Bulgaria 2011 – A Tale of two RIBS

A tale of two RIBs

As divers we all like to explore new dive locations so when it was suggested that we run a trip to the Black Sea in Bulgaria the places were snatched up.  The itinerary fuelled our excitement with promises of a jet aircraft, a Russian submarine, German landing crafts, torpedo boats, a cargo ship, steamship, and a Russian military ship.

The detailed briefing notes were distributed shortly before departure and we refused to let the realisation that we were diving from RIBs dampen our spirits.

Despite a slight delay to our flight to Budapest resulting in us running to catch our connecting flight to Bulgaria, we were still all very excited (particularly Bret Champion who experienced a rather thorough frisk going through security!)

On arrival in our resort – Golden Sands – excitement was still running high: the sun was shining, the hotel was good, and we were 2 minutes walk from the jetty and even closer to the Pirates Beach Bar!  It had all the ingredients for an exceptionally good diving experience – or so we thought…

Sunday – RIB resurrection day:

The warning signs were there when we arrived on the harbour-front on day 1 to be greeted by our dive guide, Scott, who we discovered was running his dive centre from the back of a white van!

Despite this and the usual first day faffing, we kept smiling and set off in 2 RIBs: 5 in a small yellow 1, and 8 in a larger orange 1, which was affectionately named the Muppet RIB for no other reason than it amused Bret!  But those on the Muppet RIB had the last laugh later as you’ll see…

Our check dive – a German torpedo boat – was a little disappointing with surprisingly poor visibility and colder than expected water temperature.  However, we did see hundreds of mussels both on the wreck and on the silty seabed.

Visibility on our 2nd dive – a cargo ship – also disappointed but again there was no shortage of mussels to look at.

Safely back on the boats, warming up in the glorious sunshine, the poor vis was soon forgotten when the yellow RIB failed to start. Tow rope in place, we commenced a slow journey back…until the tow-rope broke!

Luck was on our side however and we succeeded in getting the yellow RIB started again. Within 5 minutes we all wished we hadn’t: the wind was up and the cox of the Muppet RIB – Geoff – wanted to make up some time (but clearly didn’t want to make any friends) and throttled forward through the waves making it an extremely uncomfortable ride.  Polite requests for him to slow down were met with less than friendly responses so we hung on, gritted our teeth, and after 20 minutes, breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived back on dry land.

Monday – one RIB day:

Refusing to allow the chaos and disappointments of day 1 dampen our spirits, we arrived on the jetty early all looking forward to diving the recently sunk jet aircraft.  On the basis that the yellow RIB wasn’t even in the water, it was pretty clear it wasn’t operational; diving in shifts from the Muppet RIB was the only option.

Group 1 went out and the first 2 buddy pairs descended the shot line only to surface again very quickly: they’d reached the wreck but couldn’t see it!

Changing plans and divers, the next dive site was an unknown wreck (probably a German patrol boat), which was an enjoyable little bimble, again with plenty of mussels to seen.

The last shift of the day was a local, shallow dive, again fairly uneventful other than Jackie Maskell losing her mask over the side of the boat; flooding her computer by failing to seal it properly after changing the battery; and losing her buddy in 3 meters of water – perhaps we now had a reason to call it the Muppet RIB!

We finished the day by celebrating Cynthia Doughty’s 65th birthday with champagne (or Bulgarian sparkling wine), and dinner out where Gill and Kev ordered that traditional Bulgarian dish, spare ribs (could have done with some of those earlier in the day)!

Tuesday – yellow submarine RIB day:

Good news: the yellow RIB was working again and we were taking mechanic, Martin, with us as back-up!

The not so good news: chaos and indecision!

The plan was to dive a Russian submarine and stay out all day meaning we had to carry 2nd cylinders.  Following disagreements between Scott (from the dive centre) and Geoff (cox of the Muppet RIB) about space and weight on the RIBs, we loaded our kit, a spare cylinder each and set off slowly…very slowly.

It was evident very quickly that taking spare cylinders with us wasn’t a good idea: the nose of the yellow RIB was so low in the water it was named the yellow submarine!

Back to the harbour to unload the spare cylinders and eventually we set off again, this time at a reasonable speed.

It was worth it.  The sub was great and a first for some of us.  Visibility wasn’t bad either (or perhaps we’d all just lowered our expectations by then!)  Lots of mussels too!

The 2nd dive of the day was an upside-down tank landing craft.  A pleasant little dive with an abundance of mussels!

All-in-all a great day: 2 good dives and both RIBs working for the duration – a great way for Graham Harvey (non-club member) to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Wednesday – two RIB day:

Both RIBs working again today – hurrah!

We returned to the jet aircraft again but visibility hadn’t improved sufficiently so we abandoned that and dived the Carole, a German cargo ship, and a 2nd German landing craft, this time the right way up.

Both good dives with a reasonable amount of life.  Oh, and plenty of mussels!

Thursday – dead RIBs day:

The diving (and RIB reliability) had improved as the week progressed so we were all looking forward to a good day’s diving further around the coast.  We drove for an hour and met the 2 RIBs in a small fishing cove.

You can imagine our disbelief when the steering cable snapped on the Muppet RIB just after we set off!  Determined to reach the dive site, we took turns at manually steering.

Eventually we arrived at the site, kitted up, and the first buddy pairs descended… and quickly ascended – the water temperature went from 23˚ on the surface to 10˚ at about 4 meters!

Congratulations go to buddy pairs Len Hards and John Fowles, and Kevan Tulip and Gill Wilson who were the only divers who managed a recordable dive time of 36 minutes and 15 minutes respectively.

Having slowly manually steered the Muppet RIB back to the cove, 4 hardy (or daft) divers (Ros Hepple, Len Hards, Jim Molyneux and Kev Tulip) went back out again in the yellow RIB for a final dive of the holiday in 10˚ water.

What they got was a short ride around the corner, a completely dead engine, frustrated and sunburnt!  Fortunately, they got it working again long enough to be able to return to shore 1½ hours later.

At the end of the day we headed back to the resort with the option of visiting a mussel farm en route.  It probably comes as no surprise that we declined the offer, feeling we’d probably seen enough mussels to last us a lifetime.

With the diving over for the week, we enjoyed a few drinks to celebrate John Fowles’ birthday.  Who would believe we would be celebrating 3 birthdays in 1 week?  But then who would believe the saga of the 2 RIBs?!

Friday – no need for RIB day:

This was the usual chill-out day by the pool and on the beach with no worries about RIB reliability.  Ah, bliss!


Despite the unreliable RIBs, disappointing visibility and water temperature, and a disorganised dive centre, this was a holiday to be remembered.  It was different, challenging, and above all, it was great fun.

I’m sure none of us will be rushing back to Bulgaria for the diving but if you don’t try it you’ll never know.  I guess there’s a reason people go back to the Red Sea year after year!

Thanks not only go to Ros Hepple for organising the trip but to all of you who made it what it was.