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A weekend in St. Abbs with DiveStay

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When I entered the postcode into my satnav given to me by Gary at DiveStay in St Abbs, Scotland and it told me I had a three and a half hour drive before arriving… I sighed, having had a very busy stressful week and having unanticipated the distance between Sheffield and St Abbs and hoped that the diving would be worth it.

The drive actually felt like no time at all, most of it was on the same road down the A1 and there are plenty of nice little towns to call at for a break enroute for those all important ‘caffeine stops’. We arrived in St Abbs around 12.30 and dropped all of our equipment at one of the prettiest little harbours I’ve ever seen and moved the car to the nearest car park (free car park – 20 seconds down the road).

Not long after, the boat arrived: a white and red 11m long catamaran, named Wavedancer II. She had seating on the deck for 12 divers and ample seating inside the wheelhouse which is fitted out to yacht standards (and by this I mean tea, coffee, heating and spacious toilet). We met Gary for the first time, and were welcomed aboard to start our day’s diving. We were introduced to all the divers and they were all very friendly despite me and my dive buddy being the only ones not in their local dive group and therefore the ‘newbies’ on board!

We set sail. The cliffs along Berwickshire’s coast are spectacular and seabirds dance alongside the boat diving into the water and then going to rest on the cliffs. It is a truly beautiful landscape and when the sun came out it really came into its own.

It was then time for our much awaited first dive and actually it turned out that it was also the first dive that my partner Ed and I have ever done without a guide in the UK! But it was the perfect place to start, with no current, easy enough to navigate, and SO MUCH to see! I had been told before entering the water that the diving off St Abbs Head is truly excellent in some of the very best sub 30m dive sites in the UK and Europe and that this is due to cold Arctic currents and warmer currents from the south swirling together and supporting diverse and abundant marine life. Even so, I really was not expecting it to be so beautiful. The sites are a Marine Reserve and while diving we saw wrecks, kelp forests, sandy bottoms covered in starfish, huge ballan Wrasse, short spined sea scorpion fish, crabs, lobsters, neon jellyfish, bright purple anemones, flat fish and everything in between. If you are lucky you will even see the seabirds shooting past you under the water as they dive for fish.

Check my YouTube video here for the footage:

We had our eyes peeled from the boat as that same day the group before us in the morning had seen dolphins!

When we surfaced, both myself and Ed were elated, partly because we had survived out first dive alone… but mostly because of how incredible the dive had been. Gary expertly maneuvered the boat to pick us up… and the twin lift, makes getting both you and your buddy out of the buddy effortless.

Back on the boat, there is plenty of help from the lovely ‘Duggie’ if needed to get your kit back into position, and then you are ushered into the heated…. Yes you read that right… HEATED inside area of the boat. Tea and coffee…. and homemade Scottish shortbread is available in abundance for those surface stop munchies… absolute luxury.

The second dive was just as amazing and I spent the (rather turbulent) journey back to the harbour drinking tea in the warm, chatting with the other divers about all the amazing things we had seen.

We had planned to stay over that night in the Home Arms guesthouse, which is owned by Gary and his lovely wife Zoe. Being able to stay at accommodation, which is linked to the diving is amazing, because everything runs incredibly smoothly. There is an amazing drying room at the BnB and we unloaded all of our dive gear from the boat ready for the next day’s diving and went upstairs to our room. The room was HUGE, it had seriously beautiful views over the incredible Eyemouth Bay. It was probably the prettiest BnB we have every stayed in and the perfect place to relax after a day’s diving.

Straight outside the guesthouse, you can walk into a beautiful town centre with plenty of picturesque little shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. We had a beautiful pub dinner overlooking the Bay with a local Scottish lager. A perfect day.

Sunday morning, we had an amazing breakfast at the Home Arms, home-cooked in front of us in the kitchen diner…. And I couldn’t believe my luck when they even had vegetarian sausages for me! We were well fed, well slept, and happily ready for another amazing day’s diving.

The lovely Mr and Mrs Seal were waiting for us in the harbour to wave us off and yet again we had a fantastic morning diving through some of the most beautiful diving that all of Europe has to offer.

All in all, our weekend with DiveStay and the Home Arms guesthouse couldn’t have been any better, and we cannot wait to get our next trip booked to return… and hopefully next time we will be lucky enough to see the resident dolphins.

See www.divestay.co.uk for more information.

Hannah Higgins is currently a 3rd Year Medical student at the University of Sheffield, working as a mental health carer around her studies. Previous to this she completed a Biochemistry Degree with honours at the University of Leeds, completing a research project centring on viral genetics. She has published papers at international conferences as 1st author, and is currently working on a radiology research paper with the Sheffield children’s hospital. When not working or studying she enjoys scuba diving, and is an Advanced level scuba diver currently working towards her rescue diver qualification.

Freediving Blogs

British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive

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British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.

Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.

Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.

Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.

At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.

Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.

He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.

Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy. 

‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure. 

‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave. 

‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.

Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.

A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.

Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.

His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.

Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.

Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’

Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.

Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.

Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.

The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.


All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Film Review: Thirteen Lives

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Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.

On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.

The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.

I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.

Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.

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