The seas around the Outer Hebrides were looking pretty clear in the week before this snorkel trip, so I was looking forward to getting in the water with Tom Rossi of Benbecula Freedive and Fitness (http://www.freedive-uk.com/Pages/SnorkellingandFreediving.aspx), who operates from Balivanich.
Tom was able to accommodate my request for a late start. We met at his well-stocked kit room where we had plenty of time for kitting up, and then drove the 30 minutes in Tom's van to Loch Sgiopoirt, a sea loch on the east side of South Uist. Parking on an unmade road, Tom did a briefing, providing information about tides, currents, weather, and safety. We had easy access to the water next to an old jetty. After a quick weight check (9kg made sure I didn't knacker myself treading water, but could still duck dive), we ventured eastwards along the beautiful steep rocky shores of the loch.
There was an enormous amount of life in those few metres of water - starfish, butterfish, anemones, urchins, wee fish, little green shore crabs, other crabs I didn't recognise from dives back home, and a variety of seaweeds including kelp. Visibility had been reduced to 2 or 3 metres due to the weather (it's usually a lot clearer), but we could still see a lot, and we didn't need torches. We were in the water for something like 4 hours, but I didn't feel cold - the kit I used was a good fit, and swimming against a gentle current (for half the session) helped warm me up. Also, we stopped for hot tea before and halfway through the session, eating Twixes on a large area of flat rock carpeted with bladderwrack. We laughed at the rain.
Safety was covered thoroughly. Today's site was chosen as conditions weren't suitable elsewhere, Tom has a UHF radio and let me know where to get a mobile signal in the event of an emergency, and we both snorkelled with knives in case of fishing line/net entanglement (which didn't happen).
Tom provides kit hire, company and a lift to the site. He runs these trips all year, knows the area well (he grew up here and has a long list of suitable sites, some accessed using his small boat), is very patient and enthusiastic about snorkelling, and is good company.