Beneath the Depths of Loch Sligachan
Imagine sitting on a boat in the middle of the loch, in the warm sunshine, with the surrounding Cuillin mountains embracing the calm waters of Loch Sligachan. It is easy to believe that the mountains just continue to slope down gently to a flat sea bed where thousands of Scallops are happily ensconsed, just waiting for their moment in the sun and truth be told, a Three Chimneys table.
Not a bit of it. The underwater terrain is every bit as rough and full of peaks and troughs as the Cuillin range itself. After thirty years of diving these waters, David now has a mental map of every underwater gully and hillock and can subconsciously sense his way around what for everyone else would be a very disorientating environment. He has passed this skill on to his son Ben who is already a veteran of so many dives himself, that he has also acquired this instinctive orientation.
It is an essential skill because depending on the time of year, the divers have to find their way through a rich planktonic soup which is the food on which the Scallops thrive but which can also make the waters opaque. They must learn to feel rather than see their way around.
The secret to producing some of the best Pecten Maximus King Scallops in the world is giving the creatures as much time as they need to fully develop and knowing exactly when to harvest them. However David and Ben are constantly helping nature on the way by finding the smaller and younger scallops in the deep troughs and moving them up to much shallower ground where there is more light, more plankton growth and more opportunity for the scallops to reach their full potential.
The scallops are predated by huge starfish which can grow up to three quarters of a metre in diameter but David and Ben have even harnessed the starfish efforts to the scallops’ cause. By positioning the starfish at the bottom of an underwater hillock they behave almost like sheepdogs chasing the scallops up the hill and into the plankton rich shallower water.
Most of the time the divers have to cope with murky water and low visibility, but nature also throws up stunning exceptions of true visual wonder.
During the winter months when there is less sun, the plankton bloom declines and rarely the water can become crystal clear. The young scallops clamp themselves to tall seaweed strands anchored on the seabed and in their juvenile thousands they can look like an underwater snow storm of tiny sea creatures, all suspended at different heights on the weed.
The crystal clear water will also refract surface light to give the most astonishing perspective on the surrounding mountains and the horizon, creating a unique diver’s eye view of the world. And sometimes playful company arrives when they least expect. Ben recently got a huge shock when a dolphin loomed at him through the depths but then had a brilliant afternoon with a school of them frolicking around the harvesting boat.
Life underwater never fails to surprize and amaze.