Andy Hay – My Most Memorable Dive

Rondo, Sound of Mull , Andy Hay, Helen Hay, Les Rainsley

January 25th 1935, during a storm freighter Rondo snapped its anchor chains and drifted down the Sound of Mull coming to rest aground on some rocks , as the tide subsided it left her high and dry on top of the rock. After several weeks of a salvage crew trying to re-float her, she slipped down the rock bow first and there remains today.

Many people do not like dives in a three, but sometimes it can be incredibly special. Deep diving should never be done in a three, but sometimes a trip forces your hand to accept these situations. On one of our trips to the Sound of Mull our plan that day was to dive Rondo. This wreck has been heavily salvaged since she hit a small island in heavy fog. The rudder post now sits about 5m below the surface covered in kelp, a perfect place to start. We were on the club rib going out of Lochaline opposite the Isle of Mull, the group stayed in the Old Post Office at the end of the road out of Lochaline overlooking the Sound of Mull. A beautiful location. The Rondo wreck is about an hour run across the Sound, it was agreed that Les, Helen and my-self were to dive together and as the most experienced on the trip were planning to go to the bottom. The wreck sits nicely against a sheer cliff so is quite easy to do a deep dive on as it is just down and then up with very little current.

Kitting up was easy as the sea was flat calm, normally it is never easy in a Rib due to the cramped deck space, anyway, following the buddy checks, in we rolled. The water was cold even in mid-summer and a chill could still be felt through the dry suit, we met up on the rudder post, a quick check and all signalled down.

As we dumped the air we started to descend , dropping vertically through the interior of the now empty hull, at about 15m a large A frame appeared which we descended inside, still dropping like stones with only enough buoyancy to stop the pressure squeeze on the suit. The visibility was stunning with the sun piercing the depths. At 38m the Bow section starts to flatten out, a few fish gave us a sideways glance of disgust as we disturbed their peace. The Bow then comes up slightly to 46m off the seabed, whilst you can still get 48m inside it. Here we stopped, did a quick OK all round. I felt one hundred percent possibly a little euphoric due to the rapture of the depths (Nitrogen Narcosis a condition where the brain is slowed by the pressure of Nitrogen) , Les looked at me , I knew what was coming next, we had dived enough times together to know each other’s thoughts. We both wanted the 50m on the computers, I signalled to Helen the thumbs down and we swam off from the Bow after about 5 or  6 Meters we scraped the mud / sand from the bottom and pushed the computers into the seabed. When they came out, they showed 50.1m, that was it, we turned and swam back to the Bow where a very unhappy Helen was waiting. Whilst she realised what we were up to, she was not happy that she was not privy to our escapade. Its funny, neither of us felt narked, (I have felt it very powerfully since) but I did feel very relaxed when we were coming up.

On the way up about 22m we swam in towards the cliff, it is one of the few wrecks you can swim round its girth, as there is a 2m gap between the cliff and the hull. We reached the Rudder post and did a 5 minute stop to get rid of the excess Nitrogen  and slowly ascended back to the surface, we had only been about 20 Minutes, but that is what happens on deep dives and one reason they are not high on my agenda.

One word of warning- we did the same dive the following day, the visibility was slightly less as the Sun was not out. I am not sure what was different but at around 45m, I was very scared that Helen was swimming off without me. This was Nitrogen Narcosis, good and proper, I stopped and started to come up slightly, at about 42m my mind cleared, and I realised the worst effects of deep diving. Helen was as you can guess only a few meters away wondering what the hell was going on, it is surprising that the same dive a day apart can be so different. Deep dives are not all they are cracked up to be and whilst we have done similar dives since, this was the biggest comparison that I had ever felt with Narks.

Nitrogen Narcosis used to be described as the ‘Rapture of the Deep’ if any of you read Cousteau’s first book ‘The Silent World ‘ it tells of how Cousteau and his friends nearly lost their lives to Narcosis, so it needs to be taken seriously.

P.S from Helen
Many of you may wonder how come I did not swim off the edge of the wreck on the first dive when there was three of us, especially being the one who is ok with deeper diving.  Well I could see what Andy and Les were up to and I knew that someone had to stay and be the ‘sensible’ one to at least shine a torch so they could make their way back safely.  Moving even just a few meters away from the end of the wreck at that depth you need to be sure you are going to get back ok. Plus, with no easy/quick place to tie off on, well the brain does not think so clearly at that depth.

Did I tell you the time I went on the same wreck with Caroline and her inflator valve from her BC to her dry suit was stuck open………….