Freesteel Blog » Kayak Dive Beginning Experience


The Kayak Dive Beginning Experience April 2002

I hate smelly, noisy powerboats. They are heavy, intimidating, involve a lot of faffing, fixing, expense and experience, but you need them to dive anywhere more than two hundred metres off a beach where you can park your car.

There is now an alternative. I’d heard about this kayak diving a couple of years ago from someone in California, but knew no one who did it in Britain. I found loads of information from the internet about how to do it and where to buy one and confirmed that there was no dive shop nearby from whom I could hire one and try it out for a day. There was no alternative but to buy a couple for myself and Becka, since you should never kayak alone. We had just built this garage next to the house and had held off for years buying bulky toys we couldn’t store (like bicycles). Meanwhile, the car was falling to pieces and we were wondering whether to bother getting another one. If I had kayaks, people would take us diving in order to borrow them, if they were sufficiently good. Anyways, I’d always wanted a canoe and these particular unusual kayaks (which you sit on top instead of inside with a spray deck) were much cheaper than the normal kind.

The second trip out on the kayaks on a dive trip weekend that was aborted because of the bad weather. It was a bit windy. After an epic trip back across a hundred metre stretch of water (which took three attempts), Alison said she’d never get in a canoe again. I’d had a great time, and was impressed by how seaworthy these boats were, even in a force 7 wind with people who don’t know what they’re doing.

The first kayaking day was out on the Menai Straits. Several of us (not including Becka) had arrived early for the slack water dive and we went paddling out to the Swellies while the tide was still flowing. Since the water is sheltered from the wind, there are no waves, but the currents were amazing. There were sudden whirlpools that spun you round and sucked the surface down like a corkscrew. We fought our way back up current by dashing from the shelter of one island to the next.

The following weekend I was out with them again on the Sunday after the diving on the Lleyn Peninsula was cancelled due to bad weather. In my car were two novice divers and we were at Moelfre on the east coast of Anglesey which was partly sheltered from the wind. There’s a little island called “Rat Island” just round the corner off the tip of the Moelfra peninsula. I decided to have a try getting round the island with Alison before we drove back to Liverpool.

Bill getting ready to swim the gap to Rat Island at Moelfre. The tide was so far out that the water was actually only knee deep, but we didn’t know that.

It was great going out. There were waves and wind and the combination caused us to surf part of the way. It took about ten minutes to get round the island and park in the calmer water in the lee. Then we tried to get back across the gap. The wind was funnelled through it and Alison was flipped over. I got her back on board and we retreated to the island. We tried again and she lost hold of the canoe. I towed it back while she swam to shelter and we had another rest.

I decided to leave her there and head back myself so that I could tell Rachel, who was waiting in the car, that we were going to be delayed, so don’t call out the coast guard because everything was still under control. It was too far to paddle round to the beach, so I pulled up on the peninsula and ran round on the footpath.

For our third attempt I put Alison on the smaller, red kayak (the Scrambler) while I took the blue one (the Scrambler XT). This blue one did not handle so well in the wind because the bow is high that it wants to turn downwind like a weather vane. Downwind was out to sea. After a horrendous amount of paddling, hardly going anywhere, we reached the shore and decided to carry the canoes one at a time the long way back to the carpark. This was pretty exhausting.

Bill fetches one of the canoes from where they are tied up in a vicious current at the tip of Rat Island. Two tidal streams converge here, one from the left where the water is smooth, and one from the right, off camera. Fast currents and deep tides go together.

The following Tuesday, Bill came up from Oxford and joined Becka, Paul and me back in Moelfre to try out this diving off the kayaks for real, now the wind had died down. First, I went out with Bill. I dropped the anchor and the current carried us away from the island. Didn’t seem right. I pulled the anchor up, dropped it much closer to the island, kitted up and went diving. The anchor was ploughing a furrow in the sand as it dragged. This is where you would need a sand anchor. Fortunately, there were some old ropes lying around on the bottom of the sea connecting several abandoned lobster pots, and I wrapped the anchor around one of them. The water was ten metres deep. We followed the rope up to the foot of the island where the rocks were thick with plumose anemones. Bill found an oblong cylinder in the mud which he thought was an old cannon. After a short dive to prove the point, we freed the anchor, surfaced, climbed back on board and returned to the carpark. It was all pretty easy. You can learn the procedure from

After retrieving both canoes we gave them back to the divers so they could paddle home.

It was now Becka and Paul’s turn to try. They disappeared from the beach. Bill and I walked over to the peninsula, waded across to Rat Island (intending to swim), walked over the top past all the seagull’s nests which had eggs in them (gulls are not an endangered bird type; sometimes they are called “rats on wings”) and saw the canoes parked off the far end. We couldn’t see any bubbles from the divers nearby. Eventually Becka and Paul surfaced far away from the boats and chatted for ages between themselves, oblivious as the current drifted them further away from their starting point. Did they realize what was going on? Normally, when you dive from a power boat, someone stays in it to drive over and pick you up no matter where you surface. This is not what happens with kayaks. Luckily, Bill was able to swim out and get one of them. We messed around trying to lift up the jammed anchor. I borrowed Becka’s tank and dived down in the three knot current to try and free it. It was very hard to get the gear on in the flow, but I managed. Somehow I entirely smashed up my regulator getting back into the canoe.

A school party off to do some Coasteering. They wore harnesses, helmets, green wellies and did this sort of horizontal mountaineering along the rocks below the tideline. I never thought I’d see such an activity formalized.

Paul and Becka decided that the diving was too rubbish to stay another day and went back to Liverpool. Bill and I drove to Treaddur Bay and camped. Bill kept embarrassing people by speaking Welsh to everyone he met on the road, in shops, in the restaurant, at the campsite and in the pub. I think he is trying to discover his own identity, having just quit his job after deciding there’s no point in doing it. There is a certain political dimension to this Welsh speaking which may or may not be avoidable depending on your attitude.

Bill slept on in the morning until we were shaken out of the tent at 9am by the massacre machinery tearing across the sky at low level on a training exercise. I remember this happening when I visited Wales as a young lad in the 1970s. The jet pilots had to fly low in order to practice Russian radar evasion to reach and bomb targets deep within Communist countries. Since they have all become our allies, the training regime has not changed, even though what the military is required to do these days is drop bombs from a great height onto nations that have no air force and no navy to speak of, and whose armies could not travel here by land in any numbers even if they wanted to. In other words, they are in no way a military threat, so dignifying the present action against them with the word “defence”is deliberate delusion. Maybe if what they were doing was called “stealing other people’s oil by the use of extreme violence” people wouldn’t so easily stand for it. The pilots sometimes say that all this machine assisted murder in which they are participating is “just a job”, but that job would be understood to be working as a hired mercenary, and no mistake.

I had intended that we just do some surfing in the bay in the winds before driving back home, but the weather did not look so bad. We went to Porth Dafarch on the north side of the bay where I knew there was a wreck called the Missouri that you normally have to boat dive because 500 metres is too far to swim from the shore.

Bill showing one of the ways to climb into the kayak. They are stable enough that you can jump in from the side.

There were some lobster pot buoys around the wreck which I tied my boat onto. Bill chucked out the anchor which dragged on the sand till it caught something. I hopped in. The inlet valve on my drysuit was leaking, so I disconnected it. We popped down the anchor line and secured it. I feel anchors are going to cause a lot of worry for me. The last thing you want is for your kayak to drift away and just hooking one of the grapples over a piece of metal doesn’t feel sufficient even though it probably is. You don’t want to wrap it round something too much or it is impossible to release. Pulling up an anchor in a one person kayak is tricky because the normal procedure is to drive forward of the anchor and yank it out. Try doing that when it takes no less than two hands to paddle and another two to haul a rope.

The wreck made a pretty good dive. There were a few pollack swimming over the tops of the boilers and the plates of wreckage were satisfyingly large. At one stage we found a lobster pot and Bill started messing around with it. It contained one lobster and one animal that looked like a catfish. If I could get away with it, I would let lobsters out of pots, but if fishermen even suspected divers of taking or freeing lobsters, they would try to get them banned from the sea forever. Fishermen know that everything in the sea is theirs, and if fish catches go down it is never their fault. It’s either the seals or the divers taking too much of what doesn’t belong to them. Sometimes it’s Europe’s fault for setting fishing quotas too low so they have to kill and throw out too many of the wrong sort of fish. After I had harassed him to stop touching the pot, Bill wrote a message to me on his slate explaining that he was moving this particular lobster pot slightly away from the wreck so that it wouldn’t get caught when the fisherman came to pull it up. Mama mia, if I don’t know. Maybe he also fetches lobsters out of crevices and shoves them into the lobster pots as a good will gesture.

What an ugly guy. I don’t wear anything under the dive suit so I don’t get too hot paddling. But then I get too cold diving.

I was getting cold and deflated, so I decided to plug in my hose to squirt some more air into my drysuit. I failed and the valve on the hose jammed, spraying out air all over the place at a rate that wouldn’t leave me with much to breath in very short order. I grabbed Bill and told him I wanted to go up, now. I gave him this message several times, but he kept trying to calmly give me his air. This did not calm me down because I didn’t want it. We were only in ten metres of water and I wanted to go up now while I could make it. Having failed to get my message across at all, I shot to the surface while he tried to hold me down. I kicked him away. When he surfaced safely some minutes later, we had a big argument about it because obviously I had screwed up. That much is certain.

Whatever the result, I’ll bet I learnt more from that incident than Bill did, probably because I had more to learn. What I was looking for when I was panicking was some form of acknowledgement that he was aware of my communication. Maybe a gesture like both hands waving at me at the same time, meaning “calm down, calm down”. Simply acting as though he hadn’t seen my insistent hand signals to go up while expecting my proper emergency training drills to kick in does not make my terror go away. This is a common problem when dealing with people gripped by irrational fear. You can either insist it isn’t there and hope that your world view will supersede theirs, or you can accept that for this person the fear is real and try and help him or her to work through it. Since the water was shallow, there were no nasty consequences from this incident.

I had to get the camera out for these rocks. I’m for sure going to break it by dropping it in the sea if I don’t get a more appropriate waterproof one soon.

We swam back to the kayaks and climbed on. Bill had to dive down the anchor rope to unhook it. The coasteers were just coming into view and were one by one swimming across a gap in the coastline. We decided to paddle a little way out of the bay, as we were there, and look at a few interesting cuts and channels I had seen on the map. There was a rock arch at the far side of one of them. The cliffs were gorgeous and unexpected. Normally I go abroad for scenery like this. This was a great discovery to make so close to home. I don’t know which was better, the diving or the kayaking. Doing both at once on the same trip out is therefore a fine compromise.


Julian Todd 27/4/2002.