406 Exiles in Plymouth
Geoff Patch reports from the sunny south coast of England;
Further to the successful 406 Exiles reunion in early August, Mike Dalton and his lovely wife Zulfa joined myself and a few members from Loughton Sub Aqua Club (BSAC 365) for a weekend diving out of Plymouth at the end of the month. After a 5 ½ hour drive on the Friday, taking in the delights of the British motorway system (M25 / M4 / M5 / A38) we convened at the ‘Boringdon Arms’ public house / BnB in Turnchapel on the outskirts of Plymouth and close to the Mount Batten Watersports Centre (https://www.mount-batten-centre.com/), where Indeep Diving (www.Indeep.co.uk ) are based.
The weekend was to consist of two boat dives on Saturday and Sunday respectively with a mix of OC and CCR divers onboard. Water temperature would be ~16 C, so dry suits or thick semi-dry wet suits would be needed. The intended sites for Saturday were the Persier and HMT Elk. Unfortunately, the sea gods had other ideas resulting in a very lumpy sea and the decision to dive within the breakwater where the waves were a little more forgiving.
The first site was the Poulmic, a French ship sunk by an acoustic mine in 1940. The wreck sits in ~18m of water (low tide). Visibility was reasonable at 5-6m but a heavy surge was present adding to the existing nausea caused by the lumpy sea. I was diving with Nick, both of us on a rebreather, but with little to see other than the largely broken up wreck and a few Pollack we decided to end the dive after 36minutes. The second dive was to be on a sheltered reef in ~8m of water, which I decided to give a miss and save my scrubber lime for the next day.
Fortunately, Sunday brought much fairer weather, and with ‘ropes off’ at 10.00 we headed out of Plymouth on ‘Panther’ towards HMS Scylla, a Leander class frigate deliberately sunk as an artificial reef in 2004. Nick and I descended the shot line tied to the starboard rail, headed aft and dropped to the seabed beneath the stern where large shoals of fish could be seen in the 6-8m vis, along with some very large crabs. The ship had been adequately prepared before the sinking, with several access points cut into the hull and it was not long before Nick and I were having a good rummage around the engine room. Meanwhile, Mike (diving with Tania from 365) was enjoying a guided tour of the wreck, which sits upright in ~27m of water. After an hour of exploring the various decks and corridors (and avoiding some large conger eels!) we headed back to the surface and a welcoming brew accompanied by a pasty.
The second dive of the day was on the James Eagan Layne, a Liberty ship built in 1944 and hit by a torpedo in 1945. The JEL sits in ~18m of water with bow pointing north towards shore, as the Captain was trying to beach her before she sunk. Much of the hull plating has deteriorated leaving the ribs of the ship standing proud and presenting a wonderful lattice for light to enter the hold areas. The wreck is home to many varieties of fish, conger eels and some very large blue lobsters!
So that was our weekend done and all that was left was to pack our gear and enjoy the drive home! Apart from some inclement weather, everyone had an enjoyable weekend diving some of the many wrecks that line the UK south coast, an area well worth a visit.
Ian Hussey and Dive Club writers.