This article first appeared in SubSea magazine in 2008.
Late Season Favourites
Poor weather at the height of the summer meant a late season for many Irish divers. John Collins reflects on some late season dives on the south coast.
Words and Photographs by John Collins, Kinsale.
Late December is the traditional time to reflect on the year that is about to finish and Met Éireann tell us that despite the washout of a summer, this year has been the warmest on record. This will come as little consolation to those of us that had planned our diving days around mid-summer, when each passing weekend seemed to bring an endless cycle of non-diving conditions. I had started the season with great enthusiasm in April, testing a high-definition video set-up, which showed great promise for a planned home-waters film.
With little more than a few minutes of useful video clips, late August was looming – complete with talk of schoolbooks in our house – and I was beginning to think the entire season was going to be a washout. But the rain clouds eventually gave way to blue skies and settled weather in late August and continued into September and all was not lost. Here, on the south coast, this coincided with the launch of a very promising dive charter boat ‘Oisre’ (pronounced ‘osh-re’ – Irish for Oyster) which opened up the possibility of some late season favorites from Cork harbour to the Old Head of Kinsale, including the marvelous Ling Rocks.
The boat is an Excalibur 880D built by Gael Force Ventures in Cork and is powered by a 260HP inboard diesel engine. She is quick, stable and very comfortable with plenty of room to kit up and stow delicates like camera housings. Even long runs from Oyster Haven to the wreck of the ‘Santo’ east of Cork Harbour passed quickly and wise use of GPS, echo sounder and experience put us spot on the dive sites. The ‘Santo’ or ‘Sante’ is a popular harbour wreck in 25 metres with plenty of recognizable parts of the ship to keep you occupied for a nice nitrox NDL time. It sank in 1900, just after Christmas and according to Tony O’Mahony’s excellent www.corkshipwrecks.net, she was bound for Taiwan on her maiden voyage from the builders yard in Scotland. It was a stern bucket dredger, clearly not designed to take a battering from a winter storm off our south coast and sank with the loss of twelve lives. It is a tidy wreck and is easily navigated as the line of dredging buckets gives visual and directional orientation.
An equally easy dive is the wreck of the ‘Clifton’ in 33 metres, not far from the ‘Aud’ off the Smiths Bank. Visibility is usually better here and this tidy wreck is home to some lovely schools of pouting or bib. She was a 125 ft, 250 ton armed trawler pressed into minesweeping service during World War I and sank rapidly after striking one of the mines she was trying to clear, leaving only a single survivor. The wreck is broken but not flattened, leaving some nice exploring to be done. I filmed this very picturesque wreck over a couple of dives and enjoyed it immensely, getting some nice footage to boot.
We also managed a couple of late season dips on the Ling Rocks, six miles south of Oysterhaven. These rocky peaks, rising to 20 metres from depth, are probably the best scenic dive east of Galley Head. Sheer rock faces are blanketed with plumose and jewel anemones and are surrounded by superb fish life, with large pollack keeping a wary eye on divers while curious cuckoo wrasse bounce off your mask, they are so nosey. As a second dive, or to seek shelter from an easterly sea, the west side of the Old Head of Kinsale is never dull. The wreck of the ‘City of Chicago’ lies in a handy 16 metres and the surrounding rocks and reefs are always lively. An added novelty over recent years has been the addition of hundreds of golf balls from the links course that runs along the cliffs above. You can’t help thinking they need more lessons...