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Unfortunately our trip to beautiful Pembrokeshire was blown out this weekend. However, this did not stop our divers – six went to Stoney Cove on Friday and a group of three ventured to Chepstow by public transport for the weekend.
With training dives normally performed at Stoney Cove, the camera normally has to sit out and wait in the car. Diving leisurely meant it could come on a jaunt and we thought we would share a little bit what it’s like to dive at Stoney Cove.
‘Stoney’, a former granite quarry, has been a recreational diving and water sports site since the 1960s. Lots of interesting bits have been sunk here and if your navigational skills are up to scratch you can find the Stanegarth, the largest inland ship wreck in the UK, the Gresham, a wooden boat from c1570, the shell of a helicopter, an aircraft cockpit, busses, cars, yachts, a submarine model, and the Loch Ness monster.
The Gresham – This 16th-century ship was discovered in 2003 in the Thames channel. To help preserve it, it was relocated to Stoney Cove. At only 6m depth it’s a great to dive with lots of light and some crayfish.
The Nautilus – a model of a submarine, next to the arches under the pub at 6m.
The Cockpit – Full of growth and opportunity to swim through – at 7m.
Perch, Nessie and mussels – The deeper dives at 20m can be a bit lifeless but around 6m you can stumble upon rather tame perch and crayfish. There are also a few Pike in the quarry, but they seemed a bit photo shy.
Map of Stoney Cove
Swanage was a successful dive trip with eleven of us exploring the pier, the Fleur de Lys – a wooden fishing crabber that sank in 2000 – and the Valentine tanks which sank in 1943 in the attempt to float across to Normandy and now home to large lobsters and several conger eels.
Lots of life and relatively good visibility – collectively we saw crabs, lobsters, blennies, sea scorpion, thornback ray, conger eels, shrimp, cuttlefish and more.
Well done Elaine and Chris for completing their first sea dives and Anna, Jane, Andy and Fee for completing their rescue training as part of their Sports Diver qualification dragging each other up the beach.
Thanks to Richard and Jun-Ho for dive managing and Chris for organising transport and accommodation.
Unfortunately, Friday’s dive was rained of but provided plenty of opportunity to explore Ilfracombe and its surrounding along the coastal path with Lundy in the far distance.
On Saturday, after a choppy 23 mile ride we dived in Bristol Channel around the Knoll Pins and Gannett’s Bay, meeting plenty of its inhabitants – lobsters, dogfish, wrasse, ferns, craps and of course its friendly grey seals who tugged on fins, mouthed and nipped neoprene and played slaps with Liz.
Sunday with calmer weather let us dive on the Atlantic side revealing the weather beaten side of Lundy with cracks and wrinkles along its cliff edge. We dived by Battery Point and the Devil’s Slide with dancing kelb through swells and current.
On the way back to Ilfracombe we made friends with a pod of dolphins riding along the front of the boat – whistling and surfacing – a wonderful end to our three day trip.
For many of our new Ocean Divers it was the first time diving in the sea. Well done Andy, Anna, Jane and Fee for passing the Ocean Diver exam and open water lessons in time.
The seals were definitely friendly and the kelp forest magical.
This trip was organised with the objective of giving trainees experience of diving in the ocean, so Anne and I took Martin and Ellie to Selsey to experience the joys and challenges of RHIB diving.
The first site we dived was the Far Mulberry (10m). The Mulberrys were built to use as temporary harbour walls during the D-Day landings, but never made it as far as France. They are constructed from reinforced concrete that has gradually degraded over time, providing perfect shelter for a huge amount of marine life.
It was a day of firsts. Martin’s first sea dive, Ellie’s first dive off a RHIB, Anne’s first time diving the Far Mulberry and the first time my dry suit had a proper leak. I had dived here before and it has been one of my most enjoyable (August with very good visibility) and least enjoyable (December and very poor visibility) UK dives. This time, it was excellent. An abundance of life, good weather, calm(ish) sea, and an intermediate visibility of five metres. I am not the best at judging visibility but some kind person has placed small white floats on the ground chain at one metre intervals.
We set off clockwise around the harbour and even in that short space saw hundreds of juvenile bib, corkwing and ballan wrasse, goby and pollock. As we turned the second corner of the harbour we had encounters with several extremely friendly tompot blenny. Apparently divers have been feeding them, hence their friendliness. I tried to get a closer look, expecting them to back off, but they didn’t – one even briefly sat on my hand. A lobster was also spotted but unfortunately none of us came across the famous giant congers that inhabit this site. Neither Anne nor myself had ever seen so many fish on a UK dive site.
We unloaded the RHIB in a bit of swell, always a good workout, and thankfully the skipper let us leave our fins and weights on the boat. We got fills from Mulberry Divers shop, only a couple of minutes drive from the RHIB launching site, followed by a leisurely lunch in the sun. After lunch we reboarded the RHIB headed out to sea. The skipper offered us a choice of which side of Selsey bill to do our drift on, the side with better visibility or the side with less swell. We decided on the side with less swell, due to the difficulties of kitting up on a rolling RHIB.
We descended onto Hounds reef (6 – 8m) and almost immediately happened upon three cuttlefish, one of which seemed very angry by our arrival. On the remainder of the dive we saw many equally angry velvet swimming crabs, a few wrasse, and a huge star fish, the chubbiest I have ever seen. Anne and Ellie also caught sight of a dogfish / catshark (depending on your preference).
We followed the dive with an enjoyable evening of food and drink at a tapas restaurant, the food was delicious and the portions huge – just what was needed after a day of heavy lifting!
Our plan for Sunday was to dive under Selsey lifeboat station, a new site for me, which is apparently teeming with life and ideal for all levels of diver due to its easy access and shallow waters. To avoid an underwater drift we needed to dive this on slack tide. There are two slacks on this site, four hours before or three hours after high water Portsmouth. We were informed that there would be less current on the early morning (HW + 3) slack than the afternoon slack (HW – 4) but we decided on the afternoon one due to our late finish the previous day.
We met late morning at Mulberry Divers shop to get fills. Little wind was forecast so I was raring to go but we were advised by Mulberry Divers to assess the visibility before we got fills and jumped in. So we went to the lifeboat station and, as directed, looked down the leg of the station on the brightest side. We were told that the horizontal visibility underwater would be approximately half of how far down the leg we could see. About one metre down the leg was visible. So instead of diving underneath we had a look round the lifeboat station, and one of the volunteers told us that the station would be taken down next year and a replacement built further up the beach. We took a walk along the sea front, capped the trip off with a drink in a sunny beer garden, and headed our separate ways.
Overall, the trip was a success. We managed two out of three of the planned dives, people gained experience RHIB diving and a great deal of wildlife was seen.
The far Mulberry is a fantastic site for newly qualified or trainee Ocean Divers to do their first sea dive due to its shallow depth, easy navigation and concentration of life. Mulberry Divers offer a good variety of Ocean Diver friendly sites, Selsey is only two and a half hours from East London (so possible to go for a day trip) and accommodation is cheap if booked in advance (£20 pp for an Airbnb).
The price of a RHIB dive (£25) might seem steep when compared to hard boat diving, but the skipper was excellent (never rushed us, very helpful, good briefs), and the parking, dive shop and launch site are all very close to each other. The price seems entirely worthwhile for the great sites you get to visit, plus you have the added fun of a RHIB ride. Hopefully we will go back next year, showing some new divers the great things UK diving has to offer, and also taking the opportunity to dive under the lifeboat station before it is pulled down.