Wreck Diving Course

HMS Scylla

Description: Frigate

Length: 113 metres (370 feet)

Depth: 24 metres to sea floor

Visibility: 2 - 14 metres

Scylla Reef is the wreck of F71 HMS Scylla, a Leander-class frigate that served in the Royal Navy between 1970 and  December 2003. During her commission she performed a variety of roles, from patrols in Icelandic waters during the second and third 'Cod Wars' to royal escort duties for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. She also provided humanitarian relief in the Cayman Islands during 1980 when hurricanes threatened the lives of many of the inhabitants, before being modified to have Exocet and SeaWolf missile launchers fitted. After being decommissioned, she was bought by the National Marine Aquarium and sunk on the 27th of March 2004 in Whitsand bay near Plymouth, where she now lies creating an artificial reef for divers, the first of its kind in Europe.

A frigate makes a very large wreck; 113 metres long with a 13 metre beam, meaning that you will need more than just one dive to truly see everything she has to offer. Due to the local shipping activities, she has had her main mast, funnels and sonar dome removed to ensure that there is 4m between her highest point and the lowest astronomical tide (LAT). However she is still easy to find as she has a large yellow BSAC buoy permanently attached to a lazy shot on her bow. There is also a smaller orange buoy that leads just aft of her bridge and another to the flight deck at the stern.

Descending down the main buoy takes you down to the deck of the bow at 11m. This area is pretty flat, allowing plenty of room to run some skills  with some trainees if needs be, and also has what's left of the Exocet and SeaWolf missile launchers giving plenty to see. Three mooring chains come from out of the bow and into the gloom, leading down to the sandy seabed at around 24 metres. The owners of the wreck have created many large openings into her hull for experienced divers to penetrate deep inside her, the first of which can be found on the deck. All of the holes are clearly marked with warning signs, reminding you that this wreck has been sunk with divers interest and safety in mind. This also means that there are plenty of things to see inside, like the radar control consoles still with loads of buttons to play with!

Before diving the Scylla, I was told that there was not much life to be seen  as she was still a very young wreck. I can tell you first hand that this is a myth. For a start the outside walls of the hull are teaming with anemones and sea squirts of a variety of colours (predominantly orange). Also many of the fish that can be seen on the neighbouring wreck, the James Egan Layne, have taken up residence both in and around the Scylla, including wrasse, pouting, bibs and pollack. If this is what is described as 'not much life', this reef will look absolutely breathtaking as time goes by.

Going back to the deck level, there is the superstructure holding the bridge in pride of place. The bridge can easily be entered from the sides, above or even below! Behind this lies the area where the main mast and funnel used to be, followed by the aircraft hangar. Again this has all been made very accessible to divers from both outside and within the wreck. The only area that is not accessible underwater is the engine rooms, which have been filled with concrete in the interest of safety of divers. However, this wreck offers so much else to see, that not seeing the engines will not spoil your dive. I definitely look forward to diving this wreck again and am interested to see how she will change over the next few years.

 

 James Eagan Layne

Description: 7,000 ton wreck

Length: 130 metres

Depth: 24 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

The James Egan Layne lies shotted in Whitsand Bay, Plymouth, and is an extremely popular British wreck because of its depth. It sank in March 1945 after ferrying men and materials across the world for the war effort. At the height of World War II, it was clear that cargo vessels were being sunk at a rate faster than which they could be built. In an effort to maintain the supply of food, vehicles and other equipment to the troops, the Americans found a way of welding aptly called 'Liberty' ships together that were 400 feet long weighing in at around 7000 tons in just 24 hours by an almost entirely female workforce. After being hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat near the Eddystone reef, the James Egan Layne was towed towards Plymouth in order to save as much of her cargo as possible. However on the way back, her stern collapsed causing her to sink in Whitsand bay, where she still sits upright, pointing north towards the shore.

After sinking her masts and funnel still stood proud out of the water and making it an easy dive location to find. However, in the late 1960's it was deemed a hazard to the local shipping traffic and so the bridge and the masts were razed to the seabed where they can still be seen to the port side. Most of the cargo was removed before she sank, but there are plenty of pick axe heads, pulleys and locomotive parts in her five holds.

 If you only have the chance for one dive with a 12l cylinder, I would recommend you get the skipper to put you down on the bow (there is sometimes a buoy here if you are lucky). Descend down the bow to the seabed at a maximum of 23m and look back up. The silhouette of her intact bow is one on my favourite underwater views. Swimming up the port side then allows you to see the vast wall of her hull, covered in deadman's fingers and anemones, as well as the bridge and forward masts that now lie on the sea bed, home to a large variety of fish.

As you swim up the port side, you will eventually see an obvious opening in the hull, about 3m off the seabed, leading into hold number two. This opening is plenty big enough for easy penetration, and leads to an area which is uncovered overhead, making it safe for inexperienced divers to go in under supervision. You could have instead swam up the starboard side, however there is less to see on the seabed and the opening in the hull on this side goes into hold number three (where the torpedo originally struck), meaning you use more air to get inside the wreck!

Once in the wreck there are loads of bits of old cargo and ship  paraphernalia to see, as well as plenty of fish and sometimes the odd conger eel. Penetration into hold number one forces you shallower still (about 11m), making a good overall dive profile. Storms have made access to this area easier for divers, also bringing a lot of the deck above down, meaning that a quick escape is possible if necessary. Ascending out of this hold brings you back to the bow at 6m, where you can carry out a safety stop, whilst looking along the length of the ship in awe of its shear size.

If you have more dives available, then the stern section and hold number four is also worth looking at. Penetration is also very safe here, but more areas are covered  overhead. The back end of the main wreck is very dismantled, with the actual stern lying to the southwest of the rest of the ship, marked by the large red permanent buoy with 'James Egan Layne' written on it. Again, this section of the 'Layne' has more than its fair share of marine life, making it visually spectacular and one of my favourite dive sites for many years now!