Divers sitting on the boat

Plymouth Wrecks with InDeep

By Nic Faulks – Diving 5-9th July 2021

Our club trip to Plymouth was supposed to have taken place in June 2020, but due to covid-19 it was rearranged to July 2021. A whole week of diving with six club divers and a couple of visitors! We all found our way down to Plymouth for Sunday evening, some breaking the journey with friends and family, others driving all of the way. The accommodation was the Boringdon Arms a nice olde pub about a 10 minute walk from the dive centre. The diving was with InDeep dive centre, based out of the Mount Batten water sports centre.  

Spiny spider crab on the JEL
Spiny spider crab on the JEL

On Monday, the first day, we dived from Panther, a nice purpose built dive boat, quite fast in the water too. The weather wasn’t looking too good, but a day of diving would be possible. We had the safety brief before we set up, during which there was a bit of a squeak from Nic – her rebreather wouldn’t calibrate, in fact the solenoid was stuck….

A rush back to the hotel ensued, and a spare head was sought (thank you Steve R); and 30 minutes later a band of happy divers were able to leave the harbour all with working kit!

The first dive was on one of the best known wrecks in the UK, the James Eagan Layne (JEL). She was a liberty ship, built during the second world war; not the prettiest of ships – they were known as the ugly ducklings. But they did fulfil their purpose of carrying tonnes of cargo throughout the second world war. It was sunk by a German U boat (U1195).

The JEL is a lovely dive despite the fact that much of it has collapsed, but there is a lot of life on it, including a friendly dogfish/catshark on the deck, lots of large spiny spider crabs and some beautiful anemones. It is possible to swim through some of the still standing super structure, where the floor is scattered with debris such as davits, cables and bits of engine.

The second dive was the Scylla, built in 1968, as a Royal Leander class naval frigate, HMS Scylla sunk purposely as Europe’s first artificial reef for divers in 2004 in about 24m of water. You can swim through many holes in the hull, and she is quite safe to explore both inside and outside. The hull and deck are also covered with marine life, so there is plenty to see for both fish and flowers people as well as die hard wreck lovers.

SiFish exiting the Scylla

The three bits that made the biggest impression were the propeller mountings on the stern, the engine or turbine room and the bunk room, still with bits of recognisable bed frame. You really can do a very long swim through on this wreck too.

Happy Tompot Blenny!
Happy Tompot Blenny on the Eddystone Reef.

Back to shore, we left most of the gear on the boat, then walked back to the pub were we were staying. Dinner was included in the price, so why miss it? We all ate well, then went our own way for the rest of the evening, generally involving a walk around the coast. The only thing that was lacking was a drying room.

Tuesday dawned grey and wet. No diving – wind speeds were up to 60 mph. Not good for the visibility either. As a group we all found different activities to amuse ourselves, but at some point everyone independently seemed to visit Aquanauts – the only dive shop in Plymouth and took a walk along the coast to see if the sea was really that bad, which it was!

Wednesday, day three, was much calmer and clearer that the day before, so hope was in the air! The sea was still a bit lumpy with a strong south westerly wind still blowing. While loading the kit on to the boat, Richard’s buddy Marion tripped over a ridge of metal on the curb by the pontoon gate and took a nasty tumble. She gritted her teeth and decided to do the first dive of the day…. The SS Persier, a Belgian steamer (built in 1918). She was struck by a torpedo and sunk in February 1945. She did not sink immediately, but eventually sunk bow first, on to a reef at 28 metres depth in Bigbury Bay.

Although mostly collapsed, various parts are still recognisable, even in the 1-2 metres visibility that we had during this dive. The boilers and engine block could be seen, then following the propeller shaft, you get completely lost as it lies in sections, across the wreckage! But if you persevere, you may well find the huge rudder section, with no propeller to be seen. To be fair, this dive probably wasn’t the best of the trip, but the “you know you are at the bottom when you hit it” visibility never makes for a good dive.

The Second dive wasn’t a whole lot better. There was quite a bit of surge, and the dive was at 18 metres on the Le Polumic. Essentially just a few chunks of metal on the sea bed, lying adjacent to a reef, this may have been a good rummage dive, but the swell didn’t make for a relaxing dive.

Sleeping on the way home
Chilling on the way back from the Persier

Back on dry land, Marion could hardly walk and the bruising on her knee was quite remarkable. After a trip to the walk in centre, then the A and E, she was advised that she had broken her knee cap. Ouch! No more diving and a trip home. Such a shame as the weather looked as if it was only going to improve and Marion proved to be a good diver and a firm part of our team as Richard’s buddy.

Eddystone Lighthouse
Eddystone Lighthouse

Thursday dawned with blue sky and a much calmer, though not a totally flat sea. So having changed boats to Seeker, the day before and now spending the rest of the week on this boat, we headed out to Eddystone Light House. Our team had grown slightly with Nick’s friend Adam joining us as well as Andy Hunt, former club DO.

We did two lovely dives in the Eddystone, all fish and flowers with no wrecks in sight. Walls covered with jewel anemones and loads of seafans on the boulders below. If you looked closely there were also ling and crawfish to see too. Everyone seemed to enjoy the relaxed diving, even if a couple proved in capable of following the dive brief…. You know who you are!

Friday arrived – the final day, with visibility improving. The sea was flat calm. Again we decided to head out to the Eddystone lighthouse to dive as the visibility was guaranteed here. We did a nice dive, settling down to the 24 metre contour and following it around for 50 minutes or so, playing with the crabs and fish along the way. All very fish and flowers.

The final dive was on the Scylla again, but now that we all knew the dive, it was quite fun diving in and out of the holes in the hull, seeing where we ended up and how far you could get just staying inside the wreck. Due to the familiarity of this dive, being the second time, everyone seemed to really enjoy it.

Bunk room in the Scylla
Dorm Room in the Scylla

So the week had come to an end, four days diving out of five, but we couldn’t control the weather. The whole package was good value at £500 for diving, air, accommodation and food. All in all, this is definitely a trip we will organise again, people just need to remember, that Lochaline is probably a similar drive time as Plymouth if you live in Newcastle or Durham!

Group shot in the sun shine!