An account of three divers’ first day at sea.


As I cracked open my eyes at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning, to a world shrouded in mist I wondered what on earth I’d been thinking when I signed up to dive off Anglesey later that day. I’d thought myself lucky that another diver had dropped out at the 11th hour and offered me the opportunity to take her place. But looking at the landscape outside my window, still wrapped in its blanket of haze, I had to wonder, who had been the lucky one here?

Anyway, brew downed, toast eaten and driving done, I arrived at a very misty Rhosneigr and, with some colourful language directed at the sat-nav, found Ian and John at the boat yard, busy preparing the club rib to be towed to Holyhead and a day at sea. Debbie and Louise arrived and we uncovered the marine marvel. Then, having carried out some technical checks, including the extremely complex fuel-stick test, Ian hooked up the trailer and we set off, in convoy, to a still-misty Holyhead Marina.

Once we got to the marina, it was all go! We three first-timers had myriad questions, but with Ian and John to lead us, patiently sharing their knowledge, (where should I put my mask? (In your goody-bag, on the boat) Should I bring my lunch? (Yes)  What if I need the loo? (The gents will take a look out at the front, while ladies peel off and cop a squat off the back)) we soon had all our kit loaded on the boat, in the appropriate spot, secured and ready to go.

Top tip: set up your kit beforehand and have everything organised into wet (fins, mask, hood gloves, torch, and anything you’re taking in with you) and dry (lunch, flask, car keys, wallet etc) to make it easier to transfer stuff from your car to the boat, and to find your things when you need them on the water.

Giddy with excitement, three first-timers, with our two experts clambered aboard the rib, took our plush, first-class seats on the “sponsons” and eased our way out of the harbour, still shrouded in thick mist, our little crew chatting and joking all the way out.  “I’ll bet John shares his fact about the harbour wall” quipped Ian.  Not five seconds later, John chipped in “Did you know, this harbour wall is….” Let’s not deny him the pleasure for next time, you’ll have to experience the trip to find out. Suffice to say, it’s a doozy!

Rounding the famous harbour wall and it’s square lighthouse, we came to our first experience of overfalls, the sea boiling around us like a cauldron, tipping the boat this way and that, with all of us holding on firmly with both hands, praying not to be the victim of an early dunking. But Ian, standing at the wheel, calmly picking our way through the waves like nothing was wrong, assured us we were fine and the rib could handle far worse than this.  

Of course he wasn’t lying, and we emerged safely out the other side, to our first glimpse of a sun in soft-focus through the haze, razorbills darting about us, settling on the calm, blue water, only to dart off again. As the murky sky started to clear, we were treated to the sight of the local seals, sunning themselves on the rocks. Soon enough, we met with Andy and Kevin from Rhosneigr Sub-aqua club and settled on our first dive site. Chasms reef.

Anchored under the coastguard lookout, in a rocky bay, we decided Ian and Louise would dive first, for 40 minutes, while John, Debbie and myself would keep watch and enjoy the scenery in the now glorious sunshine.

Our compatriots kitted up and safely in the wet stuff, we watched the bubbles as they circled in the calm, clear blue, Debbie and I drifting on our excitement for our first sea dives.

A short 36 minutes later, Debbie spotted the fluorescent orange shape of a DSMB behind the rocks and soon Ian surfaced with Louise, absolutely brimming with delight at the magical underwater world she had just returned from. Despite some anxiety at the start of the dive, OWI Ian helped her to overcome her fears. His incredible knowledge of where marine life tends to hide, had her beaming as she found starfish, and witnessed lobster and dogfish among the kelp.

Finally, it was our turn!  The first time you try, it’s not easy to just fall backwards into nothing, and I’ll admit, it took me a few attempts, but in this case I was rewarded greatly.  As the three of us dropped down the anchor line, it was clear we had been truly blessed by the gods of Viz.  A couple of seconds of descent and the magical world that had so captivated Louise came into focus. The dark kelp looked like it was straight out of a tropical world, striking against the pale blue water.   That would have been enchantment enough, but we pressed on, enjoying the calm, clear conditions, as we followed Dive Leader John, through gullies and clearings in the kelp. I paused to admire a mermaid’s purse and the faint outline of a baby shark inside, anchored among the colourful, soft coral.  Purple and yellow wrasse came out to investigate us as we bimbled through this pristine, otherworldly waterscape.  John stopped to show us sponges, and investigate some little nooks and crannies with his torch.  Soon we started to feel a pull from the current, we decided this was our signal to leave this mystical place behind and return to the surface to relive it all on the boat.

Having been recovered from the brine with all the elegance of a beached whale, we doffed our kit and discussed the rest of the day.  Saying goodbye to the chaps from Rhosneigr,

we headed off to have a look at the Norman Court. Chatter on the radio is constant throughout the day, with vessels reporting themselves in and out of the water, but we listened intently as Belfast coastguard responded to a Mayday, reporting some missing divers.  We paused, as they requested a position, but we could only hear one side of the call.  Awaiting a call to help, Ian turned off the engine and we all held our breath to find what happened.  The divers hadn’t made it back to their surface cover, and the scramble to find them had begun. We listened as the coast guard asked for help from all vessels, and had the helicopter standby.  It brought it all into focus, how powerful the sea is, and how dangerous this thing we do can be if we don’t respect our hobby and train ourselves well.

Fortunately, as vessels began to respond to the call for help, it seems the divers were found and one hopes, despite some choice words from their own powers that be, were all safe. We pressed on.

Dreading the struggle of getting my gloves back on, I had all but decided to skip the second dive.  But having seen how clear the water was once we arrived at the site, I quickly changed my mind.  Luckily, I remembered instructor Chris’ advice from a previous dive, about using plastic gloves inside your wet gloves and still had a pair in my pocket. Didn’t my gloves just slip on like a fresh pair of mittens?!  

The Norman Court was once the fastest tea-clipper on the sea, having won the 1872 annual tea-race  -the race to be the fist clipper to dock in London with the new season’s tea cargo – finishing in a mere 96 days.   Some years later, it was caught in strong winds and dashed on the rocks at Cymyran beach, where it still lies on it’s sandy bed in 5-8m of water, teeming with marine life, and the obligatory golf ball, it’s brass rivets gleaming in the sunlight through clear, blue water, polished by decades of divers like some sort of lucky charm. 

Having spotted a pretty white shell in the sand, I took a moment to test my buoyancy skills, but almost jumped out of the water when the thing suddenly sprouted legs and claws and scuttled away! I wasn’t expecting a hermit crab!!  Further on, Debbie spun round, excited, and signed LOOK! LONG! PINCHY! and motioned to a hole in the wreck. Inside was a blue and brown lobster, nonplussed at the three noisy faces peering into his hiding spot.  Ian rooted under the wreck for a moment and found a spider crab to show us, but the piece de resistance was the great, white, Dogfish just sitting on the sand, almost completely unbothered by our presence.

People will tell me until the end of time that it was just a dog fish, but I maintain, I saw a shark.

After some time basking in the crystal clear water, we made a gas check and decided that it would be a good idea to head back to the boat and finish up our day.  Chattering excitedly about the dogfish and the lobster, we once again doffed our kit and started the journey back. Back into the mist, back through the overfalls, back past the famous harbour wall, eased our way through the harbour and to the slipway, where we put the boat back onto the trailer, and Ian prepared it for another day’s diving, our happy chatter continuing with hugs and thanks, making plain our gratitude to Ian and John for spending the day looking after three new divers and showing us this glorious underwater world we’d all been dreaming of for so long.

It’s a long way to go for a day trip and it’s a long, and exhausting day, but every moment turned out worth the effort as we were treated to the most incredible first sea dives one could hope for. Lovely weather, perfect Viz, great company. And so back to my first paragraph question; who was the lucky one here? Definitely me, even if I did have to get up at 5am!