Search and recovery fun

First look at popular wrecks reveals extent of winter storm damage

Author: Pat
24th April 2014

Some get wet year-round, but for those who don’t, the Easter holiday marks the point when the UK season restarts.

Our club headed to Plymouth for an extended weekend of checking that the equipment was serviced properly, rediscovering those favourite wrecks and reefs, and reacquainting ourselves with excessive fish, chips and beer.

James Eagan Layne still has secrets to reveal

First stop for our RIB was Hand Deeps, a small sub-surface pinnacle approximately 4 miles from the familiar Eddystone lighthouse. It rises up from 50+ metres to around 7, with a flat top covered in kelp and Dead Man’s Fingers, Jewel anemones and copious amounts of Wrasse and Pollock all around. Unhelpfully, this time of year is also when the plankton bloom manifests itself (for about the next month), making visibility in the water column all the poorer.

On our check out dive, this wasn’t a problem though, and we explored the cracks and crevices before swimming NW with reef-shoulder-left. Lovely dive, even with only 3-4 metre vis.

With a couple of new Sports Divers on the trip and everyone a bit rusty, chosen dive sites were not exceptionally challenging, but there’s plenty of time for those later. In quick succession we checked off Mewstone Ledges (lots of swimming Dogfish – they normally sit on the bottom don’t they?), Hilsea Point, and the James Eagan Layne – twice.

The JEL is a fabulous dive and needs no introduction. But this was not the same wreck as visited a year ago. The ferocious storms that kept ragtop journalists so busily enthralled over the winter months have knocked seven bells out of the old lady. A lot of the hull plates have fallen away to the seabed, thick steel crossbeams have either collapsed or been bent at crazy angles and much wreckage now lies in a mangled heap. A couple of divers clambered back into the RIB and exclaimed: “It’s been smashed to bits!” An exaggeration, but a lot of the majesty has diminished.

However, I also spotted timbers on the ship that I’d never noticed before (in good condition too) and the engine room is now wide open, revealing the engine cylinder head, gantry walkways and more. The wreck still has secrets to reveal.

Mark managed to lose his grip while handing a weight belt up into the boat, sending it plummeting to the seabed near the Scylla. A search and recovery sweep was instigated on the next dive across the flat sandy bottom of Whitsand Bay. On their very last revolution and with deco approaching (diving on air in 26m), Chris just noticed the glint of a belt buckle at the very edge of his torch beam. Result! Would you believe, another diver then dropped his weight belt in almost exactly the same place while they were climbing back into the boat.

Next dive, my turn to get involved. Colin and I descended down the shotline, and before even my eyes could adjust to the murk, could see him pointing in the direction of something on the sandy bottom. Our second lost lead weightbelt was no more than three metres from the bottom of the shot. Excellent GPS mark, shame to miss out on the sand sweeps.

Oh well, there’ll always be another time, as they say – except perhaps in the case of the James Eagan Layne, which has moved closer to becoming a ‘splat wreck’. Get out there and dive it while you can.

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