Devon - May 2003

At the end of May, eight Crawley Divers (Steve Baker, Ted Coleman, Linda Coleman, Louisa Coleman, Bob Carver, Steve Ellott, Frank Jeffery, Mark Mumford, and Mary Lejeune.) embarked on an expedition to Devon. Diving was centred on the Plymouth area, using the well-equipped facilities of the Mount Batten Centre. The week provided some excellent diving.

On the first day, the sky was overcast and the sea was choppy; however the divers were keen. Undeterred by the weather conditions, we set off for a rather bumpy 8-mile voyage in the Tornado to Whitsand Bay, to dive the James Egan Layne.

Possibly one of the most popular sites in the area, this is the wreck of a World War 2 ‘liberty boat’. It was bringing supplies from the USA to England, but was hit by a torpedo and so never completed its mission. Now it’s a haven for sea life and a Mecca for divers. My lasting impression is of a vast underwater sculpture, the metal eroding and corroding to form flat plates and twisted tangles, giant ribs and pointy spikes and huge picture windows where the light streams through. And the outside walls colonised by masses of plumose anemones and dead mens’ fingers.

The second dive was the Glen Strathallan, just outside Plymouth Breakwater. It’s now a very smashed up wreck, although the boiler is still pretty much in tact. The visibility was good here (approximately 16m) and it has some of the friendliest fish in the area. A shoal of pretty blue cuckoo wrasse nibbled my fins (probably attracted by the debris I’d kicked up in a moment of less than perfect buoyancy control!) and a big spotted ballan wrasse eye-balled me as he swam round me and I swam round him. More spooky encounters were the long-legged spider crabs and the giant black sea cucumber.

Day two dawned misty but the sea was calmer. We decided to return to the James Egan Layne as some expedition members had not dived it on the previous day. This time, we investigated the stern, a little distance from the main wreckage. The seabed here was covered in empty scallop and razor shells. There were lots of live critters too– two large lobsters, feelers and claws emerging from holes in the metal plates but retreating again at our approach; urchins and starfish; a shoal of striped pouting; a dogfish (Louisa’s shark?) resting on the sand. Lots of colour too – the red and green seaweed, glossy brown kelp and in one spot, a clump of brilliant blue anemones.

The second dive of the day was the Abelard, a small, scattered wreck with a big boiler. At 12-14m, this was a pretty area with scenic rocky outcrops and more kelp. (There seems to be a lot of kelp in Devon!)

On Tuesday morning, we returned to Whitsand Bay, this time to dive the Rosehill. In contrast to the Kodacolours of Day 2, this was like diving in a sepia photograph, all shades of brown and cream. Because of the gloom and the depth (27-28m) we fixed a distance line to the shot line before we went exploring. At the bottom of the wreck, a huge shoal of pouting and a big silver pollock; and in another area we glided above a mini forest of sea fans. Towards the end of the dive, we returned to explore the boilers, a paradise of white plumose anemones. And shining the torch inside one boiler, we discovered the king of the wreck, an enormous conger eel.

The afternoon’s excursion (and by this time the sky was getting bluer by the minute) was a relaxing and scenic dive off Penlee Point. Maximum depth 15m to a sandy seabed and rocky ledges covered in fronds of red and vivid purple weed. Time for a spot of hunting! We could have bagged the plaice, but preferred to see him rippling along the contours of the sand than lying on a plate with chips; and Ted and Steve B. sited a colour-changing cuttlefish. We did return with one valuable item in the goody bag – a ‘codd’. Not the fishy type, but a 100-year-old Plymouth mineral water bottle with a marble stopper, pristine condition.

Day 4 – sunny and calm, water temperature still 12 degrees C. A good day for diving the Elk, which was very impressively located using transits. In its 38-year life span, the Elk alternated between serving as a fishing trawler and a minesweeper. A mine was its downfall in 1940, and now lying at about 30m, it’s still a very boat-shaped wreck. You can easily explore all the way round it in a 30-minute dive, and be entertained by its current inhabitants – wrasse, shoals of pouting and pollock.

By Thursday, the weather demanded suntan lotion and the dead flat sea meant seasick tablets could be jettisoned overboard! On our way to dive the Persia, we had an amazing encounter with a basking shark at Hilsea Point. It circled around the vicinity of the boat for ages and provided a great snorkelling opportunity. (OK – so I’ll admit to being a bit nervous on first seeing that dorsal fin slicing through the water … but I was persuaded to jump in to get a closer look.)

As for the Persia, that was another excellent dive. It’s a fairly large wreck, with loads of nooks and crannies to explore, and teeming with fish. Definitely one to return to.

And then it was Friday. In the morning, we had intended to make a second visit to the Rosehill. However, conditions were very calm and fairly clear and mid-water, we changed the plan. We decided to make a 90 degree turn and head out south to the Eddystone Lighthouse. At 12 miles, it was a bit of a trek, but worth it.

Diving the Eddystone Rocks is very scenic, like taking a stroll in an underwater garden. We headed south along a sandy gully, assisted by the slight current. To our right a rocky ‘cliff’ and to our left rocky ledges and hummocks – all covered in swaying kelp, colourful seaweed and jewel anemones. There were lots of starfish, urchins and small wrasse….would have liked to linger longer.

The intention had been to pack up and head the boat for home on the Saturday morning, but the diving had been so good, some of the party decided to go out for one last trip.

I gave this one a miss in favour of doing some walking. I took the coastal path and walked from Mount Batten to Bovisand – a mass of colourful wild flowers along the way and brilliant views to Plymouth Sound.

That’s another good thing about Devon – if you’re not diving, as Linda discovered, there’s plenty to do. You can see loads of sea-life without getting wet at the National Aquarium; there’s shopping in Plymouth; National Trust houses and gardens to visit, cream teas to track down (the most beautiful setting for this has to be the garden of the art deco hotel on Burgh Island). Or you can just chill out on the balcony of the Mount Batten Centre watching all the other water sports enthusiasts being busy.

The diving in Devon exceeded my expectations – certainly worth the effort of dusting down the drysuit. It seems that other expedition members thought so too. Another trip is already being planned for the same time next year – if you’re interested, then Steve Ellott is the man to talk to.

Mary Lejeune

This page was last updated on : 06 Sep 2011