|Like an old friend, Portland
Harbour is always there for you turn to when you want to have some fun,
try something new or just relax and take things easy. Ian Legge reports
If I could build the perfect dive site, it would include scenic drifts, wrecks of various sizes, abundant sea life, shallow areas, but also access to deep-water sites and have plenty of shops to pick up those small items you really need. Thankfully, someone got in before me and created Portland Harbour. Situated on the south coast, the area is well known to divers as a training and recreational diving area, and the launching site for trips to more serious diving well beyond the harbour walls. Until recently the area was the stomping ground of the Navy, but, although they still have a presence there, the area is now owned by Portland Port Ltd and is accessible to all.
Diving the harbour
1 Ferrybridge Depth 5–8m. A lovely shore dive following an underwater trail with plenty of marine life. Dive at slack water 1 hour after high water at Portland.
2 Chesil Beach Depths can vary. Diving from Chesil Beach gives access to scenic dives and occasional wreckage. Entering and exiting requires skill and some assisstance, so get help the first time!
3 Balaclava Bay/Grove Point Depths between 12–30m. Rocky ledges with large amounts of marine life. Good for drifts and night diving.
4 The Dredger Depth 10m. Broken up with two distinct sections, it is unaffected by tidal movements.
5 The Hood Depth 15–18m. Lies keel up and can be entered, but only with extreme caution and by experienced divers. Dive on slack high water or 4 hours before.
6 Landing Craft Depth 12–15m. A small piece of army history that makes a pleasant, easy dive. Dive at any time.
7 LCT wreck Depth 17–20m. A very silty dive on an infantry landing craft, but an easy dive . Find someone with local knowledge to dive with as it is hard to find.
8 Bombardon Unit Depth 16m. An experimental wave breaking unit in the shape of a star. Very silty, and keep an eye open for a barge with rudder and propeller.
9 The Spaniard (aka the Enicuri) Depth 12m. Can be very silty and broken up, but look out for the prop at its stern.
10 Chequered Fort Depth 16–18m. A number of metal plates and objects can be seen along the outer edge of the harbour wall. The stone blocks you see are great to gas-off on and have a healthy abundnace of kelp and fish life.
11 Secret Harbour Depth 7–8m. The wreckage of the Sea Otter, a local fishing boat can be found in this sheltered section of the harbour wall.
12 Countess of Erne Depth 10–14m. Small wreck lying upright, easy to navigate around but can get silty. Dive at any time.
13 Yacht Depth 14m. A recent wreck that is good for practising your navigation on.
14 Torpedo range Depth 13–14m. Spent torpedo shells can be seen where the Navy has tested its armoury in the past.
15 Newton’s Cove Depth 5–8m. A shore dive over a rocky area which is ideal for training. Dive at high water slack.
16 Sea Vixen Depth 8m. A deliberately sunk fuselage of a Vixon aircraft. Originally used by the Royal Navy for escape and lifting exercises
17 Himalaya Depth 12m. Sunk by four German bombs in 1940, the scattered remnants of the Himalaya – once the largest three-masted steamer in the world.
Marine life Varied and plenty of it! Ballan and cuckoo wrasse, spider and edible crabs, pollack, bib, mackerel can all be seen on a regular basis. If you’re lucky you might catch sight of cuttlefish (above) and even lumpsuckers. Take care as conger eels have been spotted on some of the wrecks.
Warning As the harbour is now owned by Portland Port Ltd, some harbour dues now need to be paid to dive certain sites if you’re bringing your own boat. If you want to dive the Countess of Erne, HMS Hood, The Spaniard (Enicuri), Bombardon Unit, Landing Craft or the Dredger, you need the following dive permits: RIB size – up to 6.1m, £6.83 per week or £2 daily. For RIBs up to 9.15m it’s £10.50 per week or £3.15 daily. Craft must display an ‘A’ flag and maintain continuous radio contact on channel 74. If diving on an unbuoyed wreck an SMB must be used.
How to get there
Head for Weymouth, Dorset, on the A354. On coming into Weymouth look out for signs to Portland Harbour. You will head out along a long spit of land with the harbour on your left and Chesil Beach on your right.
This depends on where you are diving from and whether you are coming with your own RIB, or have booked through a local dive centre or skipper. There is parking at the Ferrybridge. Further on at Parry’s Dive Centre there is a large car park, providing access to Chesil Beach. If you are diving with Parry’s, or through the Breakwater Diving Centre, based in Castletown, there is parking right by the slipway at Castletown – £3.00 for a full day.
1 The Ferrybridge slipway is, like the Castletown slipway, free.
Warning Be very careful when manoeuvring your RIB at Ferrybridge as there are some very shallow areas that can seriously damage your prop!
3 Castletown car park has public toilets. The Breakwater Dive Centre has toilets, a convenient outside rinsing shower and the ‘Hard Wreck’ cafe, with food to satisfy the most ravenous diver! Being a working port you don’t need to look hard for pubs! So an evening relaxing with a pint is never very far away.
Dive centres/air fills
3 Breakwater Dive Centre. Situated in Castletown, right next to the car park. Offers air to 300 bar, Nitrox, and Trimix. Those of you with boats will appreciate the affiliated chandlery just down the road. The centre also runs five boats of its own that can be chartered. Equipment hire also available. Tel: 01305 860269.
4 Portland Oceaneering is a dive shop opposite the car park that specialises in technical diving equipment but does not do air or gas mixes. Tel: 01305 860402.
2 Parry’s Dive Centre offers air and Nitrox and has an extensive year-round diving calendar, a well-stocked shop and kit hiring facility and can arrange accomodation. Dives cost are £10 in the harbour £15 outside the harbour. Tel: 01305 821261.
5 The Portland Dive Centre, is situated deep in the Portland Port complex works. It offers weekend dive packages that cater to all levels of diving. You get four dives and all your air, accommodation (two nights) and boat shuttles. Price: £90 for the weekend package. Single dives can be booked in advance, and cost £9 in the harbour, £16 outside the harbour. No air or gas is available on site. Tel: 01305 820870.
B&Bs and hotels abound in Portland, offering a variety of standards and prices.
The Royal Breakwater Hotel, opposite Castletown slipway/car park. Single/double rooms for £18 per person including breakfast. Smaller bunk rooms for £14.50 per person. And there is a fully licensed bar. Tel: 01305 820476.
Aquasport Hotel, connected to Breakwater Diving Centre, has rooms from £14.50 per person. Tel: 01305 860269.
Portland Heights Hotel has a beautiful view over the whole of Portland. Comfortable rooms, a bar, gym, sauna and pool. PADI divers get a discount on showing their certification cards. A single room is £64 – £48 with a discount. Tel: 01305 821361.
The Bunker has bunkhouse-style rooms. 2/4-berth cabins,
each with shower. Self-catering, £10 per person, B&B £13.
Tel: 01305 782556.
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