Freesteel Blog » North Wales Weekends Diving

North Wales Kayak — Summer 2004/5

I’ve been taking lots of pictures on lots of trips but not doing much writing. I think it’s cool to discover a place like North Wales and Anglesey so close to home that’s in many ways more interesting than many places I traveled to abroad.
The breakthrough after getting these two dive kayaks was the publication of Chris Holden’s dive sites book. Before then, these places were unknown miles of unreachable uninteresting coastline. Becka and I have been out numerous times in the last two years for extended weekends.

kimyabouy kimyawreck
The bouy and wreck of the Kimya, near Maeltrath Sands, Anglesey south coast.

One of our early Anglesey weekends inspired by the book (on 2004-08-21) was to the wreck of the Kimya (dive 10.11), which sank in the shallows near Malltraeth Sands in an area with little current. After one hour of paddling from the nearest spot we could get the car to (Porth Cwyfan), we found the buoy. Unfortunately we were then completely unable to identify the transits. We did an hour of dragging our anchor back and forth across the sand on the sea floor, and then gave up and paddled to Llanddwyn Island further along the coast, stopped for lunch, and came back for another look. By this time the tide was low and the top of the wreck was revealed.

This is our portable breakfast table. Six months later we threw it away and had it squashed at the scrap yard. Now we borrow other people’s cars to get out.

I dived it alone to check it out (8 metres deep) in very low visibility, but could see that it was absolutely huge, and promised to come back to it again in better conditions when the sea was calm.

A year later (on 2005-06-25) we did get back to it on the Sunday, after hours of paddling, and it was high tide. Believe it or not I couldn’t find the wreck again. We spent two hours criss-crossing the bay, dragging the anchor across sand from one end to the other, unable to find it in blazing sunshine. Eventually, we gave up and dived anyway, on sand for forty minutes, going round in circles and occasionally running across the furrow ploughed by my anchor. Becka says it’ll be a while before I get a chance to look for it again. Maybe I’ll get an echosounder.

At this time I was temporarily without a camera (I’d broken them all), and we’d spent all of Saturday gratuitously paddling from Borthwen (Rhoscolyn) to Trearddur Bay, to dive one Craig-y-Mor Reef (dive 12.2) not far from the shore. Then we filled our tanks at the shop at Porth Castell and had a rubbish dive on the Hermine (dive 11.20) on the way back. For a consolation, we were seen by loads of other divers who were driving around on their expensive and high maintenance rubber engine boats, or who doing boring shore dives. Unfortunately, no one took much interest in our kayaks, so my objective of finding at least one other pair of divers in the whole country to go on trips with us remains elusive.

fourmileb rhosneiger
This is the way back from Four Mile Bridge to Trecastle, past Rhosneiger. Too many miles.

To finish the report (of 2005-06-25): after not finding the Kimya on Sunday afternoon, Becka made me use the remainder of my energy heading in the other direction to find the wreck of the Kyle Prince (dive 10.15), which was very close inshore to a cliff, big, and kelped out. The boiler stood five metres tall and all rusty. The other success occurred at the other end of the weekend on Friday night where we went out of Borthwen (near the campsite where we’d pitched our tent) to check out if we could find the wreck of the Norman Court (dive 11.7). Becka spotted a piece of metal poking above the water from a long way off because of its funny shape. It was low tide and we snorkeled the entire length and breadth of it watching dogfish swimming around below us.

Julian catching a free ride back to Trecastle. The Snowdon hills are on the horizon.

Back to the year before (on 2004-08-21), we checked out a couple of the wrecks near Porth Trecastle, the Euphrates (dive 10.16) and Kyle Prince, which we couldn’t find, before ditching the tanks back at the car and heading for a long paddle downwind to Four Mile Bridge halfway along the channel that separates Holy Island from the rest of Anglesey. Our route took us over the wreck of the Norman Court, but we didn’t know about it at that time. Becka wanted to carry on through the scary sluice under the bridge and go all the way to Holyhead, but I insisted we turned back. I got way too tired on the trek against the wind across the bay, so I tied my kayak to hers and it didn’t seem to slow her down when I stopped paddling.

The final kayaking adventure of that summer was a trip out from Llandudno and around The Great Orme on 2004-09-05. The tides round The Great Orme are inconvenient. This is a huge lump of limestone that pokes off the north coast, and Llandudno occupies the relatively narrow, low isthmus. What you want to do is paddle off one side, dawdle your way round the top, land on the other side, and walk back across to collect your car and some fish and chips (without the fish, of course).

Unfortunately there are several miles of sand banks on the west side and the tide flows in from west to east. So the choice is to head off the east beach at high tide, have a leisurely drift round with the tide to the other side, and get stranded on the flats for six hours, or to go in the other direction and fight the current the whole way round.

llandudno ormeboulders
Our Great Orme day. Viewed from off the east beach in front of LLandudno, and also at a point beyond the tip where the land collapses into big boulders.

We went for the even easier option of going from the east side at nearly low tide, aiming for the point, and then riding the current back as the tide came in.

It should have been a peaceful day in the sun, but it was very noisy on account of all the jetskis and useless power boats. I wish there was some way to make them go away.

I don’t understand currents around these parts. My recollection was that it was high tide, which cannot be right. Also there appeared to be counter-currents that nearly swept us back round the point when we were there. I ought to learn to take proper notes, or wait till Chris Holden’s Volume 2 of the area comes out. There are supposed to be some very interesting caves round here. We dived in one of the sheltered bays near the point and there was nothing much to see except muck. Then we paddled under the giant Llandudno pier and anchored out of sight in the shadows, and dived in a bracing current with the expectation that if anything went wrong we would be able to swim to shore. It was a whole other world down there. You couldn’t see the seabed for the layer of starfish. And on top of the starfish was a layer of crabs eating them. It was a primordial soup.

Also recommended is a trip round the even shorter Little Ormes Head, which we did earlier in the year in the fog. There’s a sea cave which emerges at low tide with a daylight shaft up to the surface.

bboat1 bboat2
bboat3 bboat4
We have been known to dive from “proper” boats, but it’s so much of a hassle getting it together and getting your kit on in the confined space. If everyone in the boat just got a canoe and we all headed off in a big line to the dive site from the beach, it would be so much better and wouldn’t matter if the dive was dreadful.

Immediately after the weekend 2005-06-25 and a trip out on Cosmo’s boat on 2005-06-29 from Conwy with Chris Holden, we went on a boat trip with the club on weekend of 2005-07-02. This was blighted by rough weather. It also involved staying in a B&B, which we don’t normally go for unless we’re cycling and therefore have no car in which to shelter from the rain. We dived repeatedly around St. Tudwal’s Islands on the sand or shingle. The shingle was most boring for Becka until she collided with a seal.

ray snail
spiderattack maerl
Scenes from the sediment east of St. Tudwal’s Islands. A thornback ray. A hermit crab riding a snail shell which it hopes to inherit. A surprisingly aggressive spider crab. And a little pink piece of maerl, a calcifying algae which grows these little pieces of stone but only just fails to get it together enough to build a proper reef.

I was able to acquire a taste for dives out on the sediment, luckily, and found plenty to keep me amused … such as the pieces of maerl (see picture), which is a rare calciferous algae that I learnt about on the Marine ID course in Ireland last year. I don’t think anyone else was too impressed. We also aborted a visit to the Menai Strait outside Bill’s house on the Friday because there was some sort of event going on that was in the way, and again on the Sunday because the tide was too low to launch from the trailer (although we’d all unfortunately got changed by the time the decision was made).

porpoises jetskis
Here is one of the photographs I managed of the two dolphins early in the morning. Later in the day the pointless jet-skis were out in force ruining it for everyone. Why do they not just get motorbikes and burn up and down the M6 with all the other motor vehicles?

The following weekend, of 2005-07-09, was the really successful one. We borrowed Martin’s car on the Saturday and set off late with only 5 tanks in the car for a campsite that we knew only from the symbol on the OS map. It was called Plas Eilian and is in the northeast corner of Anglesey on the road to Point Lynas to the east of Amlych. We arrived unannounced at 10pm and the old man kindly let us in.

In the morning we discovered we were in a special place. The atmosphere was so clear you could see the peaks on the Isle of Man 60 miles away. The tidal race along the north north coast of Anglesey was a ribbon of disturbed water in a millpond of oily sea. It was going to flowing from west to east by the time we got into the water, so I suggested we put in at Bull Bay (to the west of Amlych) and paddle with it back past the campsite and around the tip of Point Lynas.

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kayakc2 kayakc3
De-kitting and climbing on board the kayak. Looks pretty easy doesn’t it?

Becka used to be absolutely terrified of any sort of current, but we have since come to terms with the fact that currents merely move you gently in a horizontal direction; they don’t suck you down underwater or anything like that. The bay itself was unaffected by the current and was motionless in the scorching sunlight. The area where the current cuts through is like a line of whirlpools. You can see bits of white foam streaming past the front of your canoe as you sit in the still water. Becka was miffed by the fact that I could put my canoe into it and drift along the coast without getting any exercise.

We went past East Mouse (one of three tiny islands along the coast) and encountered two dolphins who came up for air every 60 metres or so. You could hear their breath from far away. Becka tried to put her canoe on top of them and they changed course.

We whipped round the Point, which had fishermen all over it, and I pulled in behind a rock while Becka found out whether she could beat the current with brute force (she could, just). Then we went looking for somewhere to dive.

A well camouflaged fish discovered in the Menai.

According to Chris Holden’s unpublished information, there’s a good dive near the end of the jetty off on the east side of Point Lynas. It’s a tall structure even at high tide. Obviously something so easy to find couldn’t be any good, so we went past it and experimented with the anchor further down the coast. In Fresh Water Bay we found a cave, which Becka climbed up to. But the water out at sea was murky, shallow, fast flowing. There were angry fishermen on the shore as there are in most places.

Back opposite the jetty about 50m out to sea we dropped anchor. It was murky but deep. There are channels between the reefs stepping down to below 20m, but it was too scary to go there. Due to the shortage of tanks and the total lack of air-fills we were trying to eek out our air supply.

The tide changed and we headed back round to the west side of Point Lynas for our second dive. Here it was sheltered and very silty, even on the boulders. There was nothing much to see.

We stopped on the shore exactly below our tent in the campsite and had lunch with the stuff which we brought with us, and also stripped off and sunned our sopping-wet drysuits. It tends to get very damp on hot days and your sweat is enough to fill your boots.

Chris H. wanted us to check out the little bays between here and Amlych, like Porthyrychen, Porth Newydd, and Aber Cawell, but we found there was still an east-flowing current in them though the tide was flowing to the west. Maybe there was some kind of eddy-type counter-current here. They didn’t look too interesting. We visited Amlych harbour, and then came out opposite the chemical works wondering why the water appeared to be brown with sewage.

rcmemorial royalcharter
The memorial for the Royal Charter, erected on 1935 for a boat which sank 76 years before. There must be a story behind this. On the right is one piece of this shallow wreck which is in surprisingly good nick for something is 146 years old.

We walked to Amlych for beer and listened to two boat skippers taking the piss out of the bird watchers whom they had been driving out to the Skerries (some islands off the northwest coast) to see a rare sooty tern for a fee, until one of them accidentally scared it away.

It was Monday and just as good as the day before. I wanted to check out Moelfre which was the scene of my first British kayak dive and a place of considerable current. We paddled against it to the leading edge of the island and found that at no point was the water water still; the land cut the flow like a knife.

greenplume plumose
A nice green coloured dive near Moelfre at the north end of Eglwys Siglen, the channel between the land and Ynys Moelfre, known to the locals as “Rat Island”.

It would be a while before it slackened down, so we paddled a little further north into Porth Helaeth until I spotted a peculiar looking boat parked right in shore with people getting ready to dive from it. Hello hello hello. They were pretty friendly when we arrived, and when we let them know we were divers, not just kayakers, they eagerly pointed us to the wreck of the Royal Charter further north away from their boat. We anchored in and dived in current finding satisfying amounts of wreckage and fish which were all in colour on account of the shallowness.

At about this time I realized that these people were gold hunters. There’s a rumour that not all the cargo had been found, so they were coming here for weeks every summer trying to get rich. I just was worried that they were going to be proper treasure-seeking pirates and we were soon going to find ourselves dragged off to sea and sunk in our canoes for finding out what they were doing.

It was short and shallow and our tank juggling proved effective. We made one final dive to the north of Ynys Moelfre in the channel which went down to 15m with big plumose anemones of the kind you normally expect to go far offshore to find. We hit the 20 minute slack quite by accident. We had done eight dives between us on three tanks, saving the last two for a big one in the Menai Strait.

sponge blobster
Two scenes in the Menai down in the depths under the suspension bridge. This dive was done off the shore without canoes.

The schedule left several hours to pack stuff away, eat cake, drink tea, and get down to the Menai Strait on the way home. There’s a brief slack when the tide turns the other way which was due to happen at 7pm. Unfortunately I wasted half the dive searching for the channel I thought I knew existed between the bridge and the Swellies, but only found gravel. The interesting stuff is right under the bridge, so you don’t have to go far. The dalia anemones are gigantic and I found one of them in the process of swallowing a crab.

Bill met us when we surfaced and invited us to his house a few miles further down the Strait for lots of tea and cake before we drove home. This is the same Bill from my first trials with these boats in 2002, but he’s training to become a medical doctor now and doesn’t think he has any more time for fun.

menaib fellin
The view of the Menai Strait looking south from the suspension bridge as the tide is going out. On the right is Bill outside his mother’s spare house.


Julian Todd 2005-08-22