We hope to be able to spread the word about kayak diving as widely as possible and will reproduce any articles we have published on this page.
An article published in the newsletter of the Yorkshire Subterranian Society gets the ball rolling bellow.
As you may have guessed from the title this is a tale of stirring deeds and daring do on the high seas, or to be a bit more accurate how three members of the YSS started Yakdiving.
This has the same freedom and potential for exploration as caving with challenges, technical problems, intellectual puzzles and physical demands that are totally absorbing, allied with team work and piss taking (almost constant), in short it is just ace.
Over the last five years the Pickles brothers Si, and Jez and I along with other wayward souls have had an early season dive meet at Loch Fyne, a sheltered sea loch about an hours drive north and west of Glasgow. We stay in a caravan, eat like lords, drink a bit and dive on the totally splendid marks there.
This led to the formation of the Dark Mark Dive Collective (The name inspired by a very odd stain on Mark’s T shirt and the fact we refused to be called a club!) which is dedicated to the exploration of nature rich, depth poor, hard to reach by conventional means dive sites.
Allied to this was the pilfering of an idea from the other side of the pond, Diveyaks, sit on top kayaks used as dive vehicles, either to get to shore marks or used as mid-water anchored or towed platforms. This started with a single Malibu 2 (Ocean Kayak) being got; then the fleet expanded as it was just the most fun imaginable (apart from watching people totally fail to pass rebelays that you have put in from a 6’4” advantage). The yaks are ecologically sound, able to get to sites other things can’t and provide a full body workout, and OK, bottom line are £5000.00 cheaper than a rib with very little upkeep either!
We now each have a kayak: - two Malibu 2’s and a Malibu 2 XL (mine), called BBC1, BBC2 , and NBC (Big Blue Canoe 1 & 2 and Not Blue Canoe), equipped with GPS, sonar, anchors, flag poles, multiple attachment points, VHF radios with training and certification and full distress kits. The “rigs” were set up using a mix of website and reading research, experience, wild guessing and hoping for the best. This is joined to the DMDC ideal of doing it shiny (DIS) closely allied to DIR but very different (OK the only real similarity is the DI bit). To get to this stage has taken about 18 months, a fair bit of padding logging water time to see what was actually needed to explore and document new dive sites from a kayak.
2005 was the first year of fully kitted adventure and has seen us dive around the west coast of Scotland at Loch Fyne, Skye, Mull, off the Ardnamuchan peninsula as well as St Abbs, Eyemouth ad sites off Scarborough; gaining experience and an ever growing enthusiasm.
In order to give an idea of how it works I need to tell the story of a dive:
Stallion Rock Loch Fyne.
This can be dived from the shore but requires a 3 mile drive over an axle shattering forestry track, a 500m assault course down a steep muddy slope and seaweed covered rocks, and then a 150m surface swim to the mark.
Get to the water
Find a launch site that gear and yak can be carried to and that has easy access into the sea. It is possible to punch thru some fair sized waves but full laden it can be a bit fraught! Here we a launching from a gently shelving beach beside a car park, so there is no real carry and no hassle.
Load the Kit
This sounds straightforward, but is not as easy as it seems, you need to be able to get to everything once you are at the dive site. So fins, mask, hood, snorkel, gloves and weight belt should be at hand, with everything else (BCD + tank + regs and associated stuff) tethered to the yak ready to deploy.
Weight must be evenly distributed around the centre line of the kayak as an uneven trim left or right leads to veering and a very tired paddler who is spending time correcting rather than progressing!
All gear must also be secured as if the yak falls over in the surf the gear MUST stay with the boat otherwise you will get poor very quickly.
So dive gear packed, GPS and sonar on, flag pole up, but dive flag furled, and anchor, painters and emergency gear stashed as well.
Ready for off…almost…on board as well will be personal gear such as binoculars, camera, food, water, flask, stove, sunglasses, sunblock, hat – the list goes on but the sit on tops we use are doubles rated between 350 and 450lbs so plenty of buoyancy for a single padder and dive gear.
The fun bit now starts, paddle to the dive mark, Stallion Rock is a known site so, waymark with the GPS and start to paddle, (as you are in the sea the planning beforehand will involve checking tide states, speed and direction, weather conditions and if a virgin site what knowledge can be gained about it from surrounding sites, local topography etc.). Finally most important let someone know where you intend to go, and when you should be back, as if worst case happens it would be good if the big yellow taxi is looking in the right place.
The paddle takes an hour or so, 6 miles along a beautiful wooded coast with rocky bluffs rearing up and intriguing depths being plotted on the sonar. The day is still and the sun sneaks out from the cloud to turn the water silver, on with the shades and look cool.
Get into the rhythm of the boat, and let the mind drift, the dive, the roast dinner tonight, where to go next month, can a super soaker be bow mounted and then used to proper effect…
The dive site is reached, it is a shore site so the kayaks are beached and secured to a helpful tree, the dive flags are unfurled (to alert other water users that divers are in the water and the kayaks are not ready for salvage!). The dive gear unshipped put on with the usual comments and helpful advise, then get in the water and do it.
I tend to dive in a wetsuit and have dived in Scotland in a 3mm long john with a 5mm jacket in October, but dry suits are good too, just the wetsuit option makes the paddle / dive changeover much easier and I am both very lazy and well blubbered so the cold is not a real issue.
The other reason for this type of diving is to firtle about a bit , it’s a trip to look at the pretties in Hagg Ghyll not bottom Penyghent to make a caving comparison, so it won’t be deep, as most life is in the top 20m’s or so of the water column.
I also tend to dive solo, this stems I think both from being a rubbish buddy, cave diving and getting more holiday than most, working for a Council, so sometimes I may be out with a non diver. However, I would NOT paddle out and dive on my own with no surface cover, this is just silly given the number of variables that can lead to a proper SNAFU!
Underwater is wonderful, a green cathedral of light, sun beams forming a transept that the shoals of Pollock glide around like doves. The rock wall that forms the dive drops to 30m’s with a big overhang at the bottom, and then shelves away on a sand/mud slope to around 90m. Today I go no deeper than 20m’s lots of light and life: - anemones, sea fans and worms all filtering food out of the gentle tidal drift with squat lobsters and crabs in the crevices, colours starting out in the glow of the torch. Peering into the deeper cracks I am rewarded with first a conger eel, and then a large cod, both sheltering from the day.
To end the dive I drift in the shallows, ferreting in the kelp looking for small but beautifully coloured sea slugs and the entrancing shoals of two spot gobies. After 45 min I get out of the water with plenty of safety margin on Nitrogen saturation and gas reserves.
Sitting in the sun after de kitting I watch Si and Jez’s bubbles come closer before they emerge dripping and grinning, a round of did you see? And you mean you missed? Follows. Kit packed we sit on a big rock and brew up hot chocolate, and think just how amazing this place is, the reflection of the mountains in the water shattered by the breeze, the hush of the woods only broken by an irate blackbird. This sit after the dive allows us to warm up a bit and give a final safety stop to allow nitrogen to leave our systems before padding back. Exercise after a dive is to be discouraged, but the margins of safety here are so huge it is really just an excuse to sit in the sun.
The paddle back is the reverse of the journey here, if conditions deteriorate the GPS track can be followed back to base. A dry Cag is worn on the way back to to help conserve heat as well.
On the way possible marks are discussed as we pass over underwater features, and see inaccessible bits of shore (inaccessible that is from the land) that look interesting. Features like a huge chain most likely left over from the D-Day landing practices that were staged in Loch Fyne in 1944 (you can still find .303 ammo on some sites and there are supposed to be landing craft and tanks in the loch that came to grief during the practices)
And that is Yakdiving.