So August Bank Holiday came around again and that meant that a group of twelve divers from the branch were going to make their way down to Plymouth for three days diving with In Deep in the capable hands of our skipper James Balouza and decky Sam.
The weather forecast was looking good for the weekend which was a bonus.
We all assembled at our accommodation which was the Boringdon Arms as usual. We received our usual warm welcome from the owners Greg and Sue and their ‘go to’ assistant Jordan. It’s a great base and nothing is too much trouble for the Borry team.
We were dining at the Boringdon on the Friday night so there was no real need to go rushing about and a nice convivial atmosphere ensued.
Some of us did go for a walk though as I needed to speak with Claire, the manageress of the Royal Oak. So not to be rude, we did partake of a beer or two while we were there.
We then ambled back to the Boringdon for showers and a change before our meal.
After all the travelling, just about everyone retired fairly early so as to be nice and fresh for Saturday morning.
After a great breakfast, we all made our way to the Mountbatten Centre for an 8am meet up with our skipper. I had already chatted with James about what dives we would be doing as there was a very important football match kicking off at 5.30pm and quite a few of us wanted to be back in time to catch it. That sounds easier than it was as I wasn’t aware of any of the local pubs on our side of bay that were showing live football. But weeks earlier, Claire from the Royal Oak helped us out and booked tables for us in the Three Crowns over on the Barbican. But more of that later as there was a days diving ahead of us before that.
So ‘ropes off’ was at 9am and we headed off in the direction of Whitsand bay and our first dive which was to be the Rosehill. The Rosehill was a 2700 ton armed merchant ship that was torpedoed by U40 in September 1917. She lies about two miles out from Portwrinkle.
As usual, James shotted the wreck on the boilers as he usually does. Our group made their way down the shot line into what can only be described as poor viz for Plymouth. Three to four metres at best I reckoned. Garry and I had already decided to take our strobes and clipped them to the line so as to aid everyone’s return. We made our way to the stern as the last time we dived the wreck, some of us missed the stern gun. Well we made sure that we didn’t miss it this time despite the bad viz! The ambient light levels were good though so that made the dive more enjoyable. We also took in the propellor and rudder that now lies flat on the sand. From here, we made our way back towards the boilers. If you look closely, you can still see lots of engine parts amongst all the wreckage. Swimming past the boilers, we started to make our way towards what used to be the bow. This entails a lot of swimming over lots of sections of plate. There are plenty of Pink Sea Fans growing here and myriads of fish. Mainly Bib. But the most awesome sighting was three or four large Bass actively hunting their prey. It’s not something divers see that often. The Bass appeared to be actually using the light from our torches to hunt by. They were swimming within a metre of us and when we directed our torches at them, they were just like glistening bars of silver.
We weren’t far short of the bows and the two large anchors but decided to turn back as our deco had kicked in by now and the requirements were starting to build up. The Bass followed us all the way back.
We reached the shot line and started our ascent. Garry and I collected our strobes on the way up. We all (Garry, Steve, Kat & I) left the bottom with about ten minutes deco to do. We all completed our schedule before finishing our ascent.
Despite the conditions, we all agreed that it was a very enjoyable dive.
James pointed Seeker in the general direction of our second dive once we were all aboard which was to be the James Eagan Layne but only chugged along slowly so that we could get sufficient surface interval completed. This went well as Sam served up tea, coffee and hot sausage rolls which were very welcome indeed.
Surface interval over, we all kitted up and prepared to dive the James Eagan Layne, a liberty ship of 7000 tons that was torpedoed in March 1945 by U1195. She stayed afloat for about eight hours before finally sinking in Whitsand Bay.
This wreck has the reputation of being the most dived wreck in the UK. Well it’s showing it’s age a bit but despite that, you can understand why it has the reputation it has. It’s a truly stunning wreck! We dropped down the shot line to the bows and then through the superstructure into the forward hold. From here, you can swim the entire length of what is left of the wreck. Her stern broke off a few years ago in a storm.
The visibility was not much better than on the Rosehill but the fact that we were inside it made the dive so much better as there was plenty of ambient light flooding through all the openings in the sides.
We covered the entire length of the wreck from stem to stern. Unlike our last dive on it, we didn’t spend too much time at the stern and therefore had enough gas and time to go all the way back to the bow. We exited the bow and made our way back up the permanent shot line.
Personally, it was one of the best dives I’ve had on it!
So the first days diving was done and dusted and we made our way back to the Mountbatten landing stage in plenty of time to get back to the Borry, have a shower and a quick pint before heading over to the Barbican and the Three Crowns for the Liverpool v Chelsea game. Well thanks to Claire at the Royal Oak, we had a great location to watch the game and get dinner. I’ve got to mention the Surf & Turf that most people had. It came out on what looked like sharing platters. Needless to say, there were no complaints! The beer wasn’t bad either!
After drinking up, we made our way back to pick the water taxi up. Garry and I couldn’t catch the first one as it was full so we let Steve and Kat head back first. We only had twenty or thirty minutes to wait but that time flew by as we were treated to a comical show by some clown in a small boat with an oversized engine on it. He was messing about making the boat point up at about 45 degrees when he gunned the engine a bit. What he failed to remember was to keep the engine reviving when making a sharp turn. Well he paid the price! He rolled it over and the crowds watching were treated to the sight of a boat slowly sinking into the dock. Another boat came to his rescue and even though his had sunk, they managed to grab a trailing rope and tow it back to a little beach not far away.
Eventually everyone met up at the Boringdon and we all recounted tales of what we had seen during our first days diving and discussed the next days dives. All over a couple of shandy’s of course!
Sundays dives were to be the wrecks of the Persier and the Maine. So two potentially good dives to look forward to.
We woke to yet more settled weather with the sun shining and a reasonably blue sky. What more could we ask for?
Ropes off was a little later but we were all aboard quite handy so James pointed Seeker in the direction of Bigbury Bay and the first of the days dives, the Persier. This wreck is a WW2 casualty after taking a torpedo on her port side in February 1945. Everyone was hoping for better viz than we had on Saturday. James shotted the wreck in his usual efficient manner and as we were all kitting up fifteen minutes beforehand, most of us were ready to go. Marc and Adey were the first two down the line and then the remaining pairs followed. Again, Garry and I attached our strobes to the shot line to try and make the return easier for us. The viz was no better than the previous day but still sufficient at about four to five metres to not spoil the dive.
We covered the entire wreck. The highlight being the stern with the rudder post standing proud and the steering gear still in place. We eventually made our way back to the shot line and saw the benefits of using our strobes as the line would have been a lot harder to find without them! Everyone was more than happy with the first dive of the day but everyone’s favourite was still to come!
Once the shot was retrieved, we made our way towards Salcombe and the wreck of the Maine. On the way, we had tea and hot sausage rolls served up by Sam for our lunch. They were really very tasty!
The Maine is a WW1 casualty after having taken a torpedo on her port side just like the Persier in March 1917. It’s such an iconic wreck! Once inside it, the ambient light coming through all the open space makes it a brilliant dive. Especially in good viz!
James put the shot in at the stern. We made our way down the line, clipping our strobes on as we went. We dropped below the upper deck level and swam into the wreck. We slowly made our way though it, passing though holds, skirting round the boilers. It’s an awesome dive! And on the return, we stopped at the now famous ladder that which has been the subject of many a photograph. Once back at the stern, we dropped towards the sea bed where sections of the steering mechanism can still be seen. Looking up from here, our strobes could be seen flashing away indicating where the shot line was. We all made our ascent and had about ten minutes deco to complete before surfacing. Once all the divers were back on board, we made our way for the Mountbatten centre. You could tell from the buzz on board that everyone had had an excellent couple of days and were really happy. And we had a Bar-B-Q to look forward to that evening at the Royal Oak.
Once we were all showered and changed, we strolled down to the Oak in glorious sunshine. We couldn’t have wished for better weather!
Our tables were booked for 7pm but we deliberately arrived a little earlier so we could enjoy the atmosphere and one or two lemonades of course.
Well I can honestly say that the food did not disappoint. The chef did himself proud with some lovely dishes ranging from steak, sword fish through to burgers. We all had a lovely meal. The only downside was that the pub had been drunk dry! I’m not suggesting in any way that members of Branch 5 were responsible for this lol.
Well with no beer left in the barrels, we made our way back to the Boringdon for a last drink or two. Everyone was in good spirits after a great days diving followed by a lovely barby.
As is usual, we discussed the days dives and the dives still to come.
We had agreed to a scenic dive at Hilsea Point to start and follow it up with a dive on the Oregon.
Ropes off on the Monday was at 10am but as everyone was aboard early yet again, we cast off and headed for Hilsea Point. It was a bit choppy on the way out but not really too uncomfortable. It was mainly just spray so everyone edged that little bit closer to the wheelhouse. Once we had reached our destination though, conditions had eased and it was a comfortable process of kitting up. James dropped the shot bang in the gully which was to be the start of our dive. His instructions were to head North once we were in the gully and then turn right after exiting it and swim around the pinnacle. Adey & Marc were the first, followed by my group, Andy & Kerry then Ray & James.
We dropped down the line which ran over the edge of the gully and there below us on a clear bed of sand was the shot. We all checked our direction and headed North as instructed. The gully was a brilliant start to the dive. It was about 25mtrs deep at the start of the dive and three or four metres wide but eventually narrowed down to about one metre wide as it shallowed up to about 12mtrs. The sidemount divers actually reported having to swim side on in order to get through! We turned right as instructed and keeping the wall on our right hand side, followed the amazing rocky contours. This was turning out to be an excellent dive, made so much more enjoyable as we had the best viz of the weekend. There was plenty of life to be seen. Definitely some of the biggest Urchins we have ever seen! Lots of different species of fish especially Sand Eels in their thousands. Crayfish were abundant on parts of the dive although my group actually only saw one. We did see some Dogfish (Cat Shark?) as well. One in particular being about 1.25mtrs long we reckon.
I spotted this one just as the current was starting to pick up so now we went on a nice little drift dive. What a great way to end a very enjoyable dive. We sent our DSMB’s up and made a nice slow ascent up to 5mtrs where we completed any decompression requirements as well as a safety stop.
Back on the boat, everyone was enthusing about the dive. One regular actually asked me ‘why the hell haven’t we dived that before?’ I couldn’t give them an answer except to say that we would have to do it again at some point. It was an excellent dive!
Thankfully the sea had flattened a fair bit so it was tea and pasties all round during our surface interval. And did they go down well? Especially for the ones who went back for a second sitting lol. Mentioning no names of course Garry.
We now made our way to the site of our final dive of the weekend. It was to be on the wreck of the Oregon. This is an old wreck. She went down in a storm in 1890. James dropped the shot in on the stern as he explained that there was a large net at the bow which divers might not like to venture too close to. We followed the same format as for all the other dives with four of us going in together. Dropping down the line, Garry and I clipped our strobes into place once again. The wreck was teeming with life. Large shoals of juvenile fish plus a healthy population of Congers and Lobsters. The wreck is well broken up as you would expect for a ship that had been underwater for over one hundred and thirty years! But this just added to the dive in our opinions. We slowly followed the contours of the wreck, eventually arriving at the bow and the large net that had been caught up at the bow and looked more like a mast from distance as it stood vertical due to the many floats that were still attached to it. After having a good look around here, we agreed to make our way back to the shot line. Everywhere we looked, there were Congers and Lobsters to be seen. The wreck was alive! The viz on this wreck was certainly the best that we had had experienced on any of the wrecks this weekend and after a while, we could see our two strobes flashing away in the distance. We made our way over to the line, agreed to ascend and recovered our strobes on the way back up. We had all gone into deco on this dive as it was our second of the day and also the deepest (just) of the weekend. We completed all of our required stops before surfacing.
With everyone back on board, Seeker headed back to the Mountbatten Centre. We all stripped our kit down on the way so that we could unload the boat quickly as some of our group were heading for home immediately after we docked.
The remaining eight though were staying over for the extra night and going out for a meal and a few beers after getting scrubbed up.
We said our good byes to Andy, Kerry, Steve & James and headed back for our digs. The sun was shining so we all sat out front at the Boringdon and had a couple of drinks before heading off for our meal. And why not!
Our restaurant for our last night was Lackys Balti House. I’ve got to extend a big thanks to the owners as usually they are closed on a Monday night but agreed to open up especially for us when I called to book a few weeks earlier. It’s not a licensed restaurant which we knew so all took our own beer and wine with us. Lackys did us proud. The food was delicious and we all had a fantastic evening discussing the weekend, the diving, the football, the weather and just about everything else. We all agreed that it had been a brilliant trip. Possibly the best we’ve had in my opinion.
After leaving the restaurant, we all strolled back to the Boringdon for a few more drinks before heading for bed. We had lots of laughs and maybe a few drinks too many but everyone was sensible as we knew that we had a long drive ahead of us the following morning.
We all ate a good breakfast the next morning before saying our good byes to Greg and Sue and of course to each other.
All that was left was to make our way home after a brilliant weekend. Roll on next year.
A big thanks must go to all the following people for making the trip go so well.
The gang at In Deep and particularly James and Sam.
Also the staff of The Boringdon Arms. Greg, Sue and Jordan.
Claire from The Royal Oak.
Our team for the weekend. Garry Bolland, Michele Woodward, Adey McGuigan, Marc Holroyd, Ray Cramer, Steve McElroy, Nigel Thomas, Alan Jones, James Brandon, Andy Rath, Kerry Place.
Terry Maloney (trip organiser).