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

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.

dives, trips

Devon weekend

Oaten Pipe hydroids
Oaten Pipe hydroids
Sending up the shot
Sending up the shot
On the bottom
On the bottom
Waiting on the line
Waiting on the line

I greatly enjoyed a trip to Devon last weekend and, though the water was cold, the visibility was surprisingly good. I managed four dives- two reefs and a wreck (twice). The reef, East Rutts was a very pleasant place to spend an hour and this early in the season is covered in Oaten Pipe (Tubularia indivisa) hydroids. Those hydroids won’t be around for very much longer, as they are the food for nudibranchs (sea slugs). We saw many spiral swirls of eggs, but no slugs yet, but I would expect that by May the hydroids will be gone.

The wreck was called the Riversdale. It’s large and intact (except for the bow), with an impressive rudder and prop. It’s a while since I dived and took photos on wrecks at this depth (38m to the deck) and, photographically it was quite a challenge, due to the narcosis and the limited time. Even with good vis, lighting is difficult. We dived it twice, on consecutive days, as we could not get the shot line up after the first dive, so had to leave it in overnight and send it up on a lifting bag at the start of the second dive!

The vis was very good (about 8-10m), but I could see the beginnings of a “May bloom” of algae in the top few metres. Let’s hope that comes and goes quickly and does not spoil the view too much.

dives

Critter hunting

I really like getting to know a dive site well. Whereas a dive centre will usually take you to a different site every dive, I usually feel like saying, “Where would you take me on the last day?” And then diving that site every time. As a photographer, I want to have a good idea what to expect and to be able to plan, so I can take in the right gear. More than that though, I like being able to spot the details of the site and the patterns of behaviour.

So, on this trip to Malta, all our dives except one have been from the same site. That might sound a bit boring, but there has been so much to see. This particular location, Cirkewwa Point (say “Cher-kew-wa”), is outstanding. It does not look much from the shore, being a car park next to a Ro-Ro ferry terminal (the Gozo car ferry), but it is an exceptional site. There are two wrecks easily accessible from the shore, caves, arches and swim-throughs, as well as plenty of fish life.

Yesterday, I decided to hunt for fish, using fisheye lens and teleconverter. This setup has limitations and there is a danger of not coming out with any images, if no suitable subject is found. Having seen plenty on previous wreck dives, I went in with confidence, patrolled along the wall and was rewarded with this fine scorpion fish (Scorpoena scrofa). I was not able to get quite as close as I wanted, but I managed to get two shots in before it went off in a grump.

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Postscript
Since the scorpion fish was so grumpy looking, here’s a cheeky Mullet (Mullus surmuletus)

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