Excellent dive yesterday on HMS Brazen (H80) with Mutiny Diving out of Dover. The advertised plan was a dive to SS W.A. Scholten on Saturday and the SS Nunima on Sunday. My buddy for the weekend was Peter and as the preparations for the weekend progressed, we made two individual bookings at the Dover Travelodge as Sunday was already looking like a possible blowout.
Arriving at Dover that Friday evening at different times, Peter, I and Louis agreed to meet in the Travelodge bar. I have to say that the Guinness is always a perfect pint here, but this evening it was pouring quite flat rather than a smooth creamy head. Not to worry, we have tasted worse and the staff needed not to apologise.
Saturday morning was forecast a light westerly wind and as we arrived at the marina car park, it was indeed a calm day albeit overcast. Ropes off were at 08.15am this morning, so it was an earlier meet time to set up our kit. Several Border Force officers were meeting too as with calm waters, today was a good day for migrant crossings.
There were only five divers aboard Maverick today; Peter, me, Louis, Tao and Tom. Plenty of room onboard. Welcomed aboard by Chris and Tom, I asked if there was any hot water? Unfortunately, there have been Calor Gas supply issues for several months and hence no hot water for a brew. However, with a little pre-dive preparation, I presented Chris with my two-litre Thermos flask to smiles from the other divers for our post-dive cuppa. We were soon settled in, signed in and cast off.
Run time to the Brazen was around 40 minutes. As forecast, minimal swell and winds. There were some Border Force and RNLI vessels already on the water as we left port and it soon became apparent that today would be a big migrant crossing day. Our thoughts were soon realised as Maverick’s VHF radio soon started to pick up chatter to Coastguard from commercial vessels and pleasure craft, commenting on dinghy sightings.
Arriving on-site and with the shot deployed, Tom jumped first to tie in. The four of us remaining would then lemming jump on the horn.
Peter and I had a plan of around 50 minutes run time. Neither of us took any deco cylinders and planned our ascent on the earlier of either TTS 10 minutes, 100 bar or if the tide turned. This coincidently mirrored Chris’s recommendation, especially as today’s tide was a flooding spring. It was agreed that all divers would surface on a DSMB, Chris announcing that our run times should be similar so we would all drift in the same direction at similar times. At the end of the dive, Chris said that once he saw five blobs, he would pull the shot and follow us. Thus, if we surfaced earlier it may be a short wait for pickup if less than five blobs were visible.
As Peter and I hit the bottom, it was dark. At this point in the dive, I like another tactile touch of cylinder valves and regulator exchange to ensure everything is working in case of buddy separation. Unfortunately, my Light-For-Me canister torch is being repaired and with Peter lending me his spare primary, I left my Go-Pro and video lights back on board, which I had planned as my primary lights for the dive. A decision I will soon live to regret.
Visibility was around two metres I guess and dark. A contrast to the 15 metres from our summer dive on HMS Brazen. The current was still running a little and once settled, Peter and I set off from the shot. At first, we did not know which way to swim, but that soon became obvious in that we would run with the gentle current. There was certainly some particulate in the water but the torch lights of all five divers in the vicinity made for a spectacular light show between the skeletal remains of the wreck infrastructure. Stopping and pausing to look into nooks and crannies, such low visibility diving allows one to focus on smaller areas. It’s amazing what you can see in the dark.
Around twenty minutes into the dive, we came across a cleat. To me, that meant we were either close to the bow or stern and as we followed the metalwork, we soon came across the bow of the ship. Slightly listing on her starboard side, we turned to see her port side anchor. As I mentioned, it was at this point I soon regretted not taking my Go-Pro.
Brazen sits on a sand and shingle sea bed which like desert sand dunes, contours in different directions. Being I was on a 27% Nitrox back gas and Peter on a richer 32% (long story), I signalled Peter I had 8 minutes TTS. However, he had spotted something on the seabed a few metres away that he wanted to investigate. It appeared to be some kind of copper lampshade and it was as if I could read his mind. “How the hell can I get this to the surface?” Suffice to say, we were reaching 25 minutes of bottom time, a TTS of 9 minutes and the current was turning. In agreement, we signalled our ascent and deployed my DSMB, Peter running his secondary DSMB up my line as the protocol to show Chris two divers are ascending one line.
A perfect dive and once on the surface, we could see Maverick a short way away with Tao on board. A thoughtful moment; it was a consensus agreement that life could be worse than bobbing around in the English Channel.
Back on board, there was not much time for pleasantries as while we were enjoying ourselves underwater, Chris had spotted a migrant dinghy. Having radio contact with Coastguard and I’m not sure exactly why we had to follow the dinghy until Border Force arrived. With Tom and Louis back on board, we headed towards the dinghy. As we drew closer, there were cries of jubilation from some of the occupants with arm gestures from one not to come too close, holding a child in the air.
Time for a brew and dispensing hot water from the Thermos into three mugs and decanting those tea and coffees into three more, there was just enough for us six. Gratitudes all around and Tao broke open a couple of his Snickers bars to share around too as we continued to follow the migrant boat with our delight of breaching porpoises on the surface.
It was not long before Border Force arrived on the scene at which time, someone from the migrant dinghy threw something overboard. From what I understand, these migrants throw their documents away if they think they will be apprehended before landfall.
All good and it was off back to the Port of Dover.
Remember I wrote that Peter and I had two different reservations at the Travelodge? Well it was now past our midday cancellation deadline and with Sunday’s forecast showing 3-metre swells and Beaufort 7 gusts by midday, it was a joint decision that we have lunch in Cullins Yard and stay the night.
Showered and with party frocks adorned, we met back in Cullins. A few beers sunk and it was another agreement that we would visit the Cinnamon Island Indian restaurant. We had it on good authority from the Travelodge bar staff that the food was good and the restaurant a good reputation.
Settling down for dinner, stories of diving and aspirations continued. At which point I told a story of my recent ancestry investigations and that unbeknown until Wednesday this week, I had a great great great uncle Joe. Uncle Joe was one Joseph Phillips, Stocker 1st Class as lost on HMS Fortune (H30) during the Battle of Jutland, May 31st / June 1st 1916. With my investigations showing that HMS Fortune was a protected wreck under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, she does not have a controlled space which means in theory we can dive her with a no-touch mandate. With a couple of Cobra’s downed and several popadoms consumed, it was a case of what-if scenarios and “could we” logistical discussions. For sure, this would not be a dive trip or expedition, but more an adventure and mission. With Wrecksite.EU showing her at 42m, HMS Fortune would be within the reach of us all, but it would be a costly and logistic plan, but doable and worthy of future investigation. So watch this space.
So with ablutions out of the way, Peter, Louis and I headed down to the Happy Cafe for breakfast with Chris and Tom. Some with jaded heads, a full English was the order of the day.
More diving discussions and having previously written a piece here about the sinking of HMT Othello II and the Admiralty policy change at the time to replace steel doors with canvass doors and curtains to save future lives, I have spoken to Chris that we can perhaps have an “Othello II” long weekend in 2022 where we dive the four wrecks of HMT Othello II, HMY Aries, SS Eidsiva and SS Toward in a long weekend. As part of that research, I have wanted to visit the memorial of one of the men lost from Othello II, a Frederick James Butt at the St James Cemetery here in Dover.
After breakfast and as we all said our goodbyes, Peter and I nipped up to the St James’ Cemetery to try and find the memorial to Frederick Butt. And there he was, next to H Alward, Third Engineer, Mercantile Marine Reserve of HMT Aries. Amazing to see so many memorials, especially HMS Paragon which I will now also add to the dive list.