HMS Scylla: Life After Death
UK’s first artificial reef has been transformed into undersea city
After almost a decade on the seabed, the Scylla has succumbed to the forces of nature, reports Martin Rishton.
It’s been almost two years since I last dived on the Scylla and I wasn’t prepared for the change in appearance. This juvenile wreck has certainly come of age.
The Scylla was a Royal Navy frigate, F71 class, launched in 1968 and commissioned in 1970. She saw many years of varied service ranging from the harassment of Icelandic fishermen during the Cod Wars to humanitarian aid in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Eventually, in 2004 after lying dormant for 10 years she was finally put to good use and scuttled off Whitsand Bay, Plymouth to form an artificial reef – the UK’s first. Large credit for the project must go to the National Marine Aquarium.
This juvenile wreck has certainly come of age
It can be a bumpy ride out to the Scylla from Plymouth harbour and so it proved. Thankfully we were amongst a hardy group and we pressed-on undeterred by the force 4 to 6s and the fearsome swell which at times, I’m told, reached 12 metres. Thankfully conditions eased as we approached Whitsand Bay and my fears of getting seasick during kitting-up were easing too, but not gone. Just in case we got into the water in double quick time.
As this was still a relatively early season dive, being May, I was still concerned that the plankton bloom so prevalent the previous weekend would spoil our visibility and our dive. Luckily this proved not to be the case and the conditions were great with at least 10 metres of visibility and a cool 11 degrees at the bottom. At least we found the dive site to ourselves, the less valiant dive boats were bobbing around in the harbour, all of a sudden that bumpy ride made lots of sense.
As we descended the permanent chain shot-line to the stern it became very obvious that the Scylla has changed a lot since my last visit when whole areas of the ship were still un-colonised and very clearly metallic in appearance, not anymore.
Now life clings to every square centimetre of the wreck, competing all over for each fragment of space left on this extremely valuable piece of underwater real estate. As we dropped down the side toward the seabed it was the sight of the hull that really struck home to me how much this ship has changed. It is festooned from top to bottom with Dead Man’s Fingers, Plumose, White-Striped and even Jewel Anemones. Interlaced with Star Fish, tube worms and delicately camouflaged blennies and gobies that dart out from under your nose at the last moment, unsure whether you’ve spotted them or not – not usually.
A quick look underneath the stern revealed a huge school of Pollock and Bib hiding away in the gloom. Hoping to avoid predators, or divers, we couldn’t be sure.
The sides of the hull are impressive enough but it is back on the deck, where the light is much greater, that the life is even more extraordinary with the varied array of anemones and soft corals competing with red fauna for a place to call home. Even the chains, which hang between the deck guard rails, are covered in life. It makes for an unusual site when the chains sway in the current with all the life swinging to and fro as well. The peak of the superstructure is covered in a small kelp park and green faunas too which flourish on the upper deck sunshine. Grazing on all of this life are fish a-plenty, shoals of Rock Cook, dance around the larger Wrasses and Pollocks that loom around the upper deck.
The Scylla has transformed from a normal dive to an extraordinary dive, in less than two years, if you’ve not dived it for a while I couldn’t recommend it more. And if you’ve not dived it at all, make sure you do soon.
Martin first took the plunge into Stoney Cove in 2008, after suddenly realising that it had always been a lifelong ambition to scuba dive. He is currently Branch Secretary for Clidive BSAC 410.
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