Diving on the freezing Dorset coast

by Jeremy Davey

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Whilst the sea was freezing over down the coast in Sandbanks (see link), ten intrepid ULSAC divers headed to Doset for some winter diving around Portland in early February.

A brisk morning greeted us on the Saturday; thermometers distinctly displaying sub-zero temperatures. Luckily the water was a lot warmer than anyone anticipated so it was actually rather pleasant plunging into the 8 degrees that would normally appear cold!

Tropical Dorset in February

We were diving from the charter boat Skin Deeper, as part of the bargainous Winter Warmer deal that they run. This made life a bit easier than the usual camping trips that ULSAC run and the hearty cooked breakfast set us up for the day.

On the Saturday morning we motored around to Chesil cove to dive the wreck of the James Fennel. This is a nice little wreck which still has a large intact boiler, exposed propeller shaft and various other parts scattered around. In actuality there are four different wrecks within a short space along the coast and several divers definitely spotted another large boiler and anchors whilst underwater.

A thermos of warm soup and some tasty packed lunches awaited us on the boat, which prepared us nicely for a short drift around Portland Bill. Not a huge amount to see on this dive but it was useful to blow away the cobwebs and practice some photography skills.

Back on shore early enough for a shower, watching a 6 Nations rugby match and a nice pub dinner.

Sunday morning proved a lot warmer outdoors and with glorious clear skies it felt like a summer’s day…. apart from the fact that the sea was flat calm (luck that we are rarely permitted during the warmer months of the dive season).

A clam on the Black Hawk

A single dive on the bow of the Black Hawk was enjoyed by all. This wreck has quite an interesting story of its recovery and the stern section, which sank some 15 nautical miles from the bow, is certainly on the to-do list of many divers who have visited the forward section. Being a Liberty ship, like the James Eagan Lane, she played an important part in the Second World War.

During the whole weekend there was a surprising lack of sea life around but I guessed that all the fish must be visiting cousins in warmer climates. However there was still plenty of wreckage to see through the slightly murky waters to keep us all entertained.

Getting back in to port around lunchtime meant everyone could set off and face the transport nightmare that snow and ice had left the country in (turned out not to be too much!). Despite a fairly shallow set of dives being conducted over the weekend it certainly provided a great opportunity to banish the frustrations of prolonged pool training and gave us all a good story about how we went diving in Dorset whilst the sea froze over and the rest of the country ground to a halt!

View photos from the trip here