23rd - 26th August 2019
The bank holiday weekend is always a big deal for scuba divers. It's an opportunity to venture further afield to areas of the country or overseas that aren't feasible in a normal weekend. For me, it was no exception. I headed off to Plymouth with the diving club and South West Diving to explore some of the best waters UK diving has to offer.
Dive #133 - Scylla (Wreck)
The Scylla was the first dive site for us of the weekend. Given that I had only recently regained my confidence in the UK sea, this was kind of a big deal for me. The wreck of the Scylla sits under 25 meters of water on the seabed and is a pretty intact Frigate from the 70's.
As is standard, Gary - the captain of Top Gun (South West Diving) - shot the wreck with a rope line running down to the wreck helping to keep us on route as we descend. I jumped in on my Twinset rig, along with another Twinset diver and a Rebreather diver. The three of us headed into the depths and I was more than a little surprised at how warm and clear the waters were. My previous experiences of Plymouth seas were murky, dark and scary - this was nothing like it!
The dive went great, Rob (the rebreather diver) explored a few of the holes in the wreck whilst my buddy and I waited outside, feeling a mixture of terror and curiosity to what laid inside. As neither of us felt confident enough to enter the wreck we stuck together whilst Rob got to see the wonders inside.
Towards the end of our dive, we all learnt a valuable lesson - communication is key! We had all had a really pleasant time and had racked up a small amount of deco so decided to make a move for the surface. But between a little confusion and some questionable hand signals, the result was three confused divers, ascending while separated.
"I had no f****** idea what was going on down there!" One of us exclaimed as we all regathered on the boat, before falling into a bout of harmless banter where we abused the guilty party.
Lesson learnt: Rehearse/revise hand signals before you enter the water!
Dive #134 - SS James Eagan Layne (Wreck)
The James Eagan lane is one of the most popular wrecks on the South Coast, resting at 22m below sea level. She is broken up, owing to the impact of the torpedo that caused her sinking, but that doesn't detract from the wonders the wreck holds.
We jumped in and descended along the shot line into clear, warm waters once again. I could get used to this! Once we reached the bottom, we took a gentle swim around the wreck, exploring the scatterings of its remains in hope of finding something of value. Obviously we had no luck.
As this was the second dive of the day following our exploration of the Scylla, my twinset was half full (around 120 bar). Rob however didn't have any concerns on his Re-breather. We knew we would have a limited bottom time due to my air consumption, but we were both pleasantly surprised when we managed to squeeze a 45 minute dive, and upon resurfacing I still had around 70 bar left! This was a huge learning curve for me - usually I wouldn't dive the second dive of the day due to concerns of not enough air, but this dive showed me that you can be pleasantly surprised by how long your air can last if you breath slowly, and stay relaxed.
Dive #135 - The Maine (Wreck)
Without a doubt, this was my favourite dive of the weekend. Sitting 30m-35m below the surface of the sea, the Maine steamship sits on a pretty even keel a mile offshore. Generally intact but with very little to get inside of, this dive is more about the sea-life that calls the wreck home.
Owing to its depth, and the size of the wreck, we decided taking stage cylinders would be a good idea to allow for a longer planned bottom time. This was the first time for me using a stage cylinder in the UK (I have used them loads abroad) and the thought of having yet more gear on an already claustrophobic rig was daunting. Once we were below the surface though, it was as though the stage wasn't even there.
We spent just shy of an hour on the wreck and even found an entry point! My first time entering a proper shipwreck in the UK sea! It soon became obvious that I had a stage cylinder strapped to me as I entered through the skinny gap, clanging it against the steel of the shipwreck. Lesson Learnt? Be aware of the size of your kit!
Dive #136 - Hands Deep (Reef)
Dive 136 marks my deepest UK dive to date and needless to say I was nervous. At the time of writing, my certified depth was 45m (TDI decompression & Advanced nitrox) but so far I hadn't been any deeper than the mid 30's in the UK. Of course, depth overseas is in reality the same as in the UK, the challenge is more psychological thanks to the darkness and the noticeable difference in temperature.
Well, we definitely noticed a change in temperature as we sank downwards, the computers ticking past 30m. I watched in both awe and agony as the temperature ticked from 17 degrees, to 16, then 15, 14. Man it felt cold, even with the thermals beneath my dry suit.
My attention was soon drawn from the temperature gauge though, when I realise the environment around me has changed. Not drastically, but noticeably. It wasn't as dark as I expected as the depth gauge ticked to 41m. There was an eerie silence, quieter than before, or was I imagining it? I knew one thing though. I was comfortable. I looked at Rob who was in his own little world, soaking up the life around us as we swam.
It wasn't until we began our ascent and we reached around 25m that I realised just how ecstatic I had felt. What an amazing experience! As my brain began to function again I realised what I had felt was Nitrogen Narcosis, in a way I had never felt before. I had been to that depth, deeper in fact, but for some reason it hit me hard this time.
As we hung at our safety stop, burning off any deco we had built up, my mind flicked to a biography on Jacques Cousteau I had read, to a passage that referred to the lethal 'Rapture of the Deep'. Narcosis. What I had felt was exactly that, and as amazing as it felt, we all know how deadly it can become...
Have you got a story to share with us? Please feel free to get in touch, we would love to hear from you!
Image credit: Aaron Hall & Simon Bradley