dives

James Eagan Layne

The “James” (or just JEL) is an iconic UK wreck dive, and one I have done many times. Last Sunday I passed my 40th ┬átime on this site, a Liberty ship sunk in 1945 by a U-boat. After it was torpedoed, the ship was beached in Whitsand bay, just to the West of Plymouth, in order to recover its cargo. Fortunately for us divers, the ship sank, with no loss of life, before it went aground. It lies upright in only 20m and its superstructure rises to only a few metres from the surface, so it is popular with all levels of diver. We didn’t even have to put our shotline in, as it dived very regularly by the many dive boats out of Plymouth.

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The JEL was carrying a cargo of US Army engineering equipment when it was sunk and over the years, these neat stacks of equipment have been cemented into interesting piles of artefacts, which after over 60 years in the sea are not easy to identify.

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The deck, bulkheads and much of the side plating have rotted away now, and the wreck has changed a lot in the 30 years I have been diving it. Whereas it once felt quite enclosed, it is now generally rather open. Successive winter storms (this site is pretty exposed to the prevailing South Westerlies) are taking their toll, though there is much of interest to see.

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She was powered by an oil-fired triple expansion engine, which now stands proud of the sea bed so it is easy to look all around it.

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The many crevices between the items in the cargo have provided ideal homes for generations of Tompot Blennies which are found all over the wreck. This pair were having a territorial dispute when I came upon them and ignored me until they had decided who was top tompot!

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The bow of a ship is one of the strongest parts and so survives the sea for the longest. This is also the shallowest point, and where the shotline was attached; you can see that there is quite a bit of algae in this shallower water.

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dives

HMS Elk

Every classic cub boat weekend should involve diving a couple of wrecks. I had a most enjoyable tour of the Elk last weekend- late summer sun and a lack of particulates in the water provided us with good visibility. This ship was a pre-war steam trawler which was drafted into service as a mine sweeper during WWII, and sank in the mouth of Plymouth Sound in about 30m of water. It is a relatively compact wreck and sits upright on the sea bed, so can be seen from stem to stern and back in a single dive.

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The wreck was shotted straight on the bow and we were greeted by a large shoal of Bib.

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So many fish…ERB_4407

…happy to share the wreck with us

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Swimming towards the stern, the decks have mostly fallen through, the wreck is still very “ship-like”. The boiler is found amidshipsERB_4410ERB_4426

Stern of the wreck – time to turn back.

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Triple expansion steam engine.

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Back to the boiler again.

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Surrounded by Bib for the whole dive.

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Return to the bow for our ascent back up the shot line.

publications

Scuba Cover shot

I arrived home from holiday today, to find the September issue of Scuba magazine waiting for me on the doorstep. I am both delighted and honoured to find that not only does it contain my feature on shore diving in the North of Scotland, but I also have the cover shot with my image of a purple nudibranch (Flabellina pedata). This lovely image is one of two nudibranch shots discussed in the regular Photo Quest column, which I write jointly with my dive buddy Trevor Rees


The image was one I took a few years back on the breakwater at Plymouth sound. I was very pleased with the image and entered it for several competitions, with no luck at all. A large print of it hangs on my kitchen wall and I often looked at it and said to myself “that’s a strong image”, and over time it has won me a big competition prize, as well as this cover shot. It just goes to show that sometimes you need to stick to your guns and not be discouraged.

  
The feature, “Two snappers, a compressor and a campervan”, tells the story of a road trip I took with my buddy. Our aim was to dive the most northerly sea loch in mainland Scotland, but the motivation for doing this was to try to find some rarely (never?) dived shore dive sites, in more remote locations away from the usual limitations of dive centres and RIB launch points. We certainly had a most enjoyable week; like any “expedition” dive trip, we had our share of dud sites and challenging clambers into the water, but it was worth it for the collection of really memorable dives we did discover.

 

trips

What weekends are made for…

Finally I have been able to take advantage of the summer light and good visibility. I have been rewarded with an excellent dive on HMS Elk. This is a trawler that was pressed into service during WWII, but sank not far from the entrance of Plymouth sound. When I dived it last Saturday, the visibility was excellent; though I have dived this wreck a number of times, I don’t remember there being this much light. The wreck is relatively small, but resting on the seabed at around 35m, this makes it a good size to get a good look around without clocking up too much deco.The bow of HMS Elk

I’m very grateful to my buddy Darren Ashford for patiently modelling for me for about half of our bottom time. 

A shoal of bib on the boilers of HMS Elk

An impressive shoal of bib hanging over the boilers. I did not have enough bottom time left to do this scene justice. There’s always a reason to go back….

Hang time

The inevitable end to such a dive- waiting out the deco time on the line. In this case, well worth it.

publications

Cover of Scuba Magazine

Scuba Cover April 2013I’m really proud to be asked for an image to adorn the cover of Scuba magazine this month (Issue 17, April 2013). I was approached to provide an image specifically of the wreck of the James Eagan Layne, a liberty ship torpedoed by U-339 in 1945, which came to rest on the seabed in Whitesand Bay, just West of Plymouth.

This is a site I know really well and have many images of. I chose this image, which was taken in June 2005 at the bow, looking up with my underwater photography buddy, Trevor Rees acting as a model. It was shot using a Nikon D100 camera with Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens and lit with dual Sea & Sea YS-90 strobes, at a depth of probably 15-20m.

James Eagan Layne

The shot shows the vertical profile of the bow, which is well encrusted with marine life, particularly dead mans fingers (Alcyonium digitatum). I was very pleased to get a pleasant green tone to the water; often when looking up towards the surface, unpleasant artefacts are produced as the camera struggles to cope with the dynamic range. I have avoided this by not facing towards the sun and because I am quite deep.

publications

BSoUP Underwater Photography Championship win!

This weekend saw the annual British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSoUP) “splash-in” championships. Its a weekend I always enjoy because Plymouth, where it’s held, provides very varied dive sites and, whatever equipment the participants use, we are shooting in the same conditions. See this wetpixel article for an account of the event.

This year, I chose to dive solo and shoot a self-portrait. I had arranged some extra arms on the housing, so I could prop it up and aim the camera where I wanted. I found a nice location on the bow of the Scylla, just feet from the shot line. The technquie involves setting up the interval timer on the D200, swimming round into position and then gurning at the camera.

I was pleased with the composition and exposure, but I think I still have some way to go as a model! However, I was very pleased to win the “Mankind in the Sea” category with this image.

Self-portrati on HMS Scylla, Plymouth, July 2012
techniques

Corkwing Wrasse

corkwing wrasseI took this image just off the breakwater at Plymouth. I spent about 30 minutes watching this male Corkwing Wrasse building a nest to impress its female. It made an excellent subject because it was behaving in a very predictable way, swimming in a loop between patches of seaweed and its nest. I shot this in the traditional way – with a black background. Soon after, returning to the site during a splash-in competition, I decided black backgrounds were boring and went for a behaviour shot to capture the male building its nest. It was a total flop and a quite uninteresting shot. I should have stuck to my original idea!

As a postscript, my good friend Rob Bailey returned to exactly the same site (and possibly the same fish) the following year and took a wonderful shot of the male building its nest. He ended up winning awards with it (see it here). Just goes to show it’s all in the execution….