1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Report: Oban with Puffin Divers Oct 17

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Wibble, Oct 8, 2017.

  1. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    Just finished an excellent week of diving out of Oban in the west Highlands with Puffin Divers. The trip was arranged through my local dive shop, Ocean View in Lancing near Brighton.

    Puffin - pretty.JPG
    View across the Puffin site

    We stayed in Puffin Diver's excellent chalet accommodation. There were four of us in one chalet and six in the other. Clean, comfy and warm. These are on the Puffin Divers site which is about two miles outside of Oban.

    It's hard to know where to start as it's been a really nice week of diving, despite the weather. The first two days saw a full gale blowing as the remainder of Hurricane Smeg (or whatever its name was) smited us with its furious wrath. Across the rest of the country this would mean no diving. However, Oban is astoundingly sheltered and aside from a rough loading of the boat, "Urchin", we motored up the sound of Oban to shelter in the lee of a tallish island to dive on Heather Island.

    Puffin - Urchin.JPG
    Inside Urchin's fully-enclosed cabin

    Sure, Heather Island isn't rusting metal, but it's a dive and a nice one at that. Heather Island is extremely sheltered from westerlies and has a gentle current which keeps the visibility reasonable, around 7 metres, sometimes more, sometimes less. Diving a steep granite slope extending down to about 30 metres, there's loads of nooks and crannies festooned with life of all colourful varieties, almost overrun with squat lobsters and their pin-like claws.

    Even though we did four dives on Heather Island, it wasn't at all boring, dive times literally flying past. The two very serious photographers in our group seemed very happy searching out the nudibranches. Serious photographers certainly have the biggest kit -- full-on SLR cameras with Nauticam housings, strobes and 'snoot' strobes. Gear envy, moi?

    Puffin Divers setup is amazing. They're based on an old jetty that was once used for mine-laying vessels during the war. They've been at this location for around 20 years and have first class facilities. The site's clean and tidy with lots of signs everywhere. There's a block of drying rooms with old-fashioned "shilling in the meter" twisting handle electricity (converted to pound coins of course) with a fan heater. We had two rooms for our kit and kept our own keys.

    Aside from recreational scuba diving, much of Puffin's work is training commercial divers and doing commercial dive work. They have a mobile recompression chamber which is necessary for some commercial work given the remoteness of the location.

    Their operation has an almost military culture of sticking to the rules, Mike the governor definitely seems ex-military. Personally I really like this as you know exactly where the lines are drawn but they're more than willing to discuss 'exemptions'. Their boat dive briefings are the most thorough and complete I've ever seen including detailed sketches, timings, depths, etc. When they say you'll be up at 45 mins, you don't question this. Having said that, you can ask for exemptions which will be granted according to the conditions of the dive -- my two hour solo dive on the bow of the Rondo for instance.

    Their shop is legendary. Extremely well equipped, each item is bagged and labelled with Puffin Diver's logo. Each item has its place and when one thing's sold, it'll be replaced. Quite frankly it's the best organised and tidiest dive shop I've ever seen!

    Air fills are the famous air vending machines. Connect your cylinder and insert £4 for an air fill. Nitrox fills expose Puffin's reputation for being sticklers for correct paperwork, but always good fills. In the five days I was there and needed Nitrox fills I had to fill in five forms showing my certification card every time. These forms were completed the following day when I picked up my cylinders and the analysis performed in front of me.

    Puffin - filling station.JPG
    Air filling stations with coin slot


    They've stopped doing helium as there's little demand and the cylinder rental is expensive. Mike did say that they'd get helium in if required. I didn't see a Haskell pump, but didn't ask either.

    Their dive boat is 'Urchin' a 40ish foot long jet powered catamaran. This really is brilliant as she's fully enclosed with designated seats on top of a locker. The seats open and hang up on thick bungee loops enabling you to get at your kit. They easily swallow a whole single dive kit.

    Kitting up is on the shortish back deck, stepping over the transom onto the platform when jumping off.

    Getting back on the boat at the end of the dive is very quirky. They open a pair of "bomb bay doors" (complete with "no step" warning) in the middle of the back deck and lower a ladder into the water below. To pick up a diver, they drive the boat over the top of you between the catamaran hulls. You then hand up your smb and duck under to climb up on the ladder. The mate (nautical term) grabs your cylinder valve, taking the weight to help you climb up and you step to the left or right side to de-kit. Quirky, but very effective.


    Puffin - Urchin bomb bay doors.JPG
    Urchin's "bomb-bay doors"

    The two guys on the boat are, quite frankly, the best crew I've ever experienced. So helpful, nice, and effective. 'Baz', the skipper, son of Mike, is a real diver who's experience really shows. His briefings contained so much personal knowledge. Very approachable too. His mate, Jordian, was new but really good and helpful. His food was terrific -- eggy banjos were wonderful first thing (so called as the poached egg in a roll is runny and if it drips down your front you do an impression of a banjo player brushing it off!). Lunch was provided as well as as much tea and coffee as your pee valve will cope with.

    Day three saw the gales abate enough to get to the Hispania. As ever, the Hispania is a cracking dive. For us it was full of large ballan wrasse and pollock. One large wrasse following us around and being exceedingly friendly. The wreck is intact and isn't too big so you can easily swim the entire length. Nice visibility too. The second dive was the Thesis. This is an old wreck, circa 1880, and quite short at 60 metres or so. As ever the wreck's covered in colourful life and has loads of larger wrasse and pollock swimming around. Easy but lovely diving.

    Day four was the best day for diving on the Rondo. Overnight the gales had returned but we were lucky enough to be able to cross over from Oban to the Sound of Mull. The weather was picking up but stayed just on the doable side of rough, so no hanging around, literally jumping in as soon as we arrived on station.

    I've wanted to dive the bow of the Rondo for a while. The bow sits at about 50 metres whereas the stern is around 6 metres, the ship lies about 50 degrees down a granite slope. The bow of the Rondo was one of the main reasons motivating me to do my trimix courses, so this was my ambition realised.

    The plan was for a 52 metre dive for 40 minutes so about 1h40 if all goes well, extending to 2h if a deco tin failed. Back gas was 21/35.

    I was told that the bow is boring with sod all to see. Yep, I can totally agree with that! Lots of gravel, plates of metal and crabs, all in the pitch black. The descent was quite uncomfortable as the initial descent means a lot of finning to get out from the wreck. After about 10 mins on the bottom at 48.8m max, I started a slow ascent up the wreck. It started to get more interesting and lighter around 35m. Was interesting to watch a starfish walking up the wreck, never seen that before, almost octopus-like as it unfurled its tentacles to pull itself up. Reaching 21 metres I switched on to 50% deco gas, but continued to explore the wreck as the computer reduced the time to surface. At nine metres I switched over to 80% and had about 10 mins to go according to the Shearwater, but 15 according to the Suunto despite being set to the most aggressive setting. Hmm, to ascend or bend, that's the question... I opted to spend another five mins at six metres as I could do without the thing locking up on me. it was quite pleasant at six metres, the Rondo's rudder shielding me from the current and there were a lot of smaller fish feeding.

    The ascent to the surface was a bit tedious as my SMB had developed a strong affection for the tail of the wreck's marker buoy. Untangling this was fun. Then getting tangled in the tail myself as it went between my stages, under my legs, round my valves, you know, everywhere... I finally got out of its embrace to be picked up by the boat. Classic dive, really made the whole trip for me.

    The second dive was back to the Thesis as the wind was getting up again. Wind with tide made the trip quite pleasant. The Thesis sits behind an island giving it some shelter. Yet another pleasant dive.

    Day five saw the wind completely drop. We spent the day on the Breda, a large cargo vessel bombed during the Second World War. In fact the bombs missed, but the shockwaves dislodged the metal plates releasing water into the boiler room and causing a battery fire which eventually engulfed the ship. It was beached with the aid of a tug, but a subsequent gale pushed it back into the water and sank it at about 30 metres. It's full of interesting artefacts, almost like a sister ship to the Thistlegorm.

    We arrived back at super low springs, so had to swim from the boat to the shore and pick up our kit a couple of hours later. The ever-helpful Puffin staff handing up our kit.

    With the exception of my dive on the Rondo, all the dives were nice <30 metre dives accessible to all with AOW plus some UK diving experience.


    No question I've found my absolute favourite dive outfit. I cannot say enough nice things about Puffin's operation, their location and Urchin. Would love to dive with them again.

    Anyone interested in booking for next year?

    (I'll try to update this with some photos once they're back from the chemist)
     
  2. splinter

    splinter Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2010
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    80
    Nice write up, Wibble. I was last there 7 years ago and did a couple of dives on the Breda, which were great. I found puffin to be a bit unfriendly then, so it sounds like they've changed a bit.

    I'm off up again with the club in a few weeks, diving with Lochaline boat charters and can't wait.

    I'd be up for a UK Divers trip next year.

    Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk
     
  3. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    I went with Malcolm at Lochaline Charters last year. Great place but well off the beaten track. Oban's great because it's a full-sized town with all the facilities.

    Puffin were great to us, couldn't do enough to help us.
     
    splinter likes this.
  4. StuartM

    StuartM New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    I don't have a dog in the fight but that sounds like a completely different outfit to the one in the YD thread.
     
  5. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    When was that posted? Could be that things have changed? Might have been a clash of personalities or just a bad week.

    I've no link to Puffin, I just appreciate good service when I receive it.
     
  6. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    I've had a look on YD but can't find the thread. Could you either post it or PM me with it; am curious as to what it says.
     
  7. StuartM

    StuartM New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
  8. JohnL

    JohnL Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2015
    Messages:
    923
    Likes Received:
    397
    The last post of the YD thread was five years ago - it confirms how long people's memories are of crap (or good) service. I still tell people about the way we were treated by Eurodisney after a poor experience in the park 10 years ago, when theygave us vouchers for three adults and three children for three days, including hotel, in recompense (effectively giving us a second break of the same length). Every organisation fails sometimes, it's how they sort it that counts.
     
  9. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    Yep, proof that good news travels fast, bad news even faster.

    One of the challenges with today's ever closely connected world. Interestingly if it were on Facebook that post would disappear in a few days. Forums have a much longer memory - that thread started over 11 years ago.

    I'm happy to recommend them and would hope that this kind of thing would be amicably resolved.

    Even so, turning up at a remote location that late in the day unannounced and requiring 20+ cylinders filled would be a tad 'risky'.
     
  10. Wibble

    Wibble Fish don't talk
    UKD Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,609
    Likes Received:
    1,021
    (Added some pictures)
     
  11. Vanny

    Vanny Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2016
    Messages:
    370
    Likes Received:
    131
    Good pics, love that first one.
     
  12. StuartM

    StuartM New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    I realise it was an old post but having read Wibble's report when I googled Puffin Divers it was one of the first hits. Unfortunately the internet has a long memory.
     
    Wibble likes this.

Share This Page

  • About Us

    Our UKDivers community has been around for many years and prides itself on offering unbiased, helpful discussion among people of all disciplines and abilities. We are working every day to make sure our community is one of the best and friendliest around.
  • Support us!

    The management works very hard to make sure the community continues to run reliably. Care to support us? All donations go to the running costs of the forum: hosting charges, software maintenance, etc. We'd really appreciate it!

    Choose option:  

    UKD Username: