After only 3 days of diving in Kinsale, in 2015, I could hardly wait to get back on board of the Embarr, to continue exploring marine treasures of the Celtic Sea. Matt Wills, my dive-buddy, expressed unequivocal desire to come along, and, after short collaboration, we’ve decided to dive one week in Ireland and the following 6 days in the east of the Scotland.
Right from the beginning, I want to express my deepest appreciation to Anne Ferguson, the “better part” of the husband-wife team that owns and manages OceanAddicts operation, for working with us very closely while we were “building” our tour. And as the result, her suggestion helped us to substantially reduce the financial burden of this trip.
First, we flew Boston to Shannon, arriving in Ireland at 6 am. We picked up a car and got to Kinsale on 23rd of July.
July 30th, we drove to Cork, dropped the car at the airport and flew to Glasgow, where we pre-booked another rental. It took us about 2 hours to drive to Marine Quest, located in Eyemouth of Berwickshire.
August 7th, we returned the car at Glasgow airport, boarded a plane at 11:30 am and landed in Dublin an hour and thirty minutes later. We departed Ireland at 4:20 pm and arrived in Boston at 6 pm.
Does one need a car? Having a car incurs additional spending and responsibilities. For instance, in both countries gas sold by liters and prices per gallon, in euros, as well as in British pounds in Scotland, are way higher than in the US (at the time of our travel, we paid $4.75 p/g in Ireland and $5.72 p/g in Scotland). Therefore, if you decide to get a car, try to book a diesel-fueled vehicle, diesel is cheaper than gas and yields better mileage.
And besides that in Ireland and in Scotland you’ll have to drive in the left lane, many secondary roads are so narrow, that often it seems utterly impossible to share your constricted pass with a speeding towards you vehicle.
Typical width of the two-way road
Naturally, Anne had offered to transfer us from Shannon to the Embarr for a very fair price. And, by the way, from Embarr to the Cork she wasn’t going to charge us at all. But, for a bit more money, we had a greater freedom to experience way more than 2+ hours straightforward ride from Shannon to Kinsale.
As it happened, on our way to OceanAddicts, Matt and I stopped by at Dingle Pottery, drove through the Connor Pass, tasted Irish lager at Crean’s Brewery, ate at Inch Beach, visited the largest Toy Soldier Factory and learned about other beautiful places that we wouldn’t want to miss. At Kinsale, since all restaurants are within a short walking distance from the Embarr, we did not use the car very much, and yet we found time to explore neighboring towns settled along absolutely stunning shores of southern Ireland.
At Dingle Pottery with the artist Hedi O’Neill
Conor Pass, Dingle (pano)
Self-guided tour through Tom Crean’s Premium Irish Lager brewery
Toy Soldier Factory – Prince August. Macroom, Ireland
Matt at Old Head
Or, how about a visit to White Star Line office building, located in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, that, in 1912, was serving as Titanic’s last port of call before its ill-fated journey to New York. Matt and I joined guided tour through the historical structure, immersing into a never fading story of the ocean liner that was sunk by an iceberg.
Replica of Titanic’s 3rd class cabin inside of the White Star Line office building
Things to bring to this trip
To everyone, the following is a mere suggestion, but it is a solid reminder to myself.
- DAN and, if you have valuable gears, H2O insurances.
- Cold-water BCD, capable of accommodating a generous amount of lead, unless, of course, you don’t mind diving with a weight belt. Just keep in mind that at first, you’ll have to pass on board your weight belt and then BSD with the tank, before climbing on the board of the rib.
- Dry suit with good undergarment. The water temperature was 53-50F, so Weezle Extreme and Waterproof D9 worked just fine.
I felt very comfortable throughout all dives, except that D9, fairly a new suit, was continuously leaking. It was checked right before this trip, but still … I bought D9 because of it weight, less than 4 pounds, plus it dries almost instantly and packs into a compact roll. I only wished that its craftsmanship matched its high price.
- DIN or YOKE regulators are fine.
- Fins and shoes.
- Gloves. 7mm were sufficient enough.
- All electric wall outlets on Embarr and Marine Quest are British configuration. One adapter and one extension cord with 6 US outlets were plenty to keep running all our electronics.
- There is a very inexpensive laundry shop near OceanAddicts, with quick turn around, so pack accordingly. (We found no laundry near Marine Quest)
- Analog compass is recommended. (My Atomic underwater computer did not work well)
- SMB. Surface marker buoy (safety sausage) is highly recommended, especially for the Scotland portion of the dive trip.
- Bring, or rather, upon arrival, buy a bottle of shampoo, otherwise, you guaranteed clean sheets, pillow and towels.
- Money. Basically, you won’t need much of cash, all restaurants and shops willingly accept all major credit cards. However, a few hundred euros in your pocket will be very useful, cause you may very likely become attracted to a few food stands, settled along the shoreline, offering daily catch.
- Also, if you don’t forget to pack your patience, good humor and plenty of enthusiasm you’ll be guaranteed an unforgettable time of your life.
The Embarr is moored to the city’s shipyard, which is located in close proximity to the heart of the town. Its starboard faces Kinsale Yacht club where a small forest of silvery masts sways gently, agitated by a rushes of a light wind. Its port side looks at the James Port situated on a small hill across the Bandon River.
Kinsale Yacht Club
The vessel, an Ex Royal Navy fleet tender, was remodeled to quarter 12 guests; one compartment design for 4 and 4 other cabins accommodates 2 passengers each. There are three full heads (two on the lower deck). On the upper level, there is a breakfast/lunch/dinner area, which also serves as a common room for all guests. There is a flat TV with a wired connection for your personal computer. She also has a compressor capable of filling nitrox up to 30%.
Berths are spacious enough with sideboards to organize one’s extras. There are a few electrical outlets in each compartment to keep your batteries charged.
Food on board was tasty and satisfying. Every morning Anne cooked breakfast to the individual order; eggs, sausages, Irish bacon, black or white puddings, tomatoes, toasts, coffee or tea.
Between morning and afternoon dives we returned to the Embarr, to relax and to enjoy a bowl of hot soup, sandwiches, coffee, tea and cake. The dinner we ate at the local restaurants, exploring the nuances of Irish cuisine.
Diving? Yes, I would go back!
The diving, just as I expected, was beautiful. Last year, during all my dives around Kinsale, I experienced 30+ feet of visibility, so I brought wide-angle port on this trip and used it a few times. Most dive sites have beautiful topography and I’ve got some decent compositions, but the visibility was not as good as on my previous trip, lots of backscatter on almost all of my pictures.
At “The Grotto” dive site
During this trip, Graham introduced to us new locations, among which I found The Big Sovereign and The Small Sovereign islands particularly attractive. Both formations are sets of bare rocks, positioned in a few thousands of feet of each other.
Dahlia anemones (Urticina felina)
At the south site of the Big Sovereign, at the depth of 50 feet, one can find a heap of rusty remains, belonging to the Dutch trawler “The Nellie”. It sunk in 1966 without any casualties. Matt and I were slowly moving along the wall, covered, in many places, with colorful jewel anemones. During our first dive at this site, Matt sighted an Anglerfish (monkfish) inconspicuously wedged between two large rocks. But since we both dove with macro lenses, below is the only proof of our lucky finding.
An eye of the Monkfish (Lophius). Big Sovereign Island
At Big Sovereign, among other species, Matt spotted Janolus cristatus, the nudibranch which Anne and I were unable to find during my previous visit to Kinsale.
Crested aeolis (Janolus cristatus)
We also found Limacia clavigera, lots of Common Prawn and many curious blennies, peeping at us from the shadows of deep cracks.
Orange-clubbed nudibranch (Limacia clavigera)
“The Grotto”, at the Small Sovereign, has a very impressive topography. Top portions of the rocks were covered with kelp, the feeding ground for Polycera quadrilineata and Limacia clavigera. There, at the bottom portion, we finally found Diaphorodoris luteocincta, also known as a “fried egg nudibranch”.
Fried egg nudibranch (Diaphorodoris luteocincta)
Graham, during dive orientation, was always smiling when it came to answering somebody’s question “what one can see at this location?”
Hairy spiny doris (Acanthodoris pilosa)
And that was a true summary of our dive profiles. I prefer to dive with Canon 100mm lens, and I can share with you that if you learn to move slowly, the waters of Southern Ireland reveal you a plethora of subjects for great macro photography. Lots of corals, different types of starfish, squat lobsters, cowries, sorts of shrimps, loads of nudibranchs, blennies, cuttlefish, varieties of jellyfish, diversity of anemones and much, much more.
Jewel Anemone (Corynactis viridis)
Ah, almost forgot, if you have one, always keep your topsite camera ready, because, upon arrival to some dive sites, you may see Grey seals, resting their fat bodies on the warm rocks. And later, most likely, you see them checking you out underwater.
Gray seals at Bream Rock
Wreck divers won’t complain either on the lack of the temptations, including the “ultimate of all wreck dives” RMS Lusitania, sunk by German sub in 1915 near Old Head of Kinsale. Here you can find an interesting article about Lusitania underwater exploration.
On the fourth day of this trip, due to my oversight, I managed to flood my underwater housing.
Hunting for the micro-organisms, I often use +5 SubSea wet lens, screwed, via hinged attachment, to the business end of my flat port. And usually, when I put the port and the housing together, I cautiously set the port in a way that the +5 magnifier, when it is not in use, wouldn’t obscure the field of vision. Thus, I carefully attached the port to the housing and securely locked all four fasteners. But then, it seemed to me that the +5 still can be moved a bit and I, without unlocking the latches, forcefully twisted the port a little.
Striped flabellina (Flabellina lineata)
Most likely, if I leather O-ring with a silicone I wouldn’t have pinched it. Or if I used a bucket of fresh water, specially placed by Graham for the purpose of testing the integrity of the housings, I would be able to detect the leak while I still was on the board of the Embarr. But now you can imagine my horror when, at the depth of 35 feet, I noticed as bubbling to the surface, escaping stream of air, was gradually yielding camera chamber to the sea water. Yes, I have H2O insurance, and eventually, the camera, the lens and the housing will be replaced, but, “thanks” to my negligence, the time has gone for good.
I want to mention Anne and Graham’s heartfelt involvement in my predicament. It all happened within first 2 minutes of the morning dive. Upon resurfacing, I passed flooded housing to Graham and plunged back, to continue diving with Matt. While we were exploring Bream Rock, Graham, after detaching the battery and removing the memory cards, called his acquaintance and arranged an appointment to evaluate my drowned Canon at the local camera store. Also, on the next day, he located a new Mark III for very attractive price. Anne, in case if I decide to buy the new equipment, found and emailed me all necessary information on tax reimbursement.
Sea lemon (Archidoris pseudoargus)
It took me a few days to reach the H2O adjuster and to decide what course of action I should take. And that’s how thanks to my wife, who sent me my backup camera, and to marketing director of the Ikelite John Brigham, who had arranged a loaner to be shipped to Scotland, 6 days later I was diving with the camera again.
I can’t express enough my gratitude to Ikelite Company for strong, unwavering commitment towards their customers. It wasn’t for the first time that I was rescued by speedy and decisive actions performed by caring and knowledgeable members of this fine establishment. And in return, for the tremendous help, I have never been solicited to write a favorable review that would promote company’s image. All I was offered, if I decide to do so, is to send their way a few pictures, taken using Ikelite photo gear… that’s all.
Slim Aesop (Facelina auriculata)
And that’s how it came that the last 3 days in Ireland and the first 3 days in Scotland I dove empty handed. Matt Wills kept taking pictures and kindly offered to allow me to use anything I may need for this post. But I was planning to do that anyway because, in many cases, the qualities of his pictures clearly were superior to mine. Matt also offered me the use of his camera underwater while he’d continue filming with GoPro. But I respectfully refuse, leaving him every opportunity to photograph an amazing beauty of endless treasures found in the Celtic Sea. Thank you, Matt, for being a good friend.
The return trip to the coast of Cork only strengthened my initial impression about diving opportunities in the exceptional marine environment of Southern Ireland. Fueled by Gulf Stream, local waters present rare chances to observe a diverse ecosystem of the Celtic Sea. Anne was right, saying that at almost each dive you can spot some aquatic organism unseen in this area before.
Well, next year, if I can, I would love to return to Waterworld, located in Castlegregory. But I know how difficult it would be to bypass Kinsale without saying “hello” to Anne, Graham and not to make a few dives with my good friends at OceanAddicts.
This report would not be complete if I did not express again my deepest gratitude to everyone whom I’ve had the fortune to see again or meet for the first time. Anne, Graham, Robert, Dmitry, many divers from England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Croatia, as well as some local divers whose smiling faces and kind voices became very familiar. Thank you! Safe diving, many happy discoveries and the very best to you, guys, in all aspects of life.
My special thanks to Matt Wills for letting me use his pictures and for taking his time to edit this text.
Safe diving, many happy discoveries and the very best to you, guys, in all aspects of life.