Freesteel Blog » Dorset Kayak Diving

Dorset Kayak Diving

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019 at 11:47 am Written by:

The Jurassic coast has been the top of my list for a big kayak diving adventure for a while. Enough so that I invested in a copy of a 2015 guidebook called Dorset Dives (review article), which is more of a picture book with some dodgy dive site information, rather than a quality guide book with some crappy photos to break up the text.

It was not great weather at the start of September, but this is the time to take advantage of the gap between the start of the school term and the University term when the season is winding down. We’re trying to economize now that Becka is working half-time and has too many days not to “waste” being at home.

We drove down to Reading on Tuesday 3 September and then on to Durdle Door Holiday Park (via a grumpy dive cylinder filling station on Swanage Pier) with two dive kayaks on the roof, two full sets of dive gear including four tanks, three drysuits, two wetsuits, a cheap pop up tent, a trangia cooking stove and two bikes rammed into the car getting crushed by all the stuff slumping onto them. We had to return after we set off to pick up the sleeping bags I’d forgotten.

The tent pitching ground is in a crow-infested forest. Crows poop just as much as pidgeons, except it’s brown so you don’t see it on the ground. They also make a lot of noise. We walked down to Durdle Door and attempted to walk barefoot on the gravel beach to Bat’s Head. This hurt too much, so we put our sandles back on, which instantly filled with gravel and didn’t make much difference. We got changed and swam through the Bat’s Hole (natural arch) to the other beach and felt better for the cold water experience.

That evening we walked to Lulworth Cove where the chip shop was already closed, but the pub wasn’t.

Thursday 5 September was calm enough weather to kayak-dive out of Lulworth cove going west towards Durdle Door. Going in the other direction was not allowed as it’s a live firing range on weekdays.

First dive was on a promising looking reef out from Bat’s Head called The Cow. The other reefs in the same line with Durdle Door are: The Calf, The Blind Cow, and The Bull. There was nothing interesting on The Cow, so we gave The Bull a miss and went straight to the dive on Durdle Door, where the guidebook says this:

Luckily I’d hunted around the internet for some better clues and knew only that it was at the other end on the seaward side and had a skylight.

We ignored the arch, which was all stirred up and wavy, and dropped down in the middle of the wall and swam east.

Becka gave an erroneous thumbs up after some cuttlefish action (the critter shows up only a few pixels wide on the gopro) where it went from black to stripy and then white. One day someone’s going to brain-hack these critters and make them display advertising.

Then we found the cave, which was huge and amazing, and is approximately here:

As usual, her drysuit leaked horribly. We were late back to shore and almost missed our ice-cream as everywhere shuts up early. I had wondered why I’d seen the local sea-kayakers getting their ice-creams in before they went paddling.

After an evening walk down to the shore from the Ringstead (a hang-gliding site I’d like to fly one day) collecting unripe sloe berries, we set up camp at Wyke Regis between Weymouth and the Fleet behind Chesil Beach. It was turning cold and windy and I was allowed fish and chips instead of some veggies cooked on the trangia.

On Friday 6 September a storm blew in from the West and my bike had a flat tire. Luckily the local specialist bike frame builder in walking distance of the campsite was willing to sell just an inner tube.

We spent the day pottering around the Isle of Portland going via St George’s Church to Pulpit Rock, which of course got climbed in spite of the weather.

Then back along the east side via Church Ope Cove to lunch in Sugar Load Cafe (more chips).

We dropped in on the local drysuit manufacturer for a fitting experience and nearly got upsold from their rufty tufty commercial diving suit (which fitted Becka everywhere except being wide on the belly) to their girly tailored next one up (which didn’t fit at all). However, pinching and marking out of the excess material, then trimming and re-gluing is included in the price of the fancy suit, and is not part of the cost of the basic suit, so it would come to the same price, they argued. Oddly, this is the way I have made drysuits in the past. They’ve not got an open source computer model of the human body against which to model these suits. One day in the future there will be one, and then everything will computer modeled and fit perfectly, and it will be amazing.

After a spin round Weymouth past the pavilion and the sand sculptures, we spent a second night in Wyke Regis finishing the wine bottle so that Becka could decant gin and the rock-hard unripe sloe berries into it.

We went to Kimmeridge Bay for Saturday morning (£10 if there are boats on the car) and paddled east to St Alban’s Head along surprisingly black cliffs in wetsuits this time with the intention of doing some snorkelling. However the water was quite murky and shallow most of the way, so we didn’t bother after my one attempt to check out what a buoy was anchored to, and hopped out of the kayak with my mask and snorkel only to find that the water was waist deep.

There were fossils everywhere on the shoreline.

After a night at Steeple Lease Farm without any beer and, more importantly, without any firewood (just about every encampment group had a fire; it is this campsite’s thing), we got up at 7am to go down to Kimmeridge because the 5km long paddle over to Worbarrow bay with two tanks on each kayak was going to take a long time. This was only attempted because the sea was flat calm, and we could dump the spare cylinders on a beach before heading much further out into the bay to investigate the bow section of the Black Hawk Liberty ship.

I wasn’t necessarily going to do a dive this deep and this far out to sea alone on our kayaks, but it’s logically just as safe as normal sea kayaking if you only get set up on the surface and then choose not to dive. By this reasoning I intentionally put off the final decision about whether to dive until the last moment in case circumstances change. Which they did.

There was already a shotline at the position given by the GPS coordinates. I dropped the anchor a couple of times nearby and it failed to hook any wreckage. The wind blew us inshore relative to the shotline and I could feel the anchor plowing a groove in the sand.

Then a big diveboat RIB turned up out of nowhere. It was their shot on the wreck. They had nearly been ready to dive an hour earlier when they discovered they had forgotten something and had to drive back to Lulworth Cove to fetch it. They said there was not much of the wreck to hook on to, so it was not surprising I couldn’t get the anchor to bite. They let us go down their shotline while Becka carried the anchor. Also, as they had divers going in after us, they’d be around in case of a serious cock-up. It would not have been possible to plan the timing to be this perfect.

At first we couldn’t find the wreck, so we did a long circuit around shotline consoling ourselves with actions of a dustbin lid sized turbot, a cuttlefish and a thornback ray.

Then we got to the metal bits, which obviously could have caught the anchor had I been dropping it in anywhere on the wreckage. With the number of strange animals and shoals of different fish, this quickly became the best dive of the year.

There was this dippy conger eel who had gone so far back into its hole that its purple tail was poking out the back. We were down for about an hour, thoroughly enjoying it.

The water was warm, Becka was dry (having nicked my good drysuit for this dive), and we got smiles.

Second dive was on Worbarrow Tout after a slight disaster with a tank o-ring that didn’t fit.

It was nothing like as interesting, and we didn’t find the wreck of the barge in spite of going back and forth along the cliffs several times. This was frustrating as a lot of the boulders and rocks looked like shipwrecks from a distance as you approached them.

We paddled back, had a very late lunch by the Clavell Tower, loaded up and drove off, arriving home in Liverpool at 2am.

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