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Winter Diving anyone?

winter diving

Fantastic winter diving

I have survived the dismal winter month of January, I hope you have too.

Needing to clear a heavy head cold before I christened my 2017 dive year, I had to wait until later in January to get wet. Once I started this winters benign conditions have delivered yet again.

winter diving

Aircraft cockpit in sparkling viz

First up was a return to Vobster. A mid week visit will often provide good viz. Sure enough and despite icy kitting up benches the Somerset dive venue delivered as the accompanying images will testify. I reported 9°C at the Vobster Scuba Santa’s, by mid January it had dropped to 7°C.

winter diving

A deeper bit of vobster

The next weekend I joined Warwick Saunders on his RIB “Argonaut” which is based at Brixham. Off-shore sea diving in January? I can only say it was a lovely winter day, calm & sunny we were able to get out to the MV Emsstrom wreck. This is a genuine new wreck and would be my first dive on her. The ex German training ship, formerly a fishery protection vessel was sunk following a collision with its towing tug. She was en-route to the breakers in Turkey, sinking on 13 January 2013.

winter diving

Great winter day at sea, currently 4 cardinal buoys mark the Emsstrom

Diving almost 4 years to the day of her loss what immediately struck me was the abundance of marine growth that had already established itself on the wreck.

winter diving

Lots of plumose anemones already colonising the wreck, remains of liferaft holder

Visibility was a bit disappointing being in the region of 2-3m, probably as a result of the Easterly winds a few days before.

Porthole with all the modern signage of a recent wreck

 

I understand the Emsstrom does not often get excellent visibility. On a great day 5m is considered good. On the dive I found an intact wreck lying on its port side. She is 67m long with a beam of 12m so is easy to get around in a dive. The shallowest part of her is 18m and the sea bed is 30m. Sea temperature was 9°C.

winter diving

Sea squirts have colonised the boss of the 5 bladed propellor, also home to lots of crabs

This is an interesting wreck, I have a feeling this will the first of many trips to dive and record her. I did a second dive on the Shoalstone reef where unfortunately the viz was rather worse!

I did find this pair of hermit crabs at Shoalstone

I am lucky to be able to regularly dive mid-week, after my Brixham trip I noticed on the Facebook group “UK Dive Spaces Offered” that Nick Bentall, skipper of Scimitar based close to OThree in Portland marina was running out to the “Alex Van Opstal”. Despite freezing winter fog and running out of screen wash complicating my journey down to Portland, the conditions at the marina were quite mild.

Coil of rope on the deck of the Countess

Water clarity in the harbour looked stunning and Nick had planned a first dive on one of the harbour wrecks. Those diving had the good fortune to witness the Countess of Erne in all her glory with 6-8m viz. In those conditions she really makes a great dive with plenty of interesting swim throughs and other artefacts to see.

winter diving

Capstan near the bow of the Countess

The others I was diving with were all GUE trained and I was pleased to see the excellent dive technique resulting in minimal disturbance of the silt that is such a problem with all the harbour wrecks. That probably meant I was responsible for what muck was kicked up!

winter diving

Selfie taken under the bow deck area

After the Countess we were able to enjoy hot pies in Scimitar’s warm cabin before steaming out to the wreck of the Alex. That was something of an anti climax, after the great viz in the harbour. Disappointingly, offshore it was barely more than a metre!

What has made these cold water dives bearable apart from a great drysuit from OThree is use of the ECM 3 finger mitts. Yes, some loss of dexterity but I’m still able to operate my camera effectively so I don’t think it is that much of an issue. My hands stay warm the whole dive. In addition I use an OThree heated under vest. I have discovered this works best saved for the latter part of any days diving. By then a bit of core warmth really helps. I’m looking forward to trying it out on those early season tech dives. When the cold hits during deco.

winter diving

Delicate Sea Pens can be found on the silty sea bed near the stern of the Countess

I can’t remember when I last went UK sea diving in January. It is worth approaching winter diving with a good sense of humour, conditions were a mixed bag. Don’t be afraid to cancel but if it is good it can be as good as the years best. One thing is for sure, it really gets that new year lethargy out of the system and I’m all set for more.

Finally, subscribers to DIVER magazine may have seen my Blue Shark article in the latest issue of the magazine. I can add a little information, Nigel Hodge the skipper who took me out to find the blues has just sold his boat Wave Chieftain. He is currently awaiting delivery of a new vessel. I will report the arrival of the new boat in due course….

Rick Ayrton
Rick Ayrton

Rick enjoys both close-up & wide angle underwater photography, but particularly enjoys the challenge of taking images of wrecks and happily admitting that getting good images of deep UK wrecks is a fickle process with many variables that he is still trying to master.

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