After Dark : Bass Rock, Scotland

The heat of summer was a distant memory. Och aye, the nights are fair drawing in, the old man in the pub had said wisely. It might have been autumn, but the sea was at its warmest and, last year at least, at its calmest.
ÂÂÂÂ A 7.30pm start saw us heading out to the massive volcanic plug known as the Bass Rock, an obstacle in Scotlands Firth of Forth that is bathed by the tides and covered in vibrant marine life. Would it be different after dark
ÂÂÂÂ We had planned to use the last rays of the sun for kitting-up, but our fast journey was bathed with a red glow to the west and when we reached the site it was already dark. With 10 divers in the RIB, getting ready was bound to be a bit uncomfortable.
ÂÂÂÂ I waited until the first wave was away before realising that my weightbelt was in the car. After a suitable amount of slagging, Gary Lawson, skipper of the Pegasus, produced some lead. I was glad that my wing had an integrated weight system. Camera clipped on, it was time to go.
ÂÂÂÂ I had already seen the bio-luminescence that accompanies night dives the world over. We dropped onto the north-east side of the rock, where an immense vertical wall drops to 46m before sloping away further. On either side of the base of this cliff, the sea floor rises gently to a minimum 20m depth.
ÂÂÂÂ The sea floor appeared at a little over 36m and the first thing I noted was a red dahlia anemone. As I moved in to take the picture it started to curl up, obviously affected by my bright lights.
hspace=5 ÂÂÂÂ This was not too much of a disaster, because I noted the tail-fin of a large cod protruding from under a boulder. Now the dive became like a fast-paced action movie, as the creatures normally concealed during the day vied for our attention.
ÂÂÂÂ The jaws of a large lesser-spined sea-scorpion caught my eye, though this fish was content to stay put. Pink shrimp and squat lobster (above) were out of their cracks and crevices and about, however, allowing me to get close enough for the shots I wanted.
ÂÂÂÂ With bottom-time running low, an ascent to 25m provided a chance to explore the faults and ledges in midwater.
ÂÂÂÂ Velvet-backed swimming crabs scuttled around me in their typically aggressive manner. Edible crabs sat feasting on a mussel bed that covered a small ledge and, on closer inspection, a fantastically camouflaged scorpionfish could be discerned. A common lobster then arrived, using a vertical gully as a walkway.
hspace=5 ÂÂÂÂ But when would the octopus or anglerfish appear, creatures always more likely to present themselves on night dives Wolf-fish should also have been present - I saw none, though others in our party did.
ÂÂÂÂ My film already used up, I had around 30 minutes on which to concentrate on nothing more than enjoying the dive.
ÂÂÂÂ We were at 17m and my torchlight revealed no sign of the clifftop or bottom, only immense coverings of dead mens fingers and plumose anemones. Then Yarrels blennies and butterfish revealed themselves, along with long-spined scorpionfish in considerable numbers.
ÂÂÂÂ All good things must come to an end, and I had racked up a few extra minutes of deco. The 45 minute maximum dive time had been blown out of the water and I prepared myself for a further slagging-off.
ÂÂÂÂ When I did break surface, all was dark. Garys stern warnings about not mucking up his night vision flashed through my mind and I dropped my torch back under the surface.
ÂÂÂÂ I was alone in the dark with the 20,000 gannets that nest on the Bass Rock. There was no sign of the boat.
ÂÂÂÂ Perhaps my light had been missed. I decided to flash it onto the rock, and as I did so the white plumage of the birds and their waste-products lit up the cliff wall. The birds seemed distressed, so once again I lowered my torch.
ÂÂÂÂ It was with some relief that I felt rather than saw the shadow of the boat close on me. The fast ride back into harbour, with the divers babbling excitedly, was exhilarating.
ÂÂÂÂ Was the exercise worthwhile Emphatically yes.
ÂÂÂÂ The intense scrutiny that results from focusing only on the area illuminated by your torch brings fantastic encounters with marine life that during the day could pass unnoticed. That night, with a deep vertical wall, 15m viz and a gentle tide, was up there with the best scenic night-dive experiences.
ÂÂÂÂ North Berwick is the best place for launching a boat to Bass Rock. Clean air is available from Aquatrek Diving (01620 893952) at the harbour, from which several dive-boats now operate. Aquatrek operates the Offshore 105-style Thistle B for 12 divers, while Safari Diving has a RIB that will take eight (01620 890022).


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