Those who can remember the AGM of 2021 might recall a suggestion of diving for next year coming up. “Where do you want to go?” Ian asked. The final answer was Portland and just eight months later here we all are ready to get blown away.
We make our way down to Portland on the Friday afternoon and meet at Hotel Aqua where we would be staying for the two nights. Relaxing with a pint of Piddle (it’s good, you should try it) before walking into town to order some highly recommended fish and chips from the Chelsie Chippy (also good). Eating fish and chips on the beach while waiting for the sun to go down marks the start of a great weekend.
We are diving with Scimitar Diving for the weekend skippered by Nick: www.scimitardiving.co.uk
Ropes off is at a leisurely 11.15am today so, after a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we stop at the shop before heading to the marina. The heavily loaded trolleys are dragged down the pontoon and diving equipment starts to assemble on Scimitar amongst great bustle and banter.
The first dive was the Aeolian Sky, a 16,000 tonne cargo ship sunk in 1979 in 31m of water.
As we descend the shot line the wreck soon came into view, the visibility a good 8m which was much better than the last time we dived here. Having dived here before, buddy Ian led the way with Hamish and I following on the sightseeing tour. We head aft through the now collapsed super structure surrounded by a shoal of Bib. As we swim along the stern deck, now sitting vertically, the bollards and railings are still in place giving a great sense of location to the dive.
Passing around the stern we pass the stern anchor, still sitting in place waiting to be deployed, before rising up to cross the hull. The hull is covered in small anemones which Ian commented would look great on a night dive with a UV torch.
Dropping back down slightly from the hull we continue towards the bow, back past an array of pumping equipment and machinery now twisted and muddled from its time underwater. As we reach a section of fallen plates the short slack window is coming to an end as is the gas in our cylinders. With the choice between fighting the current or dropping deeper we decide to end the dive and drift off under a DSMB to ascend.
A few others in the group with twinsets and ADP gases stay a bit longer and visit he cargo area of the Aeolian.
The second dive of the day is Lulworth Banks. Half the group plan on collecting scallops and the other half are just going to go with the flow. This fast drift passes over a mostly sandy sea bed with a fair amount of life. Staying in one place long enough to photograph said life is difficult, so it’s better to just drift along and enjoy the theme park ride of a dive. We are dropped just up-tide of the wreck of the British Inventor, the partial remains of a 7101 ton oil tanker that hit a mine during WW2. Having reached the bottom we are met with shoals of bib and pollack. A large conger watches from under a piece of plating. It would be nice to spend some time exploring but the current is pushing us on. Along the way we pick up enough scallops to make a decent meal, there are plenty of sponges (boring, yellow staghorn, elephant hide), smaller sea life for those with good eyesight and I even manage to chance upon a spotted ray.
Back onboard Scimitar we all tidy our kit and chill out on the journey back enjoying the glorious weather and sea breeze. It’s then back to the hotel to shower before heading out again for dinner. Chinese takeaway for some, pizza for the others, both eaten on the beach as is now becoming the standard. We watch the sun go down again from The Cove Inn, talking of diving past, present and future while we admire the scenery.
There is no rush this morning, ropes off at 11:30 means a lie-in, casual breakfast and plenty of time to pack up before heading to the boat. We’ve left most kit on the boat from the day before so even the stroll down to the pontoon is relaxed. The sun is out and the sea is flat calm, if only we could book these conditions for every UK trip.
Our first dive is the Landrail, a WW1 torpedo gunboat that was sunk in 1921 while being used as a floating target. As we drop down the shot line once more we are pleased to see that the visibility underwater is still very good. We have landed amidships so decide to head towards the bow first. We are immediately struck by the amount of life on the wreck, congers… so many congers! Every nook has a conger of some size and shape.
The bow has broken off and lies on the seabed clear of the main wreck but itself is still mainly intact. Having rounded the bow we head to the stern, passing ever more congers, only stopping now to point out the larger specimens.
The wreck has broken down but a large portion remains intact and is still well recognisable. We swim to the stern in plenty of time, passing two large crayfish on the way, and then make our way back to the centre.
As with yesterday’s dive the current is now picking up and we are working harder to make progress so we call the dive at this point and drift off to complete a small amount of deco on the way up.
The final dive of the weekend has arrived already. The wreck of the James Fennel followed by a drift is the last dive of the weekend.
The James Fennel has largely broken up but it makes an interesting start to the dive. We spend a few minutes exploring the wreck and then drift away. As we pass the large anchor that marks the end of the wreck we put up the DSMB for the boat to follow.
The drift takes us around, between and into (if you aren’t careful) large boulders.
There is a huge mix of life to be spotted along the way, candy striped flatworms on the sand, snakelock anemones and spider crabs decorated with seaweed that sit atop the boulders. I think I saw a nudibranch too but unfortunately drifted away before I could get a good look!
More crayfish hide on the sides of the boulders and a variety of fish dart around us as we pass by at speed. All too soon our time (and gas!) is up and we are all back on the boat.
We pack up the kit and I avoid the temptation to sit in the sun, should I end up looking more like a cooked lobster rather than like the ones we have seen. We motor back to port, push our kit back up the marina ramp and pack it neatly back into the vehicles for the journey home.
Happy to have our expectations blown away, bye for now Portland. I’m sure we will be back soon!