The Art of Small Boat Diving Rediscovered

3rd July 2010

The advent of larger more comfortable RIB’s often funded courtesy of the Lottery fund appears to have led to the virtual demise of the use of small inflatable boats for diving, once the common stay of most club ‘boat’ diving.

Small inflatable RIBs do however still offer a number of positive advantages especially when it comes to the more budget conscious intent on diving more independently. Smaller boats can also often be launched from sites where bigger boats would struggle to follow. They are also a lot of fun on the water.

With these aims in mind, Richard, Dave, Roy and Peter set off from South Shields slipway in a 4 metre RIB to rediscover the joys of small boat diving.

For all concerned it proved something of a voyage of rediscovery.

Setting off down the Tyne it soon became clear that the angle of the engine mount needed adjusting as the bow rose high out of the water every time the throttle was opened to any degree; Moving bodies and equipment forward helped trim the boat but without the benefit of power tilt, no one dared risk adjusting the engine pin in case it dropped down into the dark depths of the Tyne.

Once out of the Tyne , with a brisk breeze blowing and numerous whitecaps racing across the bay, we ploughed on with plenty of spray crashing over the bow. Small RIBs are definitely much wetter than their larger models! Nevertheless we pressed on regardless through the wind and spray in search of the wreck site of the Oslofjord and Chandris. Without GPS or a sounder we were entirely reliant upon landmarks. Near to the estimated position of these wrecks was a lobster line. Diving down this line, Richard and Peter found that the pot had indeed been dropped close to a large boiler from the Chandris. Underwater visibility proved to be excellent for this area off the Tyne with several metres plus.

 Drifting on, we passed over hundreds of corroding 303 bullets scattered amongst the wreck debris. Before long we had crossed from the wreck of the Chandris onto the Oslofjord. It is hard to differentiate where each wreck begins and ends, as the bottom is just a mass of wreckage and rusting plates. However the remains of the engine room of the Oslofjord is easily recognizable by the presence of the large diesel engines that are still in place and which rise several metres off the seabed. Around them, emerging from the sand, are the remains of the tiled engine room floor.

Moving on we continued are drift over collapsed box sections of wreckage, through shoals of fish, passing over several lobsters and crabs visible amongst the many nooks and crannies provided by the twisted metal work. In the good visibility it was amazing to see just how much life has colonised this wreck.

After nearly 50 minutes it was time to return to the surface and the waiting RIB.

Once back on shore, the engine-mounting pin was successfully adjusted and we spent the next 30 minutes racing around the harbour area before reluctantly recovering the boat from the water.

Hopefully the remainder of the summer will provide other opportunities for us to experience the joys of small boat diving. Meantime, the possibility of venturing further afield and exploring some of the more distant Scottish sea lochs appears ever more attractive.

Could this be the start of a squidgy boat diving renaissance within Tyneside 114? Watch this space for further instalments of small boat diving adventures.