Windy weekend in Portland

A small weather window opens up for some dives in the harbour

Author: Pat
25th May 2021

Kite surfer, Portland Harbour

What a difference a year makes. The first national UK lockdown in May 2020 at least provided baking hot sunshine for weeks on end, just when everyone was confined to back gardens.

if you see a chance to get out, take it – you never know what tomorrow brings

Fast forward 12 months,and no such luck. Despite the easing of the latest Covid-19 restrictions, the weather couldn’t be more different. Like many, my dive club members were looking forward to making up for lost time with some dives, yet on the Friday gale force winds blew up, leading to an anguished decision: should we still tow the boat to the south coast, prep and fuel it, knowing the weather is marginal at best?

Luckily the group is hardy enough and, it would seem, fed up of missing out on things. We were on.

The safe money element of Portland Harbour in Dorset is that such is the size, orientation and geography that there’s usually something that can be dived, even in a rough sea state. Gale force winds are a no-no, but Saturday at least looked within the limits. Tony, our dive manager decided Balaclava Bay and the Landing Craft and Bombardon would be the first sea dives of 2021.

RHIB launching in Portland Harbour

Living in the centre of the country the RHIB (boat) spends much of the winter stored in the clubhouse 150 miles from the sea.Thankfully club members took it out for a series of runs on local lakes over the winter and ironed out any teething problems, which can be particularly frustrating if they occur on a trip – for example with dodgy electronics or failed pumps and sucklike. The boat was purring nicely in no time and we gunned it from the Ferrybridge marina to the dredger and underwater sculpture park in no time.

Divers ready to splash on the Dredger, Portland

Except for the odd dive boat, a cruise ship and the Royal Navy for company, we had the sea to ourselves. Diving in two waves, everyone rolled in and descended the 12 metres to the seabed, under the watchful eye of a crab fisherman who was busy sorting his pots nearby. He had picked the correct spot, as there were some truly massive spider crabs in the wreckage of the dredger and nestling within the crevices of the southern breakwater wall. Visibility was (as expected) pretty poor and probably no more than 2 metres, with lots of particulates and bits of ‘snotty’ string in the water column. Nonetheless some wrasse were about, as well as the crabs and large fronds of squid eggs swaying lazily in the current under some wreckage. Squid eggs are a lot easier to spot than the animals themselves, aren’t they?

Divers on the Bombardon Unit, Portland Harbour

After a surface interval in Castletown the second dive location was the Bombardon Unit, which sank next to the eastern breakwater wall after breaking its moorings before it could be towed to Normandy for use on D-Day. The Bombardon is a huge elongated cross-like structure, intended to act as some sort of wave diffuser (it’s not clear that they were very successful, in practice). To add to the confusion, a small tugboat was taken to the bottom when it sank, and today likes stuffed under one side of the Bombardon, heeled over. From the northernmost end of the unit there’s a rope , which we followed all the way to the Landing Craft, a swim of some 25 metres or so. This fairly intact vessel looks like something out of Saving Private Ryan with a front-dropping ramp, although this variety was used to transport vehicles, not people. Depth of water is about 17 metres and visibility a little better, perhaps 3 or 4 metres, so not world class but enough to give us a sense of what we were seeing.

On the run back in the sky was clear blue, reflecting our elation at being back in the sea after such a long break, perhaps. Sunday would be blown out, in keeping with the uncertain times we’re living in during this pandemic. it’s also a reminder that if you see a chance to get out, take it – you never know what tomorrow brings.

RHIB in the boat yard

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