THE TROUBLE WITH SWANAGE in Dorset is that sometimes I feel as if I’ve done it all, at least when it comes to the diving.
I have seen blackface blennies in their full mating colours under the pier. I have dived the Kyarra many times.
I have dived the nearby Carantan and Castlereagh (Firth Fisher).
A little further afield, I have dived the Betsy Anna. All have featured in DIVER as Wreck Tours.
Across Swanage Bay, I have seen the wooden Fleur de Lys, which, while well worth a look, wouldn’t work as a Wreck Tour. Between wrecks, I have done the usual drift dives.
While it is often fun to return for a lazy dive under the pier, or to take advantage of the convenience of a shuttle to one of these wrecks, there has to be something more.
It is after a lazy last shuttle of the day to the Kyarra that Bryan Jones of Swanage Boat Charters tempts me by suggesting a wreck a little deeper and further afield, the Aparima.
The Aparima was a cargo liner of 5704 tons. Bryan has been making the occasional trip there through the season, and the divers have all been giving it good reports. He has even managed to squeeze in a dive or two on it himself.
The wreck is located about seven miles off Anvil Point, so is actually closer to Swanage than the Aeolian Sky (another wreck I had somehow forgotten was a favourite with Swanage divers and skippers alike).
It was late in the summer, and we didn’t manage to fit the Aparima in that season, but after discussing it at both the Birmingham and London Dive Shows, I have it firmly in my sights for the coming season. Bryan has a boat-load of regulars lined up to join me on the dive.
The big day arrives, with glistening sunshine and a beautifully calm sea that stays with us out to the wreck. It’s the sort of day that reminds me why I love British wreck-diving, even if Bryan is already saying that the visibility was better last week.
As a cargo liner, the Aparima used to carry both cargo and passengers, and was even fitted out to carry horses.
When World War One intervened, she was used to transport troops from New Zealand to Egypt and France.
However, while faster than the average steamship, the Aparima was not as fast as the liners preferred as troop-carriers, so she was returned to cargo use.
On the night of 19 November, 1917, while on route to Barry from London to pick up a cargo of coal, she was torpedoed and sunk by UB40.
Slack water arrives later than expected. All kitted up and ready to go, Bryan pours buckets of water over us to take the edge off the heat. Steam rises from our drysuits.
I like to admire the engineering of shipwrecks, so once at 42m I particularly enjoy seeing three boilers feeding six cylinders and two shafts of triple-expansion steam engine, as befits
a one-time liner.

THE STARBOARD SHAFT is visible all the way to the stern, where it stands above the keel, while the port shaft is buried beneath debris.
The 4.7in gun, fallen from its mount to the seabed, was probably never fired in anger, as the torpedo struck close to the stern, and the vessel took only a few minutes to go under.
The Aparima carried passengers and was also a training ship for 30 cadets, so there would have been a fair amount of accommodation – less than on a dedicated liner such as the Kyarra, but more than on most wrecks.
Much of this would have been in the lightly built and wooden parts of the superstructure that have rotted away. Even so, it does leave the possibility of small finds for rummagers.
With such a nice wreck added to my Swanage repertoire, I dip into the Dive Dorset guidebook to see what else could tickle my interest.
Other books may carry greater detail on the wrecks, but Dive Dorset is best for maps and a quick overview.
The Aparima is one of a cluster of wrecks, mostly picked off by U-boats where the paths of ships staying close to the coast became more predictable,
as they turned to avoid Anvil Point and St Alban’s Head. Nearly all had guns.
Almost next door to the Aparima is the Avanti, a 2128-ton steamship torpedoed by UB59 on 2 February, 1918.
By coincidence Richard Styles, skipper of Sha-King from Poole, is taking a day off to dive with us and has taken some video of the Avanti, so when I get a chance to dive it later in the summer I have a fair idea of what to expect.
For a mid-week trip, it’s well booked. More than just one boatload, so the divers are split, with half on Mary-Jo with Bryan and the rest on Sidewinder, with Martin at the helm.
As on the Aparima day, we have beautiful surface conditions. Unlike that day, we have better vis under water, though still not ideal.
The Avanti was carrying a cargo of iron ore from Bilbao. Heavily laden, she rolled as she sank, and now lies broken on the port side, a mountain of ore helping to support the remains of the starboard side of the hull over the wreck.
While the seabed is at 43m, most of the winches and machinery are on top of the ore mountain at just less than 40m and those few metres’ reduction in average depth make a small but welcome difference to decompression.
At the stern, an unused 12-pounder gun sticks barrel-down into the seabed. Amidships, the boilers have rolled and the keel is broken to leave a small but noticeable skew in the line of the wreck.
The next wreck for Swanage Boat Charters is the Baron Garrioch, an 1831-ton “Hungry Hogarth” steamship torpedoed by UC32 on 28 October, 1917. It’s a wreck I have previously dived from Trevor Small’s Rocket out of Poole and, as befits a wartime casualty, it has a gun at the stern.
Trevor’s fellow Poole skipper Richard Styles was diving with me then, and now he is in Swanage to revisit the wreck.
He seems to dive so often that I wonder when he takes his own boat out.
Which brings me to one of the convenient things about Swanage. Divers Down, the dive centre on the pier, runs the boats Swanage Diver and Skua, and it is easy enough to mix and match between Swanage Boat Charters and Divers Down, depending on whose boats are scheduled to go where. On the week of the Swanage Carnival, both dive businesses are featuring a mix of regular and the more adventurous wrecks.
Planning to explore more wrecks that are new to me, I have already arranged to join Pete Williams on Skua for the next few dives.
Over the past couple of tides Pete has been to the Borgny and the Venezuela, wrecks that I have previously dived with a RIB from Lymington and from Poole on Richard Styles’ Sha-King (so he does find time to take his boat out).
The 1149-ton steamship Borgny sank on 26 February, 1918, after a confusing explosion probably caused by a stray mine. The Borgny had no gun, but that wouldn’t matter to divers because the stern is upside-down, so it would have been buried.
The 730-ton steamship Venezuela was torpedoed a few weeks later, on 14 March, by UB59. The 90mm stern-gun was recovered by Swindon BSAC.

FOR MY NEXT DIVE, Pete has a much smaller wreck in mind. One of the local alternatives to the Kyarra is the previously mentioned Carantan, the Free French Chasseur No 5. This tiny warship foundered on 21 December, 1943, while escorting the submarine HMS Rorqual.
A few miles further out and 10m deeper, a lesser-known wreck is another Chasseur, one of two sunk by gunfire from the destroyers of the German 5th Flotilla in the small hours of 12 October, 1940. It is either Chasseur No 6 or 7, with the other still to be found.
Earlier that night, the same German destroyers had sunk the coaster HMS Listrac and armed trawler HMS Warwick Deeping off the Isle of Wight.
I don’t see anything that says No 6 or 7 on the dive, but then I hardly expected such a clue to jump out at me.
What I do see is plenty of gun-mounts for small-calibre guns, ammunition, depth charges and the 75mm main gun, a WW1-vintage field-gun fitted to a small ship completely outclassed by the German destroyers.
I also see Pete at the start of my dive, then second skipper Dave just as I am leaving. With both of them on board Skua, they are taking it in turns to get a shorter dive in either side of slack water while the other looks after the boat.
One of the nice things about Swanage is the number of friendly faces who show up, and not only local divers and skippers. On the Aparima day, well-known photographers Brian and Linda Pitkin were diving under the pier with cameras and macro lenses, hunting for blackfaced blennies.
Another unexpected face is Titch, who owned Swanage Boat Charters before Martin and Bryan Jones. Now retired to a yacht in the Caribbean, he is back for a visit and joins us on Skua as “special guest skipper” for the next dive.
This gives Pete and Dave a bit more time on their dives, though they still split the dive so that one of them is on board when other divers are picked up.
We head out 10 miles to another small wreck that is rarely dived, HMS Sargasso. Dating from 1926, Sargasso was originally a luxury motor yacht, but at the outbreak of WW2 was requisitioned as a DAN buoy layer for the Royal Navy’s 5th Minesweeping Flotilla (DAN buoys were used to mark paths cleared by the minesweepers).
As was often the fate of such vessels, on 6 June, 1943, HMS Sargasso was almost blown in two on striking a mine.
The damage from the explosion is immediately evident once we’re 44m down. The forward third is separated from the aft part of the wreck by several metres. It is evident that the Sargasso hit the seabed stern-first, because the hull and gunwale at the stern is bent inwards into a W shape. Piled on the deck against the gunwale are concrete ring anchors from the DAN buoys.
Having just dived the Chasseur, an interesting contrast is between the small blue-and-white bathroom tiles on the French warship and the larger black-and-white traditional British bathroom tiles on the Sargasso. I find no guns, but a lot of machine-gun ammunition.
My last dive, again from Skua, is to the wreck of the Hazlewood, a 3120-ton steamship that struck a mine laid by UC62 on 19 October, 1917. Here I make a couple of niggling mistakes. On reaching the wreck at 41m, I find I have forgotten to attach a sheet of paper to my slate. Then, at the end of the dive, I reach for my reel and delayed SMB and find that it is not clipped in. Fortunately I haven’t lost it completely.
By themselves, these are not particularly dangerous mistakes. But suppose I had made a similarly trivial mistake with my rebreather Such errors are a warning that I need a rest.
Too much diving, both from Swanage and in the weeks before. Too much staying up late to watch bands playing at the Swanage Carnival. Good job this is my last dive.

ANOTHER MISTAKE, though not mine, becomes apparent as I reach the middle of the wreck. I count three boilers, one too many for the Hazlewood.
Back at my desk, I email Dave Wendes, author of South Coast Shipwrecks off East Dorset and Wight, describing the forward holds as full of bomb-shaped blocks, the three boilers and a part-buried gun at the stern.
Dave’s book is the most recent and the most thoroughly researched diving guide for the area. He gets back to me without hesitation, identifying the wreck as the 3659-ton Fluent, torpedoed by UC65. The row after row of bomb-shaped blocks are harmless steel billets, destined for manufacturing.
There are plenty more wrecks in a similar range from Swanage, many of them wartime ones with guns, but I can happily leave them for next time and the time after.
Swanage sits nicely in the overlap between the ports of Weymouth, Poole and Lymington. My mistake was to mentally box the diving into a small hole in the middle. With both the main dive operators running trips further afield, there are plenty of chances for Swanage regulars to break out of the box.

GETTING THERE: Follow the A351 past Corfe Castle to Swanage and follow the signs for the town centre and pier. Parking on the pier is limited, so arrive early or drop divers and kit and use the car park further up the hill..
DIVING: Skua and Swanage Diver from Diver’s Down, 01929 423565, Sidewinder and Mary-Jo from Swanage Boat Charters, 01929 427064,
AIR: Air and nitrox are available on Swanage Pier from Divers Down.
LAUNCHING: Slip at the Swanage boat park, close to the lifeboat station.
ACCOMMODATION: The are many B&Bs, small hotels and camp sites. Contact Swanage Tourist Information, 01929 422885,
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2615, Bill of Portland to the Needles. Ordnance Survey Map 195, Bournemouth, Purbeck and Surrounding Area. South Coast Shipwrecks of East Dorset and Wight, by Dave Wendes. Dive Dorset, by John & Vicki Hinchcliffe. Dorset Shipwrecks by Steve Shovlar.