Diving with In Deep Diving Centre aboard Seeker
Skipper – James Balouza
Deck hands – Robin & Liz
Another August Bank Holiday came round and once again, members of the branch loaded up their cars with dive kit and headed down to Devon for three days diving with In Deep. Unfortunately we numbered eleven for this trip as the twelfth man had to cancel at the very last minute. Sadly it was too late to replace him so as with all trips, he lost his money.
Our intended destination was as usual, the Boringdon Arms in the Turnchapel area of Plymouth. We all travelled down more in hope of diving all weekend as the weather forecast for the Sunday and Monday was for strong Easterly winds of Force 5 gusting to Force 6. Not ideal diving conditions!
With the forecasted conditions in mind, James, our skipper for the weekend and I chatted on the Thursday to formulate a plan. I suggested that we head east towards Salcombe on the first day and dive the wrecks of the Maine and the Persier on our way back. And for the Sunday, we could then head for Whitsand Bay in the hope of getting some shelter off Rame Head. We could dive the Rosehill and follow that up with either the Scylla or James Eagan Layne. Also thrown into the mix for Sunday were two marks that our wreck finder extraordinaire Ray Cramer had come up with. James agreed that we could check the marks out as we travelled between the known wreck locations. He said that it was a good call and we should go with it but thought that we shouldn’t plan for the Monday as it was too early to make a call. We both agreed and the plan was good to go.
The drive down to Devon wasn’t too bad and most of us had arrived by about 4.00pm. There were a few stragglers as people didn’t finish work till late. So it was more like a retiree’s convention that afternoon ha ha.
We were allocated our rooms and set about settling in before heading back down to the bar for a beer or two before going out later for our first evening meal.
We were booked into the Clovelly Bay which has an excellent reputation as a gastro pub. The added benefit was that it was only fifty metres from the Boringdon Arms.
Eight of us dined in the Clovelly and as ever, the food was excellent! The portions as ever, on the large side! I think everyone was taking it easy on the beer that night as it was an early start on the Saturday due to the tide times and the distance involved. We were scheduled to meet at the Mountbatten pontoon for approximately 7.00am with ‘ropes off’ at 7.45am. After the meal, we ambled back to the Boringdon for a quiet drink before retiring at an appropriate time. Steve and Gail had arrived just as we got back to our accommodation so we all sat out in the beer garden and had a couple of drinks. You have to be sociable after all! Most of the gang had retired to their rooms by 11pm due to the early start the following morning.
Saturday 27th August 2022
Dive No.1, S.S. Maine
So Saturday morning dawned and it was a lovely sunny day with just a hint of a gentle breeze. No hint of what had been forecast for the following day whatsoever thankfully. We headed off towards Salcombe and there was clearly high spirits amongst the gang. The Maine which is a first world war casualty of approximately 3600 tons that was lost when it was torpedoed by UC-17 in March 1917, is possibly the best dive within recreational limits in the Plymouth area. Once on site, James expertly dropped the shot in right on the stern of the wreck. Time to get suited and booted then and go diving. Most of us were in the water by 9.35am and the dive was on. The shot as promised was bang on the stern. We dropped towards the sea bed then into the wreck and slowly made our way forward through the rear holds towards the mid section of the wreck where the central engine room, fuel tanks and bridge would have been. This particular area is possibly the best part of the wreck and where the iconic vertical ladders can be seen.
I think that there may only be the one on the starboard side left now. Once you exit this section of the wreck, you come to the forward holds and what is left of the bow. I tend not to go all the way to the bow but turn at hold one and make a return to the shot line at the stern. We made our way initially down the port side but cut across the wreck behind the boilers just to be able to enter the fuel tanks and take a last look at the ladder. It’s a fantastic atmosphere in this area of the wreck because you can still feel that you are in an overhead environment but there is a comfortable exit both in front and behind you.
Keeping an eye on time, gas and deco we started making our way back to the shot line. The visibility was excellent on the wreck. It was possibly close to ten meters so finding the shot line shouldn’t be too difficult and so it proved. It was just on the stern port side. Our group of four divers started their ascent. Garry, Kerry and Kat went up the line but I moved slightly off it as I wanted to test out the crack bottle on my DSMB as I had just repaired the valve and needed to check that all was well. There was the slightest of current and it only took the odd fin stroke to remain a couple of feet away from the group. With all of our decompression obligations completed, we surfaced and made an orderly queue on Seekers starboard side and waited our turn for the lift. So the first dive of the weekend was over and what a brilliant dive it had been. Perfect conditions and cracking viz. Bring on the Persier!
Saturday 27th August 2022
Dive No. 2, S.S. Persier
The Persier just like the Maine is another war wreck but this time from the second world war having been torpedoed in 1945 by UB-1017. She was a much larger ship than the Maine being approximately 5380 tons. Once on site, James dropped the shot in at the boilers (if memory serves me correctly). Possibly the best part of the wreck to dive is the stern section as the rudder and steering quadrant plus some chain can still be seen there. In fact, one half of the quadrant is sitting high above the wreck due to the wreck having collapsed sideways towards the seabed. Once down the shot line which was on the boilers, most of the group headed towards the stern as this is without doubt the better half of the wreck!
Making our way aft, there is plenty to see in the way of winding gear etc but the best part of the dive is seeing the steering quadrant looming above you and the rudder and post lying on the sea bed. You can actually swim underneath parts of the steering mechanism!
We could clearly see where the shot line was as a number of us had clipped our strobes to it and it was lit up like a Christmas tree! The Nautilus strobe is an awesome piece of kit and well worth including in your dive gear in my opinion!
We swam between the boilers now and headed for the bow. There is nowhere near as much to see on this side of the wreck but it’s still a great dive! I was hoping that we might just see a Monkfish here as they seem to be spotted here on a regular basis. Sadly, not on this dive!
With our decompression obligation building and our gas supply reducing, we turned around and made our way back to the shot line. Again, we could clearly see our strobes glinting away so made our way towards them. We started our ascent. I collected my strobe on the way up. We met some of the group on the shot line at the decompression stop depth so we all had a bit of a signing conversation with lots of smiles and laughs thrown into the mix.
After surfacing and de-kitting, we all enjoyed a drink and a nice hot pasty. What a cracking way to finish our first day off. Well the diving section of the day at least as we were all booked into the Royal Oak for a bar-b-q that evening.
We landed at Mountbatten pontoon, tidied our kit up and left the bulk of it on the boat, just taking things like masks, computers and torches back for washing and charging. We dropped all of our cylinders in for filling then headed back to the Boringdon Arms for a beer or two and a well deserved shower. We all then ambled down to the Royal Oak where the majority of us elected to have a Sirloin Steak burger. Others had Halloumi burger and Monkfish. So everyone was catered for. All this was enjoyed with a few beers. The weather was perfect that evening with lovely bright sunshine well into the evening. After our beers at the Royal Oak, we all strolled back to the Boringdon to partake of some of their delicious home-made desserts and a night cap or two of course! Some of the group retired early as they were knackered and the rest had a final drink or two before retiring. Shandy and water were high on the order list believe it or not! The general chat was obviously about the days diving and the diving still to come. All of this while keeping a close eye on the weather apps as we all knew that there was a strong easterly wind threatening to ruin the trip. That is diving I suppose!
Sunday 28th August 2022
Exploratory dive on an unknown mark.
Sunday dawned and it was a bright sunny day. The only issue is that we could feel the breeze stiffening. We couldn’t do anything about it except to hope that it wasn’t going to be too strong. We knew that we would get diving but the question was, where? Ropes off was a bit later today as obviously the later tide was taken into account plus the fact that our group were pretty slick getting their kit sorted.
There was a distinct buzz on board the boat on our way out to the dive sites as today was going to be our chance to investigate a couple of marks that our wreck finder extraordinaire Ray Cramer had found. We had previously lined up James our skipper about this and he was happy to take a look at them. The first mark was on the way out to the Rosehill. Ray supplied James with the Lat & Long co-ordinates and James went looking. It didn’t take him long to find the mark and a shot weight went over the side. We now needed someone to go and investigate what was lying at the bottom of the shot line. Steve McElroy was our volunteer. He prepped himself and took a marker down with him which he would release. It would then float to the surface to indicate that a wreck of some description had been found. Unfortunately, Steve never had the opportunity to release the marker as when he reported back to us after surfacing, all he found were a large pile of rocks. It still intrigues me how a pile of rocks can be found on the sea bed with nothing else around them. Just how did they get there?
Excitement started to build as James found something on the echo sounder. So we now knew that there was something on the sea bed. All we had to do now was to dive it and hopefully identify it.
Left. Our skipper James searching for the first of the marks given to him by Ray Cramer.
Right. Steve McElroy returning after an exploratory dive on the first mark that Ray Cramer had identified as a potential wreck site.
Sunday 28th August 2022
Dive No.3, S.S. Rosehill.
Oh well that was the excitement over for a short while. There was still one more mark to hopefully investigate later in the day though. James recovered the shot weight and we moved on to the Rosehill.
S.S. Rosehill was an armed merchant ship of approximately 2700 tons. She was torpedoed by U40 in September 1917. She is the only wreck in recreational depth around the Plymouth area that still has both her propeller and rudder in place. The bonus being that her stern gun is just a few metres away alongside the steering quadrant. A lot to see in a relatively small area!
This wreck has a reputation of being hard to find but yet again, James proved what a good skipper he is and put the shot right on the boilers (note to Hugo, no pressure for next year lol).
Everyone readied themselves and the pairs all entered the water a minute or two apart. The viz was ‘bitty’ but more than acceptable. The people who took strobes in clipped them onto the shot as we neared the boilers. We then descended further in order to identify where the bits of engine lay so that we could head to the stern first. Once we were oriented, we set off at a leisurely pace. We eventually picked up the prop shaft and although twisted a little, it led us to the stern. We all saw the prop, rudder and gun with a few pictures being taken in the process. Now it was time to head back to the boilers. But not to ascend! We were going to the bow as the anchors are still there to be seen and they are very impressive! Some chain and shackles are still in place as well so it is well worth making the effort to go and see them. You do pass over a lot of plating but it doesn’t take too long and the array of pink sea fans that you pass over help to make it an enjoyable swim. Once we had seen the anchor (I’m sure I’ve seen two in the past) it’s time to head back to the shot line. As in previous dives, there were a few Bass about and they looked to be actively hunting. Approaching the area of the boilers, we could see our strobes flashing away so it was an easy task to locate the shot line and start our ascent and collecting our strobes on the way up.
Sunday 28th August 2022
Exploratory dive on an unknown mark.
Conditions were just about perfect still despite the weather forecast promising differently so we made our way over to the area of Ray’s second mark and started the search for that. As expected, with the information that Ray supplied and James at the helm, a shape appeared on the echo sounder and it looked promising.
Well the buzz on the boat started all over again. Speculation as to what it could possibly be was causing a bit of a stir! James duly dropped the shot onto the mark and the it was down to find a volunteer to go and investigate what was down there. I waited for someone to offer and when nobody did, I said that I would do it. So I kitted up and gave the skipper a shout that I was ready. Just like Steve previously, I had a small float that I was to release if the mark proved to be worth making a dive on. So no pressure on me to make the call then!
Once I reached the bottom of the shot line it was obvious to see that it was a it was a man-made object. I clipped my strobe to the line then went to have a look around to try and make out what it was. There were loads of Conger eels about. Every possible nook and cranny had one in residence and the few that didn’t, had a lobster in. I swam around but there was no discernible wreckage to be seen. There was lots of debris though. I was aware that I couldn’t spend too long down there and even more aware that I had to make a decision. Do I send the float up or not? As it was obviously a man-made object, I released the float and made my way back to the shot line. I gathered my strobe and headed for the surface. When I actually did break the surface it felt as though I had a dozen pair of eyes all focused on me. As I stepped off the lift, I was asked what I thought. The first thing that came to mind was that it was ‘like the council tip’!
This didn’t go down too well and I think that I dampened everyone’s spirits lol. The bottom line was when I was asked if I would dive it again. The answer to that was an unequivocal yes!
Sunday 28th August 2022
Dive No.4, unknown mark
That was enough for everyone to agree to dive it. So we all readied ourselves. James and I made certain that I had had sufficient surface interval before going back in and Kat and I were the last pair to enter the water. As on the previous dives, I clipped my strobe to the shot line along with the others that were already there. Our pair then set off to explore the area which wasn’t massive. The area was approximately fifty five metres long by eight meters wide. It was small enough to cover easily in one dive. What lay on the bottom was a tangled mass of metal and cables etcetera with no discernible wreck to speak of.
A little bit of research later by Ray Cramer came up with a potential answer for that.
A barge, EWT 263 that was being towed by the tug Britannia from Santander to Rotterdam on 17th October 1971 broke in half off Lizard Point. The stern section was towed into Falmouth and the bow section was believed to have been washed up somewhere between Hemmick Beach and Dodman Point. That maybe would explain the debris field but no wreck. The cargo may have been tipped out as she broke in half.
All the same though, I had a feeling that everyone was enjoying their dive as I was getting plenty of okay signals from divers as we passed each other. The immediate area was quite silty so care had to be taken when moving around the wreckage so that the viz wasn’t destroyed. As being the last pair in, we ended up being the last pair out. This was mainly due to my decompression obligations.
When we eventually got back on board, the buzz told its own story! Everyone that did this dive agreed that they it had been a good call to do so. I was certainly relieved to hear that!
I didn’t fancy getting hung from the yard arm or even keel hauled lol!
So it was now time to head back to Mountbatten. As expected, it was a bit lumpy on the way back. It was particularly lumpy after we rounded Rame Head.
A small price to pay for what had turned out to be an excellent days diving!After all the necessary kit had been sorted, cylinders booked in etcetera, we all headed back to base at the Boringdon. It was a lovely afternoon so most of us decided to have a celebratory beer or two in the sunshine to toast the successful day that we had had. The mood was definitely very upbeat!
Having all showered and changed, we headed off to the restaurant that we were booked in to for our evening meal which was Lacky’s Balti House in Plymstock. We usually have our Indian meal on the last night but we found it necessary to change that so that we could fit in another new restaurant the fooling evening which would be our last night. It actually meant that Lacky’s didn’t have to open up especially for us on the Monday as they are generally closed.
Everyone was looking forward to their meal as besides being hungry, the food is delicious here. It’s definitely a firm favourite of ours! We all enjoyed a really nice couple of hours here. It was fantastic atmosphere, great food, a few beers or wines and lots of discussion about the day that we had just had. The bonus was that we now knew that the winds that had been forecast for Monday were due to ease slightly so we would be able to get our third days diving in after all. That certainly helped to make the atmosphere a good one!
After the meal, we headed up to the Victoria Inn as we had been told that there was live music on. Unfortunately there wasn’t! It was Karaoke night so everyone developed a frog in the throat and retired gracefully (read sheepishly).
We headed back for the Boringdon Arms as a few of the group fancied a dessert. We all strolled back and it was such a lovely evening that we decided to sit outside and have a chat about the days events, and the likelihood of what was to come for Monday. What can be better than sitting out on the terrace with your diving buddies and sharing a beer or two and enjoying the conversation? Life doesn’t get better in my opinion!
Gradually though, tiredness started to come to us all and we called it a night. Sensible really as we were fairly sure that it was going to be a rough ride the following day!
Monday 29th August 2022
Monday dawned and it was sunny yet again and there didn’t appear to be too much wind blowing although it can be deceiving in Turnchapel as it’s quite secluded and sheltered. We could only hope.
The weather apps showed that the winds had dropped slightly so it was looking promising.
We headed off to Mountbatten with more anticipation now than we previously had. James met us and confirmed that we would be diving and that we were going with the original plan which was to head for Whitsand Bay and dive both the James Eagan Layne and HMS Scylla. Conditions on the way out were better than we could have even hoped for. It was going to be a good day!
Monday 29th August 2022
Dive No.5, James Eagan Layne
What more can be said about this dive? It’s such an iconic wreck and I personally never tire of diving it!
James dropped the shot just aft of the bow in the forward hold. We couldn’t have asked for better!
We all dropped down the line a couple of minutes apart. I think that the majority of the pairs swam aft along the starboard side with the intention of returning up the port side of the wreck. This is not so much as a mooching dive but more an observation dive for me to see what you might recognise. There is lots of stuff that you don’t recognise but it’s nice to guess! If you time it correctly, you can comfortably swim the length of the wreck from bow to where the stern should have been and back within the limitations of the one hour for recreational dive. This is exactly what all the pairs did I think. We hadn’t put our strobes on the line as it was so bright so we just had to ascend the shot line and complete our decompression stops before surfacing to a nice sunny day.
Well the wind hadn’t reached the strength that was predicted thankfully so James informed me that a return to the debris field was possible.
I gave the group the option for the last dive of the weekend. We either dive HMS Scylla or what we believed to be what was left of EWT 263. The vote was almost one hundred per cent to go back to EWT 263! I’m sure that Ray was pleased that the group chose his mark over HMS Scylla. It made all his work seem worthwhile.
Monday 29th August 2022
Dive No.6, EWT 263 (possibly)
After a good surface interval, we readied ourselves for the last dive of the weekend. There was a definite buzz on the boat yet again! The shot had already been deployed so once the group were ready, James dropped our pairs in a couple of minutes apart as usual. It was great to see all the torch beams below us. It was more like a scene from a sci-fi film.
I clipped my strobe onto the shot line and we set off around the debris field to see what we could see. As per the previous dive, there were plenty of congers about. One was even swimming in the open water. Presumably miffed that a group of divers had interrupted its day!
Once again, this was a very enjoyable dive. Probably heightened by the anticipation of what you might see as much as anything. What there is a lot of on here is bottles of all shapes, colour and size. All the time I was wondering just how so many had got down there. Plus there is a mile or two of cable. I’m guessing the cargo on EWT 263 was destined for the rubbish dump.
All too soon, the timers on our computers were telling us that it was time to leave. This is definitely not a dive that you want to end! But needs must! So we headed back for the shot line. As usual, I collected my strobe on the way up. We neared our stop depth and met up with some of the others who were just finishing their deco.
Well that was another excellent dive and a great one to end the weekend on.
After de-kitting, we mostly all had a nice cuppa and a hot pasty. They always taste so good after a dive!
We headed back to Mountbatten now and were running into the wind so it got a little bumpy and quite wet. But that is all part of the fun of diving!
James had to moor Seeker further round at the yacht club. This made life a little easier getting all the kit off the boat but getting up to the cars was a chore (thanks Garry) as we were around low water now.
With all the cars loaded, quite a few of the crew were heading for home immediately as they all had places to be early on Tuesday. So we were now down to five of us. We showered and changed quite quickly and headed off to the Fishermans Arms in the Barbican for a final meal. And what a meal. The food is delicious here! Suffice to say that I think that we will be returning in 2023. We had a really lovely couple of hours here. It is a great pub with excellent food, a fine selection of beer.
We just had one more pub to visit before heading back. Poor Garry had to pass up on going as he was feeling quite some pain in his back. We watched him take the water taxi then set off to find the Inn. Unfortunately when we did find it, it didn’t have live music on as we had hoped. In fact it was quite empty. But we didn’t care! It was a real old style pub and one that I daresay we will visit again at some point. It’s called the Minerva Inn and is the oldest pub in Plymouth and dates back to the 1500’s. You can just feel the atmosphere in here. Paul who was the barman when we were there gave us a potted history of the Inn. He told us about the press gangs that used it as their base, showed us the window that they watched the clientele through so that they could pick who they wanted and explained that the wooden wall opposite the bar was made from planking taken from some of the ships of the Spanish Armada. We didn’t disbelieve him. He also told us of the three ghosts that the Inn has. When we first arrived, we were given indelible markers with our first drinks and told to sign the ceiling. There is hardly a space available but we eventually managed to find one or two. Kat wrote a little tribute to a departed friend.
All too soon though the time came to say good bye to the locals but promising to return as the last water taxi was scheduled to leave the Barbican at 10.15pm. We walked out of the pub but without any prompting, stopped and asked each other did we really want to leave. We all turned on our heels and went back. We just had to hope that we could get a taxi later as apparently they are hard to come by. Paul the barman sorted that out without a problem so we ordered another round and enjoyed the atmosphere, the company of the locals and the excellent music playing on the jukebox.
The Inn closed at 11.15pm and Paul waited with us until our taxi arrived. We got back to the Borringdon just in time to say goodnight to Greg the owner and to each other.
We all had a little lie in the following morning as there was no massive rush to set off home. But home we had to head for. So we said farewell to each other and set off for Liverpool and Wirral.
I think that I can honestly say that it was possibly our best trip. The excitement of Ray’s new marks helped enormously in my opinion! No pressure but more required for next year Ray ha ha. But there were many factors that made it turn into such a great trip. Not least, the gang but our skipper James and his crew. So thank you all.
Special thanks to James Balouza our skipper and the deck hands Robin and Liz for ensuring that the weekend went well.
Thank you to Garry, Kat, Ray and Adey for the pictures that were used in this report.