For most of us, scuba diving equals travelling to warm and exotic destinations. While I can’t deny how good it feels to dive in 30°C crystal clear water for hours, in times when travel is not possible, does it mean we should give up on our favourite aquatic sport? Have you ever searched what was available in your area in terms of local diving? Even if you don’t live near the ocean, it could be a lake, a quarry or a river! Last Fall, as I returned to the region where my family lives on the French Atlantic coast, I decided to rediscover an area I thought I knew well enough.
A last dive trip before the 2nd lockdown
From the very beginning of my diving blog, I wrote about the enjoyments of diving anywhere, cold and freshwater alike. In a crisis like the one we are currently enduring; we have the opportunity to put on hold this giant dream bucket-list we all have and explore more confidential dive sites closer to our homes.
As you might already know, I’m originally from the French Atlantic coast, in South Brittany. Since I came back from Scotland, I was eager to return diving in the waters of the Atlantic but somehow, I always had a good excuse to go somewhere warmer. This is why you never saw any underwater pictures of my home region although I had already given it a try in 2010 (2 years before I launched my blog).
After a full lockdown in Paris at Spring, feeling a second one was coming at Fall I took a train westward mid-October. The idea was to have more space, more nature around me and to be on time before the end of the scuba diving season in Brittany (and eventually run away from my upper neighbour and her daily jumping workout on my ceiling!). So, here I was, my drysuit in tow, fully decided to add a few more dives to my desperately long surface interval of 2020 before everything closed down again.
Unfortunately, if the Guérande Peninsula, from La Baule to Le Croisic, where my family lives, is a paradise for sailing, windsurfing and kite-surfing, scuba diving underwhelmed me when I tried years ago. Hopefully, only 1 hour driving away, in the neighbouring prefecture of Morbihan, lies one of the top diving spots in France.
Diving in Brittany vs. diving in Scotland
After 2 years from French Riviera to French Polynesia, I ended up missing my cold-water dives in the Scottish lochs. So even if this sounds crazy, I took these difficult times as an opportunity to dust off my Fusion drysuit. I was genuinely excited to find again this specific taste of adventure cold-water diving holds whether in Patagonia or Scotland.
From my early dives in Brittany, at a time I wasn’t drysuit certified yet (brrr!), I knew I would find similar conditions and marine life than in Scotland. However, the main difference was the almost unlimited access I had to the sea lochs and their excellent shore dive sites with my car. On top of this, being sheltered from the elements, it was possible to scuba dive all year long.
Diving in Brittany requires a bit more of planning between train tickets and booking with dive centres which usually get out on the weekends in the off-season. With fewer drysuit divers in France than in the UK, the season usually ends in November to restart in April. A couple of messages exchanges on the local diving group on Facebook, I had found a spot on a diving boat going to the heart of the Gulf of Morbihan.
The underwater wonders of the Gulf of Morbihan
After a mandatory trial to see if my drysuit still fitted (after all my baking experiments during lockdown #1) and greasing its double-zip, I put all my scuba diving gear in a dry bag at the back of my mum’s car and I was ready for my second and last dive trip of the year!
I must admit I hadn’t foreseen how much I had forgotten the huge difference it makes between putting on my drysuit and then adding all my equipment. Yes, I was rusted. Hopefully, I hadn’t forgotten the right order to gear up efficiently in a drysuit: fins first, BCD, dry suit hose, hood, right glove, left gloves.
After rolling back from the RIB, the effort it took me to only get to the surface indicated I had to take this first dive easily. It wasn’t so much about the buoyancy control which quickly came back but even in the water, I could feel all the weight of the equipment (including 10kg of lead). Seriously, for the first-time fin kicking strained me (OK, I may still blame the lack of sport from lockdown).
Anyhow, I was too happy to be back underwater and it was worth everything single sore muscle later on, no matter how cold the water is. Talking about water temperature, it wasn’t so cold with 13°C. One of the advantages of diving the “inland sea” of Morbihan (its actual meaning in Britton), known for its strong tidal currents, is the absence of thermocline.
I was promised the visibility could be up to 15 m. I anticipated I shouldn’t count too much on it. Indeed, it was sometimes maybe lower than a meter! But let’s say I’ll need to try again at another season of course! Anyway, for me it’s part of the fun. However, with a camera in hand, checking on your dive buddy to make sure you don’t get separated was a bit more stressful than usual. Honestly, in this case, having your own dive light to make yourself visible is clearly not an option.
With the expert eyes of the two dive buddies who kindly joined me, even in these sometimes-challenging conditions, I fully enjoyed everything the dive sites I visited around the “Ile Longue” had to offer. From forests of yellow gorgonians to walls covered in sponge and jewels anemones where conger eels and crabs love to hide, I found the Gulf of Morbihan must be heaven for macro critters lovers and marine biology enthusiasts.
Thanks to the light of your torch, you’ll see more colours than you could ever imagine in these murky waters. The jewels anemones display several tint patterns including a mix of raspberry pink and citrus green. The purple flabellinas could be found in bouquets of a dozen individuals and by paying attention, many of them were laying eggs on the hydroids.
No need to go deep on these dives, I didn’t go below 20 m. Even by doing each time a long safety stop between 8 and 5 m, I found as many marine species as deeper down the walls. You’ll need to be patient and look carefully, but I was stunned with what we found in the red seaweed including more nudibranchs and adorable tiny long-legged spider crabs. But my favourite find was a “coffee-bean” (direct translation from French – actual English name is spotted cowry), a well-known seashell on the beaches of my region, but it was the very first time I could see one alive and out of its shell, priceless!
Given the fact I bet on another good 6 months of travel restriction, I can’t wait to be back next Spring for more dives in Brittany.
Have you tried for the first time local diving this year? How was it? Let me know in the comments!
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