I think I maybe the first person to be seasick at Chepstow inland dive site !!!!!
The day started at 8.30 am when we all met up in the car park. As I was concentrating on becoming familiar with my twinset, it was agreed that I would be the practise 'casualty' for the day.
The first planned skills to be practised were surface rescue breaths and towing, followed by diver recovery at depth/seabed and a Controlled Buoyant Lift to the surface.
Carl from Sasac was my pretend rescuer, we were accompanied by his instructor in our descent to 24 metres. Initial additional skills were mask removal and replacement, then a partial assisted lift, both skills accomplished by both of us, before a swim around at depth. On returning to the surface, Carl had to tow me the length of the jetty whilst also administering rescue breaths at appropriate intervals. This was the time that my motion sickness became apparent. We had just finished towing and the instuctor was happy with the level of competence shown when I was seasick Chepstow style!
Of course, I tried to blagg it that it was to make the training realistic but neither of them believed me!
When I had completed my pretend sickness, we completed the towing phase of the practise before moving on to the skill of a rescuer on the land/jetty throwing a rope to a distressed diver on the surface.
All skills were competently performed and signed off.
I am glad to say that this all took place in the safety of an inland site.
A big thank you to the instructors from the trainees.
Christina and I sent off for Plymouth at 7.30 am. Our plan was to avoid most of the morning rush hour on our journey to Fort Bovisand, Plymouth. The weather forecasts at the start of the weekend had promised cold, mixed weather. Our journey to the south west showed you can only trust the weather that you can see, as we enjoyed warm, golden autumn sunshine and the beauty of the English countryside.
We arrived at our destination at lunchtime and met up with Lisa who had travelled to Plymouth via Newquay, Cornwall. Our home for the weekend was just a few minutes drive away at a small, smart caravan site. We had a modern three bedroom static caravan. It was very comfortable for a weekend but I would not like to spend any longer in one, not with five other persons. Once settled, it was back to Fort Bovisand harbour at the foot of the hill and a slow kit–up to enable the incoming tide to fill harbour. Christina and I completed a shallow dive here around the base of the wall and just outside into the Sound. The visibility was about 7 metres with plenty of animal life to provide interest. Once back into the harbour, we were joined by Lisa who guided Christina through diver rescue skills with me acting as the casualty.
Christina made good progress with her training and I survived to join her and Lisa in our return to the caravan for our evening meal. Various members of the diving party, from both Batsac and Sasac, arrived between 8 and 11pm and were settled into their own respective caravans.
On Saturday morning we arrived at the harbour to prepare our kit and load the boat, Red Alert, from which we would be diving this weekend. Red Alert is a hard boat of fibreglass construction, with a large enclosed forward cabin and a diver lift at the stern. Luxury, just how it should be!
We were enjoyed our journey along Plymouth Sound with a calm sea and the sun shining. Our first dive was on the James Egan Layne, the iconic WW2 American liberty ship. She crossed the Atlantic and although torpedoed and still afloat, sank whilst being towed into Plymouth. The JEL sits upright in 24 metres of water and although the upper part of the ship was cleared by wire sweep to avoid it being a danger to ships and boats, it’s still a large ship. The top of the bow at 8 metres hosts the shot line to the surface. Once there, it’s a matter of adjusting your buoyancy to begin your exploration of the ship at your chosen depth. The holds still contain war material and are open to inspection by swimming through the sides of the ship where the plating has disintegrated and in between the beams which make up the ship’s structure. The JEL was as good as I remember it to be from my last dive there. Although the visibility was only about 4 metres at the bow of the ship, it improved as we swam towards the stern. I noted the seabed alongside the JEL was littered with some very large sections of hull and there was a large vertical crack towards the stern of the largest portion of the wreck. This I suppose is only to be expected as the JEL has been underwater for 66 years and disintegration is a progressive and dynamic action of shipwrecks.
My dive partner on this trip, Drew (from St Albans SAC) and me were the first pair into the water and were the first pair to surface. This enabled us to enjoy the best viz on the wreck and on our return to the dive boat, lots of space to de-kit and the first cups of tea from the skipper. All the other divers rejoined us and the boat made for a nearby small bay, for our surface interval and pasty lunch.
The second dive was on HMS Scylla, an ex Royal Navy frigate, purposely sunk as a diver attraction. The Scylla is just 800 metres from the JEL. It’s at a similar depth and has had holes cut in the upper hull and superstructure to provide diver access. It’s a great dive but can be dangerous if you do decide to penetrate the ship. Dredged material from Plymouth Sound has been dumped in Whitsand Bay and in consequence more silt appears to have found its way into the interior of the ship. Divers have become lost within it and died when they have been unable to find their way out and exhausted their air. The Scylla presents a wealth of enclosed and overhead obstruction scenarios with no clear access to the surface. These should only be attempted if you are a trained and experienced diver capable of dealing with such conditions.
Bearing in mind the challenging conditions of the Scylla, Drew and I explored the outer companionways of the ship, venturing inside only those areas with a clear visible exit which could be seen from our entrance. We also visited the helicopter hanger with the sunshine roof, (ripped off by some poor seamanship and heavy tackle) and the bridge area of the ship. Once again it proved an enjoyable and successful dive.
On our return to Fort Bovisand harbour, Christina continued her diver rescue skills training, this time with Drew as her pretend casualty.
Our Saturday evening was spent at a local pub, for a communal dinner, just around the corner from the caravan park. No one mentioned that “just around the corner” meant a three quarters of an hour uphill walk. It was plain to see that most of us are grossly unfit! It was not until our return journey, taking only 20 minutes in the dark, that I realised how steep the hills were that we had previously walked up.
On Sunday morning, during our boat journey along the Sound, we passed a small herd of pale coloured deer, high above us on the cliffs. We were returning to the JEL as everyone was happy to expand on their dive of the previous day. Drew and I decided to swim to the detached stern of the ship where neither of us had been previously. All the other divers of our party appeared to have stayed closer to the shot line on the bow as we did not see anyone else during our dive. I was particularly impressed by seeing the drive shaft between the engines and where the propeller should have been in its readily identifiable tunnel.
Once all divers had safely returned to the boat, an early lunch was served before motoring back to the circular fort just behind the breakwater across the middle of the Sound. Some circuits of the fort showed lots of wildlife and an amazing amount of junk at its base.
A short journey back to the harbour and some speedy unloading ensued, allowing the skipper time to moor the boat before the outgoing tide drained the harbour of water.
A greatly enjoyed weekend thanks to continuous good weather and organisation by Lisa.
Well, I started writing this article in May, and couldn’t believe it was mid way through the year then. I’m not sure where the time has gone since. I had only done 47 dives by then, so the year got off to a slow start. Most of those were teaching dives in Chepstow, I’ve not really done much this year for pleasure. Withdrawal symptoms are setting in.
So, what’s been going on this year? I was talking to Bob recently about dives and worked out that there have been opportunities to dive every month this year so far, and that many dives have taken place. That said, I’ve only received logs from one diver :P
There have been a good few trips, starting with a weekend diving from Skin Deeper in Weymouth in March. It was still a bit chilly, but it was a good set of first sea dives for some of the newer divers.
Since then, we’ve had trips to Newquay, Eastbourne, Bracklesham, Swanage, and will hopefully have been to Lyme Bay by the time you read this. Of course, there have been the inland training sites of Chepstow, Buckland Lake, Stoney Cove, Vobster Quay and Wraysbury too.
I’ve also been asked about dive planning and whether I can produce a template guide. It’s fairly straight forward and is covered in Ocean Diver and built on a little in Sport’s Diver. However as a reminder…….
For any dive, we normally have an idea of what the depth will be and how long we want to be in. The important thing here is to know the depth. Once we know what the depth is, we can decide how long we want to dive for. After that we can decide whether we have enough gas to do that dive, if we don’t we have to cut the dive duration back and re-plan.
So, once we have decided how deep we are going, and how long we want to stay we need to work out whether any decompression obligation will be incurred? This can be done via the BSAC 88 tables or by computer software. Some dive computers also have the ability to plan, however it can be tricky to do that on a small dive computer screen.
The goal here is to be confident that we are carrying enough gas to complete the dive with adequate reserve. The BSAC recommend using the rule of thirds. This means using one third of the gas to the halfway point, one third of the gas to get back from there to the surface out, and to surface with one third remaining. In order to be able to work out the gas effectively we need to know our surface consumption rate. This can be discovered by a number of means, the easiest of which is to sit on the surface breathing from a regulator and measure how long it takes to breathe a fixed amount in bar.
As long as we know the size of the cylinder we are breathing from we can then work out how many litres per minute of gas we breathe in every minute.
For example, let’s say we used 15 bar from a 12 litre cylinder in 10 minutes. We would know that we have used 180 litres of gas by multiplying the number of bar we used by the size of the cylinder. In this instance 15 x 12 = 180. If we divide this by the number of minutes we were breathing we discover that we are using 18 litres per minute.
It’s important to note that if we were sitting doing nothing while we were measuring how much gas we used, we would only discover how much we use at rest, so it is probably worth walking about gently while measuring.
Alternatively, measuring how much is used over a period of time while finning around a platform at an inland dive site would give a better result as it’s more realistic situation.
Once we know how much we breathe, what depth we are going to and how long we are planning to stay (including decompression stops), we can work out how much gas we need. Of course, we should include travel gas too as we need to breathe whilst moving between stops.
I’m happy to go over this if required. It’s part of the information that should be submitted prior to every dive in order to comply with the terms and conditions of the insurance.
So, it all got started with a warm up weekend in Weymouth. This was pretty much limited to Portland harbour due to weather, but was a good opportunity for early season shakedown. Lisa has another booked in February 2012, although I have a feeling it’s full now. Then we had Newquay over Easter, which was good fun and we were lucky with the weather. We dived in 30m of water or thereabouts which is quite unusual for Newquay. Fortunately for us, the skipper has ben given some new marks recently, so we got to dive some lovely wrecks in fairly shallow water. The viz was very reasonable too.
Speaking of viz, it was great on the Oceana on the dive from Eastbourne. Unfortunately the second day was blown out due to weather however the first day was excellent. I haven’t dived from Eastbourne for a while, so it was a welcome reminder of how good it can be. Dave and Sylvia who operate the boat are always good entertainment too. Since they are both qualified yachtmasters, one or other usually tries to get a dive in, and in this case it was Sylvia.
Swanage is always good, and we got to try out the new addition to the Swanage Diver fleet, Spike, as can be seen here
This pic was taken just as the sun was coming up….
It’s possibly a little bigger than Skin Deeper, and is very comfortable. There’ll be some dives booked next year on Spike I think.
Speaking of dives for next year, I am about to commence booking next year’s dives. Some of them are already on the calendar as you will have seen (it’s on the club website – http://www.batsac.org/DiveCalendar) and I’m about to add to it and also put some training dives on the training calendar. They’ll be on a first come first served basis.
I think I may also have procured a pool to use for training over the winter too. I bumped into a chap from Guildford SAC, and was discussing the lack of a pool. I’m going to meet the GSAC committee when I get back from Malta to discuss the detail, so fingers crossed!!
Speaking of Malta, I hope to have a longer article about the deep wrecks of Malta for the next issue of the newsletter. Lisa and I are looking forward to diving HMS Southwold – a Hunter class destroyer which lies in 70m, HMS Stubborn – a submarine in 56m, Le Polynesian – the 153m long 6650 ton troop ship torpedoed in 70m, Schnellboat S31 in 70m. If I’m lucky I might get the opportunity to dive HMS Russell – a pre Dreadnought, Duncan class battleship in 115m, or we may find HMS Olympus, an Odin class submarine known to be lost around Malta but still not located. I have to say, I am looking forward to a break, although have a lot of work to get done before we go on Sunday!!
See you all at the AGM if not before.
Reuben and I travelled to Bracklesham Bay on Sat 1st October. It had been announced as the last tee shirt weekend of the year. We were wearing our t shirts and the early morning wind was decidedly fresh! We had feared a rush of sun seekers to the coast for a last opportunity and we had joined them; except they had not arrived and the car park was empty while we waited for the time to pass before we kitted up for our first dive.
Duly equipped, we waded to the Rib waiting just off the beach and settled ourselves for the ride out to the Brigitte/Teapot. A wreck that I had dived previously, this is the upturned and broken wreck of a French trawler. As it was late in the season and a sunny day we hoped for good visibility and light penetration on the seabed at 19m. We struggled with an unexpected current just below the surface coupled with a dark dive with poor viz. There had been another dive boat above the wreck when we arrived on site who were happy for us to use their shot line. So instead of the hull, we settled on the separated boilers some distance away. Reuben and I explored within the beams of our torches, swam away to seek more of the wreck and when that remained hidden from us, reversed our direction of travel to once more regain the wreck but somewhere different to where we had been before! Lucky or what!
Dive over, we returned to shore for a quick changeover of cylinders before our next ride along the coast to the dive site that I really want to visit. This was where a 65 million year old seabed emerges into the modern one. I had been shown fossilized sharks teeth by divers who had previously dived here. I wanted some!
Reuben and I had been given a quick tutorial by other divers on the Rib, of what we might find and how to find them.
We separated from the Rib into lighter and clearer water than our previous dive. After all, it was only 7 to 10 metres! Reuben and I followed the instructions of what to look for and after some minutes thought that I would be returning to the surface empty handed. Then Success! We both found sharks teeth and now the others that followed. The next problem was how to store them safely until we surfaced. It was something that neither of us had not thought of! We both separately put the smaller ones into the cuffs of our gloves and the larger ones into the cargo pockets of our dry suits fearing that we would lose them.
It was interesting that I noticed how cold I felt even though the water temperature was 16 degrees. It was our inactivity that caused this as we were finning only sufficient to maintain position on the seabed. Eventually we surfaced, climbed aboard the Rib, and showed our finds. We were happy! We had about half a dozen each! We had found what we had searched for! The other divers showed us the handfuls that they had found, they were evidently adept at this skill.
Reuben and I drove home, it had been a good and enjoyable day. We may not have found as many sharks teeth as some of the other divers but we had our first finds.
Anyone interested in for looking for sharks teeth in 2012?
If you wanted to look at some old army fighting vehicles and some unusual earth moving equipment you would not normally expect to take your diving equipment with you. This however is just what’s required if you want to see these particular vehicles as they are located on the seabed 8 miles offshore from the south coast of England. The cargo of a Tank landing craft, (LCT 2428), there are two tanks, Centaurs CS Mk IV, (Close Support Mark 4’s), fitted with a 95 mm howitzer gun and two armoured bulldozers with enclosed cabs. These vehicles, together with a field gun and a jeep were lost when the ship carrying them capsized during bad weather on June 5, 1944.
This site was first introduced to me by club member Dave A, in August 2008, unfortunately the visibility was poor and the dive had to be aborted. I have since learnt that the viz is often poor in this area. I had booked a club dive on this site last year but poor weather prevented the dive from going ahead. I was fortunate to received strong support from 9 club members when this year’s dates became available. Sickness and injury had thinned our ranks as only 5 of us climbed aboard the Rib breasting the waves at Bracklesham Bay at the end of July. It was a sunny morning and with a calm sea, Christina, Steve, Rob, Reuben and I held on tight to begin our sea journey to this days diving.
When our dive site was reached, we found a larger boat in the vicinity hosting a fishing party but they were some distance from us so it was declared safe to dive.
Unfortunately Steve suffered some equipment problems and was unable to dive, so Reuben and Christina dived together and so did Rob and I. At first the water appeared dark but as our eyes became accustomed to the lower light level at 24 m, we reached the bottom of the shot and found it draped across and under an upturned bulldozer.
Rob and I pulled the shot free and then began examining the vehicles we had come to see. They were located in a square 50 by 60 metres so it was possible to swim from one to another just by heading towards a darker outline in the distance. Rob and I passed Reuben and Christina on an opposite journey to our own direction of travel. We saw three of the four main vehicles, (two tanks and two bulldozers) as well as the remains of the jeep and about a dozen shell cases approximately thirty inches long on the seabed. On the tanks and bulldozers the drive train of steel wheels and caterpillar tracks could easily been seen, as well as the distinctive square turrets with their short large calibre barrels on the tanks. All too soon it was time to surface to rejoin the other dives and begin the journey back to shore and the surface interval before our next dive. Unfortunately Steve dropped his mask under the Rib when we were disembarking and as he had left his spare at home, there could be no further diving for him.
Our time on shore passed pleasantly with lunch and preparations, (swopping cylinders), for our afternoon dive. This was on the Phoenix Unit/ Mulberry Harbour, another casualty of WW2, which broke its back prior to its intended voyage to Normandy in June 1944. As it is now a broken mass of concrete with rusting steel reinforcing rods protruding from it, I warned our divers of their corrosion and sharpness and of the potential of piercing a dive suit.
The weather had impossibly improved on the excellent conditions of the morning and we had another pleasant journey before following the permanent anchor chain to the
12 m seabed. We followed the lines between the three closely situated features, the Mulberry, the infantry landing craft and the RAF rescue float known as a Cuckoo. As soon as we reached the Mulberry, the first thing I noticed was Rob checking my warning that the protruding steel rods were razor sharp and would cut hands/bodies/drysuits, I should have saved my breath! However a safe and pleasant dive ensued with all returning safely to the rib. There were other dive boats about so it was important to return to the correct one and explained how it was so busy underwater.
We returned to shore where as the tide was rapidly receding, we had a long walk in full kit to reach our beach disembarkation point. We packed away our dive equipment for the journey home.
A passer-by on the beach had found Steve’s mask and it made its way back to him via another diver!
An easy journey home for Reuben and I through the new tunnel at Hindhead on the A3 meant I could shower and relax before work the following day.
An excellent day spent in the sunshine at the coast going diving. Heaven !!
I recently began my scuba diving adventure, and I hope to never look back. I recall the first two times I breathed through a regulator. It was in Greece and I was about 13. I swam one length of the hotel pool and meandered in about 2 metres of water for 15 minutes or so. I loved the sensation of breathing and seeing underwater. Goodness only knows why I let 10 years pass before I found out about BSAC and approached BATSAC.
I qualified as an Ocean Diver – under Jason’s instruction – literally days before I flew to Egypt, where I completed six awesome dives in the Red Sea. Before I go further, I must thank profusely everyone at BATSAC that has helped me, offered me advice, and accompanied me on training dives. Basically, thank you for making my Ocean Diver training such welcoming and memorable fun.
Right, back to Egypt. Sharm El Sheikh was blisteringly hot and the days I spent out at sea provided a needed escape from its intensity. Prior to my first trip I filled in the obligatory forms and ticked all of the boxes to declare that I do not suffer any illness or condition that would render diving unsafe. I did, however, indicate that I suffered ear pain. The nice lady at the desk informed me that if I wanted to dive I needed to scrub out my tick in the ‘yes’ box, then tick the ‘no’ box and countersign the amendment (not quite in those words). A curiously crude approach to mitigating liability that quietly amused me.
I was reasonably nervous before the first dive. Probably more than I was willing to let on. Nevertheless, it did me good to assemble my kit independently of ‘the gang’ and get to grips with international attachments.
My first dive was the perfect, first-ever proper sea dive. A charming, sandy-bottomed site called Fiddle Garden. My decent was my fastest yet. The instructor knew that I was very new to diving and made me his buddy. I kept my eyes fixed on the instructor and concentrated on equalising continuously until we stopped at around 10 metres – at which point I was relieved as my ears were completely fine. The instructor motioned to me to look around. So I did. And I was bowled over by the scale and beauty of the reef next to us; which, incidentally, I had completely failed to notice on the way down due to being so wrapped up in my own motions. The four of us meandered to the 20-ish metre mark. During that time I experienced something of a eureka moment as I began to concentrate more on what was around me than on what I was doing. It went through my mind that this underwater world – with its wild array of colours, shapes and sizes – was so perfect that it was as if an animator had drawn it. For want of a better expression, there was a column of coral spiraling up from the sea bed. We gently wove ourselves up and around it, peering into its crevices. I managed to catch a glimpse of lionfish hovering around in the shadows. All whilst moving up through swirling shoals of brightly patterned fish. Another highlight was watching a humungous giant clam open and close its mouth.
The first dive felt like a massive personal accomplishment. A member of the crew came down to video us ‘in action’. Feelings of accomplishment were overtaken by self-competitive discontent over how much my arms were flapping around. The disconcertion quickly turned to mild indignation that Jason and Reuben were right and hadn’t simply been winding me up!
The second dive, Rasomsid, was my first ever drift dive and blew my mind. Before we entered the instructor asked me what my qualification depth was. I replied 20 metres. He shrugged, ‘you’ll be fine at 26’. With this dive came the new novelty of staring down into ‘the blue’ from 25.9 metres knowing that the seabed was hundreds of metres below. It was breathtaking to drift along and watch the wall ‘cascading up’ to the surface. The most stunning visual aspect of the dive had to be the masses of huge fan corals that stuck out vertically from the wall.
The second day of diving was a somewhat mixed bag of experiences. From the harbor, we were taken about 1.5 hours east to Tiran Island. I confess the first dive, Laguna Lighthouse, felt more like survival training than a pleasure dive. The dive was planned, but said plan was not dived. This resulted in an ‘abort dive’ after 30-odd minutes, which was a great shame.
The instructor explained that the currents around Tiran Island were currently (no pun intended) unpredictable and prone to changing quickly. Beforehand, she went down to ascertain which direction we would drift in. About 20 minutes into the dive, my buddy signaled that he was nearly out of air (!!!). He had somewhere in the region of 50 logged dives, but was admittedly very nervous. He managed somehow to plummet from 220 bar to 60 in 20 minutes worth of dive that was, on average, 15 meters deep. I was instructed to surface with my buddy immediately. The instructor inflated her marker buoy and we made a vertical ascent. I managed to refrain from asking the German gentleman if I could get a rebate on the cost of the unconsumed air in my cylinder. For those of you who haven’t met me – I’m a political lobbyist and EU lobbying is one of my specialisms. So, asking a German for a rebate is funny (but only in Christina land). However – here’s the good bit – due to the fact that after 10 minutes the boat had not picked us up, it dawned on the instructor that the current had changed direction since she planned the dive. We were travelling in the opposite direction to the boat. Nice one. Cue mad whistle blowing and another 20 minutes bobbing around on the surface…
Fortunately, the next dive, Gordon Reef, was another jaw dropping drift dive. We drifted alongside a giant green turtle, which was a rather unforgettable experience that I feel privileged to have had. I was also really happy with my diving. The instructor did an underwater victory dance to celebrate the fact that I managed to not use my arms at all. Upon commencing the 5 minute safety stop at 55 minutes, I signaled that I had 120 bar remaining. As I sunbathed on the way back to the mainland, I reflected positively on the antics of both dives.
My final day of diving came all too quickly. The location was the world famous Ras Mohammed national park. Each of the final two dives felt as unique as the preceding four. The morning dive was called Jackfish Alley, which was a sandy-bottomed meander. This instructor was hot on us having our own time to explore. We had several opportunities to explore clearings. Whilst my buddy took photos, I used these moments to practice fine tuning my buoyancy through breathing, and appreciated the opportunity to evaluate my progress.
The last dive was a great one to finish on. It was the hardest and incorporated a number of elements that I had not yet encountered. The site – Shark and Yolanda Reefs – is located at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula and is renowned for its challenging and complicated cross currents. This point in time was no exception and I needed to work my legs quite hard, frog style. I assume vertical scissor-like finning is rather unsightly and unorthodox. However, this did the trick as I found I could leverage power and change direction when currents knocked me head on. The site comprises two ergs – Shark and Yolanda. On our approach to the ergs, we passed through a little cave in the face of the wall. Sunlight streamed in through the top of the cave creating quite a spectacular spotlight effect. Notwithstanding the mini-cave, there were two highlights. Firstly, a Napoleon fish sighting did not fail to impress. Secondly, the shipwreck! The Yolanda was a cargo ship that went down in the early 1980s. It rests around the 15 to 18 metre mark on a plateau next to the Yolanda erg. Not much remains of the wreck, but the ship’s spoiled cargo is there in all its glory – a few bathtubs and….lots and lots of toilets! A surreal and comic site. I couldn’t refrain from thinking ‘what a load of crap’.
So, my BSAC log book now proudly boasts 10 dives and long may they continue to accumulate. I would have joined in BATSAC’s September and October shenanigans in an instant. However, circumstances conspired against me. September means one thing in UK politics – Party Conferences. Dodging these is pretty hard at short notice. In October I am off on a non-diving holiday to Shanghai; primarily to see my best friend. I will ‘take the plunge’, buy my dry suit and prescription mask, and get ready for an entirely different type of open water diving this winter – UK ocean diving and Sport Diver training!!!
Les and I were once again invited by the Wraysbury crowd to join them for a days diving from Weymouth. It was proposed to make the first dive on the M2 submarine, which I had initially dived in June with Rob of Batsac and the second dive collecting scallops.
This was the third monthly dive where Les and I, and the others, were blessed with good weather. We followed our usual routine of an early start to enable us to arrive at Weymouth without fear of running short of time. We had a leisurely breakfast of coffee and toast for me, and coffee, toast and seasick pills for Les. We loaded our dive kit onto the boat, parked the van and returned to set up our equipment before the boat departed from the harbour. Our sea journey took us from Weymouth around the Island of Portland until we were in Lyme/West Bay, seaward of Chesil Beach. As stated previously, the weather was kind to us with little wind, a calm sea and sunshine.
We agreed that I lead the dive as this would be my second and Les’s first visit to this site. We descended the shot line. Initially I was disappointed with the visibility of 3 to 4 metres and the low light level compared with my last dive. Our eyes soon adjusted and we began our journey from just behind the conning tower on the starboard side and swam slowly towards the stern. We came to and swam under the aft hydroplanes and then to the tapered stern of the vessel where we could see the A-frames supporting the propeller shafts either side of the boat. The propellers were absent having been salvaged by the Royal Navy many years ago. Les and I swam under the protruding stern and into a dense shoal of Bib and Pollock. These accompanied us up to the after deck and along the port side of the vessel until we reached the conning tower and the integral aircraft hanger forward of it. The hull plates of the submarine are beginning to corrode through and provide homes for Conger Eels.
We were easily able to indentify the catapult and rails along the front deck used for launching the small aircraft as we continued to make our way forward. Les and I swam over the forward hydroplanes and then to the bow of the submarine where it narrowed to a knife edge. Here also the plates had rusted away leaving the ribs to frame an opening; with Les on the starboard side and me on the port side, we shook hands through the hole. I did wonder at the time if we would be joined by a Conger whose home we were invading. We dropped down to inspect the openings to the torpedo tubes and then rose to continue our journey along the starboard side of the top deck. We passed the starboard anchor still in position in its recess in the hull and into the aircraft hanger which presented itself as a black hole without features. There was nothing to see there so we were soon out into the light and rose alongside the conning tower and periscopes. We deployed a dsmb, completed our decompression obligations and gained the surface and the boat. A wonderful dive enjoyed by both of us. It took us 40 minutes to complete and we touched the seabed at 33.5 metres.
The time in-between dives varies from activity in preparing kit and changing cylinders, perhaps a bite to eat and then a period of waiting to complete an adequate surface interval before a second dive. This usually while the boat travels to the next dive site. So it was with us, although part way through our activities we were buzzed then “rounded up” by two Royal Navy helicopter “sheepdogs” which flew out from the Isle of Portland. First one flew around us and then the other. It was great to receive such attention and all on board waved to them to show our appreciation. We received a wave in return from one of the pilots before the helicopter sank almost to sea level about one hundred and fifty yards from the boat. The helicopter then began a slow spiralling ascent with the tail rotating around the main body of the aircraft. This bought more enthusiastic appreciation from us. The helicopter then stood on its nose with its tail almost vertical and accelerated away before returning to take a bow to our renewed applause. I know we may all show off when the occasion presents itself but few of us get to do so in a multi million pound helicopter.
You could be forgiven for thinking that our second dive, on The Shambles, at the seaward end of the Isle of Portland would be a disappointment. Not so! This was to be a scalloping dive. Perhaps a darker dive than I had imagined and with a fast current that if you failed to pick up a scallop on the first attempt, it was best to forget it. Les and I completed our dive and required decompression obligations and when returned to the boat had gathered enough Scallops to divide between us. The journey back into Weymouth harbour was spent readying our kit to offload onto the quayside and into the rear of Les’s van.
A communal meal of fish and chips followed when sitting on harbour side benches while trying to prevent the seagulls from stealing our food. A round of “goodbyes, see you on the next dive day” ensued before our journey home. Les dropped off me and my kit before departing for the short drive to his own home.
I was so tired after a long and enjoyable day that all I could manage was a shower, a cup of tea and then bed.
The next morning I bought the scallops, in their plastic box of seawater, from the garage. They had travelled well, like a wine, so I prepared them and delivered half to Les.
And my Scallops? Cooked in garlic butter and accompanied by fresh bread, slightly salted butter and a light white wine. Beautiful!
You may wish to view the following:
As you may know there was a joint club trip between Batsac and St Alban’s Sac, (Sasac), to Lochaline Dive Centre situated on the Sound of Mull, Western Scotland. By joining forces the two clubs can usually fill a boat and select which sites we will be diving. We almost made a full boat this time with only a couple of spaces not taken. In the end, the dive centre were able to provide some additional local, Scottish divers, initially Mark and Paul and my diving companion for the last two days, Lindsay, lessoning the financial shortfall incurred by trip organiser Jason.
I joined Lisa, Jason and Andy for the long drive north to our destination. We set off early in the morning and made good time to Glasgow where we suffered a major traffic jam before turning to the west and reaching sparsely and then deserted parts of the Highlands. It is beautiful country but with a ruggedness that combined with bad weather would present powerful challenges when travelled.
Eventually we arrived at our destination and settled in. The accommodation was in a single building purpose built only a few years previously. It was comfortable and adequate if rather on the small side. The food however was wonderful throughout the whole week! The regular chef Gordon and the stand-in cook Claire; both produced so much quality food that most evenings we were unable to finish it.
The dive centre had its own well equipped dive boat, “Sound Diver” and various crew members who accompanied us throughout the week and ensured our well being. Over the course of six days, we dived seven shipwrecks, two of them twice and four scenic wall/reef dives. We called in at Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, during some of the surface intervals and on various other occasions, caught glimpses of seals, a sea otter, an eagle and lots of sheep on the hillsides. One evening, when talking diving and walking off our evening meal, Jason and I saw a stag in the street at Lochaline village. It was a bit like seeing an urban fox in the south of England, only bigger!
Generally the weather was not too bad although we only saw the sun on the first and last days that we were there. In fact the clouds lifted off the hills adjacent to the Sound only on the last diving day and enabled us to see the mountains in the hinterland of Mull. This was also the day that we saw, from the harbour in Tobermory, a military cargo plane fly along the Sound of Mull, then an hour later fly back over the boat on its return journey. It was shortly followed by a jet fighter travelling so fast that we did not hear it heading towards us but only heard and saw its departure.
The shipwrecks in the Sound are in remarkably good condition being sheltered from the open sea. The Thesis is still largely intact and has been there for 110 years and is the only example of its type.
The SS Hispania, sunk in 1954 was one of the ships that we enjoyed so much that we dived it twice, on different days. This wreck has a bow raised, stern down, list to starboard attitude. It was my good fortune, for my first dive on this wreck to be partnered with Robin from Sasac, a good companion for the week and a better and serenely competent diver. On my second dive on this site, Lindsay, a Scots girl and I had a magical dive lasting 50 minutes using our buoyancy skills to good effect whilst floating in the uppermost portions of the holds.
The SS Rondo was the other ship that we dived twice. This ship has its stern at 6 metres and its broken bow at 50 metres. My first dive on this wreck was once again with Robin, We were the first pair in the water and as I went down the shot line, all I could see below me was a mass of black! I looked back at Robin who indicated that we should continue our descent. Our eyes soon became accustomed to the dark as we descended the starboard side of the ship to 35 metres and then another 5 metres before beginning our return to the stern and the surface. My dive with Lindsay on this shipwreck was a less dramatic affair; we descended to 35 metres along the port then starboard sides of the ship then made our ascent within the shell of the salvaged vessel. I can only liken it to floating up a very steep and broken staircase. We were most careful with our ascent rate and buoyancy at our decompression stop and used the shot line as a visual guide only to the surface. Once back on the dive boat, our computer’s showed a perfect ascent profile. A great dive!
One of our dives was different from all the others. We were fortunate that Mark, the owner of the dive centre, was the licensee of the protected shipwreck “The Swan” a Cromwellian era ship, sunk in a storm while besieging the nearby Duart Castle. The dive plan was: jump off the back of the boat, align yourself with the shore markers, dive down to 12 metres and you should be right over the remains, four cannon and an anchor in amongst the kelp. All the other, more fragile items had either been salvaged or reburied to protect them. Once again Robin and I were the first dive pair in the water. We followed the dive plan, found the expected kelp and nothing else! We looked around and still unable to find anything, proceeded with the second part of the plan to collect scallops. Of course, upon our return to the boat, all the other divers had seen the cannon and the anchor, in 8 metres. Ah well, you know the saying: Plan the (wreck) dive and wreck the plan!
Between all the divers, we had collected seventy scallops. Gordon the chef suggested that there was sufficient for the next day’s dinner, they being of a much greater size than I have collected from the South coast of England. However we said that we would have them as a starter that same evening. Gordon duly cooked them and with seven each, all of us were bloated before we even started on the main course of our evening meal.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our week’s diving in Scotland. It is, of course, only a snapshot. There are many other stories that make up a dive week and I’m sure you’ll hear them in due course from those who went.
I cannot recommend dive weeks too highly, they enable measurable progress and consolidation of diving skills to be made due to repeated dives in a concentrated period of time.
You may wish to look at the following;
One of our intrepid members, Reuben, found himself at West Wittering beach over the festive break, and described conditions as "a bit choppy". We don't think Reuben was actually planning a dive, but it was nice of him to keep us up to date on conditions at one of the clubs popular dive locations :-) Happy New Year!
So I’m sitting in the departure lounge of Male international airport, having bolted down a sandwich on the false advice that the place was delayed three hours, desperate for a beer as the last of the previous night’s alcohol is finally leaving my system and still with the remnants of the slut red nail polish on my fingernails…….Maybe I need to back up a bit first.
Through a combination of an almost passable bonus from work, a slightly rebellious streak and an opportunity to max out one of my credit cards, I booked a week long liveaboard in the Maldives through Tony Backhurst. Initially booked for late April, the holiday was rescheduled to account for my nose job (necessary due to a problem septum and not a pure vanity issue I might add) so I decided to book for the end of May/early June and have my 40th birthday in style, half way round the world. This was also a good way of getting out of having to buy cakes in the office or go out for the obligatory drink with people I’d really rather not have to socialise. False economy?
Anyway, the part of my brain that manages to justify such purchases decided that this was the best idea in the world and so I was booked and on the trip. A trip on the MV Orion beckoned with the promise of warm water, whale sharks and hopefully the odd manta ray or two. Hell, I would have said that the whole trip would have been worth it if all I had seen in the week was a cute clownfish and a pyjama slug but when it comes to diving, as long as the conditions are good I’m very easily pleased.
A ten hour overnight flight with passable food and several lousy movies later and the plane touches down in Male. As I walk of the plane, the heat hits like a blast furnace suggesting something in the high 30’s or even low 40’s, although having picked up luggage, met with others off the plane and been bussed out to the harbour, the weather turned with dark clouds, high winds and a monsoon. Waves about 10 foot high are breaking over the wall of the harbour with the promise that the transfer to the boat will be a little rough. Even though the transfer is only about twenty minutes to our boat, this proves too much for one of the guests who elects to donate her airline dinner to the fish. Hmmm, not the best of starts to the week. Luckily the brief downpour blows itself out quickly and the boat resumes it’s calm and gentle bobbing around in the ocean as it had enjoyed before.
With fatigue from the travel hitting hard, most people haven’t really got the energy to introduce themselves to one another on the boat and aside from a few quick hello’s and exchange of names that are instantly forgotten, it’s a case of hit the pillow and leave everything until the next day.Morning breaks and with a clear blue sky, calm seas and a late breakfast, the moods of all aboard are lifted and it’s the first real chance to meet the 22 other guests on the boat that I’ll be spending the week with. This reveals a good bunch of people to be stuck on a boat with, drawn from all parts of the globe including the USA, Germany, Australia, Holland and the UK. For the most part they’re all fine with the possible exception of a couple from the UK who are just too loud and overbearing – you know the type that if you’ve been to paradise they’ve got a season ticket and know a little place even better and more exclusive – and the Dutch couple who are just weird. I’m sure that the wife had a name but barely heard her say two words during the whole week and the bloke was nicknamed Porn Director (or PD for short) as it transpired through the week that he was trying to take sly pictures of the girls on the boat and made one or two very inappropriate comments. Oh well – you get all sorts in diving and it provided a great source of in jokes and amusement to the rest of us.
With my last dive in Swanage giving visibility of about 4m and revealing some pretty average marine life that I couldn’t identify, the first drop into the Maldives waters gives visibility of about 25m, temperature around 30 degrees Celsius with an eagle ray, white spotted boxfish, some oriental sweetlips and more red tooth triggerfish than you could shake a stick at. Well, one of those underwater rattly things that are much loved by Egyptian dive guides. Air consumption wasn’t good but it’s the first wetsuit dive in a while and it should improve as the week goes on.
A short surface interval and lunch later and we’re back in the water swimming with a variety of bannerfish, parrotfish and angelfish, although with the quality of food that our Thai cook produced there was a question whether I could be bothered to get back in the water for more diving or just stay at the table eating beef penang curry until I exploded. Despite the excellent quality of the food and the sheer joy of lounging around on a luxury boat, reading a good book and basking in the sunshine, I’ve travelled half way round the world for a reason and that reason is to swim with the fishes.
Having had a chance to look around the boat properly, it truly is magnificent and seems far too good for your average diver to lounge around in. Most of the cabins are at lower deck level, giving you a small porthole window in the en suite bathroom and another in the bedroom as your only view to the world, although windows as ventilation is entirely unnecessary as all rooms are fully air conditioned. The bathrooms are well proportioned with fully tiled walls and floors and fitted out to a very high spec. As opposed to some boats where you literally can have a shower, whilst brushing your teeth and using the loo at the same time, this bathroom is spacious and more like my flat in terms of size. The rooms have plenty of storage space, something that most boats don’t have, and a plasma screen in each room. The only design problem seemed to be that the electrics in the rooms were planned out by someone with a fetish for light switches. In the bathroom alone there were at least 10, all of which seemed to switch on a different light somewhere and could lead to some interesting combinations similar to a logic puzzle in determining how many times you had to press different switches to turn them all off.
The dive area at the back of the boat is non existent, although all of the dive gear is stored on a dhoni that sails along with the boat and ferries people back and forth to the dive sites. Upper deck has a large seated area and Jacuzzi as well as a well stocked bar with a sun deck on the top level. The boat even had a spa area with massage facilities and a steam room, with a masseuse on board for the week to pamper and sooth any aches and pains. The dining room was large to the point where 23 guests never felt cramped, serving three great meals a day causing great alarm to my waistline over the course of the week, with the cook having several offers of marriage (including several from the women) if she would come home and continue to cook curries for them. Alas she resisted and remained to serve the following week’s guests. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.
Day two and we have our first shark encounter with quite a few whitetip reef sharks in the area as well as a rather large turtle and the usual suspects of fusiliers, batfish and surgeonfish.
However this paled into insignificance on the night dive when not only were there about a dozen whitetips swimming round the reef looking for food, but due to the fact that the battery on my torch had just packed up, they’re getting rather close.
When I say close it’s about five foot away from me and gave me the urge to reach out and touch them as they passed.
Probably not a good idea though, as the chance of losing the odd finger and ruining my concert piano playing days didn’t appeal.
On the same dive was a huge marbled ray and a couple of free swimming giant moray eels.
Easily within my top 5 dives so far.
Day three saw me hit a personal milestone by turning 40, although I was in two minds whether or not to say anything to the rest of the boat and decided to keep it quiet for a while. Actually, I was a bit worried that I’d have to do something stupid on a dive that would be extremely embarrassing. Can’t imagine what that would be like. As it was, I didn’t have to wait long to find out. While we had experienced a fair few currents in the previous days diving, the Maldives essentially being a series of atolls and channels through which the sea was directed, these had been nothing compared to the current on this particular site. Having dropped to about 25m I spent a few minutes literally just clinging to a rock on the reef as the current rushed downward and threatened to take me with it, before deciding that this just wasn’t fun and aborting the dive. Great start to the day and an ominous sign for my life to come! Mind you, searching for the positive this was a good chance to hone my skills with an SMB.
Luckily things improved and with a mainly BSAC crowd on board, there were calls for a bit of rust to look at rather than just reef after reef. The dive guide duly took us to a small purpose sunk boat with 23 divers crawling over a boat that would normally fit about 5. Whilst not much, it satisfied a craving and turned up some lovely anemone fish. The day improved even further and after a great dinner, I finally confessed the burden of age upon me and the entire boat headed up to the upper deck bar (yes, one of two on the boat) for a big drink and bit of a party. An expensive round for me, but what the hell. It only happens once.
Day four and we’re in whale shark territory. The pre-breakfast dive saw a glimpse of a manta ray with a mass scramble for cameras before it decided to swim off. Must be quicker next time.
Dive two and despite looking, the whale sharks are elusive although we are rewarded with yet more whitetip sharks, several large black stingrays and a few turtles.
Getting back on the boat we’re instructed to bring our mask, snorkel and fins on board so that if a whale shark is spotted we can jump in the water at a moments notice.
Two false al
arms involving a mad dash and splash and we give up as lunch is called. My plate has just been loaded with a delicious stir fry, I’ve taken a few mouthfuls and yes, you’ve guessed it the cry of ‘whale shark’ is heard from one of the crew. A mad scramble followed, but this time we’re rewarded with a six metre shark just below the surface that seems happy for a boatload of people to swim along with it for about quarter of an hour before taking off into the depths. I suppose in diving we all have moments that are just that little bit special and swimming along with this fantastic fish was one that I’ll remember for a long time.
Day five and a bit more rust was found for those in need of a bit more of their favourite fix with yet more sting rays, sharks and moray eels, although a nice mix of macro life including some truly spectacular nudibranchs. The manta rays were also in full effect. Setting down at a cleaning station, the guides told us to stay low and find a bit of rock that we could cling on to, so as to avoid the washing machine like current in the area, and just watch the show. Following these instructions we sat and waited as two mantas came ever closer, circling round above us oblivious to the current and providing a spectacular show. The grace that these creatures navigate the turbulent waters is unbelievable and to see them up close puts how small and pathetic man really is into perspective. It is truly amazing and much as I do like the small stuff on reefs, to see mantas is a sight to behold.
Day six and the final diving day of a holiday that has passed all too quickly. The sharks, the turtles and rays as well as the myriad of fish will have to wait until I can afford to get back there and their fate will have to hang in the balance, with the threat of global warming and its effects on islands like the Maldives looming like a spectre on the horizon. Whilst jetting half way round the world may not help with the greenhouse gas issue, maybe it’s seeing the beauty, majesty and sheer power of nature present in the Maldives that should make divers like us more aware of the issues and take whatever action we can to ensure their survival.
Maybe it should just be seen as a great holiday in which I got to see lots of wonderful marine life, stayed on a luxury boat for a week, met a great bunch of people (even including PD and his wife) and drank far too much beer that led to my nails being painted slut red for the following day’s diving.
All I can say at the end of it is that I thoroughly enjoyed the week and would love to go back there.