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Saturday, 21 September 2019
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Skin Deep weekend, 28-29.07 Print

Apart from an exceptionally sunny Easter at Porthoustock, and a great week at the Scillies, many of our diving trips 2008 had been swamped, blown out, or downright cancelled. So you can imagine everybody’s excitement at the announcement that the July Skin Deep weekend would most probably happen.

When we drove down to Weymouth on the Friday, though, it was all doom and gloom: The heavens were hanging so low that you could almost touch them, and the constant drizzle saw Jens and I develop a general dislike for all things wet. We stored our bags at Margaret’s B&B and went to the pub to meet the rest of the gang, fearing the weekend might be cancelled. Yet, everyone’s mood was good: Despite what the weather looked like at present, the forecast was promising diveable conditions. So we limited ourselves to a sensible amount of liquid refreshments and made our way back to the B&B at a decent hour.

Saturday started with a big breakfast at half seven, then we were off to Skin Deep. We left the harbour at about 9 a.m., and the first dive was to be the wreck of the Iolanthe. Slack was to start at about 10:30, so plenty of time to assemble our kit and learn something about the wreck:

Divernet’s wreck tour no. 101 informs us that 3081-t cargo steamer Iolanthe was built in 1904. In January 1918, she was bound from Greenock for St Helens, carrying a cargo of hay and military supplies, and railway wagons on the deck. In the night of the 4th of January 1918, she was hit by a torpedo from a bow tube of German submarine UC75. The torpedo hit Iolanthe's port side, close to No 3 hold, and ripped a huge section out of her hull. Attempts to save Iolanthe failed, so Captain James Scott ordered his crew to abandon ship just after midnight, and all 31 men were landed safely at Weymouth. Iolanthe remained an unknown wreck till 1994, when she was discovered by the Ballett brothers of Poole, who confirmed their find by bringing up her bell.

The seabed is at 44-46 m, and the boilers, bow and stern rise about 4 m, while the rest of the wreck is pretty level with the seabed.

ImageJens had to practice with his new yellow box, so he dived with Big Paul, while I went in with Lindsay. When we were going down, the water looked a bit murky, with quite a bit of plankton floating about, but once we had passed 30 m, it cleared. Down at 42 m, the visibility was about 10-12 metres, and there was a fair amount of light.
Andy shot the wreck at the stern, and we came down between the bollards and the cargo winches. We were received by a committee of Pollack, and a daring little Tom Pot Blenny who took a keen interest in Lindsay: While Lindsay held on to the wreck and got out her torch, Mrs. Blenny managed to position herself right next to Lindsay’s hand and eyed her curiously till we took off.

We swam along the port side of the wreck, past the hatch coaming (the frame around the hatch) and the port boiler. With the great vis and quite a bit to see, we thoroughly enjoyed our time down. Soon enough, we had clocked up 11 minutes of deco time, so we started our ascent, with a 1 minute deep stop at 21 m, and another one minute stop at 18 m where Lindsay switched to her deco gas. At 6 m, we bimbled about for 18 minutes, waiting for my computer to clear. The Iolanthe makes a good dive, and I would love to do it again. With a max. depth of 46 m, she’s a bit deep for dives off our club RHIBS, but definitely worth to be dived again from a hard boat.

ImageWhen we had arrived back on Skin Deep, it was time for our packed lunches. Chris produced a magic box containing a whole fruitcake for all to share  thanks for that and thanks to Christine for baking a cake for us!
After a well-deserved snooze, we were in the water again for a scallop run. Lindsay felt a cold coming on, so I went in with Nick. Unfortunately, the KISS allows the man to sing and shout under water  I wonder if it also allows for gagging its owner!
Then it was back to shore for a pint, and an evening in at the B&B, where Margaret treated us to a three course dinner.

The Aparima
On Sunday, the first dive was the Aparima. The Aparima, a 5704-t cargo liner, was launched in 1902. After the outbreak of WW I, she was used as a troop ship and a training vessel for officer cadets. On the 17th of November 1917, she left London bound for Wales. On board were a crew of 112, including 29 of the 30 cadets  one had fallen ill and had to stay on shore. When the ship had passed the Dover Straits, the captain ordered the helmsman to follow a zigzag course in accordance with Admiralty instructions.
UB 40
Yet, the crew of German submarine UB 40 spotted the Aparima. At about 0.45 a.m. on November 19th, she was hit by a single torpedo in the stern, causing a fire to break out. She went down within 8 minutes, taking 53 men with her. 59 men could save themselves on lifeboats, but 3 died of hypothermia before they could be rescued. The sinking of the Aparima thus was one of the most devastating attacks of UB 40, a submarine that sunk a total of 102 ships before it was scuttled off Ostende during the German retreat from Belgium in October 1918. The Aparima now lies at 42 m.

Lindsay and I felt rough: Her cold had developed fully, and I had a sore throat, so doing a 40+ dive did not seem such a good idea. We decided to give that one a miss, enjoy the sunshine and do some work on the report. From what I have heard of the dive, the visibility had lessened, and it was pretty dark, but the dive as such was good.

For our last dive of the weekend, we picked the wreck of the Black Hawk, a former US Liberty ship. Liberty ships were designed for quick, efficient assembly of prefabricated parts, i.e. ships that could be produced quickly during the days of war. They were 134.4 m long, their three cylinder steam engines produced a maximum speed of 11 knots, and they could carry a cargo of over 9,000 tons. Most interestingly, every group that raised 2 mil US$ in War Bonds could suggest a name for a Liberty ship. Yet I could not find out who named the Black Hawk.
ImageOn December 29th in 1944, U-774 hit the Black Hawk with a torpedo which blew off the stern. The latter sank promptly to the seabed at about 48m, but the vessel could be towed into Worbarrow Bay, where it was beached, but later dispersed twice by explosives.
The shallow section of the wreck in Worbarrow Bay lies in about 12 m and is a popular training dive. We have been there on Bank Holidays when it was very busy, but this Sunday there was only one other dive tour operator who kindly let us use his shot. Jens and I had a fun bimble among the mangled wreckage, and concentrated on critter-spotting.
Then it was time to get back to Weymouth, pack the kit back into the van, have a last quick pint at the Sailor’s Return, and hit the road for home.
Thanks to big Paul for organising the trip, and to everyone for being great company, especially the non- snorers ☺


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