Sunday, April 01, 2012

Diving Ailsa Craig

A fourth person was needed for a group in our dive club going out to Ailsa Craig on Saturday.  That fourth person was me (insert grin here).  I only had a couple of New Years resolutions this year. The item at the top of the list was to see a puffin.  I have been living in the UK since 1992, diving since 2005 and in all that time I have never seen a puffin.
RSPB photo of puffins
I went to bed early thinking that I'll have loads of sleep before we go.  Julio our cat started coughing up a hairball at 4:30.  As this cat is right next to my knees under the covers, I am instantly awake and getting the cat out of the bed as fast as I can.  The sound of a cat coughing or barfing would make such an effective alarm clock.  Eject cat from bed and try to get back to sleep . . . . Up again at about 5:30 . . .bleary me.   I packed the night before so I just get dressed and go. 07:15 meet with the rest of 'em in Dumfries
Here we are in the Homebase carpark as the sun starts to make its climb in the sky.  The sun was unobstructed by cloud the entire day.  I'm glad I wore sunscreen!
We arrived in Girvan two hours later and put "Mad Brad" into the water.
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig doesn't look all that far from the shore.  It was asked if you could dive Ailsa Craig from the shore at Girvan . . .but it is 10 miles away.  So, the answer is no.  On the way over to the island we could see guillemots, gannets and razorbills buzzing across the water or just bobbing on the sea.  Then  I saw a puffin!!  I saw the multi-coloured bill quite plainly and dumpy little body as it got out of the way of the boat.    High fives and yipee for me!
Mull of Kintyre in the distance
Once we got around the back of this big volcanic plug of granite, we could see everything!  Not only could we could see Arran and Holy Isle quite plainly, but we could see the Mull of Kintyre and way off in the distance, the cliffs at Rathlin Island off the Antrim coast.
This is the back or east face of Ailsa Craig.  This is where most of the birds hang out.  The gannets take over the top of this rock, the puffins nest in little holes on the slopes.   Other birds take over the narrow little cracks and ledges on the cliffs themselves.

The gannets have started to return from their winter home in West Africa.  They breed here.  There are only a percentage of them here so far.  They are beautiful and large birds!  The chatter they make when on land was part of the background music for the day.  The other sounds were the snorts and songs of a colony of grey seals.  We disturbed this small juvenile group on the east side of the island.  Mostly young and curious, they stayed near us . . . but not too near the entire day.

It was really delightful to be diving on the east side of the island and have a grey seal just pop down to have a look at what we were doing.  The ONLY time during the entire day I had handed my camera across to my dive buddy (so he could take a photo of me) was the exact time when a seal came down to see what we were up to.  Missed photo op!
me - with a seal just out of shot
The first dive of the day was spent on the east side of the rock - We dived over the bones of an old ship.  The only thing left are a few upright metal ribs and a bit of the hull.

HMS Duke of Edinburgh
 I think I managed to get a pretty good shot of what is left of the paddle steamer.
ribs of the HMS Duke of Edinburgh
The blobs on the remains of the ship's ribs are a soft coral called dead men's fingers.
Dead men's fingers

FAT dead men's fingers
Here's another shot of dead men's fingers.  I've never seen such fat ones before!
Sun star on the former hull of the wreck

Plumose anemone on the rib of the wreck
Shipwrecks really don't do much for me.  I am always much more interested in what has colonised on the wreck rather than the wreck itself.

There was also a big shoal of pollock at about 8 meters.  I think this particular shoal was the reason so many seals were around.

It was a glorious day of diving.  It proves again that a good day's diving on the west coast of Scotland can stand up to any dive site anywhere else in the world.   Okay, so the water is cold but it is full of life!