As a Clidive newbie, I had met some members at Ironmonger Row Baths and on the boat handling course in March, but this was my first time getting in the water with the club. Gio organised the trip and receiving all the information from him in advance, I felt excited and a touch apprehensive at diving in a new place, with new people and new ways of doing things.
Although the trip officially started on Friday morning, a few seasoned Clidivers decided to arrive to Plymouth early enough on Thursday to be able to squeeze a check dive in. The wind conditions prevented reaching any site outside of the harbour, so four divers went for a 20 minutes dive around the Breakwater Fort. Conditions at the bottom were reported as “pea soup” and “I’ve had pea soups clearer than this”. It was nonetheless useful for weight checks, and it marked Steve’s first sea dive after a four-year medical hiatus.
The full group met up at the Mount Batten Hotel on Thursday evening to discuss the next day’s plan. With Yellow out of action, we would be diving in three waves during the trip, made possible thanks to Gillian acting as dedicated cox’n. We also knew that the weather and conditions were likely not to be ideal; plans and people would need to be adaptable.
Given the wind direction and strength, heading for the SS James Eagan Layne (JEL) was the best option available for the first dive of the day and after a hearty breakfast, wave one divers went to get ready. I confessed that after reading the briefing which stated that ropes off was very strict and latecomers would be left behind, I’d had a dream about being stranded on the pontoon… But as it turns out, there is “Clidive time” and everyone being ready 13 minutes before the agreed time was something of a phenomenon! Not only that, but a few of us even had time to practice knots on the pontoon before we got underway.
Visibility was 1-2 metres on the JEL and while I was a little distracted by the usual adjustments that come with the first dive of the season, the marine life and such an iconic wreck in the area made for an interesting dive. Wave two divers did a drift at the relatively protected Mewstone Ledges, with its gullies around the island perfect for exploration. Wave three headed to the HMS Scylla, with lots of beautiful life along the covered walkways and a few big wrasse to hang out with.
A good meal and a couple of drinks at the Boringdon Arms rounded off Good Friday.
Conditions were worse on Saturday with some strong winds and swell. The Elk was the initial plan for dive one, but with the acknowledgement that we’d have to “put our nose out and see”. When we got to the site, the discussion about risk management, the conditions and factors to take into account was helpful to listen to and be involved in. It was judged as on the edge and ultimately the decision was to not dive there, as the waves would potentially hinder the ability to see DSMBs. We headed instead to the Glen Strathallan, as did wave three later that day. Visibility was better than the day before, at about 4 metres, with plenty of conger eels to find, spider crabs and anemones. Dive two was at Tinker reef nearby, a milky and very kelpy dive.
That evening we wandered over to the Clovelly Inn. I’d heard a lot about it in the club already, including the Clidive camps of belly pork vs. steak gorgonzola. There had been rumours circulating that it had gone downhill. Much debate ensued before we arrived… was this legitimate feedback? Hospitality sabotage by a rival? I’m pleased to report that the food and service remain excellent. Phew.
There had been a suggestion over dinner the night before to dive Firestone Bay, so we had a slightly earlier ropes off as it was important to dive it at high slack. Surface conditions were tricky, with the wind pushing divers towards a swimming area, making picking us up difficult for the cox’n. One DSMB had been let go and ended up in the swimming area, resulting in lots of calories burnt off in a swim there and back for one diver! Despite all this, the group had an enjoyable dive, seeing more unusual critters than other sites, including a decorator crab and nudibranch. Only a few divers were still keen for another dive that day and given the conditions it was back to enjoy the Glen Strathallan again (boilers perfectly shotted, I must report!), while a bunch of us practiced our boat handling skills under Gillian’s expert eye.
The horrendous weather forecast for Easter Monday prevented diving, so we recovered Blue on Sunday afternoon. There had been much chat about some people’s experience of the Mount Batten Hotel cheesy chips earlier in the trip, so we headed straight there in our undersuits and were not disappointed with the kilo of food that arrived for each hungry diver. A curry at Lacky’s that evening rounded off the weekend.
I was asked at the end of the trip “Will you dive with us again? Did we scare you off?” The answers to which are a absolutely a) yes and b) no. Coming from PADI, club diving was a different and hugely enjoyable experience. I appreciated the commitment to continual learning and development; how willing people were to share their knowledge and experience; how supportive and friendly it was; and the ethos of everyone pitching in for a shared endeavour and experience.
Big thanks to everyone for making my first Clidive trip such a positive experience, especially Gio for organising and Gillian for being dedicated cox’n. I’m looking forward to lots more!