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UKRS #66, Portland, April 2003.

Dive 1: Aeolian Sky.
Max depth 32.0m, runtime 45 mins. Viz 3m, EAN32, buddy Richard.

Grey skies, a fresh force 4/5 blowing, rolling white caps out at sea, Keiran and Sheila feeding the fish before the dive, Pete bowing out before hitting the water, Neil having a HP hose blow (on the O2 side - with a hell of a bang) moments before the dive, deciding it is an omen and packing up for the weekend.

After the rocky ride out, and a fight against the tide on the shotline, it takes a few minutes to settle down and get into the rhythm of the dive on the bottom. Pretty dark, and viz about 3m tops, at least conditions are better than the last time I was here - the 'Sky is a monster wreck, 10,000 tons and 140m long, the pieces of wreckage are so big and the holes so cavernous, in very poor viz it would be very easy to accidentally wander far inside.

Wreck tour

We swim along a couple of dark steel canyons before working out which direction is the 'top' of the boat (she is lying on her port side). Then head towards the stern superstructure, the silt littered with the remains of derricks and masts. Spider crabs parachute from spars as we swim past. My previous visit in nearly pitch darkness amid the jumble of wreckage, nothing was recognisable, but this time details start to become clear - a ventilation pipe, ladders and hatches.

It is a long swim to the back of the boat, the stern is more complete than the chaos of the holds, railings running vertically around the floors of the superstructure. The ships name is written in raised letters across the stern, however it is (of course) in Greek characters, which at first sight makes you suspect you may be narked out of your head...

The side of the hull is a carpet of little hydroids, waving arms perched on spindly little stems. Richard has somehow managed to clock up nearly 10 mins of deco on his Suunto, which doesn't make sense as we are both on 32%. I check his wrist and see that his pooter is set to 21%, and in addition he does his 6m stop on 80%, doing extended accellerated deco on stroke mix on a no-deco dive seems a little like overkill, but whatever... ;-)

Dive 2: HMS Hood.
Max depth 15.3m, runtime 39 mins. Viz 3m, EAN32, buddy Richard.

Pic

Down to the bottom of the harbour wall, turn right (or north, whichever you prefer), a short swim and there she is. Who could fail to find 14,000 tons of dreadnought slap bang across a harbour entrance? :-)

We cruise mostly inside the hull for the length of the ship, there are so many holes to the outside, you are never away from natural light for long. Supporting struts continue to weaken and buckle, we take considerable care to check that nothing looks like it is going to fall on our heads as we move through. The other slightly scary thing is how much light is coming down right in the inside of the wreck, through holes in the bottom plates. Some day, the Hood is going to come down like a house of cards...

A harbour crab does a gunslinger pose while simultaneously clinging to a vertical wall, the local huge Ballan Wrasse appear to be completely at ease with the odd diver passing through their neighbourhood.

There is one other boatload of (obviously new, as they were in wetsuits) divers passing as we re-emerge from one hole. The expressions on their faces as we emerge from the interior are a treat...

And yes, back on board a pair of divers (Keiran and Sheila) did really, yet again, manage to miss the wreck. I mean, how??? They hit the bottom, found the base of the harbour wall and turned left. The mind boggles.

Dive 3: Landing Craft/Bombardon Unit.
Max depth 16.7m, runtime 45mins. Viz 3m, EAN30, buddy Chris.

Day two, and the wind has really come up. A force 8 is forecast, it ain't that bad yet, but the boat is still leaping like a salmon in relatively sheltered water - getting out to open sea is obviously completely unfeasible, so we scratch the M2 and head for the military harbour.

The last time I dived these WWII castoffs - also with Chris - viz was so bad (less than one metre), they were both vague shapes half glimpsed in the murk.

The great British public has a tendency to think our seas are barren wastes, and even many divers dismiss the sealife as just something that gets in the way of the wreck, but today is an opportunity to slow the pace of the dive right down and look for living things. It is more like a night dive than anything, it takes a torch and close attention, but every inch of what appears at first sight to be a dark and brooding hulk of metal is covered in life. Orange and red Sponges, Barnacles flicking their feathery hands to feed. Dead Mens Fingers with all the coral polyps extended, Fan Worms spreading like feathers, orange and white Tunicates, translucent Lightbulb Squirts, Leathery Sea Squirts and Mussels growing on the shotline. A cute Tompot Blenny peeping out of a crack in the rust, a foot long Greater Pipefish lying alonside a bulkhead.

Dive 4: Countess of Erne.
Max depth 13.8m, runtime 37 mins. Viz 4m, EAN40. Solo.

Just six takers for the last dive of the weekend, I hit the water with Steve - who's idea of a buddy check is, 'See you later, buddy!'. So I end up solo, which - maybe I shouldn't admit to this - is fine.

Conditions are the best I've seen inside the harbour - we are first in, you can see both sides of the old Countess at once, almost unheard of! I drop down through a hole in the decking by the stern, and swim the entire length of the lower level inside the ship, just above the silt floor, passing from darkness to light back to darkness under each of the three holds.

Swim out past the front of the ship in midwater, turn 180 and drift slowly back in, the shape of the bow forming out of nothing. Back on board, I swim straight into a siltocline, visibility drops to nil. A couple of divers (who shall remain nameless) are sitting vertically over a hold finning straight down at the very deep, fine silt...

Swimming through this into the clear on the other side, amidships, a huge school of Pollack almost blot out the light, there must be five hundred of them. A damn fine dive for a silty old collier in the harbour...

All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter