I had such a wonderful experience in Ireland, that when I finally found the time to sit down and write this report I did not know where to begin. Then I thought that a brief explanation why I picked Ireland as a dive destination should help me to get things going.
You see, despite all charms and comforts of the warm-water exotic destinations, I really love diving in cold waters. Believe it or not, but there is so much to see in freezing and usually murky waters of north Atlantic, that I kept wondering how does the diving at the opposite side of the ocean look like?
I always enjoyed observing numerous species illustrated on the pages of the “Encyclopedia of Marine Life of Britain and Ireland”. Beautiful images excited my imagination, making me eager to see it with my own eyes. Fun memories of my good dive buddies Sue and Ken, who live in England and dove in Ireland, reinforced and boost my decision to test waters of the Ireland.
I commenced my preparation by googling “diving in Ireland”, and a second later I was looking at tons of options, where among very first ones was the dive operation called “Oceanaddicts” located in Kinsale, Cork.
I investigated their web-site and sent an inquiry to the webmaster. The first proof that I’ve stumbled into right place was a prompt and very detailed response. Anne Ferguson, one of the owners of the Oceanaddicts, answered all my questions and even offered some additional info.
I discussed with Anne my plan to rent a car and try to dive at a few different locations. She suggested to stay for a few days in Kinsale, with Oceanaddicts, and then to visit “Waterworld” – the dive shop situated on the outskirts of the Dingle peninsula. After few conversations with Oceanaddicts and checking Waterworld’s website, I finalised my plan according to Anne’s advice.
June and August happened to be the most expensive time to fly. My ticket cost about $1500, but at least it was non-stop, round trip from Boston to Dublin. There were less expensive options, $900-1100, but combining layover time both ways, I would’ve wasted almost a day in London or some other connecting city. So I thought an extra few hundreds justify the valuable time and stronger odds that I arrive at my final destination simultaneously with my bags.
A modest size car from Holidayautos was about $15 a day + insurances (highly recommended). The rental bus picked me up promptly right at the exit from the airport and 15 minutes later I was on my way to my first destination. (By the way, upon my return back to the airport it was very hard to relocate car return depot, I’ve got lost, circling about airport for a quite some time. Therefore if you have GPS, do not forget to bookmark rental location, you’ll be glad you did. Ah yeah, keep in mind that in Ireland steering wheel on the right site.)
Lough Dan House
At 6 am I arrived at Lough Dan House, located just 45 minutes by car from the airport. I was a bit tired and thought to take a nap, but my exhaustion quickly evaporated as soon as I stepped out of the motel.
To my eyes opened the picture that I still vividly remember. Flocks of white sheep grazed waste slopes of glorious meadows. High tops of green mountains were combed by lazily moving hoary clouds. Just a step over the hill and I saw a large lake rimmed on one side by a strip of white sand. And not a sound but a sporadic tweet of a bird or an occasional mooing of cattle disturbed an enchanting silence.
And as I see it, the culprit of all “intoxicating” jocks about Irish is not an alcohol. The real cause of “euphoria” is the daily consumption of the purest air that local folks are inhaling into their lungs. Anyone can get “drunk” by overdosing yourself with large quantities of it.
If you like hiking – then Lough Dan House is the placefor guided or self-guided walks along the Wicklow. Boutique style B&B offers very clean, spacious rooms with spectacular views. Very moderate price per night includes morning meal, cooked to order. I tried and I liked a lot full “Irish breakfast”. It was a large plate with fried egg, Irish bacon, fried tomato, beans, plus white and black puddings. Cereals, yogurts, hot tea, coffee, juices, jams, honey … and all this while looking through the window, expecting any moment to see Frodo and Sam on their quest of the Ring.
I realize, that my effort to paint with words what I’ve seen walking around Wicklow, won’t bring a desirable result. To get the essence, the spirit of the land, one must be there. And if a picture worth a thousand words, then seeing with your own eyes worth a thousand pictures. Get there while you can, you won’t regret it.
79 feet long, an ex-Royal Navy Fleet Tender “Embarr” (an old Celtic word that means “imagination”) is located on the river Bandon, moored to the Kinsale’s main pier. Painted blue-and-white, it was not difficult to spot, especially if one takes into account that distinct feature of the Irish address format is not the number of the house, but the color of its window’s frames and front doors.
The boat has 1 four-berth and 4 twin cabins, which are clean, quiet and have sufficient extra space for all your apparel. There are two electrical outlets in each cabin for your charging needs (don’t forget to bring an electric plug adapter). The dining area has a flat screen TV with various connections to view your pictures on a larger screen. Nitrox, up to 30%, is available on board and included into package price.
Every morning Anne cooked delicious breakfast – eggs, to your liking, Irish beckon, crispy toasts, butter, cold milk, oatmeal, accompanied with hot tea or freshly brewed coffee. After the first dive, we would come back to Embarr for the quick, but satisfying lunch. Hot soup, complemented with ham and cheese sandwiches. Anne also baked delicious cookies, made completely from a scratch. And as for an evening meal – Kinsale is very famous for its diners selections. You can eat very inexpensively in any of the various restaurants sited in a short walking distance from the Oceanaddicts.
Due to the impact of the Gulf Stream, the water temperature in the south coast of Ireland turned to be much warmer than I was imagining. The coldest my computer registered was 52F and 65F the warmest. Therefore, I was very thankful for Julie’s (Aqua Diving Academy) suggestion to get Waterproof D9, front zipped, light-weight (about 4lb), breathable, quad-lam drysuit. Combining with Weezle, one-piece undergarment, I felt very comfortable no matter how long or how deep we dove.
And here, I would like to tell you what really impressed me while I was diving with Oceanaddicts and to share an observation of how their dive masters conducted pre-dive checkup. Anne, as my dive-buddy, showed and demonstrated to me locations and functionality of her gears. BC’s weight releases, a presence of the weight belt, inflator buttons, deflator pullers, drysuit valves, the location of the octopus and safety sausage, etc. Up to that moment, I never realized how vital such knowledge could become. Plus, she not only familiarized me with her gears but also run an essential self-inspection by pressing, pushing, pulling … in other words, checking if everything was in working order. Very smart and extremely valuable lesson. Thank you, Anne.
We dove off “Oisre” – the Celtic word for oyster – a spacious rib, big enough to accommodate 10 divers. There are many dive sites around South Cork to explore. So far, my favorite were “Little Bay of drowned people” and “Bream Rock”.
Naturally Anne wanted to do a checkup dive in the safest area, so my first plunge was at Little Bay, where avarage depth was about 20 feet. I did not complaned since I understood that safety is very important, but liitle did I know that I will spend there 74 minutes and come out with more than a 100 shots. Actually, I liked it so much that when Anne asked me where would I like to do my last dive I picked Little Bay.
“Bream Rock” was a bit deeper then the others, an average 50+ feet, but visibility was more than 50 feet and I came out with 200 good shots, (it would be more if not for the depleted tank).
Other dive sites visibility variated between 20-30 feet at least. Not expecting such clarity, plus trying to keep up with luggage weight restrictions, I left wide-angle port at home. Big mistake, because there were lots of opportunities for amazing sceneries.
Anne Ferguson was my dive-companion and I would not wish for a better dive-guide. All my good shots were taking thanks to her extensive experience, an ability to spot tiny animals and to her considerable patience. Since our first communication, Anne knew that I favor microphotography, especially finding various nudibranchs – those slow moving, beautiful sea organisms that the God uniquely created to satisfy a growing army of underwater photographers. And so at the very first dive, at Little Bay, besides other animals, Anne helped me to find 7 species of sea slugs that I’ve never seen before.
I vividly remember as on my the very first evening on the board of Embarr, Graham gave me Paul Naylor’s book – Great British Marine Animals. I quickly scanned it and stopped at the pages with nudibranchs. Pointing at Limacia clavigera I asked Anne;
“Do you think, Anne, we will be able to find this species?”
“Well – Anne answered – about a hundred”.
And she wasn’t far off from the actual count. Just three minutes into my first dive she pointed to me at my first Limacia. Thirty minutes later I was picking which Limacia to photograph. Then Anne spotted Polycera faeroensis Lemche, a minute later – Polycera quadrilineata and then it was Facelina auriculata.
But the one nudi, that Anne was so keen to find and yet unable to locate, was Janolus cristatus. As it happened, four days later, on my second dive around Maherees peninsula with Waterworld, Danny O’Conner, my dive-buddy, managed to discover elusive mollusk.
Besides lots of new sea slugs, I saw many marine animals that I have not seen before. Among my new favorites are European lobster (Homarus gammarus) – the crustacean that is similar to our American lobster, only its body is painted blue. I also liked Galathea strigosa, vivid red with electric blue stripes squat lobster. Palaemon serratus (pictured above) turned to be a very cooperative prawn. As I was setting up my camera for a shot, the curious animals were edging closer and closer to my lens.
Patella pellucida Linnaeus, or Blue-rayed limpet, became my other favorite subject. This beautiful tiny mollusk is only found on kelp and often overlooked by divers.
And of course, jewel anemone. You must see them in their habitat to fully appreciate stunning color patterns of each colony. Each member of the white, green, orange, pink and red colonies is equipped with up to a 100 color contrasting tentacles. No matter how you position your camera, Corynactis Allman presents the perfect subject for a great shot. I never passed a chance to snap yet another picture of a very attractive animal.
By the way, if you like wreck diving, then according to the Oceanaddicts web-site “within a short boat spin there are several well-preserved shipwrecks in sports diving range, from the historic UC42 and Aud to the interesting Santo and a couple of armed trawlers the Clifton and the Morococala”.
I’m sure if I kept diving with Oceanaddicts I would discover more things to appreciate. As Anne said once to me, – “Every dive I see something new”. But regretfully my three days expired, I had to leave Kinsale and to continue to Kerry, my next dive destination. Well, the next time I visit OceanAddicts, I’ll definitely stay longer.
As I was planning this trip, I visited quite a few websites dedicated to diving around Érie, thus I was expecting to see quite a few things. But in my wildest dream I couldn’t imagine experiencing such a remarkable marine ecosystem. Just 6 hours flying time from Boston, warm, clear and reach with life waters of Ireland present incredible opportunities for any curious diver.
Also, as I stepped on board of Embarr, I felt right at home. Staying and diving with Oceanaddicts introduced me to the nice, caring family that I wished I knew before. I’d like to thank Anne and Graham from the bottom of my heart for the unforgettable time that I spent with them in Kinsale. Good luck to you, guys, strong health, safe diving and many happy discoveries for years to come. Hopefully, we’ll meet again soon.