Bristol Channel Divers
Fiona Hampton-Matthews had arranged a weekend's diving on Blue Turtle out of Lyme Regis for 15/16th Sept 2001. I had kept an eye on the weather and was becoming convinced that we would be blown out. North-westerly 5-6 was forecast. However, we decided do go anyway as the Kent House Hotel was booked. Arriving Friday night we took a walk down to the harbour to find the boat. We met up with the skipper Doulgas who reassured us that we would be diving as the Northerlies meant we could get out about 5 or 6 miles before being affected by high seas. It's worth remembering that Lyme Bay is quite sheltered from Northerlies.
We all met over breakfast (Simon & Fiona, John & Christine, Brian & Nina, Steve & Megan, Mark & Carren and Neil). Christine had work to do so there were 10 of us on board on Sat. Blue Turtle was moored at the end of The Cobb which meant driving down to the end and heaping all the gear into a pile before parking the cars locally. We formed a chain to get all the gear down the steps and on to the boat which certainly made things easier.
Fiona, in consultation with the skipper, decided to head for the St. Dunstan rather than trekking out to the Moidart where it would have been rougher. I was quite pleased by this as I always enjoy this wreck and you usually get good vis. Douglas said we could do the Moidart on Sunday as the weather would be better.
This wreck is an old bucket dredger which was being used as a mine sweeper when she hit a mine on 23rd Sept 1917 and sank in about 30m not far off the coast in Lyme Bay. She is a 200ft long iron vessel which now lies upside down on a gravel sea bed. Both props and rudders lie on the sea bed at the stern and the prop shafts are clearly visible. Along the length of the upturned hull you can see the doors where the dredging buckets would have been deployed. I have always enjoyed entering the wreck at the stern and following a prop-shaft forwards to emerge on the port side about amidships. It is then possible to re-enter the wreck through the dredging hatch and swim forwards to the engine. On this dive I discovered that you can actually follow the prop-shafts all the way to to the engine although it's a bit of a squeeze through some mangled girders to actually get into the engine room. On the way you pass a number of the dredging buckets and can see the fittings where they would have been attached to the chains driving them.
The engine room itself is spectacular with many control wheels still in place. The mechanism of the huge engine is clearly visible. Dive Dorset reports that the wreck may be twisted with the engine the right way up as indicated by the gauges. I don't think that this is the case and the gauges have now been removed anyway so it's much harder to tell. From the engine room, it is possible to squeeze between the two huge boilers and emerge in the bow section which is very pretty with light filtering everywhere and hundreds of fish. There's piles of chain but no sign of the anchors. Outside and on the starboard side there is a huge collection of machinery including one gear wheel which is about 8ft in diameter which I guess used to drive the dredging buckets.
The St. Dunstan is only a small wreck but there's lots of interesting fitments to see and if you like going inside, there's loads to see. We spent 52mins on this dive with a max depth of 29.3m and needed about 5mins of deco on 32% Nitrox. Douglas put the shot spot on amidships and it was perfectly slack with about 6m vis. All in all a very good dive. Nina seemed to get the prize for collecting more sea water in her "dry" suit than anyone else
After the dive, Douglas provided us with a hot drink before motoring in shore a bit to provide us with a lunch of ham or cheese salad which was very welcome. After lunch we planned to dive the Baygitano which is another wreck I've done a few times before and is always enjoyable.
Megan was not diving with me this time and Nina was sitting this one out due to a very wet suit so I dived with Brian whose signature features in my Novice 1 training although I don't think he realised this :-) I had just got a waterproof housing for the digital camera so was trying this out. Brian said I could show him around the Baggy as he'd not done it before. There was a bit of a current running and with a new camera to play with I was all over the place. Not a good sign with one of my instructors!!
The Baygitano is a 3000ton British steam-driven collier which lies in 18m. She was sunk on 18th March 1918 by a torpedo from UC-77. She was in ballast travelling from Le Havre to Cardiff. 2 crew were killed in the explosion. She is 330ft long with a beam of 45ft.
We started at the 3 boilers and had a look around the engine which is very prominent on this wreck although most of the rest of it is pretty flat. There were hundreds of fish around again including Ling and the usual Bib. From the engine we headed forwards as I'd always been towards the stern in the past where there is a spare prop. This time we headed out over lots of flat plates with small holes to look in - keep an eye out for the Conger! I managed to snap off a few shots but with the current flowing it was not easy. I think I need more practise.
Finally we found ourselves at the intact bow section and, after checking with Brian, we swam inside for a quick look round. It's not a large section of wreckage and there's not a lot to see. Dotted around are all the usual bow fittments including hawser pipe, anchor chains, railings and some rather large winch gear.
After checking out the bows, we returned via the port side of the wreckage to the boilers for a final look round the engine before heading back up the shot. Half way up I decided to send up the DSMB as there was a bit of a current running and it would be easier to drift with the current than hang on the shot. Unfortunately, the reel jammed and we had to jettison it and remain on the line. We only stopped for about 3mins and it was not too hard after all. After returning to the boat and recovering the other divers, we picked up my DSMB which was drifting a short distance away.
We then returned to Lyme Regis to unload all the kit (you can't leave anything on the boat overnight as the harbour is not secure like Weymouth is). Douglas is able to get air fills at a reasonable cost so cylinders were loaded into his Land Rover to be returned full the next day. He did me a Nitrox fill too and can do Trimix with advanced notice which I will be bearing in mind in the future as gas is scarce in this area. We advised him to make this information known on his web site.
Saturday evening Fiona had booked us a table in the Pilot Boat which does a good range of food even catering for the unusually large number of vegetarians on the trip. A moderate quantity of liquid refreshment was partaken of bearing in mind that we were planning to dive the Modiart in 35m the next morning. I checked the forecast which did look better as Douglas had promised.
Sunday did indeed dawn better than Saturday and it was decided that we would head further off shore to dive the Moidart. Christine joined us on Sunday as did Carol who had come down just for the day. Douglas returned all the cylinders duly full and we loaded all the kit again for the trip out which takes just over an hour. There was a bit of spray flying around so most of us got into our suits early to avoid getting wet. Once on site and with a shot on the wreck near the stern, another boat turned up and shotted the bows. I had a chat with Douglas who agreed to put me and Megan on the bow shot whilst everyone else went down his shot. This is because we wanted to check out certain features in the f'o'csle and bow areas.
The Moidart was an armed merchant steamship of 1878 tons - she was also built in 1878! She is 243ft long with a 32ft beam and was sunk by UB-77 on 9th June 1918 whilst carrying coal from Barry.
Down the shot and we ended up just aft of the bow section so headed up to the bows and inside. We had a good swim around inside. It was very atmospheric in there with light filtering in through the windows all round the bows. There's a lot of rope etc. inside here but the vis was good enough to avoid it. There is also quite a lot of silt in here so you need to be careful not to kick it up and ruin the vis (and lose the way out!!). Then we went up onto the bows and swam around the pointy end. The whole bow section is spectacular (6m proud) being covered with dead-men's fingers. The starboard anchor is still in place hanging from the hawser. Back on the decks, the winches are still in place. We swam back over the holds heading for the engine room. I like to go into the engine room and look at the row of spanners hanging on the port wall. They are huge and well encrusted so I think they will remain there for all to see. The engine is most impressive. You need to descend about 2 deck levels to see the rack of tools but as this is near the broken off section, this is not particularly confined. Behind this point, the wreck falls away to the sea bed and further back across this wreckage, she rises up again to the stern section. Douglas's shot was on this wreckage area near the engine room. We chose not to go back any further due to having about 10mins deco to do already. We checked out a strange cylindrical furnace-like object on the deck just forward of the engine room but behind the funnel. Not sure what it was but it has a Conger inside it!
We had 33.5m on this wreck and a dive time of 52min including 12min deco on a 29% Nitrox mix. Then it was back on to the boat for lunch. Douglas knocked up hot dogs with fried onions for the carnivores and tomato soup and rolls for the veggies plus the usual hot drinks. After lunch it was planned to dive East Tennants to get some scallops. I'm not into scenic drifts or bagging seafood so I decided to sit this one out. Mark, Carren and Brian also did this so we had the boat to ourselves and a leisurely cup of tea whilst we waited for the others to complete their hunting mission. In the end, it sounds like the vis was not fantastic on this dive but the rocky outcrops were quite spectacular. The scallops also seemed to be there in plentiful numbers due to the rattling goodie bags returned to the boat.
We were back in Lyme Regis in good time to off-load. With all cars recovered and kit stowed, we bade our farewells and headed back to our respective destinations. We'd had a very good weekend's diving and had managed to work round what could have been poor conditions to get in some very enjoyable diving. The skipper's local knowledge and confidence in what the weather would do helped enormously.
Many thanks to Fiona for organising (and providing the now expected comprehensive briefing pack). Thanks to all on the trip for making it another enjoyable one and thanks to Douglas on Blue Turtle for putting us spot on the wrecks on slack which always helps.
Respect Our Wrecks!