Durdle Door in a thunderstorm

Soggy weather fails to spoil top drawer dive site

Author: Pat
23rd July 2014

The hardboat MV Spike pulled up alongside Dorset’s spectacular rock archway, just as a bolt of lightning smashed spectacularly out to sea.

“Don’t worry about it,” skipper Pete said, chirpily, noticing our faces. “This boat’s only been struck by lightning twice – it never strikes three times, don’t they say?”

This boat’s only been struck by lightning twice

My memory seems to be a little hazy on that one.

Pete proceeded to erect the dive flag – in these conditions, it looked more like a lightning rod. Safety first though, and we were going DIVING.

Durdle Door is one of Dorset’s most iconic natural landmarks, in an area not exactly short of them. Nearby Lulworth Cove graces almost as many novelty jigsaw puzzles, fudge tins and coasters. But Durdle Door has a subsea advantage of steep walls dropping down to 8-9metres, which shelve away to 15, 20 and more. The shallowest parts are covered in kelp fronds, but it’s in the 10m range where life really begins.

Today I was buddying with Gary, who originally planned to spend his Saturday diving in a three with friends, Phil and Declan, from London – but graciously offered to pair up. Skipper Pete backed Spike as close to the archway as he dared – while a large party of kids ‘coasteered’ over the rocks – and we were go.

We had been warned us to stay on the seaward side of the archway, for the simple reason that the boat couldn’t come in any shallower. A RIB had parked between the feature and the beach, so with the appropriate small draft, it clearly can be done. Rain was pummelling the sea by now, making diver’s heads harder to spot for boat skippers.

Safer below.

We descended between pinnacles and began our eastwards exploration. At times Gary took the lead, and then we’d switch – more by instinct than any particular plan. A huge lobster shrank back from us in the reef wall – just below his hole was a pile of hollowed out shells, claws and waste matter. Clearly, this was his lunch pile and recycling bin.

With such thrilling and varied underwater topography, no surprise that much life calls this place home. We spotted edible crabs, lots of transparent shrimp, wrasse and Pollock swimming about.

After our recovery via the stern lift (– greatest invention for divers, FACT!)  the diesels rumbled and Spike swung back towards Swanage. However we weren’t finished: a diver called Christine had an impressive camera rig with her, and asked for help photographing the huge barrel jellyfish which have overwhelmed southern waters this season. Spike inched forward, as we strained over the sides to spot one – within ten minutes she had splashed in and was strobing away.

These animals are well named – not particularly pretty or colourful like a man-o-war, but impressive nonetheless. And they’re also the size of a wheelie bin. Christine clambered back on board, some fab shots captured.

Skies grey, thunder rumbled in the distance, nothing dampened about our spirits though.

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