Above 18m - Pembrokeshire
While this may be technically a wreck dive, it is the fantastic marine life and underwater topography that make the Dan Beard such an ideal introduction to diving the Pembrokeshire coast.
The wreck of the former Liberty ship is apparent in places – you’ll find winch gear, the mast, lots of metal plating, and chains. It’s a good place for a rummage around in the seabed, but watch out for the spider crabs; they’re simply everywhere and many have adopted a disguise to stalk their prey, with bits of seaweed draped over their shells, so unsuspecting divers beware!
The highlight of this dive is a cave which is bathed in light and even offers the lucky diver the chance of an encounter with seals. Divers of all experience levels will find something to enjoy at this spectacular site.
Arrival at the site
To get to the dive site, Celtic Diving launch their RIB Janhazel from the slipway at Porthgain, a short drive from Fishguard. If you are staying at the dive base, a free minibus transfer is provided to pick up the boat. If you make you own way to Porthgain there is a car park close to the slip way, which makes unloading your kit and transferring it to the boat straightforward.
To get to our first dive site, the Dan Beard, it was a ten-minute RIB ride heading east along the coast. The sea was flat-calm and the sun was out; perfect conditions for a good day’s diving.
Both my buddy and I were new to the dive site, so Celtic Diving instructor Paul Harley gave us a detailed briefing to the site. Celtic Diving have some handy info sheets onboard providing divers with background details on many of the wrecks in the area, so you can get a feel for the history before you jump in.
The bow section of the Dan Beard ran aground on rocks at the base of a high cliff face at Pwllderi. Using reference points on the cliff, Paul pointed out an approximate route for us to take, which involved following a figure of eight course around some rocks and into a cave, before making our way back to the boat, launching an DSMB to let him know our whereabouts.
We descended onto the seabed at ?m and finned towards the cliff edge following our plan. The shingle and kelp bottom turned to rocky gullies as we approached, and in one gulley the first pieces of wreckage came into view. They appeared to be winches, and were a golden in colour after years rusting away on the seabed. They made for good photo props, but the surge washing in and out of the gulley made holding a fixed position tricky. In these conditions you need to learn to judge the surge and fin with it, rather than try to fight it. We continued on and came across a huge lobster intent on going about its business regardless of the two divers intent on flashing torches and camera strobes in its face.
The kelp beds were thick and at times due to the shallow depths it was impossible to progress without carving a path through their waving fronds, getting fins and camera arms tangled if you’re not careful. Look carefully among the kelp and weeds and you might spot very well camouflaged spider crabs that decorate their rustic shells with bits of red and green weeds. It’s a cunning disguise that means the best hidden ones look like areas of the reef coming alive as you approach and they scuttle off, claws raised.
As we neared the entrance to the cave a fleeting glimpse of a seal raised the pulse a few notches. It was only the second time I had seen a seal underwater, and I can’t think of much else that can raise the excitement levels quite so high. As you enter the cave the kelp disappears and the bottom turns to rock. The cave was bathed in light at the entrance from an opening to the right, but it’s a good idea to have a torch the further inwards you venture. Resting in the entrance is the mast of the Dan Beard. When you have finished exploring you have the choice of two exits – a narrow gulley to the right or back out the way you came in. Our decision to do the latter was a good one, as the seal again made a pass, albeit all too brief to get that all-important photograph. From the cave entrance follow the seabed out and across the kelp until you are in a position to launch your DSMB.
What to look out for
The cave at Pwllderi is a great place to spot seals, but to ensure you don’t get disappointed, look out for the more plentiful marine life like spider crabs in abundance, lobster, and even the odd dogfish.
DID YOU KNOW
The Dan Beard was one of the Liberty Ships built during World War Two in the USA to replace British ships torpedoed by German U-boats. They were built cheaply and were only designed to last five years, although many lasted longer. The average time taken to produce a Liberty Ship was just 42 days, thanks mainly to the fact they were constructed by welding sections together, rather than riveting, which took several months. The Dan Beard was torpedoed by U1202 on 10 December 1944 and broke in two, killing 29 men. A lifeboat rescued 12 men, and others came ashore. The stern section sank in deeper water, and the bow section came to rest under the cliffs at Pwllderi.
The dive centre
Celtic Diving is a PADI five-star dive centre run by Mark and Cathy Deane and is located right on the waterfront in Goodwick Parrog, near Fishguard. PADI training from Discover Scuba to Assistant Instructor is available, plus a number of specialties. A large free car park is adjacent to the diving base, which is easy to find if you follow the brown tourist signs.
If you are looking for accommodation, you’ll find it all under one roof at Celtic Diving. Up to 20 people can be accommodated at the dive centre for £20 per person including a light breakfast, which makes it ideal for club trips or buddy pairs.
Diving is from either RIB Janhazel which holds up to eight divers, or from Wandrin’ Star, a 15–metre steel hard boat licensed to carry up to 12 divers. Celtic Diving visit dive sites primarily along the north Pembrokeshire coast from Cardigan Bay to St Brides Bay.