Fort Bovisand
It’s certainly taken a battering over the years – from more than just the weather and the sea – and it seems that people either love the place or hate it. Whatever your feelings, Fort Bovisand will always be a great launching point for some of the best diving in the south-west of England. Matt Crowther reports

Rocky ground: Fort Bovisand commands a spectacular view across Plymouth Sound


Fort Bovisand is one of 22 forts built in the Plymouth area to guard against attack from the French in the 19th century (the first granite stones were laid in 1845). Then, in 1970, two divers (one a retired naval commander) obtained a lease from the Ministry of Defence to use the Fort as a dive centre, and it’s remained one ever since.

Although much of the Fort has been modernised, it still has a great atmosphere – especially in the underground drying rooms, which can be quite spooky late at night. As the centre is used to train commercial divers who often stay for a few months, it’s always humming with activity, and at dinnertime the restaurant has a distinct ‘school canteen’ feel about it. However, Bovi’s bar is probably the most prominent and memorable feature of the Fort – it has a fabulous view of Plymouth Sound from its huge windows, and friendly divers and bar staff always make for a fun (and extremely drunken) evening.

How to get there
Drive towards Exeter on the M5. Stay on the M5 until it becomes the A38. Follow signs to Plymouth and turn off towards the city centre. Take the Kingsbridge turning before you get to the city centre, then follow signs to Plymstock. From there, follow signs for Bovisand and Bovisand Beach.

Parking is available for both day visitors and those staying at the Fort. The restaurant provides hot food, drinks and snacks. The bar is open from 5pm until late.

Diving facilities
Diving equipment can be hired from the large equipment stores situated on the harbour side, as well as air and Nitrox fills to 250 bar. A fully equipped dive shop is open six days a week from 9am to 5pm. There is a decompression chamber on site.

Above Left Devon scene: divers returning to the harbour. Above Right the training pool
Photographs by Gavin Newman
The Fort has a range of rooms, which have been greatly improved in the last year under Bovi’s new management. A harbour-side twin-berth room with en suite facilities costs £45 per night or £35 for single occupancy. Dormitories start from £12 per person per night. Self-catering accommodation is also available. Communal washrooms are situated around the Fort.

Both BSAC and PADI diving courses are taught up to instructor level. Commercial diving courses also take place regularly.

For more information, phone Fort Bovisand on 01752 408021 or take a look at the web site:


Scenic Dives
The Harbour is perhaps the most distinctive feature of Fort Bovisand and offers good diving to about ten metres (depending on tides). It’s a voluntary marine conservation area and there are several lobsters lurking under rocks, as well as shoals of fish and even some coral.

Breakwater Fort is a circular, free-standing Napoleonic fort, and a variety of wreckage lies on the sea bed around it at 16m, including some World War II motorbikes. There’s varied marine life on the wall of the fort between three and eight metres, including a dozen recorded species of nudibranchs.

At Hilsea Rock, large pinnacles rise from a depth of 35m to around ten metres below the surface – they can be spotted from a boat if the visibility is good. There are sweeping gullies to dive in, with hard and soft corals.

The Mewstone is a small, rocky island east of Fort Bovisand, which has a rather strange history. In 1744, a local man who had committed a minor crime was sentenced to live there for seven years. After he’d served his time, his daughter decided to stay on the island, got married and raised her own family there. Almost 200 years later, you can still see the remains of a house tucked away in the rocks on this barren outcrop. The surrounding waters have incredible scenery and are great for drift dives.

Wreck residents: above left, an exotic-looking peacock worm; above right, the distinctive head of a John Dory. Photographs by Lawson Wood and Nigel Motyer
The James Eagan Layne was torpedoed in 1945 and now rests about a ten-minute RIB ride from Fort Bovisand. Although the ship was originally 419ft long, the bow and stern have separated and now lie about 15m apart. Both sections are largely intact and are in 24m of water at high tide. This is a very scenic dive, and home to large shoals of pouting, pollack and even the occasional John Dory.

The Rose Hill sank towards the end of World War I and her broken wreckage now lies in 30m of water. There’s a big, resident conger eel here, among other marine life.

The Coronation was a 140ft man-of-war carrying 90 cannons that sank in a storm more than 300 years ago. The ship was originally thought to have been found in shallow waters just off Penlee Point in 1967 but, ten years later, the discovery some distance away of a second site with more cannons and a pewter plate bearing the crest of the ship’s captain seemed to contradict this. It’s probable that both sites are the scattered remains of the Coronation. They’re listed under the Historic Wrecks Act and can only be dived with special permission (which can be obtained if you dive from Fort Bovisand).

The Elk is believed to have hit a mine in 1940, and the wreck now lies intact and upright on a sandy bottom in 34m of water. It’s home to a large shoal of pouting, as well as a huge conger eel that lives in a hold near the bow. See a full report on the Elk in next month’s DIVE.

The Glen Strathallen was originally designed to be a 150ft steam trawler, but was first converted into a pleasure yacht, then deliberately sunk as a site for divers in 1970. Unfortunately, the wreck became a hazard to boats and had to be blown up. Although only a boiler and the bow are recognisable now, it still makes a pleasant dive, with quite a few wrasse and dogfish around the wreckage.

The Persier lies fairly upright but partially collapsed in about 30m of water. The wreck is protected from north and north-westerly winds, which usually means good visibility. Originally named War Buffalo, the ship was torpedoed in 1945, some distance from the Devon coast. After being hit, she was abandoned and thought to have sunk there. However, in 1969, a bell engraved with the name War Buffalo was brought up off wreckage found closer to shore in Bigbury Bay and it’s believed the ship’s engines continued running her towards the coast until she finally came to rest there.

The Totnes Castle is a paddle steamer that sank in the late Sixties. The steel hull and paddle wheels are still intact, but the teak decking has gone, allowing easy access to all areas of the ship. The wreck lies in 44m of water – check out the large conger eels in the engine room.

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