Swanage Pier – Newbury beginners take the stage by Owen Price
Matt, our newly qualified Dive Leader (dive manager) and Roger and me (Owen), recently qualified Ocean Divers hit Swanage Pier this weekend. An early start found us at Swanage a little before 0800, with plenty of parking still available at the pier car park. The attendants were apologetic that they were not charging (!) for diving as the pier was still under maintenance. Nine pounds sterling is a pretty good rate for two (or three) dives (split between car passengers).
High water was not until 1130, so we made a beeline for the local café. I ordered a ‘regular’ English breakfast and half wished that I had ordered something lighter – 2 eggs, 2 sausage, 2 rashers of bacon, 2 large hash brown, a pile of toast, and beans – but it set me up for the day. I did ask the dive manager not to rush us to the first dive.
When we got back to the the car park it was busy with many cars disgorging divers to hard boats to visit the Fleur de Lys and the Kyarra, Old Harry and Peveril Ledges. Portsmouth University SCUBA club was kitting up to dive the pier, so we were not short of company.
A short walk in full kit and a precarious shuffle down the steps set us up for our first dive on the ‘new’ pier. I performed my usual, uncomfortable routine to don my fins on the bottom step – thank God for dive buddies.
This was Roger’s and my first shallow sea dive. I chose thinner under-socks to help with my weighting and it paid off. Roger, bravely tried his new dry suit in open water for the first time. It was also his first dive since qualifying. We were both surprised at how tricky it is to maintain neutral buoyancy in ~4m depth.
Nonetheless, we had fun watching plenty of wildlife; crabs never get tiring. The shallow depth also allowed us the advantage of a warm, lengthy dive with no ‘range’ anxiety. (I drive a hybrid car, but I already worry about it in anticipation of going all electric).
Storm Hector, fortunately stayed north of us. The weather stayed mild and dry after our first dive. I would have ordinarily said, ‘over lunch,’ but was still digesting that large (second) breakfast and drank tea as a prudent alternative. The Divers Down shop kindly allowed us to use their pontoon for our second dive to access the old pier, as long as we kept clear of the midday hard boat departure, used an SMB, kitted up well before the pontoon to minimise our time on it and returned via the new pier to avoid boat hazards.
The old pier was a very different experience for us. It remained technically tricky to maintain neutral buoyancy, but we had our ‘eyes in.’ The main difference was the greenery. Unlike the new pier, which was largely covered and in shadow, the old pier was open to the sunshine. It was a great, green nursery for the forna of both piers; and pretty too.
The visibility was just sufficient for out pile-to-pile navigation outbound and just insufficient for out pile-to-open water navigation back. We had no less than three surface trips to ‘eyeball’ the next pile on the way back, having all previously agreed that there was no need to wear a compass! (And I had recently been signed off on my Sports Diver compass training).
However, in summary this is a truly great British dive site – lots to see; shallow depth and thus safe; well supported by a dive store and many other local amenities; and it is pretty with sandy beaches and an unusually well-kept seaside town.
If you have not been; give it a try!