Diving - The adventure continues!
Late 2019 and 2020 - Diving in the time of Coronavirus
When I returned from the Red Sea, I still felt the urge to do a dive in the UK and in late November we travelled down to Portland with a view to doing a couple of dives in and around the Harbour.
The day was quite eventful, but not for the quality of the diving.
Firstly, it appeared that the boatyard interpreted our request to 'take the boat out' to mean we wanted to remove it from the yard and they were most surprised to find we wanted to launch as the yard was officially shut for the winter!
However George, as obliging as ever, agreed to assist us and we decided to do just the one dive to make his day shorter.
As we were about to go out a small cabin cruiser drifted from the Fleet out into the harbour (I didn't see it, but George reported there was someone on board trying to paddle it back!).
He asked if we could render the boat assistance before going diving and, of course, we said we'd help.
We quickly found the boat, but to our huge surprise there was no-one on board! We towed the boat back to the boatyard and left it with George (later in the day we discovered the owner had hopped off onto the shore just beyond the yard and allowed the boat to drift out into the harbour as it had no power!)
After that we set off to try and dive the 'other' wreck near The Spaniard, but the vis was terrible and we could hardly see each other, let alone any wreck and we very quickly abandoned that dive.
We then motored out of the harbour to the Dredger site, but vis was only a little better here and we saw very little life and after 27 minutes decided to call it a day.
A few of my fellow divers dived in early January, but my next dive wasn't until the 25th when I joined some others for a couple of dives in Wraysbury.
It was quite cold, between 6 and 7, but my dry gloves worked and the vis was good for Wraysbury.
The most remarkable thing about the dives was that I descended into the 'tube' which seemed to have been dredged and I recorded a previously unheard of maximum depth of 15.1M in Wraysbury!
Neither dive was very long (or exciting, judging from the very brief notes in my log book), but it's always good to be diving.
By this point I had booked myself a few days stay in Larnaca, Cyprus, with the intention of diving on the famous Zenobia wreck.
This was booked for the last weekend of March and I was looking forward to kicking off the 2020 dive season with some memorable wreck diving.
With that in mind (the Zenobia is quite deep, going down as far as 42M), I decided another couple of dives would be good and was back in Wraysbury in early March.
It was still only 7C, but again my dry gloves functioned as advertised and it was fine for a couple of 30ish minute dives.
The 4 of us who'd been to the Red Sea joined up and bimbled around, visiting the cave complex, the Die Hard Taxi (looking very sorry for itself now) and the 'graveyard'.
The second dive, we visited the London Taxi, Lifeboat and cabin cruisers. I spotted a big Pike at the exit to one of the containers and the vis was reasonable, but not as good as on the January visit.
At this point the 'Coronoavirus' threat seemed a distant worry, but as March progressed it became more and more real and intrusive and while we (just) managed to get our club dinner in, at the Castle Inn, in Farnham, my trip to Cyprus was stymied by Cyprus shutting their borders.
As I wrote this on the 2nd of June, I still hadn't done any diving, even in the pool, since that last trip to Wraysbury, although that site is planning to reopen in a couple of weeks.
We had an Easter trip to Swanage planned, to start the sea season with some gentle dives, our annual trip to Plymouth is off, a dive a few of us planned for later in June to the Arfon protected wreck out of Swanage has been postponed until Mid-July, although it remains in question as does the Swanage Lifeboat week finale trip that seems to have become cursed with bad luck in recent years...
At this point I was 17 dives off reaching 500 logged dives, which in 10 years seems quite a remarkable milestone for me (I know some people can rack that up in a season, but not without working in diving or spending every weekend on the same old sites, something that's never interested me), but whether I'd make it in 2020 was still in doubt!
Back to diving
After 3 months, in early June, shore diving was once again permitted.
A few of us from the club set off early one mid week morning to dive at Newton's Cove in Weymouth.
This is a small area on the outside of the Weymouth end of the Portland harbour wall.
We dumped our kit on some concrete steps, where a few sea swimmers were also gathered, albeit socially distanced (in the main) and took it in turns for the two pairs to dive, while the other pair acted as shore cover and kept an eye on kit.
The site is very tame diving, with us only reaching a maximum depth of 3 or 4 metres as we swam out to a shallow reef and back. That said the shallow depth meant lovely vis and there was plenty of life, both plant and fish, crab and even some tiny jellyfish to enjoy on the dives.
Some video from Newton's Cove
One trip there, though, was plenty for me and I did a couple of trips to Wraysbury once it was reopened, for limited numbers, a little later in June. We found, however, that despite there being very few divers in the lake that the vis was as bad as it ever gets. On my first visit, with Ria and Rohit, there were times when I couldn't see my computer or compass!
Rohit complained that all he'd seen were my bright yellow fins on that particular dive!
Ria and I had a couple of dives a couple of weeks later and we found some slightly better vis, but it was still pretty poor, but at least our depths were heading towards double figures in Metres.
This second trip also gave me a chance to try out the vintage Conshelf XIV regs I'd bought and serviced as a distraction during lockdown - I found them easy to breathe and reliable, although as I intend to mostly use them as pool regs, they don't have a dry suit hose, so the dive with them was quite short.
Conshelf XIV regulators
In between these trips, we'd also had a trip to dive Swanage Pier, but it was a bit like Newton's Cove, shallow and not very interesting - I've dived under the pier a few times and I'm afraid I don't share some other divers' enthusiasm for it.
In July, however, shuttle boats started running at Swanage and, with a trip to the very deep (for me!) Arfon rescheduled for mid-July, I organised a trip a week earlier to the Kyarra and a drift to follow.
The Kyarra sits at 30M, so it's a relatively deep recreational dive, especially as UK conditions can often make it dark and murky. Indeed one of my most serious 'narking' (where Nitrogen levels can result in symptons like a bit too much alcohol - In my case, euphoria, but in others sometimes paranoia and distraction, even hallucination) was on the Kyarra.
The weather was looking a bit windy ahead of our trip, but Bryan of Swanage Boat Charters reckoned we'd be alright, so we turned up on the day for our dive.
As we headed out it was obvious it was quite a strong wind (some of us felt it was a bit marginal on reflection, but no harm was done) and Dawn, especially, was feeling the ill effects of being on a boat in choppy weather.
However, once we got down to the Kyarra, it was clear that the vis was remarkably good. I've dived the Kyarra (a WW1 liner, torpedoed by a U-Boat) in 20M vis once, but on this trip it was around 10M, with decent light, without doubt the second best conditions I've seen.
We all enjoyed a decent time on the Kyarra, clocking up varied, but small, amounts of additional decompression time as we explored the wreck, for once getting a good idea of the scale and layout of the ship which lies on its side and is 126 Metres long.
As well as the sheer spectactle of such a large wreck, there was plenty of life to enjoy, including large shoals of Bib, some very large Lobsters and plenty of Congers seemingly less bothered by divers than they usually are, lying in the open. Indeed, John and Nicole saw one swimming, which is a very unusual sight.
John, Nicole and I did a second dive, a drift towards the Old Harry Rocks, but, while conditions were calmer and it was a fairly swift current to drift in, we didn't see a great deal on our 49 minutes.
Nicole is a relatively inexperienced Sports Diver who, when she first joined the club as a trainee Ocean Diver, told me her big ambition was to dive at Swanage, as her mum had friends there who they often visited.
We'd tried to get her out to Swanage before, but conditions had conspired against us, so it was nice to finally get her diving there and for her level of experience, she excelled.
It was only after we returned from the Kyarra that she mentioned it was the first time she'd ever used a boat lift and all of us more experienced divers had agreed it was one of the most difficult lift recoveries we'd ever done, while Nicole looked totally unflustered by it!
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