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Bristol Channel Divers

THE WAY OUT WEST - 21 to 23 July 2000

The first weekend of the school holidays, not an ideal choice of date, saw a group of intrepid divers head out along the M4 to Pembrokeshire. Our mission was to test out the facilities of Pembrokeshire Dive Charters (PDC) and the potential for a change in weekend venue from the south coast.

We only had one native (Anwen) in the team so we split into small groups and staggered our journeys to maintain the element of surprise in our Welsh invasion. Our original B&B had closed down its business (no, this one hadn't burnt down - brown envelope club in-joke!) so we had to shift our base to the 'Beggars Reach Hotel' near Burton. Simon and I were last to arrive (despite being the dive marshals) but the map photocopies had all proved their worth and no one had got lost in Stage One; everyone being fully ensconced in the hotel bar or having already retired for the night. The set-up here was ideal, very friendly owners, an old house out in the country, enormous car park, own bar with real ale, and a wide range of food.

Steve Lewis's RIB Topaz PDC is run by Steve Lewis who has been diving the area for 30 years. He runs a number of large ribs which are all cox'd by friends and relations. Since we were staying near Neyland our departure point was the Yacht Haven (a past H-M bolthole) which was also the main base of their operation. The convoy arrived just after 0900 in brilliant sunshine to find a free car park with full facilities (even showers!) and began unloading the gear into the marina trolleys. It was then a bit of a trudge down to the boats to load up our two ribs but all very relaxed. Soon it was time for the first treat of the day, a ride in 'The Bus' or more correctly Topaz. Steve also runs sightseeing trips so has recently invested in a large 12 seater (forward facing) rib with inboard diesel engine (lots of horses). Being designed for tourists, who don't generally wear diving kit, it is incredibly dry boat as well as being rapid, so we were out of the Haven as fast as the speed limit would allow, after the publicity shots of course. Once past St Ann's Head and it was full throttle over to Skokholm for our first dive.

We waited for a while for the kit boats to catch us up and the tide to slacken, with not only Mark and Carren being mesmerised by the diving puffins. Then we transferred ribs, so Steve could go back for his grockel trips. With the ten of us split between the two smaller boats there was lots of room as we began to kit up for the Allendale. This wreck is fairly broken up but with numerous plates, boilers and a prop (but I think only John and Christine found it) with a maximum depth of 23m. It therefore made a good start to the diving, although the viz was not exceptional due to a plankton bloom. After our picnic lunch, provided by PDC, and a brief anchor retrieval dive by Rob and Simon, we headed off to the facilities at Martin's Haven. Suitably 'relieved' our second dive was a drift along the north side of Skomer Island. This wall (near vertical in places) is within the nature reserve so had a good selection of marine life but variable currents depending on depth and start direction. The tide was starting to run after 40-50 minutes so we returned to our respective crafts and had an exhilarating run through Jack Sound, avoiding the now boiling waters, and sped our way back to the Haven.

The group on board Topaz The kit unload back at the marina was a little more of a challenge due to the 'north face of the Eiger' from the pontoons. However some good teamwork and a few flexed muscles (from Ben) later we were ready for our return to the 'Beggars Reach'. Unfortunately the hotel was a bit busier that evening due to the ongoing wedding reception but the glorious weather meant most people were outside so the queues at the bar were not too bad. Suitably washed, fed and watered most of us retired at a sensible hour to prepare ourselves for the next day.

Sunday was somewhat overcast and the drysuit brigade no longer envied the semi-dry party as we loaded up the ribs and set off in the 'The Bus' again this time heading east to Linney Head. Our first dive was a slight drift across Freshwater Bay, a little spoilt again by the bloom and a slight swell making kiting up that bit more of a challenge. For lunch we sought shelter close into the cliffs and had an adventurous snorkel ashore to find a 'convenience' rock. This caused some amusement among the hardened few with better bladder control and posed the additional complication for some of keeping a buddy to help with the rear drysuit zip.

Our last dive was a navigation exercise culminating in a potter around Brimstone Rock. We all lost count of the numbers of mating spider crabs and the best lobster count was, as I recall, four plus a number of shrimps among the crustacea and soft coral spotting. All too soon it was the end of the dive and time for the final high-speed trip back to Neyland. Suitably practised we scaled 'The Eiger' again with our trolleys and loaded the damp gear into the car fleet. Some of us used our native guide for one last mission to find a pub for food on the return through South Wales, which she completed, admirably on the second attempt. Then we cruised our way back down the M4, at varying speeds, to England and despite valiant attempts by Jon, the H-M team completed the final overtaking manoeuvre as we crossed the Severn.

The weekend was such a success that we have already booked all of PDC's ribs for 21 & 22 July 2001. This means a maximum of 20 divers, double this year's limit, although I suspect 10 places are already booked! Many thanks to all who contributed to the invasion team: Simon, John & Christine, Mark & Carren, Ben, Jon and Rob, and of course our local guide Anwen.

Fiona Hampton-Matthews

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