THE TROUBLE WITH WRECK-DIVING FROM THE EAST DEVON COAST is that all the wrecks require slack water. That makes for a good wreck dive with plenty of marine life, but when it comes to the second dive, not many divers or boat-skippers are prepared to wait six hours for the next tide. Even if they did, it might not be at a convenient time of day.
Inshore and out of the tide, the coastline is very shallow. Reefs can be covered in kelp or exposed and scoured by storms. Which brings me to caves.
The underlying geology is mostly soft rock. Once a fissure has been opened a bit by a storm, the crack focuses the energy of subsequent storms and can develop into a cave, assuming the undercut cliff does not fall down first. Sometimes a cave will cut through a headland to become a tunnel, opening out to become an arch, and when the arch eventually collapses a stack is left.
All features can be seen and dived at the small headland that separates Teignmouth from Dawlish. Maximum depth is only 6 or 7m, so it makes an ideal second dive.
Even small caves and tunnels can be fun just for the sake of it, but that is not all. Sheltered from crashing waves but fed by surging water and out of the sunlight, seawater caves can harbour some interesting marine life.
On the Admiralty chart the location is noted as The Parson and Clerk, after a stack formation that, when viewed from the right direction, looks a bit like a clergyman delivering a sermon.
In Dive South Devon it is listed as a shore dive from Smugglers Cove, though having investigated the access, I feel only the most energetic diver would bother to walk down the footpath.
The site is better-suited to boat-diving. On a calm day a RIB can drive right in among the rocks and drop anchor while the divers have fun. From a hardboat it might be necessary to swim in from further offshore.
Approaching by boat, the most notable feature is a large arch. I would recommend beginning the dive just inshore of this, and to the south side.
Drop down the rock face to the sandy seabed. The rocks are slightly undercut, with small shrimps and anemones beneath the overhangs.
Moving inshore, away from the arch, the rock face is on your right. Within 10m the overhang gets larger and opens into a cave. A vertical crack in the rock has been scoured out to provide quite a large entrance.
At high tide it is fully submerged, but at low tide the tip of the ceiling is just dry and can be seen from a boat.
The cave soon narrows to a point where single file is needed, though divers can pass above or below. Even in a sea that appears calm outside there can be quite a strong surge pushing forwards and backwards.
In average visibility it never quite goes dark. Just as you think youre leaving the daylight behind, a glimmer appears in the distance. The cave is actually a tunnel passing right through the headland.
The arch further out must have started life this way. The tunnel will one day open out to form another arch and the existing arch will eventually collapse, but dont worry, Im talking about a process that takes thousands of years.
Life in the cave is small. A tightly packed turf of hydroids and bryozoans clings to the wall, interspersed with small patches of sponges and strawberry tunicates. The largest sessile lifeforms are occasional dahlia anemones. Cracks in the rock are home to small crabs, squat lobsters and shrimps.
Look carefully and you might spot a well-camouflaged scorpionfish. I remember spending ages here searching for scorpionfish to photograph, then suddenly being spoilt for choice. Scorpionfish are never there when you want them, then three arrive at the same time.
The cave does straight and there is no danger of getting lost, so a line is unnecessary. However, its worth considering a redundant air supply, because although there is room for a buddy pair, there is not room to share air conveniently, even with a long-hose regulator.
Exiting on the north side and turning tight inshore, you will see another cave back into the cliff in the shallows. This is not a tunnel and eventually comes to a dead end.
It goes straight in and out without branching off, so laying a guideline is again not essential. However, visibility always seems to be fairly low because of all the rotting kelp that seems to collect there, so you could lose track of which direction is out. The only time you realise you need a line is when its too late!
Back in open water and heading seawards, you can return to the boat through the tunnel or swim out a bit further and through the large arch.
I find the rocky seabed beneath the arch a bit disappointing so prefer to retrace my route through the tunnel.
Blenny at the Parson and Clerk site in Devon
Entering the Parson and Clerk cave
Dahlia anemones in the cave
Shrimps and crab
TIDES No currents to worry about, but there can be a strong wave surge.
GETTING THERE From the end of the M5, continue on the A38 towards Plymouth and turn left almost straight away on the A380 to Torquay and Brixham. After a few miles turn left again on the B3192 to Teignmouth. On entering Teignmouth turn left, then immediately right downhill to the commercial docks. Turn left behind the dockside warehouses to the public car park. Teign Diving and the public slip are opposite the car park.
DIVING & AIR:Teign Diving Centre can provide air and nitrox, equipment rental and hard boat charter for individuals, 01626 772965. Other dive centres and charter boats on the East Devon coast operate from Exmouth, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. See classified ads
LAUNCHING:The slip next to the dive centre is usable at all states of the tide except very low springs. Others are available at most ports along the East Devon coast.
ACCOMODATIONB&B at New Quay Inn, Teignmouth, 01626 774145.
QUALIFICATIONS Suitable for any diver, though newly qualified divers are unlikely to have redundant air supplies.
FURTHER INFORMATION Admiralty Chart 3315, Berry Head to Bill of Portland. Ordnance Survey Map 192, Exeter and Sidmouth.