As shore dives go, Chesil Beach is pretty exposed. Facing south-west, it is head-on to most of the heavy weather. There is no shelter from waves which pound against the beach and fling fist-sized pebbles all over the place. And, as each wave retreats, there is a vicious undertow.
On the other hand, on a calm day, or when there are strong winds from the east, some nice little shore dives make Chesil a good complement to Swanage Pier.
Entry and exit can be difficult in anything but a calm sea. Even when the sea appears tranquil, it can be a good idea to have a rope on the beach to assist your exit.
At the Portland end of the beach is Chesil Cove, usually a little more sheltered than other sites and a popular training spot. This is the only location where you can drive almost to the ridge of the beach to drop your kit, and the walk down to the sea is shortest. If you are unsure of the sea conditions and feeling lazy, this is the place to dive.
Under water, the shingle slopes steeply at first, then levels out to a barely noticeable slope. Its a desert with occasional crabs and fish, though closer to Portland there are some nice rocks with kelp and all the usual rock life, and this provides shelter for a better selection of fish. The trouble is, you have to walk or swim further to get there and back again.
Back towards the Weymouth end of the beach are a couple of shore-diveable wrecks. The Royal Adelaide was a 1500 ton steel sailing ship blown onto the beach by a gale in November 1872. She was carrying a general cargo including casks of gin, many of which were washed ashore, to the delight of the gathered crowds. Sixty of the 67 passengers and crew were saved, but at least 20 spectators died of exposure, having passed out on the beach after enjoying the gin.
To dive the Royal Adelaide, drive back towards Weymouth to the large gravel car park just before the bridge across the Fleet, and park as near to the cafe end as possible.
Walk to the ridge of the beach, then along it away from Portland to locate a small brick cairn west of the car park. Then stride another 14 paces (approximate yards) further along the ridge. The wreck is now straight down the beach and, depending on the height of the tide, 70-90m offshore.
With a fair walk over an awkward shingle beach, this is a dive I prefer to do with a single cylinder and not even a pony. Dont take your twin-set.
There is usually a current running along the beach, so the most reliable way to hit the wreck is to follow the seabed out along a compass bearing. Those who swim out on the surface invariably end up diving shingle.
Over the years the Royal Adelaide has been pounded by storms and ground by pebbles until little remains but a few beams, plates and girders rising from the shingle. But as a steel oasis in a desert of pebbles, the wreck is home to an enormous shoal of pouting.
There are usually also a few pollack, wrasse and bream, and hordes of tompot blennies. Towards the end of summer the wreck often has a complement of grey triggerfish from warmer seas, but you wont see them in winter
From the Portland end of the gravel car park, you can easily access a US landing craft which smashed against the beach when the engines failed in October 1944.
Walk to the ridge of the beach, line up the posts of the fence at the end of the car park, then stride 16 paces along the ridge away from Portland. The remains can be found straight down the beach and a little closer to shore than the Royal Adelaide. Again, the most reliable way to hit it is to follow the seabed on a compass bearing.
A cuttlefish at Chesil Beach
some of the blennies are curiously tame
GETTING THERE: The only way to Portland is by the A354, which runs along the back of Chesil beach. For the wrecks, enter the large gravel car park about halfway across. For Chesil Cove, cross the beach at the Scuba Centre or from the end of any of the side roads and tracks further towards Portland.
air: The Scuba Centre in the car park at the Portland end of Chesil beach, 01305 826666. There are many other dive centres at Portland Harbour.
AIR: The Scuba Centre in the car park at the Portland end of Chesil beach, 01305 826666. There are many other dive centres at Portland Harbour.
ACCOMODATION: The area is littered with B&Bs and small hotels. Particularly convenient for divers is the Aquasport hotel at Portland. Campsites are out of town, usually very smart and a bit expensive. Weymouth tourist information, 01305 785747.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 3315, Berry Head to Bill of Portland. OS Map 194, Dorchester, Weymouth and Surrounding Area. Diver Guide - Dive Dorset, by John & Vicki Hinchcliffe.