West Bay 30th April – 2nd May.

RBSAC’s first RHIB trip of 2021 was a weekend at West Bay with our own ‘Reading Cormorant’. The club is well resourced with our 2 RHIBs and plenty of keen divers to operate and maintain them. As we are all easing out of COVID lockdowns, this dive trip required an extra layer of planning (something our dive managers can handle with ease). As such ‘Reading Cormorant’ was based in West Bay for the weekend and divers travelled from Reading to dive for the day, it’s a long day including the driving times but well worth it to get a good number of club members in the sea early in the season. Here’s our mini trip reports below:

Friday 30th April

We decided to start early at PP, picking up the club’s 6m RIB Cormorant at 06:30am for a trip to West Bay. It’s an excellent harbour for diving with a good slip and pontoons, plus the air and nitrox station at the Harbourmaster’s office.
We arrived at around 10:30 with plenty of time to prep the boat and have a bacon butty from the excellent food outlets behind the office overlooking the inner harbour.
We launched and then set off to dive the St Dunstan in around 30m, a well known local dive which can be dived at almost all states of the tide, though given our timing it was going to be close to slack anyway.
We stuck the shot in, Pete and Liz got ready, Liz had problems with equalising and so abandoned the dive which was a great shame. Emma and I went down, the shot was as usual right on the Stern. We had a good potter around surrounded by huge numbers of fish as is usual on this wreck. The Dunstan is an old bucket dredger, you can see the buckets on the sea bed, the tracks they ran in and the boilers and engine are visible. The viz was so good that it was easy to swim through by the boilers in an overhead environment always able to see where to head out into the open.
We traversed back to the stern and then sent up a DSMB to ascend, since we were on 32% we had no deco to do. The benefits of nitrox at 30m.
We went back to port and had a late lunch and then headed out to dive the sawtooth ledges. We use good marks to dive a wall section with overhangs where there are many sunset cup corals. Emma boat handled us and Liz was able to dive with myself and Pete in a trio. There are nice sections of jewel anemones, many soft corals, hydroids and thus many nudibranchs at this time of year. Overall a great start to the weekend.
Col

Saturday 1st May

We arrived a little early to get parked although there was no problem on Saturday when we were met with an empty car park. It gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine with tea and a bacon roll. We moved all our kit down the pontoon and waited for the arrival of the RHIB. The other divers had been out for an early morning dive. They looked a little cold on their return but soon warmed up with a tea and the morning sun. This was our first experience of UK RHIB diving. We were a little apprehensive we would miss the luxuries of hard boat diving but were keen to experience it. After we were given an overview of the RHIB’s we set out to a local reef, Sawtooth ledges. The sea was very calm, and the sun was shining. We had dived down to about 20m. We enjoyed the good visibility exposing the ridges which slope to a sharp drop. We were able to spot many yellow sunset corals and lots of other life. The RHIB was surprisingly comfortable, and it was great to bounce along at speed on a sunny day. 

We arrived back at Harbour to fuel up on some lunch before heading out to another local reef. The weather became quite changeable, and we had several rain showers followed by bright sun. The sea had also turned choppier.  We had dived down to about 11m. The visibility was still good with a sleeping dogfish and the biggest edible crab I’ve ever seen! When we finished diving, we headed back to the harbour and finished the day with fish and chips on the beach. It was great to experience RHIB diving, and it felt like a very well organised trip. Tanya

Sunday 2nd May

All four of the day divers arrived in West Bay well ahead of schedule to give the Dive Marshall a nice headache rearranging his first shuttle trip of the day. 8 divers in two trips were then shuttled out to the Sawtooth Ledges just outside of West Bay, a favourite dive site for the club when visiting due the topography, marine life and accessibility of the site. A wide range of life was spotted including the famous sunset cup corals, numerous nudibranchs, shoals of large and small bib, ballon wrasse and 3 clusters of squid eggs hidden behind 3 congars and more bib. Conditions were sunny with a slight breeze at the beginning of the dive but cold water temperatures limited the dive times a bit.

The 2nd dive of the day was planned to coincide with slack water on the Gibel Hamam, a 647 ton wreck torpedoed in 1918, now resting about 9NM out of the harbour. 5 fully re-fuelled divers (with air/nitrox and food) were ferried out to the site and a shot line was expertly placed just off the bow of the wreck. The dive was a brilliant example of UK wreck diving with impressive visibility allowing the structure of the Gibel Hamam to be appreciated as well as the abundance of life covering the wreck. Every inch of wreck was covered in a sponge, squirt or anemone of some variety with large crabs, lobsters and congars lurking in hidey holes. The wreck was easily navigated with a transit from bow to stern and back again, the stern was a highlight for me as the rudder is still there and you can drop under to the prop which is partially buried.

On returning to harbour, it turned out that we snuck this dive just ahead of a predicted storm due to bring strong S/SW winds into the harbour. Diving on bank holiday Monday was unlikely so we pulled the boat out and gave it a well-deserved wash.

Andy