27 August 2020 – Shirala

Report by Steve Askew

The weather was cool but pleasant as the four of us left Littlehampton Marina on Thursday morning. We had decided to firstly try to find the bottle wreck with a dive on The Shirala as a contingency plan.

The sea state was rather choppy as we approached the dive site marked on the GPS and this may have affected the sounder as we were unable to spot even a small bump on the seabed.  We decided to revert to plan B and head to the Shirala instead.

The Shirala was located on the sounder and the shot was dropped. Bryan and Steve A (me) were the first pair to dive. We were both on air using 12l cylinders while Steve S and Stuart were diving on Nitrox so it made sense for the two of us to pair up.

We hit the bottom (literally) at around 23 meters to find the shot was somewhere close to the wreck but how far away was anyone’s guess. The reason for this confusion? The viz was close to zero and we were virtually diving blind. I can’t say I hadn’t been warned that I’d been very lucky with the conditions on my first and second UK dives. This dive, my third UK dive, was closer to the “challenging” conditions UK diving is (in)famous for. At least the water wasn’t cold.

I’m not sure I saw a single living thing the entire dive. We tried to locate the bulk of the wreck but seemed to keep coming back to the same piece of piping time and again. Or was it a different piece each time? With viz of half a meter at best going down to absolutely nothing when silt was kicked up, where we were exactly was hard to establish. We called the dive and deployed the DSMB after about half an hour or so.

Despite the conditions being poor for diving I count this as one of the most important dives I’ve done recently. Why?

Firstly, I learned the importance of always having a torch with you. Without a torch I would not have seen a thing on the dive. I am also certain that Bryan and I would have lost each other within a few minutes as it was difficult to see each other in the murk even with lights.

Secondly, I was reminded about keeping a cool head in somewhat claustrophobic conditions. When in doubt, going back to the basics of your dive training.

Lastly, I realised the importance of having the right equipment and being able to rely upon it when visual points of reference aren’t available. I imagine it’s a bit like a pilot landing at night using instruments only. For example, I was wearing two computers that day to compare and decide which I prefer. One was easy to see in the gloom and the other was nearly impossible to read. Also, at one point I’d tried to make sense of where we were headed on the wreck using my compass. Let’s just say I need a compass navigation refresher course.

Despite Bryan and I painting a somewhat negative picture of the dive, Stuart and Steve S decided to get wet anyway. They surfaced after about 40 mins and claimed to have enjoyed the dive.

Then it was back to Littlehampton Marina. We unloaded the RIB whilst waiting for the tide to be high enough for retrieval. Thereafter the boat was thoroughly cleaned and everything stowed away.

I was NAUI trained many years ago but have always been impressed at how competent BSAC divers are. If this is what’s considered a fun midweek dive then I’m not surprised nothing much rattles a BSAC diver.

Posted in Dive Diary 2020