Swanage is a popular destination for the typical British holidaymaker but more so for UK-based divers, so if you’re booking a club dive trip it’s advisable to book well in advance and ensure the trip is before the school summer vacation. The picturesque coastal town has a reputation for offering access to a diverse marine ecosystem, whether it’s via the rocky reefs, kelp forests or intriguing wrecks, making it an ideal location for both novice and experienced divers.
For this reason, on Friday, 7th July 2023, 11 members of the Marlin Sub-Aqua club travelled south and convened at the Youth Hostel, Swanage, in preparation for a weekend of scuba diving.
The Youth Hostel was pleasantly surprising; it was quite spacious and clean, had great Wi-Fi, jetwash-like showers (a delightful luxury for any scuba diver), and a fabulous communal area/kitchen.
The club members were Mike Waddington, the trip organiser/dive manager for the weekend, Mike Cross, Steve Riley, Hamish Grice, Jamie Vaughan, Ian King, Jake Forster, Marc Coxon, James DuCasse, Hugh South and Luke Brock.
The journey, on average, took about four hours from Nuneaton, so by the time everyone booked in and unpacked, it was time to look for a place to eat and have a few pints.
Much to everyone’s dismay, there were no restaurants available to take bookings for nine hungry gentlemen, so we all resorted to a good old fashioned British fish & chips at “The Fish Plaice” near the seafront in the evening sunshine, later followed by a couple of pints of the local brew at “The White Swan”.
Ropes off was scheduled for 7:45 a.m., so this would mean we had to be on the pier for 7 a.m. Anticipating a queue, most of us arrived at about 6:30 am, apart from Marc and Jake, who travelled down in the morning and arrived half an hour earlier. Despite our efforts, however, there was already congestion at the gate awaiting tickets and passage for parking. Nevertheless, we all got parking spaces (Just.!!) and lumbered all our kit to the boat.
The boat operator was organised through “Divers Down”, based on the pier, with a well-provisioned dive shop – useful if you have forgotten, lost or broken any kit or equipment and can provide fills at competitive prices.
The boat ‘Spike’ was skippered by Pete Williams, who is reputed for his local dive knowledge professional with an emphasis on safety and quality hot chocolate between dives. The boat is a large catamaran that easily accommodates 12 divers and comes with a lift for easy diver retrieval.
SS Kyarra – All divers were in the water and descending the shot line before 9 a.m. Once we were on the WW1 wreck, conditions made it quite dark, with maximum visibility of about 2m. There was a bit of current, so it was best to keep to sheltered areas of the wreck. Despite this, plenty of aquatic life was to be seen, such as Ballan Wrasse, Bib, butterfish, edible and spider crabs, lobster, nudibranch, deadman’s fingers, pink sea fan, jewel anemones and compass jellyfish. Maximum depth was approx. 28m and average sea temperature 18deg.C.
Swanage Pier – When the boat headed back, James, Mike Cross, Marc Jake, and I decided to mooch around underneath the pier. It’s only 4m deep, but there’s plenty to see in terms of diverse aquatic life, including snakelocks anemones, gobies and the inquisitive tompot blennies, but beware groups of learner divers stirring up the silty seabed.
Those who opted for the more relaxed option decided to grab something Bistro to drink, eat, or both at the 1859 Bistro Café on the pier. The portions weren’t necessarily large but were really good quality.
Valentine Tanks – At 2 pm we were in the water again and descending to the two sunken WWII amphibious vehicles. We soon found that the intact tank no longer had it’s 2-tonne turret in place. Its turret had been knocked off sometime in September last year. Nevertheless, it was still a dive worth seeing. Both tanks were surrounded by hundreds of shoaling bibs which seemed to stubbornly hang around the wrecks despite inquisitive divers finning and probing around.
Saturday Evening – Once all our kit was packed in our vehicles and we were showered and ready to go out…the weather turned and rained continuously. Because the YHA has such a large, accommodating communal area with cooking facilities, we decided to go to the local retailer and buy various pizzas and other goodies. Consequently, spent the evening enjoying fast food, alcohol bought from the YHA reception area and a lot of club banter.
Fortunately, the weather improved enormously the next morning, and we were more prepared for the queue getting back on the pier to load our kit back on the boat. Ropes off was scheduled for 8:30 am and we enjoyed the beautiful landscape of the Jurassic coastline as we journeyed to the next dive destination.
Aeolian Sky – Our boat ‘Spike’ had made good time; on arrival, we had to wait 20 minutes for slack water. However, we were in the water by 10 am and on this impressive modern wreck to enjoy visibility of up to 5-6m. Resting on its port side, the stern and superstructure are reasonably intact, but the holds have collapsed towards the seabed.
Some club members managed to view the rudder, but unfortunately, there was no propeller; others observed some parts of land rovers and other vehicles in some of the ship’s holds. We were warned when deploying DSMBs always to look upwards to check there are no overhanging parts of the ship’s structure to entangle.
Although it was dark, the visibility made up for it; this was by far the best dive of the weekend, and the maximum depth was about 30m. There were sightings of pollock, cuckoo wrasse, bib, crustaceans, flatworms and various anemones.
Pondfield Cove – As we journeyed to the next dive destination, we were joined by a small pod of bottle-nose dolphins, which gave us all a wonderful display of their agility as they raced alongside the boat and leapt in and out of the sea.
Because the current levels were quite high, Pete Williams (the skipper) predicted that conditions would be challenging for the ‘Black Hawk drift dive’ (the next scheduled dive location). It was therefore decided to play safe and change destination to a sheltered part of the coastline called ‘Pondfiled Cove’. This was a nice scenic dive with rocky pinnacles and kelp forest. Conditions were good, with 4-6m visibility and a maximum depth of 15m. However, not much life was to be seen besides sightings of small fish, sponges and various seaweeds, but a pleasant dive to end a fabulous weekend’s diving.
With the final dive completed, we were back at Swanage Pier by 3 p.m. and returning home with a smile and memories of another great Marlin Sub-Aqua Club dive trip.