ALTHOUGH THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF ACCESSIBLE WRECKS along Frances Mediterranean coast, I have now abandoned the idea that I might get to see them all one day.
On the other hand, I have some clear favourites that I find well worth revisiting, rather than risking a trip to some of the less-rewarding debris fields.
I have a favourite, I dont mind admitting. Just a short trip out from the port of Porquerolles lies the freighter Donator - unless you slightly overshoot, in which case you may find yourself on the Sagona.
I clearly recall my first dive on the Donator (more correctly called the Prosper Schiaffino). It was the classic wreck of my dreams - bolt upright, swarming with fish and covered in red gorgonians.
Usually visible as soon as you start the descent, the deck lies at around 40m, typically allowing for a swim from the stern to the broken-off bow section without too much deco penalty.
If you insist on a trip to the screw embedded in the sandy bottom at 48m, youll pay for it with an extended hang on your delayed SMB, as its the local custom to carry out stops on a drift.
The stern area offers some excellent Kodak moments, with its stern steering position and a spare prop against which to pose your buddy.
I mentioned the nearby Sagona (another freighter, also called Le Grec), which is perhaps an even prettier dive. It is split in two but the usual dive is on the stern and centre portion that has excellent open swim-throughs and teems with life.
Both ships were unfortunate enough to find themselves passing near the south-western point of Porquerolles after the end of WW2 hostilities, but unfortunately not before the minefield had been swept. They were both sunk by mines in October/November 1945.
Not too far from this area, in the bay of Le Lavandou, is a favourite aircraft wreck. This is a Grumman F4 Wildcat that saw service with the Royal Navy but was disposed of here in 1950. It lies on its back and is reasonably intact.
Its a bit of a peepshow, as it has a series of portholes of sorts that allow for a peek inside at the undisturbed interior.
I really couldnt make much out but I tried placing my flashgun in one port and my camera in the other to see what I could get.
This was in pre-digital days, so it was not until I got the slides back that I found that I could make out writing in English on what I assumed to be a fuel tank, and could clearly see a handsome conger eel in residence.
Talking of congers, just to the north-west of the Isle de Bagaud lies the Tantine. This quaint craft is a barge with a crane mounted at the stern. It lies at a depth of 48m, so its not surprising that many divers have thought they were hallucinating when they suddenly come face to face with as many as 10 beady-eyed congers peering at them from a slot in the stern.
Its easy to see how it has become known as the Conger Barge.
These eels have become rather too familiar with divers and have come to anticipate the possibility of lunch being found in a BC pocket or elsewhere on a divers person.
Its also a shame that the numbers of congers ready to greet divers has diminished over the years, probably for the usual reasons of being fed unsuitable morsels or just becoming too friendly.
A little further east, off Cap Camarat, lies another favourite, the Rubis. This is an amazing site when experienced for the first time - a full-size submarine standing upright on the bottom at 42m. The visibility you can normally expect in the South of France in summer allows a clear view of the whole sub as you descend, and its in surprisingly good condition for a craft that has been there for almost 50 years.
A mine-laying sub, it spent the war on the Allied side with a Free French crew and was sunk as a sonar target in 1958.
The access to the interior was wide open some years ago but the hatch is rather less accessible now.
In 1944 the German forces needed to ship large quantities of ammunition and supplies along the French coast to Italy. A fleet of requisitioned barges under armed escort was making passage past Anthéor near St Raphael when a British submarine spoilt their day.
Two of the barges, the Jean Suzon and the St Antoine were torpedoed, a third torpedo hitting the coast.
The dive site, known as Les Péniches dAnthéor, is fascinating. It contains the wreckage of the two barges, somewhat jumbled together in parts, over a bottom that slopes from 26m to 36m.
The barges cargo is spilled around the site but the main attraction was always the huge cargo of artillery shells guarded by a team of moray eels and congers.
Some have been brought to safety since I last saw them, but there are still enough around to make an impression.
Heading west, the area around the port of Marseille offers a wide variety of wrecks from many centuries past.
If youre short of time, head for the lighthouse of Le Planier, a short boat-ride out of Marseille. In this one spot youll find enough wrecks to keep you busy for a while, and some are within swimming distance of the rock.
Some older divers may remember the broken steering wheel that featured on the logo of gear manufacturer La Spirotechnique. It came from the wreck of the Dalton, built on Teesside in 1877.
In 1928 Dalton hit a shallow reef and was steered onto the Planier as a safety measure. Since then it has steadily broken up and been colonised, making it an easy dive in the 15-30m range.
My favourite wreck on the Planier is the Chaouen, sometimes referred to as the Banana Boat because of the cargo it was carrying when it struck the rock in 1970.
For a few years a good part of it was clear of the surface but it eventually slid back into the water and turned on its port side.
It makes a delightfully easy dive, running from about 2m down to 26m and full of spacious passages.
The Planier also offers a Liberty Ship, the Middlebury Victory - more spread about than the Chaouen - as well as three aircraft wrecks, including the well-known Messerschmidt BF109 that lies upside-down at 45m, and at least two other diveable wrecks.
The area west of Marseille down to the Spanish frontier also contains a variety of wrecks, but I was interested to note that, like the well-known U-boat commanders who contributed so many wrecks to the Channel, some British U-boat skippers were also adding to the wreck count.
By U-boat I mean the U-class subs that patrolled this area during WW2. Among the wrecks attributed to them are the Alice Robert (the HMS Ultor); Le Saumur (HMS Upstart); LAstrée (HMS Untiring); St Lucien (HMS Unruly); and the Bartolo (HMS Taurus).
The main access to these wrecks, and to the many others in the south-west corner of Frances Mediterranean coast, is from Collioure or Port Vendres.


rich
rich growth inside the wreck of the Donator
the
the entrance to the conning tower of the Rubis
The
The Grumman F4 Wildcat lies on its back
Remains
Remains of the aircrafts rudder
The
The barge wrecks of the Péniches dAnthéor spill out their cargo of shells under the eye of protective moray eels
The
The Conger Barge, home to a family of inquisitive eels.
Divernet
DIVING THE
SOUTH OF FRANCE

Getting to the South of France has never been easier or cheaper, with the budget airlines having a good effect on the national carriers. On the other hand, the cheaper the ticket, the less luggage you are likely to be allowed to take, so it may prove more practical to drive.
The experienced wreckie will appreciate the advantage of being able to take his or her own full kit.
Accommodation to suit all budgets is easily available and at last we are beginning to see some new charter boats enlarging the liveaboard capacity in this area.
Almost every port has one or more dive boats or centres, so getting to the wrecks is no problem. However, as many of them are in the 25-50m range you should be prepared to show that you are qualified to dive them (according to French regulations).
The best solution is to get a CMAS card that clearly displays your equivalent qualification - contact your training agency. Alternatively, if you plan to spend some time with a particular dive centre, it can offer you a check-dive procedure that allows it to attest to your current diving grade.
Mediterranean weather at its best can be glorious and at its worst quite treacherous. Along the south coast conditions can change suddenly and unpredictably.
Diving in unsheltered areas calls for constant observation of conditions and good awareness of the nearest shelter. Water conditions in summer can rise to 27/28° near the surface, with visibility in the 10-25m range quite common.
The south-west coast is more exposed to cooler winds such as the Mistral and the Tramontana and can suffer sudden drops in temperature.
Aprés-dive is where the region really scores, as this is an area with a long history of looking after visitors. Be aware that it gets very busy in August, so you may want to avoid this peak period if you can.