This was the fourth leg of much broader plan, started three years ago in Connemara, brainchild of Steve Mulhall and Jean Kelleher, two of the most experienced divers I know: circumnavigate Ireland diving unexplored sites and landing on as many islands as possible, even better if uninhabited and wild.
I had the chance to be part of this year’s crew and I did not hesitate before accepting the offer. Each diver came with 4 cylinders, for 2-days diving autonomy when it wasn’t possible to come back to land to use the portable compressor.
After spending a night in Bunbeg, we started our adventure launching and loading the boat for the first three nights of camping. We needed to carry all the camping gear and enough supplies for lunches, while we relied on our fishing skills to bring back some fish for dinner.
The first day saw us diving Arran, Torneady Point, not far from Burtonport, and the Stags of Owey. Turneady Point (The Cathedral), was full of life, with a great number of nudibranchs, wrasse, pollock and some seals watching us from a safe distance.
The Stags of Owey was a magnificent dive, with superb topology, loads of life on every wall of the rocks, going below the surface to 40m and great schools of fish. We liked this site so much that we decided to dive it again the following day. It is not a site you can dive too often being so exposed to all winds.
The first night of camping was on Owey, where we found a nice sheltered site for setting camp and for cooking our catch of the day. The start of our trip couldn’t have gone any better: great diving, a good camp easily set up and good food…and maybe one drink.
The second day the Stags did not let us down, as we continued our underwater exploration where we left off the day before, surrounded by fish and dramatic scenery. After the second dive two of us started setting up camp and preparing food for our tired bodies while the other two headed for mainland to fill our cylinders. We dived around Gola in the afternoon, with good weather conditions and lots of life around us.
On the third day we had a hard start: the hydraulic hose of the steering had burst. After some brainstorming we started working on it and we managed to fix it within a couple of hours, making the best use of whatever tools were available.
We then set off to dive around Gola and Inisheerer, where we found a fantastic gully, with walls covered in life. Between dives we landed on a small sandy cove in Umfin island, where we had lunch and did a bit of exploration while off-gassing before our second dive.
After spending our last night on Gola, in the morning, we headed for Tory Island, stopping by bloody Foreland for our morning dive, where we found good visibility, spider crabs and lots of fish life.
The sea conditions were slightly challenging for the journey to Tory, with a 2m swell and a force 4 wind running against it, but Steve’s expert coxswain skills got us to our destination safely and quicker than expected…if not a bit wet. Of course we could not land before diving again, which brought us exploring the west side of the island, a site that is very rarely diveable, due to a combination of great diving, with endless gullies, walls, huge fish shoals and favorable weather conditions made us decide there and then to go back to the same area the following day.
We spent the night in Tory’s Harbour View Hotel where we enjoyed, for a change, the comfort of a proper bed, were relieved from coooking and bottle filling (the hotel is equipped with a very good compressor) duties and could chill with a few drinks.
After an excellent breakfast in the Harbour View Hotel, we headed for the pier, where we were met by local fishermen looking for some help: they had lost a line with 24 lobster pots near the site we planned to dive, which had been inaccessible for weeks due to the previous weather conditions. Jean and Steve managed to successfully locate and buoy the lost line, allowing the fishermen to recover the lost lobster pots. We then all dived The Wasp, a 1884 wreck now pretty much part of Tory Islands West reef, where Colin and I also recovered another stuck pot for the same lucky fishermen.
When we came back to the harbour we were rewarded with nine lobsters, which we expertly barbecued after coming back to mainland in Portnablagh, the very same evening.
After quickly refueling and loading the boat, we set off to dive Limeburner Rock, where we had a good dive but found quite strong currents, having been spoiled by the previous fabulous diving in Tory Island.
The second dive was Frenchman Rock.
We all loved this site: despite some remarkable currents, we all had great dives with loads of life and fantastic walls and gullies.
Jean and Steve also managed to see some of the remaining wreckage before turning right into a small underwater cove, which led to a canyon sheltered from the current.
Definitely one of our favourite dives of the trip.
After a wet camping night on Hoorisky Island, we headed off to Melmore Head for our first dive, which did not disappoint, having good vis and lots of fish life but didn’t match the standard set by the Stags of Owey, Tory Island and Frenchman’s Rock.
Before our second dive we got back to our camp to pack all our gear and head for Portsalon.
Of course we stopped for our second dive on the way: Jean and Steve dived Fanard Head, while Colin and I dived Stookmore, which was apparently nicer and where we found a huge family of hermit crabs to spend time with.
On day 8 we rested. We took a day off diving as we needed to replenish our supplies and stage our cars around for the remaining days of the trip. Dave had also joined us on the previous evening, bringing some required bit and pieces and some fresh energy to the crew.
The SS Laurentic. This was one of the days we had all been most looking forward to. The SS Laurentic is a 100-year-old wreck, resting between 36 and 40m, about a mile out of Lough Swilly, in Donegal. Because of its position, it’s not a wreck that can be dived too often and we were quite lucky to be able to dive it. A fair swell made deploying and retrieving our shot line just that little bit more interesting. There is plenty of information on the story of the SS Laurentic so I will briefly mention that it sank on the 25th of January 1917, after havinf struck two mines deployed by the U-Boat U80.
The wreck has just turned 100 years old, which means it now requires a license for diving it. The SS Lauretic has been subject to several salvage operations during the years, aimed at recovering the hidden cargo of 43 tons of gold she sank with. Over the years most of this gold has been recovered but, officially, 22 bars still remain unclaimed. All four of us had a great dive, with excellent vis, copious fish life and overall good conditions. Did we find any gold? I will leave that question unanswered…but I won’t deny we kept our eyes well open…
Day ten was a very good day, with excellent diving and that also saw me completing my Advanced Nitrox course.
After taking down our camp and loading everything on the boat we left Portronan for our first dive in Bresty Rocks, which was covered in nudibranchs and showed fantastic colours.
The second dive was Hells Hole for Steve, Dave and Colin, a great gully ending under a fabulous arch under Malin lookout. Jean and I dived Scart Rocks, which we renamed “The Maze”: an incredible network of gullies that lay at 25m and that make it very hard to see the same spot twice during any one dive. What makes the dive even more incredible is that these gullies seem to gravitate around a very large rock whose shape looked like a hand. Definitely one of the best dives we had so far and one of the best possible ways to end my trip.
To conclude this post, I am very thankful for and feel privileged for being part of this diving trip. It was physically demanding as we never hit bed before late night after staging cars around for the following days, setting up camp, preparing food or filling cylinders but the places we visited and the diving was so good that none of us really paid too much attention to tiredness and fatigue.
As you can imagine the Irish weather has the potential to make such a trip even more challenging and we could not have enjoyed our journey so much without proper kit and – most importantly – our O’Three suits and base layers, which kept us comfortable and warm for 10 days, most of which we spent on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean, exposed to whatever weather we could have faced.