Monday, 12 August 2013

Basking in sunshine



When I was younger and studying at polytechnic I joined the sub aqua club. Over the 3 years that I was studying I qualified as a British Sub Aqua Club sports diver.
At the time one of the requirements for gaining your sports diver qualification was to complete a number of open water dives.
The sub aqua club used to run two trips each year in addition to the odd day trip. Around April time we went up to Scotland and dived various locations around the Oban area. Mainly lochs but there was one quarry that had been opened to the sea which we used for dives down to 30 metres, the quarry was a good 80 metres deep but the limit for diving with air is 30.

In the summer we used to go to Cornwall for a week. Much warmer dives, better visibility (mostly) but I have done a dive where you couldn't see your hand in front of your face as a storm had kicked up the silt so much.

This morning I found a friend had posted a link to a video on YouTube of a whale being blown up. I wasn't overly interested in that but after clicking on a link to another video about a shark I spotted the video below and it reminded me of one of those Cornwall dive trips.


On the day in question we had a wreck dive planned. We'd tried to find the same wreck the previous year with no luck. On that occasion my buddy and I spent the entire dive swimming over featureless sand until we came across a cuttlefish that we played with to see if we could get a reaction out of it. We were totally ignored by it.

This time though we'd brought some sonar gear and planned to search the area where the wreck was supposed to be and see if we could find anything that stood out from the seabed before dropping divers.

When we arrived a couple of us wandered up onto the headland to have a look at the area where the we were going to be diving. As we stood looking out over the sea two black triangles emerged from the water and cut through the sea.

For the first time in my life I was looking at a shark fin in open water. A shark fin in water that I was soon going to be dropping into!

During the summer Cornwall is home to a number of Basking sharks because of the warm temperatures and abundant food supply. They are harmless creatures though.

We watched as this shark swam along for a few minutes before we headed back to get ready to dive.

With wetsuit on and all my kit in the dive boat we headed out to the dive area. Searching the area we finally spotted something on the sonar that was jutting up from the seabed. This had to be worth taking a look at because whatever it was seemed to be about 2 metres in height and the area we were in was pancake flat otherwise.

Dropping into the depth my buddy and I descended to the seabed and found ourselves faced with one of the boilers that was all that was left of the wreck we were searching for. Finally we'd found it.

We spent our dive examining what was left before it was time to return to the surface.

As we started to ascend, my legs kicked something. Kicked something! We were well off the seabed so it couldn't be that. With a sense of horror my mind returned to standing on the headland and watching the shark. OMG, it must be down here with us and I've just kicked it as it swam past beneath us.

Dreading what I'd see I looked down.

There it was. A huge, grey cylindrical object. Absolutely massive. The terror of the deep.

I stared down at the ship' boiler. Arghhh!

As we'd started going up we must have drifted towards the boiler and as we'd gotten high enough I'd kicked the top of it. Phew! Thankfully not the shark although part of me wished it had been as that would certainly have been something to see.

And see a Basking shark someone did.

Later on that afternoon two of our divers went out to a different area. While they were down our friend the Basking shark decided to make an appearance. Popping to the surface it circle the dive boat. The boat's driver came excitedly on the radio to tell us what was happening. There he was watching this shark slowly circling around the boat.

10 minutes later he came back on the radio. This time the excitement was gone, replaced by worry. The distraction with the shark meant that he'd lost sight of the two divers. He'd had a quick look but couldn't see the marker buoy that would show their location. We told him to do a search and get back to us. We knew that if he didn't find them that we'd have to contact the coast guard and get them out to search for our missing divers.
On land we waited and waited while he was combing the area where he'd last seen the divers.
Finally after half an hour, and at the point we were ready to call the coast guard, he came back on the radio, he'd found two unhappy divers and picked them back up.
It seemed that both divers had returned to the surface just after he'd seen the shark. The currents had caused them to move away from the boat's location. Unable to see the boat and with no response to their calls all they could do was make sure that their buoyancy aids were fully inflated and wait it out. Unfortunately that meant that they had to do something with the large amounts of lead weight that they were carrying. For one of the guys this was no problem as he was using a club weight belt. For the other chap it meant that he had to ditch the nice new lead shot weight belt that he'd bought. He wasn't happy.

We all had every sympathy for him but it did teach us all a lesson about not getting distracted even if the distraction is a once in a lifetime thing.

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