Dates: 12-14th, July 2013,
The pleasant anticipation of spending a weekend in the beautiful Welsh summer (= cold, rainy, windy) was disastrously thwarted by a cloudless sky, still air, and temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius. And so, after a pleasant trip through British evening/weekend/holiday rush-hour traffic, a group of 10 highly motivated divers from across the British Empire (Cardiff, Coventry, Oxford) met at the beautiful Sandy Haven campground near Milford Haven to pitch our tents for the weekend.
The idyllic campground (no electricity, no mobile reception), in the midst of pristine Welsh nature (= sheep pasture) and next to the shores of the Celtic Sea, was surprisingly unpopulated and offered many beautiful spots to camp. Interestingly, the places allocated for our tents were at the steepest part of the camp ground (reliable scientific estimation: incline of approx. 89degrees) with a view into an opaque hedge. Only the civil disobedience of one of our fellow American divers, who heroically decided to pitch the tents anywhere other than the proposed precipice, prevented us from sleeping in an upright position.
After a quick dinner in the local Indian restaurant, creatively named Taj Mahal, everybody went to bed early to be ready for the adventures of the following day. The next morning we made our way to the port of Milford Haven where Skipper Brian and his chief mate Tim were waiting on the “Overdale” to introduce us to the beauty of Welsh sea life. Once all cylinders, suits, fins, belts, etc. were on board we cast off. After a 90-minute trip in perfect Mediterranean weather conditions we arrived at our first dive spot and everybody got into their drysuits for the first dive. Everybody? No, two Continental Europeans had decided to brave the elements and squeeze their bodies into (slightly small) wetsuits. The author denies any rumour that the choice of suit resulted from unavailable drysuits, and insists on the “hardness” of these two divers.
The two dives of the first day took place at a spot called High Point, in Martin’s Haven, and on the North Wall of Skomer Island, a small island a few kilometres off the Welsh coast. Owing to the good weather conditions and calm sea, the visibility was great by British standards (10-15 m). Because both spots are part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park we saw a lot of wildlife: many fish species; crustaceans like lobsters, spider crabs, and great crabs, among others; echinoderms such as anemones, sea stars, and sea cucumbers; sea squirts; and squid eggs. Unfortunately, the local seal population had decided to spend those two days relaxing in the sun and we could not see any of them during our dives. However, back on the surface we were constantly surrounded by large numbers of sea birds including puffins, razorbills, and guillemots. After a nice first day of diving we followed our skipper’s recommendation and went to St. Brides Beach, where we found a beautiful spot overlooking the beach and bay. While the sun went down over the sea and the moon rose over a nearby castle, we had a BBQ and listened to fascinating/slightly disturbing stories from our female group members about their most exotic pee experiences/containers.
The next day, Sunday, started as nice and early as Saturday, and after breakfast and packing up our tents we returned to the Overdale and Brian. He took us back to Martin’s Haven for our first dive, this time at a site known as the Pinnacles. We explored its numerous gullies, and again saw abundant marine life. Our second dive took place just off the coast of Skokholm, an island south of Skomer and more into the open sea. The dive was supposed to reveal two sunken steamships. Our success, however, was varied: Some buddy pairs enjoyed a beautiful dive and explored the wrecks in detail. Other pairs got caught in less pleasant conditions. While swimming in a strong current, Alec took a different route from his two buddies and they lost each other under limited visibility. Cindy made an even longer trip to the open sea and left her buddy back at the shore. And Julia decided that the burden of her weight belt had become unbearable, and went for a rather quick ascent. All five teams were back on the boat – unharmed – after a few minutes.
Accompanied by Britney Spears’s greatest hits, some of our divers held a dance party on the roof of the boat as we entered Milford Haven. We were warmly welcomed by local youths waiting on the pier, and finished a great dive trip with unrivalled weather and diving conditions.