Ginger Nuts – Swanage

“I love ginger nuts,” as I innocently proceeded to share a packet of biscuits.  “I’m sure you do!” came the reply…took me 30 seconds, but eventually realised that this pretty much set the tone and banter of the day.

Seriously though, this day of diving was an absolute belter!  

Not only was it great to be back out diving as a club, but the weather and the sea – wow, we lucked out – a great day for it.

Although not so lucky was the 5am start many of of us had to make sure we got down and onto the pier with our cars and heavy diving kit before it was filled up and this would have meant parking in the neighbouring council car park and lugging our kit that much further.  

Some of the KESAC members after the second dive (17 July 2021)

The days diving was organised by Lucy; a new member to the club this year, but has been a BSAC diver for number of years with other clubs.  And this was her big day to show Craig, our club Diving Officer, whether she could manage and organise a club dive in order to finish her Dive Leader qualification.  The main criteria, at least for me was that we all came back alive.  But more on whether Lucy managed us successfully and passed her quals later.

Lucy gave us a full brief, making sure we filled out all the proper paperwork for next of kin, diving logs, who is diving together as a buddy pair etc… and answering any questions we had.

Today was going to be two boat dives, followed by a shore dive under the Pier at Swanage.

Diving with Divers Down, whose diver shop and operations are based on the pier, our first dive was the Kyarra, about 2 miles out from Swanage and sits at 30m on the seabed with the wreck rising to 24m.  

SS Kyara Wreck (source: Divers Down Website)

Being so close to Swanage it didn’t take Pete, owner of Divers Down and skipper, that long to get us over the fixed shot lined on the Kyarra’s bow.  

Due to the nature of tides and especially as we were diving a neap tide we were on time according to tide tables for the slack water, but Mother Nature still wasn’t ready, as the buoy attached to the shot line was still below the surface.   This meant that the tide was still running and if we were to attempt to dive the Kyarra we would stand the chance of being pulled off the wreck assuming we could have held on and pulled our way down the shot line in the first place.  

Pete said during his boat briefing that he expected that this would happen, so we had to wait kitted up for 10 minutes and then a little bit more, but eventually the shout came, it would be a bit of a tide pulling us on the shot line as we went down, but we could manage it.

SS Kyara as an Ocean Liner

The SS Kyarra was a 7,000 tonne Australian ocean going liner, built in 1903, and measured 126m from bow to stern and 16m across.  She was carrying 2,600 tones of general cargo, mail, hospital supplies and medical staff who were going to pick up 1,000 wounded Australian wounded soldiers.  She did have a 4.7in gun on her stern and that may have been the reason UB-57 sunk her on the 26 May 1918 use a torpedo to her Port side.  Six crew members were killed.

Due to the nature of her cargo many artefacts continue to be found, especially after storms uncover and break the wreck up further – champagne and wine bottles, perfume bottles, silk yarns, champagne, silver purses, pocket watches and supposedly somewhere gold watches.

SS Kyarra as a Hospital Ship

The viz (visibility) was about 10m, lots of nooks and crannies to find crabs, fish and a few glass bottle tops that were brought up by other divers on our boat.   Some of the group managed to make it from the bow to the stern and then let the prevailing current bring them back to the bow before ascending.  She’s a big ship and I felt that I had seen only a half of her before I had to come back up.  I did manage to find her boilers and fin in amongst some of her massive iron beams and collapsed holds.   I am definitely going to have to go back on a nitrox mix next time to explore more!  (It was my first dive on this wreck by the way).

Kingston and Elmbridge BSAC part owns the wreck of the Kyarra (along with former members of the club who formed the Kyarra Salvage Association) after K&E members Ron Blake and his wife Linden found it in July 1967.  Jason one of our club members came prepared on the day to clean up a plaque the club put up on the pier to remember those lost.  More on that later.

Once all safely aboard a quick trip back to Swanage harbour for some lunch and pick up a further club member to join us on a drift dive off the Peveril Ledges.   

Peveril Ledges are just off to the south west of Swanage’s natural harbour, across the headland known as…surprise surprise, Peveril Point, in Durlston Bay. The idea of this and any drift dive is to use the tidal flow to propel divers along above the seabed to see what they can find.  Once divers are dropped in they race across the ledges taking in all the rich sea life and beauty, while “flying by” at around 3.5 knots and can, if the tide is really fast, end up shooting out into Swanage bay area where they are then picked up.  The depth on this dive was about 20m but due to the undulating nature of the ledges we were up and down between 13.5m and 20m on our dive.     

A great little of video showing what the Peveril Ledges and Drift Diving is all about (Source: James Clark, YouTube, 2012)

To make life easy for Captain Pete to keep an eye on us, we all jumped in together so we drifted roughly in the same area.  The boat continued to travel along at the same speed as us divers, giving him and the mate enough time to make a cup of tea and put their feet up before picking us up in the bay (see story below – photo and story taken from Swanage Pier).

Funny story how a simple Drift Dive can go wrong for the Skipper!

To make things even easier for the skipper, divers will deploy a DSMB or Delayed Surface Marker Buoy, once they reach the bottom.  A DSMB is a long bright red sausage looking inflatable tube that is attached via a long string to a reel that is held onto by a diver.  Once deployed the DSMB floats upright on the surface of the sea due to the weight of the diver to help the skipper see where all the divers are.  

DSMB looks like on the surface.  A diver is holding onto a reel with a line running up to the surface with the DSMB attached.
DSMB on the surface

It was my turn to put up a DSMB for my buddy and I when we got to the bottom, once deployed we could focus on whatever came in front and to the sides of us as we flew by; spider crabs, fish, tube worms, (their “fronds” or fan tails used to filter food as water flows over them disappear like a shot down their holes as you go near to touch them – they are more beautiful and fun than the name suggests), rock formations and so many amazing creatures and habitats.  

The only thing that didn’t get away from me towards the end of the dive were scallops.   Not as many as at Portland on previous trips, but when you get your eye in you can quickly pick them up off the floor and into your keep bag.  At the end of our 65 minute dive we came back up with some kid’s diving mask lost at sea and a few scallops that I ate the very next day, pan fried with some butter and salt and a piece of bread the very next day.  Yum.

Once everyone was back onboard we returned to port once again and fully disembarked this time.  A few of the group needed to return home, whilst others decided for a quieter time on the pier with a bottle of Brasso (more on that later).  

We were met by Thomas and Sarah two newly qualified divers who have just joined the club for their first sea dive under the pier.  Although not a deep dive, there is so much life to be seen.  It was a bit murky after nearly a full days worth of diving by other groups, but still a good 6m vis.   The dive lasted about 40 minutes and both Thomas and Sarah did well with all there was to take in as well as trying to keep trim and all the new noises of boats passing overhead and strange looking creatures.

Bit murky under the pier as we dived it at the end of the day after everyone else had been through.

While some of us were under the pier Jason was up on top polishing a plaque that Kingston and Elmbridge put up in memory of those lives lost in 1918 aboard her as part of the clubs 50th anniversary.  It’s not in the easiest place to polish and was harder than expected to clean it up.  Salt water and storms have weathered it.  If you are interested in finding the plaque yourself while visiting you need to go all the way along the pier to the end to just where there are steps going up and down to the upper and lower decks.

Jason doing more cleaning and polishing than he has ever done at home
Could have been a very painful slip!
The sea and storms have taken it’s toll on our SS Kyarra plaque!

So did Lucy passed?  Of course she did!  Well done Lucy!  Lucy ran the day so well, at times it was like herding cats as our cars were positioned all over the pier entrance and some people can just talk and talk to strangers and other divers (wonder who that could be…).

Lucy Leading the Diving with club members listening on

To celebrate, those who didn’t need to rush home went off to the Ship Pub for a few beers, followed by eating fish and chips out of paper while sitting on the harbour wall watching the sun go down.  Bliss!