Clubs first trip to Lundy (in many years) by Rachael Cavanagh.
Twelve TSAC divers and one non diver all made the long drive down to Ilfracombe in North Devon on the Friday at the start of the May bank holiday weekend. We stayed in private bunkhouse accommodation at the Mariner’s Lodge, which was perfect for a dive trip, usefully close to the harbour and very comfortable.
We awoke on Saturday to brilliant sunshine and practically no wind. We met our skipper, Lee, and the boat, Obsession II, that would be our charter for the weekend. The boat subsequently proved to be the perfect day boat, plenty of room, clean and modern and best of all with a really fast diver’s lift.
After an hour long boat journey we arrived at Lundy Island. It’s the first marine reserve in the country and there has been a no take zone here for five years on the eastern side of the island. Our first dive site was to be Gannet’s Pinnacle.
Gannet’s Pinnacle is a submerged pinnacle on the island’s east side and we had actually surprisingly good viz for the time of year. What a difference a no take zone makes! It was akin to some warm water dives I have done and the profusion of soft coral, sea squirts, anenomies and sponges was amazing for a UK dive. I thought that I was incredibly lucky when I spotted two nudibranchs on that one dive until later in the weekend when I got so sick of seeing them I stopped looking.
That afternoon we moved on to the wreck of the coal barge Carmine Filomena, again on the east side of the island just off Rat Island. There were huge chunks of coal which were almost weightless and, being mostly simple souls, we had some fun attempting to throw them at each other. More nudibranchs of many vibrant colours were found clinging to the wreck along with several varieties of cup coral and sea fans, huge ballan and cuckoo wrasse and we got buzzed by a couple of the local seal population.
Back at Ilfracombe for 4.30pm each day, and courtesy of Lee, we organized air fills at the local BSAC club whilst taking advantage of their own upstairs bar. A very civilized way to get a fill!
Saturday night was Italian night and all thirteen of us poured into the smallest restaurant I’ve ever seen, much to the surprise of the diners already in there. We had great Pizzas and Pasta and several bottles of wine for the bargain price of £20 a head. Surprisingly we elected to be sensible and get a relatively early night, although I think the drive down and the great day’s diving in such lovely conditions had left us all exhausted.
Sunday was another cracking day, weather wise, and we arrived at the first dive site, Battery Point, on the west side of the island at about 10.30am. We waited for slack, with this side of the island being known for fearsome currents, and then piled in for what we were expecting to be a gulley dive. Some of us, naming no names, missed the shot completely and even at supposed slack got carried somewhat off the site, ending up in a wilderness dive. Fortunately I and my two buddies managed to hit the site OK only to be separated after half an hour by a combination of really poor viz and the current. Fortunately we did the usual hang around for one minute and then surfaced. It was surprising to see just how far the current had taken our lost buddy when she surfaced about 400 meters away from us. It reinforced the fact that you really need to know your tides to dive Lundy. We were in a safe tide state thanks to the skill and experience of our skipper but could have been in real trouble if we have dropped in at any other time.
For the afternoon’s dive we moved back to the east side of the island to the Knoll Pins. These are two part submerged pinnacles just south of Gannet’s Bay. I think this was the best dive of the weekend for me with herds of tiny nudibranchs on the pinnacle walls, stunning swathes of jewel anenomies and even a seal escort for a good part of our dive. As ever around Lundy the many, many spider crabs, which were absolutely huge, were also in attendance.
Sunday night was Indian night and again we had a great two course meal with beer for £20 a head. Eating out in Ilfracombe was easy, cheap and the food was pretty good quality. It was a great way to end the days’ diving. The mood was somewhat livelier tonight and culminated in a pool competition in our very own games room back at the bunk house and a z-bed diving demonstration from Phil (who is definitely old enough to know better).
Monday morning was an early one and we were on our dive site in Gannet’s Bay by 9.30am. This was to be a seal dive and we all excitedly jumped in and pottered about at three metres for what seemed like forever without a single seal in site. Fortunately, because I was cold, I was buddied with Guy and he had to bail out when the swaying kelp finally sent him cross eyed with nausea. So we got out and sat in the boat listening to nostalgic 80’s music courtesy of the skipper whilst waiting for the diehards to surface.
During the surface interval Lee set us down on Lundy Island and we had a bit of a mooch but were too unfit and unmotivated to make it to the top of the island before it was time to get back to the boat. However, we got far enough to get a sense of the isolation of the place given that the next place west of here is America and the nearest land east is an hour away on a reasonably quick boat. I can imagine it’s very pretty in summer, especially if you’re into alpine plants and rock pools.
The final dive of our trip that afternoon was the protected wreck the MV Robert. Lee had permission for us to dive it, so off we went. It was a cargo boat sunk in the 1970’s and is pretty much in tact, although completely covered in an amazing array of soft coral and sponges. At 24 metres it was dark and the viz was not great but again, it was nudibranch central and some of the group even got to see the monster lobster that lives on the wreck.
Thanks to our early start and the need to be on the site of the MV Robert by 1pm we found ourselves packed up and off loaded on the harbour side at Ilfracombe for 4pm. After giving our thanks to a superb skipper who really helped to make the weekend as great as it was we headed home, delighted that the traffic, inexplicably for a bank holiday Monday afternoon, was dead and most of us made it home within four or so hours.
I certainly had a great time and was really pleased that we had such a great group of people who made it a fun and happy and safe trip. If you don’t mind a bit of a trek to North Devon I would highly recommend Lundy as a dive trip destination. Unaccountably, it’s not busy with divers but maybe that’s to do with the limited diver resources (perfectly adequate for a club trip) and the relative inaccessibility of the place. For me that only increases its worth as a dive destination. Hopefully someone will want to organize a trip next year, maybe September when the viz is best and the water warmest. If you do, make sure you put me down for that.