Plymouth – July 2019 (Sun, Sea and Cream Teas)
by G J Leyshon
Plymouth is a popular destination for divers. The James Egan Lane and HMS Scylla attracting people from all over the country. SISAC is no exception.
For the first time this year the forecast looked perfect for the planned weekends diving in Plymouth. The trips earlier in May and June, although being blessed with good weather during the weekend, had been preceded by extremely poor forecasts.
Some of the group arrived Thursday evening, giving them the opportunity to dive Friday. Both dives where blessed with the best visibility of the year to date.
Early birds for Plymouth
The first, the Oregon in 35m. A steel hulled sailing vessel. Although very broken an excellent dive with both teams having long dives resulting in reasonable amounts of decompression at the end of the dive. The second site being the shallower Glen Strathallan a site we returned to for the last dive of the weekend.
Returning to Bovisand (base of operations for the weekends diving), we where meet by the early arrivals for the weekends diving. Bovisand, is a harbour and fortifications dating back to before the Napoleonic wars.
We were using the ‘luxury’ accommodation built in the 1970’s. What they lack in luxury’s they more than make up for in convenience and views, especially when blessed with good weather.
The group gathers in Plymouth
It was decided that a relaxing evening barbecue was the order of the day, allowing us to watch the glorious sun set over Plymouth sound.
As the night progressed we where joined by more of our party prior too retiring to our beds. (Suraj had ‘special’ accommodation at the far end of the block, well away from the rest of the dive party, even Paul admitting his snoring had been well surpassed).
We where met by a glorious dawn. Having awoken to the barks of the guard dog disturbed by one of our numbers taking an early morning stroll. Breakfast was simple, cereal, toast and plenty of tea and coffee. The days start was reasonably leisurely.
The days diving supervised by Paul and Leigh-Ann, would be HMS Scylla, and the famous JEL (James Eagan Lane). The first task, loading the boat.
Day 1 Saturday
A mood of anticipation set over the boat as we left Bovisand Harbor for HMS Scylla, a frigate, which was intentionally sunk for divers in March 2004. The fixed shot was at the bow on the starboard side.
Visibility was not as good as the Friday dives but still good, providing a quality dive.
I was diving with Nicholas. I arrived ahead of Nicholas at the bottom of the shot, conscious of a problem with my ccr. Having determined it was manageable, we made our way to the bow to get our bearings. Then worked our way back across the deck past the anchor winches, to the port side following the gangway towards the stern. As we worked our way towards the stern, we met Luke and Paul coming the other way. We where also conscious of Joe, Leigh-Ann and Josh below us.
As we approached the stern, we cut across the deck to the starboard side, ascending a deck I spotted a Blenny which promptly hid under an overhang as soon as I tried to get a decent photograph. At this point Nicholas asked for the additional weight I was carrying for him as a ‘just in case’.
We worked our way back ascending a little more, finally arriving back at the bridge. We opted to ascend using the shot line rather than deploying a dsmb. Breaking the surface 47 minutes after starting our descent on to the deck of the Scylla.
Tea’s, coffee’s and pasties followed once back on the deck of “Red Alert”. After a reasonable surface interval we set off for the second dive of the day – the James Eagan Lane (JEL), a Second World War liberty ship that sank in 1944 after hitting a mine.
She lies close to the Scylla.
A mayday transmission changed our plans and we set off in pursuit of a vessel racing to make shore before she sank. As we chased down the sinking boat, we could see other boats also coming to her aid and listen to the coastguard communication and launch of the lifeboat. Once it became apparent that we where not needed, we turned back to the site of the JEL.
Popularity spoils a site
Both the JEL and Scylla are popular sites. As we descended onto the JEL the impact of The preceding groups of divers was evident by the visibility.
The shot is tied into the bow, after our descent, Nicholas and I initially swam down the port side outside of the wreck, following Sally and Nick. We opted to move back inside the wreck, zig zagging from port to starboard.
Swimming through the bulkheads as we made our way down the length of the wreck. The JEL is a very open wreck, most or the decking having rotted through, and sections now having collapsed into the wreck. We passed the boilers as we made our way to the ‘break point’.
The visibility improving the further we swam from shot. We opted to make the jump from the main wreck in search of the stern. Passing more wreckage we found what is left of the stern section – now resting on its side. The gun mount is clearly visible, the gear ring lying on the seabed next to it.
After a leisurely swim round what is left of the stern we made our way back to the main wreck.
Having reached the breakpoint, Nicholas indicated it was time to ascend, so we deployed a dsmb and made a relaxed ascent back to the surface, completing our 3 minute stop on the way.
Once all where aboard we made our way back to Bovisand Harbor. However, the tide meant we where unable to return to the steps. Mooring under the ladder we off loaded, returning later once the boat was moved to the steps to recover cylinders for filling.
On the Town
A shower and wearing our glad rags and we set off for the Clovelly Bay Inn, for a superb pub meal. Unfortunately, some of our group where not up to the task and failed to finish their meals – what happened to not being allowed to leave the table until you cleared your plate? Others where able to satisfy their pudding stomach with an excellent desert.
Day 2 Sunday
The plan today was to repeat the JEL. However, some of our number were a little complacent after the Saturday afternoon experience and the issue of tide came as a rude awakening. Today, I was diving in a three.
Sally had a minor issue on the shot as we started our descent. Rather than three of us struggling to hang on to the shot whilst resolving her problem. I opted to give Nick space, and continued my descent onto the bow. In truth, when finally arriving, I was somewhat out of breath, and waiting for my two buddies was a relief allowing my breathing rate to return to normal.
The sensible option was to stay within the wreck sheltered from the force of the tide. Visibility was significantly better this morning, we where the first divers on the wreck today. Sally is also a photographer / videographer. Which meant today was less of the happy clicker, allowing me to takes a little more time when a good subject was available.
Having spent some time in and around the engine room, before pushing on a to the break point. Finally reaching the break point, we attempted the jump to the stern. After yesterday’s success, I was disappointed to be swept off our course by the tide, forcing us to accept defeat, cut our dive short, and start our ascent under dsmb.
Coffee teas and pasties again, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream. We relocated for the second dive of the day, returning to the Glen Strathallan a repeat of Friday afternoons dive. The Glenn Strathallan was intentionally scuttled, but a dispute over maintenance of the site, meant it was subsequently ‘cleared’ with explosives. It is now scattered over a wide area. The boiler being the only raised feature. The boiler contains some rather large conger eels. It is also next to a reef which has been the cause of a number of casualties over the years. Interesting treasure can be found in the way of broken crockery when searching the seabed against the reef.
We got to see some more cuttlefish during the dive. However they where very timid, and it was impossible to get close to them, the quality of the photographs bare ample evidence of this.
Time for home from Plymouth
Returning to the harbour, we managed to get back before low water allowing us to moor under the steps to offload kit. Team work meant all the kit was offloaded quickly and efficiently, before the boat needed to be moved to deeper water, by the ladder.
After a weekend of excellent weather, good company and great diving, we where left with the long drive home from Plymouth, traffic being kinder than I expected.
Photographs by Sally Charter and Gareth Leyshon
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We meet on Sunday nights at One Leisure St Ives (the St. Ives Recreation Centre), with theory lessons starting at 6:30PM and the pool is available exclusively for our training from 8:15PM. One Leisure St Ives Recreation Centre Westwood Road, St. Ives Cambs. PE27 6WU.
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