Diving Salcombe with Pat Dean. One last time.
Strangely, I have only ever been to Salcombe once – in June 1992. I had only started diving the year before in early 1991 and was a newly qualified Sport Diver. I remember it well…
Being a rookie, I was excited but also nervous about doing my first 30-metre+ dive. But I was going to dive with Gerry Hassell, one of the most experienced divers in the club, so was in good hands and could relax. That was until I followed him out of the bed & breakfast in East Allington on-route to Salcombe for the first days diving!I was so pre-occupied with the thought of diving that I was in a complete daydream at the crossing behind Gerry and my foot slipped off the clutch pedal and my old banger smashed into the back of Gerry’s gleaming Jag!!! ﾐ His highly polished chrome bumper and personalized number plate were smashed to bits!and now I had to go diving with him! ﾐ My thoughts on the way to Salcombe were now consumed with thoughts of Gerry turning my air off underwater in revenge!
My other recollection of that weekend, was the visibility on the wreck of the Maine, at about 32 metres it was viz of about 25mtrs+, like a swimming pool, it was so clear that it felt like diving in the swimming pool, and on the way down to the wreck my mind went into training mode and I remember doing forward rolls because I felt so confident!
So, 14 years later, on 23rd June 2006, I found myself once again driving down to Salcombe to join Gerry’s annual pilgrimage once again. Gerry has been running his Salcombe week for 26 years with the same skipper, Pat Dean. Pat has had various boats, but for the past few years it has been the M/V LODESMAN, an ex pilot boat, its more in the style of the dive boats you get up in Scapa Flow. Pat has a reputation of being an excellent skipper and seaman, but being grumpy, rude and reluctant to call of dives in bad weather. Well he must have mellowed a bit in his old age, because he was all together quite charming on my recent weekend with him.
This is, in fact his last year ﾐ Pat has sold the boat, which will now become a ﾒworkingﾓ boat on the Humber river. Therefore this was quite a historical week for Gerry, and, being down for the weekend, I had the privilege to be part of it.
The journey took exactly 4 _ hours from Esher, leaving work at 4pm I arrived in the village of Frogmore at 8.30pm and met Gerry and the rest of the party in the bar of the Globe Inn where we were staying. It’s a really nice country pub, with low ceilings and oak beams and nautical stuff all over the walls. The landlord John and his Canadian wife Anne were very accommodating, the rooms were comfortable, and the food was all home made and really nice with large portions to keep the divers happy.
The diving party comprised of myself, Gerry, with some old club members who have mostly moved away to different parts of the country, namely, John Nutting, Andy Green, James Owen and Trevor Roper (who lives in Guernsey) ﾐ and Sandra Donavan who will be more well known to a lot of you. We were also joined by two non diving guests (ex-divers from Birmingham BSAC who are friends of Gerry’s)
Various other people were going to join the trip on different parts of the week, it is a week’s trip but I could only make the weekend.
Salcombe is most famous as a resort and sailing centre. The Southernmost town in the South Hams, an area of unspoilt natural beauty, rich and varied, surrounded by tranquil countryside (which played havoc with my hay fever!it also has a magnificent scenic coastline.
I had been diving in the Red Sea the week before, so it was a bit of an effort to pull on the dry suit ﾐ but the weather was absolutely fantastic! ﾐ The sea was glassy calm, the sun was a blistering 32 degrees and the wind was still. With tongue-in-cheek, I asked the skipper (in earshot of all the others), ﾒIs the weather always like this down here Pat?ﾓ ﾐ lots of groaning and laughing was followed by comments like ﾒI thought I was going the wrong way approaching Salcombe, because my windscreen wipers are usually going ten to the dozen and the trees are bent over double in the windﾓ ﾐ apparently the weather on these weeks over the past 27 years has sometimes had room for improvement!.
The first dive was on the wreck of the Persier, have done it loads of times, but its always a decent rummage ﾐ lots of fish life but there was a lot of plankton in the water so viz could have been better, it was about 3 or 4 metres though. The second dive was a new site for me, the East Rutts Pinnacle going from 10 metres down to about 37 metres. To swim around the pinnacle takes about half an hour so it’s a perfect dive. Its full of life, spotted an absolutely massive Tope (like a dogfish), about 3 feet long and a very lively ﾐ I picked it up and it tried very hard to bite me ﾐ the bite would have been nasty! ﾐ Saw some prawns dancing around, crabs, lobster, a myriad of electric blue Cuckoo wrasse, various other wrasse, dogfish, tompot blennies, it was a really nice dive, the pinnacle was covered in cup coral, pink fan coral, Jewel Anemones, dead man’s fingers, spiny starfish and purple sponges ﾐ one that I would definitely like to do again.
In between dives Pat goes around with the onboard compressor and fills all the cylinders with air for the next dive, and his wife Jean brings out the tea and biscuits, which is followed soon after by home made meat & potato Devon Pasties and soup.
By the way, air fills, tea, biscuits, soup & pasties are included in the price, which is ｣42 per diver, per day ﾐ I think it’s good value.
There is an extremely funny story to tell now, at the expense of the organiser!
Gerry and John Nutting both had exactly the same dry suit, a Beaver trilaminate, they are quite smart, both identical apart from the size. Anyway, unbeknown to Gerry, some of the party had hi-jacked his dry suit, as the kit was being loaded on to the boat, and hidden away in an old dry sack down in the bilges. In due course, Gerry picked up John Nuttings dry suit (thinking it was his), asked to borrow my talc, and talced up the cuff and neck seals and laid out the suit ready to put on for the first dive. He then went in to talk to the skipper ﾐ while he was in the wheelhouse John Nutting put on his dry suit. When Gerry came out he saw John with his dry suit on and said, ﾒoi, have you put on my dry suit?ﾓ, John said ﾒno, this is mineﾓ. Gerry said, well I just talced it all up? ﾐ So John said ﾒwell thanks very much, that was kind of you Gerald!ﾓ
Gerry then went a bit pale and said ﾒoh no!ﾓ ﾐ and disappeared back in to the cabin with remarks being made such as ﾒGerry, don’t say you have forgotten to put your dry suit onboardﾓ and ﾒHave you won the wooden spoon before Gerry?ﾓ
Skipper, Pat Dean
The dry sack was then hauled out of the bilges, and when Gerry came back someone said ﾒyou could try on this old wetsuit that Pat keeps down the bilges for donuts that forget to put their dry suits onboard!ﾓ ﾐ Gerry took the sack, opened it, and said ﾒyou bastardsﾓ ﾐ he found his dry suit inside. TOP WIND UP BOYS!!!!
On the Saturday night we had another nice meal in the pub restaurant, I had a ﾒ3 fishesﾓ starter (smoked salmon, smoked mackerel & smoked haddock with salad)
Pork Hock for main course, which had been soaked in Devon cider overnight and slow cooked so the meat was falling off the bone, with new potatoes, roast parsnips & fresh veg, followed by a double chocolate pudding with Salcombe ice cream, followed by an Irish Coffee!so after several pints of Eddystone bitter the Irish Coffee really finished me off and I retired upstairs to leave the others reminiscing in the bar telling embellished stories of the past 27 years.
Awoke Sunday morning to the sounds of a woodpecker outside the bedroom window and more glorious sunshine. After a great breakfast we were off again, on the very pretty 20 minute ride through the North Devon countryside and across the River Dart, to Salcombe. Its very easy to park close to where the boat departs, in the public car park, and it costs ｣5.55p per day (very clever ploy charging the extra 5p, because it doesn’t give change and I expect a lot of people put in ｣6 ﾐ they must make thousands each year on that extra 5p!)
On Sunday we were limited to what we could dive because I had stipulated unreservedly that I wanted to be back in time for the England vs. Ecuador World Cup match which kicked off at 4pm. Early slack would have meant us meeting the boat at about 07:00 and none of us wanted that ﾐ so we left at 09:30 and did the Persier again which you can dive at any state of the tide. Strangely enough, the plankton had disappeared overnight and the viz had improved from 4-5 metres to a stunning 10-15 metres. It was a completely different dive, managed to explore all of the wreck and the surrounding seabed ﾐ the fish life was profuse, massive shoals of Pollack, and several very big Cod ﾐ and one curious Cuckoo Wrasse, which followed myself, and John Nutting around for the whole 35 minutes of our dive.
Kitting up for the second dive, my latex neck seal went just as we arrived at the site!swiftly changing into Gerry’s dry suit as he was sitting out the next dive I had to be sharpish ﾐ it was a drift dive so we jumped in and started to go down!. or so John did!I couldn’t get down, my initial thoughts of ﾒGerry’s dry suit is bloody buoyantﾓ, turned to ﾒf**k it, I’ve forgotten my weight harness!ﾓ ﾐ John came back up to see what was wrong, I told him and said ﾒsorry, go back down and I’ll put my weight harness on and whiz back down the smb line and meet you on the dive. Luckily not too much hassle and in 5 minutes I was weighted and going back down to meet John. As it happened all that messing about was not really worth it as the drift dive didn’t have much drift at all, and there was not much marine life to speak of ﾐ I think most of it had gone to get ready to see the England vs. Ecuador match.
So after a nondescript but pleasant dive, we were back onboard and steaming towards port with thoughts of English glory in our heads. All the divers went to the pub to watch the game and we were rewarded with a spectacular free kick from Becks and a 1-0 victory to take us into the quarter finals (we all know what happened next!)
Leaving Salcombe at 6.30pm I was home by 10.30 and awoke for work on Monday morning with a tan better than I had after the Red Sea trip, and many fond memories.
Now I am looking forward to the weekend that I have organised to Salcombe on 9th September ﾐ it will be one of Pat’s last ever weekends ﾐ and Gerry may well join the trip as ﾒnon diving crewﾓ – the only difference is, that our bed & breakfast is right in the centre of town.
An excellent weekend.