Friday, 24 May 2013

Deptford Creek Low Tide walk - 19th May 2013

by Victor

Turned out nice again. With the weather not doing what it had been predicted to do, 8 of us gathered in sunny SE London for a guided walk along Deptford Creek, the tidal part of the River Ravensbourne. This was one the monthly walks organised by the Creekside Centre ( ) and led by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Nick Bertrand.

We were instructed to find a walking stick and a pair of waders in the changing room, and after an introductory talk on dry land we descended into the creek, splashing our way along as Nick talked about the history of the inlet, some of the structures that line it, and – most importantly – the wildlife that exists (and in some cases thrives) here. During the 2 hour walk we saw native birds including grey wagtail, moorhen, swans and ducks, and invasive species such as the mitten crab and Asian clam. The wildflowers that line the creek (some native, some not) were also pointed out. Dipping nets were emptied into a bucket, revealing how the shallow waters were teeming with shrimp, and were also home to flounder and leeches. The flounder were particularly interesting – these fish can be seen on UK dives, and go through an extraordinary metamorphosis as they grow into adults: one of their eyes migrates to join the other, so that both are on the same side of the head – useful if you’re a bottom-dwelling flatfish.

Nick told an interesting story about shopping trolleys. Some years ago, the Environment Agency came to the creek and hauled out hundreds of them. The result: the creek’s fish population plummeted. We all know that rubbish and junk can be harmful and dangerous to wildlife (some of us are still haunted by the pictures we were shown at school, of mice and frogs trapped in glass bottles), but as divers we’ve often seen how wildlife can also make good use of human-made structures and dumped objects. It seems shopping trolleys proved similarly useful to fish in Deptford Creek.

With the sun still shining, we all ventured to the Bird’s Nest PH for a cheeky afternoon drink before hometime.

Practical Rescue Management SDC - 18th May 2013

by Victor

This course can be done for fun as a standalone Skill Development Course, however it also covers lectures DT9, DT10 and DT11 and open water lesson DO5, and therefore counts towards your Dive Leader training. 6 students from a variety of places including Guildford, Hertfordshire and Gravesend (plus Chris and Victor from Bermondsey branch) attended the course. Andrew MacLean was the boss for the day, with Caroline and Craig also instructing.

The day began at Maidstone SAC’s building. Straight away we split into groups and were given 2 incident scenarios where we had to consider how problems could have been prevented, and how they could be dealt with. Those simple exercises got us thinking about what common sense preventative measures we could put in place when diving with our respective clubs, to reduce the risk and seriousness of incidents.

The morning continued with lectures, and then arrangements for the afternoon’s practical session were made. This involved driving northwards in a convoy to Leybourne Lakes, paying and collecting the gate key from the hut at the west end of the site, and then driving back around the lakes to the far east end and finding the divers’ car park. At the end of this slightly complicated journey we moved to an ideal area for the afternoon’s exercises – a good, dry, tidy area of grass with plenty of space and a convenient water entry/exit point.

The first rescue scenario was managed by Andrew, and then a further 6 scenarios followed, each one different to and more complicated than the last. Every student took a turn being rescue manager, without being told in advance what the scenario would involve. The rest of the group played the various roles of buddy, rescue assistant, unconscious/bent/panicking diver, first aider and interfering passer-by. Early awkwardness (who enjoys role playing with strangers? – anyone?) soon disappeared and by the end of the afternoon we’d witnessed some impressively theatrical vomiting (bad fill scenario), panic and cadaverousness. Passing dog-walkers were quietly informed that there wasn’t actually a real incident occurring. Chris was the last of us to be rescue manager, and was given the most challenging scenario to deal with – there were casualties left, right and centre. Those of us who hadn’t administered oxygen or used a defibrillator before were shown the basics.

The day was well organised and illuminating, and left us much more confident and informed as to how a rescue scenario can be managed. Log books signed and paperwork issued, we were done by 5.30pm.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Beginner’s Critter/Photography Dives, Scubafest - 3rd-6th May 2013

by Victor

Good visibility, a high probability of seeing critters, and a similarly-interested (or at least patient) buddy meant this was a good opportunity to dive with a camera and try to take some pictures. I’m no photography buff, my critter spotting and identification skills are limited, and my camera isn’t anything special (it’s a basic, 7-year-old, point-and-click thing with an integral flash, and didn’t cost a huge amount even with its underwater housing), but by the end of the weekend I had a few dozen half decent shots. Some of them are good enough to show other people.

Looking for critters – especially small stuff – can be like looking for a lost earring on a patterned carpet: you adjust and instruct your eyes to pick out a certain shape or colour. Claws poking out from behind a rock, a blue-grey body in a hole, and something that just doesn’t look quite right can lead you to interesting things. Best small finds on this trip were a pipefish (hard to spot in amongst the weeds) and a tiny bell-shaped hydroid medusa – as small as a 5p piece – which propelled itself using a pulsating movement and which was fascinating to watch.

Torches proved invaluable, even on relatively shallow dives. They’re useful for searching in nooks and crannies, and restore the colour (reds, then yellows) lost at depth. For photography, a flash does the same job, revealing how colourful UK waters actually are. Other things that help: a macro or magnifying glass feature on your camera, a lack of current and surge (so you don’t get thrown about when trying to take pictures), Paul Naylor’s book, and critters that kindly keep still (anemones, dogfish, crabs and starfish were easier to photograph than the bib, pollack and electric blue cuckoo wrasse we saw on this trip). And of course, due to sods law, more critters will inevitably appear on the last dive of the trip when your camera has run out of battery/memory and you left it on the boat – that’s when we saw cuttlefish, common prawn, burrowing bivalves with only their siphons visible in the sandy bottom, and dozens of hermit crabs. In these situations, it’s best to just enjoy the dive, take it all in (using your mental camera), and not worry about missed photo opportunities.

 As for future dives - if anyone knows where all the nudibranchs and seahorses are hiding, please let me know. Ta.