Dates: 19-20th July 2014,
Location: Plymouth (JEL, Shagstone, HMS Scylla, SS Persier),
Participants: Ali, Maha (organiser), Holger, Tom, Severin (author)
The trip started under challenging circumstances: many of our active divers had just returned from 8 days of diving in the Sound of Mull in Scotland a few days before the Plymouth trip… However, their kit was still stranded somewhere up north in the kit van, which had decided to prolong it stay in Scotland – much to the dismay of the many divers who otherwise would have loved to come along. Of the remaining five Plymouth participants, 40% only decided to join less than 24hrs before the first dive took place. However, Maha did a great job coordinating and organising everyone and everything, and the dives proved to be well worth the effort.
After a 6:30 am departure from the kit hut in Oxford, we reached Plymouth without the Stonehenge detour (see report of the previous Plymouth trip) and were greeted by intense sunshine and an absolutely calm sea – perfect diving conditions, especially for those of us who decided to start the UK wet suit season, be it because they preferred wet suits or because they were the cheaper rental option to overcome the challenge of dry suits forgotten at home in Oxford.
The first dive took us to the wreck of the JEL, a Plymouth classic which was very well visited indeed that day. After untangling a diver from another boat who had got caught in the shot line on his ascent, we admired the busy sea life on this Liberty ship, as well as the almost cathedral like structures of the hold, which made for beautiful pictures when set against the bright surface.
Hoping for some delicious sea food for dinner, two of us decided to go for a second dive just outside the Plymouth Sound next to the Shagstone in the late afternoon. Expecting a scenic rock dive, they came across what appeared to be remnants of another, unidentified wreck – but no dinner takeaways.
After a successful first day of diving, we returned to port and continued to our accommodation in an old farm house outside Plymouth. Expecting a camping pod, we were welcomed with an upgrade to a 20-something bed penthouse barn and enjoyed a delicious BBQ including chocolate bananas and the typically British marshmallows, both of which also starred in the next morning‘s breakfast.
After a moderately early start, we headed back out towards the JEL and dived the nearby HMS Scylla, a former military ship that was purposely sunk as an artificial wreck a decade ago and is accordingly still in a very good shape. Besides two of us practicing mid-water DSMB deployment to qualify towards BSAC Dive Leader respectively achieving some Sports Diver depth progression, we saw big schools of fish, as well as nudy branches, a John Dory and a flounder, enjoyed a dive through and admired the grand deck.
Having ascended on an incredibly well-inflated DSMB of OUUEG‘s very own Maha (video evidence later showed that she had in fact received illegitimate help from a dive buddy, leading to her disqualification from the weekend‘s otherwise very male dominated DSMB inflation competition), she once more proved her many invaluable diving trip skills when she surprised us with a diving luncheon that sets new standards for OUUEG trips. Stopping in beautiful Fort Bovisand, she served a variety of grilled chicken and vegetables, self-smoked fish, barbecued burgers with lettuce, tomatoes and a selection of sauces, followed by self-bought chocolate cake, marshmallows and malt loaf, all of which had been shipped in from Plymouth.
While the rest of us was still in a very satisfied post-lunch state of mind, Maha continued to excel by locating the SS Persier using sonar and a transit point only – once more impressing us with her innate boat handling skills, which had already been uncovered the previous day, when she safely navigated us around Plymouth although she had never received formal boat handling training before. Having succeeded in placing our shot right on the Persier, we admired the sheer size of the ships boilers, the many holes of which were densely populated with crabs and fish alike, including a conger eel. Following a great dive with several decompression stops – the first ever for one of our most recent diving apprentices, who on the same dive also hit the ‘24 hours total underwater time‘ mark and managed to complete his first log book – the mood on the rather bumpy ride through increasingly big waves back to port, once more executed by our new boat handling star, was exuberant.
All in all a very successful weekend in Plymouth which excelled with respect to diving, boating and weather, as well as regarding food, accommodation and team spirit.