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Diving Browns Bay

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 enquiries@aquanorth.co.uk. You can also visit the Aquanorth website for more information: www.aquanorth.co.uk

Patrick Shier is an experienced diver who is a regular contributor to both UK and international SCUBA diving magazines. He is also the author of the UK Dive Guide, which promotes diving in the UK and encourages newly qualified divers to discover the delights of diving in UK waters. Patrick’s passion for the marine environment is not limited to the UK; he has dived, and photographed, many superb dive sites around the world including Samoa, Grenada, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malta and the Red Sea.

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Scotland Underwater

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The first in a series of blogs about Scotland Underwater from Ross Mclaren…

Here in Scotland our driech and dreary weather is world famous. But actually, the copious amount of rain that we often moan about, is responsible for a cacophony of colours across our beautiful country.

The one place that might not always be as renowned for being vibrant and colourful is our seas and lochs.

As always there’s exceptions. Our beaches on the north west coast are covered in golden white sand and with turquoise water that might be mistaken for the Maldives… albeit a wee bit nippier… and we’ve even got a few wee lochs (called Lochans) with some pretty green shades to them, but for a good percentage of our coast and lochs, it’s a steely grey mass that greet us.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Scotland’s underwater world mirrors the water it lies beneath. Now, I’m not going to pretend you’re going to be met with a rainbow of colours found somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef, but actually the vibrancy found under the waves definitely took me by surprise.

Disclaimer! I’m no expert in marine biology or underwater photography! I’m pretty much a guy with “all the gear and no idea!” I started out with a wee GoPro and built my camera “rig” up to something that’s now resembling an octopus. But, I’ll be completely honest, I have no real clue what I’m doing in terms of settings, etc. It gets put on “Auto”, I turn the lights on, try not to disturb the marine life and press the button hoping for the best. Quite simply, I’ve fallen in love with our underwater world and do my best to try do it some justice through my photos.

One of the most beautiful marine species I find photographing, and to be honest probably one of the easiest, is the anemones. We have such an abundance of these from deadmens fingers, to firework anemones, and the colours that can be found are just breathtaking. The patterns and shapes they make as they glint in the light of the torches and with the movement of the water is magical.

They might not be the most exciting sea creatures but the humble crab is also a fantastic specimen to capture, and again we have a wide variety. I’m not quite sure what it is but you can almost see/feel the attitude oozing out of them when you catch them in the beam of the lights.

I say this to almost anyone who’ll listen, but I always said I would absolutely love to get sweeping wide angle photo of a wreck. Those are by far my favourite photos to look at. Seeing these hulking feats of human engineering being reclaimed by nature and appreciating the scale of them in one scene is awe-inspiring. Sadly in Scotland with our visibility (well certainly in the areas I frequently dive) it’s not really possible and when it is, it really doesn’t do it justice. However on the flip side Macro photography here is definitely rewarding!

Last summer I had one “photographic goal”… get a nudi! I was desperate to capture a wee sea slug, but no matter how hard I looked I could only find one all year and when I did my GoPro just didn’t do it justice. This year though, well it seems to be a completely different story! Every dive we seem to come across at least one… it also helps when you’ve an eagle eyed dive buddy! With the new camera and macro lens the quality in photos has improved as well. It’s not just the number we’ve seen but the variety we’ve spotted as well! There are so many different kinds, different colours and shapes. It can be a wee bit frustrating trying to hold myself still in the water and getting the camera to focus in on this tiny wee creature, but it’s so worth it!

The dogfish/catshark isn’t particularly uncommon in the UK and it’s no different up here in Scotland, if you know where and when to look. They are absolutely stunning to photograph and, although not overly colourful, the texture of their “skin” and their eyes is absolutely incredible.

Now cucumbers are most definitely not my favourite vegetable… but sea cucumbers… those I do love! I genuinely can’t get over how cool they look. They remind me of wee trees and I’m totally mesmerised watching them bring the food to their mouths with their tentacles.

Jellyfish! The scourge of beach goers everywhere! The dread of someone shouting “JELLYFISH” and hoping beyond hope you aren’t caught in a tentacle brings back childhood memories. So until I started diving the “evil” jellyfish was much feared. However, since I started exploring the underwater world and seeing them in all their glory, I have come to appreciate jellyfish for they unbelievable beauty and grace. I love watching them float past (from a distance!) and seeing the shapes they take in the water. They are so full of grace!

Even the most dived sites can throw up a wee surprise every now and again. We’d headed to one our usual haunts with the main goal of logging a couple of deeper dives just to build up to Scapa later in the year. We descended down to around 38m where we planned to swim along for a wee bit before ascending again. There were a few rocks, but generally not much life but I took the camera anyway, you know, just in case.

Now these guys aren’t completely uncommon here on the west coast, but they’re mainly found at night and until now I’d never spied one, let alone photographed one! Bobtail Squid/Little Cuttlefish! I’m not going to lie, I was so excited! I actually thought I was slightly narked as it appeared out of the sand. This wee fella was so cool! The colours were absolutely breathtaking and getting the opportunity to photograph them was just amazing.

Scotland isn’t the diving capital of the world; we’re not going to suddenly become a top dive destination on many diver’s bucket lists. BUT we do have some incredible marine life, with such unbelievable colours! Although it’s not the easiest diving you’ll ever do, when you do get that moment it makes it feel all the more special.


For more from Ross, follow him on Instagram @underwater.ross and on Twitter @outdoorsross.

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A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 2 of 2)

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The first two days of diving were amazing – I think you’ll agree after reading Part 1 of the blog HERE. We left the Brothers Islands setting sail for Daedalus – the southernmost point of our itinerary around 275km southeast of Hurghada. Conditions were perfect for our crossing and continued throughout our day at Daedalus for three dives. I was so excited for this site as it was the highlight on my previous trip and I’d also had word it was the hot spot for oceanic whitetips the last couple of months.

A feeding hawksbill turtle pays no attention to the divers on Daedalus.

We moored up by the lighthouse at the southern point of the island and was thankful to see there weren’t as many boats as at the Brothers. Our first dive was a rib dive to the North Point to drift out in the blue at around 25 metres+ in the hope of seeing scalloped hammerheads. I wasn’t expecting the same action as my previous trip with schools of around 20 hammerheads due to difference in the time of year and sure enough the action didn’t hit as big. We spotted a couple of lone hammerheads between the group deeper than 40 metres. After spending half the dive in the blue we came back to the stunning East wall with its amazing soft coral and small fish life. Towards the end of the dive we had an incredible encounter with a feeding hawksbill turtle that was completely comfortable with our presence as it fed on the soft coral. It’s always a pleasure seeing turtles.

Oceanic whitetip shark swimming under the sun at Daedalus.

Although we were on the rib once the dive was finished, the action wasn’t over. As we neared Scuba Scene we saw some commotion with other ribs in front stopping and looking in the water. Initially the rib skipper said it was a whale shark but as we neared we saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of an oceanic whitetip shark break the surface. In fact, there were two of them and they were really excited. I lent over the side with my camera and got my best photos of them as one came to investigate bumping into the camera. This is what I love; this is what gets me excited and sure enough for the next two dives I decided to stay under our boat at around 5 metres for most of the dives. There were three in total around Daedalus and I had some incredible close-up encounters with them. This is what I was here for and I was so happy after our day at Daedalus with the oceanics.

Although the conditions at Daedalus were like glass, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the next two days and the decision was made to journey back north to Elphinstone instead of staying for another day at Daedalus. I was a little disappointed as it would mean missing out on some more great shark action. However, I missed out on Elphinstone on my last trip due to bad weather and was happy to get the chance to dive there finally.

Lionfish swimming amongst the stunning reef of South Plateau, Elphinstone.

Sure enough the winds picked up during the night and it was a lot more choppy when moored up at Elphinstone. With Scuba Scene’s size, it was very capable of dealing with rougher seas and we planned for a full day there. We had two morning dives before deciding to head inland as conditions worsened. My dive buddy and I stuck with the South Plateau for the two dives and both were stunning. The life on the plateau was amazing as lionfish were in abundance and while photographing them I got surprised by my very first torpedo ray. It was only a juvenile and what a cutie it was as it swam over my dome and turned just before it hit me and swam away. Two friendly hawksbills were again a highlight as they didn’t care for the divers exploring the plateau. While ANOTHER oceanic whitetip really made our trip to Elphinstone in bad weather worthwhile. FIVE different oceanics on the trip; I was happy to just get one but buzzing with the action at three different sites.

Colourful pyjama nudibranch on a night dive at Abu Dabab 3.

It wasn’t all bad leaving Elphinstone early as we managed to get an extra dive in with a night dive at Abu Dabab 3 after an afternoon dive there also. The afternoon dive was a highlight of the trip for me as I got to experience something different with a “cave” dive of sorts. My dive buddy sat the dive out but guide Adma Rashed was eager to get in as he loved exploring the caves. I was soon following him exploring a shallow cave system through the reef. As it happens, this was his first time exploring the whole way through the system and he was so happy after the dive. I’m no cave diver and have no interest in deep cave exploration but this was really fun and different to everything else on the trip. I’d certainly like to do more of this relaxed type of cave diving.

One of the many moray eels at Small Giftun Island.

The rest of the trip for the Thursday and half a day on the Friday was Red Sea reef heaven again. A night dive at Mangrove Bay provided a couple of cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish) and also my first time seeing a Spanish Dancer underwater. Although we tried the seagrass at Marsa Shona and saw a green sea turtle from the surface, we couldn’t find any underwater and soon left to explore the reef – an amazing reef full of blue spotted ribbontail rays to enjoy. We finished with two dives at the Police Station dive site around Small Giftun Island. The gorgonian fan corals were a beautiful sight but the highlight of diving here were the huge moray eels and, in particular, one huge free swimming moray that swam next to me for a brief period right at the end of my last dive.

WHAT A WEEK OF DIVING!!!! Thank you Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving.

Exploring a shallow cave system at Abu Dabab 3 was a real highlight.


Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact info@oysterdiving.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!

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