Club Dive: The Alaunia, Monday 7 May 2012

An almost civilised ropes off time for a change! 10:05 (or 10:30 depending upon who you’d asked!) The weather was due to be pretty kind, with F3-F4 winds and a break from the torrential rain of late. A pleasant journey down to Sovereign Harbour (Eastbourne) with minimal traffic, as everyone was probably having a well-earned Bank Holiday lie in? We were very early, so decided to go to ASDA to get some provisions. Being a bank holiday it was not opening until 9AM. It was pretty intimidating watching the mob of OAP’s (this is Eastbourne after all!) vying for pole position by the doors; armed with scooters, trolleys and some rather lethal looking walking sticks. Bang on 9AM we waited for the ensuing stampede to subside and duly got our breakfast.

Back at the harbour we met up with the rest of the gang (or certainly those told it was 10:05 ropes off!). A quick coffee and some banter, then onto the serious business of the day. This was to be my first sortie with Dive 125. Having read Jason Street’s delightfully named post – “South Coast Puke Fest”, it was going to be interesting to see how this Offshore 125 (Our W) was going to behave today.

Loading is so easy at Sovereign Harbour, we were soon all on board and set to go; even those told the wrong time managed to get on – albeit with a little “encouragement?” to “kindly move along a little quicker please” from the crew.
Off we go, into the lock and an excellent boat briefing from Skipper Dave. We elect to actually go for one wreck dive followed by a drift, as opposed to the original plan of two wrecks. Chairman Paul then delivers a text book BSAC dive brief carefully watched by his very contentious Dive Leader student Ady, looking to sign off on his DP1. With a fairly short 45 minute steam to the site we all used the lock time to get dry suits etc. on.

Out of the lock and 45 minutes later we are on site. The boat had behaved beautifully en route, a very comfy ride. The water however was looking decidedly milky, so the visibility was probably going to be a bit indifferent. We were at the wreck site of the SS Alaunia. This is reportedly the largest wreck in Sussex waters at 158m long, the casualty of a German mine in October 1916. Dave and Sylvie shotted the wreck at the bow. One thing Dave did (which I thought was excellent), was to take the dive boat to the other end of the wreck, so we could look back to the shot buoy. This really gave some indication of how big the lump of metal we were to be visiting really was.

As we’d made such good time, we still had some time to wait for the tide to slacken. This was pretty fortunate for me, as I was about to be beset by two badly timed events. Firstly I noticed my Dil cylinder was virtually empty. I’d done my pre-breathe and checks in the lock. Clearly there was a bit of leak somewhere. “Botherations!” I said. On looking at the first stage it was freezing cold and covered in condensation. Although it was tight it was not quite nipped up! A call for help, to Dave the skipper. Out came a 7l of Air and duly decanted into my Dil. Aborted dive averted, Dil analysed and back in business. Time to don my drysuit fully; head through neck seal – “Double Botherations!” I say – A small tear in my neck seal develops. Help call goes out for the “Black Witch”. Ady comes up trumps!! – Black goo in place and problem sorted. Kit donned, buddy checks done – time to get in.

A big blast on the horn and in we go! From the first glimpse underwater, we can see this is not going to be a double figure viz-fest. Never mind, down the shot we go, 3m bubble check – all good, so press on! There was loads of particulate in the water and it went very dark around 25m. 1m off the seabed and we could just make out some lumps of metal. Oh well we’re here now so let’s make the best of what we have. We check each other is OK, sort out buoyancy and time to head off. This really seems like fingertip, police search stuff. We are on the bottom at around 34m, the visibility is poor. We start to explore the biggest shipwreck off Sussex with a viewable range of about 1m, so we got a pretty close looks at it, nailed to the bottom to keep it in sight. There’s certainly a lot of it, between the flattened plates there’s winches, tubes and cables. There were a few bits of snagged fishing line and hooks etc., but taking it very slowly they caused no real concerns. It was nice to see some small turbot about the size of your hand. It would have been even nicer to have seen their bigger brothers and sisters! I found a lobster and fished it out of its hole, only to find it was berried, so back she went. We came across a very impressive boiler and had a good look around this. I grabbed nice brown crab, things were looking up! On we went over more wreckage. I would really love to dive this in better conditions to really appreciate the layout and size. We’d planned a bottom time of 50 minutes, with about 15minutes of stops. After about 40 minutes I found a nice lobster and after a bit of finger nipping and wrestling he went in the bag for tea. Happy days!! (For me anyway). Then all too soon our planned time is upon us. After a wobbly start it had been a great dive really. Goody bag clipped onto DSMB and up they go. A nice slow ascent, then 12 or so minutes hanging at 6m. I was quite glad we didn’t have too much longer stops, as I’d taken in a bit of water and was a bit chilly.

Safely recovered and back on board for tea and lunch! Ady diligently came over to take details of the dive, gas, stops etc .etc.

Time to warm up a bit, after a few spots of rain, the sun came out and it was lovely. The sea was fairly flat and the boat didn’t really pitch and roll too much (A rather green Mr Inglis may have begged to differ on this point?)

After a sensible surface interval, it was time (for those wanting to) for dive number two. A drift across somewhere (I’m not exactly sure where, somewhere around Sovereign Shoals) All I know is it’s 17m to the bottom, we’ll go with the tide up and over some rocks to about 12m and back down to 15-17m again. A loud blast on the horn and in we go again. SMB up and down the line together. The visibility is even worse! And being a big spring it’s running a bit. Sand, sand, sand, sand, hermit crab, sand, sand, sand, rock, sand…………..etc. etc. It’s like an arcade game, you’d need the eyesight and speed of a bird of prey to see or collect anything. I certainly wasn’t going to be having Plaice for tea that night! Eventually it started to shallow out over some rocks, the next problem being, as you go over the rocks, there’s a big swirl in the current and two seconds later I’m on my lonesome! Oh well, I have quick look for my buddy Marc, then deploy my backup SMB and time to head on up. Nice leisurely ascent to be greeted by Our W. Back on board and Marc is there, he’d surfaced a couple of minutes before me, so all good.

So what do we take from the day? I was very impressed with the Dive 125 setup and services. Double check your connections and content gauges to spot anything leaking etc. in good time. Carry my own Black Witch!

I was really impressed with Chairman Paul and Ady, showing how as a club, not only do we actually get out there diving, but we deliver the training properly and progress our members skills.

I’ll certainly be going back to the Alaunia, hopefully the visibility will be better to really do it justice (and just maybe those Turbot may have grown up a bit….).

  • Mark Breare – Club Secretary, May 2012

Comment(1)

  1. croydonbsac says:

    Some more info (from Rod McDonald’s book Dive England’s Greatest Shipwrecks) here:
    http://www.rod-macdonald.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4:rms-alaunia&catid=1:wrecks&Itemid=23

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