Above 18m - Isle of Wight
From the moment that Britain declared war on Germany Hitler set about gaining supremacy both on the high seas and in the skies above Great Britain. Throughout World War Two it is estimated that around 15,000 Junker bombers were built by the Germans with the sole intention of bombing the world into submission.
One such plane, a Junker JU88, was returning from a bombing mission at Portsmouth when it was hit by a barrage of bullets from an anti aircraft gun as it flew towards the Isle of Wight on 23 September 1940. The plane crashed into the sea at Egypt Point, Cowes, killing all of the crew onboard. Much of the wreck has been scattered over a large area but the coordinates are given as 50.00.20N 01.18.70W. To date only one engine, a machine gun and one of the propellers has been recovered.
You can park on the roadside in the pay and display bays that are just a few metres away from the slipway and entry point. Be warned, though, that during the holiday season finding a place to park at this popular seaside location is going to be hard work so it may be best to get there early so as to avoid a long walk or rushing about. There are amenities close by on the right-hand side but unfortunately there’s nowhere to get that all important cup of tea or bacon buttie. Once kitted up it is literally a short walk straight into the water.
It is best to dive this particular site one-and-a-half hours before or four hours after high tide. If you dive outside of these times you risk getting caught in some serious currents. Once kitted up you can sit on the edge of the slipway or go straight into the sea to put your fins on. If you choose to do as I did it’s just a short walk slowly backwards across the pebble beach into the sea. You will find that the seabed gently slopes away from the beach so it is possible that you will need to wade out a short distance before you can make your descent. From here on in it’s a matter of deciding which way you are going to go. Head west towards the cardinal buoy and the wreckage of the plane, or head east and enjoy a scenic shallow dive.
After wading out away from the shore until the water was chest deep and then deploying an SMB we signalled to each other that we were ready to descend beneath the surf. My dive guides Kevin and Kim took a bearing and checked that all was ok before we followed the gently sloping seabed northwards. The ocean floor is littered with indigenous weeds of all shapes, colours and sizes so move slowly as it’s worth exploring them in more detail. You never know there may be a common pipefish, a mermaid’s purse or even a seahorse hiding among them. The marine life here is plentiful and varied, but what I found interesting was the absence of anemones and sponges - they are nowhere to be found. Even the small crops of rocks which are scattered here and there across the seabed, and which are favoured by dead man’s finger and plumose anemones, are just covered with a layer of thick green algae and weed.
As we moved on, the depth gradually increased to around 8m and it was at this point that we could either turn east towards the harbour or west in search of the wreckage. Kim signalled for us to turn left and make our way, with the reef on our left shoulders, towards the wreckage. Now I must point out that on this particular dive visibility wasn’t exactly on our side; we had about two metres at best, so searching for the wreck was proving more of a challenge than I had thought.
The plane is scattered over a wide area and the parts of it that are not buried under sand, silt and shingle are covered with weed and algae. It is possible that you could be on top of it and still not see it, which was unfortunately the case for me. Let’s not forget, though, that this is predominantly a reef dive with lots of spectacular marine life swimming around you. Because this dive is close to the shore it is unlikely that you will encounter any large creatures, but what you will see are lots of juvenile fish using the reef and the weed for protection against their predators.
This site is also a great place to find an assortment of crustaceans. Edible crabs, velvet swimmers, squat lobsters, hermit crabs and small common lobsters are just a few of the species that you are likely to see. We were moving slowly so that we could explore as much of the seabed as possible, looking under the rocks and finding shrimps scurrying here and there. Just under the surface of the shingle seabed, if you look closely, it is possible that you will come across large flatfish lying motionless with their eyes following your every move. In the deeper sections of the dive at around 10–12m dogfish may be sleeping, waiting for the cover of darkness before hunting for their prey. After 30 minutes Kim signalled for us to turn left and work our way south towards the shore. As we worked our way back up the reef we continued to look for signs of the wreck. All in all this was a very scenic dive.
What to look out for:
Virtually all of the wreckage from the plane is covered with weed and algae so it’s really difficult to distinguish between natural rock and wreck. Try not to rush, spend time exploring the seabed and you will be surprised at what you can find. From March through to May it is possible that you will encounter one of the UK’s best loved marine creatures. Cuttlefish come here in their droves to lay their eggs from March through to May.
Useful PADI Courses:
For this dive I would recommend the following specialties: Drift Diver just in case you get caught in a current, Drysuit so that you can enjoy diving here throughout the year and Underwater Naturalist as there is plenty to see and explore on this dive.
The Dive Centre:
Island Divers is owned and run by PADI Master Instructor Kim Langridge. Kim opened the PADI five-star IDC dive centre three years ago, and with a lot of hard work and dedication has seen the business grow from strength to strength. As well as being able to offer all courses from beginner to instructor the staff here can teach an impressive 25 PADI Specialties. There is a wide selection of equipment on display in the shop which also provides nitrox and air to 300bar. The staff are a friendly, knowledgeable bunch and will do their very best to help you. I recommend that you make full use of their experience and expertise and ask them to guide you on your dives around the island. Kev Martin, an MSDT, is on hand to offer advice and to repair or service your equipment. For accommodation, courses, equipment, servicing and dive guides this really is a one-stop dive shop. You can contact Kim or one of his staff by phone: 01983 240255, by mobile: 07957380157, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via their website.
The Isle of Wight is one of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations. During the summer season over one million people will visit this tiny island and experience just about every activity known to man. Sailing, however, appears to be the main attraction here. The island has a wealth of historical buildings that are open to the public including Queen Victoria’s Osborne House. So whatever their interest any accompanying non-divers will be able to keep themselves amused while you are exploring the many scenic dive sites that the island has to offer.
Red Funnel Ferries:
I travelled across the Solent with Red Funnel ferries and can tell you the service was fantastic and the trip totally relaxing. These spacious ferries offer plenty of comfortable seating for the one hour crossing. Once the car had been parked I was able to enjoy a cooked breakfast served from the cafeteria that offered a wide selection of meals to suit all tastes. One of the other great things about travelling by ferry is that there is no baggage allowance; you can take all of your equipment including cylinders at no extra charge. Now that’s what I call value for money.