St Dunstan and Dolphins, by Ben Mitchell

St Dunstan and Dolphins, by Ben Mitchell

During the week before this dive, the forecast for this particular dive day had quite a few people excited about its potential. Reports of less than force 1 winds and beautiful sunshine meant that the plan of trying to go around Portland Bill and over to West Bay was looking quite possible.

Five Newbury Scuba Diving Club divers and their cox all arrived early to load their kit onto the club boat and set off for a long journey to the planned dive site.

The sea state was absolutely perfect, almost no wind giving glassy smooth water allowing us to cruise happily at twenty plus knots all the way to the site of a wreck called The Saint Dunstan.

The Saint Dunstan was a World War I era bucket dredger that had been requisitioned into service as a mine-sweeper to help keep the shipping lanes open. It was sunk in 1917, and was the final ship out of 98 believed to be sent to the bottom by U-boat UC21 during the first world war.

After over an hour of travel, we arrived at the wreck site just as a commercial boat was collecting its divers. On Neaps, the window for the Dunstan is very wide and as such we had the wreck all to ourselves with only the slightest current to speak of. Finding the wreck with the sounder and getting a shot onto it was extremely easy as it sits quite proud of the sea bed.

We divided into two groups, Cameron and Hilda dropping in first, followed by Andy, Ian and myself. Not long after starting our descent, Andy spotted a big jellyfish and pointed it out to us. When we hit the bottom a few minutes later, it became clear that the jellyfish wasn’t the only life about as we were treated to huge schools of Bib, a big monkfish, at least one lobster and numerous conger eels (as well as a blue rubber glove that for a moment looked like a huge conger eel).

Aside from the abundance of life, the wreck was definitely worth the long trip out to it with plenty of recognisable sections. Andy had been keen to locate at least one of the propellers and wasn’t disappointed when the starboard one was spotted. We were also treated to a donkey engine and plenty of easily recognisable parts of the dredging mechanism including buckets, big pulleys, the huge hinged doors and my personal highlight, the absolutely gargantuan drive gears.

There were a few opportunities for swim throughs due to gaps in the hull plates, and we managed to spend a good 35 minutes at a depth of 30 metres enjoying the wreck. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and we sent up our marker buoys to end the dive. The Saint Dunstan is definitely a wreck that I’m keen to revisit when I can.

Once our cox Matt had helped recover us all and kit was stowed, Andy suggested that we take a quick detour while we were out to see if we could find the site of the Moidart, another wreck not far away that he was hoping to target on a future trip.

This turned out to be an extremely good idea, as about halfway towards the Moidart a pod of dolphins was spotted. They treated us to a fantastic show, leaping out of the water, coming in close and diving under the boat. This pleasant distraction had everyone aboard reaching for their cameras as we stopped and enjoyed their company for ten minutes or so. A real cherry on the top of a great dive.

We continued onto the Moidart finding it easily on the sounder and seeing it stand up 7 metres above the seabed, Matt being two for two wrecks found first time. Another good dive to look forward to and as the weather had been so fantastic, we opted to have our lunch aboard the boat calmly bobbing above the wreck rather than racing back to castle town as we’d planned.

With lunch finished, we turned our thoughts to dinner (specifically scallops), and so we started the journey back to Portland in order to get this sorted out. Another hour cruising along at 22 knots and we reached the location for our second dive of the day.
A good little drift dive off of Grove Point, resulting in several bags filled with good sized scallops as a reward for our work.

With this done, there was little else to do but to finish the day up with the usual activities. Refuelling the boat ready for the next crew, returning to Ferrybridge, packing up and washing the boat down, followed by a nice drink in the sun at Billy Winters before we started our journeys back home to Newbury.

All in all a good day on the water had by all, and hopefully a sign of more good diving to come this year!

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