July 2017 – Portland

PORTLAND TRIP JULY 2017 -Report by George Mitchell

There was a time when the mention of Portland conjured up thoughts of only one wreck – the Hood. The last time I dived that was early 2000s and it was certainly magic. Alas it is now out of bounds for safety reasons but one must not forget there are numerous other good dives off Portland. We managed to visit some of these during the four days we were there despite the British Summer performing its usual tricks. Mark Swan had organised accommodation in the Bunker and diving from the Skindeep and Skindeeper unsurprisingly run by Skin Deep Diving. The Bunker is very comfortable ideally placed for the marina and the Cove Inn for the evening meal. Many rooms have their own showers, the bunks are comfortable and Margaret supplied excellent cooked breakfast to set us up for a day’s diving.

On Monday some of us arrived in the morning so the diving was late in the day with a fast drift over Lulworth Banks followed by a pleasant bimble over the Black Hawk. On the banks we spotted crabs and lobsters as well we disturbing a thornback ray which flapped off ahead into the dark. Of interest also were the numerous colonies of pentapora foliacea (commonly known as Ross Coral though nothing to do with coral at all) perhaps the prettiest of the British bryozoans. Our second dive was on the Black Hawk, a very broken up wreck with plenty of fish life on it. We gathered for the evening meal in the Boat that Rocks.

Tuesday dawned sunny with a light breeze so we took the opportunity to get round to the western side and dive the M2. If you want to know more than I can write here there is an excellent article in the recent Dive mag on this unusual and tragic submarine. The nice looking turquoise water at the surface belied the darkness we encountered at deck level some 30m down, but this is an easy wreck to navigate being intact and relatively small with obvious features. On the forward section there is the aircraft hanger…yes it sounds bonkers but this housed a small seaplane with folding wings. Stuart disappeared inside this but my hopes of a picture of him emerging from the gloom were dashed – it was simply too dark even for my SLR to take a picture. The rest of the submarine can be easily explored and interest can be found in the catapult and various other bits and pieces exposed as the thin outer hull is now quite perforated. Congers have taken advantage of this and there are plenty to be seen living in the space between outer and pressure hulls. The inner pressure hull is still very much intact and sadly is the tomb for many sailors who perished when the submarine sank just before WW2. Bizarrely I only noticed jewel anemones on the hull from one of the photos I managed rather than seeing them in the water!

The Gertrude & Fennel were dived late that afternoon together as they are only a few 100m up from the Cove Pub on the western side of Portland. These are very broken up but not too far apart and all we did was drift from one to the other. I had intended to use the compass on my fancy Perdix dive computer (Charles thanks for telling me this is Latin for partridge!) but the bearing never settled to anything meaningful. The Fennel must have been smashed to bits over the years – so my vivid memory of this was in fact the numerous bright yellow sponges on the way between the two wrecks.

Our meal that evening in the Cove was delicious…..

On Wednesday we had been offered the choice of the harbour or dry land so in the true adventurous spirit of BUDC we opted for the diving in the harbour. We dived the Bombardon unit first. These were steel pontoons about 66m long which formed part of the D day landing temporary harbour equipment. It is an interesting dive by itself but it is also attached to a landing craft by a rope. Despite the low viz I enjoyed this double wreck dive. Paul lost an integral weight on this but later did a search with Mark and found one – not his! Stuart had a stuck dry suit valve but managed to deal with this with consummate skill…of course. The second dive was the Countess of Erne which was once a paddle steamer though was just a hulk used to store coal in its Portland life, sinking in 1935 after breaking its moorings. Quite a lot of detail remains such as hawse pipes, chains and even a toilet at the stern.

We knew the weather was never going to get better as the week went by so we bit the bullet on Thursday and on the skipper’s excellent advice were up at 5:30am for a 7am departure to the Alex van Opstel. This wreck lies towards the east and is in about 30m of water. At that time of day with the sun still low, with murk in the water, choppy seas and overcast conditions it was in essence a night dive. Not that his detracted from the dive. The usual selection of crabs and a few congers as well as shoals of bib, goldsinny and wrasse of various types could be seen. The only downside for Stuart and me was that we were mostly on the debris field, only encountering the hull and thinking we should turn round that into the engine and boiler area rather late on in the dive. Decompressing on a DSMB line in the choppy seas was probably not textbook in terms of maintain 6m accurately!

Our final dive was on the Spaniard which lies inside the harbour. This was the wreck we surveyed as part of a club course on Underwater Archaeology back in 2010 when the viz was appalling. This vessel, like many others it seems, dragged its anchor smashed against the breakwater and sank. In a single dive you can easily get round this wreck twice, visiting the prop and what’s left of the wheel house which we did in the rather better viz.

The skipper Ian was very accurate with shot placing, very accommodating and totally unfussed. His wife Margaret operated the excellent lift and carried out a lot of the other tasks on the boat especially making endless cups of tea, coffee and hot chocolate!

All in all a very good four days – thanks Mark for organising. All we need now is to revisit Portland with 30m viz and mirror seas to dive the Aeolian Skye, the Kyarra, the Salsette……..December?

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial