Monday, 25 March 2013

Dive Guide: A-Frames (Loch Long)

Site Summary
This dive site is probably one of the most-used training sites on the west coast, and often becomes very busy at weekends when dive clubs or training centres descend on it from all around the country! The main attractions of the site are the 'A-frames' which are the concrete supports of an old (now very ruined) structure which provide an artificial reef habitat for quite a lot of marine life. Otherwise the site lies over a gently sloping silty, sandy seabed and is ideal for novices and diver training.

Type: Shore dive (rocky / manmade reef)
Depth: 3m-20m
Tides: None
Suitable for: All diver grades
Notable hazards: Currents can be fairly strong below 20-22m.


Getting there and getting in
From Google Maps. Click to enlarge.


There's a good big car park at the A-frames that will accommodate around 15 cars. It will fill up quickly on busy days though! 

The A-frames are found beside the Finnart Oil Terminal on the A814, about 2.5 miles north of Garelochead or 6.5 miles south of Arrochar. There's space to park several cars right beside the site entrance in a relatively large car park, which helps to keep everyone safely away from the main road!

Site Access


Access to the waters edge 

Access to the site is down a short, but narrow little path to the water's edge. It can be a little bit of a scramble though, so watch out. Since it's a single file path, it's polite to give priority to divers who are exiting the water before climbing down yourself. At high tide, the water comes all the way up to the wall, but you can expect a bit of a longer walk if it's low tide. Once you're there, just wade straight in!

Underwater
Approximate map of A-Frames dive site. Click to enlarge.

Once you're in the water, finding your way around is nice and straightforward and essentially requires you to just head straight out from the shore and you'll find plenty of debris and bits of concrete to investigate, including some long concrete 'pillars' which usually have quite a lot of life living underneath them.


Despite this being the one site I've probably dived more often than any other, I think I've only actually got to see the A-Frames themselves maybe a handful of times because I'm usually teaching trainees in shallow water! Still, if you want to find the main frame, it's easiest to use a compass.

Standing at the entrance point, take a bearing towards the white lighthouse on the far shore of the loch (which should be due north). Start your dive and follow your compass, but remember to use your pilotage skills as well (i.e. 'leapfrog' between closer targets that line up on your bearing) because the amount of waste metal amongst the debris can make your compass go a bit weird! 

Keep on that heading until you reach approximately 20m and then start searching around the area if need be until you find it. It is a pretty small target (maybe 5m square) but you should be able to find it ok! I have recently been informed that there are actually four 'A-frames' at this site, so if I manage to find them I'll get you an update.

NOTES: The oil terminal itself is still in use and boats are frequently moored up here. Don't dive past the fence!

The current can be strong here at depths below approximately 20m so watch out for that if you are planning a deeper dive. 

Recommended Equipment
Torch

Compass

Things to See

There is a reasonable amount of marine life to see at the A-frames if you're able to go and look for it, though I don't think there's anything particularly rare. There are always shrimp underneath the concrete pillars, and you can also usually see the occasional plumose anemone, dead man's fingers or peacock fan worms on the more elevated parts of the structures. There are loads of crabs and starfish and plenty of 'buckie' whelks as well which you might see mating or laying eggs if you go early in the year. On the A-frames themselves you'll see a lot more encrusting filter feeders like the soft corals and fan worms and it's definitely the highlight of the dive if you can find it!

Visibility here is extremely variable, largely due to the high numbers of divers who use the site at weekends.

Buckie whelks (Buccinum undatum) laying eggs (Nov 2012)

Velvet swimmer crab (Necora puber)

A variety of organisms colonise the concrete blocks around the site, particularly tunicates.

Hermit crab (Pandalus bernhardus)

Looking for more? Check out the Dive Guides page!