Expedition Lundy, 21-26 May 2016

by Steve Walsh

Lundy is an island in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles/19 km off the coast of Devon. In 2007, Lundy had a resident population of 28 people, including volunteers. Most visitors are day- trippers, although there are 23 holiday properties and a camp site.

The island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and was England’s first statutory Marine Nature reserve, and the first Marine Conservation Zone. It is managed by the Landmark Trust on behalf of the National Trust.

The convergence on Ilfracombe, a sleepy town on the North Devon coast, started at 16.30, with the arrival of three intrepid travellers who had braved the traffic from London.

A look at the slip and a chat with Gillian, who was still in Plymouth collecting the boat, meant a rehash of plans to launch and transport Yellow to Lundy.

Gradually others arrived and we were fed and watered before finishing the evening in a great pub in Ilfracombe – the Ship and Pilot.

Day 1: Saturday 21st

Up early for some, as there was shopping to collect, then a mad packing of crates on Lundy’s own ship, the MS Oldenburgh, for the lumpy trip to Lundy. In the meantime, the RIB was taken to Bideford for launching and driving across by five volunteers.

The RIB couldn’t be launched until two hours before high water, so the rest of us had a very interesting day walking the island and seeing the sights. We all met up in the evening in the Lundy Tavern, had a nice meal then returned back to the accommodation, called The Barn.

Day 2 Sunday 22nd

After an early breakfast and briefing, we enjoyed the loooong walk down to the jetty where the dive kit was stored in a bothy-type arrangement. Some of the more keen eyed of us had noticed an Action Man in dive kit sat on a shelf. He put in another appearance later in the week…

Neil D had gone down early to swim out to the mooring and when we arrived he was still only just getting to the boat. Yes, the swim was that long. Loading the RIB was easy, as the tide was still quite high – Lundy has a tidal range of about 7m and an “interesting curve”!

Knoll Pins (max depth 23m)

These are two pillars which are submerged at high water but gradually dry out. We arrived at slack, just as they were starting to be exposed, and were expertly dropped close to the pillars.

What a beauty to behold – the sheer amount of life on the Pins and the surrounding reef area was amazing. Massive lobsters, cuckoo wrasse, daisy anemones, jewel anemones, scallops the size of dinner plates, and – best of all – massive edible crabs that are all staying put and growing big, as Lundy is a no-take zone.

The highlight of the dive was finding a steep- sided diagonal gulley that went from 14m to just under 6m, and we had an amazing eerie ascent through this narrow channel.

At 6m I got out my DSMB, unfurled it, and got my buddy to hold it. It’s a big yellow McMahon reel, which doesn’t have the modification to prevent the release handle whacking into the reel and jamming it. You can guess what happened – cue a hasty deployment of my buddy’s DSMB. We had a nice hover at 6m just above the rocky outcrop, and we broke the surface after 42 minutes.

We all arrived back on the boat at similar times and had an excited chatter about what we had seen, as we headed back to the pier. Which we discovered was about 3m higher than when we left, due to those pesky tides.

We decided to tie to the pier legs and cleat and haul the kit up using ropes – proper expedition diving. I was despatched to the bow to tie the painter and, as I balanced on the tube and leant over to reach the pier, I gave a demonstration of Newton’s well-known law, as gravity took over and I dropped into the water feet first. Apparently I bobbed back up quite Poseidon- like, with my sunglasses still in place!

Gannetts Rock (max depth 19m)

This is a sheer wall that goes from the surface to a depth of 18m, with more rocks running

down a little deeper. A quarter-knot current made for a very gentle drift. The wall was again full of life: jewel anemones, snakelock anemones, daisy anemones and most of the contents of the bumper book of British sea-life. All proof that a no-take zone leads to a very healthy underwater environment. An edible crab perched on a rock was bigger across its carapace than my hands placed tip to tip – around 14 inches (35.5cm). This was NOT exceptional for the area.

Spider crabs were also large , but the lobsters were just gigantic, and, even without a no-take zone, there was no way I was going to be going anywhere near claws that big!

In the evening, Richard and Rebecca cooked a stunning meal, and then we all had gin and tonics and a great evening playing board games and telling tall stories about diving and derring do. I also demonstrated another of Newton’s laws (motion) when Katie got up from one end of the bench and I – sat at the other end – went sprawling.

Day 3 Monday 23rd

Brazen Ward (max depth 17m)

Brazen Ward is a headland between Knoll Pins and Gannets Rock. Seals had been reported basking here, and it was potentially our only chance to see them, as easterlies were forecast.

We dropped in right on the headland with SMBs inflated, and descended to 17m and were expecting to find a good current running. However, we found only a very slight current so we swam with it over a lovely reef with LOTS of wildlife. We gradually ascended the gentle slope to 4m, where the reef flattened off and there was a bit of surge, so we didn’t hang about.

Back on the boat we discovered that one pair had almost stayed still at the headland, while another had hit a great current and shot off. Apparently this is known as the ‘scattergun’ and is a cox’s nightmare! [I presume no seals were seen. Ed]

MV Robert and Iona II (max depth 25m)

The Robert was a small, single-screw coaster which capsized and sank off the eastern side of Lundy in 1975. It is Lundy’s only intact wreck, and the 50m long vessel now rests in 25m on a muddy sand seabed on her starboard side. The port side of the ship is in around 18m of water.

Prominent sections of the ship are covered in anemones and there is often a small shoal of bib on the wreck and occasionally individual John Dory can be seen. Nudibranchs are found on the outside of the hull and the pipework section is home to conger eels. There are also billions of large dead man’s fingers.

The wreck is linked by a chain to the paddle steamer Iona II, which is a protected wreck. She foundered after setting sail to assist in the American Civil War.

In a three, we dropped down the shot, found the chain and followed it ‘til it disappeared into the seabed. The vis was very good, and, not seeing anything in the distance, we turned back to the Robert. Neil D headed into the exposed ribs, while I – a nervous penetration diver – stayed on the outside with Gillian. I should have followed, as the route Neil took was very open.

We turned left and we saw the vast side covered in all sorts of life. I am no squidge identification expert (I need a Seasearch observer course!) but was blown away with the variety, including congers, crabs and lobsters (although nothing like the big ones we had seen previously). A lovely swim along the side and we reached the start point again.

Once back on the boat, Neil and Lucy were able to kit up. Their buddy check revealed a self- inflating life jacket under Neil’s rebreather! A quick de-kit to remove and both were ready to get in. [This is why we do buddy checks! Ed]

We headed back to the shot and “1,2,3 Go!” – Neil rolled off and caught a mesh bag with his foot. We pointed and shouted and he stuck his foot up. We then realised the foot didn’t have a fin on and thought: “Oh no – the fin’s lost”. But we were wrong – the fins hadn’t been put on. OOOOPs! [This is why we do buddy checks! Ed]

Neil and Lucy were the only pair to find the Iona, by reeling off from the chain as it went into the seabed. Apparently a lovely dive with boilers and some other bits.

We raced back to the jetty and offloaded. It was at this point we discovered that, if a person falls in, it’s best not to grab their ankles as it generally keeps them under water. Poor Rebecca joined my exclusive ‘falling in the water’ club, and, like me, just came out a bit cooler and wetter as of course we wear our suits zipped up on the boat at all times!

With the wind beginning to pick up from the east as forecast, we offloaded the boat completely and four lucky volunteers took it back to Bideford.

With no chance of diving the next day, Preeda’s Caribbean and Thai curries were followed by a boozy evening. Cards Against Humanity was played (Google it!) and I discovered just how warped a sense of humour divers actually have – even those who seem really normal!

The evening continued with board games, great music and LOTS of alcohol. At about 10.30 Gillian asked if anybody would like to go to the pub with her so she could speak to the nice skipper of the Obsession about possible boat diving later in the week.

Richard and I nobly volunteered, and we wandered down to the pub and had a little chat. We then discovered the sensational amount of whisky. Leaving the pub at 11.45 after they had closed at 11.00 we staggered back up to The Barn and then decided Jenga was a great game to play when drunk (it is). About 00.30 we all went to our beds.

Day 4 Tuesday 24th

We woke to the sound of Gillian laughing as Richard told her about waking up in the wrong bed – an empty one thankfully – the wrong way round. Apparently RK sleep-walks, which isn’t a problem, but it was a great opportunity to tease him for the rest of the trip.

After breakfast we all went on a brilliant walk along the east coast to the north lighthouse, where the wind blew away cobwebs and cleared hangovers. By lunchtime the others had arrived back and we enjoyed a lunch that was a mish-mash of last night’s curries, sandwiches and pies. It sounds terrible, but it wasn’t!

In the afternoon we went for an explore to the south and a look at shore diving the west coast. Annoyingly, there was no access down the cliffs to the water, which was almost flat calm due to it being in the lee of the wind.

A cheeky pint was followed by Neil and Lucy’s great spag bol (even better than my wife makes!), and a stupendous apple crumble, which was even better than my mum’s!!

Day 5 Wednesday 25th – no diving again.

Some of us decided to do a guided walk, where we learned a lot about the history of the island. The afternoon was spent… in the pub! This was followed by an evening meal in the pub (really good game pie and sausages), followed by an hour of board games and most people crashing due to having to pack in the morning and the possibility of some shore diving.

Last day – Thursday 26th – shore diving

Gillian had spoken to the Warden, who advised us that the landing bay jetty was a stunning shore dive but we MUST be out of the water for 11am when the ferry was arriving. We could also dive south of the rocks separating Rat Island from the main Island, but this must be at low water to avoid being swept out by the ebb tide.

Landing Bay Jetty (max depth 9.5m)

We got down to the bothy and kitted up and in the water for about 10am.

What a dive! We went down the jetty legs to just above sea bed and it was full of all sorts of vegetation and animal life. Gillian signalled to go south across the bay to the rocky gullies. I took a bearing and off we went.

The life got even more amazing in colour and quantity. It wasn’t quite a tropical reef, but not far off. Using my excellent navigational skills (i.e. dumb luck) we ended back at the entry point to the gullies, and headed back to the jetty and towards the steep slip where there was a wall which had looked good for more life.

Sadly my counting of fin strokes and the movement of the tide caused me to miss the wall and we ended up in the shallows again which was not a problem as the flora and fauna there were amazing too. We headed to the slip and crawled up it as it was very slippery. At the top, we dekitted and jabbered excitedly about how brilliant that dive was and how we should do it as a night dive when we come back.

Devils Kitchen/Surf point

During the surface interval, seals were noticed in the area we were planning on diving. We had a long walk across the rocks to the entry point, and this should have given us some idea of the type of dive we were going to have. It wasn’t a pool but just more gullies with a lot of swell. We moved around trying to get comfortable in the shallow water but after 15 minutes we aborted the dive.

That’s it – the diving was over and now the loading of the containers began. We would be on the ferry at 6pm and ready to head home. As we left, Lundy was silhouetted by the sun, with the old light standing proud.

Lundy, we will be back. Don’t know when, but we will.

Posted in Dive Trips