Portland, January 2004
   
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So, it was that time of year again. Christmas is over and there’s nothing on until Easter. Sometime around the end of December you’re all in a pub somewhere, wondering how long you’ve been out of the water. Everyone’s returning from or leaving for their liveaboard’s in the Med, and you get that itch; let’s 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! It’s sure to be good weather, the gray clouds will have lifted, its starting to get warmer again, the weather’s 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, we’re 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, we’re signed up, paid up and we’ve 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. You’ve got to have a curry haven’t you, that’s 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 new liveaboard..

The Cannonball 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 of 8°. 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 dusty day. 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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