Yo-Han Cha overcomes his indifference to shipwrecks in order to visit Lundy and dive the famous wreck of the Iona II, a ship steeped in history…
It’s not that I dislike wrecks, I just don’t get overly excited by them. So I found myself in a rather surreal position of joining the Nautical Archaeology Society in order to get an overall discount when joining their annual trip to Lundy to dive the Iona II. I’ve wanted to dive Lundy for years. I’d heard so much about how beautiful the marine environment is.
this historically important Clyde-built paddle steamer [was] a blockade runner for the Confederates in the American Civil War
And Lundy has seals, I love seals! So, when my friend Claire Hallybone of Dunoon Divers asked me if I’d like to go diving with her on Lundy, the answer was “Yes!”. I just had to dive a wreck a couple of times over the course of the weekend.
Of course, the Iona II isn’t just any wreck. It’s one that’s covered by the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973). This is due to its historical importance as a Clyde-built paddle steamer and for its role as a blockade runner for the Confederates in the American Civil War. This ‘seals’ trip that I’d jumped on, its primary goal was to survey the Iona II and definitely not just to play with seals.
As the weekend approached, the weather forecast was not great, but the skipper of the Barbara B felt confident that we could dive the Iona II at some point over the weekend. So, we crossed our fingers and toes and prayed to the weather gods, hoping it wouldn’t get any worse.
The weekend arrived; it was bathed in glorious sunshine with blue skies everywhere. The only problem was the wind. My heart went out to Peta Knott of the Nautical Archaeology Society who had done an amazing job of organising the weekend.
The Iona II lies to the east of Lundy, therefore theoretically sheltered from our prevailing
south-westerly winds. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing stubbornly from the east and made the sea to the east of Lundy rather choppy. So, we dived the HMS Montagu on the other side of Lundy and Jenny’s Cove, which will be forever in my heart as the place I saw puffins underwater for the first time.
The swell was a smidgen better on the Iona II the following day, so we decided to dive it.
Once we were underwater, the conditions couldn’t have been more different to the choppy surface. There was just a breath of current and the visibility was stunning. Like I said before, I’m not massively into wrecks, but this was an amazing dive. The visibility meant that it was easy to make out the boilers and funnels. Thankfully, navigation was a doddle, especially as all I had to was to follow my excellent guide and buddy, Sara Hasan of Nautical Archaeology Sub Aqua Club and Southsea Sub Aqua Club.
The team undertook some photogrammetry tasks, as well as a video survey of the Iona II, while I tried my best to take some photos. The wreck had plenty of life on it: nudibranchs and various crustaceans were noted, and I saw some ballan wrasse displaying what I think was mating behaviour.
I’m no wreck expert, but the Iona II was a stunning dive and in my humble opinion, definitely worth protecting. And seals were seen at a distance. Despite what Claire Hallybone might claim, there were definitely no fins nibbled that weekend.
Article ‘A paddle into the past’ by Yo-Han Cha first published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 138 September 2023.