With the summer finally arriving, and reports of there being a strange thing called “the sea” into which one could dive, an expeditionary force was assembled. After a couple of minor adjustments to line-up the intrepid adventurers set off to Plymouth to see what this whole salt-watery-diving-thing was all about…
We arrived on Friday evening at the Harford bunkhouse on the edge of Dartmoor to find it had been taken over by an eccentric bunch: the West Country Myth and Storytelling Club were in residence and were gathered, quite drunk, around the campfire. After negotiating with them a rate of one scallop per tall-tale, and watching the meteors and satellites pass through the milky way with a drink, we retired into our pod.
The next day, we collected boat equipment from Pete and headed down to the boat, conveniently already located upon the *most convenient* pontoon in the marina. On with the killcord, and a turn of the key, and we were away, off to dive the wreck of the Abelard next to the breakwater. This shallow broken-up wreck of a Minesweeper in 12m, perfect as a starter-dive for those new to drysuits or for the odd spot of training, was a delight as always in the sunshine. Many curious wrasse, lobsters, hordes of nudibranchs and all kinds of other creatures were hiding amongst the light smattering of kelp and the distinctive boiler standing proud of the seabed. Cuttlefish were a big highlight, as was a beautiful monster-barrel-jellyfish-cum-ecosystem-in-its-own-right on the safety stop.
After a break for filling cylinders and eating a picnic in the sunshine in Fort Bovisand we headed off for a dive on the world-famous James Eagan Lane. The JEL, a huge liberty ship stuffed full of stuff, was hit by a torpedo and almost, but not quite, made it to beaching on Whitsand Bay. She now lies upright in about 21m, with the bow still standing to only a few metres under the surface, and makes for a fantastic dive even for Ocean Divers. The hull is covered in dead-mens-fingers and other anemones and hard and soft corals, with blennies hiding amongst them vertically. Inside there are shoals of fish which part in front of you and close again behind as you swim round. Plenty of the cargo is left and it can be quite fun to try and work out what the cargo once was – are they really wheels there? The inner decks are slowly collapsing down and so now the large triple-expansion engine stands proud resting on its pistons. Every year the wreck changes a little and there were some tempting-looking holes which had opened up, which we resisted the urge to explore… this time… One pair did however manage to find the stern section, which broke off on the JELs sinking, and lies about 40m away from the main part of the wreck. As is always traditional when one finds a “new” bit of wreck, the dive time is up, the air is getting low and so one curses, makes a mental note, and starts on upwards back to the surface drifting past it as one goes…
The first day over, and everyone feeling great, we headed back to harbour, put the boat to bed and went off for fish and chips and a cider in the Barbican area of Plymouth. There were live bands, seagulls and much discussion of other passers-by dress-sense. We then returned to the bunkhouse to find a full-on summer-solstice performance by the Storytellers with their drums and pipes (and the Peacocks!) accompanying. A bit more stargazing and then to bed.
Sunday we awoke to a light breeze from the west and headed off once more to the boat. After a frustrating time spent visiting two dive shops to get fills, only to find both of them unmanned, we finally got our air from Bovisand and headed off eastwards to dive Hilsea Point Rock. The sea was a little lumpy on the way and unfortunately Salvatore slowly went mildly green, but he was brave and was still determined to dive! Good man!
This site, also appropriately known as “Fairylands”, is a tide-swept rock coming to within 7m of the surface and dropping all the way down to ~30m at its southern end. With cracks, gullies and canyons, and even a cave that goes all the way through the centre of the rock, it promised to be an interesting scenic site. Indeed it *was*: a magical place from the land of faerie, with soft corals and jewel anemones galore covering this striking topography. There was evidence of octopus and many many fish, often hordes of them tucked away under rocks or in cracks. Certainly a site to do again! (Another boat, heading out the same way, apparently had a dolphin follow them, but evidently we didn’t smell so good as them, maybe next time?)
With a green Salvatore, a Holger in racing-boat mood, and Farah and I holding on for dear life we raced back to Bovisand to get fills and eat our delicious picnic. The delays in getting fills that morning, and the fact we had to do rolling waves, meant that getting another dive in and still getting back to Oxford at a reasonable hour was looking unlikely, so we reluctantly cut our losses, and put the Mewstone ledges cannon and anchor site on hold until our next visit. We headed back to the pontoon, rinsed off the boat and each other, and packed up for the journey homeward.
But we shall return! A great weekend was had by all and we can thoroughly recommend this whole sea-thing. We have a great boat, sat on a pontoon for the summer, and some wonderful diving available to us in Plymouth. Let’s go again soon! Tomorrow?