Scimitar, Skin Deep, Fearless and Skin Deeper all lined up, ready to go on the Portland projects winter warmer weekend.
“Not much happens in January and looking at the colour of the water in Portland Harbour on the Friday afternoon before our planned event, I could see why,” says Christine Grosart. Wind whistled through the rigging of the boats in Portland Marina, most of which were out of the water undergoing their winter repairs…
Shortly after our annual pilgrimage to Scapa Flow, I came up with the idea of a demo weekend down on Portland. The plan was to charter a boat and fill it half with experience Ghost Fishing divers and half with newbies, who were interested in joining the team.
I was very taken aback at what happened next. One boat of twelve people filled within minutes of being advertised. I quickly got on the phone and booked another. That filled too. I booked another and then received a message from a chap called Dave Whitlow who offered a fourth if I needed it. We filled that one as well. Figuring forty-six divers was enough to be dealing with, in addition to awaiting list of another ten, I figured this was going to turn into a sizeable event.
I booked The Boat That Rocks and sorted out a hot buffet, a function room and bar all to ourselves and ran around picking up projectors and screens. The rest of the team sourced lobster pots, excessive numbers of old sorb cans and ropes to create makeshift ghost gear for demonstrations and practice lifts.
We seized the opportunity to give our sister conservation organization Project Baseline some of the limelight and Marcus Rose took up the job of training divers how to contribute to the data collection. With some very funky goody bags and t-shirts in the offing, sponsors began chipping in.
We were super grateful to Fourth Element, Dive Magazine, Afrayedknot, DiveSigns, Skin Deep Diving and Halcyon Dive Systems for their generous donations of raffle prizes. We were even more thrilled to have Jess and Charlie along from Fourth Element to see what we were up to. Fourth Element’s Ocean Positive range focuses on recycling abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) and turning it into a yarn, which can be used to create socks, swimwear and even wetsuits.
Friday afternoon was spent stuffing goody bags and setting up. The evening was meant to be a quiet affair for the Ghost Fishing UK committee but we were soon swamped with early arrivals and I gave in and booked a table for twenty in The Boat That Rocks.
Saturday morning arrived and everyone dutifully gathered outside for a welcome and introduction before being allocated their boats. We had a few drop-outs due to some sort of plague that was going around, but that is to be expected in January.
Everyone headed to their boats and the Ghost Fishing UK and Project Baseline teams set about delivering lectures, workshops and in water training on visibility measurements involving tape measures and secchi discs; team work and precision diving skills; SMB deployment within a team; marine life identification and sketching underwater; gas analysis and minimum gas calculations; Project Baseline data collection and use of cameras and lighting.
Each boat had a remarkably good day with the divers really applying themselves and working hard to progress. I shot some live feed video of the sessions, which is available to view on our Facebook page. Some interesting and meaningful data was recorded, especially the visibility measurements and the divers warmed up and dried out to attend the buffet and evening event. We kicked off with Marcus Rose taking about Project Baseline Portland Harbour Wrecks and another Project Baseline in Loch Long.
Then our very special guest, Charlotte Bolton, National Coordinator of Seasearch, gave an excellent talk along with Richard Girdler about the aims and objectives of Seasearch and how divers are critical in citizen science.
Then the finale, Richard Walker, chairman of Ghost Fishing UK gave a talk about the history of the project, what we have achieved in Scapa Flow and on the south coast and where the organisation is going. We saved the audience questions for the panel discussion, which we put out onto a live feed. I decided to do this at the last minute and not give people much warning, really just to see how many people were following our event and happened to join in.
We were pretty amazed to see lots of online interaction and both attendees and viewers were able to ask questions of Marcus Rose (GUE instructor and Project Baseline manager), Richard Walker (GUE instructor, chairman of Ghost Fishing UK and Project Baseline manager), Christine Grosart (secretary of Ghost Fishing UK and Project Baseline Manager), Jamie Hall (PADI instructor and photographer for Ghost Fishing New Zealand), Charlotte Bolton (National Coordinator for Seasearch) and Fred Nunn (BSAC instructor and treasurer of Ghost Fishing UK). The panel discussion is now available to view online.
Sunday morning arrived and the waves were breaking over the marina wall. This did not bode well. Complete zero visibility aside, we had concerns that the boats may not actually be able to leave the marina. We had a back up plan to do the ghost gear exercises in the marina but even that looked too risky. The gang gathered in the warmth of Cathy’s café and I was met with pleading eyes saying, “Please don’t make us go out in that!”.
I had to admit defeat and be sensible. We canned the diving for the day, regrouped over coffee and cake and I was truly astonished to see at least twenty-five people assembled upstairs for some lectures and dry land drills. I had expected a long stream of excuses and the opportunity to bail out and drive home early to salvage the day. But nobody did. They eagerly awaited Paul Duckworth’s excellent ‘anatomy of a lift bag’ lecture with a demonstration of how to use lift bags safely.
We then headed outside to shelter from the wind and Fred had rigged up an amazing contraption to demonstrate perfectly how divers work in a team to cut and lift ghost gear.
Finally, we headed inside again to round up with a general meeting where anyone could ask questions, give feedback and make suggestions.
The weekend was a great success despite the weather and showed that Ghost Fishing UK and all those who want to be part of what we do can be dedicated, enthusiastic and flexible when met with challenges and that is exactly what we are all about.