Kirsty Andrews yearns for the coming season, musing over her ongoing quest for great visibility.

It’s been a long off season. As I write this, the daylight hours have just about begun their cheering habit of getting longer, but my local waters have recently taken a chilly turn, into single figure centigrade. And they’re still murky as a cup of tea that’s sat on the side for far too long, brown with a disturbingly scummy milky residue in places.

But I don’t like to focus on the negative, and I’m hopeful that, by the time this column hits your doorsteps, Spring will have sprung and diving will again be the pleasurable activity we all know and love. Drifting on a tide of positivity I thought I’d reminisce about how good the visibility can be, without lingering over how disappointing it has been recently.

Clearly (pun intended), offshore trumps onshore in this respect. Mercifully free from the churning effect of breaking waves on shallow sediment, and river runoff. At the incredible end of the spectrum, those of you who’ve snorkelled with blue sharks a dozen or so miles offshore of Wales or Cornwall will know how incredible that viz can be, but we’re not usually quite so lucky with SCUBA gear on. 

It’s a rather nice feeling to revisit a familiar site and be pleasantly surprised with great visibility

A sandy or gravel seabed is also a boon, as it reflects the light, and unless unduly churned up, doesn’t add to the in-water particulate. The stunning wreck of the E49 (in northern Shetland) will attest to this; the submarine is small, being 176 feet (54.5m) long originally, but often the entire length can be seen at once, slowly submerging into clear white sand. Lovely bright sunshine definitely makes everything better too.  

Echo sounder

Does depth make a difference? My buddy recently muttered to me that “it always looks good in the shallows” even when from about 3m it’s murky again. Shh, Eeyore, and back to our daydreams of clear waters. Confusingly, my intrepid deep diving friends, venturing on wrecks below the reach of air, often seem to enjoy great visibility. Or maybe they’re making it up to make me jealous… but the photos don’t lie, do they?

Location-wise I have a number of favourites for the hope of good visibility. Offshore Scottish seamounts have really delivered for me, as have reefs in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. But you don’t need to visit the ends of the earth, or indeed country, to have a great time. With a period of settled weather, even our mostly-average, familiar locations can really deliver.  

It’s a rather nice feeling to revisit a familiar site and be pleasantly surprised with great visibility: suddenly, you can navigate a lot better and it almost feels like a new spot. One example of this for me was the wreck of the M2 in Dorset. It’s a favoured dive for me, for a lot of reasons but I’ve had a number of dives on her when I had to practically feel my way; on one memorable occasion I lost my buddy in pitch blackness at the bottom of the shot, even with torches on. 

On the other hand, on one glorious summer day in blazing sunshine, as we located her on the echo sounder, the entire wreck and an occupying school of fish were visible in astonishing detail. Under the surface was even better; the dive site stretched out in technicolour; an underwater playground. Of course, my camera wasn’t working that day (user error), but the memories will sustain me until my next great visibility dive. If you’ve taken anything from this page, it’s that submarines always sink in clear water. Sadly not correct, but I hope it’s given you hope for some cracking high-viz dives of your own this year.

Article ‘Bright and clear’ by Kirsty Andrews first published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 144 April 2024.

Preparation for a return to diving and snorkelling

It is a common part of diving and snorkelling in the UK that we promote the need to get ready for an approaching diving season. Whether you have been out of the water for the winter or for a few years, this section will help you prepare to get back out there.

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