British Channel Diving – July 2011

Most of the times I say I like diving, people get a bit confused especially if they know I live in London and they have a vague understanding of Geography (London is nowhere near the coast!!!) and usually they get even more perplexed when I say that I really really like diving in the UK and that the channel is my favourite diving destination!!!

I do love wreck diving and diving in the British Channel gives me access to loads of wrecks that sunk for all sorts of different reasons, naval disasters, collisions, bad weather and a number of wars (including but not limited to WWI and WWII) making the Channel the ideal diving destination.

Indeed conditions are not always great. The tides create strong currents allowing for only short windows of diving during the tide change (slack water) and the clouds absorb sunlight making an 11:00 in the morning dive a night dive!!! Of course if you are unfortunate enough to dive a wreck on the 18-30 m range you could well get hit by a plankton boom that will reduce visibility to 50 cm? sometimes less and because of the above (currents, bad weather, shipping) the wrecks on the 18-30 m range are well battered and mostly collapsed to the seabed or on the way to it!

BUT

If you decide to dive deeper than 30 m then things change you get wrecks that are more intact, and you are out of the plankton boom! so it may be dark but visibility will be great and you do have access to really nice big wrecks 🙂 YEYYY!!!!

This is why I decided to take this years summer diving holiday in the UK and book myself for 5 consecutive days of diving in the Channel.  The plan was simple. Nigel Ingram from Aqua Elevation chartered Steve Johnson’s 36 ft catamaran Channel Diver for a trip to Dieppe (Wednesday-Friday), further to that Saturday I, Andris and Matt were booked to dive the Aristos with David Ronnan’s Our W and Sunday Andris was booked to dive the Duke of Buccleugh out of Littlehamptonon with Graham Norton’s LittleHampton Aquanaut and there was a space available (for me!).  All and all 5 dive of diving 3 in France, 2 in the UK with 3 different dive boats! Awesome!!!

The trip was a logistical challenge because of the consecutive deep dives and the fact that we had no access to get Trimix fills and limited access to Nitrox fills. In order to work around this we had to carry with us everything!!! So once more I had to beg borrow and steal twin sets and stage bottles from everyone I knew and I am grateful to all those (including Alex and Maxim ) that helped or offered to help with this.

Having sorted out the logistics Andris I met and started our drive to Eastbourne the day before. We got to Eastbourne in time and once we checked in at the Alexandra we headed out for a drink and dinner (how civilised!).

Day 1: Eastbourne – Dieppe

The next morning pretty early (hence the decision to go down to Eastbourne the night before) we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour to meet Nigel and the rest of the team. We boarded the boat and after the customary cup of tea we headed out to cross the channel. Needless to say I was very excited about that because I always wanted to cross the channel by boat and even more by a diving boat!!!

On French waters we dived an unknown mark in relatively shallow waters and I was impressed by how well preserved the wreck was very well preserved and visibility was great!!! I definitely did not expect that 🙂 I also did not expect my brand new dry suit to leak that bad and I came up from that dive completely and absolutely soaked. NOT NICE!!! 😦

The first dive was also eventful because I managed to do every mistake in the book and a few new ones! before jumping in the water I did not attached my left post regulator to my neck with the bungee chord and I left it loose somewhere behind me (oups) as if that was not enough I cracked open my twinset valves and jammed them open. Now none of that would have been a problem if I had not had a massive free flow from my left post as soon as I jumped in the water!!! By not having the backup regulator in my mouth I could not tell what was free flowing and because it was my first dive with a dry suit inflation bottle I assumed that that was it! so tried to isolate that but that of course did not helped!!! Then I focused on my stages but again nothing!!! Last I realised what had happened and I am desperately trying to isolate my left post but the valves are jammed open and there is nothing I can do about it!!! Needless to say all this time precious and pretty expensive gas is simply blown away… Eventually having moved away enough from the shot line the skipper picked me up and isolated my left post on the boat. Sadly my buddy had descended to 6 meters and was waiting for me there all this time which is something that we had never done before!!! On the boat I was quite annoyed with myself for being such a Muppet but I did not wanted to miss the dive so with the problem resolved I asked Steve to give it another go and drop me off. I went back in the water and it all went well! I even found my buddy waiting around the bottom of the shot line and continued the dive together!!!

Having finished with the dive we continued our journey to Dieppe and eventually made it to the marina and checked-in to Hotel De La Plage that Nigel had booked us in. The receptionist was pleasant enough (albeit french) and she even took my soaked undersuit to dry which was awesome!!!

A quick walk around the city to get supplies for the next days diving rather than cultural or tourist purposes !!! Drinks and dinner at a local restaurant followed and I must say I was not impressed with dinner but that was primarily down to the fact that we ended up in a very touristy place !!!

Day 2: Dive out of Dieppe

The second day of the trip we did two dives one more Unknown wreck and the Dafodil. Once more the wrecks were in very good condition allowing for loads of penetration!!! Nigel’s hand made chocker worked miracles with my dry suit’s neck seal and although the leakage was substantially minimised I still decided to hand in my undersuit to the good receptionist to tumble dry!!!

On return to the marina we went for a few drinks and dinner at a different place but the result was pretty much equally disappointing. It would have been great if we had a lonely planet or a local to suggest a non touristy place to go for dinner 😦

Day 3: Dieppe to Eastbourne

The last day of the trip we checked out of the hotel and headed to the marina for our last dive and the return journey home. A quick stop to a bakery on the way to the marina to get supplies (nice nice cheese and ham baguette and other goodies)!!! The weather had turned and sea did not looked particularly appealing! None the less it is not like we had an option and we headed out to the channel!

The trip back was well and truly choppy with the kit at the back flying around and particularly twinsets without boots being a nightmare to keep steady. I agree that boots can be a pain primarily because with them one can not use tail waits but I would strongly recomend them to anyone diving in the sea (which tends to be rough more often than not) regardless of what the GUE/DIR/Cave/ Fresh Water diver say!!!

Luckily enough the weather cleared by the point we reached the Barga which was the dive site for the day. Although the conditions looks good my buddy decided he had enough of shallow (ish) dives and the choppy ride over the channel started to take its toll so he decided he would skip this dive. Half hearted I decided to go ahead and see what is down there!!!

And it was a good thing I did!!! the clouds had withdrawn and there was plenty of ambient light and visibility was excellent! The Barga was in pretty good condition but being alone I did not felt too adventurous or brave plus I was missing my buddy so decided not to venture too far from the shot line. To that I had to add the fact that during my descent I spotted an abandoned fishing net with loads of live crabs, fish and lobsters trapped on in and it didn’t felt like abandoning them there so went straight to it and started un-tangling the nearest crab! When I did managed to free him he didn’t seemed too grateful about it (probably deeply concerned that I was trying to free him only to eat him later!) he left without saying thank you!!!

I then moved on to a lobster but he was really badly trapped and I pulled my knife and started to cut the net and although that could have freed the trapped lobster things begun to get scary as the loose ends of the net started pulling me in and I was getting now tangled to them. At that point I decided that that was not so wise and I left the poor lobster to his fate and went out to have  look at the wreck. In the process I found another lobster hiding under some wreckage and managed to grab him but since I had no lifting bag there was not much I could do about him. I did offered the lobster to a fellow diver who just happened to be around but luckily for the lobster the fellow diver had just sent up his lifting bag so reluctantly I left the lobster on the wreck and started my ascent.

Back on the boat I found out that I was not alone in trying to save poor creatures caught in the net but a few others from our group had freed fish, crabs and lobsters. Of course all the others were going back home after this trip so their goodie bags were full of lobsters and big big crabs!!!

Eventually we made it back to Eastbourne and after off loading the boat we headed to our hotel the Premier Inn in Eastbourne for dinner and a good night’s sleep before we go back to Eastbourne for our next UK dive!!!

Day 4:  The Aristos

Bright and early we left our hotel and headed back to the Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour to meet Matt who would join us for the day. We loaded the kit on the boat and headed out. The conditions were great with clear skies and pretty calm sea. On arrival to site we got kitted up and jumped in the water. Now that did not worked very well for me because Andris jumped first and Matt followed with me last. As I was waiting behind Matt my redundant wing bladder inflation hose got trapped in the lift and although I felt that something was wrong I thought “whatever, I am jumping and whatever has jammed it will become free!” Well that was a bad idea!!! because the only thing I managed was to snap my low pressure hose and of course have another free flow!!!

I quickly isolated the right post but that was it. I could not go diving any more. so signalled to Matt and Andris to go ahead and I would go back to the boat. As soon as I got back on the boat Sylvia (the second skipper) was like “you can mend it? are you going back?” so I took my kit off and the remains of the offending hose of my regulator and replaced it with a blank plug and I was like: “Right lets go back in!” Sure enough Sylvia turned the boat around and dropped me off on the shot line. I went down and: “Man was I happy to be there!!!” visibility was awesome!, the wreck was upright and very intact and there were loads of ambient light!!! It was great!!! apart from the fact that I was missing my buddies 😦 Likely I was diving on Andris new computer so I did not had to follow a very long ascent and although I did spent some time looking for Andris and Matt I quickly went up, deployed my DSMB and started my ascent following the profile that Andris OSTC 2N suggested and made it safely back to the boat. Later when the guys came up and were like: “Oh that was an awesome dive!!! to bad you had to miss out :(” I could reply: “Well actually I did not!!!”

After a great day out we headed back to Eastbourne where we off loaded the boat and made our way to Worthing and checked in at Chatsworth hotel! Feeling like we deserved a nice dinner we decided to play safe and have Pizza Express rather than risk any other food since last nights dinner at the pub next to the Premier Inn was not exactly a life changing experience and we were less than impress with our dinner in France!!

Day 5: The Duke of Buccleugh

Early in the morning (before they started serving breakfast) we left the hotel (checked out the night before) and headed to Littlehampton marina to board Graham Norton’s Littlehampton Aquanaut. That was strange as I found myself in a boat being the only open circuit diver surrounded by 5 rebreather divers. Needless to say when the skipper asked “So what is your planned dive time?” I was looking desperately for a place to hide!!! as my 25 min were no match for the 1.5 hours plus that these guys were about to dive!!!

None the less we went out and after the skipper dropped the shot line jumped in the water. Again the weather conditions were great. Loads of ambient light and great visibility. We found the wreck at about 60 m and it was amazing the amount of crockery (plates, vases, ashtrays, glasses and all sorts) was phenomenal!!! This wreck and its cargo were in a great condition 🙂 I was mightly excited and loving it!!! Alas my 25 minutes were up and as agreed I waved Andris bye-bye as he decided to stay down there for a bit longer. Andris stayed around until I deployed my DSMB and I started my ascent.

Back on the boat things had changed. Weather had turned and it was fairly choppy. Luckily because of dry suit and dry glove malfunctions the guys ended up coming up sooner that expected so the long wait was not that long after all 🙂 and it was just as well!!! The trip back was pretty rough and did spent the whole journey back wearing my dry suit as apart from the cabin there was no place to hide from the waves!!!

Eventually we made it back and started our journey back to London. This was an absolutely awesome trip and it definitely counts amongst the best diving trips I had not just in the UK but anywhere in the world!!! The good weather helped but also having my favourite diving buddy around made things even better! I will most definitely be looking forward to more mid-channel diving trips in the future!!!

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Dytis

A Diver. Scuba Diving is what I love doing most. Would rather be outdoors than indoors. Life gets in the way and I have to spend more time than I want discussing: religion, politics, DIY, cooking, work and exercise at the gym. Not because I like them but because they are part of life and have to deal with them...

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