Devon Diving News No. 3

It was truly excellent meeting up with you all again at Whitsun (and not in Devon - a very brave decision!) The diving was excellent, as well, and certainly justifies going again next year. The experience of seeing the Basking Sharks really impressed Claire and Laura. We've taken the liberty of booking up a pitch for our caravan next year, if you can cope with us again!

I must say Porthkerris Beach is great for launching from - they do it for you! but it does seem to defy the tradition of grunting and sweating up steep beaches with an outboard on your back - is every one getting soft? Mind you I think driving up to the Dive Centre for Cream Teas between dives does have style!

I looked up my log book when I got back and found I'd logged three dives on the Manacles in August 1972. One was on the 'Mohegan' which looked more ship-shaped then and I remember finding huge gaskets in the engine room area. I've read up about the wreck and her cargo. She was carrying 500 barrels of creosote which probably explains what the mothball smelling, gooey, brown lump that Steve and I found was made of.

The second dive proved particularly memorable but not until many months afterwards. As we were going out to the dive site we saw several Porbeagle, possibly Mako, sharks in the area chasing shoals of Mackerel. They seemed to have disappeared by the time we got on site, so we decided to go ahead. I ended up doing a drift dive which got progressively shallower. When we were picked up the others were all smirking and asked if we'd seen anything 'big'. We hadn't and asked why, so they then told us that for most of the dive three of the sharks we'd seen earlier had followed our SMB, occasionally going down by the line. This didn't bother me until I read in the Observer a few months later about a diver who had been 'attacked' by a shark while getting into a boat after diving the Manacles in July 1972. It apparently rushed towards him as he pulled himself over the side of the inflatable. Makes you think, doesn't it!

The other dive was one to forget really - Hall of Shame stuff - but I was young then and easily lead astray. It seems that the rest of the Branch had returned to Exeter leaving me and a real character called Stan behind. He had a small bass boat, the weather was good so we launched from Falmouth Harbour and then crossed to the Manacles. We ended up diving in 30 metres amongst pinnacles using the anchor and rope as the SMB line with the boat acting as the buoy itself. I seem to remember collecting a Crawfish on the way up which was consumed later in the day! Stan had a long history of near misses in and out of the water. When the Branch went to Spain in the late sixties he ended up seducing the local Mayor's daughter who seemed to be under the impression that Stan had matrimonial intentions. When the truth eventually emerged she told her father. Now this was in Generalissimo Franco's Catholic Spain and family honour had been compromised, demanding satisfaction preferably in the form of blood - Stan's in particular. The others eventually managed to smuggle him aboard a train to France out of town in disguise, probably saving his life.

The diving has been good out of Plymouth, this summer. The Branch has a boat house on the quay near the Mayflower Steps. Launching is easy, especially with a car, and many evening dives take place while the light holds out. It is really good to go out around 6.00 p.m., have a dive and be back just before dark. A lot of open water training takes place this way leaving weekends for other diving. Now that it's darker night diving is all the rage! We did an excellent one on the James Egan Layne in September. The weather calmed down and we had an easy run out past Rame Head. There were a number of deer on the cliff top which added to the experience. Once on site it was a short wait for sunset and down we went. There was a lot of phosphorescence in the water which left glowing trails as air bubbles went up disturbing the water. Somehow I managed to miss the wreck and hit the bottom in 20 metres. We shone our torches out into the dark and slowly turned around eventually picking out a wall of steel in the torch beams. The trick is to not let your SMB get in the way, so we'd drop down into a hold, have a good look around and up and down into the next open area, As the night wore on the moon rose higher and there's nothing quite like handling an inflatable at speed, going into Plymouth Sound by moon and starlight leaving a luminescent trail behind you. We made the pub for last orders!

By the way the son of the real James Egan Layne, Wallace, has been over from the U.S.A and was taken out to the wreck by a diving team from Plymouth University. He didn't dive but a video camera was used to relay pictures back to him on the surface. Quite a moving moment for him, I've been told.

Another night dive was on the west end of the Breakwater. Lots of crabs, squat lobsters and other life. The Navy was busy that night and you could hear the throb of warships moving in and out of the Sound all evening. It's quite eerie coxing the boat in the dark and watching these great black shadows come slowly by with only their navigation lights on. Quite a contrast to the Brittany ferry that was lit up like a Xmas tree. You could only make out the warships when they were silhouetted against the bright lights of Plymouth.

I don't know if you recall seeing it from Queen Anne's Battery but the site opposite is the old RAF Air Sea Rescue and former seaplane base at Mountbatten. Historical note - T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was based there after joining the RAF in the years after World War 1. Well now, this has been given for free, yes free!, to all the Plymouth watersports groups (sailing, canoe, sub-aqua etc.) by the City Council in return for the present club houses which are on a site scheduled for redevelopment. We've been given a multi-million pound lottery grant to do it up as a national watersports centre, free to members of the watersports clubs. All we have to pay is an economical rent which will be set low and gradually rise to the going rate to cover costs. It will be managed by a full time staff but ultimate control rests with a Management Committee made up of the representatives from the Clubs. There will be a slipway for diveboats, boathouses, compressor room, clubhouse, lecture rooms, bar with catering showers, changing rooms and residential accommodation for on-site courses. Visiting divers are welcome but will have to pay something for use of the facilities. It's definitely going to happen and we move in April !

I've now taken up Area Coaching again and have got my patch in Plymouth and South Devon. I've got 8 Branches to look after - a mixture of General, Special and Youth Branches including the University, Fort Bovisand and Sound Diving Branches. The Region is quite disorganised at the moment but Carol, new Regional Coach, is making a real go of getting things up and running. I've been busy with ITCs, CIEs and OWIs and am currently planning Lifesaver, Oxy Admin and Marine Life ID courses for the Branch and the Region. Lynda says that I might even see her as well on the odd weekend. Who knows, I might also meet some one from CRABBSAC on one of our courses.

See you soon!

Pete Messenger

This page was last updated on : 06 Sep 2011