(by Bob Kissane)
A motley and somewhat elderly crew left Bedford with the optimistic intention of diving in St Kilda – John Breeze, Tim Keech, Malcolm Hibbins, Graham Hucklesby, Dave Bridges, Allan and Lesley Carr, and Bob Kissane. A miserable drizzly day dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. At Oban we managed to avoid alcoholic excess, although Mr Bridges did have a pint – DB slept the whole way to Scotland apart from 2 occasions when the drivers rather inconsiderately stopped for a break. We joined Hjalmar Bjorge at 1530 and swiftly stowed our gear. HB is a 23 metre ex Norwegian ice class rescue vessel converted to a great cruise and dive boat. We headed straight up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory – too late for a dive. Still there was always the Mishnish. We were introduced to Ilva’s 5 star cuisine kicking Gordon Ramsay well into touch, and then we realised we weren’t going ashore. Well, there was no need to and so it proved for 5 nights apart from therapeutic walks on St Kilda where visitors are denied a drink in the Puff Inn these days.
The next day destination Sound of Harris (good kipping opportunity for DB) with a dive at Canna on a wall to 30 metres. A nice dive but we’ve been getting more life and vis at Sea Palling. The convenience of HB as a diving platform and the skipper Mark’s boat handling and gentle manoeuvring on the pick ups soon became apparent. A few hours later we were in the Sound of Harris and dived the Stassa (see August 08 Dive magazine). A wreck carrying timber at 25 metres. A good wreck but silty and not a touch on the Rye . Tried Leverburgh alongside the quay for the night but someone had beaten us to it so back we went and Mark hunted us out an anchorage at the eastern end of the Sound where we were to spend 2 lonely nights – but not so lonely as the company was great and as always equalled by Ilva’s food. The deckie Lindsay tuned out to be a fiddler and we were treated to Gaellic tunes wafting across the Hebridean Islands .
We were sharing the boat with Steve Millard who’s a cutting edge rebreather expert, his mate Chris Edge, and 2 German guys Ekki and Mike all being on rebreathers. Tim asked if rebreathers were high maintenance but the sight of circuit boards, soldering irons, and tiny bits of wire too small to see answered that one. Anyway they forged on and the stuff seemed to go alright as the week went on.
The next day another substantial breakfast and we were realising we were going to be coming back a stone heavier, then bells ringing and we’re diving in 30 minutes. Action stations as clothes are flung off and dive kit flung on. A wall dive in the Sound at 25 metres across a scallop bed and the Bedford boys did not let the side down just about getting to the surface without lifting bags. A surfeit of massive scallops. Big lunch – you’ve got the message by now – and more diving in the Sound. Starfish, sponges, deadmen’s fingers and a bit windy on the surface for those bad boys who didn’t mean to go to sea, but did. This wind business was what was keeping us in the Sound. It was all looking as if we weren’t going to make it and the forecast was not improving – but if we left the Sound in search of alternative dive sites we’d have burnt our Bridges (geddit) for St K. Skipper Mark was looking concerned and was committing to nothing as he tried to give us diving yet still keep open the St K option. Supper consisting of a big scallop starter kept up the spirits. Tuesday dawned and another less than good forecast with mutterings of going to Skye, but a hint of hope. HB left her anchorage and we thought we were off to Skye but then there was a bit of left hand down a bit and there we were heading west up the Sound, bound for St Kilda and the Sun came out big time. A 5 hour crossing basking in the Sun – yes the shorts`were on, there was sun bathing – then the dolphins turned up.
We headed straight for Sgarbhstac, a stack off Boreray, and the plan was to dive the arch which we even woke up DB for. This is a cathedral like arch with the top at 30 metres bottoming out at 50 metres – mega light effects, mega colour, mega vis and all with a good bit of swell for fun. This is one of the world’s great dives. Usual picking up skills from Mark and we are all back on board safely, and so to Village Bay St Kilda.
We had some shore time and HB emptied. Tim, John, Graham, and Bob then walked to the top of St Kilda, 370 metres but 50 metres from the top Graham and Bob had a little panic and thought they’d better get back to sea level pronto. Checked the tables post hocter proc (I think that means after the event) and all was OK. No fizzing and more top notch grub. The St Kilda archipelago has a mystic quality to it and is great just being there. The weather hung on in for us and while we heard forecasts of severe gales in the channel and torrential rain in the rest of the UK , we were basking in the Sun. However the fizzing then came on – it was Lindsay’s birthday and out came the bunting, bubbly, and dolphin birthday cake – did you know that dolphin tastes of chocolate?
The next day the first dive was An Torc off Dun, an island on the SW tip of the main island Hirta. A very pretty pinnacle dive about 25 metres with all the colour, life, and beauty we were coming to expect with the water surface totally clear from the bottom. Lesley did this dive and well done with her back problems in the swelly conditions. The excellent visibility afforded Tim an opportunity to demonstrate the correct method of DSMB deployment which he choose to ignore by double wrapping the line around the exit eye. Having cracked his bottle, Malcolm and Bob were most impressed to observe the speed of ascent and the tenacity with which Tim hung on to his reel. He did pull a load of line out by hand and returned to his buddies so dignity was restored and no fizzing reported. Lunch, sun deck, a treat of fiddle playing from Lindsay, and then another dive on Dun Arch Island . Boulders with tunnels, swim throughs, multi colour jewel anemones. There was even a seal but he cleared off as soon as we turned up. The swell on surfacing made a good swim back to HB and Mark had another opportunity to do the pick ups in tricky conditions which he described as “interesting.”
More shore time on Hirta where John, Tim, and Malcolm walked up to the Mistress Stone – an opportunity to demonstrate to the womenfolk their prowess as cragsmen and providers, but regrettably the ladies weren’t about. Last night at St Kilda, another great meal, a welcome appearance again from the evening cheeseboard, then we set up the cinemas – yup 2 of them. Have you seen this high tech photography gear? We all gathered round and we were able to view photos and films of the week’s diving.
A couple of the team had changes in their diving experiences. John’s health problems this year prevented him diving but what a fine dive marshal and valet he turned out to be and he also helped Tim, Malcolm, and Bob when they failed to listen to the skipper’s dive briefings and had to have it all repeated back to them dive after dive. It would appear that Hucklesby’s Motors will be undergoing a major business change and will be henceforth known as Hucklesby’s Underwater Photography.
On Thursday a 13 hour passage through the Sound of Barra to Tobermory for Thursday night where we did get ashore and visited the Mishnish. On this passage we saw and stopped for a very large Ocean Sunfish estimated weight 1 ton who was having a sun bathe. 7.00am start on Friday and in the water at 8.00 to dive the Shuna. The Sun continued to shine. This really has been a great holiday, the Hjalmar Bjorge is a great dive boat, fairly low water entry, easy ladder, excellent foredeck layout for the gear and kitting up, cylinders filled where you take them off – no lifting and carrying – and nitrox. Mark has impressed us all and you can rely wholly on his skill and judgement. The food, well it’s diets next week. The cook Ilva, as well as seeing to our appetites and providing the humour, is a great swimmer and has done a PADI course so we’re telling her to join a club as she wants to dive – any one know of a spare drysuit? And Lindsay, she’s lovely. And well done John for arranging it all.
As with all great holidays, the return to reality and the daily grind comes with a bang, but swifter than most for Graham who received an urgent call out request, and so there he was carrying out roadside repairs to Lisa’s car at Crianlarich in the pouring rain as Lisa and Rebekkah made their way for a week’s diving at Loch Aline.
Check out the boat and other guest photos on www.northernlight-uk.com .