ENGLAND - Tyneside's Weekend RIB Diving by Richard Booth
It's official, summer has at last arrived off the North East coast! The first weekend of this June brought bright sunshine, light winds and no sea fret, resulting in ideal conditions for diving the beautiful Northumberland coastline. Full advantage of this improvement in the weather was made by club members. Given the mixed experience of the assembled dive group, the aim of the weekend diving programme was to provide an interesting experience which was within the training and ability of the individuals concerned. Initially the plan for Saturday was to dive the Knivestone reef off the Farne islands, but problems with the outboard engine resulted in a delay with no chance of arriving on site for the slack water deadline. The dive plan was therefore rapidly revised and the decision made to dive the wreck of the SS St Andrea, a small French steamship originally built in Sunderland, which sank of the South East face of Stable Island on the 28th October 1908.
Today, the wreck itself is well broken up and scattered across the sea bottom. The large boilers however are easy to pick up on the boat sounder. This dive site is also fairly sheltered from tidal flow, making it an ideal site to dive at most states of the tide. Maximum depth is around 23 metres.
There is also a 'colony' of friendly wrasse that will follow divers around this particular wreck site. On this occasion however, underwater visibility was a disappointing 3-4 metres, the result of earlier poor weather in the preceding weeks.
Once all the divers were safely recovered back aboard the RIB, equipment was secured and the Seawitch headed North up the coast, past Bamburgh Castle and Budle bay to a beautiful stretch of beach called Ross Sands. The wreck of The SS Coryton lies in only 10 metres of water some 300 metres off this beach. The Coryton was mortally damaged by marauding German aircraft on the 16th February 1941 whilst on passage from St Johns, New Brunswick, for Hull, with a cargo of grain. The sinking vessel was subsequently beached in shallow water off Ross Sands, were she was abandoned and subsequently disintegrated. Today, despite its relatively shallow depth, the wreck is too broken up for any wreckage to betray its position by breaking the surface. It can therefore be a tricky site to find without GPS marks.
Initially we attempted to use some known land marks to find the bows of the Coryton, but without much success, as a gentle heat haze obscured some of the more distant land marks. Excitement was raised at one point when wreckage appeared on the sounder, along with bubbles breaking the surface, which we presumed were slowly escaping from the wreckage from previous visiting divers. An exploratory dive however, initially revealed no wreckage but a mass of escaping gas bubbles from the seabed and which created the wreck like features on the sounder screen! Digging into the seabed itself revealed a black mushy substance but no other obvious explanation for the escaping gas bubble phenomenon.
The stern area and boilers however proved to be much easier to locate. Indeed the large boiler comes up within a few feet of the surface at low tide. The boiler itself has over the years split open to the elements and it is now possible to enter through a large crack and swim through it, passing over crumbled condenser pipes. Situated close to the boiler other remains of the ship lie scattered across the sea bed. Following along the prop shaft one comes across the remains of the stern area of the vessel, including part of the crews accommodation block complete with three toilets still in place. Overall, this site provides a great second dive site and is sufficiently shallow and sheltered, to be considered suitable for less experienced divers to explore the interesting wreckage. It is also a good site for those interested in marine life.
Sunday 4th June. The following morning a smaller team assembled at Beadnel beach car park. This was to be the first time this year that we had launched the club RIB from Beadnel beach, so we were somewhat shocked to find that the price of a tractor tow and launch fee has risen to £30! It was therefore with some reluctance that we paid the launch fee, whilst also making a mental note to find cheaper alternative launch facilities for this area of coastline for the future. Once afloat, and with a mirror like sea, fast progress was made down the coast and out to the wreck site of the SS Nidleven. The wreck itself lies in 42 metres of water some three miles out of the small fishing port of Craster. The Nidleven was a Norwegian steamship of some 1231 tons, which struck a mine and foundered on the 27th April 1917. This wreck was only recently rediscovered and its relatively remote location makes it a site that is not too well known in local diving circles. Its depth and exposed location also makes it a dive site for the more experienced.
Once on site the shot line was dropped as the two RIB's drifted on the glass like surface of the sea. Conditions looked excellent, with the shot line visible for some distance heading down into the depths. Our assembled dive team consisted of a mixture of divers using either air or inspiration rebreathers. Once in the water and dropping down the shot line one soon became enveloped in darkness caused by layers of plankton particles in the water. The further we descended the darker it became. Eventually at 42 metres it was just possible to make out various features of the wreck. However the cutting beams of light from our torches lit up the wreck revealing a beautiful intact stern section covered in soft corals and deadmans fingers. Dropping over the back of the stern it is possible to drift slowly down to the seabed past the old iron propeller and the rudder.
The minutes soon ticked past and with computers running into decompression mode we were soon forced to ascend back to the surface, completing our safety stops hanging from our SMB's which drifted lazily on the glassy sea. Once everyone was safely back on board, engines were fired up and the RIB's headed back up North, past the majestic ruins of Dunstanborough Castle towards the Out Carrs reef. The aim was to conduct a quick second dive to see if any wreckage could be found off these rocks. The underwater visibility in this area however was poor at 1-2 metres and no signs of any wreckage were located, so after twenty minutes the dive was abandoned and a speedy return was made back to Beadnel for the recovery of the RIB by the tractor service up the beach. A combination of fantastic weather and favourable neap tides had resulted in a great club weekend's diving, catering for a wide variety of diving experiences. Many thanks to Andy Hunt for organising and marshalling the weekends dive programme.
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