the sun was out on day one, which i think is almost unheard of in Wales!

There are a couple of areas to get in, and out of the water. The “beach” which is a mud slope leading to a fairly shallow area of the quarry, where you are likely to get the wagon stuck and all your dive-gear covered in sticky mud. Or a very steep “Slope of Doom” in the car park i mentioned earlier, so called because it is incredibly steep, to the point that I was amazed that I didn’t go ass-up trying to walk down in my twinset. We used the later for all of our excursions, despite the fact that you do need to be careful with potentially dangerous entry and exit points – for one, you could hurt yourself and curtail your ability to dive for a few days. Or perhaps worse, cause yourself a bend from the exertion at the end of the dive in walking up to the car. My “technique” after a trying a couple of the options, was to extend my deco a bit and resting on the surface for 10-15 mins  before making the climb with twins still in place and then come back for the other gear once changed etc.

I’d traveled over with semi-jerseyman Roger, and we had met up with Mark Ellyatt in Wales. The plan, was to do 3 days diving for certain, at two dives per day, with the option to stay on and fun-dive for 2 extra days. Roger, being from Preston was going to visit family for the weekend, but soon decided to extend his diving by the extra 2 days. For myself, i was in 2 minds about going to the dive show on the Sunday, but decided to stay and dive too.

We were all staying in a hostel called Basecamp Wales situated in a prime position for people hiking Snowdonia and only a short drive (even by Gsy standards) from Dorothea. Whilst the rooms were sparse, it was cheap, comfortable and had a great kitchen in which to cook bacon sarnies and a large lounge area which was invaluable for classroom work of an evening. Nearby was a small town with take-aways and shops for supplies – mostly Haribo sweets and many, many biscuits…

Each dive started with the required very-brief-ing and gear up, before walking all our ancillary gear down to the jetty, then getting suited up in drysuits, weights and CCR / Twinset before gingerly feeling our way down the Slope of Doom.

For dive one, we were all expecting the water to be freezing, so after making our way down to the water and gearing up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the water was 16 Celcius! After climbing down the jetty steps, you find yourself in about 2m of water, so you need to float as you retrieve stages etc from the jetty just above your head.

Although there are many shot-lines dotted around the quarry, it’s very easy to descend straight from the jetty and make your way out to the desired depth. Straight off the end of the jetty it’s about 2m deep. Here in the warmer water,  It’s light but the visibility only 2-3m on average.  After a few meters, the bottom slopes off sharply down to about 15m where the water suddenly goes nice and clear, at the same time the temperature drops to around 6 – bit of a shock!

There are a few cars around this bit, and a van slightly deeper. If you head slightly to the left you come across a small open-fronted building which has been adorned with many gnomes and Christmas decorations! From there a right turn takes you into the main body of the quarry and the deep.

A slope then takes you down to about 25m, at which point I was finding it hard to mentally gauge my depth, often expecting that i was much deeper than  I actually was. Passing over some large hawser wires from the old workings, one small lonely tree and on to a broken stone drop-off on the right, with a more gentle slope on the left. Both of these routes bring you to the “cafe”, which is a small plateau in 40m with a table, chairs and icecream advertising board. From there you reach the ladder which is attached to a drop-off from 40 to about 65m, with a 50 road sign attached to the ladder at 50m. On this sign is some stickers with arithmetic problems apparently installed by the local BSAC club for their “depth progression” training using a similar method of narcosis testing as you find on the Padi Deep Dive – though slightly more effective in 50, rather than the 30 (ish) found in the Padi program.

Over to the left and ’round the corner of the ladder is a slope, which is where we found ourselves on our first dive with a maximum depth of 45m – a shakedown dive, which went without major incident. With the difficult conditions, and the fact that we were doing repetitive dives over multiple days meant that our plans were padded with a lot of artificial decompression. Further made safe with a plan of spending most of the bottom time in reaching our target depth resulting in very little time actually at that depth.

For some reason, we were struggling as a team to ascend fast enough, something that i normally pride myself on. I’ll just put it here, so i don’t have to repeat myself for every dive. I put it down to diving with a new team, and nobody wanting to crack the whip. I often found myself trying to keep everyone together as Mark “went ahead” and Roger “took his time…”

Day 1 went well, with no real issues, though dive 2 did get a bit cold with swimming around near to the 50 sign for what i felt was too long compared to what was needed to look at a ladder, sign and short cliff face! This dive I was also diving independent 12’s and my left reg wasn’t breathing very well which added to the discomfort – i serviced it that night, the perks of being a tech!

Day 2 we were joined by “Big D”, for a 55 and a 65. These also went well, apart from Rogers’ SMB reel deciding to pay itself out on descent, trailing out over the slope which took a few minutes to sort out – not a problem really as it meant less time at target depth and added to the conservatism of the dive plan. Mark actually thought it was sabotage on my part in an act of slowing the descent and congratulated me on my ingenuity –  i assured him that though a great idea, i couldn’t take the credit and that should go to Rogers dodgy reel…

Day 3, we were joined by “Little D” and his Kiss rebreather to do a 60 and 75. On the 60, D practiced his diver tow / ascent with the only available  open-circuit tosser (me), but i wasn’t the best student. The ascent was from 55m up to 40 at the “cafe” but i felt the speed was a bit fast, and it felt like i was out of control. Not wanting to get bent, i bailed the ascent and signified this by shouting “Fuck You”, dumping my wing gas and grabbing on the ladder! In D’s defense, it wasn’t that fast and he was in control, but in my defense it was day 3 and i was on OC. For the record, it was 55 to 40 in 1 minute.

Day 4 was just 1 dive, a lovely bimble to 85. This went really well with a huge cliff and reaching the bottom at target depth with something to look at. By this point, there is almost no natural light, but the water is very clear. The topography in this part of the quarry is spectacular, with the smooth rock face for nearly 30m sheer. The rock here actually looks like wood, due to the layers of the slate in the stone. This was my favourite dive, with a drysuit and cold-water PB and no worries, beyond the normal worries you should have being 85m underwater!

Day 5, Dive 8….

This was supposed to be to the sump at the very bottom of the quarry in approximately 100m.

Preparation physically was pretty good, well fed and watered and personally no alcohol for a week – nothing special at home, but normally whilst away i’ll have beer every night.

Dive prep was ok, but my gas could have been better. Due to running low on Helium, we’d boosted this, and transferred that to fill my tanks. I’d wanted 13/45, which on the bottom would have given me a P02 of 1.4 and an END of 50, meaning that it would have “felt” like i was in 50m when actually in 100. I ended up with 15/33, which gave me a P02 of 1.65 on the bottom with an END of 63m. I made the decision that it would be manageable provided that the workrate was kept low – END was no worry, and the P02 could be easily managed at such short exposure.

An important point, which which will come to light later, was that though we were diving as a 4, both Roger and I had stayed on to fun-dive, with Mark teaching with D. Though it was never explicitly said, it was the case that Mark would focus on D, whilst Rog and I would do our own thing. This is totally understandable, as 100m is no easy dive and there are many things to go wrong. It’s not fair to expect one person to take all the responsibility, without it being planned. It’s also fair to say, that whilst i’m qualified to dive that deep, i’m not experienced enough to hold any hands.

Time to dive…

We geared up as normal, apart from i would also be staging a 3L of 02 near to the jetty. At the very start of the dive, i descended to put it somewhere, and chose the boot of a car nearby in about 7m – I thought that everyone else knew that i was doing this, and had said what i was doing as i got in the water.

I returned to the jetty, met up with the others and off we went, this time with a surface swim over to the shot that led down to the “cafe.” Down the shot, down the ladder and then off to the Left, down the 85 drop-off and onto the slope to what we though would be an arch leading though to the magic 100.

As we swam down the gentle slope from 85m, we started to eat into our short 15 minute bottom time. I began to think that 89 would be our lot, so i went over to Rog and shook his hand, something i’d made a mental note to do before the dive, as i thought that he would like it and that it would be a good memory to have. Shortly after the hand-shake, it became apparent that we were not going any deeper before out bottom time ended, so we started to turn and head back for the cliff to avoid a super-boring mid water ascent.

At this point, we weren’t swimming hard, but we were moving. A combination of that hardish fining and the fact we had moved closer to the bottom for the handshake meant that some silt had be disturbed from the bottom and the vis was closing in.

As i made my right-hand turn i became aware that there was more distance in between the divers and because of the poor vis i couldn’t see everyone. I could however see Mark above me, so i knew i wasn’t off on my own.

At this point, due to poor vis and my high END, my narcosis level was very high. Of course it’s not something that you normally hear from any diver, but i’m not afraid to admit it. I felt in control, and i was still driving my bus, but i wasn’t paying much attention to others, or to continue the analogy, capable of helping you drive your bus! I could have ascended and lessened the narcosis, but i was worried that in doing this i would have lost reference to the bottom and if the vis was bad above perhaps lost everyone. So i kept in sight of the bottom until the vis cleared and then rose up to join the others to my right. At this point we were only at 11 mins ish, so there was no need to ascend off the bottom from a schedule point of view.

I was now back in control, with my head pretty clear. I looked around, to see that there was now only 3 of us. Clearly that cloud had not gone well for someone else!

I had a good look around, to make sure that i wasn’t crying wolf. Then signaled to Mark, who didn’t see the signal. Having only glanced about, I thought  that it was his student, D that was missing. I then looked back again and could dimly see a light, perhaps they are coming. This was when we reached the wall, i signaled to Mark that we were 3 and not 4. I then notice that it was actually Roger that wasn’t there, which gave me the best example of narcosis I’ve ever had….

We are still in 85 at this point, at the bottom of the cliff. With a largely high END, my thought was just “nothing i can do, i’m open circuit and near the end of my planned bottom time. At this depth any extension is going to ruin my plan and anything more than a few seconds is probably going to mean running out of gas and not being able to complete my extended decompression” To do otherwise would be silly, because at this point I have no idea what has happened to Roger, he could be absolutely fine, and i know that he’s experienced as a solo diver. He could also be dead. Either way, there’s no point to me risking myself.

As we ascended, at 10m per minute through about 70, my narcosis level dropped to the point where i felt comfortable and slightly merry. I started joking about in my mind, thinking “oh shit, that’s my ride gone” and “I wonder where the fucker put the keys” – at this point there wasn’t really a thought about how Rog was.

At around 60, the narcosis dropped another notch and i started to worry about what had happened. On a CCR as Roger was, there are lots of things to go wrong and really, i couldn’t think of a reasonable excuse for him to have left us. I also knew that he was really keen to do 100, and in the back of my mind i thought that maybe he’d blown the team and plan to try and get a bigger PB (89 was already a PB). This meant that i switched from worry to anger, with a split of maybe 90/10. Knowing that we cannot do anything other than complete our plan, means that we had an hour wait before we knew for sure.

So, in the space of 30m ascending, i’d gone through lots of thoughts and emotions, also remember that this is only 3 minutes!

At this point, my head clear, I started to “what if” and in my mind started to think about search and recovery, thinking whether Mark and I could stay in Wales longer, was there room at Basecamp, and how we’d need to get more Helium.

I then started to think about how and when to report it. Remember what i said earlier about who was responsible? Sudden;y i’m thinking about being investigated!

Those last 2 points were in my mind over the 60 mins or so of decompression, believe me, i didn’t want to think them, but it’s a long time hanging about not doing much.

There was also a point where we lost D at about 15m, by this point it was back to joking with Mark – what the hell was going on!

After a minute of so, we reunited with D and carried on searching for the jetty slope, this dive we had come up a slightly different way, so weren’t sure which way to turn. As it turns out, we went the wrong way.

Obviously keen to reach the surface and see if Roger had made it, Mark was able to switch to his computer for real-time deco on his CCR, so he left D and I to finish our decompression schedule, taking a compass reading and heading towards the jetty. On completion, we surfaced to make sure we were heading the correct way and then went back to 3m for the swim back – which is why there is 2 “teeth” on the profile, in case you thinking it was poor buoyancy!

As we near the jetty, we shout to Mark asking if Roger is there, or if he can see him. The answer comes back negative. Remember, that he is on a CCR, so no bubbles to see even if he is alive.

At this point, there is nothing to be done apart from focus on my own post-dive stuff. I remember that i need to go and retrieve the pony of 02 from the boot of the car. I descend onto the 4m slope by the jetty in search of the car – the vis is pretty poor here and i’m not exactly sure where it is.

Boom… I come face to face with a diver, and he’s wearing a rebreather. At first i think that D has followed me down, but no it’s Rog!

I’m really happy to see that BASTARD! Fucking Really Happy to see That Bastard!

I pop up to tell the others, before going back down. He looks quite happy, he’s not showing the worry that we 3 have done for the last hour. And to top it all off, the Bastard is gleefully carrying MY pony that he “found” in the boot of the car! Turns out he hadn’t heard or seen my staging it in the first place. So if i had have extended my bottom time and needed the pony for my deco, it wouldn’t have been there, not good!

I’m not a parent, but can now imagine what it’s like when a small child runs off. When they come back, you are both relieved and angry with them and not sure whether you should hug or shout and scream!

Afterwards, Roger said that he saw another cliff as we turned, so thought that we should continue up that side for a different view on the return. That’s it!

So the lesson here, is

FOLLOW THE BLOODY PLAN & STAY WITH YOUR TEAM!

Unless there is a problem that makes you deviate. Anyone that knows me knows that i’m a big fan of solo diving, perhaps there is call for it in this type of diving. With that, at least everyone knows where they stand

So, a great week and a fantastic experience, one that i’ll remember for a very long time!

Thanks to Roger, Mark, Big D and Little D for a great few days. Special thanks to Rog for the lift.

Hopefully we’ll be back next October 2018 – Let me know if you fancy a trip!

For more pics, check out the album…

Full-face Snorkel Masks – Thoughts

With popularity growing amongst users in the warmer oceans of the world, we’ve been hearing quite a lot about full-face snorkel masks (ffsm) this year.  Perhaps strangely, it’s the watersports retailers, rather than the dive shops selling these things. One of the largest diving manufacturers only makes them branded for their sports line, rather than their diving brand. Is it some big conspiracy, or something else.

Here’s what usually happens…

Someone will come into the bunker and ask if we have them, we will answer that we haven’t and go on to explain what we don’t like about them based on our experience. They then say that they’ve used one on holiday and that it was amazing. We agree to disagree and away they go, presumably to purchase one online.

A few days later, they come back in to ask about anti-fog. We say that there is a compound we use on a standard mask, but that we don’t think it works on the ffsm type from what we have seen / heard / experienced. They buy the anti-fog and away they go again.

A few days later, they return, admit that the ffsm is a heap of junk and buy a normal mask and snorkel. This has happened many times this year…

So, here is what we think…

The general rule with diving equipment, is that stuff that is designed to work with the water, works better than stuff that is designed to work against the water. Now i will admit that both a normal mask, and the ffsm are designed to work against the water, but a normal snorkel is designed to work with the water and that makes a difference.

With a standard mask, there are many, many variations in size and shape, with a ffsn, there only seems to be a couple – S,M, L – which isn’t enough. This makes good fit an issue, unless you have a perfect face for the ffsn.

A standard snorkel is just a tube with a mouthpiece, it is designed to allow water to flow in AND out very easily, meaning that with an easy technique, any water entering the snorkel can be easily blown out. Even if the diver fails to do this, it can be very quickly spat-out allowing the diver to breathe again as nature intended. This cannot be done so easily with a ffsm.

To allow the ffsn to have the best chance of fitting, it needs to have a substantial strap that covers most of the back of the head. This strap needs to be pulled tight, to keep the heavy (out the water) and bouyant (in the water) ffsm in place. This means that if you do get water in it, or need to remove it quickly for another reason, it is difficult and could easily (in my experience as a diving instructor) lead to a panic situation. Not good in the middle of the sea.

I mentioned above about the fogging. This is caused by warm moist exhaled breath condensing due to temperature change on the lens, as a ffsm has a lens made from plastic, it will tend to fog more than a standard mask because it (unless it’s cheap rubbish) will use tempered glass. The other big factor is that a normal mask is only connected with exhaled breath when the diver breathes out through their nose, which should only be done for a specific task such as equalization or water clearance rather than each breath. This leads on to one of the biggest problems in snorkeling…

Snorkeling is very easy, and for the most part people pick it up very quickly without any real training. Historically, i believe that most people would have only tried snorkeling locally if they had an interest in other aspects of the sport or experience in the sea. Or maybe they were introduced by an experienced mate who showed them the ropes. Now though (and this is a good thing) snorkeling is readily available to more people and some of these may not be very comfortable in the water. If you are not comfortable in the water to start with, then you shouldn’t be having a go without proper instruction. Whether this is from an experienced mate or proper instructor makes no difference really, but you need to make sure that you know what to do and how to do it.

Anyone wanting to know more about the basics, can take a free online or app based course with SSI through us by clicking here.

The bad points of the ffsm don’t end there, there are also technical / physiological issues.

Breathing is the act of air being pulled into and pushed out of your lungs. On it’s journey, it needs to pass through your mouth and windpipe down into the capillary laden  air sacs in your lung tissue. These are where the gas exchange of oxygen (in) and carbon dioxide (out) takes place. Any area other than these air sacs is termed “dead air space” and has no respiratory benefit – other than filtration etc, but for the purpose of this that’s a bit too “deep”

Dead air spaces are important in diving, because we are adding to them with any breathing apparatus that we use. This means that a larger proportion of our breath is doing nothing in the way of bringing in oxygen or expelling carbon dioxide. There is no 2 ways about it, the ffsn makes this worse!

The problem with lack of oxygen and too much carbon dioxide, is that you can initially feel out of breath, often this leads to a more rapid but shallow breathing pattern, which in turn adds to the original problem. If left unchecked, it can lead to unconsciousness, and in water that normally means drowning. With a normal mask and snorkel, you can just spit the snorkel out and easily push the mask off your face, this is not so easy with a super-tight ffsm.

I’m not saying that these incidents are very common, with a little research i’ve found a death or 2 which cites a ffsm as a factor, but who knows the actual truth of the matter.

From usage point of view, the ffsm also fails. You’ll struggle to dive below the surface, which is the general progression as a snorkeler. Firstly, you’ll struggle to equalize your ears, which for most people means a maximum depth of 1.5 meters, unless you want to hurt your ears. Secondly, even if you can equalize your ears, there is the problem of volume of air in the ffsm itself. This needs to be equalized as you descend with air from your lungs. In a standard mask, this only equates to a few ml, but in a ffsm it’s a lot more.

So to sum up, the ffsm is: Uncomfortable, heavy, leaks, fogs, stops the diver from progressing and may even be downright dangerous.

The best way i believe, is to get a good quality standard mask and snorkel that fits and learn to use it properly. You’ll enjoy it far more in the long run, and you never know it might lead you into more advanced snorkeling / freediving or even SCUBA diving being a big passion in your life.

If anyone wants to learn more about this snorkeling (or diving), you can send us a message, or pop into the bunker for a chat. You can also sign up for the totally free, no strings attached online courses here – you’ll just need to register “Dive Guernsey” as your affiliated center, don’t worry we wont spam you!

A quick reset does wonders…

Following a great post and video by Karl Taylor about his thoughts on local diving and how to describe his experiences to others got me thinking. So this is the story from just 2 days of this week….

Having a slow boat, being winter and the need to catch scallops on almost every dive means that for the last few months we’ve pretty much stuck to the East coast between St Sampsons harbour and St Martins point.

Mick has 2 weeks off, the plan was to hit the scallops at the start of each week, make sure that the “week’s good” with orders filled and then explore a bit, maybe a wreck or 2 and try and scope out some new spots for the coming summer – hopefully find a thick scallop bed in 40m, yeah, right, keep dreaming.

Day 1, Tuesday. Disaster! First tank down Gabrielle way in “bend alley” and the vis was disgusting, horrible, total shit. The bottom was covered in the dead algae snot stuff, so thick that it covered the scallops and made everything very green and dingy. So I came up, threw all my toys out of my pram and did what I always do when the vis is bad. We headed for Sark.

Of course, with such thorough advanced planning, we got to Sark at completely the wrong time. No matter, we’re here, have gas, will dive! I picked a spot on the plotter that looked vaguely interesting and jumped over the side. The first couple of minutes were rubbish, but at least the vis was good. Then someone turned up the dimmer switch as i came to lovely soft, bright shell-beach like shingly stuff and decent size undulations (waves in the sand around 2 feet high).

It was beautiful, mooching along with a trickle of tide, surrounded by a shoal of thousands of sandeels without a care in the world. Then came temptation in the form of flatfish. The first was only a small Brill of a couple of pounds, so that was no hardship. Then came the big fella, biggest fish i’ve ever seen. It was a Turbot and i grabbed hold of it to see just how big it was, a good 2 feet long and easily 3″ thick! Maybe 20lb…

I should explain at this point that it’s not allowed to take anything by diving in Sark waters. Though it hurt to leave, it was nice to see and and I still loved the dive anyway. Hopefully no dangler catches it next week and that it lives to get even bigger and moves over to Guernsey – Whack! The dive finished with some lovely reef and a few massive yellow sponges. Lovely.

Dive 3 of the same day was a quick explore on the South-east corner of a rock called Goubinere. This is a place known for flatfish, but there was too much tide. Bouncing along and crashing head-first into soft sand can be quite fun in the right mood, and i found a big anchor, I wonder if anyone has seen it before?

Day 2 came, and still with my toys very much out of the pram as far as scalloping was concerned, we headed for the South coast, always a dangerous move with dodgy vis. The general rule is that the East coast is the base, the Platte is 20% better, Sark 50% better and the South, well it’s normally 50% worse! But still, the wind was NE and South would give us some shelter. And i wanted to wet my spear…

Mick was first in, came back empty handed and announced that the vis “was shit” hmmm. As we we had come all this way (about an hour) I decided to have a go anyway and i’m glad i did, a decent Turbot and a Dover Sole, fish for tea!- Though not for me, eurgh…

So, we’re off to a good start, next dive was a “lucky-dip” where we just drop into a random place and see how it goes. My dive was awesome!

As there was a chance of scallops i took the sack, landed in 46m off to the South of Longue Pierre rock. Hit the bottom on really black rock and my initial thought was, Bollocks, this is a wasted tank. But then a few seconds later I came to the end of the reef and onto nice bright shingle.

I skirted the edge of the reef and soon the sand started to form a slope, before long this slope became a sheer (ish) wall that stood maybe 60 feet up. Picking up what few scallops were there, i continued to “fly / float” along this Grand Canyon type place. As the vis was clear like gin it was brilliant. Imagine hang gliding in the Grand Canyon with birds close by and you’ll be close to the feeling. Amazing.

Somewhat refreshed by these few dives. dive 3 and day 3 reverted back to scalloping and all is now well with 2 tanks with scores of over 100 scallops today.

So what are you waiting for, get wet! If you’re bored of it, try something new, it still works for me after 15,000 or so dives, so it should work for you too.

On that note, i’m off – diving in 7 hours 🙂

Oh Nikola, you can be a difficult bitch…

There’s one local wreck dive, that the mere mention of can have the local rusty diver turning their nose up in scorn or perhaps even full-blown disgust. The Captain Niko…

Built in 1948 she sank in 1973 off the West coast of Guernsey. En-route from Rotterdam to Alexandria with a cargo of Ammonium sulphate fertilizer. Full story here

In the early days she was heavily dived and those that visited talk about a pristine white wreck – a lovely dive apparently that you could practically see the wreck from the surface.

These days though, you’ll struggle to get anyone to dive her, normally the reaction you get is along the lines of, “The Niko? It’s shit”

For me though, I like it. There are a few bits of the wreck that make Havelet bay seem exciting, but then it is a very big wreck. It was a big ship to start with, and now that it’s broken up a bit and spread out it makes for a huge site. As it’s mostly 50m ish, you couldn’t swim from one end t’ other in 1 dive, well at least I don’t think I can.

The offending part is a huge bit of hull that sits at around 30 meters, it’s just a perfectly flat area around 30m long. If you try and dive this bit or if you end up on top of it during the dive, it’s pretty much game over for that dive as there is no point in trying to find a better bit to dive within the allowable time.

In the past couple of years, we have managed to mark a few of points of interest. One is the bow, which is broken away but intact and upright (ish). As it still has all it’s winch gear etc attached it’s pretty much a dive in itself. The second is a part (i think) just behind the main wheelhouse that I dived with a BSAC club that came over in 2016, as i was only there as “shot-bitch” and to skipper their RIB, i didn’t have much time on the wreck. There seemed to be lots to explore there, including a big doorway which beckons for a more thorough mooch. Lastly, there is the wheelhouse itself. I’ve only seen it once, and not for long as it was at the extreme of my range from the shot-line, again there appeared to be plenty of places to get stuck in to the rust.

While i’ll admit that the wreck must have lost some of it’s sparkle in the 44 years on the seabed i think there is life in the old girl yet.

The thing is though, she can be a cranky bitch. Often when i’m describing local wreck diving to new divers, i’ll say that the Cement Wreck (30m) is a nice friendly wreck and that the Ammo (30m) is a more advanced “foreboding” wreck. This is probably down to a few different things, the bottom type and it’s ability to reflect light, the amount of slack tide and the general area of the wreck (the AW is right outside the harbour and can be stressful with the amount of close traffic). The Niko somehow manages to be both. One day she’ll be a lovely welcoming wreck, and another day without any real reason you get the impression that she doesn’t want to be disturbed. Infact, on a couple of the times i’ve dived her, i really felt that she was doing her best to keep me there for eternity!

The main trigger for this blog, was a dive that i did a couple weeks ago. As I said above, i’m still trying to build the mental picture and marks on the plotter for the wreck. As it was just me, I decided that it would be a good idea to “free-dive” the wreck with no shot-line, just a delayed SMB to enable me to drop on the stern and see where i could get to. I dropped down quickly to not miss the wreck entirely, landing on a part I think was just up from the stern. Happily the vis although not amazing was pretty good at maybe 6/8m. So there I was, merrily drifting along the Southern side of the wreck for around 8 minutes, there was very little tide so i was swimming in an effort to cover as much ground as possible in the short dive that I had (sort of) planned. Much of this “plan” revolved around the fact that i’d left my 02 at the bunker and therefore had no inclination for a long back-gas decompression in the 11 Celsius water. Brrrr…

So there I was, happily swimming along the wreck, vis was good and everything else was going well. In front of me was some lost crab-pot rope, floating off the wreck a few meters in a tangle. Now the last thing you want on a 50m dive is to get tangled in this heavy 14mm line, so as soon as i saw it, i made a sharp turn away from it. At that point, there was a big “gust” of tide and whoosh… No more wreck!

The wreck had just damn vanished!  The vis was OK, the tide was back to a wee crawl, and it is a big lump to find especially with my fairly good sense of direction underwater. But no, no wreck in sight. Weird. Very Weird.

I swam around for another couple of minutes trying to find it again, and just couldn’t. The other weird thing, I was diving it on the Southern side, after the high-water. This means that the tide would have been flowing NE, and then gone N-NW-W-SW as it turned to ebb (as far as i understand the area), therefore, any tide would have pushed me on to the wreck, not away from it!

I have a theory as to why a lot of divers say that they hate the wreck, I think it’s because they’ve had a dodgy moment on the wreck like I have and decided not to go back. One part of the problem is that the Niko is often touted as a wreck that you CAN dive on any size of tide, while the others are only doable on the neap tides. I think that this means people try and dive it on the bigger tides, which causes the issues. I’m going to try and get there as a priority this year to get a better understanding. The only problem with that plan, is that the St Malo is not much further out, and I like the St Malo very much…

In conclusion, give the poor girl a spin, she’s not that old and you may even like it. Just be sure to have your wits about you and don’t try to dive the bit that looks the shallowest on the sounder.

Video 1 – Video 2