Diving - The adventure continues!

2023 Diving - Plymouth and further UK diving

Next up was our (nearly) annual trip to Plymouth.

The 2022 trip was cancelled due to bad weather, but the conditions were looking OK for 2023, with the possibility that winds of Sunday may restrict where we dived.

I set off early afternoon on Friday and had a relatively easy drive down compared with some years - The A303 is still a terrible road, with miles of single carriageway, unfit for the volume of traffic that travels along it to the West Country.

At one point the Waze navigation app took me off along minor roads for around half an hour,but having ignored it on a recent trip to Southampton, I took its advice and, at least, kept moving.

I had hoped to stay at the excellent Barbican Reach Guesthouse, very close to the Barbican, but they had no availability for the Saturday night and I didn't want to have to move accommodation, so ended up booking a self-contained apartment in the north of Plymouth.

It was a good 40 minute walk to the Barbican (it's well served by buses, too, if you don't fancy a long walk), but the weather was good on the Friday so I walked both ways, the host, Lee, a very helpful fellow and the accommodation perfect for me staying a couple of nights. Not least of it, it had free off road parking and an area outside to dry damp clothes. I was very happy with my choice, which you can find details of here.

Dawn and Julian had arrived by the time I was settled in, but everyone else was en-route, so I met the two of them for fish and chips in the Barbican and then a quick beer, before making my way back to my accomodation.

I was up and away in time to get to the Mount Batten harbour in time for the 8AM meet, taking care to set the speed limiter in my car to 30MPH, after getting TWO speeding tickets in Plymouth on my last visit!

A few of the others were unloading when I arrived and I unpacked and parked my car in the free car park across the road.

Caroline had asked if anyone wanted to dive ADP and I had arranged to dive with her on that basis, so I had my 7L stage as well as my twin set and I also bought along another cylinder to top off my twins each day after the dive.

The weather was bright and the sea quite calm as we headed out for the first dive, the Persier.

Good weather on the Saturday

I had dived this a couple of times before and knew it to be a good sized wreck with plenty of interest, so a longish dive would be good, as long as the visibility was decent.

The skipper had put the shot on the boilers of the Persier and the vis was good, in the 6-7M range, I would estimate.

Therefore, it was pretty easy to navigate around the wreck.

We headed forward from the boilers initially passing over both holds and reaching the bow.

Conger on the Persier

Cuckoo Wrasse

We then turned around and headed back over the boilers and past the engine, finally reaching the stern and the gun mount and rudder before launching the DSMB after about 35 minutes on the wreck and ascending to complete our deco stops.

Hull plates

Winches on the deck

There were lots of Congers, crabs and lobsters, as well as the usual types of fish seen on wrecks, Pollock, Bib and lots of Wrasse.

Cuckoo Wrasse at the rudder

Gun plinth on the stern was our end point.

It had been a good dive, rewarding a bit of deco time for a total dive of 51 minutes.

Pete, the skipper, always serves hot pasties (and I always forget he does and bring lunch!) after the first dive, so that went down well with a cup of tea as we made our way to the site of the second dive of the day.

The afternoon dive was on the James Eagan Lane, the famous 'Liberty Ship' that has long been a staple of UK diving, although, being a WW2 wreck, it is falling into increasing ruin as time and the weather take their toll.

Initially, Caroline and I discussed trying to reach the stern (which lies a little way off the rest of the wreck) and return, but in the end settled for a more leisurely dive, just meandering around it.

We dropped down close to the bow, which I understand has now partially collapsed.

Cargo or machinery, it's hard to know!

Vis was again really good and we just explored around the site, not making any particular attempt to reach any particular point.

I saw a lot of features of the JEL that I'd never seen before, including a tunnel which I swam through. It was a little tighter at the end than I expected and, with Caroline out of site, I was momentarily worried that I'd have to work my way backwards down it to get out! Fortunately, I managed to wriggle out after a few moments and made a mental note not to enter any other tunnels without, at least, making sure my buddy had seen me go in!

Some machinery, not a boiler.

With a recommended dive time of 45 minutes we launched the DSMB, completed a safety stop and surfaced after an excellent dive.

It had been a very enjoyable first day, we dropped our cylinders of for an overnight fill at the dive centre there (rather eye wateringly expensive ones!) and headed back to our respective accomodations, with a plan to regroup in the Barbican again for dinner.

Julian had booked the same restaurant we'd used a few times before. I never much liked it, as the service is often slow and the food, in the past, had only been OK. However, it is one of the few places in the Barbican that can seat 8-10 people together.

Unfortunately, this time the food was awful. I think my burger was the worst I've ever eaten, tough, overcooked and tasteless. I'm not sure that cooking it any differently would have made much difference either.

It was so bad that I told Julian that if he found he had to book it again on a future trip, I'd eat somewhere else, even if it was alone!

Having caught the bus down (I set off to walk, but then a bus came along, so I tried that option and it was fine), Ria and Rohit kindly gave me a lift back to my apartment.

With a little later start on the Sunday, I had time to make a coffee and pack up before returning to Mount Batten, collect my cylinders and reboard our boat.

It had been decided that we'd dive the Rosehill on the Sunday morning (as the wind didn't look as though it would pick up until we had done so). This is another WW2 wreck, quite close to the Scylla and JEL.

As with the Persier, Caroline and I did this as an ADP dive, but due to the weather we'd be restricted on bottom time.

The vis was cloudier than it had been on Saturday, but still fairly good.

Once again, the shot was on the boilers and we initially headed towards the bow, eventually identifying we were there by the presence of two substantial anchors.

Spiney Lobster

One of the two anchors at the bow.

We then turned around and headed back along the wreck, hoping to reach the stern and the gun, which I'd photographed with Ria on our last visit to this wreck.

Caroline explores the hull side.

Fish aplenty - Bib on the boilers

Just as time was running out (we'd been told to limit to 45 minutes due to the weather, but with deco we slightly overran), we spotted the steering gear and the gun and spent a few minutes here before Caroline put up her DSMB and we ascended to complete our deco stops.

We finally reached the stern and the gun!

The sea was rougher on surfacing and it was a little tricky getting back on the lift, but not too bad.

Once again, we enjoyed Pete's pasties (I actually had two as someone passed on theirs, as I knew I was unlikely to get dinner).

We'd anchored in the bay over Penlee Ridges after the first dive and initially thought we'd head out to a nearby wreck, but by the time we'd eaten and completed a surface interval, it was clear it was getting very choppy at the wreck site and everyone agreed we'd just dive Penlee Ridges, a reef which we'd done before in poor weather and found to have enough life to make it an interesting dive.

Being shallow, the vis was pretty good, but initially proved a bit dull with little life.

Mating or Fighting Spider Crabs

Suddenly, Caroline pointed out a Cuttlefish and we spent a few minutes with it.

Plenty of Cuttlefish once we got our eye in.

After that we saw quite a few Cuttlefish on the dive and I even came across a John Dory, seemingly unworried by the presence of divers, so we spent a few minutes with it.

John Dory untroubled by our presence

In the end, it had been quite a good dive and a nice counterpoint to all the metal on the other dives.

Once again, we'd had a great weekend's diving at Plymouth. Having the second dive closer in than we often do meant we were packed and away by 2:30 and I managed to get home before 7PM, which is no mean feat from Plymouth.

I had planned to dive in Eastbourne one day the following weekend, but had to cancel that to visit my mother and then I took a trip to Milan to watch a sportscar race at Monza, so it was looking like it would be mid to late July before I got a dive in, but then Saby asked if anyone was free to dive with him at Wraysbury and he and I went along for a couple of leisurely dives.

I'd been there the previous week, providing shore cover for a BSAC run two day course, and the visibility had been reported as terrible.

The weather topside was great the day we went, but the vis was generally pretty poor.

However, we found some sites in the lake and Saby's buoyancy was good, he stayed close and his air consumption was reasonable.

The best vis we found was around the boat graveyard, in other places it was so bad I couldn't read my compass at arms length.

The water was very warm to 7M, but noticeably colder below that.

Saby struggled with equalising his ears initially, but overcame it and had no further problems on this dive.

It wouldn't count amongst the best dives ever at Wraysbury, but it was OK.

We had a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea and went back in for a short dive, but we had to abort this dive as Saby was unable to clear his ears satisfactorily.

Chris Howells was onsite, doing some training with some Richmond divers, so I tagged along with him for a second dive.

Due to the student's buoyancy issues, the Ocean Diver exercises and terrible vis, we surfaced a few times, but after the drills were completed we couldn't see anything and gave up the attempt to carry out a exploratory dive of the lake.

At least, though, I got to do a couple of dives.

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