Plymouth, October 2001

I decided to try and organise a UKRS trip a bit later in the year than usual. Plymouth seemed like a good idea as we hadn't done a trip there in ages. I booked the hardboat Storm. It launches from the Mount Batten centre, which has plenty of free parking and you can now get nitrox and trimix fills there from Deep Blue. We stayed in the New Inn in Turnchapel, which was only 5 minutes away from the Mount Batten centre, and had plenty of car parking. They also did reasonable food.

One of the nice things about diving in Plymouth is that many of the sites aren't particularly tidal. So we arranged to meet the boat at a civilised 9am. The weather was good. The sun was shining and there wasn't much wind. Outside of the breakwater, there was a bit of swell, but nothing too bad. However, the water was a fairly disgusting brown colour around Plymouth Sound, but it did improve as we headed round to Bigbury Bay.

The plan was to dive the wreck of the Persier first. Storm has got quite wide gunwales, so we needed to do a sideways roll entry. It was years since I'd done one of those, then never with a twinset. There were some fairly undignified entries and a couple of people caught their reels and DSMBs and unfortunately lost them.

I was diving as the last pair in and as we went down the shot, I was pleased to see that the viz wasn't too bad after all. There was some silt in the water, but it was still about 4m. It was a bit grey down there, but there's not a lot of overhead light in October. The temperature hadn't dropped much since the summer. It was still 15°C.

The Persier was a 5382-ton Belgian steamer built in 1918. It was enroute for Belgium with food supplies when it was sunk on the 11th February 1945, by torpedo from UB-1017. The wreckage is quite flat and spread out, so it's hard to get much of a feel for the shape of it, especially in that viz. But there were shoals of bib on the wreck and several wrasse, including some ballan wrasse and goldsinny. One part of the wreck was covered in sea fans and there were also patches of cup coral on the wreckage. Our depth was just under 30m and my total dive time was 38 minutes.

We went back and sheltered from the swell inside the Breakwater for lunch, which most of us had brought with us from the New Inn. Our second dive was the be the Glen Strath Allen. This was a steam powered yacht which was sunk on purpose for divers in 1970 by the then owners of Bovisand. Unfortunately it became a hazard to shipping, so had to be dispersed. It's now quite spread out. There was a boiler and some plates scattered around the nearby area. We had a general look around and then headed off into the nearby kelp. Again there were quite a few fish including some brightly coloured, male cuckoo wrasse. My maximum depth was 17m and we did 36 minutes.

It was a pleasant enough dive, if unexciting. Alasdair decided to add a bit of excitement by not taking his weightbelt, and then not realising until he was on the bottom and about half way through his dive. He had to resort to carrying a large lump of metal from the wreck just to keep himself down.

Dinner was in the New Inn that evening and was pretty good. As the clocks went back, and we were still starting at 9am, we got an extra hour's sleep. The forecast for the Sunday was for rain in the morning, but they'd fortunately got it wrong. It was sunny again for most of the day and the previous day's swell had dropped off.

We decided to dive the HMS Elk. This was a 181-ton former Grimsby fishing trawler, which was converted to a mine sweeper in WWI. It sunk on the 27th November, 1940, when it hit sea mine dropped by German aircraft near the Penlee Point entrance to Plymouth Sound. It now lies in about 31m. It's quite a small wreck, but it sits upright and reasonably intact. There was a little bit of current when we arrived and the first three people in took far too long to get down the shot line and so pulled it off. The rest of us waited until they came back and the wreck was reshotted. Watching their bubbles, they very nearly found it. They must have been very close.

The rest of us went down after the shot had been repositioned. The first pair tied it in, so it was right on the bow when we got down there and freed it up. It was a nice dive with lots of bib in the holds. We didn't bother going inside as you could see down there and there didn't appear to be anything except silt. The engine and boiler are still intact and in position, and we had a good look at them.

As it's only a small wreck, we had plenty of bottom time left and so decided to try and find Elk reef. We were told it was to the west, but couldn't find it. Apparently you need to head off in a more southerly direction than we did. Still it was an enjoyable dive anyway.

For our final dive, we did the wreck of the James Egan Layne. It was a 7176-ton US Liberty ship ship which was sunk in 21 March, 1945, after being hit in starboard side by torpedo from U-1195. It's probably the most dived wreck in the UK and it's well worth doing. We went down the line and headed up towards the bow until we came to a hole in the midships and swam inside. It wasn't really much of an overhead environment. There are plenty of holes above you. The we went thorough and emerged on the starboard side near the back of the wreck. The stern had broken off and is some distance away. Last time I had dived it, there was a rope to it, but it's no longer there and in the 3m viz, I didn't think we'd be able to find it, so we didn't try. It's a shame because I remember it being an impressive sight, covered in plumose anemones.

So we went back inside and started making our way from compartment to compartment. I seemed to have an unerring knack for picking the wrong hole to try and go through, frequently picking one that was just too small. We found what appeared to be a room above the engines. There was one of those angled exhaust pipes that they always have on the decks of ships in cartoons. Towards the end of the dive, we came across a couple of cuttlefish, something I'd not seen in a while. They were curious but eventually lost interest and swam off. Andy was getting low on gas, so we bagged up and came up. Our maximum depth had been 21m and we did an enjoyable 42 minutes.

I hadn't expected much from this weekend, so my expectations were far exceeded. The viz was between 3 and 5 metres on all the dives and the weather was so good that some of the fairer people caught the sun. The boat Storm was a bit small, but fine for 10 of us and we got quite good at the sideways roll by the end of the weekend. It didn't have the best ladder in the world, but the skipper and crew were friendly. It was also good to see some new faces on a UKRS trip for a change. All in all, one of the better weekends of the year.