Today was supposed to be the second of four days here at Swanage as part of a novice development long weekender. Unfortunately the later opening date for hotels and accommodation as part of the government’s Covid lockdown relaxation timescales, meant we had to make day trips. And with yesterday’s day called off due to adverse weather, today was the first salty plunge for Seahorse members in six months or so. It was good to be back.
With no cloud cover overnight and forecast throughout the day, air temperature for the day was a mere 1°C at dawn, warming to 10°C throughout the day. It was a sunny day but chilly. The forecast was for calm seas with a significant wave height of 0.4m every 8 seconds, though winds at sea creeping to about 12 to 18 knots through the afternoon. Although a pleasant flat calm surface, this meant that wind chill after each dive was quite noticeable.
With an 11.00am ropes off for dive one, there was no real need to rush to the pier for parking. That said, Craig and I were second and fourth cars at the pier at around 07.15am. Once the pier opened at 08.00am, we parked the cars and went to Gee Whites for a take-away coffee an dive plan discussion. By the time we had finished coffee and walked back to the pier, Gareth, Cat, Peter and Tom were there too.
The plan was a scallop drift at 11.00am followed by the Valentine Tanks at 15.15pm. Little did we know and it was by luck and coincidence than judgement, that our dive today would be on the 77th anniversary of their sinking as part of “Exercise Smash” on 4th April 1944 where six men drowned.
Buddies pairs for the day were Gareth and Cat, Peter and Tom, me and Craig. After an in depth Covid briefing on the pier, it was on board and vessel safety briefing.
Although the remit was a sequenced lemming waddle off the back of Viper, skipper Sinbad noticed a dangly bit hanging from Craig and with a little fettling to tuck it back in, we were the last two divers in. Being Craig’s first drift dive, the plan was Craig would deploy his DSMB on the surface and planning poor visibility, Craig would descend first and I would follow down the DSMB above him so we do not separate. That indeed was a cracking plan as the visibility was a bit pants and finally on the seabed, we started the drift.
It became apparent quite quickly that Craig and I were drifting at different speeds and with net in hand, I had no torch. With the observation that we could easily get separated, I placed the scallop net back in my pocket and switched on the cannister torch. The pair of us enjoying a leisurely drift, watching those pesky scallops pass us by as we flew over their heads. Run time for us was 32 minutes, maximum depth 18.5m and 8°C. Visibility was around 1 to 2 metres. When drifting apart, our slight shadow like silhouette at 4 to 5 metres, only noticeable by the divers torch.
Back on board, the other four divers were counting out their harvest, only for skipper Sinbad to remind the divers that size does matter. Nonetheless, a great haul for the four and for Craig and me, we’ll just have to go back another day.
I guess not much can be said for this dive. I last dived the tanks in 2013 and always believe it to be a cracking dive for recently qualified divers who are making their first UK sea dive. My dive log reminds me that my first dive to the tanks was in May 2013 and my last was September 2013.
As I was explaining the route to Craig, Garth interrupted to explain that the shot had moved. Rather than being attached to one of the tanks as it used to be, it was now attached to the connecting rope. The plan was now down the shot, turn left or right to find one tank. Have a look around, swim back past the shot to the second tank. Have a look around, back along the rope to the shot and up to the surface. Easy!
The problem manifested itself when Sinbad explained en-route that the shot was not there any more. That it has been washed away during the winter and no-one had replaced it. We got to site and in went the shot, only for Sinbad to pull it out again as it was too short. He was explaining that it would be difficult to shot as the tank is about the size of a Ford Transit van.
After a good 10 (if not 15) minutes, the second shot was deployed and the first four divers entered the water. Round again and then it was the turn of Craig and me. This time the plan was that I would descend first and wait at 5m in case Craig had problems getting down. It would be easier one person being on the surface than two.
Finally got to the bottom and guess what? No tank!
It was obvious that the shot had either missed the tank completely or the divers had pulled it off? The good news was that there was a ‘snail trail’ gouge in the sand and shingle. Off we swam, a good 20 to 30 metres in again some 2 metres snotty visibility and nowt. Then the gouge ran out. We continued to swim another 10 to 20 metres as that eerie mirage of a shadow just got further away. Giving up, we thumbed the dive, deployed the DSMB and up to the surface.
Back on board, we were not the only ones. Both the other two pairs of divers didn’t find the tanks, following the snail trail as did we. Disappointing as it would have been nice to have dived the tanks on their sinking anniversary as I read on social media that there was a commemorative Poppy decoration laid earlier in the day. I would have liked to have seen that.
Run time 19 minutes at a maximum depth of 15 metres and 9°C. Visibility was slightly cleaner than the drift, maybe 2 to 3 metres and not as dark.
And In Conclusion
All in all a great day. On a good day with minimal traffic, Swanage is as close as Vobster. I should dive there more often as an easy day tripper. All it means is an early morning start. We were all disappointed with missing the Valentine Tanks, though the scallops were a bonus. The only downside was the wind chill once out of the water. A wee dram next time perhaps.