With many of our club weekend trips cancelled this year due to changes in Covid rules regarding hotel accommodation and May’s Pembrokeshire trip cancelled due to bad weather, it was great to be back in Plymouth for this long weekender.
Conceived in 2020 during the height of the pandemic mandating only 6 divers on the boat at that time, it was a varied discussion with Pete of Venture Charters as to what price to charge. Of course, dive charters still have their static costs whether there are 6, 8, 10 or indeed 12 divers on the charter. It was therefore agreed with Pete that a varied price band would be implemented, based on diver numbers as dictated by whatever government regulation would be in force at the time.
In the end, it was a plucky seven that braved the sunshine, excellent visibility and flat calm seas in what could easily be a Carlsberg branded advert for UK diving.
Promoted as a Coronation weekend, the plan was three days of diving with Venture Charters, with guest Mark Pearce, custodian and curator of the Coronation Wreck Project on Saturday. Sheltering in a gale off Plymouth in September 1691, Coronation’s anchor cables parted and there is a view that she was dismasted, capsized and driven aground. All of her crew apart from an estimated 17-23 personnel were lost.
I’m not sure whether it was an official club dive or loosely knit trip between a few members, but with an altercation with Aquanauts regarding gas refills that scuttled a dive last year, it was recommended that we get refills from Indeep this time around. For those who are unaware, Indeep is located on the Mountbatten side of Plymouth, while Venture is moored in Sutton Harbour near the Aquanauts shop. This meant that although we were staying around Sutton Harbour for the nightlife, it was a 15-minute drive to Mountbatten each morning for loading. Gas refills were made overnight at Indeep and again for those who do not know, Indeep takes cash only.
Boat loading was from the Mountbatten Watersports Jetty. Plenty of room for vehicular access and free parking nearby. Toilets are by the free public car park but are not necessarily open all the time.
Robert and Ben had already made their plans to dive together and with Cat and Gareth assumed a pair, that left me, Artur and Craig. Craig had already asked if he could buddy with myself, which left Artur with a choice and he decided to dive with Craig and me. While Cat and Gareth dived on single 15s with a small bailout, Robert and Ben were on twins. That left us remaining three with a smorgasbord team pairing of single 15, twins and a CCR. All open circuit divers were running 32% nitrox.
Friday 4th June
Two dives today, the SS Persier  and Hilsea point. It was glorious flat calm seas that waited for us as we passed Bovisand and hardly a cloud in the sky. For some that forgot their sun hats, it was a lesson learned by the end of the day with red foreheads and faces.
While on the Persia, Pete asked me to ensure the shot was not stuck on the wreck. He asked me to move it out of the wreck if it looked like it could get trapped before we ascended. While Craig, Artur and I went on our dive and returned to the shot for the ascent, it was gone! Circumnavigating the boilers, it had seemingly disappeared. Three DSMBs to the surface, only to find that Robert had moved it. Bastard! 🙂
Water temperature was a warm 12degC with visibility on the Persia at a hazy 8-10m and maybe 6-8m on Hilsea Point. Their first UK sea dives this year for a few, it was a welcomed check dive. Maximum depths were 28m and 25m respectively.
That evening we ate at The Boathouse. The problem is that with Covid restrictions and as a small group, you have to reserve a table anywhere you wish to eat. The easiest way was simply to book online and using the OpenTable app, I simply booked this Boathouse restaurant for seven. Even though Cat and Gareth are a Covid house of one, I could not book a table for seven and hence made two bookings for three and four. Although we still had to sit at two separate tables, we were in close proximity and banter ensued after a couple of bottles of white wine to accompany the mussels and scallops.
Saturday 5th June
This morning we were joined by Mark Pearce. The initial plan was a first dive on the “cannons and anchors” which is known as the Diver Trail and then the Debris Trail for dive two. Unfortunately with the line of the Debris Trail not in situ, dive two was reassigned as the SS James Eagan Layne .
Mark Pearce explained the history of the Coronation to the group and how she sunk. With stories of missing gold, the group was intrigued and with a pewter plate recovered from the site by Mark last year, everyone was eagerly waiting to get in the water.
The “cannons and anchor” Diver Trail is exactly that. Mark provided us with a laminated card with compass headings that divers can traverse the field of cannons, anchors and cannonballs. With a shallow tide, the depth of this dive was between 16m to 18m with a good 10-12 metre visibility and again, 12degC.
Back on board, all divers were enamoured with the site, many asking when they can come back. One diver said he felt an emotional attachment being that these artefacts have remained underwater for some 330 years. Indeed, I recall Mark showing me a piece of sole from a boot that was unearthed by the winter storms of 2016, that artefact no longer in situ reminds us that many of our coastal shipwrecks will not be there forever.
All divers were happy to make a £5.00 donation to the Coronation Wreck Project and we wonder whether the club would be happy to make a contribution too? Perhaps making the project a worthy cause and help with some fund raising?
After the renowned surface interval of Pete’s Pasties and a brew, it was off to the JEL for dive two. Only six divers on this one, Craig and Artur diving together as a buddy pair.
Dinner tonight was The Ship, a regular haunt for club weekend trips to Plymouth. Pre-dinner drinks took ages as there was simply no service. Covid rules mandated table service, but there simply wasn’t enough staff even for an empty table area. The app that was used for ordering last summer was now not used. Apparently, customers were ordering too much and too fast and the servers could not keep up taking beer from the bar to customers’ tables. Oh, what a wonderful problem to have, huh? Robert explained that normally there is a different menu in the upstairs restaurant, but not this time. It was the same bar snack menu which was disappointing. Maybe we’ll strike this off the list for the next visit?
Sunday 6th June
The dive plan for Craig, Artur and me was down the shot and orientate ourselves to the stern. The target was to visit the gun and propeller. For this dive, Artur and Craig would pair in front with me behind. Artur would lead. All was going swimmingly well. A good 10m visibility, albeit a little hazy. The shot was on the boilers and Artur orientated himself and off we went. All was looking fine and following what we thought was the prop shaft. Alas it was not as we found an anchor with chain and two cleats. It was about turn and back to the boilers and then aft, passing Gareth who mumbled a machine gun noise through his regulator, gesticulating that we were in the right direction. Alas, the open circuit boys were running out of NDL and so it was a slow ascent back to the surface before we found the gun.
Once back onboard Venture, we also learned that Ben and Robert didn’t find the gun either, Cat showing off her photos to the merriment of others around her.
An absolute cracking dive that we all agreed on and a site to be dived again for sure. Gareth and Cat stating that both the propeller and gun were easily visible.
Dive time for Craig, Artur and I was 46 minutes, maximum depth 27m, visibility a hazy 10m and again 12degC. Snotty from about 20m to the surface.
Our surface interval was again, basking in the sunshine in flat calm seas with Pete’s Pasties and orange flavoured Club biscuits and a nice cup of tea.
Our last dive of the day and weekend was HMS Scylla (F71) . Sunk in a controlled explosion in March 2004 to become Europe’s first artificial diving reef, some say she is quite sterile with no soul. However, she makes an ideal site for training sitting at some 25 metres. Our shot dropped on the wreck at 12 metres with the decking at 16 metres. While others penetrated the wreck, Artur and I decided to peer from the outside in and conducted some training skills on the outside.
All in all, we could not have asked for better visibility, better weather and better company. Everyone got along well and all learning something new. I think a special mention goes to Graig, who with a couple of hiccups on day one, got in the zone on day two, which culminated in a cracking dive on the Rosehill and going home on a high! Thanks too to Pete Fergus of Venture Charters and of course, Mark Pearce of the Coronation Wreck Project.
Until next time!