Diving to the Manx: Isle of Man

Mid-point of the Irish Sea offers a unique and stunning location for wildlife

Author: Pat
29th June 2022

Isle of Man - young seal

The Isle of Man sits in the middle of the Irish Sea, has a famous motorcycle race, and is home to cats with no tails. It’s less well known as a wildlife haven but frankly, it should be.

This mountainous outcrop is less than twenty miles long and just three hours from the UK ports by ferry – or even less if you’re prepared to fly to the capital, Douglas. We sailed from Heysham near Morecambe one way and returned via Liverpool the other, enjoying rough conditions on the way over, as forewarned – even in June, this is the Irish Sea remember.

GALLERY – view more images from the Isle of Man

There are several dive charter outfits on the island, of which we were using Isle of Man Diving Charters based in Port St Mary at the south-eastern tip. Owner Mike Keggen and his son Tom are in charge and offer a brilliant all-up customer service, from air fills and equipment to providing the accommodation during the trip. This made life straightforward for a large group of 10 like ours, following our arrival on the Saturday night.

Isle of Man Diving Charters… a brilliant all-up customer service

Weather always plays a big part in determining the success of a trip, and June appears to be a good time to take your chances in the Irish Sea. Initial high winds restricted the first day to a check-out dive off the eastern side of the Calf of Man, which is an uninhabited islet off the very southern end of the island. Seals play and sleep on the rocks around here, while guillemots and razorbills nest on the cliffs and swoop overhead, with the occasional puffin about. By the skipper’s own admission the tides and currents around the IOM can be very unpredictable, frequently appearing stronger or weaker than expected (if they even appear at all), although this father and son team have so much local seafaring knowledge (they’re both lifeboat men) from a lifetime at sea that we knew we were in good hands.

Isle of Man - Port Erin

Hovering above bottom on our check-out dive at a place called Burroo revealed a seabed covered with anemones, kelps, and more dogfish than I have ever seen in one place. Literally dozens of them, incredible. Large wrasse and Pollack are also a ubiquitous resident of the Isle of Man. The group were buzzing with excitement back on the deck of the hard boat/RIB Kirree Varrey.

On day two, we left Port St Mary and headed in a similar direction towards a cliff covered in nesting seabirds. The objective was a site called Sugarloaf Cave, which stretched into the base of the cliff from about 8m depth, and is perhaps some 20-30m in length. It was more of a cavern than a cave really and like many such places became more interesting once you’d turned around and enjoyed the light streaming into it, rather than heading into the blackness of the cave itself.

Isle of Man - MV Kirree Varrey

The second half of this dive took us along the base of the cliff through various light-filled swim-throughs, before arriving in a sheltered bay for the safety stop and pick-up. Here we were joined by diving guillemots, perhaps tricked by our bubbles on the surface, as they dived down to inspect us and demonstrated their ease ‘flying’ underwater as in the air. In my excitement I tried to flag to my buddy Tony what I had spotted up ahead, before realising that we had no hand signal for ‘birds’: flapping your arms needs to be added to the official signals list now.

After this high, skipper Mike took us round to the western side of the island for dive two at an underwater pinnacle site. This rock mound rises up from about 16 metres to just beneath the surface and is covered in kelp, with huge crabs, lobsters and other critters hiding in the many nooks and crannies. Dive buddies Sue and Val were somewhat agitated following this dive after explaining they had encountered a large shark, possibly a Tope of about 6-8ft in length, that had lazily sauntered past them moments before we did. Such are the breaks of diving, occasionally you need a bit of luck.

Isle of Man - cuckoo wrasse

Those who love seal dives – which is most people, let’s face it – were rewarded on dive four with a trip to the Calf of Man and a colony off its western shore. The seals were certainly in playful mood and a youngster kept coming back for more, while a hefty parent (mother or father, in all likelihood) circled more gracefully nearby. Best advice is to definitely let them come to you, wait for a tug at the fin and chances are it’s a seal taking a friendly nip to see what you’re made of. I can confirm that singing into your regulator also appears to pique a seal’s interest, although my Frank Sinatra medley has the potential to drive animals away as much as attract them, admittedly.

Isle of Man - diving guillemots

If you have a list for rust there’s a choice of shipwrecks scattered around the Isle of Man too, and following a surface interval in Port Erin we dropped in on the remains of the Citrine that very afternoon. At the base of a huge cliff lie the scattered remnants including a large boiler, and some hull plating, pipes and deck machinery. Tony and I swam off into deeper water and were rewarded by the sight of a young Monkfish, a most unusual creature – this animal ‘walked’ on its fins along the bottom. The site was also loaded with many of the usual suspects including huge crabs and lobsters, and some oversized Pollack lazing circling beyond.

The trip was originally due to take place in 2020, then twice moved because of Covid-19. Was it worth waiting for? Absolutely – our four days was nowhere near long enough to discover all the gems of this fabulous place, and the wildlife that lives there. Friendly people, beautiful scenery and so many sights to explore just a short ferry ride from home put the Isle of Man firmly on the must-visit list.

Isle of Man - author and Tony


GALLERY: view more images from the Isle of Man

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