So, it was that time of year again. Christmas is over
and theres nothing on until Easter. Sometime around
the end of December youre all in a pub somewhere, wondering
how long youve been out of the water. Everyones
returning from or leaving for their liveaboards in the
Med, and you get that itch; lets do something, anything,
a weekend in Cornwall, a trip to Stony, heck even a day in
Wraysbury seems good right now. Someone suggests it, everyone
thinks its an outstanding idea:
Lets get it on, lets get wet at the end of January, the
first dive of the year! Its sure to be good weather,
the gray clouds will have lifted, its starting to get warmer
again, the weathers always better down on the coast
anyway, lets, load up the car and get back into the water
for the first dive of the year, were going to Portland!
|Uncannily, what had seemed
like an excellent idea in the pub last year grows less and less
attractive as the weekend finally draws nearer, the Met office
is predicting more snow, more ice and more dark, damp cold.
Still, were signed up, paid up and weve booked two
nights and four boat dives, so its time to put up or shut up.
||Coming from all over
London, scurrying along the A3 leaving the city behind, hurtling
down the M3 for a good few hours drive to the coast, cars loaded
down with damp, heavy bags, the crew arrived at different times
on Friday evening.
|The first wave headed
straight into Weymouth to sample the many and varied delights
of Dorset nightlife, mainly lager and curry. Youve got
to have a curry havent you, thats what dry suit
diving is all about!
|Dan, mad as a hatter,
larger-than- life, bluff and possibly a little simple, is resplendent
in his tank commander’s hat and has a joke ready about
everything and everyone. The restaurant soon resonates to the
elfin tinkle of Sirrell’s laughter, like a merry little
brook on a bright summers day.
|Dave, equally mad but shorter than
Dan, with a less tinkly laugh than Sirrell and who’s mind
works in even more bizarre ways, manages to simultaneously convince
the long-suffering Indian waiter that he’s both a serving
on a submarine and serving time in jail. He takes the remainder
of his meal from under the table; the only sign of him the occasional
hand coming up for his shandy.
The waiters begin
to mutter amongst themselves and a hasty exit is made to narrowly
avoid being tossed out onto the street.
Outside the restaurant Dave’s attempts to befriend
the locals came to naught and it
|was decided to head back
to the hotel before the natives blew up the road back as a revenge
for Dan’s unkind commentsregarding the gang-bang being
held at the Working Men’s Club next door. You’d
think Dan would know better, being from Cornwall.
||Back in the bar at the Aqua hotel
the full complement of divers had arrived and an outstanding
dive evening was getting underway. Introductions were made,
beer flowed like, well, beer, tall tales were told, halves of
cider were knocked back with reckless abandon (you know who
you are Mijnheer!) and bottoms were beaten with diving fins
(we all know who you are!).
||Garry and Candice compared Sharm
experiences with Yvonne and earned a great deal of respect for
swapping temperate South Africa for wintery England, and then
making their first UK dive in Portland, in January!
|Sally belied her tender
years by recognising almost any pop song written in a time when
she must have still been in nappies. Bless. Yvonne worked her
magic and persuaded Dave to talk about his least favourite topic,
cars, but only for an hour or two. Dan, who’s Indian name
is He Who Dances Without Trousers, proudly showed anyone who
was unfortunate enough to be watching the marks left by the
aforementioned Fin Beating administered by Dave, who in turn
did his charming best to
|persuade the lovely Candice
to have a drink (the phrase “A pint of vodka for the lady
please” resonates) and dance some more.
||As it turned out Sally did the dancing,
Yvonne talked about the cars and everyone else did the drinking.
Evening turned into nighttime and became early morning, Debbie
the stoical barmaid started nodding off and those who hadn’t
already turned in to get a good night’s sleep stumbled
off to bed to rest up for a stonking day’s divin
|Saturday morning came
too soon, especially for those kept awake by Dan’s inability
to find the men’s bunkroom. In the event the cold front
promised by the Met Office was delayed and the weather was splendid:
the sun shone, the sky was blue, you couldn’t have asked
for better conditions, above the water anyway..
We breakfasted, kitted
up and and made our way down to the boat at a leisurely pace.
The Maverick, with its hydraulic lift (fantastic!), was skippered
by Andy who can put you bang on any wreck you want and is
the calmest skipper within fifty miles, even when confronted
with a gobby diver who remembers he left his “flippers”
in the car park just as we cast off.
We got in three dives, the Cannonball Run, the Countess
of Earn and the Spaniard combined with an unknown
wreck. Conditions under the water were cold and wet with a
strong tendency to silt if you were careless with your boyancy.
The picture to the right isn't the Maverick mind, its Warren's
Run is a gentle, two-knot drift dive over flat, clay
seabed leading up to the entrance of Portland harbour. The entire
sea bed here is covered with lobster and crab shells, prompting
more than one of us to wonder what was eating all these lobsters,
and hoping that it only hunted at night. Dogfish, prawns and
a sizeable spider crab were spotted as well as an adult male
dragonet whose fluorescent blue markings came up beautifully
under the dive lights. Andy told us a few stretchers and implied
that there were also cannonballs to find, next time perhaps.
Depth was up to 14 meters, viz 2-4 meters, bottom temperature
||The Countess of Erne,
built in the early 1880’s,was a converted paddle steamer,
which sank inside the harbour in 1935. She is approximately
70 meters long and lies upright in about 14 meters. During the
summer she can be a spectacular dive with clear visibility out
to 12 meters and a smorgasbord of underwater life that will
have you staring with slack-jawed wonder. Not at the end of
January however; rich, vibrant, colourful, balmy, alive, none
of these words apply. The Countess is an interesting winter
wreck if you’re first in the water as the silt has to
be seen to be believed. Her sheer size is very impressive tough,
especially if you get under her immense stern and look up along
the anchor line. There was plenty of area to cover and it’s
even possible to dive “inside” the ship, as the
cargo holds are open. Bottom temperature was 8°and the viz
varied from 0-3 meters, depending on whether you were diving
ahead of or behind Dave “McCloud” Mattier, who left
a billowing fog behind him which would put you in mind of a
Mormon wagon train crossing the American mid-West on a very
||The Spaniard, also
known as the Enecuri, is a 3000-ton steamship that dragged her
anchor in a Force 9 gale in December 1900 and was grounded on
the rocks by the Breakwater where she eventually sank in 16
meters, badly broken up. Consequently the Spaniard lies in several
large pieces that are easy to explore, however at this time
of year there is little on the wreck apart from a few small
blennies. Being in the harbour there was no current, which was
good, as the silt punished any diver who was not fastidious
about buoyancy control. Indeed, it was an excellent dive to
practice tight buddy work as you could be silted out in a matter
of seconds and not see the hand in front of your face. Apparently
Dan spotted something, possibly a fish of some description (“brown,
about yay long, couple of fins”) but he might have been
distracted practicing some tight buddy work of his own. The
rest of us took the fact that that it was so cold that even
the fish had left as a sign, and called it a day. It was time
to dry out, pack up and head down to the pub for Sunday lunch
and the drive home.
So, in spite of a distinct chill in the water and plenty
of silt, it was a great weekend with an excellent crowd. Thanks
to Phil for sorting it all out, and welcome on board to Garry,
Candice and Sally who we haven’t had the opportunity
to dive with before. Next up are Brighton, Falmouth and the
Wreysbury day, see you all there. ch
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