September – Three days diving Plymouth

A weekend for Sports Divers and above, wreck diving in Plymouth. This would allow us to dive some of the more interesting sites, and expand the experience of those that had progressed from Ocean Diver.

St Ives Sub-Aqua Club had booked a weekend diving in Plymouth for September 2021 during the lock down.

We would be based at Fort Bovisand, with Danny of Discovery Divers. Both Danny, and ‘Bovi’ are familiar to us all, being our historic ‘home’ when visiting Plymouth. This would be the last occasion we would be able to stay at Bovisand, the much vaunted redevelopment, finally resulting in the demolition of the old dive centre, and the accommodation block.

We decided to add the Friday to our weekend, giving us three days of wreck diving in Plymouth, rather than the two originally booked. Most of us travelled after work on the Thursday. On the Friday morning, we where greeted with light cloud, calm seas, and a westerly wind. The meant a change from the provisional plan, we would dive the S.S. Rosehill in the morning and the S.S. James Egan Lane. We where all lulled into a false sense of security, and by the evening we all looked like lateral buoys, fluorescing red as the evening drew in, a hazard to navigation!


S.S Rosehill

History

The S.S. Rosehill (originally the S.S. Minster) is a First World War casualty. Having been sunk by UB40, (commanded by Oberleutnant Howaldt,). The S.S. Rosehill was hit by a torpedo on the 23rd September 1917 at 6:05 pm on the Starboard side, 3 mile north-west by west of Rame Head. She was carrying 3980 tons of coal from Cardiff to Devonport under the command of Captain Philip Jones. The Rosehill didn’t sink immediately, she was initially abandoned, but re-boarded and an attempt was made to tow her to Plymouth. She broke in two during the tow and sank in Whitsand bay at 1.50 am.

Diving

One of the points of interest is the 12 pounder stern gun, located near the propeller. She lies on her starboard side with the port side having collapsed on to the starboard side. She is quite flat, covered in sea fans, and large shoals of bib and pouting. The shot was located at the boilers that sit well above the general wreckage.

This was the first of the wrecks of our weekend of wreck diving in Plymouth. I was diving in a three with Luke J and Jon C, we swam to the stern first to look at both the propellor and stern gun (which is pointing skyward). Returning to the boilers, we then pushed on towards the bow, but ran out of gas and time. She was 314 feet long, so a reasonably large wreck.


S.S. James Egan Lane

One of the most famous, and best dives in the UK, and familiar to us all. No-one was disappointed with this as the planned second dive, in fact, some trying to juggle the air to allow ‘more time’ on the JEL.

The shot is currently located near the boilers. For the afternoon dive it was just John and myself. One of our number having dropped out of the afternoon dive with a headache, so we where all able to dive as buddy pairs. Jon and I made our way slowly through the wreck to the bow. Swimming over sections that have now collapsed and through sections where the deck remains. Despite the large sections that have collapsed, she is still very cathedral like in the swim throughs. Eventually exiting on the starboard side of what is left of the bow section.

The focsle broke away from the bow over the 2020 winter, it still hangs from the bow above the seabed. I suspect after the winter of 2021 it will have finally crashed to the seabed. We swam around the bow, then down the port side, re-entering the wreck at one of the breaks in the port side. Finally returning to the boilers, we continued on past the engine in the direction of the stern. Leaving when John’s gas and decompression time finally forced us to leave.


S.S. Rosehill

S.S. Rosehill

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

James Egan Lane

Barbecue on the harbour

The weather had improved more and more throughout the day, so we decided to seize the opportunity with a barbecue by the sea. Paul taking on chef duties, and various volunteers using dive knives to produce a salad (of sorts).



HMT Elk

History

This is a wreck I don’t think I have dived before. A small a small trawler sitting upright on the seabed and looking like the traditional image of a wreck. On the 27th November 1940, serving as a mine clearance vessel when she sank. The Elk was requisitioned again by the Navy in 1939 and sank a year later when taking part in experimental mine countermeasures. The acoustic mine lifted the HMT Elk out of the water and broke her back. The vessel took 45 minutes to sink, allowing the crew to escape unharmed.

Diving

The Elk was to be the first wreck of our second day of wreck diving in Plymouth. The shot was located on the port side near the boilers. Daniel and I arrived at the boilers, and settled ourselves here before moving off towards the stern. Just before we left, we had time to see Paul Y being a good ‘buddy’, removing the shot line that had hooked over Nicholas’s cylinder valve as he had reached the wreck, a reminder of why diving with a buddy enhances safety.

Daniel and I swam to the stern having a good mooch around as we went. The top of the engines are visible, but the superstructure has collapsed down obstructing access. On arriving at the stern, I swam off the stern for a quick photo.

We swam back towards the boilers down the port side. Spotting a small congor, which I couldn’t get a photo of, quickly followed by a lobster which disappeared under some plates. Beginning to think I wasn’t going to get a photo, I spotted a HUGE congor out of the corner of my eye. I took a few poor shots before we moved off back to the boilers. After passing the boilers we dropped into the hold for a short period, there was another congor in a tube in the hold. Eventually we swam over the Starboard rail at the bow. I took a few shots of the bow and Daniel, before we returned to the wreck. Stopping at the holds to watch a few club members swimming through the forward section of the wreck.

We took our time swimming back towards the bow a second time. I got a better shot of the large congor near the engines. Towards the end of the dive we had the wreck to ourselves. Daniel was managing our dive time, mainly because his decompression and obligations where the limiting factor. As we approached the bow again, he indicated that it was time to go. We opted to use the shot, so swam immediately to the boilers and the port side. The shot was a few meters off the port side of the wreck.

S.S. James Egan Lane

The original plan was to dive HMS Scylla, but the wreck was closed to divers due to an incident on the Friday. Because of this we opted to dive the JEL again.

This time I was diving the JEL with Daniel, who hadn’t dived the JEL for many years. The wreck has a permanent shot, so on reaching the wreck, we where at the boilers again. This time I moved off in the direction of the stern. We spent a short time at the engines, and then proceeded to swim down the wreck. As more has collapsed over the years, you need to move more from side to side to pick your path if you don’t want to make multiple ascents and descents as you travel through the wreck.

We finally reached the break at the rear of the wreck, the good visibility made it easy to make the jump on to the stern section. I think this is easier now because I am sure a section of the wreck that has broken free now acts as a ‘stepping stone’ to the stern. Making it easier to relocate the wreck after spending time on the stern.

On our way through the wreck we had spotted a cuttlefish. As we swam to the bow we spent a little time with a dog fish laying on the seabed. As we moved on to the stern we found the remains of a box of 50 calibre shells, none wanted to come free!

After spending some time on the stern section we made the jump back on to the main section of the wreck and started the swim to the bow. As we reached the boilers, Daniel indicated it was time to leave.


The Clovelly Bay Inn

For dinner we had a booking at the Clovelly Bay Inn. This is a firm favourite, as is the Pork Belly, notable by the numbers ordered. We where split across two tables. The first table, ordered starts, as well as a main and desert. On the second table we where much more restrained, having a main and desert. The apple and blackberry crumble being popular, although there where mixed views over the best topping, custard, cream or ice cream (ice cream being the loser!).

S.S. Persier

History

The S.S. Persier (or War Buffalo), was originally planed as the first dive of the Wreck Diving in Plymouth weekend, the weather having changed that plan. So, we where pleased to get this dive to finish our long weekend.

This is a ship with a long war record. Having originally been in use during the First World War ,being a World War 1 British Standard Class B ship. The Persier again saw service, helping in the Dunkirk evacuation. Later, damaged by aircraft in 1941 by bombing, repaired and returned to service. At one point it looked like she would be used as a block ship as part of the Normandy landings, she was even stripped of most of her equipment in preparation.

Reprieved, the Persier finally became a Second World War casualty on the 11th of February. Hit by a torpedo from U-1017 a type VIIC submarine, at 17:25, in the #2 hold on the port side. The crew abandoned her at 18:25 in poor weather and failing light. The Persier was last seen disappearing into the night, never to be seen again, until found on the seabed in May 1969.

Diving

I was diving in a three with Joe B and Luke J. The shot was next to the boilers, however, it was not Danny’s shot. But that of another vessel that had arrived before us (but slower putting their divers in than us!).

It was longggg…. very long, certainly not the shortest route from the surface to the wreck!

We arrived at the boilers and set off in the general direction of the bow. This is another large ship, with huge sections of plate laying flat on the sea bed. Again, it was covered in sea fans and huge shoals of fish. We found the winch gear from the derricks and the anchor chain, although I failed to find the anchor. In what I took to be the bow area we found a huge Lobster, and an even larger Angler Fish.

Having reached what we took to be the bow area, we set off back to the boilers. After a short pause at the boilers we set off in the direction of the stern. Unfortunately our trip to the stern was curtailed, when my buddies indicated lack of gas and every climbing decompression requirements meant it was time to leave.

On reflection, it may have been a better dive if we had chosen the stern section, you live and learn!


Glen Strathalynn

The last dive of our Wreck Diving in Plymouth weekend. The Glen Strathalynn is basically two boilers, and some steel plates. It was an excellent site for the skills session Joe had planned for Luke.

We didn’t stray far from the boilers. Although I didn’t see any of the residents conger eels in the boilers on this occasion, I did see another, all be it shy, cuttlefish.

I also joined in the skills session towards the end of my dive by doing some bailouts and stage handling drills.


The “Wreck Diving in Plymouth Team”

The team for the weekend where, in no particular order

  • Joe B
  • Luke J
  • Anna R
  • AlexB
  • Nicholas L
  • John H
  • Ruby W
  • Gareth L
  • Paul Y
  • Jon C
  • Rob S
  • Daniel H

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