Eddystone reef

Infamous hazard to shipping is thrilling underwater wonderland

Author: Pat
29th May 2013

The Eddystone rocks are approximately ten miles offshore from Plymouth, or about forty minutes by fast boat.

We can probably all think of a dive site we’ve long wanted to visit yet never got around to. This was one of mine.

Eddystone has been claiming scalps for centuries, with vessels of all sorts meeting their end here on the jagged rock formations. So hazardous were they that a lighthouse was first built as early as 1696, and has been rebuilt three times since. The remains of the third lighthouse can still be seen today, a short distance from the current structure.

underwater channels, gullies and kelp-fronded rock formations

Diving with the club Clidive BSAC 410 using their Yellow boat, eleven of us motor out from the Mount Batten dive centre and arrive at the Eddystone just in time for slack water. Half of the divers aboard the boat are trainees, so we leave them to gear up and Nick B and myself flop over the side to begin our descent.

The visibility today (mid-May) is very good, tainted only by an overabundance of plankton in the water. This very phenomenon will draw Basking sharks into these waters within weeks, but today the sea remains too cold for large fish of that sort, and there are none to be seen.

As my eyes adjust, the reef materialises beneath as a series of underwater channels, gullies and kelp-fronded rock formations. Leathery sea urchins and Dead Man’s Fingers adorn almost every surface, and our powerful torchlights illuminate delicate sea ferns and jewel anemones galore. Edible Crabs retreat and Spider Crabs advance respectively as we float past, dropping down through 15, 20, 25 metres.

A series of undulating shelves form the reef and seem to make the Eddystone an ideal training dive, were it not subject to some occasional currents that “will take you across to France,” our coxswain advised.

Trying to remember the brief, we roughly follow a channel running north-south parallel to the lighthouse rock. Steep rock walls rise up on either side of us as we descend in turn, with fish swimming above and around.

My ancient drysuit hasn’t seen much action this season and struggles to keep water out at the seals, but in any case the ten-degree water is destined to give me a chill in the end.

We’re well insulated from any current amidst the rocks channels and continue our exploration, particulates hanging in the water column, and gradually work our way back up to around 8 metres. Then up goes the DSMB and we drift away from the rocks, mindful that the boat can’t pick us up too close to the lighthouse for fear of a collision. Half a dozen sports fishing boats have anchored nearby in the hope of catching some of the many Pollack and wrasse we’ve just seen – and scared away. Sorry guys.

After the club’s divers are quickly recovered, the boat turns for home. The Eddystone was worth waiting for and a definite one to revisit.

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