Taking full advantage of the bank holiday weekend, 6 of our divers headed down to Portland to check out what there is to be dived there. Over the weekend they were able to dive The Countess of Erne, The Aeolian Sky, The M2, The Alex Van Opstal and the wreck of the UB 74 (along with one dive on the HMS seabed to recover the shot at one point).
We packed up the van and made our way down on Friday before the long weekend to make sure we got some rest before the weekend started. We almost got away nice and early, but we realised that it was worth mixing some nitrox fills before we headed off. This takes quite a while to do, so we did not leave until about 4:30pm. Prompting the realisation that we should do the gas fills the night before the day on which we leave for a trip!
The first day down we faffed a bit getting the boat on the water, though still managed to get from the road to on the water in about 1:45 with Rocco’s dry zip failing and having to find a suit from the local dive shop!
We got out to the Aeolian Sky for what we thought was going to be slack time and began the process of getting the shot in the water. The first time we tried we found that the shot quickly drifted from the wreck, and just before we pulled it out again it got sucked under the water for a minute or two. It turned out that we had got the timings totally wrong and the current was still running at about 2 knots. We chucked the shot in a bit later and after a minute it was again sucked down, not to be seen again for well over an hour! When it did resurface, no amount of pulling would lift it! A couple of our divers had to be sent down to find what it was caught on, and rather than a bit of wreck, it turned out just to be a slight ridge in the seabed! This demonstrated how important it is for your shot weight to be a reasonable shape.
Having had a bit of a faff with this, we headed back to the harbour to do the Countess of Erne which was a fantastically easy and nice dive.
Day two saw us get some better slack times, and we were able to dive both the Sky and the M2! Both of these were fantastic dives, and we were blessed with some 5+m visibility. The great video from Rocco starts to show some of the life we were about to see, though you cannot see how many nudibranchs there were!
Day three proceeded in much the same way, with an early start to get the slack water, and a long break between the two slack timings. The hot weather beat down on us and we were finding it hard to stay cool between dives! Fantastic!
With the fantastic sea conditions we were able to dive the The Alex Van Opstal as well as the UB 74! Again, both of these were amazing dives!
A great trip all around, and something we will definitely have to do again. We were exceptionally lucky with the slack timings, the weather, and for finding Dive Beyond!
On this trip we dived the following wrecks
The Countess of Erne
This one is just inside the harbour entrance so can be dived on any state of the tide. Really nice wreck and it is permanently shotted. You need to get a dive licence online before you can dive anywhere in the harbour. We managed to do this on a phone while we were on the boat as when we asked on the radio they said no initially.
The Aeolian Sky
This massive wreck almost managed to elude us a couple of times. It is essential that this wreck is dived (and shotted!) at slack water. We tried to put a shot on it while the tide was running and the shot got sucked under the water so that we did not see it for about an hour and a half!
This submarine come aircraft carrier has got to be one of my favorite sites. Very easy to orient yourself on it and reliably covered in life. It is often a very busy site, so there may be other boats that will help with shotting it.
The Alex Van Opstal
This wreck was recommended to us as an alternative to the Aeolian Sky by Dive Beyond. It is a bit more broken up than the sky, but it is also a big wreck – so there is a lot of exploring to be done. We all decided this was another fantastic site, and it is about half the distance that the Aeolian Sky is from the harbour!
The UB 74
This old submarine lies a bit closer than the M2 and is a bit more broken up. It is a bit harder to spot on a sounder as it is more broken up, and we found it to be a bit darker. You need to be careful with your nitrox mix for this one, and you will probably want to go all the way down to 35m to get in all the holes.
GPS: 50 32.048N 002 33.130W
For sites East of Portland slack water is at 2.5 hours prior to high water at Portland. Sites West of Portland are slack at 3.5 hours after high water. There is obviously another slack window, but we were advised that the high water ones are what you should use. We did see divers doing the Aeolian Sky on the low water slack and it seemed OK as far as we could tell.
We got fills (and so much more) from Dive beyond (http://divebeyond.co.uk/). They are a small shop right in the carpark and are about the nicest people we have ever met. They were able to provide nitrox fills using partial pressure blending and had very good pricing. They were also able to help with slack water times, GPS coordinates, kit washing, towels and just about anything else you could think of.
We stayed at the Portland bunkhouse, which was very good. The kitchen (and bbq) facilities were most excellent. Showers were a bit tricky to manage, but not that bad.
It would have been cheaper to stay at the youth hostel there, but this was fully booked.
We launched from the slip at Castletown beach, which is free! The other slips nearby seem to cost about £30 a day to launch from, but do have cheaper parking. Worth checking whether this is good for your trip.
The parking at the bunkhouse was free and there was space for the boat. As we had to get 3 (2 cars and one for the trailer) car park tickets a day it quickly added up at the slip!
On this trip we took a van and one car. The van was taken to tow the boat which works very nicely. No additional room was needed.
We hired the van from Friday morning through to Tuesday morning from U-Drive. This was almost ideal, but it would have been good to do it from midday to midday as you could have a bit of extra sleep on the Tuesday morning. As it was I had to get the van back by 8:30 in the morning, which was not fun.
(these are the totals for 6 divers)
- Van hire/insurance: £282.24
- Van fuel: £58.64
- Boat fuel/oil: £291.16
- Harbour dues required: £37.00
- Accomodation: £306.00
- Car fuel: £32.47
- Parking: £58.50
- Food: £71.23
- Cylinder fills: £183.00
This came out at about £220 a head for 3 days (awesome) diving