Diving - The adventure continues!

2018 Diving exploits continued

Once back from the Maldives, I was eager to get diving in the UK.

First step was to give my new twinset and wing setup a few trial dives and Julian and I headed off to Wraysbury for a midweek dip.

As is often the case, it was almost deserted midweek, and on our second dive I'm pretty sure we were the only people in the lake!

This translated to, for Wraysbury, excellent vis, up to 10M at times I'd say and certainly enough to see the banks as they loomed up ahead. More than once I've swum into a bank as they're invisible when the silt is stirred up.

We got to Wraysbury about 10AM, but spent the next hour or so rejigging my regulators and hoses as, despite them seeming fine to me as a configuration, they just didn't work on the cylinders.

Once we'd sorted them out and I managed to stand up in them, we walked around the back of the shop and entered via the slip (the pier being permanently closed now it seems).

My intention was to go onto a platform and work on buoyancy for a bit, but with the 4KG Julian recommended (we're a similar build) I found the setup immediately comfortable in the water. We did have a quick stop and hover on a 6M platform, but anything else seemed a bit redundant as I had no issue at all with buoyancy control. The one thing I couldn't do was locate my valves to carry out a shutdown.

So we headed off around the lake, finding many of the submerged items, including numerous boats, the "Die Hard" taxi (just the front half, used for static shots in the filming of the film) and the diving bell.

We enjoyed the late April sunshine as we had an hour degassing and then went back in for an equally uneventful, but enjoyable, second dive. Julian had helped me work out where the valves were before this dive and I had no issues reaching them to shut them on this second dive.

A week later, Paul, Julian and I headed off to Vobster (again mid-week), hoping to find equally great vis, but whilst it was as quiet, it was quite murky compared to both Wraysbury and the conditions I'd experienced midweek the previous year when I dived with Chris O'.

From my point of view, though, it was really about having a deeper dive and making sure my comfort with the twinset at Wraysbury hadn't just been beginners luck.

It seemed not to be the case, as I once again felt comfortable, even being able to swim through fairly narrow confines inside the Wheelhouse and the cabin cruiser, which I certainly hadn't imagined I could get through in with two 12L cylinders on my back!

We did two dives of 30 and 35 minutes, which was plenty as it was actually pretty nippy still, despite the warm air temperatures we'd had for a while.

As I'd come away with 150 Bar in the cylinders, I was keen to use it up before putting the cylinders in for a service and O2 clean ahead of a weekend 'Shipwreck Project' and a weekend trip to Plymouth coming up, so Paul, Dave Price and I went back to Wraysbury on the early Bank Holiday Monday for a bimble.

After a weekend's use, visibilty wasn't as good as it had been on Julian and my visit, but already the water temperature was a few degrees warmer and it was a very pleasant morning diving with very few people around.

Paul kindly dropped my cylinders off for testing the following day and, in case they weren't back in time for the Shipwreck Project, lent me his twin setup.

Heinrich Weikamps returned my OSTC Sport computer in fully functional (I hoped!) condition, I'd put a fresh battery in my Suunto Vyper (as it'd been warning me throught my time in the Maldives that the battery level was low) and I'd also bought a new Scubapro Mk11 first stage to make my twinsets both more consistent and better configured hose wise.

I was ready to take them to sea!

This took the unusual, but interesting, form of 3 days surveying a couple of unidentified wrecks around Portland Bill.

We met up at the Aqua Hotel in Portland on Friday evening and, by prior agreement, comandeered part of the restaurant as our expedition HQ.

We were linking up with the skipper of the Wey Chieftan and his wife to explore and survey a couple of partially identified wrecks, one, known as "The Brandy Wreck" on the east of Portland Bill and the second, suspected to be an East Indiaman, the Alexander, just off Chesil Beach.

Preparing for the off at Weymouth

To achieve this we were equipped with metal detectors, with the aim of finding metal objects in the seabed that would help confirm (or otherwise) the identities of the wreck.

'Doing the hoovering' - Me with the metal detector on day 2 - Stunning vis!

We split into teams. One team, on rebreathers, were to lay a baseline North-South essentially, with 2m markers on from a cannon and then the teams on open circuit and with metal detectors would swim East or West between two 2m markers, finding 'hit's and marking them with a flag and recording the position for later mapping.

Lovely May weather for diving

Julian and I were teamed up and he had the metal detector, which meant I was navigating West from the marker line and recording the locations of the flags he was putting in.

As I type this it seems really quite simple, but in fact it seemed a task too much for me and for others. It wasn't helped by the fact that, on the first dive on the Brandy Wreck, Julian was finding so many metal objects. Trying to keep dead West, whilst keeping a tape measure straight and taut was hard enough, but adding in recording the location of his flags in quick succession was tricky.

We surfaced, reasonably happy with our success and motored around Portland Bill in lovely sunshine to the second site.

The vis here was, frankly, stunning and we repeated the exercise, but we found far fewer metal objects and so it wasn't quite so taxing.

Back at the Aqua we discussed the day and proposed that, as we had a defective metal detector, that one pair were reallocated to laying the tape measures out at 90 degrees to the base lines, leaving the detecting & recording teams to just do that.

One of the cannons used as the reference point for the guide lines

We did this on our dives on Sunday, when I used the metal detector, and it certainly made life easier, as well as giving the third team something important to do. With a line ready to follow, it was much easier to record locations and there was no challenge with ensuring we headed in the right direction, although a few mishaps did occur, including one team who went East instead of West and another who laid a tape measure in the right place, after laying the first in the wrong place (due to us being on a different marker on the wreck to start with), which meant the recording team couldn't find the tape where it was supposed to be in relation to the (wrong) one they'd surveyed! No names will be given to protect the innocent (The same will go for the person who incurred the skippers ire by raising an item on two DSMBs, one yellow, causing him to be concerned that someone was in an out of air situation!).

A Mortar Ball marked with a flag

Aside from these smallish incidents, things went well and on the Monday, we returned to both wrecks. On the Brandy Wreck, we laid more flags, but were finding less hits with the metal detectors.

On the wreck off Chesil, the same was generally true, but we focussed on digging around the markers, that weren't obvious on the surface (many were cannon or mortar balls, lying on the seabed), and a few finds were identified.

As well as the Canons, which previous dives had indentified, we found a bone toothbrush, some timbers and T-weights from the keel of one wreck and people believed they'd found the fire bricks of a ship's oven.

The weather had been mostly great and the vis was excellent, 15M (maybe more) off Chesil Beach, which certainly made the exercise easier.

Wey Chieftan awaits our return off Chesil Beach

My twinsets were pretty much forgotten during the dives (getting up was still a bit of a challenge, but getting easier!), as we focussed on the matters in hand.

After the 3rd day, I returned home, but some others continued on for a further day (we'd had a change around on the Monday too) and made some more discoveries.

Overall, I'm told the exercise was very productive and we found more out about the wreck than numerous expeditions had done so before.

From a personal point of view, it had been an interesting experience. Rather than just jumping in and seeing what I could see, which most diving is, this was definitely 'Diving with a purpose' and it was interesting how taxing it proved to be initially, but rewarding that we worked out how to reduce that and get to grips with it enough to really start enjoying it.

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