“Mark’s @*£$?! twin set” by Simon Read
This was my second trip to Plymouth courtesy of Ray. The first was the previous year’s trip and was enjoyable enough to convince me to sign up and hand over the necessary bank details to the TSAC treasurer.
This year was also my introduction to the legend that is Jeff, having met most of the crew the previous year.
Ray had informed me that Jeff was always smiling and never stopped talking, and had this magic box which played ‘toons’. An interesting concept which I had not quite grasped. Indeed it was a smiling Jeff that arrived and loaded his kit into the car with the usual introductory and friendly hellos. He settled himself down for the five hour journey to Plymouth and went to sleep, waking only to ask “are we there yet?” Ray and I had an uneventful and quick journey to Plymouth, with Jeff snoring happily in the back seat.
On arrival at Plymouth I found that I was sharing a room with Jeff and was rather worried thinking that I had insulted him in some way as he said barely a word, we chucked our bags down and went to the pub. The next morning he was awake and courteously asked if I minded a little music. I agreed and as I glanced over to his side of the room a hand slid out of his bed and pressed the play button on a small ‘toons’ player (that had appeared from his bag sometime over night), within a few seconds the room was a buzz to the sounds of ‘Feel it hot, hot, hot’ and then ‘Whisky in the jar oh’. The fabled Jeff’s Toons story is true! However he was still was being exceptionally quiet and very polite (not that he is ever rude).
After a hearty meal we piled down to the Queen Anne’s Battery and began the laborious task of carefully wheeling the kit (including Mark’s @*£$?! twin set) along the Marina pontoons, to the furthest docking point and then loading kit onto the good ship Ceeking. The Ceeking is a 32 foot motorised vessel with a small heated cabin, two bunks, a galley, a toilet and a skipper (Richard). On first inspection it seems a bit basic but it is well laid out and fulfils its job very well. We were given a ‘cheerful’ greeting, as usual, by the Captain of this fine vessel, and off we sailed.
We left the docks, ten hail and hearty divers (nine dry suits and one semi-dry). After leaving the breakwater the sea turned out to have a reasonably heavy swell which meant a few of the company lay down and closed their eyes feeling not so hail and hearty and hoping not to provide the fish with their breakfast!
The first stop this year was Hand Deeps. Richard spends a long, and sometimes frustrating, time locating the point at which he will drop the shot line, but it is a worthwhile exercise as it enables us to gain maximum dive time on site as he invariably hits the mark.
Hand Deeps are a group of pinnacled rocks about 12 miles from Plymouth. The dive starts on the highest point, at about 13 metres, which is sparsely covered in kelp, with drop offs down steep cliffs to about 60 metres. With a visibility of five metres, due to plankton, the site was unfortunately not up to its best. The normally spectacular walls of jewel anemones could only be seen in small patches. However, the colours that can be seen (oranges, purples etc) and the sheer quantity between the 15 the 30 metre mark are still incredible. The water temperature was a comfortable 11o. On surfacing the Ceeking came along side and we were hoisted back on board using the boat’s motorised ladder. Within a few seconds a most welcome cup of soup was passed out from the galley, followed by regular cups of tea throughout the day.
For lunch, the Cee-King headed to a sheltered cove. Richard provides a selection of homemade sandwiches, cake, fruit, biscuits and tea, and, as with everything else on the Ceeking, the food is not fancy but it fulfils its purpose and sets you up for the next dive.
The second dive was about 300 metres south of the Mewstone (a small island about ten minutes by boat from Plymouth breakwater), on a rock reef. This was a direct descent down a shot line onto the sea bed. The area was a series of small rocky canyons covered in sea life with several dog fish of varying sizes. Visibility (because of the plankton) was down to 3-4 metres which detracted from the dive but didn’t prevent a good exploration of the site. Towards the end the dive became a gentle drift dive as the tide began to run.
From this point it was back to Queen Anne’s Battery, unload the cylinders onto the trolley (including Mark’s @*£$?! twin set) and then into the dive shop for filling. Then round to the marina bar for a relaxing few beers and some bowls of chips.
It was then that Jeff’s silence was explained by Ray. He had informed Jeff that I was extremely religious and liked to convert people, the thought of having to share a room with this possibility had given Jeff the jitters. He had been minding his manners and had been avoiding any conversations that might lead to an impromptu prayer meeting. That night, having given Jeff, Frank, Ian and Ray my blessing and a glass of a famous Scottish liquid, we walked down towards Union Street and a large Chinese banquet (only dampened by the lack of Sake). How can a Chinese restaurant, on a Saturday night have run out of Sake!?
Having mentioned that I had lived in Plymouth in the early eighties I led a small party via the back streets to a pub called the James Street Vaults, where I was shocked to find a picture of me, with hair, from my dim and distant past. Still, it proved I had been there! We finished off the night visiting a series of pubs on Mutley Plain. On returning to the B&B Ian decided to try some midnight gardening, I have to say this was not successful as miniature fir trees tend to prefer pots to flying!
The second day arrived and having sorted out religion it was feeling ‘Hot, hot, hot’ from the crack of dawn. We completed the ritual of the cylinder trolley run (including Mark’s @*£$?! twin set) and headed out to dive a barge lying just off from Rame Head at about 35 metres deep. The sun was out today and the weather provided perfect diving conditions. Unfortunately as we descended the shot line the visibility disappeared down to less than a metre at the sea bed. Between us we swam virtually touching, so as not to lose sight of each other, and found the side of the barge, which stood about a foot proud of the sea bed. We swam across the silt covered deck and found the other side at which point we decided to surface as the visibility was so poor, it was a useful experience as we completed a deco ascent.
We followed a similar routine to the previous lunch and then headed to the site of the James Egan Lane, a WWII American liberty ship torpedoed in March 1945 by U1195. She sank a mile from Whitsands Bay and is at a depth of about 21 metres. This is a dive I had been looking forward to repeating from the previous year. The visibility had improved for this dive, to about 5-6 metres, which enabled us to have some faint light shining through the ship’s ribs, always adds to the atmosphere. This is an enjoyable dive as we swam through the ship’s ribs and cargo holds. There is an abundance of sea life such as Pollock, anemones, etc. The ship on its own is interesting with all its hidden alcoves and the cargo laying in the hold. Once again the day’s water temperature was a warm 10o, perfect for a semi-dry suit.
We unloaded our cylinders and wheeled them off to the dive shop for refilling (including Mark’s @*£$?! twin set) and then (just to make sure that the chips were as good as we remembered) went for a few beers at the marina bar. The night’s entertainment consisted of a curry on Mutley Plain and a few beers afterwards. Half of the group retired early due to fatigue and the other half drifted towards some live music. Fortunately Ian and Frank decided not to do any midnight gardening!
The next morning we gathered up the kit (including Mark’s @*£$?! twin set) and began the haul to the Ceeking when a minor mutiny occurred. Most people decided that they were not going to dive that morning, whether it was due to fatigue or hangovers was never concluded but we unpacked the Ceeking said our farewells and headed off back up the motorway
The Plymouth trip is an excellent weekend away, enjoyable diving, a good bunch of people to share the time with and an experienced skipper who knows the dive sites and wants the dives to be as successful and enjoyable as possible. If you have not been sign up …. It’s worth it.
Next year’s trip, well the date is in the diary and my semi-dry is ready and waiting.