WHILE IT TAKES me three separate loads to carry all my diving and photographic kit to the boarding pontoon, other divers bring flat trolleys that fit everything in a single load, with a simple flat base on small-wheeled castors and a handle at one end. It marks them as regulars on Wight Spirit, because this design of trolley is optimised for Lymington.
Anywhere with steps, bumps or even anti-slip ribs on the ramp down to the pontoon, and such a design would run into trouble. In Lymington, the surface is relatively even, and low, flat trolleys with small wheels are ideal.
They also pack up easily into the back of cars and vans.
I recognise some of the regulars from my last trip here, when we had been diving the type-VIIC U-boat U480.
A nephew of one of the crew had come all the way from Australia to dive with his brother, who had travelled from Germany.
Our first dive this time round is a follow-up from the U480 trip. The 40m-deep wreck of the steamship Clarinda had been one of the warm-up dives for U480, and I have a partly completed sketch that I aim to finish.
The 1075-ton Clarinda was carrying coal from Cardiff to Kronstadt in the Baltic when, on 17 October 1885, the steamship Tern was overtaking and the two ships collided. The Tern survived the collision and rescued the Clarinda’s crew.
I wouldn’t normally go into such a wild digression, but the stories of Cork Steamship Co’s sister-ships Tern, Widgeon and Lapwing share a theme of misfortune at the helm and, I suspect, an excess of potcheen.
In 1871 the Widgeon was the first of the three to be sunk, in a collision off the Eddystone, taking the sailing ship Madagascar with it.
Then, in 1872, the Lapwing sank following a collision with the barque Abbey Holm, ironically within a few miles of where the Tern finished off the Clarinda in 1885. Finally, in 1887 the Tern was lost in a collision off the Smalls in Pembrokeshire.

THE WIGHT SPIRIT REGULARS have their “bagged” spots on the kitting-up benches, so I get the last free space by the shot-barrel. It suits me fine, because it is also under the awning and out of the spray. Not that I really need the shelter while the sea is flat-calm, but it may come in useful later.
We are soon out past the Needles and heading off south. Skipper Dave Wendes drops the throttle back. In the calm sea we are making good time, and there is no point arriving too early.
With the Isle of Wight receding into the distance, the water looks nice and clear. It must have been a random patch, because by the time we’re on the wreck, the visibility is a low average for the area.
With my self-directed task for the dive being to complete what I hadn’t finished last time, I had toyed with the idea of not spending that long on the wreck.
This idea soon proves misplaced, as I allow my attention to be diverted by various photogenic critters such as lobsters and conger eels.
That isn’t to say that I overstayed my plan. I had planned for a long dive, considered shortening it, but stayed for the long dive anyway. The Clarinda is set for a Wreck Tour later this year.
For the next wreck, we pass The Needles and turn left. In fact we do this every day for the rest of the week, as the focus of our diving shifts round the back of the Isle of Wight.
Dave picked a week of small spring tides with this in mind. Why not neap tides On neaps, the high-water slack would have been either ridiculously early or late in the day. Why not low water On high water we should have better visibility.
On a boat heavily laden with twin-sets, deco cylinders and rebreathers, using the tide also cuts a fair bit off the journey times. We have the flood tide with us from the Needles to the wreck, then the ebb tide back to the Needles on the way home.
Again we pass through a patch of clear water before returning to grainy water for the dive. There seems to be no predictable pattern to it.
The 1870-ton Belgian steamship Londonier was a WW1 victim of UC71, torpedoed on 13 March, 1918.
Last in the water by virtue of my location on the benches, I have the benefit of seeing that the other divers are loitering close to the engine and boilers, or are already heading aft.
I head forwards to stay clear of any rummaging, easily finding my way to a well-broken bow before turning back to see the other half of the ship.
The torpedoes from UC71 struck the port side of the engine-room. While the hull has collapsed, so confusing any damage from the explosion, the back of the Londonier was definitely broken before it hit the seabed, as the line of the wreck shifts 20 or 30° between the forward and aft parts.
The stern part is similarly broken to the bow, with a 12-pounder gun and its mount fallen to starboard and a scattering of shell-cases nearby.
On the way home, Dave has some new numbers to investigate. The magnetometer is laid out and towed behind us as he runs a search pattern at low speed. If Dave finds a wreck, we could be diving virgin metal tomorrow, or later in the week.
We now experience the disadvantage of using the tide to get to the wreck and home again. On the return journey, we have wind against tide on the back of the Isle of Wight. We are not in the overfalls by St Catherine’s Point, but even on a calm day the waves pick up short and sharp.
On a straight course it isn’t so bad, but running boxes we’re all over the place. After an hour or more without a twitch from the magnetometer, we give up and head for home.
Back in Lymington, the Mayflower Inn backs onto the marina, and the garden is an excellent location for some additional decompression, a bite to eat and to plan out the next three days of wrecks. The aim is to continue with lesser-known wrecks at 40m-ish on the back of the Isle of Wight. Even so, we are spoilt for choice.
Our next wreck is suspected to be the South Western, a passenger ferry operated by the London & South Western Railway Co to the Channel Islands and another WW1 U-boat victim, having been torpedoed by UB59 on 16 March, 1918.
The wreck used to be mostly covered by a sand-bank. This has now shifted to leave more of it exposed, but it’s still difficult to be certain whether a missing winch or gun is buried in the sand, or was never there in the first place.
It also makes it difficult to judge just how big it is, but in retrospect it does seem to be a little large for the South Western’s 674 tons and 68m length.

DAVE USES THE DAILY shift of the tides to leave Lymington at the usual time and head a few miles further out from St Catherine’s Point to the wreck of the Daylesford. With this 1406-ton steamship, we are back on loss by collision. On 1 April, 1911, the schooner Publin sliced into the side of the Daylesford in fog.
The Daylesford went down fairly quickly, but not before the crew had scrambled on board the Publin.
With a cargo of wood and the crew pumping hard, the Publin stayed afloat for another two hours before both crews escaped in the Publin’s boats.
The wreck of the Publin has still to be found somewhere off St Catherine’s Point. Could it be the target we failed to locate with the magnetometer
Visibility further offshore is a little better, so while the wreck is deeper in 45m I can see well enough to get round it and decompress in pretty much the same overall runtime as the previous 40m wrecks of the trip.
With collision damage aft, that part of the wreck has obviously fallen apart more quickly and become more dispersed. The rudder-post is noticeably bent where the Daylesford settled by the stern and would have dragged a bit, with the stern digging into the seabed before the wreck finally settled.
By the last day, my spot on the bench by the shot-barrel is well-established.
A new diver joins us, and before I know it the rest of the team have moved him on from my spot, where he had begun to assemble his kit.

WE FINISH WITH A WRECK that could be the Pandion. On 15 March, 1917, the 1279-ton steamship Pandion was involved in a collision with the 6504-ton Northwestern Millar. The Pandion obviously came off far worse, while the Northwestern Millar survived.
By coincidence, The Pandion was another ship of the Cork Steamship Co. ‘Nuff said.
The identification was only tentative, and I soon have my doubts. The overturned wreck is just too small, even with the foremost section of the bow missing. The Pandion also had a donkey boiler, but there is no sign of it in front of the two main boilers, and there is no room for a donkey boiler beneath the inverted hull.
Back on board Wight Spirit, I am greeted with important news. Hamish has found some cutlery bearing London & South Western Railway Co markings. The wreck can only be the South Western. It is about the right size and has the right machinery configuration.
Which leaves one big question. What was the wreck we dived a few days ago, the one recently uncovered from the sand-bank
It is not until a couple of weeks later that Dave has an answer. His local archaeology divers have made good use of their tape-measures to work out the length of the wreck, now that enough of it is out of the sand.
The size and configuration suggest that it could be the Saxmundham, a 1632-ton steamship that sank in a collision with the barque Nor on 4 November, 1888.
Both ships were lost, and the crew were in the boats all night before being picked up off St Catherine’s Point and taken ashore in Weymouth.

Pick any area with wrecks at around 40m and ask the charter-boat skippers. They will tell you that many of these are the wrecks that are least dived.
They used to be dived, back in the days of air-only diving. Before nitrox, trimix and accelerated decompression, they were considered deep dives; 40m wrecks were the dives advanced and experienced divers did.
These days, those qualified to go past 40m, with all the decompression a decent time on the wreck entails, usually go deeper still on trimix.
Those who want longer dives without the hassle don’t go that far past 30m, where bottom times are friendlier and nitrox can make a big difference.
The consequence is that at around 40m there are many wrecks that don’t get dived so often.
Well, some famous wrecks do, but there are plenty of lesser-known ones that barely see a boatload of divers in a season, if that.
What’s more, many of these 40m wrecks are close to virgin. Back in the old days, 40m wreck dives on air would be short. Divers would be high on nitrogen. Gas supplies were smaller, and anything much beyond a no-stop dive accumulated prohibitive amounts of decompression.
Diving suits and undersuits were not as good, so cold also discouraged longer dives.
While these wrecks may have seen a greater share of the diving, the divers won’t have seen so much of the wrecks!
Take all this, then apply it to an area that has plenty of 40m wrecks but not that many divers, like the back of the Isle of Wight, and the benefits compound.
GETTING THERE: From the roundabout at the M27 J1, turn south on the A337 through Lyndhurst and continue to Lymington. Head towards the town centre, until the road takes a sharp right turn uphill to the high street. Continue straight on and follow the road downhill to the river and marinas
DIVING: Wight Spirit, skipper Dave Wendes, 02380 270390, www.wightspirit.co.uk.
AIR: TAL Scuba, Christchurch, 01202 473030. Forward Diving, Poole, 01202 677128, www.forwarddiving.co.uk
ACCOMMODATION: The New Forest is a popular tourist area, with all levels of accommodation from camping to hotels readily available. 01590 689000, www.thenewforest.co.uk
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2045, Outer Approaches to the Solent. Admiralty Chart 2615, Bill of Portland to the Needles. Ordnance Survey Map 196, The Solent & the Isle of Wight. South Coast Shipwrecks of East Dorset and Wight by Dave Wendes. Dive Wight and Hampshire, by Martin Pritchard & Kendall McDonald. Dive Dorset by John & Vicki Hinchcliffe.