Stair Hole, Lulworth Cove and a Night Snorkel Dive

24th Sept 2011

We arrived at Kimmeridge Bay around midday. For the first time this year the slip way was clear of the usual queue of RIB's, canoes and other small boats waiting to launch or be retrieved.Kimmeridge bay have just completed an update with new toilet and shower facilities! (continued below slideshow)

Following a quick launch, we made our way round to Lulworth Cove where we had arranged to meet the rest of the snorkelers for the day to make a beach base. There was no access for launching our RIB at Lulworth Cove, but smaller inflatable boats are able to launch there. With 18 of us on the beach and 14 of us planning to snorkel throughout the day, organising snorkeling groups, kit and buddies was no easy task.

About 2pm the first group was kitted up and ready to go. It only takes a few minutes to get out of Lulworth Bay and round to Stair Hole, a small cove with natural archways formed as the sea erodes the softer parts of the Purbeck Limestone. This is the third time we have attempted to snorkel around Stair Hole, each time for safety reasons we have decided against it, due to the height of the waves and the danger of being pushed into the rocks. Today, it was a Neap tide, no wind at all and the waves were small crests.

Upon entering under the main archway, we were faced with a calm pool of water with fantastic visibility. The water temperature was 17 degrees. Although the tide was coming in, the water was still low enough for us to explore the caves, fractures and every nock and cranny that the rock formations create.

The bottom is a fascinating mixture of sand, large pebbles and very large rocks. Amongst the sea weed covered rocks hide a number of different Wrasse, including some fairly decent size Ballan Wrasse. These fish although not completely scared by our presence, did back into the seaweed on approach, but by staying still, they quickly came back out to investigate.

Thirty minutes passed very quickly, while wondering in and out of the rock formations and with the next group waiting we called the boat, which was covering our safety, over to pick us up. We made our way back out under the archway. Getting out is harder than getting in as the waves are coming towards you and push you backwards. One note, is to watch out for the cliff jumpers, who while are very entertaining to watch jumping off the rocks on the outside of the archway, you don't want to be jumped on by them.

Two more repeat trips allowed all 14 snorkel divers to experience Stair Hole.

Naiad, our RIB, was steered back around to Kimmeridge Bay to load back onto the trailer, around 5 pm, just after high water. This time there was a queue of boats which prolonged things by a good half hour.

We took the boat, now on the trailer, around to the top car park at Lulworth Cove and met everyone else for fish and chips on the beach to watch the sun go down. Kimmeridge Bay locks the gate at dusk, while Lulworth car park does not close, hence our choice to take the boat out of the water and leave it in the car park for the evening.

While waiting for their turn at snorkelling at Stair Hole, and after dinner, the younger members of the group were kept happy by playing in the sea and by a canoe brought down by one of the group members. They were also enthralled by a small bird which they thought was a lost penguin, but more likely a razorbill which kept popping up between the children and swimming around them, completely unafraid of them.

By 7pm the sky was turning dark and the day trippers leaving, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves, except a few people who were interested in what we were doing.

Adorning ourselves with glow sticks and torches to enable us to see each other on the beach and in the water we must have looked like we were having an impromptu rave.

Only 8 brave souls entered the shallow water and started to snorkel in about 1 to 2 metres depth. With the tide having only turned a few of hours before, the water was fairly churned up and even with underwater torches the visibility was only about 1 metre. Pouting and wrasse were the main fish that we encountered, but with the darkness and the lack of visibility, looking at the seaweed it was easy to start imagining all sorts of sea creatures.

By 8pm all the snorkellers were out of the water, allowing some of the parents to go for a night scuba dive.

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