Pentland SAC dive trip to the Isle of May

Pentland SAC dive trip to the Isle of May, Firth of Forth – Saturday 26 May 2007

Jim Tilson1During a chance conversation in January 2007, I learned that Dive Safari based in  North Berwick were about to take delivery of a new hardboat ready equipped for diving. I phoned and spoke to the owner, Gary Lawson and he explained that the new (to him) boat would be arriving at Dunbar in February and it would be fitted with a head (toilet) on deck and best of all a diver lift at the rear. Gary hoped the boat; to be based in Dunbar would give him a greater range than had been possible with his RHIB.


I agreed to check out with Pentland Branch if they would be interested in a dive possibly to the Isle of May in the early summer and get back to Gary. A few emails later confirmed that PSAC members were interested and the trip was duly arranged for Saturday 26 May – optimistic the Scottish weather would be kind to us by that time of year!


As we approached the date, a text around confirmed that I had 12 divers for the Saturday, some of whom had now moved to Peebles Branch. The weather looked fair and it was ‘game on’.


We arrived at Dunbar to be met by Brian, our Skipper (he used to be with Aquatrek) and started to load the kit. The boat is big – 37.5ft in length and will easily take 12 divers and the full sets of kit (including Mike’s mega sized packed lunch box) required for a day’s diving.


Two of the party were a bit crocked, one with a bad back and the other with the sniffles – still we’d go along just for the trip given the weather.


After a safety briefing from Brian, we set off for the Isle of May around 9.40am with the prospect of an hour’s boat ride ahead. As usual the ‘patter/crack/chat/taking the mickey’ – whatever you call it was good – I’m sure we get together as much for the socialising as we do for the diving.


On route to the Isle of May, which sits right in the middle of the Firth of Forth, possible dive sites were discussed. Just for interest, the Isle of May is the biggest island in the Forth, and is major bird sanctuary. It is a mile long with 150ft high cliffs along the western edge, whilst it’s eastern side is low lying. The first lighthouse in Scotland was constructed on the island in 1636. Due to it’s size and the notorious storms that hit the estuary the waters around the island are littered with wrecks.


It was hoped that the weather might let us dive the wreck of the ‘Primrose’ sitting in 30 metres of water a half mile of the SW of the island. Not to be, just a bit too exposed and choppy!


It was decided that the first dive would be the wreck of the ‘Island’, a 1774 ton steamship, formerly the Danish Royal Yacht, bound from Copenhagen to Leith when it ran aground in fog in April 1937. It is not a deep wreck, sitting at a max depth of 15 metres with parts of the bow section actually still visible on the rocks on the island itself.


Dive buddies quickly kitted up, did the obligatory buddy checks and were in the water, which, due to the sheltered location, was flat calm. After about 30 minutes the first of the SMBs started appearing on the surface with divers then being lifted (hydraulically – remember that divers lift!) back into the boat.


Back on the boat are Marion Fraser, John, Bill Innes, Dave Simpson, Kent Pickles, Eddie Fraser and Jim Tilston

The surface interval produced more chat, etc and discussions about the first dive. Viz had been reasonable at between 4 – 7 metres, the usual sealife in abundance and some of the group managed to see the prop, plates etc from to the wreck.


For the second dive, Brian agreed to drop us at North Ness, which sits at the extreme NW of the island and is colonised by the resident seals, which were in abundance.


Again, after the safety checks all divers were in the water and off – so were the seals. Most of the group had one or more seal with them for most of the dive. These are no small creatures and they just love to try and nibble fins – especially yellow ones. Brian Lyell got some good video footage and I’m sure some others got some good pictures.


The weather stayed fine for us as we made our way back to Dunbar, arriving home around 4pm


Overall, a great day out for both diving and patter.


Dive Safari’s boat is the ‘Pegasus’ and the cost for the day was £35 per diver. The boat can be booked via the shop in North Berwick on 01620-890022


Jim Tilston