Last Gasp – Take 2

Wrecks of Mull 2021

So, the looming end of the dive season, winter fast approaching, how ‘bloody depressing’. So what to do. Paul Y has the perfect answer, a repeat of his 2020 trip to dive the Wrecks of Mull – The Last Gasp – Take 2!!!

The Wrecks of Mull, include some of the best known wrecks on the west coast of Scotland. Notably, the Shuna, Breda, Rondo, Hispania and Thesis which are all perfectly for suitable for sports divers.

Four days of diving the Wrecks of Mull. Staying in Lochaline (again), with a trip up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory for lunch at some point during our stay. Last years trip had been so good, that there was a risk that we would be disappointed. But, yet again, Mull gave us a great experience.

Last years success was evident by the number of us who signed up for a second bite of the cake. Steve Marriot, an old member, who is now a member of another Branch in the North East, was keen to yet again join us, we must be doing something right! The only pair who couldn’t make it this year, where Nick and Sal’, due to farm work.

This time we would be travelling Friday, diving Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Finally returning home Tuesday late afternoon, getting in early Wednesday morning.

Again staying at the Divers Lodge, which had changed hands and was now rebranded as The Highland Base Camp, and diving with Lochaline Boat Charters. Paul did a cracking job pulling the trip together over a week or two.

The final team was Paul Y, Joe B, Luke J, Daniel H, Steve M, Nicholas L, Gareth L and Roz L. The two new members of the team being Daniel and Roz. Roz the final piece in the jigsaw to make the Wrecks of Mull trip viable.


Arrival

We all arrived on the Friday, the rain hammered down all through the night. We where not the only party staying at the Highland Base Camp on this occasion. Another group had been here for the last few days. So we where sharing the kitchen and communal areas

Come morning, under a grey sky we loaded the boat and set off for the first dive of the Wrecks of Mull trip, the Shuna.

Shuna

Our first dive, the S.S. Shuna, one of the popular Wrecks of Mull. This wreck can be ‘Silty’. The Steel cargo ship was built in 1909. She ran aground on May 9th 1913 after hitting Grey Rock, and was beached opposite on Green Island, subsequently slipping off into deep water.

The wreck is upright on the seabed, at 35m. She is reasonably complete with good access to the holds, the deck is 20m. She is also unusual in that she still has her (steel) propellor, and the spare propellor.

Roz would be diving with me, as my guest. It turned out to be an interesting dive. I had a cell problem during the dive. Resulting in a shorter dive than normal. We where accompanied by the cheery bleeping from the CCR, warning that the unit was trying to kill me.

Because of this I was distracted for most of the dive, my attention mainly being on the CCR display ensuring the PO2 stayed within safe limits. Strangly enough, this dive was notable by the lack of photographs I took!

The maximum depth was 26m, with a surface to surface time of 31 minutes, including a 5 minute stop at 6m.

Breda

For our second dive on the S.S. Breda, I switched to OC, a rare experience for me, especially in the sea. Because of this, I didn’t take the camera, wanting to be able to pay attention to what I was doing.

The Breda was a 5 hold cargo steamship, 6941 GRT, 402 ft long and built in 1921. A single screw steamship, at the time of her sinking she was fitted with a 4.7″ Gun on war service having escaped from the Netherlands to the UK.

On the 23rd December 1940, the Breda was straddled by two bombs dropped by an HE-111 Heinkel bomber. Although they didn’t hit her, they caused sufficient damage that she started taking on water. The Breda was towed to Ardmucknish Bay and beached. She slipped off the shelf to where she remains today. Sitting upright in 30m. The Breda is another one of the popular Wrecks of Mull.

I was pleased to see that I didn’t embarrass myself on OC, all went smoothly, even my weighting was pretty accurate. The total dive time was 63minutes, with a maximum depth of 30m, stops where 1 @ 9m and 10 @6m.

Saturday night dining.

To avoid competition in the kitchen with the other group of divers, Paul had decided we would have fish and chips from the local Pub on the first night. Unlike last year, we where allowed in both the pub and the local social club.

We had pre-booked our ‘take away’ fish and chips early in the day by phone. We all walked down to collect them between showers. As it turned out, we could eat them on the premises. This was an excellent decision by Paul, the food was great, as was the beer.


Hispania

Day 2 after another night of heavy rain, and we where off to the Hispania, another of the Wrecks of Mull.

Like the Shuna and Breda, the S.S. Hispania is another upright wreck, in this case with quite a lot of superstructure. We arrived at the mid section of the wreck and worked our way down the wreck to the stern.

Dropping over the stern into the darkness for a quick look at the rudder. We didn’t stay long, the light and visibility where quite poor, and the interesting stuff was up on the deck and in the holds.

Having visited the Stern, we set off for the bow. I was able to take my time, Roz was quite keen for me to get some good pictures of both the wreck and her. The soft coral, and the superstructure with the sunlight made for some quite good photographs. We managed another 59 minutes, surface to surface. With a maximum depth of 22m and 12 minutes of stops (including 1@9m).

Thesis

Following a surface interval watching the Sea Hawks flying around the boat, we where ready to dive the S.S. Thesis. The journey down had been quite spectacular, the large rain fall over night had resulted in some spectacular water falls dropping over the surrounding cliffs into the trees.

The Thesis is a reasonably small wreck. there is no superstructure to speak of, The boilers and engine room are quite open. The holds are easily accessible, and sections of the hull have fallen away.

The bow is against the shore, with the stern sloping back into the deeper water.

Like all the Wrecks of Mull, the wreck is heavily covered in soft coral. Which in places disguise parts of the wreck. We initially swam down to what is left of the stern, which has collapsed on to the sea bed.

Having got a feel for the wreck we made our way slowly back up the wreck. As we swam back to what remains of the engine room, we meet Paul and Nicholas. The top of the Steam Engine is exposed, very little of the decking remaining. The boilers are also easy to access. We continued back to the bow. Planning to ascend the shot.

We where only 15 minutes into the dive when we ran out of no-stop time. Finally, after 45 minutes, we left the bottom to start our stops, surfacing after 78 minutes. We were ‘late’, surfacing. Although I had cleared my stops at 66 minutes, inside our 70 minute planned time :).

Finally, after completing our stops, we paused to do a little maintenance on the shot, at the request of the skipper. We added some air to the first of the two shot buoys to displace the water, and get it to return to the surface.

Sunday night

The Sunday night Luke and Joe where responsible for dinner. Luke was responsible for the main coarse, Lassagne. With Joe, much to his surprise, producing an excellent Bread and Butter Pudding. With lashings of Custard and Cream.


Rondo

The Plan

Day 3 and I was diving with Steve, still on OC, and Daniel, for his sins, was diving with Roz. The plan this morning was to dive the S.S. Rondo. Perhaps one of the best known Wrecks or Mull, Rondo sits up against the shore, with her bow in 48m, and her stern in 6m. Steve and I where intending to head to the bottom before working our way back up the wreck to the surface. Paul lent me a stage of 70% to allow me to accelerate the decompression if I wished.

The last time we had dived the wreck there was a wicked current running across her, both at the bow and the stern. This isn’t unusual, often the best thing is to descend and ascend inside the wreck, sheltered from the current.

Despite the current, this is a great wreck to do a ‘deep’ dive on. Instead of having to descend and ascend a shot, you use the wreck. It is a pleasure to be able to do the stops on the wreck itself.

The dive

Steve and I swam down the Port side, surprised at the lack of current. At the bottom, although the visibility was good, it was pitch black. My primary torch had been misbehaving, and it finally died on this dive – not ideal. We started our ascent on the Starboard side, looking to swim under the hull at around 30m.

Steve found a swim through, which we entered, it narrowed as we progressed. It became apparent, that the gap was narrower than Steve had first thought, so we turned and exited the way we had came. Only a little further up the wreck we spotted Nicholas and Paul inside the hull.

At around 15m Steve and I made the jump to the cliff, expecting to see a lot of life on the exposed face. It was more than disappointing, so we worked out way back to the wreck. Sitting out of the last of the deco at the stern, between the rudder and the prop’ shaft.

Neither of us bothered with accelerating the decompression. During the decompression I had another opportunity to take a few shots of Paul and Nicholas. A shoal of fish circled the stern for a large part of our stop time, just far enough away to make getting a picture difficult.

The final dive was 61 minutes surface to surface, with a maximum depth of 45m. We had run out of no-stop time before we left the bottom. Because we effectively ‘bounced’ the deeper part of the dive, then spent time at 30m, 25m and again at 15m we effectively removed a lot of the stop time. We never actually ascended to the ceiling throughout the dive. By the time we had finished at the stern (6m), all the decompression stops where clear. This is the reason we never really bothered accelerating the decompression. The nature of the dive meant that we had things to look at throughout the ascent on the wreck (and wall).

Shuna

Today we moored in Tobermory for lunch (and our surface interval). It would be a great shame to travel to Mull, and not visit Tobermory, with its brightly painted buildings. Various of our number did some shopping, although the heavens opened whilst we where ashore. Luckily most of us where still dressed in drysuits and waterproofs.

We returned to the S.S. Shuna for the second dive of the day. This time I could pay attention to the wreck and enjoy the dive.

I had hoped to get a shot of divers descending the shot, so waited at the bottom, for the next pair of divers to follow us down. All I got for my trouble was a torch pointed straight at the camera!

I followed Steve into the engine room, we could swim round the top of the engine. Steve had a brief look to see if he could work his way down what remains of the ladder into the engine room proper. I was pleased when he decided this wasn’t possible, I was using one of my backups, which seemed somewhat inadequate in the engine room.

On exiting the engine room we continued towards the stern. Briefly stoping at the spare propellor, before continuing over the stern to have a look at the rudder and propellor, it is rare to see a propellor still in place. Returning to the deck we worked our way back towards the bow.

The dive was mainly between 23m and 27m depending on if we where on the deck or in one of the holds. The drop down the stern took us to 32m about 20minutes into the dive, this increase in depth removed what was left of our no-stop time. So by the time we left the bottom after 40minutes we had our first stop ceiling at 9m. We only had 2 minutes at 9m before we where able to move up to 6m for a further 5 minutes, before finally moving to 3m for the remaining stops. The total surface to surface time was 72 minutes.

Monday night

For Monday night, we where again, self catering. On this occasion, Daniel was taking care of the main course. The original plan was for me to provide the desert. However, we had plenty of Joe’s desert remaining from the Sunday night. So we ‘revitalised’ the Bread and Butter pudding.

As we have come to expect on our trips, we had more than enough food. We where all exceptionally well fed. In fact, we brought food back with us on the Tuesday afternoon.


Breda

Tuesday morning we had an early start, planning to getaway early afternoon for the journey home. The staff at the Highland Base Camp where happy for us to clear our rooms after we got back from diving after lunch.

We had a spectacular dawn as we left Lochaline for our first dive. Today, Malcom replaced David as our skipper. The plan was to return to two of our earlier dives. The S.S. Breda and S.S. Thesis, two of the most well known Wrecks of Mull.

For her sins, Roz was back diving with me. On this occasion, we went straight to the bow of the Breda. The plan was to work our way back towards the stern.

We dropped into the holds, passing the stack of cement bags. Pausing by the lifeboat davits, covered in dead mens fingers and soft corals. Midships we spent considerable time around what remains of the superstructure. The moving further towards the stern past the remains of the steam engine. Finally reaching the stern, we swam past what remains of the steering gear before moving back up the wreck to the midships and superstructure.

We didn’t get below 20m throughout the dive. Finally running out of no stop time after around 52 minutes. After 60 minutes we started back towards the shot. A miss communication, at this point between the two of us (with me now low on gas), and I sent up a DSMB, and Roz, continued on towards the shot. Regrouping, we ascended under DSMB’s finally exiting after 87 minutes, a good dive time in anyones book.

Thesis

The start of the day had started with a brilliant sunrise, and the sunshine had continued throughout the morning. This continued for the surface interval on the trip back to the Thesis.

This would be our last dive of our trip diving the Wrecks of Mull, and we all planned to make the most of it.

The shot is at the bow, on descending, Roz and I spent a little time at the bow and near the anchor winch. Eventually swimming down the starboard side of the wreck to the stern. The stern of the deck is resting on the seabed, with the steering gear sticking up towards the surface. From the stern, we swam back up the inside of the wreck along the starboard side, passing the engine and swimming up the side of the Boiler. The plates have fallen away from the hull here, so there is plenty of light penetration, and it makes the wreck feel quite open although you are swimming into am overhead environment. We spent some time here because it was quite photogenic.

Swimming back from the boiler, we spent some time at the steam engine. The upper part of the engine is fully exposed as the decking has either collapsed or rotted away. We then returned to the bow spending some time here by the winch and shot.

Finally after 37 minutes, we started our ascent up the shot. We eventually broke the surface after 60 minutes, with the deepest part of the dive having been 32m at the stern.


Review

The sound of Mull is an excellent area to dive, sheltered from the elements, meaning it is unlikely that any dives will be blown out. Most of the dives are within sensible Sports Diver limits (35m max’), the sites are within a reasonable travelling distance from Lochaline.

The ‘dig’s’ (Highland Base Camp), is convenient, clean, comfortable and cosy. The rooms are twin bunk rooms with a wet room, (Shower, toilet and sink). The floor is heated, most divers lay out damp dive clothing across the limited floor space to dry off ready for the morning.

The communal area includes a well appointed kitchen area, effectively two kitchens (two cookers, preparation areas etc). There is a combined dining and lounge area. The new owners have started refurbishing the facility. Next year the drying area should be complete.

They do have Oxygen and Nitrox blending facilities.

The harbour is a short walk from the accommodation, which has a ‘cafe’ in the car park. The venison burgers where excellent!

Lochaline Boat Charters know the dive sites well. The boat, (Predator,) although small, is well equipped, it includes an excellent lift. The boat has a compressor, allowing cylinders to be filled between dives. Coffee and Tea is available, and a toilet all add to a comfortable experience (although some of our number need to learn how to use a sea toilet!).

Divers are welcome in the wheelhouse. Which allow divers to shelter from the elements and warm up between dives if required.

Roz was using slightly more conservative settings to myself, extending our stop times. I never quite got to grips with a reliable method for mentally adjusting the extra time to my TTS. Resulting in us overrunning twice during the 4 days (8 dives).

Despite the heavy showers over the first three days, which did effect the visibility. The diving was excellent. The worst of the rain fell overnight when we where all safely tucked up in bed. Even those with leaks, stayed warm throughout the trip. Which can be seen in the long dive times everyone was running, only available gas effecting dive times.

The only negative is the journey time, more than 9 hours each way. Which makes four day trips much more practical than a weekend.

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