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Scotland Underwater: St Cats, Loch Fyne

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

Loch Fyne on Scotland’s west coast is a sea loch probably most well-known for the incredible sea food that comes from it and is sold across the UK and Europe. At 70km long and with a maximum depth of around 200m, it’s also Scotland’s longest sea loch, which means… plenty of opportunity for diving.

Although maybe just pipped to the title of “Most Dived Loch in Scotland” by Loch Long just to the east, Loch Fyne is an ever-popular destination for divers throughout the country and even the UK. She may be slightly further away from the central belt and Glasgow than Loch Long, but it’s more than worth it.

Coming from Glasgow, you actually drive around the head of Loch Long, down her west bank under the shadow impressive Arrochar Alps before continuing to follow the A83 into the unbelievable Glen Croe. The views alone from the Rest and Be Thankful at the top of the Glen looking back on the road you’ve taken is worth the extra drive.

With twenty-two dives sites in the Loch (according to Finstrokes), I won’t even pretend I’ve dived them all, there is more than enough to whet the appetite of any and all divers.

Aside from Finnart (or A-Frames) on Loch Long, I don’t think there is another dive site in Scotland as popular as St Cats, on Finstrokes it’s listed as Seal Reef and some also call it St Catherines. The name might be up for discussion, but its popularity is most definitely not and once you’ve taken a wee dook underwater it’s easy to see why. With plenty of parking, and a pretty easy entry and exit point, it can be really busy during the summer months… but sadly, not just with divers! The good old Scottish midge also appears to very much appreciate the site as well and enjoys a wee buffet courtesy a la diver… you have been warned! However, the site is well worth braving our wee pests.

Now there’s two ways to dive St Cats. The “main” dive is straight forward to be honest. Once you’ve dropped beneath the surface head directly out from the shore you come to a “drop off”. It’s not a cliff per-say, but it’s a pretty obvious slope. At this point head down to around 8 to 10m and simply turn right keeping the incline on your right-hand side. This isn’t the main part of the dive, but don’t rush too fast, keep an eye out here for the odd dogfish hanging around the slope. Keep finning at about 10m and eventually you pick up the rocky reef. From this point it is totally up to yourself as to your depth. If you’re looking for a shallower dive simply keep swimming across the reef and take as long as you like looking under all the rocks, there’s plenty of life to find.

Now, I make no promises here, but the last few dive days we’ve had here has rewarded us with an absolutely magnificent lobster at the far side of the reef. Best way to find it would be to head down edge of the rocks once you first hit them to about 16 to 18m. At this point, swim straight across the reef until you come to the end of the boulders. There should be a rather large rock, with another propped up against it, and on the far side of it, at the bottom the home of Mr Lobster. But, be careful, the claws are big. If you’ve not found it by swimming straight across simply swim up and down the far side edge of the boulders and it shouldn’t be too hard to spot.

Personally, I always tend to follow the edge of the rocks down to steel wire which stretches right across the reef at about 16 to 20m, I’ve no idea what it’s from, but it makes for a really good navigation point during the dive. Most people tend to use this as the start of their zig zag exploration of the reef, but if you are looking for depth swim over the top of the wire and continue to follow the rocks down to your chosen depth. I’ve only ever been to around 40m, and although there isn’t much in the way of life, there has been fireworks anemone found at depth and even the odd cuttlefish/bobtail squid. I’m not going to lie; this is the one and only time I’ve seen one during a dive and being around 37m at the time I did wonder if I was narked. I still like a wee look down deeper just on the off chance I come across it again… cause you know, obviously it hasn’t moved in the past year or so… one can dream.

Regardless of the depth you chose the dive itself is the same. Simply zig zag your way back up the reef taking your time. The rocks are absolutely teeming in life and there’s very often the odd lobster hiding away. Once you’re done exploring simply head back to the edge of the reef, now keeping the slope on your left at about 10m again and the fin back for about the same time it took you to reach the boulders and your back to the entry point. It’s as easy as that!

Now, if you are looking for something a wee bit different there is actually a “wreck” of a speed boat in the opposite direction to the reef. Many people will give compass bearings etc. to reach it, but I’ve found the easiest way to find it is to simply swim straight out and down from the entry point and head to around 18 to 22m. From here turn left keeping the slope on your left-hand side. Have your buddy swim at around 17m and you at about 21m (if visibility allows for it) and simply start finning until you come across it. Depending on your fin strokes, you should hit the wreck after about 4 to 7mins. The detour from the “main” dive to visit the speedboat is well worth it. The “wreck” is pretty much intact, though the seats seem to have miraculously detached themselves, and is now home to scores of squat lobsters, anemones and at one time a rather large “Ling”. Sadly, at some point over the last year or so, we think, someone has used the boat as practice for lift bags and actually turned the whole thing 1800 and in the process it would appear they’ve scared off the ling, which I’ll be honest is rather infuriating! My suggestion for taking in the speedboat is to do this first, once you’re finished exploring the “wreck”, head up the slope to a shallower depth and then head back along it keeping it on your right hand side. This will take you back to the entrance, however if gas/dive plan allows you can continue along to the “main” reef and do a slightly shallower zig zag checking out the boulders once again.

St Cats/Seal Reef/St Catherine’s is probably overlooked by many of us divers who regularly dive the sea lochs. We can be guilty of passing it off as just a “good training site”. But, it does offer a lot for most divers and in fact, with it’s nice little beach and secluded parking off of the main road, also makes it good for non-diving friends and family as well. It’s often used by local clubs and groups as a small campsite for those who fancy spending the weekend.


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

Ross is a 30 year old chemistry teacher from the west of Scotland with a passion for scuba diving and trying to show off some of the unbelievable marine life right here on our doorstep. He started diving in 2016 and in the last 3 years really began to take his underwater photography seriously. He fully admits he's no professional photographer, marine biologist or diving expert; he's just someone with a relatively expensive camera who often presses the button and hopes for the best. Follow Ross on Instagram @underwater.ross and on Twitter @outdoorsross.

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Introducing two new Colours of OBLU resorts in the Maldives

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COLOURS OF OBLU, a brand by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, has opened two exciting new resorts in Male Atoll in the Maldives this year.

OBLU XPERIENCE Ailafushi opened in June. Translating from the Maldivian dialect of Dhivehi, ‘Aila’ means family and ‘Fushi’ means island, in essence, the Family Island. A 15-minute speedboat ride from Velana International Airport brings guests to this beautiful tropical island.

The four-star resort’s 268 villas and rooms are designed to experience nature at its best. A striking fleet of water villas shaped like dhonis are lined up along the jetty – a perfect spot for snapping some selfies. From the moment of arrival, a carefree and relaxed holiday unfolds with the generous Fushi Plan™. Dining, activities, a multi-level kids club with a pool and food corner, overwater gym, and live entertainment are all blended within the stay for a hassle-free holiday.

Sumptuous all-day dining options are available at the Element X Restaurant which serves modern Western, Central Asian, and Far Eastern cuisines. X360 Bar features a 1000 sqm infinity pool – one of the largest in the Maldives. Guests can enjoy unlimited orders of refreshing spirits, wines, and beer from the grab and go bar counter. Evenings come alive with enthralling music and party vibes at the bar’s dance floor. The Copper Pot Food Truck parked on the beach is perfect for an open-air dinner of choicest fresh seafood and meat grills that can be relished on the soft sandy beach beneath the starry sky.

Walk up to La Promenade located beside a channel that meanders across Ailafushi island. This picturesque walkway has cosy seating corners along with a wine boutique, souvenir shop, and café. There is so much to do here — lounge at the scenic overwater deck, sip a cup of coffee, and socialise with like-minded travellers. Experiential highlights also include The Dome, a futuristic 15-meter theatre and entertainment centre.

Sister resort OBLU SELECT Lobigili is an adults only property that opened in March. In the Maldivian language of Dhivehi, ‘Lobi’ means love and ‘Gili’ means island. Lobigili is, in essence, the island of love.

Blessed with verdant foliage, this five-star resort features 68 contemporary beach and water villas – all assuring gorgeous views of the turquoise-blue lagoon. With the resort’s exclusive Lobi PlanTM guests can immerse in a blissfully carefree stay. This generous plan includes specialty fine-dining, unlimited beverages, spa services, Indian Ocean excursions, a selection of non-motorised watersports as well as a fully stocked minibar replenished daily.

OBLU SELECT Lobigili continues with the brand’s tradition of exceptional fine dining, elevating the mealtime experience with playful and fun touches. At Ylang-Ylang, the All-Day Dining Restaurant, delectable world cuisine with intimate nooks for couples and a unique book corner are unmissable. The Swing Bar with itschilled out beachside vibe features chic hammocks, swings and a stunning infinity pool that is one of the largest in the Maldives. Evenings come alive with handcrafted, aromatised cocktails and hypnotic DJ and Live Band performances.

That is not all. There is Gaadiya 17 Food Truck serving grab-and-go game meat grills to be relished in a fun, open-air setting on the beach under starry skies. And an exotic ONLY BLU Underwater Restaurant, one of the largest underwater restaurants in the country, where guests can experience impeccable modern gourmet cuisine.

A standout experience is ELE | NA The Spa – designed exclusively for couples and adults – featuring locally inspired spa treatments including  Lobi Dhooni (Love Bird) Hithun Hithath (Heart To Heart) and Dhekanbalun (You & Me).

Scuba Diving from both resorts is with OBLU’s partner dive centre, TGI Maldives, one of the best-known in the country. The dive centre teaches a variety of PADI and SSI courses. The island’s house reef is perfect for relaxed dives, snorkeling and training, whilst many of North Male Atoll’s best dive sites are just a short boat ride away. In particular, the atoll is well-known for its manta ray sightings from May to October.

Discover more at www.coloursofoblu.com

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SSI releases new Explorers program for kids

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SSI has announced the release of the SSI Explorers Program, where kids aged 6-11 years old can get a taste of the many ways to explore the aquatic world around them. This exciting program makes diving for kids stress-free, guiding them in engaging underwater adventures where they can scuba dive, act like a real mermaid, and go underwater on a single breath with freediving. SSI has invested much time and energy into re-vamping this child-centered experience program.

Formerly known as Scuba Rangers, the new SSI Explorers Program is today’s most extensive aquatic experience program for kids in the dive industry. Children who have not yet reached the minimum age for scuba diving will not only gain a solid foundation in ocean conservation, but they will have the opportunity to experience four main aquatic adventures and many specialties.

Your young aquatic explorer will join Emma and Nico on exciting underwater adventures with their marine friends, Star the starfish, Shelly the sea turtle, and Spike the shark. The comprehensive children’s manual is very engaging, with colourful cartoon drawings and authentic ocean images for this young audience. Emma and Nico guide children throughout the manual’s educational content in a fun and engaging way, using Spike as their equipment expert and Shelly as the ocean environment advocate.

The SSI Explorers materials start by introducing children to the importance of protecting and preserving our oceans by becoming a Blue Oceans Explorer. After learning why our oceans are important, about the world’s five oceans, and what they can do to help protect our oceans, students earn the SSI Blue Oceans Explorer recognition rating. They can then move on to learn all there is to know about snorkel equipment and snorkelling in a confined water environment to earn their Snorkel Explorer rating.

After completing these two initial experiences, SSI Explorers can choose from one of three aquatic adventures and either become a Scuba Explorer, Mermaid Explorer, or Freediving Explorer. Better yet, they can continue on to earn all three ratings!

SSI Mermaid Explorers get to swim around like real mermaids while improving their swimming skills. SSI Freediving Explorers will go underwater and dive deeper by holding their breath longer in an encouraging, relaxed environment.  Explorers who have not met the minimum age for scuba diving can try it out within the safety of a pool or confined water and become an SSI Scuba Explorer.

The fun doesn’t stop there, however! SSI Explorers can go on even more underwater adventures to earn 22 different Specialty Explorer ratings. They can improve their explorer skills with exciting specialties like Underwater Model Explorer, Rescue Explorer, Shark Ecology Explorer, and Search & Rescue Explorer, just to name a few. Your child can earn the Specialty Explorer recognition rating by completing two Explorer specialties. When they complete four specialties, they will become Advanced Explorers, and after completing the Rescue Explorer specialty, they can become a Master Explorer. SSI Explorers will even be able to earn real C-Cards just like their parents to show off their hard-earned recognition ratings.

To look back on their explorer fun, SSI has included a logbook section toward the back of the colourfully engaging SSI Explorers manual. The Explorer Logbook is where students can record details of their underwater adventures as they work through these exciting experiences. Near the logbook, SSI has also included an area for the Explorer Instructor to place an SSI recognition sticker specific to each completed explorer activity. Children will be excited to work toward earning them all!

The SSI Explorers program is now available as a book or digitally in four languages: German, English, Spanish, and Italian, with more languages hopefully coming soon.

Training the next generation of ocean lovers and aquatic enthusiasts is very important to SSI and all SSI Training Centres and Pros. The SSI Explorers Program is an excellent way to promote ocean conservation and aquatic safety in our younger population and prepare them for future open water certification opportunities once they reach the minimum age for scuba diving.

Look for an SSI Explorers Program at an SSI Training Centre near you. To find your nearest SSI Training Centre, check out the SSI Centre Locator here.

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