By Mark Lewis

By Mark Lewis

9th July 2021

I have never dived from the Sussex coastline and with plans for a weekend club charter in 2021 to dive the TR Thompson and City of Brisbane, it was a quick recce to Easbourne and Channel Diving.
With an acceptable ropes off time of 09.00am, Peter Eastland and I arranged to meet in Eastboune the previous evening. The problem being that closer than Dover, Eastbourne does take longer to travel to. Keeping to a budget, we stayed at the Afton Hotel, literally opposite the pier. Room were very clean, of reasonable size, perhaps a little tired (as you may expect) but full en-suite facilities. The bar was of a reasonable size, probably to cater to the large function room and with still within Covid guidelines, all table service.

Euro 2020

This evening was the semi finals of Euro 2020 with England playing Denmark. Having eaten en-route, we settled in for the evening in the bar and albeit not football followers, we both sat and watched the match with bated breath with a couple of beers.
It was funny and joking to ourselves, we were the two youngest in the bar, Eastbourne renowned for it’s retiree generation, pulling their tables and chairs closer to the TV to the dismay of bar staff who had them strategically placed at 2 metres apart for social distancing. Chuckling between us that we felt safe as all other patrons would have been double jabbed!
Peter In The Afron Bar

Dive Day

The hotel has no parking, so our cars were parked on road. The good news being that spaces are free between 18.00pm and 08.00am. Having not dived with Channel Diving before, we left the hotel at 07.00am for a slow drive to Sovereign Harbour. Peter had directions and it was only a 10 minute drive away.
Arriving at Sovereign Harbour, there is a big car park which is also free. We were instructed to park near the Yacht Club as loading will be through a gate onto the pontoon. Walking onto the pontoon, there was a diver with his CCR and with a brief introduction that we had not dived here before, confirmed we were in the right place. Then, as Peter went off to grab some breakfast from the local ASDA, I started to setup my kit.

Channel Diving and Channel Diver

The vessel is called Channel Diver, the company is called Channel Diving with skippers of Steve Johnson and Caroline Johnson. Channel Diver being a 36ft SouthBoats 36/11 catamaran. She is licensed to carry 12 passengers plus 3 crew up to 60 miles from any safe haven. Powered by   her twin FPT Iveco NEF engines, each producing 370hp, can give a boat cruising speed of 18 knots and a top boat speed of 25 Knots. Fitted with the Latest Electronic aids which include Olex & Maxsea seabed mapping systems, Furuno GPS’s, Euronav Seapro Navigation/charting programme on PC Monitors, Simrad Radar, Plotters & depth sounders, 2 x Simrad VHF radio’s & 2 x Standard Horizon VHF Radio’s, Comar AIS Ship Recognition System – Transmit & Receive.

For Divers

Entry into the water is by a giant stride from the rear of the boat. Getting back onto the boat could not be easier, this is via a transom mount Dive Lift and then you’re back on the level deck of the boat. A centre bench system for your dive gear, runs down the centre of the boat, cylinders on top and dive boxes and bags underneath, this keeps the  deck clutter free and easy to walk around.
Channel Diver

Format Of The Day

Our dive was planned from the Channel Diving “Individuals Dive List” at a price of £60.00 with £30.00 paid as a deposit and £30.00 paid on the day. The format of the day was two dives, one to the P&O SS Oceana and second a drift on the Royal Sovereign Shoals. Steve explained that it is customary to make two dives while diving the more local wrecks.

Diving The SS Oceana

With research suggesting that the Oceana was sitting at 30 metres, Peter and I were both diving twinsets with a 32% Nitrox mix. This was a non deco dive with a planned 3 minute safety stop at 6 metres. This was to be an uncomplicated dive with no cameras, but with news that scallops could be found, Peter took his net bag. Planned dive time was 50 minutes.
Via the diver briefing, Steve explained that the shot was placed on the engine. We had the choice to turn left for the stern or right for the bow. I think we must have turned right as it was a delight some 10 minutes into the dive to see the ship’s anchor resting on the sandy seabed. Continuing the dive we came across what we first thought was a mast with a crows nest, however it was soon discovered to be a lifeboat davit with pulley. There were huge spider crabs all over the place as well. We both have never seen such crabs this size before.
P&O Fruitbowl Showing The Sun Mark
We then discovered a break in the ship and in the small gap was a stack of crockery. Dinner plates or similar. It was clear that other divers had been here before as the whiteness of the porcelain was easy to spot, we assume others trying to prize out such a discovery, only to find they are firmly wedged. It was a shame that we did not have a camera as on one plate, the P&O sun indicia of the period was clearly seen on some pieces.

Photograph is from Commander Nicholas R Messinger’s personal tribute to P&O covering the “heyday years” that shows the P&O sun indicia and mark.

Dive Stats

  • Dive Date: 8th July 2021
  • Dive Time: 10.44am
  • Cylinders: 2x12L Twinset
  • Dive Duration: 49m:10s
  • Max Depth: 28.00m
  • Ave Depth: 20.34m
  • Temp: 14degC
  • Visibility: 4-6m Hazy

Surface Interval and Dive Two

It was a slow trip back towards harbour and like most other divers, Peter and I decided we would not dive the drift. That said, two other divers had their plunge while the rest on board chatted about diving, sharing contact details and making Facebook friends. Oh and, a cheeky snooze for some!
Snoozing Peter

Forward Planning

All in all, this was a nice relaxing weekday dive. It seems a long way to come to dive for one day and with this in mind, I will follow up on our planned weekend in July next year. I’ll look to update the event details and re-publish. Channel Diver is an amazing vessel to dive from, with higher seating benches, plenty of space, secure racking for second cylinders for single cylinder divers. Parking at Sovereign Harbour was free and a very short walk to the loading pontoon. Unfortunately there is no hotel accommodation at Sovereign Harbour but I am told there are some AirBnB apartments to let. With pubs and restaurants in close proximity, it would be nice to stay in Sovereign Harbour. If not, then there is a plethora or hotels at Eastboarne and only a 10 minute drive. Even before next year’s weekend event, I will for sure keep an eye out on the Channel Diving Individual Midweek Dive List. Monday 27th September anyone?!
Peter Eastland
Mark and Peter