WRECKS have been a feature of Aquasport trips this year and the Plymouth weekend provided something for both our seasoned and new divers.
The area has proved a big draw for divers in recent years and thanks to some late summer sun, the 20 Aquasport divers were blessed with calm seas and great visibility that showcased British diving in all its glory.
The weekend saw the first UK sea dives for some of our newest members, rebreather trials for two members of our dive team and an introduction to the wonders of Rob Aldridge’s ‘cooking’. For more read on.
The bow of the James Eagan Layne towered above us in all her majesty as the divers hovered inches from the sandy seabed.
“F*£&!%$ hell,” exclaimed one through his mouthpiece as he gazed up towards the surface.
Maybe the expletive laden remark was because the visibility – at least 12metres worth – was among the best we had seen on the south coast all year. Or maybe because the tiered bow of the James is arguably one of the finest sights in UK diving.
More than half a century earlier, the bow would have cut through the roughest of Atlantic waves to transport urgent war supplies. Now she dominates the seabed.
The Liberty ship sank in March 1945 after being torpedoed by the U-399 as she moved US Army equipment from Wales to Belgium.
Having circumnavigated the exterior of the ship, the divers pushed inside, gently moving through the interior skeletal frame of the ship to explore the remains of the triple expansion engine and cargo of cauldrons and cargo winches.
A brightly-coloured tompot blenny poked its head from the wreckage, to bid the eagle-eyed divers farewell as they headed to the surface.
For the divers experiencing UK seas for the first time, it was a thrilling experience. For those who had dived the James before it was another example of why, when it is at its best it is hard to beat UK diving.
The divers aboard the Eclipse RIB followed up the dive with an afternoon on the Glen Strathallan, a pleasure yacht than sank 30 years ago. At 15m, the dive was shallow enough for divers to explore the wreckage that littered the seabed.
The eagle-eyed among them found the conger eels and giant lobster in the remains of the boiler. Those with even better eyesight were treated to a much rarer sight, a cuttlefish busying itself on the reef.
Diving on rebreathers, Mark and Richard were able to get up close without worrying the little critter when the hardboat divers explored the site the following day. Making no noise and blowing no bubbles they enjoyed 20 minutes with the cuttlefish watching as it went about its daily ritual.
During the weekend, both groups got to dive the HMS Scylla the 372ft former Royal Navy frigate purpose sunk in Whitsand Bay, in March 2004, for divers to explore. Surrounded by clear water, some of the divers chose to take in the bow and stern in their entirety while others penetrated a little way into the superstructure.
The hardboat divers got to dive the Persier. Originally known as the War Buffalo, the 5,000 ton merchantman sank in 1945 after being struck by two torpedoes fired from the UB -1017. She lay undiscovered until 1969 when a fisherman found her in Bigbury Bay.
Sitting in 30metres and in good visibility, the collapsed wreck provided something a little different to explore. Just a few fin strokes from the boilers that towered above the wreckage were two giant conger eels. Large shoals of bib and pollack gathered around the wreckage. Inside the stern there is an iron bathtub and at the other extreme the bow still stood proud, albeit pointing in the wrong direction and back towards the wreck.
Whetted your appetite? If so make sure you get your name down on Aquasport’s Plymouth trips when the itinerary is launched at the start of 2013.