The North Channel 2004

As a child I spent most summer holidays with my family staying in a traditional white-washed thatched cottage in Malin Head, Co. Donegal. It was only an hours drive from home but it was a real get away. My memories are plentiful; we would beach comb, play in the garden or walk round the cliffs and coastline. There were seemingly endless lazy days birdwatching on the cliffs, building sandcastles on the strand or collecting semi-precious stones from the storm beach; we would paddle, swim, or canoe in the crystal North atlantic waters. It remains in my heart one of my very favourite places.

It was probably these sentimental, nostalgic notions that distracted me from reality when, in August 2003 as soon as we heard about a dive trip to Malin Head in the following summer, we signed up. On the spot. Without thinking. The trip was organised through our local divestore (Aberdeen Watersports) with Deep Blue Diving on the Loyal Watcher. The dives were in the 60 - 70m range on some massive wrecks 10 - 20 miles off Malin Head. An hour later, I was already getting cold feet.

Damien (my husband and buddy) and I had been diving for about two years and while I was exploring underwater photography he was quietly steering our diving in a more technical direction. We had just completed our TDI deco-procedures course and I can easily admit that, while inwardly proud of myself, I didn't get a buzz from the dives - I got cold and bored on deco stops - I didn't enjoy it. Why did I ever think I would enjoy a deep diving trip?

That was when Damien made his winning move - he showed me Leigh Bishops photograph's (deepimage & 990 magazine) of the wrecks and I was hooked. The images were stunning - atmospheric, calm, inspirational. They roused my curiousity and we did some research into the wrecks. We had a lot of work to do but thankfully, a full year to prepare and our friends and instructors at AWL gave me confidence that it was do-able (thanks guys!).

We started with our kit - a new dry suit and thermal layers for me but I point-blank refused to get anything bigger than twin 7 ltrs cylinders. I'm only 5 ft tall and while I go to the gym regularly there was no way I could carry anything more than that. We accepted that my RMV and tank size were going to be the limiting factors on our dive durations. I was still nervous, but bouyed with a purchase of a new camera (Olympus digital C4000 with ikelite housing and strobe). I desperately wanted to be competent and confident at depth before I got kitted up in Ireland and while we were diving regularly we still had our trimix qualification to do. I had constant self-doubt whether I really wanted to do this deep stuff and a wobbly dive in Loch Ness nearly made me quit. We were on a trimix training dive with Phil (AWL instructor who was also on the Ireland trip) planning to go to 50m - it was our first dive with trimix. I think I have the words 'if you can dive in Loch Ness, you can dive anywhere' etched into my skull but at 22m the darkness closed in on me and I would go no further. Afterwards Damien and Phil consoled me that I had made the right decision - better to have dived to my limits than to have panicked beneath them but I had found my limit and it was a long way short of the 60 - 70 metres that I needed in Ireland.

In the end we gained our trimix certificates on the trip. I was not happy about that - as we drove from Aberdeen to meet the Loyal Watcher in Ayr I did not feel fully prepared. I didn't feel confident. I was nervous and anxious. We had checked and rechecked all our kit. Then checked it again and again. We had spares for our spares. We had studied our deco tables and read the literature on the wrecks. We had planned our gas mixes and brought enough chocolate to last a month but none of that gave me any comfort. The evening spent in the bar before we left for our overnight voyage to Northern Ireland, while entertaining, demonstrated how out-of-my-depth I was, with all the divers sharing their experience and war stories. I gazed at Leigh Bishops inspirational images for long minutes before bedtime. I didn't sleep well.

[1] [2] [Slideshow]