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United Kingdom: Scotland

1st July 04

SCOTLAND - Summer Isles Majic by Richard Booth

summislesliveaboard(350x204q60a2).jpgSituated on the North West coast of Scotland, the Summer Isles lie on the edge of an expanse of water known as 'the Minch'. Some 30 plus Islands and stacks make up this small archipelago. Wild and rugged, the majority of islands are mostly uninhabited. Although the waters of the Summer Isles are sheltered to some extent by the Outer Hebrides across the Minch, the predominant South West and Westerly winds can result in considerable seas that crash onto the exposed shores of these rocky isles. One of the advantages however of being a group of islands, is that one can usually find protected dive sites in the lee of some of the larger islands. The Summer Isles can therefore usually offer diveable sites, when other more exposed areas leave no alternative but to head for shelter and solace in the nearest pub.

This area, whilst well known to Scottish divers, suffers from being situated summislesullapool(250x161q60a2).jpgbetween the Sound of Mull and the Orkney Isles, and is consequently frequently by passed and over looked by travelling divers from more distant parts of the UK.To reach these islands, the normal starting point is the small but very picturesque fishing port of Ullapool. From this port to the Summer Isles, it is a journey of around 10 nautical miles down the open waters of Loch Broom.

What's so special about the Summer Isles?
The waters that surround the Summer Isles offer a mixture of high class and varied diving. It has a number of interesting wrecks, as well as offering dramatic wall dives and other scenic sites. The sheer variety of sites means that most diver's tastes and preferences can be catered for. The relative remoteness of this island group means that you are unlikely to be in summislesfairweather1(250x165q60a2).jpgcompetition with other dive groups even at the more popular sites.
The sea is generally clear and unpolluted, with u/w visibility often reaching 20 metres or more. The tidal stream between the islands is generally weak, with a maximum of 1/2 a knot. The spring range is 3-4 metres.The local wild life includes a rich variety of bird species. Likewise seals are to be frequently seen basking on the shores of many of the islands and it is not uncommon to encounter minke whales and schools of porpoise's and dolphins whilst travelling in these waters. There are also local tales of large but inquisitive sharks being encountered by divers and fishermen off these rocky shores..

How do I get to the Summer Isles?
There are no longer any resident liveaboard dive boats that operate solely in summislesfairweather2(250x160q60a2).jpgthese waters.In my own case, however, I dived this area from the M.V. Fridtjoffen. This newly refurbished liveaboard is a former Norwegian research vessel. She is equipped to carry 10 passengers and 3 crew, and is fitted out with good sized and comfortable bunks, two showers and a small but well equipped galley. Her skipper, Damian Breckon, a former trawler skipper, was born and brought up in this area, so knows these waters well. Damian's plans for 2005 include diving and angling charters all around the West Coast of Scotland and Orkney Islands. Further details are available from his website.
Currently, the only dedicated day charter boat that I'm aware of, that still operates in this area is the MV Rebecca Ann, operated by Creag Aud Charters, although I have no personal experience of this particular charter operation.

Recommended local dive sites.
summislesfairweather3(250x156q60a2).jpgMFV Fairweather V: This wreck is one of the most beautiful wrecks I have dived anywhere in the UK and is a 'must do' site, if you are visiting these waters. The Fairweather V was a steel built trawler which sank in 1991. Today this small vessel sits upright and intact in 30 metres of water off the Cairn Dearg headland, completely shrouded in a thick and vibrant cloak of marine life. Even the rope lines from its superstructure are clad in anemones and sea life. When the u/w visibility is good, this site is a wonderful dive. Indeed on my trip, divers were briefly buzzed by a school of inquisitive bottle nosed dolphins on this wreck site, making for a magical dive experience.

Steam puffer Innisjura:
 This wreck of a classic Scottish coastal puffer is situated within a stones throw of the Fairweather V. Indeed this wreck was apparently discovered by commercial divers whilst searching for the Fairweather V. Accounts of her sinking vary, with some stating that she sank in the 1st World War, whilst others maintaining that she met her end in 1920... Today this vessel lies on summislespuffer(250x173q60a2).jpgthe seabed at 37 metres. She lies upright and intact, although her funnel and wooden bridge house have long since disintegrated. Whilst she has not attracted the profusion of marine life to be found on the Fairweather V, the Innesjura nevertheless provides a fascinating dive on a time capsule of Scottish maritime history. This site however is covered with a layer of thin silt and is best dived on an incoming tide. Care must be taken to avoid stirring up this silt. I would also recommend a good torch on this dive site, as although the u/w visibility can be very good, the depth of the wreck makes for quite a dark and gloomy dive.

MFV Boston Stirling.
This large steel trawler was apparently wrecked in 1983 and is now resting on her port side in 17 metres of water. She is largely intact, although she is well covered in kelp. It is possible to penetrate inside areas of this wreck with caution. A good variety of marine life is also to be found on this site.

MV Jambo.
summislesjambo1(250x163q60a2).jpgThe latest maritime victim of these waters, the Jambo was wrecked in June 2003, whilst carrying a hazardous cargo of concentrated zinc sulphate mixed with cadmium. Most of this cargo was apparently recovered following extensive salvage operations, and today this cargo vessel lies upside down, but totally intact in 32 metres of water. Indeed it is possible to swim underneath the upturned starboard side of the hull and ascend upwards into her now exposed but empty holds. The bridge superstructure lies well buried into the soft sea bed towards the stern area at 32 metres, with the upturned bow lying in shallower waters at 17 metres. Not much marine life is to be found on this site as yet, although no doubt over time nature will take its course and marine organisms will flourish and colonise this wreck site.

summislesfairweather4(250x166q60a2).jpg Conservation Cave (also known as Cathedral Cave).
This large open cave lies exposed to open waters. Within the u/w walls of this cave are to be found a wealth of anemones and other unique marine life. There is no overhead environment, although care must be taken to avoid this site if any swell is present. Its beauty lies in the sheer variety and colour of the many species of anemones that cling precariously to its exposed walls. This is a shallow site with maximum depths of around 6 metres within the cave itself and as such is a good site for a second dive.

Loch Broom has a number of deep dramatic wall dives which are to be found along its shores. These waters are dark, but clear, giving a somewhat spooky effect to the dives. In the shallower areas, scallops, edible crabs and the occasional lobster are to be found. The sea bed however tends to be of a fine silty consistency which can easily be stirred up by a careless fin.

In Summary
The Summer Isles offer relatively sheltered waters in a remote but idyllic summislesconservationcave(250x155q60a2).jpglocation off the North West coast of Scotland. The diving is varied with a range of sites, from wrecks, to wall dives, as well as areas rich in interesting and unusual marine life. The Summer Isles however, also have the advantage of being located in a wild, rugged, and hauntingly beautiful area of Scotland. You can taste the freshness of the local air whilst relaxing and appreciating the wilderness and beauty that springs from these magic Isles.

Useful contacts:

Liveaboard Charter:
MV Fridtjoffen Skipper, Damian Breckon
www.breckonmarinecharters.co.uk
E-mail: damian@breckonmarinecharters.co.uk
General inquiries info@breckonmarinecharters.co.uk
Tel. +44(0)1856811

Day Boat Charter:
Creag Ard Charters: Richard Ross tel. 01854 633380 Mobile. 07715 075460
www.camusnagaul.com
E-mail: creagard-charters@supanet.com

More detailed information on sites, along with useful local information can be obtained from the Ullapool Sub Aqua Club Website:
www.usac.org.uk

Dive Guide Books to the area:
Dive North -West Scotland vol. 11 By Gordon Ridley

Emergencies:
Stornaway Coast Guard. tel. number 01851 702013/4

  
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