Back in the dizzy days of 2005 a crew of Croydon BSAC adventurers went off to the Channel Islands to explore a rock lost in time called Sark (2005 gallery). This was generally a fantastic trip, where the viz was near perfect, the group a collection of old friends and new and the booze was both copious and cheap…Now we were back, this time 3 of the 2005 crew were joined by other adventurers, many from outside of the Croydon BSAC fold.
Paul and I drove down to Weymouth on the Sunday afternoon in bright sunshine stuffing cocktail sausages and mini pasties down our necks all the way. The trip began as the ancient tradition dictates: i.e. that any visit to Weymouth must include beers in the Red Lion followed by a curry in the Weymouth Tandoori.
The next morning we were awoken by the sound of church bells, which was lucky as neither of our alarms had gone off and we had less than an hour to make it to the ferry. Needless to say after a quick shower it was all aboard the Condor Express for the crossing to Guernsey. Others had driven down that morning, (the ferry departed at 7am) and were obviously tired, whilst some of us were full of the delights of spring.
After an uneventful ferry crossing we met Steve and Caroline at the quayside in St Peter Port and quickly loaded our gear onto our familiar mistress Channel Diver. The crew for the eek consisted of Paul B, Dave E, Chris V, Chris B, Dave and Margie from Croydon BSAC; Jon and Phil from Norf of Watford somewhere; and Bob and Sandra from Kingston BSAC (don’t say a word). Andy, a friend of Bob and Sandra’s who lives on Guernsey, also joined us for a few days diving through the week.
Once kit was loaded and assembled we were off to our first dive, the Dr Rudolf Warendorf .This is the small wreck of a German armed trawler, sunk in 1944 by British aircraft lying in 34m just outside the harbour mouth. 1 hour dive time max was given due to the arrival of another ferry. The viz was limited to 4m in a torch beam, there was plenty of sediment in the water, and we attributed this to the harbour mouth. It was an interesting dive, large, upright and fairly intact. A nice little dive to start the week with, even if the viz wasn’t all that. Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case with week trips a few little “issues” reared their ugly heads: Rick found that his dry-suit inflator fell apart so enjoyed a brief but wet dive; Margie missed this dive too with a filling falling out and she needed to visit the dentist on Guernsey; Dave (D.O) didn’t dive as he felt unwell. Much weakness shown: Not the best of starts to the week…Post dive we cracked open a beer, and headed to Sark, after picking up Margie and David-not-the-D.O. (who also missed the first dive due to work commitments).
Sark is an island without cars. Yes that’s right, without cars. Everything is moved by tractor, except people who have to walk or ride bicycles. On arrival at Maseline Harbour we loaded up a tractor with our kit, jumped in and then got stopped by the police for riding in the tractor! Luckily this was outside the pub, so we popped in for a swift one (@ less than £2 a pint!!!). An important note for those going to Sark, don’t expect to get food in a pub! Luckily we booked into the Stocks hotel for dinner, so we were well fed later in the night. We were staying in a thatched cottage, run by the Sark diving operator, Andy. Dave (D.O) shared a room with Chris V, Phil and Jon (Phil and Jon kindly joined the trip and now probably regret it). As the night unfolded Chris V ended up sleeping outside the downstairs bathroom, whilst Phil ended up sleeping in the lounge. Apparently Dave (D.O) snores and farts loudly.
The next day we were up early to dive two 30m wrecks on the Jersey coast. We had hoped for better viz, but alas it was not too great. In the torchlight the it reached about 5 metres, outside of this it was black as black. Both wrecks were surprisingly intact and sitting upright.
For the first dive we had planned to make the 27 mile run to the M343, but sea conditions dicated that this wasn’t a good idea so we changed to the Schokland. The Schokland was a Dutch freighter which sank after hitting a reef in 1943 while under the command of the German forces. She now sits upright, 225 feet long and almost completely intact on the seabed, about a mile off Portelet Bay on the south of the island in 32m. Every inch of the wreck is covered in marine life and a huge shoal of pouting hang like a thick silvery curtain over the open holds. The first two holds still contain the remains of their cargo sacks of cement and iron girders that are now home to some huge lobsters and conger eels. The third hold is now eerily empty. It was carrying the occupying German troops who were travelling to France on leave, most of whom perished when the ship went down. Sifting through the silt in this area can still reveal interesting artefacts, as well as many pieces of broken glass bottles and china. Rumour has it that several French “ladies of the night” were also on board and that they too perished when the ship went down. The German authorities of the time always denied the presence of any women on board, but divers have often found perfume bottles, stiletto heels and other such items. On the dive the viz had a milkiness to it, with meant that outside the central beam of torches that fish and wreckage took on a semi ghostly hue. Descending the shot line the ambient light vanished very soon, and the torch beams reached a mere 2m downwards. I remained near the fore of the ship, the bow had a raised forecastle, of which little remained.
The afternoon dive produced clearer viz, albeit again very black. The wreck, the Heron, 58m long, made a navigational error in 1961 and is reported to have struck Flat Rock on the Paternosters Reef. It would have been truly superb in better viz, still the holds and decking were in great condition. I swam down companion ways alongside the holds, and to a very strange stern which looked like it had been sliced off, but I believe was for laying cables out of during some point in it’s life. The marine life was very skittish, more so than the usual life out of Brighton.
Margie missed these dives due to her Dry-suit zip going pop and as a result she’s made the (frankly mental) decision to return to wetsuits. Dave (D.O) slept all day, Chris V showed weakness as well for the second dive, (although forgetting to do up your dry-suit zips (NOTE PLEURAL) and blaming it on other people then realising it was yourself, is not really weakness. Foolishness yes, weakness no).
Post dive it was back to the rock for a beer in the pub and a meal at Tide and Time, (all the staff seemed about 15). Chris was ribbed about zips for the rest of the week, as was Dave (D.O) for sleeping.
The weather was blowing well and truly the next day, and any distant ventures were put on hold, so some scenic diving planned. Weakness was again shown by Dave (D.O), Margie and now Phil due to sea-sickness.
The shallower scenic dives provided better viz of about 6 metres with much more ambient light. It appears if your name is Chris you should not be allowed to do these scenic dives, as they tend to forget any semblance of diving rules and just stick their heads, hands and video cameras under the kelp and look for invertebrates. Dave K managed to lose his buddies (all three of them), do the longest dive time of the dive (1 hour 5 minutes), ascend solo on a pinnacle and not deploy his SMB. He surfaced to see lots of relieved faces and some quiet words. He did find some nudibranchs though.
The Tinkerers (rebreather divers) basically sat out the second dive, such weakness!! Chris B’s drysuit wrist seal split with a good 2 inch tear in it, but a gaffa tap repair later and he was off again. Thanks to PB’s instant suit repairs.
Again the bubble merchants were in their element; with the Chris’s again head down in holes looking for nudibranchs, shrimp, crabs and lobsters. This time Chris B (me) got the stern look from PB, as he surfaced dead on 1hr 15mins (the max dive time), SMB was deployed, but not till 1hour 10mins. Squat lobsters and juvenile fish abound. The video housing had some new scratches on it, but it was worth it. Back to the rock for an early afternoon tipple and a home cooked meal, thanks to Margie and Phil.
Thursday was to be a deeper dive, due the gaffa tape seal being properly fixed I showed weakness and ducked out of this days diving, choosing to fish for mullet instead. The morning dive was on another shallow scenic, 10m, and there were but 3 people jumping in, Chris V, David K and Jon. The afternoon dive was a deeper 50m wreck, M483, another German minesweeper. The viz was better down deep, and the wreck in superb conditions. Paul and Dave E (yes the DO did dive) pulled up an 8lb crab and a rather large lobster, not to be beaten Sandra weighed in with another large crab as did Chris V. All tasted great on the bbq.
The penultimate day was spent again on a scenic dive in shallow waters. The dive was early afternoon, due to Steve, Caroline and Rick returning from St. Peter Port. The dive was a nice rummage around a rock stack, and the vis was 6m+. Again squat lobsters and juvenile fish were in abundance. This time, something freaky happened, Chris V, Dave K and Chris B managed to stay as a buddy 3 throughout the dive. Chris B even took a 10lt stage bottle in on this 17m dive. Weakness was shown by several members of the expedition, PB obviously excused as he had a letter, but the rest had no excuse.
That night was Caroline’s birthday and we went off to celebrate at the top rated restaurant on Sark (Little Sark actually). All went well until we got there. The waiter manage to suggest that Phil might lose his knee caps if he asked for an omelette, Jon ordered tuna only to be told while they handed out the main courses that they had no tuna, Chris B and Dave E received their mains first but no veg so sat around waiting whilst their food when cold etc.. After some diplomacy by Margie and Dave E the issues were patched up with either free drinks for people or free evenings for Chris B and Dave E. It was latter explained that the normal manager of the establishment was away and they children where left in charge, all the staff looked like child labourers.
The final day, met with another 50m dive on the “Tug & Two Barges”, although weakness was shown by Phil, Margie and Chris B. The dive was great and the viz much improved. Crab sandwiches were handed out from the 8lb crabs, and enjoyed. The afternoon and evening was spent in St Peter’s Port ending the week as it had begun, with a curry !!!
We waved goodbye to Steve and Caroline who were already busy with the next group who had arrived on the morning ferry. The weather was due to pick up even more for their week…We boarded the ferry around 11pm and finally reached home, very tired around 4am.
Cheers once again to all and to Pot Bellied Paul for organising the trip.