Shallow crystal clear waters, a scenic wreck site and more marine life than I have had the pleasure to dive with… all in just 8 metres of water. It’s easy to see why Browns Bay is a very popular dive destination in the UK.
Browns Bay on the east coast of Northumberland has always been a popular holiday and seaside location. So much so that on the 23rd of August 1855 the Duke of Northumberland employed a swimming coach to teach the locals how to swim. And then nearly forty years later planning permission was given at a cost of £180.00 to blast a hole in the rocks that would create Whitley Bay’s very first open air pool. Dynamite was used create a 70 foot long and 30 foot wide swimming pool. It’s approximately five feet deep at one end and 3 feet deep at the other. With a continuous supply of fresh seawater at high tide the pool would need little maintenance. Locals and holiday makers would put on their very fetching full length swim suits (which were as thick as a semi dry in the good old days) and jump in for a dip in the cool northeast water. Although popular when it was first built with swimming clubs, holiday makers and fitness fanatics using it whenever the weather permitted, the pool has for sometime now only really been used by scuba diving instructors when they introduce student divers on the open water section of the course, so that they can adjust to the cooler sea temperatures.
When you get to the dive site and look at the landscape that you have to clamber across with your kit on just getting to the waters edge, you will probably think that I have written this article with people that are built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in mind. But believe me, this little dive is well worth the short trek down the stone steps and across the rocks. The good news is that there is free parking along the road opposite the beach. The bad news, with no facilities here, changing into or out of your dive kit can pose a problem. The local council has found it necessary to put up signs asking divers to be careful when undressing as groups of little old ladies have been seen lurking ready to pounce on unsuspecting near naked divers.
On this particular dive make sure you have surface support, not just for safety reasons but they will be able to help you with your kit and look after the car keys. The usual SMB, Torch and dive knife will be required here. Send up the SMB when you get to the 8 metre section of the dive as boats and Jet Ski’s use the area.
Once kitted up follow the stone steps down to the rocks and carefully make your way to the Victorian swimming pool; it’s a little up and down and can be slippery so take your time. I set my kit down just to the left of the pool and made any last minute adjustments; and then after buddy checks were complete; into the water we went. The maximum depth at this point is no more than 4 metres. My dive guide Michelle Cooper took me towards the small kelp forest which was about 15 metres away from the entry point. Rather than going through it or round it I decided to go over the kelp which rose to about a metre from the surface. Take your time here and as you look down into the kelp you may find the odd pipefish and Nudibranch hiding under the leaves. Moving on, the depth gradually slopes down to around 8 metres. And from here on, it was crustacean city. Squat lobsters, common lobsters, edible crabs and Velvet swimming crabs were here in abundance. Everywhere I looked these big lobbies were looking back at me. And as I got closer to them they arched their back, flexed their muscles and opened their claws ready to defend themselves. In the crevices of the rocks I found squaties hiding along with velvet swimming crabs, and huge edible crabs the size of dinner plates. The visibility here was around 10 metres.
We made our way to an old wreck called the Butetown. This little steamship was loaded with coal when she was grounded at Browns Bay in December 1917. Although she is nearly 100 years old and well broken up, you can still see the outline of this once proud ocean going vessel. There are five specialties that I think may benefit you on this dive; Wreck, Drysuit, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater photography; and this is an ideal site for the National Geographic specialty because you can research the wreck as part of your project. The amount of marine life here will surprise even the most experienced UK diver. Lumpsuckers can be found nesting around the wreck between February and May, with the males remaining with the eggs for up to two months until they hatch.
During the summer months Cuttlefish come in close to shore to attach their eggs to the Kelp and seaweed. Every now and then spend a few seconds looking out into the blue; you should catch sight of the many shoals of fish gracefully swimming past. Bib, Pollack and wrasse can be found here; and as this is an area that is popular with anglers care should be taken so as to not become entangled with their lines. The coral encrusted boilers are home to a number of small creatures and its worth taking a torch to look inside as large conger have also been spotted here. My dive guide Michelle and I spent sometime investigating the entire wreck from different angles; from the bow to the boilers we looked under plates and lifted and replaced anything that could be moved. Keep an eye out for flatfish that have camouflaged themselves with sand; and resting dogfish that are lying on the ocean floor against the gentle current. The seabed is also home to a multitude of brightly coloured plants, such as Corallina that densely populates the area and which is then in turn home and protection for smaller creatures such as pipefish, hermit crabs and shrimps. Petalonia can be found growing amongst the ribs of the wreck adding a touch of green to the already colourful scenery, and Dalyell Anemones and sponges decorate the sides of rocks which with the exceptionally good visibility gives an almost tropical feel to the dive. After an hour under the water it was time to end our dive exploring this beautiful site. And although we had gone this way and that, Michelle new exactly where we were, and within no time at all we were back where we started. Now be careful as you exit the water as it will be quite slippery; and be prepared for a slightly longer walk back to the car as it’s an uphill hike with all of your kit on.
Patrick went diving at Browns Bay with Aquanorth Diving Centre. To book a dive at Browns Bay contact the staff at Aquanorth by calling them on +44 (0)191 266 6626 or email them at email@example.com. You can also visit the Aquanorth website for more information: www.aquanorth.co.uk
Diving into the World’s Fastest Tidal Rapids
In the mystical waters just north of Vancouver, Canada lies a narrow channel called the Skookumchuck Narrows, or simply “The Skook.” It’s a hidden gem in the Salish Sea that boasts a unique spectacle – a tumultuous dance of tides and currents that draws adventurers and spectators from far and wide.
Imagine this: a channel so narrow and shallow that a single tide can unleash an astonishing 200 billion gallons of water, creating a tumultuous display of standing waves, whirlpools, and currents surging at 16 knots (18 mph or 30 kph). Such speeds may seem mild when driving a car, but the erratic water is a different ballgame. Skookumchuck Narrows is a contender for the title of the world’s fastest tidal rapids, rivaled only by Nakwakto Rapids further up the British Columbia coast.
But there’s a twist – this aquatic battleground isn’t just for adrenaline seekers; The Skook is an oasis for life beneath the waves. April 2023 marked a rare convergence of perfect conditions: a celestial alignment allowing divers to witness The Skook in all its glory. And who better to guide this daring expedition than Porpoise Bay Charters, a family-run venture led by the seasoned Kal Helyar and Ann Beardsell?
Raging currents = an abundance of life
The allure lies not in the danger but in the vibrant marine ecosystem fueled by the relentless currents. Ocean currents act as nature’s turbochargers, transporting nutrients that transform places like Skookumchuck Narrows into underwater havens with colorful life thriving amidst the rocky terrain.
It’s important to debunk the myth that this is a reckless plunge into chaos. Diving The Skook is not about courting danger but choosing the right moment: at slack when the tide turns, the water experiences minimal movement, and the currents are a mere 4-5 knots. Picture this – a scuba diver slipping gracefully between tidal changes, maneuvering with precision as the water changes its course and gradually picks up speed. Timing is everything, and finding the rare dates when daylight piercing through the emerald-green water coincides with navigable water conditions is critical. April 2023 granted us a mere handful of these golden days of nature’s alignment for the first time in four years.
Entering the abyss
As our vessel, under the watchful eye of Captain Kal, approached the infamous Skookumchuck rapids, a tangible excitement filled the air. These cold-water adrenaline-filled dives are the scuba diving equivalent to scaling Everest. The unpredictability of The Skook, where currents can whisk you in any direction, demanded respectful caution from our experienced salty crew.
With a reassuring smile, Captain Kal dismissed the notion of a toilet bowl experience, where divers are pulled in a circular direction by the currents as if flushed down a toilet. He emphasized that they only dived during an easy drift in the current, which was hard to fathom possible in such treacherous waters. Approaching the narrowest section of the channel, where the current was fastest, Kal’s experienced eyes scanned for the telltale signs of slack tide. Tidal ripples slowed, and we entered the water in the few precious minutes within the next year when it was possible to witness Skookumchuck in all its sunny glory.
As we descended into the underwater world, a mysterious algal bloom cast a dark green haze, unveiling a breathtaking palette of colors below. Bright red and pink anemones, neon orange encrusting sponges, and deep purple ochre sea stars adorned the rocky canvas, showcasing nature’s artistic prowess.
Surrendering to the sea
Descending further, we felt the force of the tide, like a river yet to subside. Gripping onto rock holds and kicking into the current, we felt like underwater rock climbers. Adjusting our underwater camera settings and getting comfortable with the flow of the water, we marveled at the transformation of the underwater landscape. Slabs of rock, once pounded by the current, now hosted a vibrant community of marine life.
After a mesmerizing twenty minutes of relatively gentle water, the current intensified, signaling the roller coaster drop ahead. We surrendered to neutrality, letting the current guide us along the wall. Boulders and back eddies added a touch of unpredictability; with trust in our abilities and Captain Kal’s promise of a safe pickup, the thrill was exhilarating rather than menacing.
As the current ebbed, we found ourselves in a tranquil cove adorned with green sea urchins, marking the end of our underwater odyssey. The Skook had shown us its splendor: a delicate balance of chaos and life beneath the surface – leaving us with memories as vivid as the colors we witnessed.
About the Author
Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles, he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. After working as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific, Nirupam became the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo – the world’s top underwater photo & video retailer. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!
US-based divers: explore more close-by dive destinations with Bluewater Dive Travel here.
All photos: Nirupam Nigam
Unveiling Indonesia’s Dive Gem: Welcome to Bunaken Oasis, Where Adventure Meets Luxury
Embark on a journey to a sanctuary meticulously crafted with a single vision: to redefine luxury diving in North Sulawesi. Born from a culmination of global experiences, our resort stands as a beacon, promising an impeccable fusion of opulence and ecological mindfulness.
Nestled in the Bunaken Marine National Park, our commitment to an eco-conscious existence is at our core. With 12 exquisite cottages designed for comfort and splendour, every desire finds fulfilment within our haven.
At Bunaken Oasis, sustainability isn’t a buzzword; it’s our ethos. Our water, purified through innovative means, erases the need for plastic bottles, ensuring every sip aligns with our eco-friendly stance. With pathways weaving through the hillside, nature’s beauty is at your doorstep.
As your boat docks at our private jetty, the journey begins through the elegant Long House, leading to an ethereal infinity pool overlooking the horizon. Beyond lies our haven: a cocktail bar, a panoramic restaurant serving culinary excellence, and a serene spa to soothe your soul after underwater escapades in the awe-inspiring depths of Bunaken Marine Park.
Luxury here isn’t just a notion; it’s a standard etched into every facet of our 70sqm villas. From thoughtfully curated amenities to breathtaking vistas, your stay resonates with indulgence and comfort.
Bunaken Oasis stands as a beacon of ethical tourism, securing recognition for our commitment to nature. With an extensive infrastructure ensuring minimal environmental impact, we’re pioneers in nurturing and enhancing the marine park’s wonders.
Our dedication extends to our garden, where organic produce flourishes, enriching both our cuisine and local community ties. Beyond the confines of our resort, we encourage exploration, offering curated excursions to delve deeper into the vibrant local culture and landscapes, inviting you to discover the mesmerizing depths of Bunaken Marine Park through expert-led diving adventures.
Explore an aquatic wonderland at Bunaken Oasis, offering access to 80 diverse and stunning dive sites. Encounter majestic sea turtles, some so colossal they seem prehistoric, gracefully navigating vibrant reefs.
Discover hidden treasures like pygmy seahorses and intriguing frogfish among the kaleidoscope of healthy coral formations housing over 2,000 fish species.
Join us at Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort & Spa, where luxury meets responsibility, and every moment resonates with the harmony of nature.
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