Over the bank holiday weekend, nine members of Putney BSAC headed over to the Isle of Wight to dive the wrecks in the Sandown Bay conservation area. Following some trial runs, the trip was the first major outing for our club RHIB, Femti.
On Saturday, Femti was loaded up with seven divers and ably crewed by Steve and Brian. Femti had been resting in Bembridge Harbour overnight and after necessary preparations, we headed out to sea. We met some navigational challenges in the harbour channel; however, these were soon fixed with the help of some oars. Once out to open sea, we headed to Sandown Bay for our first dive. The wreck of the Camswan sits about a mile offshore, in 18m of water. The 335ft, 3,426-ton ship was a cargo vessel sunk in 1917 on her maiden voyage. We managed to shot her on the first attempt and descended the line to see what we could find. The visibility was restricted to say the least, with the spring algae in full bloom. We saw some of her cargo of coal and the odd crab. However, the dive was mostly spent in close observation of small details and keeping a hold of our buddies, rather than appreciating the full wreck.
The second day saw a reduced party on the RHIB of four divers. We had learned the previous day that seven was a stretch for Femti. With a lower complement of six she handled and cruised much more comfortably. At 18 knots we were headed for the wreck of the Highland Brigade, a 385ft, 5,669-ton merchant vessel. The Highland Brigade was torpedoed by UC-71 in 1918, carrying a cargo of tin ingots and telephones. In deeper waters of 28m, a few attempts were needed to shot this site; however we were successful in the end. The dive proved to be quite challenging; at greater depth the algal bloom obscured all light, creating night dive conditions in the middle of the day! With visibility at less than a metre we hugged the surface of the wreck, hunting out pieces of old telephone and the odd bit of marine life. For those who didn’t join the RHIB on Sunday, a trip to Freshwater Bay was made. The picturesque alcove on the Southwest shore of the island proved a good spot for Mark and Michal to splash around and a prime spot for Paul to grab a coffee whilst providing ‘shore cover’. The day’s diving was rounded off with a good BBQ, held at our caravan accommodation.
Whilst the visibility limited the diving somewhat, the trip was an enjoyable and valuable experience. We have learned a lot about how to load and handle the RHIB to best effect. As ever there are a few issues to take away and work on; for example, a new chart plotter would be a worthwhile addition. We also now know that about 6 divers is the limit of her capacity. We look forward to getting the RHIB out again soon for more diving, hopefully with more to see!
Credit – Nick H (Trip Organiser)