Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Cove

Guided by GPS, maps and even old fashioned signposts, we made the cove around 20:30, just after sunset. Good news and bad news: the cove is just as dramatic and beautiful as we've been told, but a swell is coming up from the south and slopping around the cliffs. What'll this mean for visibility?

Time to suit up and issue equipment: one torch & one lightstick per man to me, Mr. S and Mr. T. The lightsticks are attached to the cords we use to unzip our wetsuits, so that they'll float above our backs and mark our positions - we don't want anyone getting lost. This swim was my idea, so I lead the entry, first to sink into dark waters - so cold! Moving out into the cove, I keep well clear of the rocks on either side - in shallow water, swell becomes surf, and I don't want anyone bumping heads with a cliff.

Further out into the cove, the sides open up. Two great rocks mark the eastern mouth: behind them, the moon is rising, luminous between broken clouds. Turning off my torch, I see phosphorence between my fingers - the visibility is improving with depth. Time to dive: torch on, seeking the bottom as I plunge, fins kicking against my natural buoyancy to drive me deep into the gloom. Several body lengths later, I reached the bottom of the cove - fine sand - no wonder the visibility is so poor. Torch off: I want to see the darkness at the bottom of the sea. Then time to go up, and I kick up from the bottom... nothing above me hints of surface, air or sky - am I disorientated? Doubts are dispelled by a dim blue glow above and ahead - Mr. S!

Moving into deeper waters, the swell is very noticeable - we are close to the open sea, and the swell appears ahead as black walls. The waves are just a couple of feet high, but just listen to that power as it reachs a cave in the cliffs to landward - the eerie deep-bass boom that became so familiar to Mr T and myself in the caves at Garrettstown. Floating in the mouth of a moonlit cove, watching the surf breaking white on the cliffs and covering the reefs is quite an experience.

The western wall of the cove doesn't seem so rough: a quick inspection swim reveals black walls of knife-sharp mussels as far as my torch will reach. Keeping position is quite tricky as the surge takes me several feet up, down, in, out. Staying very aware of location is vital - a swimmer cannot afford to risk letting the surf take over, especially in the dark.

Back to Mr. S and Mr. T: visibility is poor, not a single crab or fish to be seen, so we turn tail and head in. There is a "consolation prize" though: after getting out, I found that some rocks on the east wall of the cove lead onto a ledge that enters a large seacave: so, minus the fins, we convert to cavers and scramble in, looking vaguely alien, all in black wetsuits with our blue / green / yellow lights. The back of the cavern couldn't be seen or reached from the ledge, so I dropped into the black water surging below - shoulder deep! - and rode the swell to rubble - former roof - deeper in. Another short scramble, and the deepest point was reached - a crevice over a rock pool. Altogether an otherworldly experience. Exit was easy, carried out in the suck of a retreating swell, onto a convenient rock.

The verdict: an amazing spot, very beautiful in the moonlight, but really needs a calm day / night. We'll be back. Lessons? Leaving a marker at the landing place was a good idea. Keeping together isn't hard if you do it right: be constantly counting lights, because losing people is easy, even in small waves.

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