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ISSUE 9 ARCHIVE - LUNDY ISLAND

Will Appleyard

The trip to Lundy Island seemed to sit on my calendar for ages it was a place I knew held some very special moments waiting to be experienced and I couldn't wait to get there.

I rolled onto the campsite near Ilfracombe, North Devon about 9pm that Friday evening, found my dive mates huddled round a dying BBQ (and accompanying Wags), threw up my tent and chilled out for the rest of the evening with a couple of beers... a cider or two... and may have helped out with a bottle of wine as well. The boat was leaving at 8am the next morning, so couldn't go too mad!

Lundy Island, managed by The Landmark Trust is a protected marine reserve and a place of great natural beauty. Three miles long and half a mile wide it's situated on the fringes of the Bristol Channel and washed by the clear cool waters of the Atlantic. As well as an abundance of extraordinary crustaceans, anemones, worms, squirts, jellies and a plethora of fish species to be discovered, it's famous for its seal encounters too oh, there's also a couple of decent wrecks to poke around on for good measure.
The Underwater Channel
Diver and Jellyfish Our group was booked to dive over two days from the boat 'Obsession II' and camping arranged for two nights on the mainland. We met the spacious boat complete with welcoming skipper, Andrew Bengey and his crew at the quayside early Saturday morning. After loading our kit aboard, including enough cylinders for two dives and with bacon sarnies in hand, we embarked on the two hour crossing to Lundy. The day started overcast and looking out to sea it seemed we were in for something of a lumpy ride and as the mainland shrank behind us, the swell, well, began to swell. For two hours we crashed over the waves towards the Island and finding a good spot on the boat to wedge yourself in, proved a challenge all part of the adventure I thought as I spilled another cup of tea over myself and one or two others. As Lundy grew in size before us, the weather improved too great timing.

The relentless pounding eventually gave way as we approached a decent spot in the lee of the Island a welcome relief, we all agreed. Our first dive was to be on a site known as the 'Knoll Pins' two submerged rocky pinnacles situated a couple of hundred metres from the Lundy cliffs. After our dive briefing we strode in and descended onto the 'Pins' in search of what was lurking beneath. Graham, my buddy, and I decided to navigate the 'Pins' in a figure of eight and armed with cameras and torches found the seabed at around seventeen metres.
Divers on boat Our usual UK trips comprise often gloomy, green water dives with hit and miss viz, so we were both pleasantly surprised to be met with an array of vibrant colours and fantastic visibility holiday diving, I thought. At every turn we met sea urchins, spider crabs, sea cucumber, fans and star fish I must have shot fifteen pictures in as many minutes. Plenty of fish and jellies surrounded the impressive kelp clad 'Pins' and after half an hour or so we discovered an impressive gorge just waiting to be explored this section was littered on either side with pink sea fans so I had to be careful of where I put the old fins. After fifty minutes or so we ascended through the kelp to complete our stop over the 'Pins' and were picked up by our boat five or ten minutes later. A fantastic introduction to Lundy.

Our second dive was just off 'Gannets Rock', where we'd be introduced to the local seal population. We could see a number of seals both in the water and lolling about on the rocks looking intently in our direction as if they had been expecting us. I have to admit to being slightly nervous about this encounter nervous excitement and anticipation rolled into one I guess. Once kitted up, we dropped in and descended to around ten metres. The plan was that we swim towards the Island into shallower water in order for the seals to find us. The seabed at that depth was mainly made up of kelp-covered rocks and weedy areas with the visibility around the 15 metre mark. The seals clearly were expecting us and we suddenly found our group ambushed by several of the fellows much bigger animals than I'd anticipated too.
OonasDivers
Swimming around underwater These creatures were seriously inquisitive and keen on chewing any brightly coloured bits of kit-hoses; fins, reels, gloves or indeed masks were pulled about! I found myself clutching on to my mask while trying to hold my reg in at the same time, as two of the cheeky blighters took turns at tugging on my belongings. The seals reminded me of a pack of very playful dogs and clearly enjoyed being petted, stroked, wrestled and cuddled some divers were favoured over others though so those 'left out' took pictures of the seal / diver scrum. The speed at which those creatures could move also surprised me, like flexible torpedoes they dived, twisted, turned and somersaulted about us. Due to the shallow nature of this dive we were able to hang out with our new friends for about an hour, but all too quickly the dive seemed to end and we were soon finning back to Obsession II to prepare for the crossing back to 'base camp'. Everyone aboard was beaming from their encounters, comparing war stories and mocking those who were clearly seen being bullied by the creatures (I wasn't one of those victims honest although a video in existence suggests otherwise).
Thankfully the crossing was a little less white knuckle inducing on the morning of day two and as a result we reached Lundy relatively quickly. Our first dive was to be on the wreck of 'MV Robert' a cargo ship that came to grief in 1976. She's about fifty metres long and lies on her starboard side, pretty much intact in about twenty-five metres of water. Her port side rises to about eighteen metres making for an interesting multilevel dive. The great visibility meant that a decent proportion of this wreck could be photographed using a wide-angle lens.

There was no shortage of nooks and crannies to poke around in with the torch either and we even found the giant resident lobster, minding its own business. The wreck teems with life spider crabs, jellies, pollack and wrasse can all be found hanging around the Robert. A couple of grumpylooking congers reside there too so watch where you put those fingers! I made for the surface alone after forty-five minutes, but the jellyfish made for good company and striking subjects to photograph while on my safety stop at the shot. There were scores of them drifting by in the gentle current and I had to duck out the way of them on several occasions in order to avoid a face full of tentacles.

Dive two that afternoon involved our seal friends again this time however fewer of them wanted to play, although a couple of juveniles seemed quite interested, so we wrestled and dodged them for a while until they tired of us and spent the rest of the dive poking about in kelp, gullies and overhangs. Being in only four to five metres of water meant that the light for photography was superb here and managed to bag several shots I was pleased with in the fifty minutes or so we were down.

Lundy Island is a very special place and reminded me that this country really does have some magic and beauty about it. It was a privilege to interact with those creatures and the stunning scenery and wildlife topside meant that every minute of my time there, both above and below the waves was a feast for the eyes. We're booked to go back to Lundy again next year and now I know what to expect, I imagine it'll seem to stay on the calendar for even longer this time.

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