Portland, The M2 and The Countess of Erne

Five members of the club took a trip to Portland, Dorset on Saturday 5th November to dive the M2 submarine wreck (35mtrs max) and the Countess of Erne wreck (14mtrs max). This was the second attempt to dive the M2 submarine, the first being cancelled due to poor weather.

The divers were Steve Wasilewski-Norman, George Hooper, Adrian Heathcote, Oliver Sweeney and Tony Hollard. We were booked on the dive boat Skin Deep, a catamaran, run by Skin Deep Divers.

The M2 submarine is a unique and iconic dive. It was a British sub built in 1919 and was converted to the worlds first submarine aircraft carrier in 1927. It had on its deck a hanger which housed an aircraft. This was a new innovation which was to have tragic consequences. Whilst carrying out training off the coast of Dorset in 1932, the sub submerged but had not closed the hanger door completely. This flooded the sub causing it to sink with the loss of 60 crew. It is classed as a protected site.

The Countess of Erne started life as a paddle steamer, built in 1868 in Dublin. She was later converted to a coal haulage vessel for various ports and finally ended up in Portland harbour. In 1935 she broke her moorings and collided with the harbour wall, causing her to sink.

The weather on the dive day was exceptionally good for the time of year, sunny with some cloud. The wind was an acceptable 12-15mph, making the boat journey to the dive sites comfortable. However the air temperature was cooler than the water temperature. I think we were all amazed that during the summer dives were always being cancelled due t the weather, but during the winter we had conditions more akin to the summer. Due to the ropes of time being 11am for the first dive, we were able to travel down to Portland in the morning. The facilities at Portland harbour make for a nice start to your dive day. The hot tea and bacon buttie at the café sets you up nicely. The warm changing facilities were also well received.

Boat loaded, first hot drink on board served, skippers brief given, we set of for the first dive, the M2. The journey took in some spectacular sites of the Dorset Jurassic coastline. Once the wreck had been shotted and the current became slack, the first divers were dropped in. This was George and Adrian, followed by myself and Oliver. Unfortunately Tony, having made the journey to Portland and the trip out to the site, was feeling unwell and made the decision not to dive. This demonstrated experience on his behalf, making the correct call. We can always dive another day. Never put yourself or your buddy at risk if you are not fit to dive.

The visibility on the dive was quite good. The shot had been dropped right by the hanger and conning tower. Our first stop was the hanger and despite a little silt inside we were able to enter and look around. There is no penetration anywhere else on the M2, but still plenty to see. If you looked in some of the nooks, you would see large Conger eels staring back at you. All around the wreck and particularly under the stern were schools of very large Pollack, some almost a metre in length. Other marine life included Blennies, lobsters and crabs. Oliver spotted a large lobster in one part of the wreck and lit it up with his torch. This upset the lobster, as right near it was a large conger eel. The lobster did not want to be its dinner and tried to scurry away. The dive time started to tick away quite quickly and we soon entered deco stop time. Oliver and I decided to do a little longer, because we had a good gas supply. But very quickly the deco stop time shot up. We ended up with 18mins decompression stop by the time we reached 6mtrs. Next time I will take a book with me. Despite everyone else waiting for us on the surface staring at our DSMB, we were not the last to surface.
The CCR diver came up after us, JUST!

We headed back to port and Oliver was given the task of jumping off the boat and tying off the mooring line to the bow as the boat coasted in. We all watched, camera phones at the ready waiting for him to fall in, how disappointed were we! No £250 coming our way. I did refuse to sign off his boatmanship SDC though.

Following a short stop back in port we headed out to the Countess of Erne wreck, our second dive. This wreck was within the harbour wall and so not subject to the same currents as the M2. This dive was not as good as the first dive. Visibility was poor. The site was very silty and had been recently dived so the silt had been stirred up. This site is good for practising your buoyancy and trim, because of the silt. Calvert does set you up to dive this site. The marine life was not as good, but only to be expected because of its location. It was still a pleasant dive and there were some interesting things to look at. There were opportunities to penetrate this wreck and because it was reasonably shallow, there was plenty of light. Once we had covered the wreck from bow to stern a couple of times, we all surfaced, without deco stops!

Those of us that did dive had a very god day. Weather was great, if a little fresh. Water temperature was good, 14 degrees at 30mtrs. M2 wreck superb and a reminder of the sacrifice submariners have made, even in training. The Countess of Erne a pleasant second dive. The dive boat was great and Ed the skipper very pleasant. The continued hot drinks helped too. However I thought Oliver expecting marshmallows in his hot chocolate was a bit cheeky.

I will be looking at going back to dive the M2 again sometime and hopefully some other members will join me.

Steve Wasilewski-Norman
Training & Welfare Officer.