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  time 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.

dives

It must be spring

Spring has sprung – despite distinctly murky conditions on the James Eagan Lane this weekend, there were Oaten Pipe Hydroids (Tubularia indivisa) aplenty to see. The numbers of these marvellous creatures explode in early spring, that is until the nudibranch eggs hatch and they all get munched!ERB_0443

Nikon D500, Nikon AF-S 60mm with +5 diopter

musings

Photosub judging

It has been my pleasure and no small responsibility to judge the work of the Photosub underwater photography group as guest of honour at their annual dinner, it was my task to pick out winners in advance from the four digital categories and on the evening from the print competition. Photosub is one of the oldest UK underwater photography groups and boasts a number of prominent UK underwater photographers. As a photographer it was humbling to pick out winners from such a high standard of work, but also a valuable experience to objectively critique the work of others. Thank you, Photosub; it was a pleasure to be the guest of such an active, passionate and talented group of underwater photographers!

Here I am with the competition winners.

trips

Fireworks and flame shells

Underwater photographers tend to take a different view of dive sites on a trip to non-shooting divers. We will often be keen to keep returning to the same site repeatedly on a trip rather than trying to see a different site on each dive. So it was on a recent trip to West Scotland, I dived in only two sites. In each of two sea lochs, I dived in a single area. However these were very much contrasting locations, one a very clean high energy site needing slack water and the other a slightly murky low energy spot. Each is home to unusual but “locally common” species, well worth braving the 6-degree water temperature for.

Loch Duich is home to the impressive fireworks anemone and the maerl bed of the narrows at the head of Loch Carron is home to hidden flame shells, as well as a mass of macro subjects. Here are a selection of images to give a flavour of the sites.

First of all, Loch Duich:

And here’s North Strome on Loch Carron:

dives, techniques

Remote strobes

ERB_4588.jpgIt’s been a while since I played with remote strobes, so this weekend (having been been blown out by poor Bank Holiday weather) decided to try this technique in a local quarry. In a bid to get the creative juices working at a less familiar site, my buddy and I picked the National Dive Centre in Chepstow, a location I have dived less often than other fresh water sites in the Midlands.

The idea with remote strobes is to light a subject without using the strobes attached to the camera. This has the advantage of using a light source close to the subject but further away from the camera and so giving good lighting but with a minimum of backscatter.

The NDAC, like many quarries has a lot of scrap metal and I chose a Wessex helicopter as my subject. The aircraft was reasonably intact and has a large (dark) internal space. There’s a lot of setup time needed for remote strobe work and I was privileged to have a buddy prepared to set aside his camera and carry the extra strobes for me. It was just as well really, as of the two strobes I was hoping to place, one of them refused to work at all (despite having worked when I tested it before the dive). The vis was quite good (about 8-10m) and so I tried working from further back than usual, to catch the whole aircraft. I tucked the strobe (a Sea & Sea YS-110) inside the doorway, set on half power and pointing inward toward my buddy, who swam slowly out of the doorway.

The exposure was set as if for available light only, with the ISO high enough to provide a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the bubble motion (1/100s); since I was at least a few feet from the nearest part of the wreck, an aperture of f/8 was enough to ensure the whole frame was in focus. I used a single strobe on a low power setting solely to trigger the remote strobe.

I had my buddy shine a torch towards the strobe so that the flash light is “connected” to the subject. It takes a lot of practice to get all the aspects of this technique right and in hindsight, the strobe is not far enough behind the doorway, some flare is still visible. The diver is perhaps rather small in the frame and so the effect of the remote strobe is rather subtle; on the whole I think it needs a smaller subject, so that I can have the whole wreck but with the diver larger in the frame. Just another reason to go back and try again…