First sea dives in Swanage

This trip has been set up to introduce newly qualified Ocean Divers to diving in the sea.

Having suffered a broken rib 12 weeks ago, I had only managed a few days at Stoney since qualifying, I was seriously doubting whether I should be going on this trip. I was reassured that this trip was designed for newbies and my dive buddy would take good care of me. We had a mixed forecast, cloud, sun, rain and plenty of wind. We were a group of 12 in a mix of different types of accommodation. I had opted to camp thinking this would be where the party was.

Diving on Saturday and Sunday was looking doubtful due to the exposed conditions – the forecast was force 5-6 south westerlies. On Friday morning, Bryan from Swanage Boat Charters cancelled all of our planned dives and it looked like we might only get to dive Swanage Pier. I was feeling quite relieved at this prospect—the only one!

We congregated in the carpark on the Pier to get ourselves ready. The sea didn’t look too scary, beautiful clear water, not too much swell and steps leading down to the waters’ edge. My buddy Angie at my side, looking out to sea, calmly talking me through our dive plan and assuring me this would be fun…

We kitted up, buddy checked and made our way into the sea.

The water was beautifully clear and not too cold, which was just as well for those with leaky suits. We made our way under the Pier in 3m of water to be met by many fish, most of which I didn’t recognise. Apparently, the fish to see was the Tompot Blenny—a cute little thing with horns on top of its head hiding in little crevices.

The dive went well, meeting up with other pairs from the group, posing for photos and trying to look like I had my buoyancy under control. On the return we were swished around with the returning tide. The biggest challenge to this dive was getting our fins on and off amongst the slippery rocks.

Due to the uncertainty of diving from the boat on Saturday and Sunday, Simon had managed to bring the trip to the Fleur de Lys forward to that afternoon… Was I ready?

We boarded the Viper, listened intently to the skipper’s brief and all too soon were jumping off the back. At the top of the shot line, heart in my mouth, Angie gave the thumbs down signal and off we went. Slowly we descended, eventually I could see the bottom and my breathing rate calmed and it was just like being at Stoney Cove, only here the visibility was much better with fish everywhere. As we set off the current became evident, and I didn’t always find myself where I wanted to be in relationship to my buddy (if only I had better finning skills!)—occasionally I was alongside, above, below and behind with fin in face. We made our way around the wrecks, there was plenty to see including numerous other divers who also had to be avoided. To be honest it was all a bit of a blur and time whizzed by. Eventually we broke onto the surface with BCD jackets inflated. Viper seemed to be charging back to us looking quite menacing from the water. We all grabbed the rope hanging off her starboard side. One by one we were lifted out of the water. Stepping onto the lift wasn’t as easy as it looked, light distortion plays havoc with one’s perspective. Kate had warned me about this and I lifted my knee extra high and was thankful for my short RK3 fins. As I returned to the deck my fellow divers gave me a warm clap, I think almost as relieved as I was, it had all gone really well. We were all treated to a warm drink on our return to shore. That night we dined together at the Anchor excitedly exchanging sightings, photos and experiences, it was a great end to a fabulous day.

Arriving early at the pier on Saturday we learned we were going to do a drift dive in the morning and if possible the “Valentine tanks” in the afternoon. Conger eels!!

We set off on Mary Jo to the drop off point and jumped off like lemmings one after the other. This time a controlled descent with no shot line. Staying close to Angie we slowly made it to the sea bed, our DSMB was launched and off we cruised, the sea bed whizzing along beneath us. This was great fun, pointing out to each other with excited squeals as we floated over the various marine life. This was my sort of diving, particularly as my finning muscles were fatigued! We saw undulated and spotted rays, dog fish, lobsters, crabs and flat fish. Sadly our gas supply indicated returning to the surface and we were collected 2 by 2. What a fabulous dive!

The decision had been made to take the boat out to the Valentine Tanks in the afternoon and go visit the eels. I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it!

That afternoon we descended the shot line to the tanks. As we only had a limited slack window, we all entered the water one after the other in a sort of clumsy conga.

There were so many fish around us that, at first, I hardly noticed the actual tank. Then I spotted an eel peering out at us from underneath it. It looked pretty content and whilst it was stationary, I was relatively happy but had no intention of getting close. There seemed to be dozens of eels of all different sizes, thankfully none of them came out to play. I really enjoyed hovering in the current amongst the shoals of Bib—I would have been quite happy to just stay there and observe. Eventually it was time to go. The downside of everyone entering the water together was that we all arrived back at the shot line at the same time. The poor little buoy couldn’t cope with a group of divers holding on in the current and gradually began sinking so a couple of groups set off their DSMBs and did their safety stops separately. At the surface the sea state was picking up and getting back to the boat was quite a challenge—I found a few muscles I didn’t know I had! More hot drinks as we returned to shore and a sense of achievement and euphoria setting in.

Shoreside we wearily made our way back to camp to freshen up. That evening we dined at the Kings Arms and took a taxi back to Swanage to watch the fireworks and join in the festival with much fun and dancing.

What a great trip, many thanks to Simon for making this happen, to Angie for being a brilliant buddy, to Bryan at Swanage Boat Charters for managing to get us all diving in spite of the weather conditions, and to all my fellow divers. What a wonderful group you are. I can’t wait till the next trip…

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