Our first club trip – Plymouth May bank holiday

As new members we had missed the opportunity to get booked onto many club trips so when two places came up on the annual bank holiday trip to Plymouth we snapped them up. Watching the weather forecasts in the week leading up to the trip it seemed like a visit to the chemist to stock up on Stugeron was in order…

Unfortunately work commitments meant we set off from Kingston at around 8pm on Friday evening, consequently we missed the chance of meeting up with our fellow divers in the pub on Friday evening but also most of the bank holiday traffic. We finally flopped into bed at the Mountbatten Centre shortly after midnight.

###Our first sea dive in the UK

We woke to cloudy but dry skies and a stiff north easterly wind. Food was the first order of the day and a full english ticked the box for most of the party. We were meeting the Maid Maggie II and Seeker on the pontoon outside the Centre at 9am, so carting all the gear down to the pontoon was the second order of the day – note to self, must get one of those trolleys all the people in the know use, or a wife who will carry her own cylinders. We would be on the Maid Maggie II, skippered by Glenn Lindsay, with John Rapley, Mark East, Brian and Shirley Deluce, Brett and Melissa Champion, Jim Molyneux, Jemil Alqadhi and Chris Drewitt.

By now the nerves were kicking in, as this was to be our first time in the sea in the UK. However, a thorough briefing by John and Glenn and pairing us with experienced buddies certainly helped with our confidence. It was decided that our first dive would be on the James Egan Layne, one of 2700 Liberty ships built by the USA during World War Two. She was torpedoed by U1195 in 1945 just before the end of the war and sunk whilst being towed. This proved to be a very popular site with a steady stream of divers being dropped at the shot marking the bow. This was a great first dive, the visibility was good, no current to speak of, on a wreck loaded with character and covered in life.

With everyone back on the boat and our nerves subsiding we headed for a sheltered cove for a spot of lunch before it was time to decide on the afternoons dive site. After some debate we headed back to the James Eagan Layne, but this time Glenn dropped a shot onto the detached smaller stern section. We explored this section for the whole dive but some of the other buddy pairs followed the debris trail across to the main wreck. With everyone back on board we had a lumpy wet ride back to the centre.
With the cylinders unloaded for fresh fills, it was time for a lie down and a brief rest of the eyes before meeting for dinner. Those of us eating at the Ganges wandered to reception at the agreed time of 7pm and weren’t surprised to be told that John had already made his way to the nearest pub. After a beer in the pub we were ready for the journey by water taxi across to the harbour. After the gruelling crossing another beer was in order before we could finally manage the walk to the restaurant. The food was good even though the service was a little a slow for 12 ravenous divers. It was then back to the centre for a much needed sleep in preparation for the day to follow.

###A more promising start

Sunday was a more promising start with a storm having passed through in the night. With another full english under our tightening belts we headed to the pontoon with our cylinders. The first dive would be on the Scylla, one of the last warships built at Plymouth and launched in 1968. On 27th March 2004 she was towed to Whitsands Bay to be sunk to sit near to the James Egan Layne and provide an artificial reef to attract divers. The seasoned Plymouth divers on the boat didn’t seem too impressed with what the Scylla had offered as a dive in previous years, but the general consensus was that life on the wreck had come on well. Those of us who were new to it all were impressed and just happy to build up our experience. With everyone returning safe and well the skipper headed coast bound again for lunch. With the sun high in the sky and the temperature a baking 27 degrees it didn’t take long for us to spread out on the deck for a spot of sunbathing. It was just like Egypt!

A couple of hours and a few red faces later we were woken by the more eager amongst us who wanted to get back into the water. Even the skipper was reluctant to move. The second dive of the day was at Mewstone Ledges, a rocky reef with deep gullies. We were expecting a drift but the current wasn’t running very hard and there was plenty of time to leisurely drift along in good visibility. Back at the pontoon the cylinder unloading ritual began… again.

###Eat as much as you like

After we had all freshened up it was down to the pub again for a pint or two whilst soaking up the evening sun. Then onto Cuisine Spontanee by water taxi to eat as much as we could for the set price. Some took to the challenge more eagerly than others. There was certainly choice on the menu, as you could go up to the counter, choose your ingredients and have them cooked to your chosen world style. The queue was long, John used this as an opportunity to try out his new chat up lines on a young lady, others simply pondered their choice of ingredients. Can you have Mexican style salmon? Hmmmmm. When we were all fit to burst and starting to fall asleep at the table it was time to leave and get back to our beds for the night.

###Low batteries

For the last day the weather was less kind and we woke to rain and stronger winds. Stugeron looked like a necessity. After breakfast we checked out of our rooms and made our way down to the pontoon for the final dives of the weekend. We took a lumpy wet ride out towards the Mewstone to dive Fairylands – a rocky reef full of deep gullies and kelp, home to starfish, urchins, crabs, wrasse and dogfish.

This was a great scenic dive to offset the grim conditions above water. Things weren’t going well for Maid Maggie either as her batteries weren’t taking a charge. The diver lift was slow and groaning, especially under the weight of those twin sets. Those of us with single cylinders had to crawl back on deck to conserve power. Even worse… there was no hot water for our after dive cuppa! This made the last dive an easy decision and we headed back to the sound for quick dive for scallops outside Fort Bovisand before heading back to the centre.

By the time we got back the rain started to pour and everybody busied themselves with unloading and packing their gear back into their cars. Due to the weather we all said our goodbyes and started to make our way home as soon as we were packed.

For us it was a great introduction to UK diving and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Everyone made us feel welcome and made sure we were comfortable with what was happening. We’ll definitely be back.