Diving with In Deep Diving Centre aboard Panther
Skipper – Hugo Challis
Deck hands – Robin and Julian
Well how time flies. No sooner had we stopped talking about our 2022 trip than the 2023 run down to Plymouth had come around again. So once again, twelve members from the branch loaded up their cars and vans and headed South for what was hopefully to be a memorable weekends diving. I state hopefully as the weather forecast was not good to say the very least! But that wasn’t the first of our problems. The drive down proved to be quite an ordeal. Well it was for some of us. The lucky ones that set off very early had a relatively pleasant journey down whereas those that left after 9am ended up having to endure a drive in excess of nine hours! No fun at all but we kept our spirits up and the banter in my car helped to make the journey bearable.
On my way down, I was in contact with James with regards to our planned itinerary. James and I had already agreed it the week previous but as we all know, it’s always weather dependent. It looked like we were going to get constant Force 4 Northerly winds gusting Force 5 all weekend. Well it is what it is and we would make the most of things.
This year, we were staying in the Mountbatten Centre as our usual home from home, the Boringdon Arms had closed its accommodation for refurbishment. We arrived at the MBC at approximately 6.30pm. No time to even unpack as we had to be at the Clovelly Bay Inn for 7pm for dinner which as ever, proved to be a lovely meal.
After our meal and a few beers, we all made our way back to the MBC to start getting kit ready for the following morning. It was to be an 8am meet at the boat for a 9am ‘ropes off’. The early start was so that we could get the cylinders sorted and the skippers boat briefing sorted. Kit preparation was a little bit different for some of us this year (Garry, Ray and I) as this was our first trip using our JJ rebreathers. In fact, half of the group were diving on rebreathers this time. How times change!
The kit and everyone are aboard. Just listening to the boat briefing from Robin before ropes off for the start of what will hopefully be another great weekend.
Saturday 26th August 2023
Dive No.1, S.S. Maine.
Just like the previous year, the Maine was to be our first dive of the weekend. Conditions as expected were a little ‘lumpy’ but not that bad that we were never going to dive! Kitting up was fun. The Maine is a ‘must do’ dive whenever you get a chance to do it. Once again, it didn’t disappoint!
The shot was dropped just at the boilers and we made our way down the line into what was probably some of the best viz we had experienced in recent years. It was easily 15mtrs and possibly even better closer to the bow area.
Just to make certain that the shot line could be found comfortably, some of the group attached strobes to it. It could certainly be seen from a good distance away.
Once we had managed to orientate ourselves, we made our way around and through the wreck. It was a really lovely dive. Especially inside which is easy to both enter and exit at multiple points and is a sheer joy to swim through. We also made a point of making sure that we saw the ladder that has now become the must have picture for all those diving with a camera.
Once we were all back on board Panther, hot drinks and pasties were prepared by the crew for lunch. And just how good do those pasties taste after an hour of being under the water.
Saturday 26th August 2023
Dive No. 2, S.S. Persier
Everybody was buzzing after such a cracking first dive and obviously looking forward to the next one. We made a change of plan earlier in the day due to the impending weather conditions and decided to do the Persier as our second dive. She is a wreck from the second world war having been torpedoed in 1945. This wreck is diveable at all states of the tide as well so is visited quite a lot. This was obviously the case on this particular day as a few boats were seen leaving the site as we approached it. The shot was deployed and it was soon time to kit up and get in.
We descended the shot line into what was disappointing viz when compared to the mornings dive. It was probably down to around six metres. As usual, we clipped our strobes on to the line, got our bearings and set off. The stern area of the wreck is well worth a visit as there’s lots to see including steering gear and rudder. We spent the majority of our dive on the aft section of the wreck as it is much the more interesting part of it. Deco obligations were building up for some so we headed back towards the shot line. This is when you appreciate the strobes being clipped on to it as it makes the line so much easier to find. We unclipped them on our way up and duly carried out all our deco requirements. We headed back for the MBC after a great days diving and all looking forward to a nice meal and a few beers. We usually only head over to the Barbican once per trip but the fact that we were staying at the MBC meant that we were very near the water taxi stop so took the opportunity to head over there to eat and take in the Saturday night atmosphere. We were booked into the Three Crowns for our meal. Disappointingly, we were told that the garden area was closed for dining. But the staff in there were brilliant and soon sorted out tables for twelve people all seated together. The food was once again very nice and the atmosphere was upbeat with everyone discussing the days diving and what we could look forward to for the next day.
The arrangements for Sunday had to be changed due to the weather forecast worsening, The original plan was to head out into Bigbury Bay once again but Whitsand Bay was forecast to have the better or should I say the less worse conditions so we just brought Mondays plan forward.
Sunday 27th August 2023
Dive No.3, S.S. Rosehill
It was an 8.30am start on the Sunday as no briefing was needed. We had a slightly more leisurely breakfast in the MBC and the beauty of staying here is that the moorings are right outside.
The forecasted winds were blowing as expected and we knew it would get ‘interesting’ once we got out into open water. But once we rounded Rame Head, it wasn’t too bad at all and we knew that we were going diving.
We had a little distraction on the way out though. Our wreck finder Ray had researched some more marks and Hugo had agreed that we had plenty of time to go and take a look at them. We checked the first of the two marks out on the way to the Rosehill. The idea was that if it looked worth it, we would send a diver in to go and take a look just as we had done the previous year. The echo sounder showed a distinctly diveable mark so the shot was deployed and Ray kitted up to go and take a look. He entered the water with us all hoping that he was going to find a new wreck. After twenty minutes he returned to deliver the bad news. The mark turned out to be a large rock pile. Sighs all around!
So on to the Rosehill it was to be. Not a bad back up dive when all is said and done.
There was already a boat on the wreck with a shot in place but their skipper assured us that his divers should all be on the line by now. So the skippers agreed a plan which was for Panther to move off some way and to gently lower our shot over the side in a very controlled manner. This was done very expertly in my opinion. I was to be the first one down out line and tasked with ensuring that our grapnel was secure in the wreck then to release an indicator to inform them that all was good. I completed this then ascended a few metres to attach my strobe which I did. Strobes are a good idea on this site as the viz is not particularly brilliant when compared to other areas. This is probably due to it being an old dumping ground. I then swam off a short distance and turned around to get my bearings while waiting for my buddies to join me. Imagine my surprise when I saw two strangers making their way up our shot line.
Once we were all together, we headed for the stern where there is still a gun to be seen as well as the engine, gearbox closer to the boilers. Its an easy enough job to follow the prop shaft to the stern. Making our way back to midships, we had more than enough time to go to the bow to take in the anchors. They are well worth seeing as they are massive. I was surprised how quickly we reached the bow as it usually seems to be a long swim out over deck plating.
We now turned back and headed for the boilers and the shot line. Well when we reached the boilers, there was no shot line to be found. There was probably at least eight divers swimming round in circles looking for it. So it was to be a DSMB deployment and ascent. Not an issue.
Once back on Panther, we learned that the other boat had recovered our shot line with our strobes still attached! I’ve still got no idea how that happened!
It turned out that our strobes got back to the MBC before us lol.
Sunday 27th August 2023
Dive No.4, Ray’s Wreck / Terry’s Tip
The intended second dive of the day was the mark that Ray had found the previous year. Unfortunately despite finding it, he never got to dive it in 2022.
There was a little buzz of anticipation on the boat as almost everyone likes to have a little mooch around. This site gets very silted up very quickly due to the nature of the dive. We all clipped our strobes on to the line on the way down but these actually proved quite difficult to find by the end of the dive due to the vastly reduced visibility. But no-one seemed to care and they were all having what appeared to be a great time. Some of us found the shot line and others deployed their DSMB’S.
There was plenty of chatter aboard the boat as our divers discussed their dive and what they had seen on it. The Congers on this site are massive and you can get up close to them. I think everyone was happy with how the day went and looking forward to enjoying a beer or two and enjoying dinner which was to be at a restaurant that we frequent every time we go to Plymouth which was Lacky’s Balti House.
But before dining, we had a bit of a sweat on to find a pub that had Sky Sports as Liverpool were playing Newcastle that afternoon and we had a fair few Reds in our group.
I had done some checking prior to heading down to Plymouth to find a pub close to where we were staying and thought I’d sorted it. Well it turned out that said pub had cancelled their Sky subscription. I did have a list of alternatives but unfortunately didn’t get to see the game myself. Thankfully some of the others did and were treated to a fantastic Liverpool comeback thanks to Darwin Nunez.
Just had to get that one in!
Monday 28th August 2023
Dive No.5, Fairylands Wall
We were back heading out towards Bigbury Bay for the last day of diving. We elected on doing a reef dive first so that we could get onto our last dive for slack water later. Fairylands is basically a wall dropping down to maybe twenty metres at most. It is full of nooks and crannies where you can find Lobster, Crayfish and various fish. It’s one of those dives where you can be rewarded if you are prepared to look closely. We ventured along the reef with it on our right hand shoulder. Visibility was amazingly good. Easily twenty metres! Especially at the area where the bottom was clear of any rock and weed and it was just bright golden sand which reflected the available light.
We kept a close eye on our bottom time on this dive as we were aware that we would be doing our deepest dive for our final dive of the weekend. Rather than staying down too long, we limited our dive time to forty five minutes. As a group, we all headed back for the shot line where we made our ascent.
Once we were all on board, Hugo took Panther into a fairly sheltered bay so that we could at least have our lunch and cuppa in relative calm water.
With lunch over, we headed back out but not to our intended final dive as Ray had another mark that he wanted to check out. Hugo eventually found the mark on the echo sounder and deployed the shot. Again, Ray kitted up and descended the shot line and we waited. He was under water a lot longer this time and we all thought that our last dive might be changed at the last minute. Ray eventually surfaced to report that the area contained some metal but it was not worth diving. This mark was thirty nine meters deep so that meant Ray missed out on our final dive of the weekend which was to be the wreck of the Marie. But he had dived it a few days earlier so was content to have missed out in order to do some exploration.
Monday 28th August 2023
Dive No.6, S.S. Marie
Well it was the final dive of our weekend and to be the deepest at forty metres, the new Sports Diver recreational depth which had recently been changed by the BSAC. One of our group was using it as his qualifying dive.
Hugo easily found the mark and sent the shot in. we all kitted up in good spirits as this is the newest mark within recreational limits in the Plymouth area. It had only been identified earlier this year by a team from In Deep.
We sent all the rebreather divers in first with the open circuit divers following ten minutes or so later.
Steve McElroy and I were the first divers down the line again. The viz was awesome! Fifteen to twenty metres! I quickly set the grapnel in place and we tied our strobes to the line. We now had a few minutes to have a quick look around before our OC buddies joined us. Once the did, we set off in different directions. Kat and I headed for the bow and we found the Admiralty anchors that we were looking for. Two main anchors and what I presume was the spare. We bumped into just about the entire group while on this dive. You could easily see divers in the distance. We headed back towards the stern and although this wreck is badly corroded and disappearing into the sea bed, it proved to still be an amazing dive. At depths over forty metres, deco starts to rack up pretty quickly. So with our agreed bottom time looming, we headed back to the shot line where we met Steve and Gail. We collected our strobes as per usual and made our ascent. The line was becoming very busy the shallower we got so I came off it and deployed my DSMB. My buddy Kat saw me do this and left the line to come and join me. I noticed that Steve and Gail did the same.
So, that was the end of the diving for this weekend and what a fantastic dive to end it on. It could not have gone better in all honesty!
All that was left for us to do was pack all of our kit and get it all off the boat once we had arrived back at the MBC then get ready for our final night out which was to be over on the Barbican once again. Just as we did last year, we booked the group into the Fisherman’s Arms for our final meal. The food here is just amazing and the beer isn’t all that bad either! We all caught the water taxi over and were made more than welcome by the staff at the Fisherman’s. If you read this and are ever down Plymouth way then you should make a point of booking in here. You will not regret it!
The atmosphere at the table was a really vibrant one. Firstly, the diving had gone well despite all of our reservations regarding the forecasted weather! The choice of where to dine each evening had worked well.
The only downside was not being able to finish the weekend off in the Minerva which is the oldest pub in Plymouth as it was closed apparently. Ah well, there’s always next year!
I would like to thank all of the group members for allowing me to use their pictures from the weekend and also for a really brilliant weekend.
The group members for this trip were as follows.
Garry Bolland, Ray (The Baron) Cramer, Michele (Kat) Woodward, Alan (The Major) Jones, James Brandon, Steve & Gail McElroy, Andy Rath, Peter Beaver, Andy Parsons, Jeff Jones and myself.