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Madelaine Shines

Departing for the eight-hour drive up to Oban, Scotland where we would be boarding our new home for the week, a fabulous converted Swedish fishing boat, I was not sure what to expect, it being my first liveaboard experience.

The first morning we were woken up by the sound of the engine being turned on and a few heads being banged on the ceiling above the bunk beds. Not a serene start to the trip but that day we were set to dive The Breda, a well-known wreck in the area. As always, the first dive of any trip involved a serious amount of faffing, faffing and further faffing. Yet despite the early morning start only one person managed to try to stand up with their set still tied to the railings so we were off to a relatively good start.

Once ready to take the plunge we all fell in, the one mad diver in our group wearing a semi dry suit in a brisk 8 degrees gave a strangled yelp as he submerged himself into the icy water but aside from that we all descended with ease and had a brilliant dive. The only downside of diving the wreck was the bad visibility, which started to creep in after one notorious member of the group began to leave a torrent of silt behind them at every opportunity.

The lift out of the water onto the boat was brilliant and a breeze in comparison to some of the long shore walks back that we're used to. Being able to plant your bum almost immediately on your bench area, tie your kit back to the railings, and then have the deck hand come round and refill your cycinder! Well, I think we could all get used to this kind of service! A quick un kit and dry off whilst watching the semi dry suit diver fill their suit up with warm water from the shower and then proceed to walk around like the Michelin man gave great amusement to all and it was a great first dive all round.

Back on board, the more serious issue of breakfast was seen to and we all filled our empty bellies whilst excitedly recounting the dive we'd just done.

Next it was onto The Hispania, which we were diving around 4pm. A few of the group went for a snooze; other more studious members of the group took to drinking copious amounts of tea whilst reading up on the history of The Hispania. For those who are interested The Hispania is a 1337-ton Swedish steamer, 72 metres long that sits at 30 meters deep. After hitting a reef during a storm in 1954 the Hispania went down with its Captain and now sits in an upright position meaning the engine room and deck are all-penetrable for underwater explorers like ourselves.

So as the next adventure dive approached the weather began to take a turn for the worst and those who don't have the strongest sea legs were in for a bit of a treat. The boat began furiously rocking from sky to sea and if you looked out of the window you were faced with the somewhat comedic image of people being thrown from side to side on the boat deck. Much more worrying however was the deck hand coming in to tell us that this was calm as the poor fellow speed out to feed the fish!

Lunchtime was soon upon us and with one cook and 11 su-chefs and some excellent middle management about the method of chopping the vegetables, we were soon well fed again and all sat round to plan the approaching dive. After lunch the captain came in to give us a briefing on The Hispania, what to look out for during the dive and what we could expect to see from the wreck.

If possible, the second dive of the day usually ensues even more faffing as people are making adjustments on their set. Kit envy had already kicked in at this point as well when a few of the divers began shamelessly salivating over another group members brand new twin-set. Across the deck I also spied the unfortunate semi dry suit diver sandwiched next to a diver with a swanky heated vest that he'd just switched on, I try hard to suppress a smile. There is also the usual small size inadequacy joke as one diver heads in with a 2m dsmb, that they're unable to fully erect. As we say, it takes all sorts.

All divers, once eventually kitted up, give a nod and fall into the water and descend. The Hispania is a lovely wreck for a gentle bimble around, with plenty of it still being in good condition. The aforementioned silt stormer was swiftly 'booked' for vis desecration to the relief of many but the the dry suit diver who began to moan about the dropping temperature to the semi dry suit diver was not met with the same enthusiasm.

Once back on board and de-kitted we were all met with a freshly brewed tea and coffee, did I tell you that I could get used to this? Milky coffee after a brilliant dive made it all that much sweeter and we all began romanticising about the sites we had just seen below the water. Once we were all sorted dinner was started, again with the obligatory middle management of every step in the making process, then silence descended as everyone tucked in.

The day ended with a mooring at Tobermory and a delighted squeal from a fellow diver who exclaimed "that's Balermoray" A few too many drinks later and we were twelve very happy divers, looking forward to the next stop.

The second day arrived, and dealing with maybe one too many drinks the previous evening, the engine roared up. A few 'morning people' were already faffing upstairs making breakfast, while the rest of us were not quite sure why we had thought this liveaboard was a good idea, when on our holiday we were being called out of bed at half 8 for a briefing on our two dives of the day which would be the Aurania and the Dutchman's cap.

So off we trundled to get kitted up, with marginally less kit faffing than yesterday, we dropped into the water. The water was a lovely 8 degrees and it felt decidedly colder than yesterday. The semi dry suit diver also quickly realized that the outdoor shower room was perfect for filling up his suit up with warm water.

We sat outside on the journey to the second dive, wind in our hair, we decoded that a few titanic-esque photos were required and so were duly taken. Whilst diving the Dutchman's Cap, all was going swimmingly, until one pair misinterpreted the 'keep the wall to your left' instruction and came up well away from everyone else. They bobbed up and upon discovering the long distance swim were visibly disgruntled. Thankfully this caused no fatigue issues and everyone was fine, the boat after collecting the rest of the divers who had managed to know which side of their body was which, went and collected the stragglers. The aim of the trip was set out to be an exploratory one, where the captain and a very knowledgeable instructor looked at the map, saw something interesting and went for it. This was also the initial plan for the third day, however upon arriving at our desired dive site a fish farm was instead discovered! A quick switch to plan B and we headed for the Garvallachs. This was only meant to facilitate one dive for us all, but it turned out that the site was an absolute goldmine for scallops and a few enthusiastic members of the group were determined to grab a few more.

A night dive had been planned for that night as we were mooring on the anchor overnight and it would have been the perfect situation. However the weather was not ideal for the dive and understandably the captain could not be persuaded to drop 12 divers into less than calm sea in the pitch black. So back down to our cabins we went to sleep off another days activities.

The next dive was at Lochna Keal and one of the divers on the trip was using this site for their progression dives and their obvious excitement for the dive was infectious. It was a lovely wall to explore and perfect for progression to occur. They came up even more jubilant at their achievement, which was lovely to see, even with the more experienced members of the group politely hiding their smiles.

The next dive was about 5 hours away so everyone changed and prepared for the next adventure.

As we were now embarking on our 8th dive, everyone was becoming more comfortable in the water and we were starting to find a starfish here or there. Some even started strapping camera equipment to their head in the hope of creating some Attenborough esque footage no doubt. The obligatory underwater selfie had to be taken of course, just in case your Facebook friends weren't already aware of your obsession with diving, they can now see you in full action, looking very photogenic in full kit!

As you can imagine, our cabins by now looked very well lived in, with one in particular looking like a jumping jack in the box had been let loose with a suitcase, but we were assured that there was method in the madness and despite the mess they did know exactly where everything was...

One of the divers had brought onboard their own cleaning products (she's since been invited to come on any and every other club trip we have), and we were very grateful when she gave the communal area a much needed and thorough clean.

Unfortunately the weather had taken a slight turn for the worst and the remaining few days of the trip were marred by seasickness and I found myself refusing a fair few scallop sandwiches as a result! However all in all the liveaboard experience, though intense for a holiday, was a great atmosphere and a fantastic way to experience some beautiful UK diving!

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