Volume 33 Number 2 Article 8
"Right" said the cox" on the count of three - ONE, TWO ......THREE!"
I put my hand on my facemask and rolled backwards into the water. For a moment all is confusion until I right myself, find my buddy and slowly descend. As the water closes over my head, it seeps through my zip and wrists of my semi-dry suit making me gasp with the cold. We slowly sink down into a blue green world - the only sounds are my breathing, Darth Vader like, and the distant chug of the boat. At a depth of about 8 metres the bottom moves up to meet us, fronds of kelp moving backwards and forwards in the currents.
The main objective of this dive is to try and see some seals from the colony that lives on the outer islands and I keep my eyes peeled. Visibility is good - about 10 metres and rolling on my back I can see the surface shining silvery above.
I am interrupted by Richard, the dive leader tugging on my hand and pointing frantically to our left. As I right myself and turn round I catch the movement out of the corner of my eye. A silvery shape zooms towards us out of the gloom and then speeds away. We hang in the water very still and ahead I see two pale speckled shapes. One seal cautiously approached, swims in front of us then does a half roll and disappears with a flick of the tail.
After this there is rarely a time when there is not at least one seal in sight. I feel incredibly clumsy in my mask, fins, gloves, weightbelt, bottle etc. as they whiz about us, veering off and changing direction with incredible agility. Richard has one male seal carefully raising the top of his fin. It is so close I can see the large claws on its flippers and the whiskers on its Roman nose before it somersaults away. Looking down through the kelp I see a huge spotted body rolling gently from side to side in a gully. I think that its dead but as I swim over it the glassy whites of its eyes flick up to see me and it glides off. Even allowing for the magnification of things underwater it was definitely bigger than me. We slowly fin over the kelp and suddenly the floor drops away beneath us - imagine coming to the edge of a pitch in a cave and slowly floating over the top of it, that's what it's like.
Descending down into the deeper green my ears hurt under the increasing pressure. I pinch my nose and blow until they clear with a squeak. We allow ourselves to drift slowly down to 20 metres - my limit as a novice - and look around. The underwater architecture is amazing, we're floating between two vertical cliff faces about 20 feet apart which disappear above and below us and are coated in white Dead Mans Fingers (coral / polyps / anemone thingys).
Below is inky green and bubbles coming up to show the presence of more divers below. Their bubbles wriggle up through the water like atom bomb clouds of mercury - I put my hand out to stop one and it splits into three through my fingers.
I can't believe how much life there is. We make our way slowly up the cliff face poking a torch into all the nooks and crannies. The colours are amazing. The sea filters out the red bit of the spectrum so everything appears various shades of blue, green, white and purple and it is not until you use a torch that the true colours are revealed. Purple starfish, huge red / orange twelve armed sinsters and orange squat lobsters are all revealed in the torches beam. In one crevice is a proper lobster - deep indigo in pre-cooked state. I tried to entice it out but it's having none of it. As we ascend Dead Mans Fingers and anemones give way to kelp with butterfish threading their way between the stems. I also see a tiny plaice about two inches in diameter, spider crabs, a salmon-pink edible crab with black claw tips and hundreds of brittle stars.
For safety reasons we take a full minute to ascend the last six metres giving plenty of time for seal spotting. A tiny jellyfish, barely the size of a 10 pence piece slowly pulses past, about six inches from my mask. I want to stay under longer but my air gauge is already on red.
The silver surface gets closer and my head breaks through to a different world - noise, wind and sharpness. It seems a million miles away from the floating around in greenness. As we wait for the boat a seal head pops up about fifteen feet away and looks at me. It disappears and I duck under the water to follow. I pop up again and so does the seal. This game of peep goes on until the boat arrives and scares it away.
I pass my weightbelt and stabjacket in and haul myself aboard, ungainly as a seal on land until I have removed my fins, gloves and mask. Richard told me then that at one point in the gully there was a seal following directly behind and above me, about an inch away sniffing the back of my neck but as it was my blind spot I was completely oblivious to it.
The boat then chugs slowly off and we look at the speckled heads of the seals and sea terns diving bombing the water after sand eels. Nearer the inner islands there is a reek of ammonia from the sea bird colonies and we see lots of puffins, guillemots and cormorants. As we pick up speed to head back to the mainland, Tim the cox points and shouts, "Porpoise!!!" I turn round and see a fin in the water almost falling away - I couldn't believe it. It's about fifty feet away parallel to the boat. The fin skims just out of the water, one, two three times before disappearing. A perfect end to a perfect day.