1. Article on Divernet - Wreck Tour of The Iberian
2. The following article was written by Roy Small for DIVER MAGAZINE
Staring absentmindedly into the tranquil waters off Cape Clear Island, off the coast of south west Ireland, I asked the ferryman why the harbour waters were so clear. "There is no pollution!" he replied. It was a simple answer and pretty obvious really. Diving mostly in British waters, it seemed I had come to accept polluted water unquestioningly. Here, on the Atlantic-scrubbed west coast of Ireland, I was re-acquainting myself with bloody good diving conditions in anyone's books: 20m viz inside a harbour! "Don't worry", said my host John Kearney, owner of Baltimore Diving Centre, "the viz gets better outside the harbour".
Baltimore Diving Centre was my first stop in a tour of the dive centres on Ireland's west coast. Since 1993, a group of individually-owned dive centres has co-operated under the banner "Discover Underwater Ireland". Each centre offers different types of diving. Whether your choice is diving within a family holiday, or a concentrated period of technical diving, there are sites to suit everybody, from the far south to the northern counties of Eire. The group has also negotiated cheap ferry crossings as part of a package deal. Baltimore Diving & Watersports Centre is situated on the most southerly of Ireland's toes in County Cork. The village, 8 miles south-west of Skibbereen, has provided shelter from the raw force of the Atlantic since its early beginnings as a pirate settlement over seven centuries ago. Nowadays, though, visitors will be greeted by the world renowned Irish hospitality instead of marauders. It is still a working fishing harbour as well as a small ferry port taking visitors to Carbery’s Hundred Isles, Sherkin or Cape Clear.
With so many islands, there are always lee shores to dive around. In the event of these being too difficult to access, nearby Lough Ine is a perfect stand-in. An extraordinary site, it has both fresh water and sea water. It is also a reserve, and the proportions of some of the conger eels and crabs, defy belief. The tides of this lake are extraordinary too. They take about eight hours to go out, yet only four hours to come back in again. This is due to the narrow channel through which the sea enters and leaves.
Baltimore Diving Centre can accommodate up to 48 divers. It offers diving from two RIBs and three hard boats. Having embraced recent gas trends, it also provides facilities for nitrox fills. The centre enjoys good relations with the local fishing community, partly because it is illegal for divers to catch any shellfish in Ireland. Established in 1993, the dive centre has an enthusiastic staff, and an enviable variety of dive sites. Customers, if they wish a ride, are driven the short distance from the centre to the town’s small harbour in one of two large vans. Then it’s time for the off - literally only minutes from some breathtaking diving.
The south west tip of the Emerald Isle has been part of Europe's busiest shipping routes for centuries, and there is an abundance of wrecks in the area. This includes the Kowloon Bridge - supposedly the largest wreck site in the world; or the fabled diving around the infamous Fastnet rocks. Naturally, the Kowloon Bridge, which only sank in 1986, is a firm favourite with divers, especially those using nitrox. Although just 5 miles from Baltimore harbour, this magnificent 200,000-ton tanker’s virtue is protected by her location - on the Stags Rocks, which are only ever dived at slack water. Lying between 6-40m, this hard boat dive is rewarded by phenomenal arrays of seemingly every plankton feeder and anemone known to man, as well as pollack, wrasse and cod. Conger and several crayfish can also be found.
Other popular wrecks in this area include the 6000 ton tanker Nestorian, a 400ft steamship wrecked off Cape Clear in 1917. Much of its cargo of WWI ammunition remains, so care should be taken. One of our group of divers had a scare when his crowbar fell off his stab jacket and clanged into what turned out to be the percussion cap of a large artillery shell near this wreck!
The three small Calf Islands, three miles off Baltimore, contain the wreckage of the Stephen Whitney, which now lies at 20m, having sunk on its way back from New York in 1847. As well as wreckage, there is a great deal of beautiful underwater scenery in the depths of 15-30m off the Calf Islands; as well as another wreck, that of the three masted Carnarvonshire, which sank off Gokane Point. Depths around this wreck are 9-23m. One of the few areas in Ireland with so many wreck sites, the coast line around Baltimore can offer dives on the Lady Charlotte, wrecked in 1838. It is still worth a rummage through the few timbers and bolts remaining for a chance to find some of its cargo of silver! For wreck diversity, there is even a WWII German submarine, 7 miles east of Baltimore, but at depths of 38-45m, U-260 is definitely the preserve of more accomplished divers.
Divers might like to search around Gascanane Sound, which lies between Sherkin Island and Cape Clear, where a 17th century Portuguese wreck is known to have foundered. To date only one bronze cannon has been recovered. There is also the prospect of locating a WWII bomber known to lie off Long Island.
When the diving is done, and all the kit is washed and hung up to dry, most divers visiting Baltimore feel they deserve a pint of Guinness. R. Bushe’s Bar, perched on the slope above the harbour, provides a perfect vantage point from which to both drink and monitor the comings and goings of this tiny port. Whether inside among the nautical pennants, fish charts or the mounted wreck finds or outside seated around large beer barrels the atmosphere is a friendly one.
For visitors with a yearning for true relaxation, it is even possible to park your car, and take the dive boat or passenger ferry to the island of Cape Clear. I had accommodation in a guest house there, the "Cluain Mara", overlooking Cape Clear’s tiny picturesque north harbour. "Ireland", they say there, "Oh yes , isn’t that the island off Cape Clear?" Spend a few days using this semi-isolated place as your dive base, and you will have some ides what they mean! The island population is about 100 came as something of a surprise to me though - I had just counted more than that number of beer barrels outside the island’s two bars! Cars here have number plates, and some of them even have numbers on them!
Drinking laws, the scourge of the diving classes, are as relaxed as the inhabitants. There is Cotter’s Bar situated on a hill with a garden and tables overlooking the island’s north harbour. On the harbour itself, is a large grey stone building. This has a café; on the ground floor, and an unnamed bar on the first floor known as The Club. It is here that one finds the reason for the deserted village streets at night, for although Cotter’s Bar is a busy pub, The Club starts getting busy at 10pm and never looks back.
This small island is self-sufficient in just about everything. Electricity cable will soon be laid here, chiefly to export electricity to the mainland, from the island’s wind turbines. I fell into a relaxing routine during my stay on Cape Clear. John Kearney would normally start his day with a half a mile swim inside or around the clean north harbour. It is quite usual for islanders to use such a swim to conserve their fresh water supplies during the long summers. (Visitors are afforded every hospitality, and may take showers in their accommodation.)
Though renowned for its wreck sites, other favourite sites around the islands are the south coast of Clear Island, to where leatherback turtles(some as big as 3m) migrate between September and October. Or there is Tragumna Bay, renowned for its ocean-sculpted rock formations, gullies and marine life. The truth is that there are so many sites here it is impossible really to do the area justice in one brief visit. It's an exciting area, and one in which divers with energy to spare will revel. I suppose I must go back again.