Here's to the 2015 season
Selsey, West Sussex
ARGUABLY THE MOST scenic dive-site along the Sussex coast, the Far Mulberry is perfectly placed to entertain every level of diver.
For those unfamiliar with its history, the Mulberry harbour was created to provide a portable floating pontoon to aid the Normandy D-Day landings of 1944, and scores of these oblong hulks of concrete were dragged over to France.
This one, however, never completed that historic journey, and instead sank several miles offshore. Over time it broke up to provide us with what is the perfect artificial reef.
The site sits in just 10m and will take a RIB around 20 minutes to reach from Selsey’s east beach – which should give you plenty of time to familiarise yourself with kit that may have been used only in the Red Sea between now and your last UK dive.
On reaching your first dive-site of the season, you will be presented with the luxury of a mooring-chain for descent, rather than the faff of being driven by a temporary shotline and having to get down it sharpish. At the Far Mulberry, you can take your time.
The site, or “wreck”, as I suppose it could be called, sits only metres from the bottom of the chain, and several prominent features make the area easy to navigate visually.
A garden of dead men’s fingers carpets one of the most prominent parts, which consists of a wall of concrete listing at 45° and creating an overhang for you to fin by for 10m, standing 5m proud of the seabed.
This twisted mix of metal and concrete has over the years become festooned with life, from shoals of bib present on an epic scale, to solitary lumpsuckers, wrasse of every kind, bass and bream.
The dive-site in no way resembles the Mulberry harbour in its original form, but rather an almost natural-looking rocky reef system. To circumnavigate the pile of remains can take an hour, although at this time of year numb fingers may force you to cut that dive-time in half.
If that’s the case, simply take a short-cut and fin over the top and back to the mooring-chain for your safety stop.
It’s worth mentioning that there is also the wreck of a small vessel known as the Cuckoo lying about a 20m fin from the mooring-chain, in the opposite direction from the main dive-site.
If you’ve enjoyed your dive here, come back another day and check it out.
Mulberry Divers, mulberrydivers. co.uk (RIB), South Coast Diving & Fishing, selsey-fish-trips.com/diving (Hardboat). Average cost: £25 per diver
I KNOW DIVERS WHO regularly spend 75 minutes or more messing about under Swanage Pier. I’ve seen folks with rebreathers diving it, as well as experienced open-circuit divers and newbies alike, and there’s a good reason for that – it’s one of the most accessible and well-catered-for coastal dive-sites in the country.
You could almost arrive already kitted up, park up and backward-roll straight from the car into the (usually) clear water. It’s by no means a challenging dive, but perfectly placed as your first dive session of the season.
A relatively constant depth of 4m means that, should your gear feel somewhat unfamiliar after several months of hibernation in the garage, you can simply pop to the surface to sort a problem out, should you so choose.
Two hundred and twenty-five metres of pier also means that you should have plenty of room even if scores of other divers choose it for their April shakedown dive too.
There is usually plenty of wildlife to see as well, but don’t be too disheartened if it’s a little short on life in April – those critters need a couple of months to show up again from early spring onwards.
Access to the beginning of your dive couldn’t be easier either, with a set of concrete steps leading you into knee-deep water right by the loos. Divers Down operates a well-stocked shop, air station and several boats right on the pier, so should any of your beloved dive-kit have perished or simply disappeared during its winter storage, dig out your best credit card and restock that kit-bag in the shop.
Trollies are in good supply to wheel piles of equipment about, and there are plenty of places to grab a hot drink and food in close proximity to the dive action.
In short, this is a relatively safe and sheltered place to brush up on rusty skills or dust off that cobweb-clad neoprene – just keep one eye out for any boat traffic coming to and from the pier while you’re in the water.
Feeling a bit more adventurous after your pier dive? Check out what’s on offer boat-dive-wise from the pier while you’re down there.
Divers Down, diversdownswanage. co.uk. Average cost: Day parking £8.50 / diving £2.50
IF I WAS ASKED TO DESIGN the perfect shore-diving environment, I think Drawna Rocks would have to be it, or at least very close. Set within the idyllic Cornish cove at Porthkerris, this dive-site comes very close to the ideal start-of-season check-dive.
Porthkerris Divers has been established here for donkeys’ years and maintains a superb setting for every level of diver.
The well-stocked shop and classroom sits right by the shore and spacious car park, and there’s an opportunity to buy hot food and drinks adjacent to that.
Toilet and shower facilities sit just behind the shop, and an area to rinse kit is provided too.
It’s possible to park right next to the entry point at Drawna Rocks, which is essentially the “house reef”. The rocks begin at the shore, and the grey pebbly beach slopes gently down from the shore to 18m. Head past the last of the rocks and you’ll enter deeper water still.
The site is protected from all but easterly winds, so it is diveable on most days and at any state of tide. If you feel super-rusty and need an experienced hand to hold, Porthkerris runs guided dives around the rocks for a fee.
This is not a bad idea in any case, because these guys know the site very well, and will point out a selection of critters that you might otherwise miss.
Another benefit of starting your dive season at Drawna Rocks is that the water clarity is often excellent, so keeping an eye on your buddy’s progress shouldn’t be a problem.
Once submerged, the diving can be spectacular and the marine life plentiful. Areas of kelp cover the shallower rocks, while heading deeper these give way to a labyrinth of walls, swim-throughs and small caverns. It can be quite a disorientating dive, so keeping one eye on the compass is recommended, taking note of which direction is home at least.
Everything you would expect to find in British waters seems to live here, from cuttlefish to monkfish, gurnard, nudibranchs and even the occasional basking shark, depending on the time of year.
In April the water temperature will be around 11 or 12° and will clearly have a bearing on your dive-time, so if you have enjoyed your first dive of the season at Drawna Rocks, come back during the summer months and spend a good hour exploring them.
Geographically, for most of us Porthkerris is a reasonable drive away, so ideally it’s a long-weekend dive-trip. If camping during the springtime isn’t for you, or you don’t have the luxury of a campervan, there are several B&Bs in the neighbouring village of St Keverne.
There is also a varied list of dive-sites accessible by boat leaving from the cove, so it’s worth checking in with Porthkerris Divers to see where else the boats might be going.
Porthkerris Divers, porthkerrisdivers. com. Average cost: Day parking £2 / shore-diving £5. Camping onsite from £16, one guided dive £35, two £55.
Lundy Island, Devon
THOSE LONG WINTER MONTHS can leave the keenest of UK divers seriously dried out, and withdrawal symptoms will often have taken them to an inland dive site at least once during the off-season.
For these predominantly sea-loving, drysuited beasts, a half-hour bimble around an easily reached local wreck or a simple shakedown shore-dive won’t be enough to throw them fins-first into the action when the season proper starts.
These guys will be looking for more of an expedition-style dive trip to rehydrate that crusty dive equipment, at a location that requires some planning and probably a whole weekend away.
One place that ticks those boxes is Lundy Island. A mile wide and just three miles long, Lundy is situated in the Bristol Channel some 24 miles off Ifracombe in Devon, and promises the UK diver an all-round adventurous experience.
The boat journey, usually made from Ilfracombe, can take three hours to complete, which is where the excitement starts with pods of porpoises and occasionally whales passing as you motor towards the island.
The anticipation continues to grow, as what starts out as just a speck on the horizon transforms into an island when the boat makes its final approach.
There is a decent selection of dive-sites to choose from at Lundy, with most of them protected by the lee of the island’s eastern side.
The most popular sites with day-boats are within easy reach of open-water divers with some UK diving experience, while other sites are better suited to Advanced or equivalent divers and above.
The diving here is by no means hardcore, and being washed by the cool, clear waters of the Atlantic the area is perfectly suited to those who have been away from any water for some months.
On arriving at Lundy, the skipper will usually give you a couple of choices of site, and the Knoll Pins will be somewhere near the top of the list. “Pins” reveals this to be a pinnacle site, in this instance formed by a pair of pinnacles that break the surface during low tide.
Pinnacle dive-sites are perfect for every level of diver, given that it’s possible to specify the depth to suit ability.
Those accustomed to UK diving would probably prefer to hop in and head straight for the seabed at around 20m, meandering around the pinnacles until they hit sand. The more cautious may want to take time and fin in a figure-of-eight pattern around the site several times at around half that depth.
Whichever way you choose to explore the Knoll Pins, keep one eye on the green, because Lundy grey seals also enjoy diving there.
A kelp forest blows to and fro down to about 6m and eventually gives way to more rock, festooned with delicate pink seafans that thrive in these nutrient-rich waters. Sea cucumbers are plentiful, and urchins and crab species fill every hole as you descend the wall.
One advantage of diving on a pinnacle is that during your journey back to the surface it’s possible to maintain a visual reference all the way up by following
the wall and completing a safety stop in the lee of any current that may have picked up.
Although perhaps not necessary at this site, it is worth practising DSMB deployment before the boat comes to collect you, given that you may not have used this vital piece of kit since the previous summer.
Once you’ve remembered what all that pricey equipment does, and have perhaps grown used to some new additions, it’s time to explore two more dive-sites before either making your way back to the mainland or continuing your expedition-style adventure by camping on the island.
Obsession Boat Charters, obsession boatcharters.co.uk. Average cost: Day-boat charter £870, or £175 for a single two-day package. Day parking £8; Hele Valley camping £21, helevalley.co.uk
OFTEN OVERLOOKED by local dive centres but popular in summer months with the occupants of club-boats, this site combines several appealing factors in one go – a scenic boat trip there and back, a wreck-dive and a UK-style “reef dive”.
Located in the middle of the Jurassic coastline and a World Heritage Site no less, Warbarrow Tout is home to a super little barge wreck accessible to every diver. Half of the wreck is still in an easy-going 10m of water, so you shouldn’t ever have to feel your way round it in the dark.
The remaining parts happen to be one side of the hull that stands 4m proud and level sections of bow, stern and a portion of deck, so it’s not difficult to navigate.
Done the wreck and feeling at one with your equipment again? Head north to the reefy section of the dive. Big boulders will keep you entertained, as they create the ideal habitat for a diverse range of marine life. The MoD’s tank firing range isn’t too far away and evidence of spent artillery is apparent on the seabed from time to time.
Scimitar Diving, scimitardiving.co.uk. Average cost: £40 for a two-dive trip.