Lundy - Diving With Seals!
Our Bank Holiday trip to Lundy was a first for our Scubanuts club, as though we regularly dive with seals this has been largely either in the Farne Islands or the Isles of Scilly. Lundy is a small island in the Bristol channel about 5 kilometres long and 1 km wide. A steep, rocky island, Lundy has been the scene of many shipwrecks, and the remains of its old lighthouse installations are of both historic and scientific interest. Lundy has a rich bird life, as it lies on major migration routes, and attracts many vagrant as well as indigenous species. Lundy benefits from nutrient rich waters from the Atlantic and also boasts a variety of marine habitats, with rare seaweeds, sponges and corals. In 2010, the island became Britain's first Marine Conservation Zone. As a large proportion of the UK's grey seal population reside around Lundy, this promised to be a great trip!
Our base for the weekend was Ilfracombe on the North Coast of Devon. Ilfracombe is a medium sized seaside resort unspoilt by commercialism, retaining a historic and quaint charm. There is plenty to do and see around the town and the local area, so was ideal for those that wanted to combine the diving with a few days extra stay. Diving wise we had booked to dive with Wild Frontier Charters based in Ilfracombe via their catamaran. The ride out to Lundy is around 1.5 hours, though as our boat suffered an issue with the propellor the day before we sailed, our journey was nearer 2. Trip duration is scheduled to be between 8 and 10 hours dependant on tides, so ensuring we had ample food and drink for the outing was essential (tea and coffee was provided on board). Each diver also had to ensure they had their own gear ready to bring on board as this was not provided as part of the package. The sea in the Bristol Channel can be notoriously choppy on the ride out so sea sickness pills are an essential, though on arrival at Lundy a sheltered spot to dive out of the wind can always be found.
We set off around 9.30am, after forming a human chain to load the boat at the harbour, buoyed with optimism. The wind was strong, but the sea swell wasn't too large and thankfully our journey out wasn't too rough. Lundy appeared on the horizon and on arrival the captain found us a sheltered bay and set about briefing us on how to get the best out of the dives. Seals are always curious, but there is a definite knack to getting the best interactions. Seals like to come to you and they like small groups. After getting a taster of some seal action on dive 1 (and plenty of jellyfish) we realised we were probably moving around too much. Dive 2 called for a different plan.
Last to jump in, as I went to giant stride the Captain said to me "head for that rock and drop down there - the seals love to play in the sandy areas there". That's probably the soundest bit of advice I've ever had on a dive! We swam out until we spotted a sizeable sandy patch below at about 4 metres and dropped down. And this time we didn't move! 45 minutes later we were still sitting there having the best seal show ever! They booped the camera, nibbled fins, nuzzled our arms - the little ones basically fell in love with my buddy Jon! And when we finally surfaced and swam back to the boat the seals accompanied us like an escort to a procession - they had definitely decided that day we were part of their seal clan!
This was a great days diving (or sitting!) underwater and the chance to get some very special interactions with some beautiful creatures. With the benefit of some great company too, Lundy is looking like it will become a regular fixture on our annual trip calendar!