Wave Chieftain II

Its been a while since I was in Exmouth and I am amazed at how much the harbour has changed. What used to be a typically scruffy fishing and light industrial port is now designer waterfront apartments and marina floats.
It isnt all finished yet, but the old image has definitely gone.
I leave my car in the car park and walk down to the pontoon where Wave Chieftain will be loading. The boat isnt there yet, but another couple of divers soon arrive and turn out to be more knowledgeable than I am. Skipper Richard Tibbs is out collecting it from a mooring in the river Exe.
Back at the car park more divers have arrived and we decide on a team effort to unload. I always feel guilty at this point, because I travel with about twice as much gear as most divers.
Backing cars as close to the water as possible, we block the end of the road and shuttle gear down to the pontoon. There is no reason to question the security of kit and cars while unloading, but its always best to play safe.
Wave Chieftain II soon arrives, and the boat is familiar. It used to be Graham Knotts Wey Chieftain operating from Weymouth. Richard bought the boat from Graham, replacing a single engine with new twin engines, and made a few other changes to his liking, but generally it is the same Offshore 125 with enormous deck area and diver lift at the stern.
On the way out to the Gefion I quiz Richard about the name, assuming that changing Wey to Wave was a matter of convenience. It turns out to be just that.
Richard had been operating his previous boat Wave Chieftain I from Exmouth for years before trading up. Like most skippers, he was attached to the boat name that divers associated with his business, and Wave Chieftain II was an obvious name for the new boat.
We have plenty of time before slack water and Richard adjusts the throttles for optimum economy at about 9 knots.
Its a perfect, calm summer day and the divers relax on the deck. Even with a full load, theres lots of room to spread out on a boat of this size.
All the divers are regulars and have dived the Gefion before. I talk to Jess and make the most of the chance to learn as much about the wreck as possible before the dive, getting a pretty good idea about the layout and how it has broken.
The Gefion was torpedoed by UB40 on 25 October 1917. Jesss club Exedive bought the wreck for£101 in the 1970s and he has dived it hundreds of times. Apparently it offered£100 and was turned down, so jokingly offered£101 and was accepted. It must have been one of those magic number things by which big companies operate.
Wreck shotted and a good couple of hours slack water on a neap tide, we take our time to kit up.
Richard makes a run to drop divers as and when theyre ready. I jump in about halfway through the group, descending to find other divers already ascending the shotline.
They gesture to explain that the shot is not on the wreck and that I should ascend.
Its always a difficult decision at this point. If I continue and find the wreck, the skipper wont be able to safely re-lay the shot until I ascend, especially as I am on a rebreather and there wont be any bubbles for him to spot. If I continue to 35m and miss the wreck, I will have wasted a dive and the skipper still wont be able to re-lay the shot. I would also look a bit of a plonker.
I abort the dive with the others and climb back on board. At least that way I can dive when Richard has set the shot again.
We are all back on board except Jess. Twenty minutes later his delayed SMB pops up and we wait for him to complete his deco. He reports that the shot was laying against the keel of the wreck and he had a really good rummage on one of his favourite spots, with a teaspoon as a souvenir.
Even owning the wreck, he has to report a find to the Receiver. The shot must have pulled off as the second pair of divers descended.
Richard lifts the shot and lays it again, taking care to check that it is well into the wreck - but then, he took just as much care the first time round. It was simply bad luck that it pulled out, and even worse luck that such a rare event happens when I am on the boat.
The water is still slack as I descend again, to find the shot hooked nicely across the Gefions single boiler.
Amidships is upright but well broken, then holds forward and aft are more intact but twisted to starboard.
This 671 ton schooner-rigged steamship is just the right size for its depth of 34m - its small enough to get round without masses of decompression, yet still a sizeable wreck.
Unusually, it is the holds I enjoy the most. Plating from the sides of the hull and deck has rotted away to leave a skeleton of ribs.
Swimming through with the light streaming past clumps of dead mens fingers is a pretty moment.
For a second dive we head in towards Teignmouth and the wreck of the Galicia, another WW1 wreck, sunk by mine on 12 May, 1917 and now lying well broken in 18m of water about a mile off the Parson & Clerk.
I have dived it many times in the past in good visibility and want to sketch it for a Wreck Tour.
Unfortunately the algal bloom inshore is like thick green soup. Even with prior experience of the wreck, there is no way I can put a sketch together, so I settle down to simply taking a few photographs and enjoying an easy dive.

Teign Diving Centre

Phoning Mark Layton at Teign Diving Centre, I pick his brains for something a little different. I have already dived two of its most popular sites, the Lord Stewart (Wreck Tour 34, December 2001), less than a mile from the Gefion, and the Bretagne (Wreck Tour 21, November 2000). Both were fairly conventional steamships of their era.
With the provision that it has a bit of a reputation for poor visibility, we settle for the Perrone, a schooner-rigged steam-ship built in 1882 as a cable-layer and torpedoed by UC65 in September 1917.
Already in Exmouth, I had planned to drive on to Teignmouth and dive the Perrone the next day, but the weather breaks and I go home to Bristol, returning to Teignmouth a few days later when conditions have improved.
Teign Diving Centres boat Seaquest is operated as a shuttle, returning to Teignmouth between dives with three or four trips per day on a busy weekend.
The Perrone is the last dive of the day and we line our equipment up on the jetty, waiting for the previous trip to return. Its one of those frustrating days, with a clear blue sky spoiled by a brisk easterly wind. With a rough sea, things are running a little late.
Meantime, I browse a plan of the wreck made by Richard Clarke, one of Teign Diving Centres divemasters, taking a few notes on my slate. The boat returns and two teams of divers work together to haul gear out and load the next set. We are soon back on time for slack water and heading for the wreck.
Seaquest is a Lochin 33, quite a respectable dive boat, though somewhat overshadowed by an Offshore 125. The journey out is wet, with plenty of spray across the deck. Drysuit zips are closed as divers finish preparing kit. The original Lochin 33 hull design was for the RNLI and is renowned for excellent sea-keeping, though also widely known for giving a wet ride.
Skipper Adam places the shot nicely on one end of the wreck and drags it in tight. Despite the sea conditions, we are early and the shot buoy indicates that there is still a little current running, though not much. Theres just enough time for everyone to get ready to descend in twos and threes as soon as its slack.
I descend through the green globs of the algal bloom, then into bottom visibility clouded by fine silt lifted by the tide. Coupled with a dive late in the day and a choppy surface, very little light reaches the wreck at 33m.
The shotline crosses an anchor, its chain and then the anchor winch, so orientation is no problem. I chill out for a couple of minutes and let my eyes adjust.
If anyone is wondering how some of my pictures come out with a clear view of wreckage and an emerald green background, its all to do with a 14mm lens and shutter-speeds of 1/2 second or even slower. Besides, you should see some of the slides that didnt come out that well!
Its easy to understand how so many divers are confused by this wreck. The bow has skewed slightly compared to the first hold, so the step between the forecastle and the main deck is off-square. The anchor winch has a large drum on the back, with its axis along the wreck.
Further back, the port side of the deck is low in the silt and either the hold coamings are offset to starboard or the forward mast is offset to port.
Then, amidships, it looks as if the whole of the superstructure is offset to starboard to leave a clear run-through along the port side. Could this be part of the Perrones cable-laying heritage
As for the stern, a report in Dive South Devon describes it as laying back along the starboard side, but I find no trace.
I surface with a sketch that feels about right for the dive, but there are so many questions that need definitive answers before I could consider using it for a Wreck Tour.
The journey back with a following sea is a pleasant early-evening cruise. Sitting on the harbour wall with a pint of the black stuff, I tidy up my sketch and show it to the other divers. One of them points at the bow with the comment: We swam round and round the stern, but didnt see any of the rest of the wreck. I can see how existing reports are inconsistent, but thats part of the challenge. If anyone can straighten out the Perrone, you can contact me through Diver.

Awesome Explorer

Again, I had planned to continue on my way to Torquay and Awesome Explorer, an 11m RIB. But with the easterly wind picking up, I make a few phone calls and go to Plymouth instead, catching up with a Wreck Tour of the James Eagan Layne (Wreck Tour 62, April 2004).
As Richie Stevenson said, it was about the only place he could take Deep Blues boat that day.
After the dive, I hang about into the early evening waiting for the weather forecast. I phone Explorers skipper Chris Yates but I already know what he will say: that it wont be any good for tomorrow either. So its back to Bristol again.
Over the next few weeks, Chris and I compare notes on the few days when both my schedule and his have gaps, but the autumn weather gods show us no mercy. Its actually spring 2004 before I have time, and the forecast shows a few hours weather window corresponding with slack water.
Awesome Explorer is berthed in the marina at Torquay, but this isnt the easiest place to load divers and Chris usually picks them up at Babbacombe or Paignton.
I get to Paignton early and meet Steve, who is to be my buddy for the day, unloading our dive gear at the end of the harbour wall, and returning our cars to the car park.
A speck from the north grows larger into what I at first think is a hardboat chugging along, but then realise is actually a monster RIB moving at a fair pace.
While Steve and I load up, the harbourmaster pays a visit, warning Chris that the steps we are using will be closed for work at low tide when we return.
He compliments Chris on how well-organised his dive groups always are at loading up and clearing the pier, then says that as there are only the two of us, he can work out something with the steps.
Chriss explanation is simple: Awesome Explorer runs as a shuttle, and if divers were not ready he would have to leave without them - though he does say this with a grin.
Its the first time I have been on the boat, although I have heard glowing reports for years from Bristol University club members who are regulars.
They affectionately refer to it as the Super RIB. Steve is also a regular, managing the bookings for a local club which apparently likes to think of it as its club boat.
The 10-mile ride out to the Glocliffe takes about 20 minutes at a comfortable cruising speed. Chris holds the twin inboard diesels at less than half throttle and there is plenty of power in reserve.
Save for the Perrone, this project seems to be focusing on Gs. First the Gefion and the Galicia, then we had been thinking of diving the Greatham, another WW1 wreck off Dartmouth, before finally settling on the Glocliffe for todays dive.
Like the Gefion, the 2211 ton Glocliffe was torpedoed by UB40. She came to grief on 23 August 1917, just over two months before the Gefion was hit.
We arrive early, with plenty of time for Chris to shot the wreck and make sure its in solid. While we wait for slack water, an angling boat makes a couple of passes across the wreck without any success, then moves off to the north.
Down on the wreck, its obvious that no clever use of slow shutter speeds will give me an emerald-green background. Viz is only 4 or 5m and its pitch black. Even so, Steve has provided such a detailed briefing that I can immediately work out where I am and set off along the starboard railing for the stern.
The Glocliffe rests on its port side, the stern gun draped in fishing net and pointing downwards, almost touching the seabed at 41m. I am tempted to cut the net clear, yet it looks as if it has been there for years, and realistically there wouldnt be time to see the rest of the wreck if I spent too long on the gun.
Working forward, silt is banked up into the holds and almost to the centre-line of the wreck.
Even in darkness broken only by torchlight and camera strobes, the Glocliffe is a very pretty wreck, especially on the superstructure, where its exposed ribs are covered in anemones.
As Chris points the boat back to Paignton, the sky is already looking angry. Its a relief to have my jinxed East Devon project finished at last.
I hadnt dived at the best times of year, so it was not really surprising that I didnt get the best diving conditions the area has to offer.
But a dive is a dive and a wreck is a wreck. I enjoyed myself. I celebrate with a monster bacon roll from the harbour café.

  • Wave Chieftain, 01626 890418, www.wave-chieftain.co.uk
  • Teign Diving Centre, 01626 773965, www.teigndivingcentre.co.uk
  • Awesome Explorer, 01384 402210

This lobster was spotted on the Galicia wreck
Richard Tibbs at the helm of Wave Chieftain
winch at the stern on the wreck of the Gefion
Adam at the helm of the Seaquest
Ring and chain at the top of an Admiralty pattern anchor on the Perrone
John Liddiard decompressing
Bun breech on the Glocliffe
Explorer unloading at Paignton
Chris Yates aboard Awesome Explorer