Lyme Regis – A Birthday Treat (Jun 2004)

by Harry (BigH) Ryalls.

19th June, 2004 : On June 18th 1955 a bouncing baby boy was born and to celebrate this event we plan an annual club visit to an exciting area of the West Country called Lyme Regis. Many will know of this area, as it has some very popular dive sites a short distance from shore. Some may only know the immediate area round the launch site of “The Cobb” harbour; some may even have taken the time to walk the short distance to the main town of Lyme Regis, but I suspect the majority stay close to the launch site and it’s many amenities as you may only be visiting for the day.

The Wife and I - she’s the pretty one on the right!

The Wife and I – she’s the pretty one on the right!

Some years ago, when I was Diving Officer for my branch, I was trying to motivate the membership to arrange and organise diving trips. So to set an example and as we like the area so much, Lyme Regis seemed an ideal spot to visit. It has all the ingredients needed to make this trip a roaring success.

Launching was easy, so long as you could reverse/drive down the narrow wooden ramp; (This is no longer a problem as they have recently improved this by converting the whole of the west side of the beach into a ramp. Sadly this has removed the enjoyment of watching the antics of many ’experienced drivers’ when they have attempted to launch a variety of different crafts. Although the occasional one does get stuck in the soft sand and has to be rescued by the Harbour Master.

The beach, close to the ramp area, although small was easily accessed and offered good protection from any prevailing winds. This could also make it a bit of a suntrap, which did appeal to some of our group. In addition, the railings that divided the beach from the drop off car park could also act as a hanging rack for drysuits and the like. Sadly these have now gone due to the modifications to the ramp. These changes also affect the beach area, you now have to keep the area in front of the ramp clear to the high water mark, and we found this out later as we were told to move from where the women had set up camp to the east side of the beach (toward the breakwater). Luckily it was still fairly quiet so we found another spot that they were happy with. It was pointed out that there were no signs warning beachgoers of the fact.

To the rear of the beach can be found a variety of amenities.

There is a public toilet, which I am glad to say is normally quite clean. Another one can be found close to the two main car parks that are to the west end of the Cobb area. If you do not mind a bit of a hike, there is another one in the car park at the top of the hill leading down to the Cobb. If you get to the Cobb late and cannot find a parking space in either of the two lower car parks, you will have to park here. This is fine going down, but they return journey can be a bit of a struggle at the end of a days diving. Best idea is to collect the car, then and drive back down to load up at the drop off car park.

A word of warning to you all.

The two lower car parks are owned and run by different companies. If like me you opt to buy a Weekend ticket, then find on the next day that the car park is full, you will have to purchase another ticket for the other car park. This has caught a few of us out in the past, but we make sure we get down to the Cobb early enough to ensure a car space

Around the Cobb are various shops, a few of these are gift shops mainly for the tourist, but they do sell things to eat and drink. There is a chip shop that does a passable portion of chips that would be fine for the hungry diver after a couple of dives. If you like fresh fish and are partial to a portion of Cockles, Whelks etc, you can find a small fish stall back towards the hill on the left. For the more adventurous, who may decide to Bar-B-Q a meal later in the day, there is also a small fishmonger whose shop is to the right of the hill. To get the better choice of fish you have to come here early, as it is very popular.

Along the rear, towards the east side of the beach, can be found a few “Fast Food” outlets, similar to those that can be found at the side of the road. These are idea for those who like a “fast”, but not necessary a healthy meal, they are great and convenient for drinks though and if you fancy one, you can get a very nice cornet ice cream as well.

If you are looking for something a bit more substantial, there are also a few Public houses available that do a range of delights for you to choose from. Around the Cobb itself, you can find “The Cobb Arms”, “The Harbour Inn” and “The Royal Standard”; I have been in two of these fairly recently and can recommend them to you all.

“The Cobb Arms” can be found directly to the west of the roundabout at the bottom of the hill leading down to the Cobb area and directly overlooks the harbour. There are two bars areas, divided by a small games area, where a pool table is located. This can be a problem if people are playing here as it does make getting past a bit difficult. If you are in the front bar, nearest the beach, you need to negotiate this area to reach the toilets, which are located just off the other bar. The menu, if you fancy something to eat can be found above the bar, around the room. There is a fairly good selection to choose from and the fare is very good.

Further down the east side of the beach can be found “The Royal Standard”. You can easily miss this pub as the entrance from the beach is through a small gate into a small courtyard. Here can be found open-air seating, half of it under a canopy just in case the weather is a bit inclement. At the back of the courtyard you can find a small serving area, where you can order food and drinks. You will also find the entrance to the bar areas here as well. At the rear end of the pub, just inside the door is another pool table, which, as with the “The Cobb Inn” can make getting past a bit of a problem, especially if your hands are full. The toilets are also at the rear end of the pub opposite the bar. If you are looking for somewhere to sit inside you can find a large room to the left of the toilets if all the seats are taken in the front bar. On the menu are a variety of dishes and as with “The Cobb Inn” I could not find fault with anything. As a note portions are on the large side so come hungry.

Sadly as we were only down for the weekend we did not get around to visiting “The Harbour Inn” so I can not give you any information about this hostelry this time, but will endeavour to do so on my next trip.

What is sadly missing from the area is an air filling station. I can remember back in the early nineties when you could get a fill under “The Cobb Inn”, but this facility has been gone for a number of years. The nearest fill station is at West Bay (West Bay Diving Ltd, West Bay Harbour- info@westbaydiving.com), which will take the best part of an hour to do the round trip. If this is closed you have to travel further afield to Bridport (Aqua Blue Divers, Unit 2 Tannery Road – 01308-422105) to the east or Seaton (Seaton Marine Services, The Harbour – 01297-23344) to the West. But the best thing is to be self-sufficient and bring enough air to last the day.

If you wish to launch a boat from “The Cobb” harbour there is a charge. This is displayed on a board just inside the railings that divide the “Off loading” area from the road. For a 4m – 6.9m craft, the charge for this season is £8.00 a day and is collected by the Harbour Master, who will appear as if by magic, when you arrive and prepare to launch your boat. Both the Harbour Master and his assistant are very friendly people and are a mine of information if asked. Both of them will give advice to help you enjoy your diving, but take heed if they tell you to beware of or watch out for something, as they know the area and how conditions may change far better than you.

Some of the dive sites that can be reach from “The Cobb”

Wrecks in the Lyme Bay Area

Baygitano, Gibek Hamam, Moidart, St Dunstan, M2 and UB74

These last two wrecks can be reach a lot easier from Weymouth as they are close to the Portland end of Chessil Beach and would be quite a long trip form here, although not an impossible one. Out of the rest only the Baygitano is close in shore being about 1.5 mile from “The Cobb”, the rest are well over seven miles from the harbour.

Normally, when planning this trip, I always choose the Baygitano as our main dive site. Being close to shore we can run a shuttle service for everyone who has made the effort to attend this expedition, be it only for one of the days or for the whole long weekend. What happens is that the first dive wave finds the wreck and drops a shot line, hopefully between the boilers, then the first pair ties this into the wreck. This will then stay on site for the duration of the expedition and be collected by the last pair to dive on the final day. This ensure those following can have a number of decent dives on the wreck. I remember one year being the last pair down to find that the shot had not been tied in securely and had been pulled free from the wreck so we had a dive over sand. We did try and follow the drag marks of the shot but must have been to far away from the wreck to relocate it. So if you have dived this wreck over the past years and found a large buoy marking the site, it is likely to be ours – Please use it but do not disturb where the shot has been tied in.

If our numbers are not to large for the number of boats that we have I look further afield for other sites and choose either The East or West Tennants. (More later on these sites)

Sketch of the Baygitano
Baygitano

Baygitano

The Baygitano is the wreck of a well-flattened steamer sunk by torpedo during the First World War. This wreck is lying approx 1.5 miles due South of the Cobb and is easily reached by even the smallest of diving inflatables. The wreck is well broken, the only parts of the wreck, which stand up, are the boilers, engine and the bow section. From the bows, a large part of the structure lay to the West of the main wreckage – standing up 5-6 meters off the seabed. Aft of the bow is an area of flattened decking and the collapsed port hull. There are numerous deck fittings and holes to drop into and rummage around. Continuing on, you will come across the front of the two main boilers, which have rolled slightly to the East. Behind these lay a single auxiliary boiler, which is broken up. Immediately behind the auxiliary boiler can be seen the upright engine. This is leaning to starboard, with the final LP cylinder broken away revealing the LP piston. The engine is covered in life and is usually plagued by shoals of Bib. The wreck appears to stop at this point, but if you line-up the crankshaft of the engine and swim directly astern, over a sandy seabed, you’ll pass within sight of two large water tanks and then pick up the prop-shaft tunnel. Aft of here is one of the stern masts, which lies across the tunnel, stretching out to East over the seabed. The wreckage here gets more substantial with deck fittings and hull features.

Continue south and soon the well-flattened stern will loom up and the wreckage appears to end. There are few obvious features to see apart from the rudder. If you stop in the stern area and look carefully at the wreckage, you’ll start to see shapes of the 14pdr shells, which served the ships gun. The gun may be in here somewhere, buried under the wreckage. If you swim off to the starboard side seabed, you’ll come across bits and pieces from the rigging, and eventually pick up the end of the stern mast. One of the features out here is an area of gunwale with handrails sticking vertically out of the seabed. The visibility on this wreck is generally good with 10m the norm in the summer months, but this can drop if the weather has been inclement for a few days. The wreck can be dived at most states of the tide and is sheltered from Northerly winds up to a force 5. The depth on the wreck is a uniform 21m at High Water, as it lies on a fairly flat seabed. The wreck is always covered in thousands of Pouting and Pollock. On some dives, I have heard that divers been completely surrounded by them, not able to see the seabed, the wreck, or the surface. This is an excellent dive and is suitable for most diving skill levels.

For information on the other wrecks in the area have a search of the World Wide Web or peruse the book “Dive Dorset” for information.

Reefs in the Lyme Bay Area

West and East Tennants, Golden Cap Reef, Seaton Reef, High Ground, Eype, The Ram, Sawtooth Ledges, Swyre Ledges

A little bit about the Tennants Reefs

The West and East Tennants are either side of Lyme Bay Cobb and are separated by a 2-mile stretch of deep-water where the seabed is manly sand.

West Tennants – 50 38.82 N 02 57.70 W

The West Tennants reef site is situated approximately 4 miles SW of Lyme Regis. The reef covers a large area of rocky ground and gullies and is one of the highest reefs in the Lyme Regis bay area as can clearly be seen on the Admiralty charts of this area. It extends for 1.5 miles in an East to West direction, but narrows considerably between its North to South boundaries. Depth ranges from 29m on the surrounding seabed to an average of 25m on the top of the reef. The underwater scenery here if fantastic, it can also be dramatic in parts, with deep gullies – some over 4m deep, high rock-faces and the occasional huge boulder, these all being festooned with Sea Fans, Deadmans Fingers and other marine life. There is also the abundance of marine life to compliment the scenery. Due to the Tidal currents being fairly weak here this makes for a lovely excellent and gentle drift dive.

East Tennants – 50 39.12 N 02 52.75 W

The East Tennants site is located 3 miles south of Seatown, and is, according to many divers, one of the best reef dives in the area and possibly one of the best on the Dorset Coast. It is situated in an area of outstanding visibility that allows the reef to display an extremely varied scene. The reef is not as extensive as it brother to the West, being only 0.5 miles from East to West and 400 yards North to South with an average depth of 25m. But this does not stop it being a jewel of a place to dive. Starting at the West end of the reef is found large boulder, some the size of small cars and covered with dead mans fingers and seafans, piled one on top of the other.

As you progress eastward, these reduce in size and frequency until a slabby rock area covered with lots of nooks and crannies for the diver to peer into and wonder what will be found hiding, towards the centre of the reef. These nooks and crannies are the habitats of a variety of fish, Conger Eels, Lobsters and Crabs and allow the inquisitive diver to explore their secret world. There is a lot of life to be found here, both static and free swimming life forms such as Dogfish, Cuckoo Wrasse, Tompot Blennies and Topknots to name but a few.

A four metre square area on the Northern edge of the reef is also being used as a marine life study area where ’Reef Research’ is monitoring the ecology of the pink seafan, which can be found in abundance here, so please watch your fining action and buoyancy. The Southern boundary of the reef has a densely covered area of Deadman’s Fingers. Whilst other areas of the reef are like gardens in a residental area, giving a never-ending change of sponges, corals and anemones of all shades and colour. Sourrounding the reef the seabed, at a depth of approx 29m, is fine sand to the south, where you should be able to find an abundance of scallops and gritty sand to the northern side of the reef

Some information about where we stayed

Shrubbery Caravan & Camping Park

As normal we planned to stay at the Shrubbery Caravan & Camping Park near Rousdin, which is on the A3052 Lyme Regis to Seaton road. This site is very nice and quiet; it is good value for money and is an excellent site for families both camping and caravanning. The facilities here consist of one modern Toilet block located in the middle of the site and two older ones, one towards at the top of the site close to the entrance and the other at the bottom. All of these have washrooms that include toilets, washbasins, showers, disabled facilities and dishwashing sinks (only at the newer block). All with free hot water to the basin washbasins and showers. Rumours that this one is going to be replaced shortly, but I hope not. The friendly staff maintain these amenities very well and I have never found them in a dirty state. I prefer the older block close to where we pitch because it has a lower ceiling than the modern one and does not “get cold” when you have finished your shower, others like the newer modern block though.

Other facilities include an excellent children’s play area, with various swings, slide and climbing equipment and a good dog walking exercise area away from the main park in the adjacent fields. Well-behaved pets are welcome so long as they are always kept on a lead and not allowed to roam freely. In the newer block there is also a laundrette and ironing facilities. Located here is also a caravan chemical toilet disposal point. A small site shop where fresh milk and other basic provisions can be obtained along with other camping accessories such as Calor Gas, ice pack freezing and battery charging service is open daily from Easter until early September. Adjacent to the park entrance on the A3052 is a general store and fuel station.

The 10-acre site is well sheltered and although enclosed by mature trees, still allows distant views to the surrounding countryside, which provides a quiet and relaxing environment in which to enjoy this beautiful tranquil setting by the sea. The site is right on the Devon and Dorset border and is situated within the designated area of the World Heritage Coastline. Being just 3 miles from picturesque Lyme Regis this site makes an ideal base for diving and boating enthusiasts. Generous pitches, which are well drained, give plenty of space to park next to your van or tent and allow you to spread out and enjoy some privacy. Each pitch has water and disposal points nearby and all van pitches have electric hook-up points. Dotted around the site are some sturdy wooden picnic tables for your convenience if required

The Shrubbery Caravan & Camping Park is owned and run by John and Margaret Godfrey, they are assisted by a friendly staff who will assure you a warm welcome and will do their best to help make your stay enjoyable. Many of their customers, just like us, have been returning to the Shrubbery site year after year, a fact they are extremely proud of.

Located close to the Devon, Dorset and Somerset borders, the Park is ideally located to explore the magnificent surrounding countryside and coastline. Apart from Lyme Regis itself with it’s bustling historic streets, numerous restaurants and famous harbour, there are many places of interest nearby. A short drive away is the secluded Undercliffs National Nature Reserve – this area was the scene of a massive landslip on Christmas Day in 1839 when a vast area of the cliff slid towards the sea forming a deep chasm which has now become a unique woodland nature reserve popular with naturalists and walkers. Further along the Dorset Coast there’s Charmouth and West Bay famous for their Jurassic fossils and beaches. To the west is the beautiful River Axe valley and estuary, the quaint fishing villages of Branscombe and Beer, and the elegant regency seaside town of Sidmouth.

Back to the Birthday Story

So every June, after choosing the weekend, which is as close to the 18th of the month, Julie (The Wife) plans for our trip to Lyme Regis. We know we could not go alone, as too many friends know we always go at this time of the year. So Julie circulated a “Dive On” sheet asking who would be interested in coming with us. As expected the regular Caravan side of our membership put their name down. A few tents (and their occupants) also added their names to the list. Sadly, some who would have liked to have gone, had other plans. So with their best wishes we started the organisation for this annual event. In the past we have had brilliant sunshine all weekend, sadly we have also had the worst weather imaginable, so we asked everyone to get on their knees and pray to their gods for good weather. All I can say here is that we had an excellent time and I thank everyone who came for their best wishes on my birthday. The diving was good as well. If you would like to read more about this trip, a full report is to follow. I hope others who accompanied us will also write a few lines.

I hope you have enjoyed this article about my latest trip. If you were part of our group, then please submit your own article about your thoughts and get them published on the web.

Copyright © 2008 Bristol Aerospace Sub-Aqua Club

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