Wreck of the Carentan

WW2 French submarine chaser lies close to popular Kyarra wreck

Author: Pat
4th February 2012

Just a few minutes out of Swanage lies the wreck of the Kyarra. But lying nearby is the less well-known Carentan.

The two are so near in fact – around 500m – that in the past divers have been dropped on the latter by mistake. This proximity and easy access make for a good duo of dives on a day spent in Swanage, with regular charter boats departing the pier to make the ten-minute journey to either site.

Following a forgettable first experience in zero vis a few years back, we kitted up and splashed onto the Kyarra straight after breakfast. This time we realised what makes it such a must-have in the log book.

out of the shadows shapes appeared

But it was the second dive of the day on the Carentan that was truly new to me. A well-thumbed copy of Dive Dorset managed to shed some light: seized by the Royal Navy from occupied France in 1940, this 400-tonne submarine chaser was 120ft long with a narrow beam of just 20ft. By December of 1943 she was operating under the control of the Free French and was escorting a submarine towards Portsmouth when a fierce storm caused her to capsize. This tragic outcome may have been speeded along by a large Boer War-era gun bolted to her foredeck and top-heavy brass plating used for her superstructure.

Only 6 of the crew of 23 were saved, making the Carentan a war grave.

Our descent got off to an inauspicious start, finding a solo diver entangled by his tank valves in the lazy shot on the surface. Much to his appreciation he was freed before we started our own descent into the gloom, following the outline of Dave’s twinset below me. Gauges counted down to 31 metres and out of the shadows shapes appeared. We had arrived on the Carentan.

Once adjusted, visibility was a refreshing 8-10 metres and we were greeted at the base of the shot by a large lobster, unsure whether to remain under his rock or take a closer look at the new arrivals. The seabed where the wreck lies is formed of boulders, rocks and pebbles making navigation easier and would provide an inviting habitat for marine life even without the ship. Being a small site which can be done in one dive, we set off in a clockwise direction, keenly watched at all times by schools of Bib and Pouting hovering away to the left. In the far distance behind wreckage, powerful torch beams arced side to side signalling the arrival of other divers and painting a ghostly aura.

Lying on her side, what’s left of the Carentan juts up around ten feet off the seabed at the highest point, although much of it is smashed and broken. Where plating had come away from the skeletal frame of the superstructure in places, each box segment appeared populated by a different fish. Funny how narcosis can play tricks on you, but it reminded me of pigeonholes for internal post. A small conger peered out of one, looking mystified by the two alien creatures drifting by.

Completing a loop of the site brought us back to the stern area of the ship, and the shotline back to the surface. At a max depth in places of around 33 metres the Carantan site is perfect for weaker blends of Nitrox, giving you plenty of time on the bottom. The easy accessibility and cosy feel of this site make it well worth visiting.

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