British liveaboards
DIVE’s guide to the most popular British boats

Britain isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of luxury liveaboard trips, but with boats offering haute cuisine, large spacious cabins and great diving on sites that can’t usually be accessed, with very reasonable prices – it really doesn’t get much better!

MV dundarg

Port Oban
Basic Specifications
Length 21m
Beam 6.5m
Engines Volvo 230hp
Safety
Support Boat RIB (5m)
Oxygen kit Yes
Navigation 40km radar, echo-sounder, 2 VHF radio
Home comforts
Accommodation Six cabins (two connected)
Heating Heating in some cabins
TV and video Yes
Bar No
Contact 0709 1001123
This could become the most famous boat in Oban, thanks to its appearance in a new film, An Inch Over the Horizon, starring Bob Hoskins and Maureen Lipman, which should be out later this year. Skipper John Kinsella bought the former fishing vessel five years ago and used his skills as a joiner to convert it for liveaboard use. In fact, he’s so fond of the Dundarg that it has become his home.

Divers in need of a hearty meal to set them up for the day will enjoy the full breakfasts. Food is plain but there are never any complaints about the quantity. As with most dive boats operating out of Oban, the most popular site is the Sound of Mull, but Kinsella is happy to make two or three trips out to St Kilda per year. The basic price is £340 per week or £400 for St Kilda. Nine-day trips to St Kilda cost £500.

MV Chalice

Port Oban
Basic Specifications
Length 21m
Beam 4.5m
Engines Twin Dorman diesel 360hp
Safety
Support Boat Zodiac
Oxygen kit Yes
Navigation Decca navigator, GPS chart-plotter, colour radar, magnometer, echo-sounder.
Home comforts
Accommodation Four twin cabins and two with four bunks. Three toilets and one shower.
Heating Central. All cabins have radiators.
TV and video Yes
Bar Bitter, lager, wine and cola.
Nitrox IANTD facility with Nitrox and Trimix.
Contact Tel: 01680 814260
Skipper Mark Henrys runs an easy-going operation, providing a diving programme suited to the needs of his passengers while allowing for the vagaries of weather in the Western Isles. Nestling at the upper end of the market, this vessel was built specifically for liveaboard diving.

Now in its fourth season, the Chalice has chalked up many successful journeys to St Kilda, the punishing slog by which all west-coast liveaboards should be judged. A typical day starts with a light breakfast before the morning dive. Then it’s bacon butties on deck and nothing to do but wait for lunch, which always comes with soup. Home-made cakes await the guests after the afternoon dive, and the day is concluded with a three-course dinner. Night diving is on offer whenever possible, but more often than not, the passengers can’t wait to get to port and head for a pub.

Although St Kilda is seen as the Holy Grail of Hebrides diving, most charters focus on popular wrecks such as the SS Breda off the coastline of Oban, as well as the many ships lying in the Sound of Mull.

‘Most want to go to the pub, but a lot of clients want to go further afield, so we just moor up in a quiet loch and break out the wine’, says co-owner Hannah Thompson. The boat is available for five- to nine-day charters, priced £60 per day (£65 for St Kilda trips). Most winter diving is limited to two days, priced £50 a day per person.


MV McGregor

Port Plymouth
Basic Specifications
Length 20m
Beam 5.5m
Engines Mercedes Benz V10, 320hp
Safety
Support Boat Zodiac (5m), plus a spare 4m Zodiac and back-up engines.
Oxygen kit Yes, a large reservoir of oxygen.
Navigation GPS plotter interfaced with raytheon radar. Faruno radar and colour sounder. VHF radio, magnetometers and a mobile telephone.
Home comforts
Accommodation Six two-berth cabins, each with hot water and sink. Three toilets/shower.
Heating warm air system
TV and video Yes
Bar Beer and soft drinks. Guests are welcome to bring their own drinks.
Contact 01503 263584
Although skipper Stuart Farman is happy to take the McGregor to a wide variety of sites in the Channel, the most popular sites are in the Scilly Isles. This former Dutch fishing vessel, ketch-rigged for summer sailing, attracts a steady stream of repeat custom. The BSAC’s Reading branch has taken advantage of Farman’s South-Coast experience every year for the past 21 years. In the Scillies, he tries to anchor at as many islands as possible to give his passengers a taste of the variety of the place. ‘I don’t want to lay down the law on where we go or what we do, so I try to adapt to the diving needs of each group,’ he said.

Nevertheless, he is a firm advoate of the reefs between Land’s End and the Scillies, which are ‘full of wrecks’. The McGregor has an efficient drying room (which utilises the boat’s heating system). Eating is an equally civilised business on the McGregor (the breakfast alone could sink a ship), and in fine weather a large table is lowered on to the D-shaped deck at the rear of the boat, to accommodate the pleasures of alfresco dining. A one-week trip is £399 per person.

MV Dunedin

Port Salcombe Estuary, Devon
Basic Specifications
Length 20m
Beam 4m
Engines Twin Gardener 6LW, 97hp
Safety
Support Boat Zodiac (4m)
Oxygen kit Yes
Navigation GPS, Decca, VHF radio, four echo sounders, radar.
Home comforts
Accommodation Three twin cabins and one four-berth. Two toilets and one shower.
Heating Radiators in every cabin
TV and video No, the skipper says his crew and guests prefer to escape from television.
Bar Cans of beer available.
Telephone 01548 842057
If it’s experience you’re after, John Kempton has been skippering liveaboards around the South Coast for 26 years. He claims to have been the first liveaboard operator to visit the Channel Islands. At present, he specializes in trips to the Scillies or across to the Bai de Seine in Normandy, with its World War II wrecks. The Dunedin is a former ‘gentleman’s pleasure boat’, with a suitably refined appearance.

In another incarnation, it was used to patrol Scapa Flow, and so has become a small piece of history itself. Kempton says the wreck sites tend to be far more popular than scenic dives on his charters, which attract a great deal of repeat custom. ‘The scenics are still fine, but it’s getting a lot harder to find lobster and crayfish,’ he said. Meals are cooked by his wife, Trish, who provides a continental breakfast, snacky lunch and a traditional three-course blowout for dinner. A week’s charter, departing and returning on Saturdays, is priced £375.

MV salutay

Port Port Patrick, West Scotland
Basic Specifications
Length 18.5m
Beam 5m
Engines Twin 180hp Kelvins
Safety
Support Boat 4.6m Avon inflatable
Oxygen kit Yes
Navigation Differential GPS, two radars, two colour echo sounders, VHF and MS/HF radio weather fax.
Home comforts
Accommodation Groups of ten, in one twin cabin and two four-berth sections.
Heating radiators throughout.
TV and video Yes
Bar No – bring your own drinks.
Nitrox Both Nitrox and Trimix available.
Contact 01247 812081
Although this boat specialises in the wrecks and scenic dives of Northern Ireland, skipper Alan Wright picks divers up from Port Patrick, near Stranraer in Scotland, saving you the cost of a ferry or flight to Northern Ireland. Favourite sites include the wreck of the Laurentic, an armed merchant cruiser that sank off Donegal in 1915 while carrying gold bullion.

Rumour has it that 11 bars of the precious cargo were never recovered, so a lucky find would more than meet the cost of the trip! Another popular stop-off is the wreck of the Templemore, famous for its population of conger eels, which were featured in the BBC programme, Sea Trek. The boat also visits the Isle of Man, and is fitted with stabilisers to ensure a relatively easy journey.

Don’t expect health-farm cuisine – the galley is equipped with a deep fat-fryer for traditional fish and chips, and anything else the crew feel like throwing in there. They are also more than happy to cook up any lobsters found by the guests, but don’t expect anything too sophisticated. BSAC National Instructor Clare Peddie is leading a 10-day expedition on board the Salutay in August this year. Charters for a group of ten cost £650 a day from May–September, with the price falling to £500 in April and £400 in October. Prices quoted are for ’99/’00.

MV Maureen

Port Dartmouth, Devon.
Basic Specifications
Length 20m
Beam 6m
Engines Gardner Marine 114hp
Safety
Support Boat 4.6m inflatable
Oxygen kit Yes, and Nitrox on request.
Navigation DECCA, differential GPS interfaced with an Admiralty navigation programme two radars for poor visibility and night viewing, three VHF radios and a mobile telephone.
Home comforts
Accommodation 12 berths in five cabins.
Heating Central heating in every cabin
TV and video Yes
Bar Beers, wines, and soft drinks.
Nitrox Available on request.
Contact 01803 835449 or e-mail: mvcharter@rowl71.freeserve.co.uk

Originally a Scottish drifter, the Maureen was converted to a diving boat in 1985. She is now a motor sailer with a gaff and mizzen sails, and is a recognised BSAC school. Cylinders are pumped in situ from the bench from an efficient compressor, which means you don’t have to dismantle your kit for fills. Skipper Mike Rowley has in-depth knowledge of sites in Normandy, Brittany, the Channel Islands and the Scilly Isles, as well as Devon and Cornwall.

The Maureen was the first to open up Normandy diving in 1990 and Rowley was arrested for his efforts at the time. Now he runs regular trips there and he claims to have more experience of these sites than any other charter boat. Brittany offers reef and drift diving on the north coast, with impressive visibility. Chef and co-skipper Penny Rowley provides three cooked meals a day, but hot drinks and fresh fruit are always available. The saloon is a vision of varnished teak and has a dining area that can accommodate a dozen ravenous divers. Standard price is £370 a week per person.

MV Mentor

Port Falmouth and Penzance
Basic Specifications
Length 25m
Beam 7m
Engines Mireless Blackstone 350hp
Safety
Support Boat Inflatable (5m)
Oxygen kit Yes, Nitrox and Trimix
Navigation GPS, echo sounder, two magnometers, 155km radar, HF and VHF radio.
Home comforts
Accommodation 12 berths in four cabins.
Heating Warm air central heating (if it’s 10ºC outside, it will still be 18ºC inside, according to the skipper).
TV and video Yes
Bar Draught bitter and lager, spirits, and wine
Nitrox Nitrox and Trimix are available on request.
Contact 01872 862080
Although most of its charters are to the Scilly Islands to the west of Cornwall, this boat also goes to the Channel Islands, Ireland, Normandy and Brittany. Built in 1982 as a Royal Navy training vessel it was subsequently bought by Ken Dunstan, who has 25 years of experience as a skipper in these waters. ‘I like to get in alongside the quay, giving passengers a chance to get out and enjoy the port,’ he said.

Like most British liveaboards, the Mentor tends to operate on a two dives per day basis, with occasional night diving. Its biggest selling point is probably the amount of space on the foredeck – 40m2 would be run-of-the-mill for a Red Sea liveaboard, but is pretty impressive for Britain. Another asset is the chef, Stuart Proudley, who is able to knock up a decent crème brûlée in the choppiest of waters. The price is £4,800 for the whole boat for one week in the Scilly Isles.

MV green pastures

Port Inverkip/Oban
Basic Specifications
Length 12m
Beam 4.5m
Engines Diesel Gardner 80hp
Safety
Support Boat Zodiac
Oxygen kit Yes
Navigation GPS, colour sounders, radar, VHF/MF radio.
Home comforts
Accommodation Three cabins sleep six. There is a head, but no shower.
Heating Warm air system.
TV and video Yes
Bar No – bring your own.
Telephone 01880 820 543

Hardly a floating gin palace, but more than handy for divers who want a no-frills tour of the Clyde shipwrecks. During the summer it tends to be based in Oban, an ideal base from which to visit the Sound of Mull. Accommodation is on a self-catering basis, so passengers should stock up with groceries to cook on board. Breakfast is provided, but after that you’re on your own – most guests tend to head for a restaurant in the evening. The boat is especially popular with BSAC branches from the Midlands and Manchester.

The absence of a shower would certainly give some divers pause before booking a charter, but skipper Calum McMilan says there are shower facilities available at every port of call. This is a hardy little boat: in the winter, it delivers mail between Glasgow and Arran, but there’s always scope to book a few dives if you phone in advance. Price is £240 per day for a group of six.

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