Ocean Divers go to Portland

Lashings of fun for Ocean Diver training trip off The Bill

Author: Pat
25th June 2014

Where do you go when you have a low ability group of divers to put through their paces? The sites around Portland tick all the boxes.

It’s now mid-June and the summer is upon us. For a diving club like Clidive BSAC 410, normally this means the boats (the club has two) are away being thrashed around the Scilly Isles, Farnes or Outer Hebrides. Lucky me then that Clidive Blue was sat forlorn and unused in a Portland marina.

Also luckily for me a recent influx of divers to the club is driving demand for entry-level training weekends. We were a go.

Training is character building stuff, right? Poor vis is a given. Well, maybe…

Unusually – in my experience, at any rate – there were three children on this trip. Luke was an amusingly precocious 15 year-old, while twins Chris and Iona had their parents Peter and Sandy keeping an eye on them. All three had passed BSAC Ocean Diver and wanted to gain some UK experience. Luke was sparring with his dad, John. Making up the numbers were Gosia, myself, boat fairy and general good egg Steve, with Joli and Don doing the Coxswaining.

Portland is a good destination for training trips for its multitude of choices: if the weather blows up, there are sheltered options around. There are dozens of wrecks in the harbour itself, assuming you can stomach the muddy bottom and often poor vis. But this is character building stuff, right? Poor vis is a given. Well, maybe… maybe not.

The shimmering silver of the sea, chalk white of the cliffs and pure blue of the sky felt akin to the gates of heaven for our disparate group of urbanites, and everyone was in ebullient mood to be diving once again. First dive was the Black Hawk, another Liberty Ship like the JEL that sits 20 minutes by RIB east of Portland harbour. The bow is in 18 metres, the stern some distance away in 45 or more. Diving with young Chris, I swam around the wreckage (badly broken), spotting lobster, edible crabs, large schools of Bib all around. My new gear performed flawlessly, with the BARE drysuit keeping me toasty, even in 18 degree water. Which to be fair is much warmer than a few months ago when we were diving in 10 degrees…

Second dive was a trip to training site du jour, the Dredger in Balaclava Bay. If I’m honest, it was pretty dreadful – vis perhaps a metre at best well off the wreck, and once we reached it this went down to inches where other new divers had already motored through. Still, we drifted out of the soup as best we could and Gosia had a go at sending up a DSMB.

What a difference a surface interval makes.

Our last dive of the day was to Durdle Door, that picture postcard rock archway along the Dorset coast near Lulworth Cove. It was amazing enough to be so close to the rock face, which arriving by boat allows, but to then dive it was incredible.

Here I now apologise in advance to the following: technical divers, cavers, rebreather divers, sidemounters, DPV or scooter users…. but Durdle Door proves all you need is a basic 12-litre rig on your back and happiness can be yours. This is an AWESOME dive site. Gullies, walls, nooks, crannies, swim-throughs, caverns, lobsters, spiders, loads of fish, barrel jellyfish (season dependant), kelp fronds – and all in 10 metres or less, so loads of light. This is what we got into diving for, in my opinion.

Sunday morning and our target was the Royal Adelaide – just 100 yards off Chesil beach, this was a schooner carrying gin that ran into trouble and today just a winch remains. Despite a flat calm sea and beautiful sunny day again we had trouble locating it on the echo sounder – the wreckage appears to have been flattened or even moved by the recent storms. That’s our excuse anyway.

After descending gingerly with Luke, who was having trouble with his ears, we hit the bottom at about 12 metres and began our sweeps – no sign of the winch, only a few hull plates here and there, so we teased spider crabs for a bit. A first for me was spotting a Flying Gurnard, scurrying away across the sandy bottom into the gloom. Not great, but fun for a Sunday afternoon.

After beaching the RIB in Chesil Cove and a pub lunch, our last dive of the weekend was the James Fennel. This one lies just south of Chesil Cove off The Bill and we were warned by Joli to expect almost nothing – the wreck is now just scattered wreckage in between the rocks. Or so I thought. But after reaching bottom and exploring the large boulder field with Iona, we came across some huge sections of hull, at least 4 or 5 metres prominent from the seabed with room to swim through, around and under. Pipes, chains and other remnants are still discernible. With Iona carefully practising her buoyancy, we saw a colossal spider crab, several large lobsters and plenty of marine life. Late afternoon and with a long drive ahead, out came the DSMB for a reluctant ascent.

All that was left was the usual Sunday teatime rush to get the boat stowed, cylinders filled and cars loaded. Peter and Sandy came across to say goodbye and said: “Chris and Iona are fast asleep already – they’re both exhausted. But have enjoyed it.” Mission accomplished.

MORE Features
Sea lions of Los Islotes

Book review – The Sea Lions of Los Islotes

A love letter to a part of the natural world

Chasing M2 Pro Max ROV

Chasing M2 professional ROV range overview

Choice of three units for industry-level requirements

Isle of Man - young seal

Diving to the Manx: Isle of Man

Mid-point of the Irish Sea offers a unique and stunning location for wildlife


To DPV, or not to DPV

Why James Neal believes a scooter is really a toy for divers who never want to grow up

©2023 British Diver