An Early Winters Tale

While we all know the great attraction of St Abbs in summer time, we are also aware of the down side.

Overfilled and overpriced car parks, queues at the cafes, queues for the airfills, crowded dive boats, queues for the toilets. None of these was a problem for an optimistic group from Pentland (Brian Lyell, Rolly Wiegand, Sutherland Maciver) and Peebles (Marion and Hugh Fraser and Frank Morris) SACs on Saturday 28th November who took a chance with the weather to get a dive in. Although this November has already proved to be the wettest month on record for Southern Scotland and gales have also been a feature, the winds had been westerly all week and so fair stood the wind for St Abbs!

After what Brian promised would be a “relaxing” drive south, we arrived unscathed after having observed only the laws of physics at Mandy’s air filling station at Scoutscroft! That done, we drove on to St Abbs. Never have I seen so much naked tarmac there, and we skidded to a halt in a prime spot, leaving a conservative 3mm between us and the wall! We quickly secured queue-free cheeseburgers from the café and got kitted up in time for the 1.00pm departure.

We were quickly on board M.V. Topline and greeted by the ever jovial skipper Paul Crowe. We headed out of the harbour with a full compliment of 12 (a group of five divers from Hull, ourselves and Paul), leaving Marion’s “Misty” the cheeseburger-fuelled hound to guard the cars. There was a significant swell so Paul took us round the headland to West Hurker an area that was relatively sheltered from the swell. Hitting the sea floor at 14 metres we headed east along a boulder field with occasional larger rocks. The temperature was a tolerable 9 degrees Celsius, and the swell wafted us back and forth along the bottom where, in the absence of summer algae, the main feature was resting deadman’s fingers. These had mostly closed up shop for the winter, but we found one particular group of deadman’s that still held out a few feeding tentacles, that were under attack from a band of juvenile nudibranchs of the species Tritonia hombergii (see figure). There were several fish around including the usual dragonets and two spotted gobies and others gobies (probably common and /or sand gobies). A young cod was doing its best to hide in a crevice and numerous smallish lobsters surveyed us from their hiding places. A further small surprise was the discovery of  “Mermaid’s Glove”, a sponge that I have not seen here before. On surfacing we were treated to the usual coffee and biscuit back on board Topline, and the short trip back to the harbour. Ashore we found that not only had Misty performed up to her/his (sorry Misty!) usual high standard, but skipper Paul pulled the final rabbit out of the hat in the unlikely shape of sticks of Brussels sprouts!! (Paul is also a farmer). Holding our glittering prizes aloft we headed home, vowing to take our dry suits off before eating them!

There are great dives to be had all through the year at St Abbs right on our doorstep (almost). There is no need to hang up your gear for the winter, just keep an eye on the weather and don’t forget your weight belt!

Phone number to book Paul Crowe’s M.V. Topline at St Abbs is 01890771945 or 07710961 050. Phone number for Scoutscroft is 018907 71338 to get access to air if the door is not open over the winter.

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