Monday, 10 August 2009

Down by the seaside

Take the following ingredients:
Sunshine (lots),
Wreck diving (1 big, 1 small),
Friends (11),
Boat skipper (top quality).
Mix up together in a seaside town, throw in some beer, good food and a lovely B&B and the result is a Swanage diving weekend cooked up by London School of Diving in Chiswick

Saturday morning, 6.15am: After a sleepy drive to the seafront to get our cars and kit onto the pier we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at 'A Great Escape', with our lovely host Sue. Suitably, fed and scrubbed we strolled back to the pier as the morning sun began to rise above the rooftops and declared its intention for the rest of the weekend.

Briefed, geared and buddied up, we were quickly underwater for a short acclimatisation dive under the old wooden pier. I was pleasantly surprised by the spectacular life under there, three or four species of big colourful wrasse, schools of pollack, and even some very substantial bass which most of the anglers leaning over the rails above would have dearly loved to get a hook into. In these days of barren oceans, it was heartening to see such an abundance of different species sheltering so close to shore and still avoiding the deadening cosh up above, and I say that as an occasional angler myself, although strictly catch and return these days.

After a short break in the sun, we were loading our gear onto the rib for our first serious dive, on the wreck of the 415ft long Kyarra, torpedoed in 1918 and lying at 30 metres. As I descended down the shot line, I was struck by the magnitude as she came into focus and filled my whole field of vision. A magnificent greeny gray monolithic expanse of twisted hull and broken deck as far as I could see. The visibility was superb, better than I've ever seen in UK waters. There was much to explore, but little time to do so. I soon lost count of the swim throughs and open holds – metallic valleys and channels that were beckoning me closer. The abundance of life seeking safety in and around the wreck was, again, encouraging. Lobsters, rays, wrasse, spider crabs, pollack and bass were all of the large variety either in size or population. After surfacing we wasted no time in deciding to dive the Kyarra again the next day. Our vessel for the day was the nippy 40ft rib, Swanage Diver, cheerily skippered by Peter whose efficiency at dispensing cups of hot chocolate after every dive was impressive. Even better, it has an elevator to lift you out of the water – how cool is that!

Our third dive of the day, was on a slightly less impressive wreck. The Fleur de Lys, an old wooden trawler, is urgently giving itself up to the sea after less than a decade in its new home. We took an easy drift off this little pile of bones for about 20 minutes, but despite a few captured scallops it was a fairly uneventful drift and a little chilly given the lack of activity while drifting. We decided to return to the surface and take advantage of the sun to warm up (did I mention that it was very sunny!)

In the evening, we retired to The Black Swan, surprisingly the owners of the only available 12-person place-setting left in Swanage on a sunny, August, school-holiday, seaside-resort weekend. There we enjoyed a very palatable and generously proportioned three-course meal. However, after an early rise and the prospect of another the following morning, those of us who require a modicum of sleep to sustain normal function decided to retire early. Some slept, some listened to others sleeping and some slept through the best part of the next day (Snoosan!) missing the first dive.

The first dive on the Sunday was another, more interesting, drift dive over the shellfish banks. A reasonable amount of booty mostly in the form of scallops was bagged and allocated to various frying pans. Some of our number were clearly more skilled in spotting and bagging methods than others. Apparently they burrow into the sea bed, which is clearly not fair, only betraying their whereabouts with a small beardy fringe which lingers above the sand. This isn't easy to spot when drifting along at 2 or 3 knots. Like going past your junction on the M3 – you just can't turn around for another shot. My small party came up with zero. Robin, Matt and Rachel ascended triumphantly with about 10 bite-sized nuggets each.

Finally, and most expectantly, we returned to the Kyarra and explored some more. Down, up, around and through its decking and girders I was tempted a little lower than was wise on the last of 5 dives – there was too much too see, places to go, look at the size of that, let's go have a look down there . . . why were my buddies 5 metres up, and why exactly was my Gekko flashing numbers at me? Oh yes, I remember now . . . that's a bad thing isn't it. On ascent, I had to sit in the safety-stop corner a few minutes longer while my buddies waited patiently, inwardly sighing no doubt (sorry George & Dave).

Still it was nice and sunny up top, it really was! And with that the weekend was over - all too soon. Great fun, great diving, great company. All that remained was the long drift back up the M3, radio on loud, fighting to remain awake enough not to miss my scallop.

1 comment:

a's anonymous said...

sounds like an awesome summer trip