East Cheshire and Richmond Sub Aqua Clubs joined forces over the weekend of 4 & 5th October to squeeze in some end of season diving down in Fort Bovisand, Plymouth.
Discovery Divers was our dive centre for the weekend with Danny and Dave being excellent hosts and skippers. After a grey and drizzly start we headed off on the centre’s boat and RIB the ‘Red Alert’ and the ‘Eclipse’, to our first dive sites as the sun began to peek through the clouds. For divers on the boat, first stop was the Scylla while for those on the RIB it was the James Egan Layne.
Launched in 1968, the HMS Scylla had an action packed career before being sunk as an artificial reef in 2004. Now under the control of the National Marine Aquarium the wreck in great condition but penetration is now off limits (which of course this was adhered to by all divers…..). A descent down the shot line brings you to the bridge of the ship at 15 meters, and then an additional 10 meter drop to the seabed. Sea life seen loitering around the wreck included pollock, baby conga eel, John Dory, dead man fingers and an abundance of jewel anemones.
The James Egan Layne, built in 1942 in New Orleans, was a liberty ship. Carrying engineering equipment from Wales to Belgium on her final journey, she was torpedoed off the coast of Plymouth in 1945. Now very broken up due to the storms of last year, the contents and structure are much more exposed, creating very atmospheric swim throughs of her eerie silhouette. Wrasse, pollock, and John Dory were spotted amongst her remaining cargo of pick axe heads, wheels and other engine bits (that’s the extent of my engineering knowledge).
Ascending back to the boat for a lunchtime hot pasty and a cup of tea was well received, and no one held back in rounding the meal off with homemade cookies and cake to get energised for the afternoon dives. The boat and rib swopped over their destinations from the morning dives meaning we all got to experience the beauty of the two very different wrecks.
The high points of the day kept coming with Mark from ECSAC having organised a visit to Plymouth’s RNLI station. Two volunteers gave up some of their Saturday night to give us tour firstly of the station and kit room, and then off to the marina for a nosey around their beautiful lifeboats. The All Weather Lifeboat is a very flash Severn class, maintained to tip top condition. Her top speed is 25 knots and she has self-righting capabilities (very handy if Neil is at the wheel). A final tour of their Inshore Lifeboat left both clubs slightly envious and vowing to talk to their treasurers about an upgrade. At the end of the tour we were pleased to do a whip round and everyone gave generously to contribute in supporting the fantastic work the RNLI do to provide a service that I hope we will never have to call on.
To round the evening off, the ECSAC and RSAC rabble were joined for dinner by students from Cardiff University’s diving club. Cheers to Kevin for organising the mass takeover of what became known fondly as ‘The Golden Cockroach’ Chinese restaurant in the Barbican area of Plymouth. Impressive commitment to the cause by all divers for managing to order so much food and booze that mass confusion ensued with the restaurant and kitchen staff. Well done us!
Leaving the restaurant, a couple of members of the group somehow managed to get lost on the 500 meter walk along a straight road back to the car park… We can only hope that their underwater navigation skills were better! Luckily, Henrik was finally located and whisked off by a waiting chariot (sorry to name names Henrik, but I thought I would give you further evidence / slander for your newsletter libel case against me!).
The final treat of the day was seeing the bright moonlight glistening magically over the sea. Some of the more hardcore of the group stayed up to honour an ancient mystical salute to the moon that oddly seemed to involve several cans of Stella…. You know who you are guys 😉
After a great night’s sleep for those in twin rooms, or another wide awake night of listening to blokes snoring for those in the bunkhouse, we were ready for day two of pasty and cake eating. Sorry, I mean ready for diving…. and both boats headed out at the crack of dawn (ish) to the Persier.
This was another majestic wreck but with an unfortunate and tragic story behind it. The Persier was hit by a torpedo at the bow, causing it to sink lifting the stern out of the water. Sparing the details of the grizzly end for about 60 people, the wreck is now home to an abundance of sea life around its magnificent boilers. The ‘fish soup’ included ling cod, a conger eel, pouting, pollock and wrasse.
We made our last dive of the day as the wind began to pick up and the sea started to get a bit choppy. Doing a very tactical entry to the water about 20 meters away from the buoy, being carried on the current by dipping below the surface, then picking up the line we reached the wall reef of Hill Sea Point. Making a gradual descent to 25m from the pinnacle and weaving through gullies, we were treated to sightings of dogfish and crayfish, with anemones and fan corals clinging to the rocks. Kevin spotted a cuttlefish and stalked it with his torch. Increasingly annoyed by the unwanted attention, the cuttlefish began to size up Kevin as his opponent. If the worst came to the worst, victory would only have been seized by one contender. My money would have been on the cuttlefish….
It was a sad goodbye as we de-kitted and said our goodbye to Danny and Dave. Huge thanks to Kevin and Cameron for organising such fantastic weekend and ensuring the weather gods were on our side! Hoping for a repeat visit next year and many more future trips with ECSAC!
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