I was invited on a dive from Swanage to dive the Valentine tanks, these were part of the D-Day landing vehicles. There is plenty of info on the net regarding these tanks. We left the pier and headed round and were soon on the shot.
This expedition to Lyme Regis was organised by John Waterhouse.
We were staying in a large house at Axminster and had both the club boats ISIS and Gemini to dive from. There were plans to also do some snorkeling, but this did not occur.
A Beautiful Spring Weekend
You could not have asked for better conditions: neap tides, sunshine, no wind and a perfectly flat Weymouth Bay – truely like glass.
Our plan was to have two dives on our project wreck – the Alex van Opstal – one on each day. To do this we had to leave the marina at an un-weekendly (think I’ve just invented a new word there…) 7.30am. Despite all predictions we actually left 5 minutes early and made good progress in the perfect conditions.
It was all going so well
With a little early morning fog adding to the atmosphere we were starting sense this would be a good weekend. But with a sudden CRUNCH! that all looked a bit premature. We’d hit something. With lightning reactions the skipper shut off the engine, and we sent a diver in to investigate what had got tangled on the propellor.
So the first official dive of the 2011-12 calendar (from the dinner dance in late March onwards) was in 1m of water cutting a plastic mail sack from our boat’s propellor. Auspicious indeed.
The Alex van Opstal
Problem solved we made it to the Alex on slack. We shotted the wreck and two divers started off the weekend’s diving proper. It was looking so good, until we realised they hadn’t moved off the shotline after being down about 5 minutes. Surfacing shortly afterwards they informed us that they couldn’t even see their own fins at the bottom, and despite being on the wreck had decided there wasn’t really any point in diving.
So, the mood slightly more sombre we enacted Plan B…
Lobster Alley and the Black Hawk
Not as exciting as the Alex, but with 4-5m vis we weren’t complaining. After months of being confined to inland dive sites after the weather ruled out trips it was just nice to be back in the sea. There were fish, crabs, lobsters, a slight current and all the random bits of this and that which make the sea so much fun to dive in! Plus it is around 3 degrees C warmer than the quarries, making it a lot more comfortable.
Day Two: Round the Bill
Having realised that Weymouth Bay was pea soup (possibly to do with run-off from all the Olympics construction?) we ventured West and round Portland Bill. When we headed for the wreck of the James Fennel and saw all the charter boats there we knew we must have got it about right.
On dive one, Steve L and I actually found the notoriously difficult-to-locate James Fennel, and were able to pinpoint it for the others to have their second dive on. I’d say this was more by luck than judgement, certainly on my part, but I think Lichy knew what he was doing once we’d started to find bits of wreckage and led me on a tour of the highlights! It really was a fantastic dive – 10m+ vis, calm water and loads of life. Despite locating the stern, prop shaft, boiler and plenty of scattered wreck, we also saw lobsters, pipefishes, conger eels, a stonefish, wrasse and so much more.
On our second dive Lichy and I tried to find the SS Gertrude, hidden amongst the bus-size boulders littering the seabed. We weren’t so lucky this time, although having located the anchor I suspect we simply needed to turn towards land rather than out to sea and we would have found it. Never mind – still a pleasant drift dive amongst the boulders, and a nice end to a cracking weekend.
On a perfect diving day we headed down to Burton Bradstock beach (Hive Beach) which is run by the National trust. Ten divers (John Beer, Kerrie, Ian, Courtney, John Blessing, Kevin, Chris, Grainne, Andy W and Howard) and one sunbather (Josh) set up camp on the beach just to the East of the cliffs that mark the more interesting seabed to the West end of the main beach. A nice set of Gabian cages formed a perfect kitting up bench there so we claimed them for ourselves.
The biggest problem on this day was basically keeping the damn grit out of our kit and suits. Just walking down to the water we found that grit got into wetsuit boots and fins. Once in the water which was nearly perfectly flat calm, we found very good vis – at least 8m in places. Dropping to the seabed there were a mixture of boulders and sandy seabed. Depth was not much more than 7m but lots of like about. We found cuttlefish, dogfish, lots of pipefish fry and several big crabs and lobsters. Depth being shallow we didn’t need to change tanks – Kerrie managed four dives on just two 12Ls. All in all in one day we managed 21 dives between 10 divers which was pretty good going. We kept going on coffee and buns from the beach cafe.
Note for future trips here – the carpark is £5.00 all day and you need change. The National trust run the place and wont let you take vehicles onto the beach so if you want boat cover you’ve got to lug them down there by hand or launch elsewhere and come in from the sea.
Here is a brief set of information and dive plans for some of the shore based diving in the Lyme Bay, Weymouth and Jurssic Coast area.