DIVING ON A LINER IS ALWAYS a special experience. As I swim along the remains of the decks, it’s easy to imagine the passengers walking about, laughing and socialising. The dive evokes echoes of a glamorous past, in which people passed over often-turbulent water in comfort and style.
Discovering the bow or stern especially always reminds me of the majesty and power of these queens of the oceans.
Two of the best-known liners on England’s South Coast are the Salsette and HMS Moldavia, but these are really suitable for diving only by more experienced divers, as they are in the 40-50m range.
But you might be surprised to know that there are two massive liner shipwrecks within 10 miles of the Sussex coast. They are the Alaunia
and the Oceana, and both are within reach of the average sports diver.

THE ALAUNIA
Take a charter-boat from Eastbourne. After clearing the lock you have no more than an hour in which to finish your steaming mug of coffee, put on your drysuit, and fettle your kit before the Sovereign light tower comes into clear view, and you know you are close.
A quick glance at the boat’s echo-sounder shows a depth of 35m. Could this be where the largest shipwreck on the Sussex coast lies Surely not
In fact it is, just seven miles from Sovereign harbour. The Alaunia is at the perfect depth for a nitrox dive, which means you have that much more time to enjoy the experience.
With the right tides, the day can be extended to include the other liner, the Oceana. You could dive two passenger liners in one day and still be in the pub well before it stops serving dinner!
The Alaunia was launched in 1913 for the Cunard Line, plying her trade across the Atlantic. After a brief career as a passenger liner, she was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence as a troopship to help with the war effort.
Her war service was cut short in 1916, when she hit a German mine just south of the Sovereign light vessel.
After considerable efforts by other ships to save the passengers, she sank stern-first, with the loss of two crew.
The Alaunia wreck lies on its port side, the bow being the most intact part, standing almost 12m high with a covering of white and orange dead man’s fingers.
Exploring the bow, you will find the wooden decking, mooring bollards, railings, winches and the anchor-chain for the starboard anchor still in place.
With the bow so intact you may feel the need to copy Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and recreate that famous scene from the movie Titanic.
Following the anchor-chain over the edge of the bow you come across an impressive sight, because there in mid-water, hanging from its chain, is the 10-ton starboard anchor.
After Alaunia was struck by the mine, the captain lowered the anchors to hold position, but how this one came to be out of its hawse-pipe and hanging over the side, we’ll never know.
The temptation is just too great, and you have to swim up to it to see if you can push it. This is when you realise that Isaac Newton was right, because pushing against this massive lump of metal simply results in the average diver going backwards.

MOVING BACK AROUND THE BOW, you encounter the huge anchor-winch, as well as the bow crane and additional winches used for cargo-handling. In this area the sharp-eyed diver will also find the spare anchor ready for service, as well as shoals of bib and large pollack.
Moving back past the bridge area and first-class accommodations, you can see the effects of the explosives used by commercial salvors in the 1960s and ’70s.
As you continue towards the stern there is little to be seen of the engines, but there are two massive boilers, and it is clear that during the salvage attempts at least one of them has rolled away from its original mountings.
Looking into the tubes of the boilers, it is possible to find conger eels waiting for dinner to pass by.
If a wreck’s a liner, you know that there will be a promenade deck with easily accessible portholes. The Alaunia is no exception, and there are even a few portholes left, having survived the attentions of early divers’ attempts to rid the ocean of anything non-ferrous.
Swimming past the boilers towards the stern, you come across a row of portholes with glass in them – all firmly attached, and covered in jewel anemones.
If you’re lucky when looking under the plates, you might come across edible crabs and lobsters hiding or even walking about. The boilers give you a good reference point for finding the propshaft, and by following it you will arrive at the steering-gear and rudder.
As you approach the stern the wreck becomes more broken, with the occasional piece of superstructure standing 2m from the seabed.
You pass more winches used for mooring and cargo-handling, eventually coming across the immense steering quadrant.
The stern is much flatter than the bow, and although the propellers are long gone the steering mechanism is clearly visible, and well worth spending a few minutes looking around.
Amazingly, with a nitrox mix in your cylinder it is possible to see this entire liner wreck in one dive, with few or no decompression penalties.

THE OCEANA
After such an impressive wreck as the Alaunia, having the opportunity to follow it up with a second dive on another liner must be unique.
The P&O liner Oceana is not as intact as the Alaunia, but this wreck is still an excellent dive.
She was built in 1888, and at 6601 tons and 468ft is much smaller than the 13,405-ton, 520ft Alaunia. She carried general cargo (including gold and silver ingots), 40 passengers and 210 crew.
Not surprisingly, the ingots were salvaged not long after her sinking, but a few may remain.
The last one was recovered by a sports diver in 1996, and who knows, there may be one or two left…
The Oceana was travelling from London to Bombay when, on 16 March, 1912, she was in collision with the German four-masted steel barque Pisagua. The only loss of life that occurred was when a lifeboat capsized, and seven passengers and two crew were drowned.

THE OCEANA NOW LIES in 25m of water, close to the Sovereign light tower.
The bow section, although quite small, is nevertheless intact and upright, and it’s quite safe to explore the chain-locker inside.
On the seabed is one of the large anchors, half-buried in the sand.
As you follow the superstructure away from the bow you’ll come across tompot blennies hiding in every hole that they can find.
You might even find a lobster or two in the larger recesses.
Swimming sternwards, you pass the forward holds, several pulleys and lots of broken superstructure before arriving at the boilers and engine.
The boilers are also part-buried in the sand, and remain in very good condition. The ship’s 7000hp triple-expansion engine still stands 10m proud, with the con-rods now clearly visible.
You pass many large blocks of concrete before finally arriving at the stern. This is the most impressive part of the wreck, because you can clearly see the end of the propshaft.
Towering above you is the fantail of the stern, and in good visibility this really gives you the impression of a vessel that could do 16 knots.
As you look around the seabed, the steering quadrant stands a few metres away, still connected to the rudder.
Lying in about 25m, the Oceana is a lovely dive on its own, well worth doing as a first dive.
However it’s a bit shallower than the Alaunia and, given the right tides, you can dive both liners in one day.
As for the missing ingots, no, we didn’t find any, but the shifting sands in this area mean that P&O silver and other artefacts are still being found.
It’s always worth a rummage to see what the last storm unearthed.

Dave Ronnan’s Dive 125 is a 12m dive vessel with diver lift and shower that operates up to 60 miles out of Eastbourne. Two dives cost £50 per person (minimum of six in mid-week), www.dive125.co.uk, 07764 585353. Just out is the hardback Shipwrecks of the Cunard Line by Sam Warwick and Mike Roussel, ISBN: 9780752465784. Experienced divers may also like to check liner Wreck Tours 11 (Salsette) and 120 (HMS Moldavia).