IN 100 YEARS TIME, any literary archaeologist who deciphers my logbook and analyses where I dived could well put in my top 10 a location that really shouldnt be in such an elevated position. They might conclude that a site called Scabby Drift was one of my favourites, I have dived it so often.
Perhaps I am being unfair to the gentle drifts over areas of boulders and rocky ledges found a few miles off the Sussex coast and so often the site of second dives.
After all, occasionally I get to see something special like a lumpsucker, and these drifts are infinitely better than the even-scabbier ledges to be found on Lulworth banks. But such dives are nowhere near as good as the wrecks that are the habitual first dives of any day in the English Channel.
So I was delighted to be introduced to the remains of a Mulberry harbour unit a few miles offshore from Pagham, east of Selsey Bill.
I had read about it: Dive Sussex lists the Far Mulberry as without doubt one of the best dives along the whole Sussex coast for those who want to see fish, but it was only last summer that I got to dive it.
Constructed of various concrete caissons and pontoons, the Mulberrys were the innovation that made the Normandy campaign following the D-Day landings possible.
The idea was that Allied forces could be re-supplied through pre-fabricated harbours towed into place on the invasion beaches. This enabled the momentum of the attack to be maintained until major ports could be captured and cleared.
The various Mulberry structures were built in the UK and towed in strings across the Channel to build harbours at Arromanches for the British and Omaha beach for the Americans. The enclosed area of each was equivalent to the harbour at Dover.
The Pagham Mulberry is a Phoenix unit, a 60m, 6044 ton reinforced concrete caisson barge, designed to be sunk to form a pier from which ships could be unloaded.
It was one of many stored in the area by the simple method of flooding until it rested on the seabed.
Later the ballast tanks were pumped out to re-float it for the invasion, but thanks to a SNAFU (military term for Situation Normal, All F**!* Up), the tugs were not ready and it had to be resunk. In the process it swung in the tide and broke its back as it settled across its own previous scour in the seabed.
At only 10m to the seabed and rising to within a metre or two of the surface, it provides an ideal depth to potter about following a first dive on one of the deeper Channel wrecks.
The usual strong tides run past at all times except slack water. Nevertheless, a diver can shelter behind the wreckage at any state of the tide.
During my dive the current was coming from the east, so we entered the water on the sheltered west side of the Mulberry. I descended into one of the biggest shoals of pouting I have ever seen, thousands of them swirling in the current.
Wearing a Dräger rebreather with hardly any bubbles to alarm them, I just hung out with the fish.
The reinforced concrete structure is now very broken up, with rusty sharp ends of reinforcing rods projecting at all angles, so take care to avoid impalement. The concrete walls and piles of rubble on an otherwise flat gravel seabed form an oasis for marine life. Apart from the pouting, there were slightly less-numerous pollack beneath the overhanging bow at the north end of the wreck, while cracks and holes provided homes for conger eels, lobsters, crabs and squat lobsters.
Further round, the more broken southern end and upper surfaces of the wreckage formed kelp-shaded glades through which sea bass and ballan wrasse meandered while pecking at the general carpet of smaller weeds and animals. Anemones and dead mens fingers filtered the current from beneath overhangs, especially under the flat overhanging slab of the bow.
On a warm July day with bright sunshine, shallow water and 10m visibility, the effect was positively tropical. Ill certainly dive this site again.
Other shallow wrecks in the area accessible at slack water include a variety of smaller Mulberry components and an infantry landing craft.
Take care not to get impaled on the steel reinforcing rods on the Far Mulberry!
Launching across the beach at Brackelsham
Large shoals of pouting swarm around the Mulberry wreckage.
TIDES Slack water is 4 hours before high water, 3 hours after high water Portsmouth, though as the unit comes close to the surface it is possible to shelter from the current at all states of tide.
GETTING THERE From the A27 Chichester bypass, take the A286, then the B2198. The slip and car park are at the end of the road where it hits the beach. For East Wittering, turn right about 300m before Bracklesham beach.
DIVING & AIR: I dived with Wittering Divers. Its RIB departs from the beach at Bracklesham, with air, nitrox and equipment rental from its shop in East Wittering, 01243 672031.
LAUNCHING:The slip at Bracklesham descends onto a hard sandy beach. Other slips and beach launches are detailed in Dive Sussex. If launching from Bracklesham, give the shallow reefs between the Mixon Beacon and Selsey Bill adequate clearance.
ACCOMODATIONChichester tourist information, 01243 775888, www.argonet.co.uk/chichester
QUALIFICATIONSSuitable for any level, including trainees under instruction.
FURTHER INFORMATION Admiralty Chart 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head. Ordnance Survey Map 197, Chichester and the South Downs, Bognor Regis and Arundel. Dive Sussex, by Kendall McDonald.
HOW TO FIND IT Admiralty Chart 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head. Ordnance Survey Map 197, Chichester and the South Downs, Bognor Regis and Arundel. Dive Sussex, by Kendall McDonald.