Weymouth, August Bank Holiday 2001

UKRS trips have a reputation for being a bit techie, and largely I think it's undeserved. This time, however, we were planning to do some deeper stuff. Steve had booked Divetime, an Offshore 125, with enough room for 12 divers with full kit and a lift at the back to make getting back on the boat easier.

The first wreck we planned to do was the Iolanthe. The bad news was that the boat was going to leave at 7.30am. The road outside our B&B was particularly noisy on a Friday night including a drunken football game in the middle of the road at 3.30am dodging the honking cars. So I hadn't had a great deal of sleep. Somehow, Steve managed to persuade the landlady to do us breakfast at that ungodly hour, so at least I didn't have an empty stomach, and thanks to my Kwells, I intended to keep it that way.

The Iolanthe was sunk on Christmas Day 1917. It was torpedoed by UC75 and whilst everyone got off OK, they were unable to get her back into harbour. At the time, she was en-route from Glasgow to the Isle of Wight with a cargo of hay and railway trucks. I'd dived her three weeks before and the visibility had been excellent with the large boiler and railway trucks clearly visible. This time the viz was not so good. It appeared that a fresh plankton bloom had started and the water looked a bit green before we got in.

As we were planning 2 dives a day, I'd decided to use a fairly conservative set of tables and my plan was to do 46m for a bottom time of 24 minutes. My backgas was 20% oxygen, 37% helium and the rest nitrogen. This is commonly written as 20/37 and it meant that at 46m, I would have an equivalent narcotic depth of only about 20m. So I would have a completely clear head. At the bottom it was dark and I wished that I'd switched the back light on my Cochran. Unfortunately, you can't do it in the water. At the bottom of the shot was one of the railway trucks and not a lot else apart from the sea bed and lots of divers' lights milling around. The viz was about 3m. Fortunately we found the rest of the wreck and headed off towards the bows, though in that viz it was hard to get an overall picture of the wreck. I certainly didn't recognise it from my previous dive, though I had concentrated more on the stern on that occasion.

At the bows was a fairly deep scour and it would have been possible to get at least a couple of extra metres depth. As it was, I stuck to 44.9m, inside my 46m plan, and we left the bottom a minute early. My first deco stop was at 24m, and then at 21m, I switched off the backgas and onto my 50% nitrox mix. I stopped for a minute at 15m and 12m, before getting to 9m where I switched to my second nitrox mix, 80%. Using 80% as well as 50% would have got me out of the water 5 minutes earlier, but I stuck to the 50% plan for the extra conservatism. At 6m, I got out half a copy of Loaded to pass the time. 18 minutes hanging around at 6m can get a little boring and it's perfectly possible to read a magazine as long as you're careful. It does ended up as paper mache when you've finished though. From 6m, I took a further 5 minutes to reach the surface and I was back on the boat.

Paul, the skipper, does homemade soups and rolls as part of the deal, so we had that for lunch. The plan in the afternoon was to dive the bow section of the Black Hawk. The ship was an American Liberty ship and was torpedoed by the U772. In the explosion the stern came away completely. The front of the ship was then towed for beaching to Worbarrow Bay where it stayed until after the war when she was blown up by the Navy since she was a navigation hazard. Then in the 1960s she was blown up again when the AEA wanted to lay a pipeline. So the wreck is pretty well broken up, in about 17m. I used my twin 7s with 36% nitrox and had a pleasant enough bimble around the wreckage. There were a couple of swim-throughs, shoals of bib and some wrasse about. The viz was better at around 4m and it was, of course, a lot lighter at that depth.

The next morning we went to dive the stern section. I'd had my tanks topped up with air to 200 bar, which gave me a mix of 21/27. I didn't really need them full because the amount of deco gas I carry tends to be more on a restriction than the backgas. The plan was to go to 49m where my equivalent narcotic depth would be 29m. At the bottom of the shot, it was again dark, though not a bad as the previous day with the viz around the 6-8m mark. This time I'd turned my backlight on, though typically it wasn't really necessary. At the bottom of the shot was a ladder and the seabed. We swam off a little before realising that the stern was right next to us, upright on the bottom. We went up on the deck and swam to the back where the prop shaft was. At one point a free swimming conger eel came out of the wreck, swam between my legs and generally frightened the life out of me. The prop was bronze, so it has long been salvaged. Later we heard that there was a gun on the seabed off the starboard side, but we headed back up the wreck peering into the various holes. There were at least a couple more congers in there as well as the usual bib. We left the bottom at 25 minutes and it wasn't until an hour and 7 minutes total runtime that we surfaced. This time I just used 50% for my deco and I finished the other half of my magazine at the 6m stop.

That afternoon some people did the James Fennel, which is quite shallow in about 15m to the west of Portland Bill. I couldn't be bothered, so sat that one out.

The next day we did the Minerva. This was a Norwegian steamship which was sunk by a U-boat on May 10th 1917. At the time she was only carrying ballast, so there was nothing interesting in the cargo. I used a mix of 24/24 this time and had a planned depth of 44m. I was carrying both 50% and 80% stages. This time the shot was right on the top of the wreck and it was a bit reminiscent of the Countess of Erme, which a mostly intact deck and access hatches at various points. At the stern was what was left of the prop, which now has a blade missing. It was also the deepest point where I registered 43.9m, though I could have gone a little deeper. There were plenty of bib on the wreck, plus blennies. At the front was a large amount of netting with bits of old tires wrapped in it. There was also a very rusty winch and some intriguing looking bits of pipe sticking out at one point. As we were bagging off from the bottom, Gordon came past on his rebreather and said "bye bye". It's a lot easier to understand rebreather divers when they speak, so it was very clear, but because of the helium, it was also very high and he sounded just like one of the Teletubbies.

As it was "only" 44m, we did 30 minutes on the bottom this time and my dive time was an hour and 4 minutes. Sadly I didn't have magazine with me this time, so it was a bit boring. I could have got out of the water earlier, but waited for Steve who was only using 50% and a slightly weaker bottom mix.

That afternoon we were supposed to be doing the Hood, but no-one was that bothered so we headed in for an early finish. It worked quite well as I beat the traffic home and even washed my kit that day. And that hasn't happened for a while.

So thanks to Steve for organising it and it was a most enjoyable long weekend. It was also quite tiring. Without the weightbelt, my kit weighs about 50kgs, or over 100lbs, empty. Full it weighs about another 10 kgs. Lifts on the back of boats are definitely a good idea. I think they should be compulsory.