Club Dive, 24 May: City of London and Indiana

Ah May, a proper summer month! As it’s the diving season, I need to dress appropriately, shorts, t-shirt and sandals – I should have known though, Bank Holiday weekend = crap weather.

We met at Brighton for a 7am ropes off, on-board Channel Diver. Steve, the skipper, was looking strangely well scrubbed… I commented upon his appearance and got a disdainful look. It was my first dive of the year, and what could go wrong?

We were diving the City of London, an upside down wreck off Brighton, the sea was flat and calm and we’d heard reports of good viz (then don’t we always???). The weather forecast was for heavy rain, but at 7am there were only light scattered showers – see, shorts and t-shirt weather!! (Although I was the only one wearing them). I buddied up with Warren and jumped in the deep green. As usual with the first dive of the year my ears were having none of it and it took me a little while to get down. Unfortunately the viz wasn’t looking too promising, with plenty of early plankton in the water, but once down on the wreck it evened out to a fair 4-5m. Torches were required though as the familiar twilight was back.

Steve had shotted her around the amidships and we were greeted by the sounds of hammering from somewhere to our right…one of the others must have found something. There are reportedly portholes still on the wreck, but we ignored these as I had a greater need (my freezer was empty of scallops due to the winter lay-off). The mid-ships was pretty broken up, as is most of the wreck and although upside down is laying slightly to one side so that parts of here deck are exposed as over hangs. Winch gear is dotted around and masts and rigging poke out from under the hull. We continued on to the bow, which stands 3m proud of the seabed at 24m. My scallop collection had already begun and as we swam on into the bow (around 8 metres of which still remains) we were lucky enough to find a few more (which I left) and a very large crab. In fact the wreck had a number of large edible crabs on her, many out in the open confused by the appearance of divers. There was also a large barnacle encrusted lobster under some plates and shoals of pout and pollack were hovering around (but not in great numbers).

The seabed is very silty and disturbing it reduced visibility greatly. From the bow we head back along some broken masts and what we thought was the outline of the wreck. Much of the wreck is covered by the sea bed so it was easy to lose, luckily Warren was more switched on than me and found the wreck again. We headed back past the shot and towards the stern, where Warren bumped into a cuttlefish and I found several conger. The plating of the wreck here dips into the sea bed and disappears. At this point we decided to ascend as Warren was into deco, and we surfaced after a very pleasant 50min dive to be greeted by rain.

Between dives, we chilled out as Steve steamed our mighty vessel to the site of the Indiana. On paper it didn’t sound too promising – a wreck in 10m, 1 mile of Shoreham, with rain and tide against us. Some had dived it last summer and raved about it, but I thought “in over a decade of diving the South coast why hadn’t I dive it if it was so good??” I was to find out.

We dropped in to a steep current, and hauled ourselves down the shot (about 30m of shot to get to a 10m deep wreck). The viz was fantastic for the time of year and location, a good 5m+ with no plankton or slit in the water. Margie and Dave were at the bottom of the shot, and were going up, I don’t think the current was to their liking. We dropped down to be in the lee behind some wreckage. The Indiana is well dispersed and was covered by the sea bed but has gradually being revealed. She sank in 1908 after a collision in fog with a German transatlantic liner, and her cargo of lemon and limes was washed up alone the south coast, no one lost their lives in the accident.

As a wreck diver there are still bits to see, parts of the wooden decking are still coming up through the shingle sea bed. However for a diver interested in marine life, well, all I can say is this must be a Mecca to conger. Every hole, gap between plates, crevice or tube was taken up by a conger. Some were huge, some of the largest I’ve seen, at one point there were 3 of them in separate holes all pointing towards each other. There was also a large school of deep water pout, still retaining their darker deep water colouring. Warren found a perfect little nudibranch climbing an outstretched arm of wreckage. Again there were several crabs and another large lobster. The wrasse of various types seemed less afraid of divers than usual and approached us to inspect our strange shapes and forms. Some of the wrasse appeared to be nesting. The wreck is covered in a variety of seaweeds, giving it a flowery garden feel that pulses with each ripple of the current. Finally towards the end of the dive I came across a large cuttlefish, chilling out under a piece of wreckage. After 50 minutes we drifted off the wreck to drift across the flat seabed and surfaced 5 minutes later to more rain. One of the best scenic dives I’ve done in years.

Cheers to all and home in time for lunch, in the pouring rain…

Chris Boddington

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