By Michael Holliday
Errol and Jill arrived in Swanage a few days early and met a group of divers on their camp site who were meant to be diving all week. It turned out that the easterly winds had stopped the hard boats going out all week, and made diving under the pier not an option. Errol at one point described the vis under the pier as brown and muddy.
Having checked the winds and found they were dying down for the weekend, I checked with Divers Down and was told it was going to be “a cracking weekend for diving”. So we packed our bags and headed to Swanage.
Despite a couple of detours through the New Forest, Matt and I arrived at the accommodation just in time to grab the keys from the owner, before enjoying drinks and food in the pub across the road.
At the crack of dawn (well about 6.30am) , I left our B&B and joined the queue of cars at Swanage pier. Despite the pier not opening for half an hour, I was still 14th in the queue, with Jill and Errol immediately behind me. Eventually I parked the van conveniently right next to the café. The others arrived having had a leisurely walk along the beach and we quickly sorted our kit out and got onto the boat ready for our first dive of the day, the Valentine Tanks.
The seven of us from Clidive were joined by a few other divers onboard Spike, the spacious hard boat run by Divers Down. After a short drive out we entered the water with the divers split between the two tanks – despite some kit issues…Matt owes the skipper for letting him borrow a fin when his strap broke.
We had been warned beforehand that historic England had added a number of sand bags to one of the tanks, which divers down were in dialogue to get removed. These were odd, but did not take anything away from the dive. The dive did not disappoint, with large amount of fish, congers and crabs around and on the tanks.
After a relaxed surface interval, enjoying the “small breakfasts” from the café, we started to kit up for the pier. The water was a little murky, but there was life to be found, though apparently a spider crab was by far the most interesting thing according to one set of buddies!
It was then time for meal 3 – I think, as we enjoyed burgers from the café, along with cakes watching what we now know was the Swanage sea rowing regatta. Matt even managed to convince a member of the rowing club to rescue Brendan’s hood which had fallen over the wall.
Later we left for the meal at Castaways, stopping at the White Swan on the way, where to our delight were found a cider festival. As we were enjoying the meal, we were impressed by a pub crawl that went past with outfits including a hammerhead shark, jelly fish and light house (or was it a surface marker buoy) complete with working light.
Again, I set off early to get the van parked on the pier. I even managed to get the same spot next to the café. Today’s boat dive was earlier, with ropes off at 8am, on Old Harry drift.
This time, we were the only divers on the boat and we all jumped in at the same time. We quickly descended to the bottom, and immediately began to drift along the bottom. There was a range of life as we went along, including a conger, dog fish and a large scorpion fish.
Given the early dive, we had an even more relaxed surface interval as we waited for the tide to come in, so more small breakfasts were ordered, followed by cakes. Once the tide was in, we got ready to jump in under the pier, with Errol providing shore cover.
The vis was significantly improved, with more life to see, including fish, crabs and anemones. There was also a cuttlefish that Brendan and I ran into twice. It helpfully posed as it and Brendan stared into each other’s eyes and I took numerous photos.
All in all it was a fun and relaxed weekend, despite the early starts. Everyone enjoyed the dives, and wanted to come back again. Divers Down run shuttles pretty much every day, and with a range of diving for all levels, it’s a convenient and easy place to go diving. The diving under the pier while shallow, is generally light and full of life, and with the convenience of a dive shop and filling station on the pier it’s as easy as diving can get. You do however need to be there early if you want to park on the pier!