‘Winter warmer’ – lucky for some

By Matt Byrne

Who would have thought that the first trip of the 2019 season – the now-infamous Winter Warmer in Plymouth, cancelled the last two years due to Beasts from the East and similar – would be primarily characterised by cloudless blue skies, an equally blue sea and perfect weather?

Eleanor shows Matt how to wear a drysuit in tropical Plymouth

So yes, this March it was very much third time lucky. Ropes off at 9.30am on a full boat with the excellent guys from In Deep Divers, and the most important bits of kit on the way to the Eddystone Lighthouse are sunscreen and shades.

There were five of us from CliDive on this trip – yours truly, Vineet, Jon, Gio and Eleanor. And it was always going to be a momentous event for me – my first-ever drysuit dive in the sea. No, really. It’s been tropical all the way for me up until now. As such, I buddied up with Eleanor and spent the trip out to sea trying hard not to look too nervous.

Dive 1: Eddystone

The closest we could get to a picture of Matt surfacing

I found out pretty soon that I hadn’t taken enough weight with me, but with another kilo from the boat I just about managed to get down to the bottom. The water was cold for the first minute or two but soon Eleanor and I were pootling along nicely at around 20 metres. Visibility was great (10 metres?) and the temperature down there maybe 11 degrees. Not too shabby.

Sadly, once we started heading back up my weight problem kicked in again and from about eight or nine metres I could no longer control my buoyancy. I broke the surface like a breaching Great White (only fins first, according to the guys on the boat). Live and learn.

Dive 2: Hand Deeps

An hour later and we were back in, me complete with the world’s heaviest weight belt. Well, it felt like it, at 14kg. No problem getting down this time and we pushed on down to about 27m.

Kelp forests and rocks lit up with jewel anenomes, deep gullies, sea squirts and sheer walls that worked wonders with my vertigo, plus some decent-sized fish (wrasse) keeping me and E company.

A typical view of Hand Deeps

All was going swimmingly, floatingly, underwater-cruisingly until the moment I realised my ultra-heavy belt, assisted by the helpful bit of advice from one of the non-CliDive punters on the boat to ‘loosen it up a bit to let the air in your drysuit get round’ (I’d mentioned that on the previous dive my suit had been a bit on the tight side – in fact it was so tight I couldn’t reach round to my shoulder valve), was about to slip off. Not great at 27m.

Between us Eleanor and I managed to get over to a ledge where I sorted it out, but by then we’d be down for 25 mins or so and up went the DSMB.

Dive 3: Scylla

A wreck dive on the ex-Royal Navy frigate HMS Scylla, stuck on the bottom by the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth as an underwater playground for divers. A relatively shallow dive, we didn’t dip below 20m as we circled the boat. Weight belt sorted, fewer clothes under the suit, ready to roll (well, big step).

Our most impressive visitor popped up from nowhere only a minute or so after we started traversing the ‘wall’ of the boat. Literally out of the blue, a Barrel Jellyfish nosed around behind us while we inspected the dark interior of the Scylla from the slightly less gloomy exterior.

Barrel jellyfish (courtesy Science News)

Like the weekend itself, it was also third-time lucky for me and my weight problem (😊). Unfortunately this time it was Eleanor who had to wrestle with an equipment issue, getting a free flow while she was putting up the DSMB after about 30 mins on the wreck. We both popped up pretty quickly from around eight or nine metres, though as we’d spent the past ten minutes slowly coming up to ten metres we both felt ok once back on the boat.

Still, better safe than sorry, so we decided to sit out the final dive.

Dive 4: James Egan Layne

The titanic trio did this one while we basked in the sun, and by all accounts they had a fabulous time. E & I sat it out, drank a lot of tea and started the highly enjoyable process of looking back and de-briefing on what had been an utterly brilliant introduction to UK sea diving.

Can’t wait until next time!

Posted in Dive Trips