I'd driven down to Falmouth on the Friday before the May Bank Holiday in 2000 and the traffic was horrendous. So this time I decided to take the Friday off, go diving in Exmouth, and then drive the rest of the way down, hopefully avoiding the traffic. It worked. The trip wasn't too bad at all.
There were 5 of us planning to dive in Exmouth with South West Divers. They run a large RIB out to a variety of sites. We were scheduled to dive the Bretagne and the Galicia.
After a week of perfect weather, it decided to blow up a bit and the wind was funnelling up the Exe estuary. There is also a sand bar across the entrance and the water is only a few metres deep. So it was pretty rough getting out. However, we took things slowly and only one of us was ill. Once out, it wasn't too bad at all, though there were occasional white tops on the waves.
The first problem was finding the wreck. South West Divers' fish finder had been sent off for repair and it hadn't come back when promised. So they were proposing to find the wreck by trolling for it. It's too far off land to use transits, so they relied on the GPS and then threw a shot line in. It landed in about 25m of water, and as the sea bottom is 30m, it seemed that they had found it first time, which was pretty lucky.
We'd been told that the viz was about 10m, though we were a bit sceptical, until we saw how clear the water was on the shot line. The viz on the wreck wasn't quite so good, at around 6-8m, but it was nice and light down there.
The wreck is upright on the bottom and the holds are fairly open. We had a very enjoyable dive swimming in and out of them. There were plenty of fish on the wreck including big shoals of bib. The hull itself is covered in dead man's fingers and plumose anemones. Whilst it is possible to get 31m on the dive, you need to go down the outside of the hull to get that, which isn't the most interesting part, so we only got just over 25m. Out dive time was a respectable 47 minutes.
Getting back took a while too, though the wind had calmed down a bit. We were much later than had been planned, mainly because of the weather. So we had missed slack on the Galicia, and given that they didn't have their fish finder, we decided to call it a day and head down to Falmouth early to beat the rush. It had been a good dive and certainly my best UK dive so far this season, though that really wasn't saying much. The cost was £17.50 a head for the Bretagne. Sites closer to shore are £15. Their air fills were a bit on the pricey side. One of our group got charged £2.75 to have a 1.5l suit inflation bottle filled with air.
The drive wasn't that bad, though there was the usual congestion at Indian Queens. I booked us into the Trevelyan guest house at £18 per person per night. I thought it was good value and they were prepared to start breakfast early just for us because we had a reasonable early start.
We were diving with Cornish Diving and they arranged to pick us up at Custom House Quay. The hard boat is quite luxurious. It has a a big indoor cabin, room downstairs to put plenty of dry kit and a toilet. However, space on the back is a bit limited. As usual we all had twinsets and far too much kit, so it was a bit of a squeeze for the 10 of us. We really needed to get rid of our boxes and pack our kit as we would for a RIB.
Our first dive was Vase Rock, which is a rock pinnacle rising up from the sea bed from about 45m. We went down to about 40m and then started to make our way back up as a multi-level profile on our computers. There was a little bit of current, but circling the rock wasn't too much of a problem as we came up. Our dive time was 42 minutes, with a maximum depth of 40m. The viz was a reasonable 3-4m and the water was 13°C.
The life was less abundant than the previous year's dive on Raglan Reef, but it was still good. There were sea fans, some jewelled anemones and some light bulb sea squirts on the rocks. There were quite a few wrasse, including cuckoo wrasse, ballan wrasse, rock cooks and goldsinny. We also saw a shark. Admittedly it was only about 15 inches long and is usually known as a lesser spotted dogfish, but it is a member of the shark family.
After the first dive, we had lunch on board which was included in the price. I thought the food wasn't bad. There was pasta and salad for those who eat such things and there were always cheese/ham rolls. One of the days we also had some roast chicken.
Our second dive was a wreck known as the Carmarthen. The shot was on the boilers which were the only really recognisable bit of the ship. There was quite a bit of wreckage, but it was mostly flat plates scattered around. Still there were plenty of fish and I saw another shark. This time it was a basking shark, so was much bigger. Unfortunately it was also dead, so I didn't get too close a look. Fortunately there were other, alive fish swimming around and the viz was about 5m and the depth was 20m.
Our plan for the next day had been to do the wreck of the Hellopes, which is in Mounts Bay. Unfortunately the weather wasn't being kind, so we had to settle on the Mohegan. The Mohegan was a big liner which took the wrong course and lost its rudder on Vase Rock. Before the incident, the rock used to just break the surface. The wreck now is flat, apart from the boilers, though there is an awful lot of it. There are plates on top of plates where several decks have been squashed down. It doesn't look much like a ship any more, but there are plenty of interesting holes to look in with sea fans and the usual wrasse around. The viz was about 5m and we managed to get about 27m.
The second dive of the day was, to much complaints, the Volnay. The wreck is usually sheltered from bad weather, so it's one of those wrecks that you can end up doing quite a lot if the weather is bad. That said, it isn't a bad dive. It is quite flat, mainly because it's been heavily salvaged. The big boilers are the highest point and I always think it looks like quite a grey wreck because the bottom is quite silty. However, the silt isn't particularly fine, so it does take quite a lot to kick it up. A bunch of OW divers had arrived about the same time and they were doing their level best.
It lies in about 19m of water, so it's a relatively easy dive. The viz was about 4m. There were some fish, including pollack, a couple of brightly coloured cuckoo wrasse and the usual small shoals of bib and poor cod. Scattered in the sand are loads of lead balls from the anti-personnel mines that the ship had been carrying when it went down. I enjoyed the dive and ended up doing 53 minutes on it, which is about twice as long as I managed when I did it as my first ever UK dive.
On the last the day, the weather still wasn't good enough to do the Hellopes, but we did have the opportunity to do the Veritas, which lies in about 38m. It's quite a tidal site, unlike most of the others we'd done, so we had to do it on slack and there was still some current. The wreck itself looks like it's upside down, or maybe on its side, with various debris spread out on one side. The bows are fairly intact and we reached those. Others said that there was still a prop on the stern, though we didn't get down that far. It was quite silty and murky and the viz was the worst of the trip at around 3m. It's not a wreck that I would bother to do again, though it wasn't that bad.
The last dive was the Hera which is in 16m. There are some quite big pieces of wreckage, though none of it actually looks much like a ship. However, there are some interesting swim-throughs and the viz was very good at around 8m. It was a nice, relaxing dive with plenty of life about. We saw another dogfish, some really big ballan wrasse and a large pollack circled us during most of the dive. I'm not sure who was watching who.
So all in all, it was a good trip. Steve the skipper is one of the most good natured people I've dived with. Nothing was too much trouble and you virtually had a cup of tea or coffee in your hand before you'd even got out of your kit. The boat was a bit cramped outside with all our twinsets, but we managed and it was nice to be able to sit in the large, dry cabin. The boat cost £350 a day, which included lunch, air and an endless supply of biscuits. Nitrox was extra, but was only £3 a tank. The dive sites do tend to be flat in that part of the country, but there is plenty of life and the viz was consistently good. I think there could be another UKRS trip down there the same time next year,