Swanage SCUBA (Jun ’21)

The stars finally aligned, the weather gods were kind & the pandemic took an uninfected breath while our club got out for the first ‘real’ dive trip of 2021- so how did it go?

Mary-Jo, our chariot for Saturdays’ diving

And Viper, Sundays’ boat

The plan was for a weekends’ diving over the 12th/13th June weekend from Swanage on hard boats provided by Swanage Boat Charters http://www.kyarra.com/index.php/swanage-boat-charters-scuba-diving-in-swanage-dorset-uk  who operate a shuttle & a charter service out to local dive sites including the Kyarra, Fleur de Lys, Valentine Tanks, Betsy Anna  & a whole host of others.

With such a special trip it seems only right that a few of the attendees be invited to share their experiences in their own words so here goes…

Most of the motley group we rustled up

Sue: With a forecast of fine weather for the weekend I arrived in the sunshine and warmth which stayed with us all day.  I was looking forward to diving the Kyarra again – the last time was August 2010 with Geoff.

Sue poking around in the boilers

I love looking at boilers because things live in the tubes and congers hide inside the big spaces.  We saw one big conger inside one of the boilers and many Tompot Blennies peeping out of the tubes along with fan worms. I could see Leopard-spotted gobies sitting quietly, down inside the wreck.  There were also several small shoals of bib.

Bib everywhere!

We had a break for lunch and then off to the next dive which was Old Harry Drift.  This was the first time for me.  It was a great dive!  Colin was my buddy and I’m very glad he held on to my SMB line as the drift was extremely fast!  For nearly an hour we sped over the mostly flat seabed and it was impossible to stop and spend time investigating the small animal turf that covered the chalk terrain.  It was covered in life and I eventually realised that these were Maerl beds (free-living pieces of coralline algae); something Swanage is known for. Maerl beds are important habitats for a variety of marine animals including anemones, crustaceans and juvenile fishes.  They are listed as Priority Habitats for conservation throughout the UK’.

End of the shot on the Kyarra

I could see, amongst other things, many large anemones, eyelash worms, young scallops and other crustaceans, occasional potato crisp broyozoans, sponges, solitary squirts, small dead men’s fingers, antenna hydroids.  And five catsharks, unless they were the Starry Smoothhounds that Tim and Geoff spotted.

Then it was back to the boat and the end of a lovely return to diving in the sea – I hadn’t been to the seaside since Porthkerris last September and this visit didn’t disappoint!

Geoff: Tim & I travelled to Swanage Friday morning with no major traffic issues & set up camp at Herston Lodge farm with a sea fret, (fog coming inland fro the sea) cooling the otherwise bright sunny, hot day.

After a welcome cup of tea & cake with Kevin & Vicki who were already in residence 2 pitches up, Tim & I decided to have a stroll down to the beach so Tim could have a swim & then both enjoy some fish &chips.
Arriving back at the campsite it was evident it was going to be full. Unfortunately it turned out to be like a mini Glastonbury, with drinking, & noise well into the night.- never mind, we got our own back, noisy tent zips from us at 5:45am so Tim & I could
make our way to the pier by 7:15 so we could get our ‘pitch’ for the day which was full by 7:45.
First dive of the day in a flat calm sea & bright sunshine was the Kyarra a large wreck with plenty to explore – highlights of the dive being a free swimming conger, loads of edible & spider crabs, & a large pollock patrolling.

Kyarra wreckage, there’s a conger in the middle

And there he is!

Second dive was Old Harry drift on an ebb tide, quite fast, covering nearly 2 miles in the 60 minutes of  bottom time – quite exiting!
An enjoyable meal with everyone at the Black Swan in Swanage ended an excellent day.
Sunday morning dawned cloudless,with us getting to the pier early again to stake our claim to a decent parking spot.
First dive was to be the wreck of the Besty Anna but with the shot missing twice we missed slack & attempts to dive it were aborted.


Second dive was ‘ Old Mussel Beds’, (with the mussels long departed). This turned out to be a fast drift as well, covering 1.4 nautical miles this time.  The highlight of this dive came close to the end where we spotted several ‘starry smoothhounds’ which are local to the Swanage bay area – a shark species I had not seen before.
All in all an excellent weekends diving to get us in the mood for what we hope will be a good season after being locked down for so long.

We seem to be enjoying ourselves!

Tim: t’s been far too long since I last dived the Kayarra. I don’t know why because she’s such an amazing and huge wreck and ever so easy to access via the local shuttle dive boats. Unlike say Plymouth or Brixham however, which are in the main served by motorways, Swanage is by comparison not so easy to access, so maybe that’s a factor. It’s also a good reason when you do go, to make the journey more worthwhile and stay for a few days.

Colin enjoying the ride on the Old Mussel Beds drift

Because of the pandemic, “staying for a few days” has not until recently been an option. I love my diving but I also love the socialising, the banter, the human interaction, the debriefs that go with it. Throughout the pandemic we as a club, have been proactive in organising dives within the rules of the lockdown but this was our first away and stay trip of the year. I have to say, it was great to get back to the Kayarra. It was great to get back to camping. It was great to get back to sitting outside a pub with friends (familiar and new) enjoying a pint of ale, a good meal and lovely company.

One of many blennies to be found

Thank you Kevin for making it happen.

Tim does his best Christopher Reeve impression!

Kevin: Mixing up a weekends’ hardboat diving with a few days either side of walking & exploring with my wife & dog reaped dividends & is something we’ll definitely do again and we’ll be back to Swanage too – there’s plenty more to see than you could possibly pack into that long weekend!

Just chillin’

All that remains is for me to thank all those who attended (Sue, Gill, Alison, Geoff, Colin & Tim) & made it such an enjoyable experience, Swanage Boat Charters for their excellent hosting and the weather gods for sending us some glorious sunshine.

Here’s to the start of what we hope will be a great diving season!

And its over 🙁