UKRS Littlehampton, July 2004

Due to a miracle of organisation, 5 of us ended up staying in Bognor Regis, most of the rest were in Littlehampton except Craig who decided to get back to nature and bring his tent. Our B&B said they did do early breakfasts, but 6am was apparently too early, so they left me an exciting bowl of cornflakes and two slices of bread. I didn't really think I was getting my money's worth and, at £25 a night each for a twin room, it wasn't cheap.

So we all arrived bright and early at the quayside in Littlehampton. We were diving on Michelle Mary, a boat that's been around for years, but this was the first time I, or UKRS as a group, had been on it. It has the prerequisite lift on the back, so no ladder climbing this weekend.

After a short discussion, we decided to go and do the HMS Northcoates. The closest I've got to diving this wreck is an entry in my logbook entitled “Seabed near Northcoates”. It wasn't one of my most memorable dives. The ship was quite small, a 277 ton armed trawler and sank on the 2nd December in bad weather whilst under tow.

Slack was a bit late, probably due to the high pressure, so it was a relief to get in the water and down the shotline. This time there was definitely a wreck at the end of the line. In fact the line was just behind the wheelhouse. We had a little swim around inside and I spotted a candy stripe flatworm crawling around in there. Then we went down the starboard side and under the bows, where I just managed to get 30.0m on my depth gauge in the small scour there.

Then it was back up the port side to the rudder, and then back down the starboard side, past the boilers and back to the shot line again. We still had plenty of time, so meandered up the middle to the stern again and then came half way back. There were big shoals of bib, some pollack, a couple of grey mullet, a couple of lobsters, various crabs and about five congers in various parts of the wreck.

It was a nice dive. It's not a big wreck, but it looks very much like a ship, which is always nice. We left the bottom just after 40 minutes. As we were on 30%, we had quite a few stops and eventually surfaced with a run time of 57 minutes. The viz was an impressive 8m and the water temperature was a summery 16.5°C.

Second dives in the area are always drift dives. This was no exception and we went in on a group of rocks called the Waldrons. There were lots of wrasse, poor code, mainly juvenile bib and a couple of red mullet. The rocks themselves are honeycombed and have various sponge and weed life growing on them. It wasn't very exciting, so after doing 30 mins bottom time to show willing, we came back up for a total dive time of 36 minutes. Maximum depth was 12.7m.

Getting back to the harbour, the excitement started. We were just about to pack our kit up when there was a muffled bang from a boat on the other side of the Arun river. A guy then quickly jumped from the boat into the water. Plumes of black smoke started to pour out and soon there were yellow flames apparent, which got bigger when the gas lines ruptured with a loud hissing sound. Eventually the fire brigade got there, but not before the boat had been gutted.

That night we decided that we'd go out in Bognor as the town itself appeared to be a bit more lively than Littlehampton. The town is celebrating 75 years of having “Regis” in its name. In fact Bognor has quite a distinguised royal history. King George V's last word was “Bognor”. Sadly his penultimate one was “bugger”, but you can't have everything. We stuck with the old reliable, Wetherspoons. At least you know you'll get a reasonable quality meal at a reasonable price there. The guys came over from Littlehampton and Craig managed to tear himself away from singing “Ging gang gooly” at the campsite to join up.

The next morning, and the 7am start was still too early to get any breakfast. When they'd said that they did early breakfasts the day before, they must have meant 9am, as this seemed to be the only time on offer. Sharon and Adam had decided to give the day a miss, and their late, lie-in breakfast was curiously also at 9am.

Our first dive was the Gascony. This is a much larger wreck, at 3133 tons and it was sunk on 6th January 1918 by a mine laid by UC-75. The shot was up the stern end, so we headed that way first and small past the stern. The prop has been salvaged, but the shaft is still there. The stern is upside down, but still looks very stern shaped.

We then swam towards the bows, past the cargo of gun carriages. The wheels are easily recognisable with their spokes. The wreck is twisted in the middle as the bows lay on their port side. It is quite broken, but there are various places to swim inside. There seemed to be lobsters all over the place, as well as the usual bib and a couple of red mullet. Our dive time was 52 mins and maximum depth was 28m. We were diving on the low water slack. The viz was a bit worse than the previous day, but still a respectable 6m or so.

Second dive was another scabby drift, this time on a reef called Willy's Reef. I sat it out. I was using twin 7s, so didn't have enough for a second dive anyway. Apparently I missed out on seeing lots of spider crabs on dogfish. I wasn't too upset.

Heading back and the sea had picked up a bit. It was probably a force 4, maybe a 5. We'd almost got to our mooring in the harbour when the boat turned around and hammered it out to the Waldrons. Two divers were missing and we were joining the search. The helicopter was also out and it was they who found the divers. It hovered overhead the pair and we went to pick them up.

Dressed as they were in black, we were very close before you could see them from the water. They did have a yellow SMB, but it was unsealed and was trailing in the water. If it had been me, I would have tied a knot in the end and would have been waving it. It brought home how important it is to either have a flagged or a sealed DSMB that you can wave above your head.

Still the pair were OK. There was nothing wrong with them that a drink of water couldn't cure and we took them back in. They'd been on the surface for about 40 minutes waiting, so not too long. There being no further dramas for the weekend, we unpacked and went home.