Divernet

The light has faded to darkness and a faint rumbling continually filters through the motionless water. Every ten seconds I feel the soft thumping noise as a wave hits the rocks.
I turn on my torch, revealing the colours that manage to escape the daylight. Bright red baked-bean tunicates compete for space with yellow and white elephants ear sponges. Crabs, with their bright red eyes accustomed to darkness, career down the cave wall to escape the torch beam.
On top of a rock, a blenny is transfixed, unsure whether to swim off or remain still against the background that no longer serves as camouflage. In perpetual twilight and darkness, this is the Cave of the Birds, part of the Sugarloaf cave system at the south-west end of the Isle of Man.
For years the islands divers have enjoyed a monopoly on some of the Irish Seas most spectacular sites. Logistically it has always been difficult to arrange a dive trip to the area - finding air, boat, accommodation and transport was rather like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where a piece was always missing.
 Recently, Aquatech Divers, a local dive operator, has teamed up with Everyman Holidays to produce the islands first all-inclusive dive package. I visited the island over a long weekend to test it out.
The diving is from a 6m RIB, skippered by local diver and RNLI crewman Rob Annett. We chose to dive the area around the Calf of Man, launching from the nearby harbour at Port St Mary. The Calf of Man is a 616 acre island nature reserve and bird sanctuary surrounded by swift currents that have endowed the area with a diverse range of marine life.
Our first dive was in Bay Stacka, a five-minute ride from Port St Mary. A rock the size and shape of a bungalow lies in the centre of this bay at a depth of 21m. On the west side of the rock is a vertical wall about 8m high, covered in white and orange plumose anemones.
Turning the corner on to the south side of the wall, it becomes a series of ledges and small gullies covered in dead mans fingers. The next wall is steeper and full of cracks where crabs and lobster hide.
The top of the rock is covered in kelp, with numerous varieties of nudibranchs feeding and mating on the kelp blades. All around the rock are a healthy number of fish, particularly wrasse.
Our second dive in the Cave of the Birds was the beginning of a dive that led us through the Sugarloaf cave system. The entrance was just wide enough to accept one diver.
Turning on our torches, the walls came alive with a thick covering of hydroids, sponges and anemones. After several metres, daylight returned through a bell-shaped entrance at the front of the headland. This point marks a change in the marine growth as the wall becomes a series of ledges, each one home to different types of invertebrate.
In a contest for space, some of the anemones, sponges and barnacles sit on top of each other, creating a mosaic of contrasting colours. Bright green jewel anemones grow out of orange sponges, and anemones are squeezed into oval shapes by the competition.
Although referred to as a cave system, there is a clear surface throughout this dive. The waters here are shallow - we found the deepest point to be only 12m at high water. Diving this site at low water can be difficult due to the effect of surge caused by the waves and current over shallow water.
Our second day took us to the Burroo at the southern tip of the Calf. This small headland, with its signature eye (a hole in the rock forming an archway), is a slack-water-only dive site due to the standing waves, whirlpools and down-currents that arise when the tide flows. A kelpy drop-off from the headland soon gives way to a series of gullies where orange, yellow and white invertebrate life fights for the space to reach out into the current.
This is a high-energy site - as well as a vast variety of invertebrate life we saw shoals of fish, a huge conger eel and plenty of edible crabs.
Next we wanted to experience the islands currents. We chose Spanish Head to Black Point on the mainland overlooking the Calf. This drift dive took us past vast boulders at a depth of about 25m, each with its own individual character - on one we found jewel anemones, on another dead mans fingers, on the next sponges or orange plumose anemones.
Rob, our skipper, had planned the dive for us so that the current pushed us along at a speed that enabled us to stop and look. At other times this site flows so fast that it is impossible to dive safely.
During the rest of the weekend we packed in as many dives as time and the tides would allow. There were some outstanding sites, including the Stack and Kione Ny Halby.
Due to tides and time constraints, we didnt visit any wreck sites. Most of the intact wrecks are deep and up to a few miles offshore, requiring local knowledge to find them.
We visited the island in May and unfortunately did not experience the islands almost legendary visibility of 20m plus. We had to make do with a plankton bloom and viz of 4-5m. However, this is what brings the plankton-feeding basking shark to the islands waters.
This creature, the second largest fish in the world, is a regular summer visitor, and a small shark-watching industry has developed. While we were there, the years first sightings made local news. So why travel halfway around the world to see the whaleshark when its cousin swims through our own backyard

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Manx Airlines flies from several UK airports direct to the island. The airline has a fairly flexible approach to the extra weight of diving gear.
ACCOMMODATION: Everything from campsites to hotels, right across the island.
DIVING: Everyman Holidays can tailormake your diving holiday. Four nights bed and breakfast including ferry from Liverpool costs 108 per person. Flying from Liverpool costs£138.
CHARTER BOATS: To charter a RIB plus coxswain for a day costs£25 per diver including fuel, for a minimum of four divers.
LAUNCHING:Two good slips at Port Erin and Port St Mary - and no fees.
WHO WILL ENJOY THE DIVING: Divers of every level who like scenic dives, lots of colour and marine life.
FOR NON-DIVERS: Coastal walks, fishing, heritage sites, steam railways and whale-watching.
FURTHER DETAILS: Isle of Man Tourist Information Centre in Douglas, 01624 686766; Everyman Holidays, 01624 623917 fax 01624 627514.
PROS: Excellent scenic dive sites, with spectacular visibility and no overcrowding.
CONS: Not a place you can visit on the spur of the moment, and there are few easily accessible wreck sites.
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