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Dive 1: Black Hawk (bow)
The first morning of the UKRS Portland weekend, and it's a beautiful day. After a night being entertained by Dave's comedy snoring routine, the sky is clear, but offshore there is a wind blowing and our first dive to the Black Hawk is in the balance. After a scramble to get rental gear and back to the jetty in time, the skipper of our RIB, Saracen, decides he will risk it, and we set out on the 4 mile ride. Outside the harbour, we are going with the wind but the going is still pretty bumpy. The ride back is going to be interesting...
To kit up, we take shelter in Lulworth cove under cliffs of white chalk. While pulling on his twins, my buddy Iwan slips over and comes down hard on his left thumb. It dislocates, but pops back in again - it has to hurt, but he's adamant he's OK to dive. Out to the wreck site, backwards roll, and into the water. The shot line is a bit too long, and straggles along the bottom for quite a distance. I do a grab and pull down the line, and notice the first leak of the weekend trickling into my right boot.
At the bottom, the viz isn't half bad - by local standards - and the sunny weather brings out colours and shapes - the wreck, in big chunks, is scattered over a wide area, resting on fine clean sand with patches of low reef. There is plenty of encrusting life, seaweeds in purples, greens and reds, and large schools of Pollock and Bream - I'd love to video this to have something to show people who say 'why do you dive in the UK? there's nothing to see!"
My right leg is getting pretty soggy, but the dive is pure pleasure, cris-crossing the debris field, poking through the pieces of metal, swimming through schools of fish. All too soon, our time is up, Iwan slickly fires a blob and we do a slow ascent.
The ride back is no fun: Iwan and myself have managed get lumbered with positions at the bow - the bounciest part of the RIB - half an hour of hands burning from clinging ropes, blinded by spray, bouncing off wave crests and crashing into troughs. But the chalk cliff scenery is nice!
Dive 2: Countess of Erne
The Countess was my third ever open water dive, so it's strange to be back - though visibility is better than any of my training dives, and theoretically I actually can dive now. Supress a momentary impulse to kneel on the deck and flood my mask. Don't want to scare Iwan too much...
The shot is on the bow, and we cruise down the port side, loop down to the silt bed at the stern, drop into deep-silt holds and play with tunicates stuck to the deck. Iwan does a couple of short swim-throughs while I shadow him on the outside.
Dive 3: Landing Craft
A slightly smaller group gathers to dive on the second day - so far we have dropouts from broken bones (Keith - falling over in the car park), illness (Nigel) and general disillusionment from the conditions. And at the bottom of the shot on dive 3, you can see why - it's murky dark and silty - classic English Channel diving. Iwan and myself swim once-round the WWII landing craft, pausing to peer into the 'bridge' and admire the bow ramp. And be entertained by Pete singing 'walking in the air' into his rebreather. How does Al put up with it? :-)
Kitting up on the boat, I found that my drysuit inflator hose would not couple with rental drysuit No.2, and I am reduced to manually pressing the hose onto the valve to add a squirt of air as required. Suit no.2 leaks even worse than no.1, at the end of our first circuit I'm drenched and rapidly getting very cold. I think, a few more minutes and I'll call the dive. This time, as go to add another dribble of warming air, there is a 'fwoosh!' and an explosion of bubbles as the hose bursts into free flow.
I tug Iwan's fin, he turns and quickly grasps the situation, leading confidently back to the shot. I check my gauge through the bubbles to see half my tank has drained already, and start an ascent a little faster than my computer would like, but probably (just) within agency recommendations. On the way up I notice for the first time how much my breathing rate has accelerated.
At six or seven metres, I again manage to read my gauge through the wall of bubbles, seeing just quarter of a tank remaining. I consider doing a safety stop on Iwan's gas (and I can tell he is itching to do a slick DIR reg handoff ;-)) but eleven minutes at 15m on nitrox 40 is not exactly pushing the limits of the tables, and I'm keen to get my first stage out of the water before the tank completely empties. I complete the ascent on my own gas, and get to the surface with just enough to inflate my wing. That was 200 BAR drained out of a 15l in no more than two minutes...
Dive 4: HMS Hood
Last dive, and I've given up on the drysuit. Dave has to miss the last dive, so lets me use his semi-dry and I'm warmer than I was this morning. I feel like an open water student again, but I have to admit it is nice to be able to forget about driving a drysuit and just get on with the dive.
At the near end of the Hood, crowds of divers are milling about and ruining the viz. At the end of the shot, a vision in pink (suit, mask, fins...) swims past us. We make vomiting actions behind her back... We swim for the far end where the water is impressively clear. Spend a while peeping into holes in the hull looking for the resident seal, but we don't have an appointment, he ain't seeing us today. At the far end, we spend a couple of minutes playing with a large spider crab before returning along the impressive wall of battleship hull. Silhouetted against the light above us, long tattered shreds of kelp stream out from the keel plates.
A great weekend, with probably my most pleasurable UK diving to date - Thanks to everyone, to Al for organising the whole thing, Dave and Steve for the loan of Semidry and booties for the last dive, and particularly to Iwan for all the lifts and for being an excellent buddy.
And for a second opinion, see other reports and pictures from UKRS members.
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