The £5.50 Dive
K&E BSAC members all know that the benefits of diving with our club are easy and regular access to dives, free unlimited air fills, great training included as part of your membership, knowledgeable and skilled divers to share experiences and learning with, and of course friendship from being a club member.
I want to write about one of the other perks – diving in the UK for £5.50….YES £5.50!
We are fortunate at Kingston and Elmbridge Sub Aqua club to have Sea King, our club 6.7m RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), kept at Newhaven for fast and easy launching.
With the club only an hour and half away and the sheer number of wrecks around the south coast to explore (Link), Newhaven makes a great little place to start many our club dives from. Our voyage plan had a 10:30am meet time at Newhaven marina for our divers, who were myself (Nathan), Dave T (also our coxswain), Jonathan M, Jon W, Gieta and Craig, also our club training officer and my dive buddy for the day.
As Sea King is stored in the boat yard, the first thing that happens is to uncover her, put on board all the first aid, flares, O2, hand held radio, GPS and echo sounder/fish finder electronics and to load her with all our dive gear. A tractor launches the RIB, we zip up drysuits and after a boat and dive brief (using the handy checklist available on the members’ area of the club website!) we’re ready to head out, having first obtained clearance to leave the harbour.
The wreck we were heading for was the SS Braunton, a 4,575 tonne, 116m long, steam ship carrying government stores from Boulogne to Newport which was torpedoed on the 7th April 1916 by UB-29 (Herbert Pustkuchen) 4.5miles south west of Beachy Head. There were no casualties, but 1.8 tonnes of ammunition shells still litter the ocean floor in and around her. Fortunately for us all the ordinance is thoroughly wet and in general only becomes explosive once dried out … but we were still under strict instructions not to touch underwater, nor bring anything back to the boat with us.
The weather was glorious and after 30 minutes of fast RIB driving by Craig (and a few lumpy bumps on the way if you sit forward in the RIB – remember that for next time Jonathan) we were at the GPS co-ordinates for the wreck. After a couple of circuits around the site keeping an eye on the echo sounder and there she was 35m below us, parts of her standing 13m tall off the bottom and 116m long. Pretty impressive to see on the echo sounder and we were all soon to see her in “real life” (NB first time I had been on this wreck).
The dive plan was to get the first two buddy pairs into the water, and then as usual for the third pair only going in once the first pair had completed their dive. Jon and Gieta were the first to kit up, ably helped by others on the RIB. Little known to Gieta (or any of us), as she was sitting on the tube and getting ready, her reel must not have been clipped fully onto her BCD and it silently dropped into the sea never to be seen again …. or so we thought!
Craig and I were next to kit up, and after a buddy check I tried to focus on heading down to the wreck lying 35m on the sea floor. I don’t think I quite appreciated or understood how big SS Braunton was (amazing what use Google is after the event)! The vis was about 5-6m and there was enough ambient light down there to generally see without torches … however you need a good torch to see inside the wreck, a good torch being the one with you, and not that left by the front door of your house *** (name removed to protect the forgetful person) to see into all the nooks and crannies for conger eels, lobsters, unexploded ordinance kind of things…
Much of SS Braunton’s different decks have collapsed or been ripped open by storms over the years, which is a good thing in some ways as there are now lots of different layers of metal and holes for fish and marine life to thrive in and for me to shine a torch into and find them.
When we arrived at the bottom of the shot line, which was on the bow of the wreck, we were surrounded by a shoal of bib mixed in with whiting, cod, pollack, wrasse and other fish I’m not so sure what they were. We saw two huge lobsters and a number of conger eels in amongst the pipes and holes with their noses just sticking out ready to pounce. We also saw lots of ordinance shells at the beginning, Craig spotted six shells still complete in their box (I missed it) and as we swam over the engine room you could just make out the shape of the engine. Above us towered structures that must have been the ribs and spars of the boat still standing tall.
As our shot line, expertly positioned by Dave and Craig, took us down onto the bow we then moved gently along over the wreck to the stern, taking our time in order to conserver air and prolong the time we had to appreciate the wreck.
As our dive time was nearing 25 minutes and my air was reaching 100 bar on my single 15l cylinder we signalled each other for me to deploy my DSMB and then slowly made our ascent to our deco stop at 6m which lasted for 12 minutes (the no stop time soon gets used up when diving on a wreck and staying below 30m for most of the dive). At 6m I switched to my 7l stage cylinder and we waited as the compressed air now saturated in our bodies was slowly being released allowing us to surface safely.
As soon as we surfaced we found Jon and Gieta had positioned the RIB next to us and we passed up our weight belts while holding onto the side of Sea King, followed by our BCD with cylinder attached. We then fin kicked up into the RIB and once our kit was safely secured I tucked into a nice ham and cheese sarnie for lunch (this diving makes you hungry you know) while we waited for Dave T and Jonathan.
Once they eventually surfaced (that’s always a good sign on a club dive trip) Jonathan appeared with two DSMB reels attached to him. It transpired that while diving he noticed Gieta’s reel just sitting there on the wreck … they aren’t cheap, so this brought some great relief to Gieta and I am sure a pint for Jonathan at the club on Thursday!
While this was all going on Jon W, who took over cox’n, was keeping an eye on the Dieppe to Newhaven Ferry “Seven Sisters”, who if I say is slightly larger than our rib would be a massive understatement, as she was steaming for Newhaven with us in her way. Thankfully she saw our A Flag up, that means divers in the water, and changed course. However, she got her own back on us later…
We could have gone for a second dive, but as time was against us and the vote was for a cup of tea, we headed back to Newhaven.
I got the chance to drive the RIB back, which is another perk of joining a club (you get to try your hand at everything) …. we were zipping along on a now flat calm sea, trying to see if we could get back into the marina before the ferry could make it. But, despite overtaking and being well ahead of the ferry when we called the Harbour Master for permission to enter we could already see the pilot boat pulling out to stop small boats entering the harbour to let the much larger vessel, now committed (no turning back) to making her own entry, so we veered off and kept well away in Seaford Bay until the she steamed past us into port – thereby getting her ‘own back’ on us diverting her original course into Newhaven ?.
Now you tell me, where else can you go diving and have that much fun and adventure for £5.50! Yes £5.50 is the price of the fuel used split six ways. That is why Club RIB diving is the most accessible and cheapest way to dive in the UK.
If you are interested in learning to dive, or you are already a diver and want to join KESAC and go RIB diving, as well as take part in many other trips in the UK and abroad that the club organises then contact us – we can cater for any diving you like, and on any budget.