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Oyster Dive Club, Porthkerris 2012

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster

Attractive shore diving

At 490 57’ North the Lizard, Britain’s most southerly point, sticks a belligerent finger into the warm, nutrient rich waters of the gulf stream. The result is an explosion of marine life, from giant basking sharks to myriad coloured jewel anemones.

Porthkerris Divers run a very professional operation from a modern dive centre right on the coast. The shop is well stocked, air fills are turned around quickly and the standard of food from the beachside café is excellent: farm reared lamb burgers, local Cornish pasties and proper coffee.

The weekend kicked off with an early morning dive on the ‘Volnay’, a 4,000-ton merchant ship that struck a German mine in 1917. Volnay did not sink immediately but being denied entry to Falmouth (if she sank near the harbour entrance, it would effectively close the port), she dropped anchor just off Porthkerris Cove. That night a storm blew up, she started shipping water and sank. Thankfully no lives were lost.

The great thing about Volnay is that she can be dived at any tide. A shot was placed expertly between her boilers and Oyster divers made their way down the line to the wreck, some 21m below. For anyone who trained at Wraysbury, the vis was amazing: 8 – 10m and the water temperature a cool but refreshing 120C.

Working our way around boilers, covered with soft corals and headed aft across wooden decks, littered with artillery shells. Shoals of immature bib shimmied through the wreck. The deck was also home to a scallop bed. We watched in amazement, as seashells became weird animated castanets swimming ahead of us. Good dives always end too soon and with 60 Bar showing on our gauges we made a reluctant return to the surface.

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster

Sponges on the Volnay

Celtic Kitten is a very stable power cat, with a top speed of 22 knots. Easy to board from the beach – simply walk up the gangplank. Entry to the water is giant stride and a powerful lift gets you back onto the boat quickly and easily when your dive is done. Our second dive was to be a drift around the inner manacles. These are pinnacles of rock seemingly designed to terrorise local shipping. Depending on the tide, the current either runs north (incoming tide) or south (outgoing tide). Six Oyster divers entered the water and made our way down to 14m. Here the rocks are covered in a thick kelp forest. Their fronds were waving violently in the 5-6 knot current. We swam east, towards deeper water and the kelp gave way to rocks covered in anemones, urchins and sea fans. We came across our first shark of the weekend: a 1.2m small spotted catshark. The current was fierce around the rock pinnacles and the group of six divers did well to keep together during a very exciting drift dive.

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster, Rainbow Wrasse

Rainbow Wrasse

In total 26 dives were made during the weekend in visibility that ranged from a ‘good’ 5-6m to a ‘great’ 10-12m (apparently the locals though this was ‘poor’). Despite the Basking Sharks remaining elusive, we were treated to a fantastic variety of life. But the best dive was saved ‘till last. Wicked currents make it impossible to dive the ‘Vase’ in anything other than slack water. It is a single pinnacle of rock rising 40m from the seabed to within 4m of the surface. Its crown is topped with an unruly shock of kelp and the rock then descends in tiers – a bit like a wedding cake. The strong nutrient rich currents make it an ideal home for jewel anemones, which cover the rock. We made our way down to the 20m tier and were treated to an incredible display. Dappled mid-day light lit up amazing colours as rainbow wrasse skimmed around anemones of red, green, magenta and blue. The colours matched anything I have seen on tropical reefs and this was, quite simply, the best UK dive and possibly the best dive ever.

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster, The Vase

Jewel Anemones and Urchin

We were made very welcome by the friendly staff at Porthkerris Divers. Accommodation at the Trengilly Wartha Inn was extremely comfortable and the food good. They even opened up the kitchen to give us a hearty breakfast before we set off for our early morning dives.

In all, one of the best weekends of diving at the warmest place on mainland Britain. We will return!

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster

Common Starfish

PADI Diving, Porthkerris, Oyster Divers, UKDivemaster, Urchin, The Vase

Urchin on The Vase

Swanage Weekend

Wrecks, Reefs and Night Diving

Swanage is a bit of a Diving Mecca and boasts the UK’s oldest Dive Shop (despite looking its age, its surprisingly efficient). We will be conducting shore dives under the pier during the day and at night. We’ll also be checking out some of the UK’s signature wreck dives: the Kyarra and Valentine Tanks.

Divers of all levels are welcome, although Deep and Wreck Specialities will be needed for some of the boat dives (don’t worry – you can get these specialities during the weekend).

Dive the Mulberrys

Plenty to see in Sussex

Just off Selsey Bill and lying in 10m of water, two remnants of WWII provide a great environment for UK marine life.

Boat and Shore dives will be available for members of all skill and experience levels.

Take a look at the life you could be missing:


One of the many remains of the Mulberry Harbours which were constructed in this area. After more than 60 years under the water this is now a wonderful reef approximately 60ms longs by 17ms wide. The North end is the best preserved and is covered in white and orange dead men’s fingers, various anemones and two patches of jewel anemones. As you tour round the reef you can expect to see schools of pouting, pollack, bass, wrasse, poor cod and bid. There is normally a large school of fish at the bottom of the shot waiting to greet you. You can also find conger eels, tompot blennies, gobies, crabs and lobsters in addition to seasonal visitors like the cuttlefish and lumpsuckers. Only 2.5 miles from East Beach with an average depth 10m. As the Mulberry is made of reinforced concrete which is decaying watch out for sharp spikes.

Dive Swanage

UK Diving is the reason I completed the PADI Divemaster Course. The qualification opens up the South Coast and enables me to explore safely, some of the World’s best diving. Yes: the World’s best diving. I have dived Central America, Indian Ocean and the Caribbean and all have exciting colourful dives. But in August and September (especially) UK diving comes into its own. Historical wrecks (not the ‘theme park style’ artificial reefs, sunk purposefully as a ‘divers’ playground – but real wrecks with real history) can be accessed within 50 minutes of London. The sea is warm: a toasty 17 degrees centigrade at 25m this weekend, visibility good: 15m plus. And life is prolific.

Diving the Fleur

PADI Dvemaster Wreck Diving

The Fleur is just 15 minutes from Swanage Pier

On 16th April 2000 an explosion ripped through the Fleur de Lys heating system. Severe damage was done to the hull of the 54ft fishing vessel and she started sinking 18 miles to the South West of Portland Bill. A Mayday call alerted the emergency services and a coastguard helicopter lifted the four crewmen to safety some 16 minutes later. The stricken vessel was towed towards Poole in a vain effort to salvage her and she finally sank off Ballard point in Swanage Bay. The wreck is now well broken but boilers and the remains of her hull are still recognisable. Lying on a sandy sea bed at 13m she makes for a great warm up dive.

The Fleur has a line and buoy attached, so access to the wreck is straightforward. Descent onto a wreck is always exciting, even one as small as the Fleur. On arrival we were greeted by a massive conger eel, peering out of one of the ruptured water tanks. The Fleur is a fish spotters’ paradise. Large shoals of pouting were milling around the crumbling wooden hull. Rainbow wrasse darted about and we even treated to a large red ballan wrasse. A circuit of the wreck takes about ten minutes and gives you a good understanding of how the boat is resting. Then get up close and personal: poke around the hull and take a good look under and in and around the wreck. You’ll normally find large lobsters, edible crabs, blennies and gobbies. Your air will go a long way at 13m and we cut the dive short at 45 minutes – still with plenty of gas to spare. A short safety stop at 5m then surface – a great little dive.

Fleur de Lys, Diving

Shoal of Pouting skim around the remains of the Fleur

Divemaster

Warm enough for no gloves - light enough for no torch.

The Kyarra

Sunk on 5th May 1918 by the German U-Boat UB-57, with the loss of six lives, the Kyarra is a wreck of a completely different scale but accessible to Advanced Open Water Divers with a Deep Diving Speciality. The seabed is at 30m but she rises 9m off the bottom to 21m. About 30 minutes from Swanage Pier, she is well loved by UK divers and her mixed cargo of wines, perfumes, beer, watches and cider can still be found amongst the wreckage.

We descended on a line attached amidships. Timing the dive around high water, the current was not too strong. Another benefit was that the first half of the dive was timed just before the tide turned: we were able to dive ‘with the current’ throughout. Arriving at the wreck you get a real sense of scale: at 415ft long and 52 ft wide, this ship was big for its day. Visibility was excellent, greater than 15m. Life on the wreck was prolific: another large conger, more shoals of pouting and lobsters. We navigated towards the bow, keeping the superstructure on our left. At 21m our maximum time was 23 minutes, so we settled on getting a good look at the forward end of the Kyarra. After 10 minutes the tide turned and we followed the port side of the wreck. The debris field is scattered a good 20m plus off the port side. Time was getting short and we had not returned to the line. We found a clear area of deck and put a DSMB up. Our ascent was purposefully leisurely; we took a 1 minute safety stop at 10m and a further 3 at 5m and arrived at the surface with 60 Bars remaining. Great dive and a ship that deserves more than one visit.

PADI Divemaster, Duriston Head

The Kyarra rests on the seabed off Duriston Head

PADI Divemaster, Blenny on the Kyarra

Blenny on the Kyarra

Scott on the Kyarra

PADI Divemaster, Kyarra

Ryan on the Kyarra

Full Wreck Tour: http://www.divernet.com/Wrecks/wreck_tours/159431/wreck_tour_47_the_kyarra.html

Scuba Passion

Hidden away in an unlikely corner of Port Vendres commercial area is a gem of a dive operation. We had explored this part of France’s Cote Vermeille last year and has some great dives with Redris Sub. But we fancied the wrecks in the

Scuba Passion, PADI, Diving, Cote Vermille area, which were closer to Argeles sur Mer, Collioure and Port Vendres. I spent an afternoon sizing up the local dive operations. CiP Collioure have a fine boat and a good looking website but the welcome at the office was not great: no English spoken and no wrecks visited. The focus was on DSDs, and simple local diving. It was also quite expensive: but as I said, the boat was good. Argeles has some good looking operations and the guys at Sud Plongee were extremely helpful and spoke English. The only issue is that Argeles is furthest from the Marine Reserve and Wrecks; it meant longer getting to and from the dive site. Read the rest of this entry »

Skin Diving – Snorkeling

I have always enjoyed skin diving. And there are some places where scuba gear simply isn’t needed. Cap Redris on the CotePADI Skin Diving, Cap Redris Vermille is one of them.

The French mediterranean marine reserve of Banyuls – Cerber is a no take zone and the results are remarkable. Overfishing has emptied much of the Med but not here. Local conservationists have set up an underwater ‘nature trail’ for snorkellers – complete with underwater information boards, helping you identify the highly coloured fish that skim past. There is plenty to see; Sea Bream, Grouper, Sea Cucumber and in large numbers.

OK, it isn’t the same as scuba diving but in the right places you can see as much life and the logistics are much simpler.

This particular site is so good, we used the snorkel to plan our next shore dive.

- Update 21 July 2011

After 4 great dives with Scuba Passion in Port Vendres, we donned our snorkeling gear for one last dip, this time within the harbour wall at Collioure. Wow! Large White Sea Bream followed me everywhere: people must feed them, loads of horned blennies, striped seabream. Well worth a plunge when the sea is too rough (and even when it isn’t).

Mapping Project

As far as Divemaster Qualification goes, the Bible is the Instructor manual. For the ‘Mapping Project’, the Bible is a bit vague. Certainly it tells you what to do but does not give any indication of scores or standard. The Divemaster Candidate Information and Evaluation Form isn’t much more help. To pass the standard is ‘verified adequate’. The result is wide variation on what is judged as ‘adequate’. I have seen every interpretation, from simple line drawings to charts that would put the UK’s Hydrographic Office to shame. Read the rest of this entry »

Advanced Open Water

Preparing for our annual family trip to the South of France started early. Getting Ryan and Scott qualified as PADI Advanced Open Water divers was vital for us to get the most of our time at Collioure, a sleepy French fishing village on the Cote Vermeille.

So last weekend the boys donned their wetsuits in anger only to find that growth spurts matter: Scott got Ryan’s old suit and I’m left dipping in my pocket for a suit that is likely to last just one season. Read the rest of this entry »

First Divemaster

Oyster Diving, PADI Open Water Course

Mark Briefs the Open Water Course before their first dive

Wraysbury is convenient, has good conditions for Open Water training dives. But it is noisy.

Every 90 seconds an airliner loaded with passengers takes off from Heathrow. And this morning they were flying directly overhead. But that is the only complaint I have about an extremely good morning.

This was the first time I had acted as surface cover Divemaster, indeed the first time I’ve acted as Divemaster at all! (Although I had been a BSAC Dive Marshall once). Read the rest of this entry »

Banyuls sur Mer

OK, so it isn’t a UK site but I’m on holiday so its being written up anyway.

This whole area is fantastic. It is where the Pyranees eventually fall into the mediterranian. So the underwater scenery is spectacular which, when added to the French attitude towards marine conservation, makes for some great diving. Read the rest of this entry »

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