Divernet

We were on one of the best wrecks in the UK - the incredibly colourful Hispania. As we headed up one of the many stairways and squeezed round a corner on to the main deck, I suddenly found myself face to face with a huge pollack!
It must have been at least a metre and a half in length and was a real grandad of a fish. But it didnt seem to be as spooked as I was, and simply moved gently aside as we finned by.
The Hispania lies in 30m of water, just a couple of miles south of the picturesque town of Tobermory, on the Sound of Mull. It is one of the most popular wrecks in the UK and a favourite with divers who come to this exciting area on Scotlands north-west coast.
The Hispania was returning to Sweden from Liverpool with a cargo of steel and asbestos, when she ran on to the reef at Sgeir Mor in atrocious conditions in December 1954.
Her captain had varied his route trying to escape the worst effects of the weather and, fearing he might be to blame for the disaster, decided to go down with his ship. He was last seen standing on the bridge saluting his crew as they rowed to safety.
The beauty of the Hispania has to be seen to be believed. Every inch of her is covered in life - you would be hard pushed to find a wreck more encrusted with orange and white plumose anemones than this one!
This wreck is a real classic, but she is not alone - the Sound of Mull has many great wrecks, such as the Rondo, sunk in 1935, and the Thesis, which went down in 1889.
The Rondo is a most peculiar but very enjoyable wreck. She sits almost vertical, with her bow in 50m and her stern just 6m below the surface. She is broken into two parts, and most divers stick to the section above 30m.
As well as being covered in plumose anemones and dead mans fingers, there always seems to be an abundance of colourful cuckoo and ballan wrasse.
The Thesis lies on a steepish slope between 20 and 35m, and despite her age is a magnificent wreck remains, a bit like the famous Carnatic wreck in the Red Sea. Plenty of light penetrates through her and being inside is a magical experience, with shimmering light beams, colourful wrasse and silvery saithe swimming all around you.
It is not just in the Sound of Mull that you will find great wrecks. On the island of Coll off the north-west end of Mull, for example, lies the brilliant Tapti, sunk in 1951 and now lying between 10 and 25m; and on the north-west shore of Mull, just round the corner from the Sound, lies the transatlantic liner Aurania.
The Aurania took a direct torpedo hit from a German U-boat on 4 February 1918, off the north coast of Ireland. While being taken to the Clyde for repair, she broke loose from her tow line, smashing heavily against the Mull coast at Caliach Point and breaking into several pieces.
Despite being scattered along the bottom, the Aurania still makes a fascinating dive in calm conditions. Her massive boilers lie in just 7m of water, but most of the wreck is found in the 15-20m range.
Both the Tapti and the Aurania require calm weather conditions, but there is a most exciting wreck not far from Oban on which you can dive in almost any weather.

The ss Breda was also a casualty of war, but her demise came in World War Two. She was passing just outside Oban when she was caught in an air-raid attack and, despite making it into Ardnamurchan Bay and on to a sandbank, she eventually took on too much water and sank in 30m.
The Breda was carrying a fascinating cargo, which included military vehicles (a 3 ton truck and a Land Rover), De Havilland Moth and Hawker biplane spare parts including engines, general military supplies, cement, tobacco, and even some racehorses, believed to have belonged to the Aga Khan.
 Although the bridge and funnel were destroyed by the Royal Navy in 1966, and her propeller salvaged in 1968, the wreck makes a fascinating dive. There are many interesting things to see and even today little mementos such as shaving kits are still to be found in the silty holds.
But if you are not into wreck-diving, never fear - there are also plenty of great scenic sites, such as Ladys Rock and Heather Island close to the town, as well as many brilliant sites further south down in the Garvellachs. Not to mention the adrenalin-charged drift-dive down the Falls of Lora.
If you want to dive with the local dive operators, you may have to book your weekend trip months in advance, such is the popularity of the Sound of Mull and the surrounding area. If you want to take your own boat, then plan your weekend carefully - certain dive sites are advisable only during slack water.

 

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: From England, take M74 to Glasgow, A82 past Loch Lomond, and on to Oban. From Scotland, head for Crianlarich and take A85 to Oban.
ACCOMMODATION: Several dive centres offer accommodation (see below). Tralee Bay Caravan Park, 01631 720255, charges from £25 for small two- to four-berth caravans per night, low season. .
DIVING: Puffin, 01631 566088 - air and nitrox, training facilities and extensive shop. Two RIBs, plus the hardboat Urchin (few spaces remaining this year, so phone in advance).
COST:£30 for two-tank dive, including tanks, air and weights. Day and afternoon trips within 30-mile radius. Fuel pumps on pier for boats. On-site self-catering in new chalets sleeping six/seven people,£55 per night. Bed and breakfasts close by.
Alchemy Divers, 01631 720337 - air and dive shop, RIB. Cost:£25 for a two-tank dive close by,£32 for Sound of Mull. Tanks and weights included, but air extra.
Oban Divers, 01631 566618 - air and dive shop, bunkhouse accommodation, plus tent and caravan facilities. Prices from 6 per person per night in bunkhouse, electricity metered. Lochaline Dive Centre, 01967 421301 - air and dive shop. Booking for charter boats. NAS headquarters for Scotland and dives on historic wrecks for sport divers. Self-catering accommodation£10.75 per person (group discount available).
Tobermory - air available at Seafare, 01688 302277.
Charter boats: Lots of charter boats, including Urchin (see above). Porpoise Dive Charters, 01852 300203 - fully equipped hardboat for 12 divers, 260 per day for the Sound of Mull, 230 for the Garvellachs. Many hardboats operate around Sound of Mull - check Diver classifieds.
LAUNCHING: Two slips.
WHO WILL ENJOY THE DIVING: Anyone from beginners to experienced.
FOR NON-DIVERS: Scenic walks, castles, boat trips, whale-watching.
FURTHER DETAILS: Tourist Information Centre in Oban, 01631 563122, and at Craignure on Mull, 01680 812377.
PROS: Great wrecks, a huge choice of sheltered diving and good visibility.
CONS: Can get very crowded on certain wrecks at bank holidays.