One of the most iconic dives on the South Coast, not a wreck, not deep, not an offshore anomaly…..easily reached and often way overcrowded, Swanage pier is in just about every South Coast diver’s log book I’m sure…..and I’m no exception. Tired of hearing about the place from those in TIDSAC, and with nothing better to do in January in Tidworth, on a weekend, I finally said, what the hell, and Toots and I packed the car for a trip down the A303, passing “The Stones” on the way! I always slowed to take in the stark contrast of the Stonehenge Sarsens to the surrounding grass hills of the henge. These were the days you could drive past and see them from the road, or pull up at the road-side and walk across the field, to get close and wonder at the organisation required to drag and raise such huge stones onto the top of a hill, a hundred plus miles from the quarries they were hewn from, in days where tools were made of stone and wood…….
I loved the drive down to Swanage in January, it isn’t packed with tourists to anywhere near the extent it is in the summer months, and the frost on the ground and mist adds to the mystique of the journey. We were lucky, as the miles rolled away it got sunnier and more pleasant the closer we got, by the time we were dropping down the hill through Swanage town, it was a bright and sunny day, we were anticipating an empty pier with easy parking…….just like everyone else who had decided to get in an easy dive very early in the season!
Like anyone who dived Swanage pier back in the day will tell you, get there early, or you end up miles down the road….Toots and I were lucky, we had been warned, and despite me taking in the sights and making it a leisurely drive through the counties, we ended up not too far from the pier itself, on a glorious morning you could have believed was mid summer. There were others from TIDSAC down there to meet us and we fell in with Norman and Joy’s plans for our little dip, under the new pier supports in search of Tom-Pot Blennies and crabs…..and we stripped off and kitted up in our dry-suits, 12l cylinders already filled from the club compressor the night before. It would be an easy shore entry from the beach with a surface swim to then descend at the side of the pier
The log book reads: “Shore Dive – Swanage Pier – Escorting Novice – a root about the pier footings. Very little to see, the odd crab and a Pipe fish. Practiced AAS Breathing W/Temp 8′ Air in 200 out 150 Buddy Toots Viz down below 1m throughout” Which just goes to show that everything “up-Top” can be great, and the dive can still be a little disappointing! I had hoped for better, this was the early days for Toots, in diving terms, and I didn’t want her put-off, she was a good kid and I liked her. Still, we had some skills ticked off and we had not sat on our arses back in barracks, it was a worthwhile trip for those reasons if nothing else!
The next weekend we had another opportunity and decided to give Swanage another look, it was a lovely place and I didn’t take much persuading even if I thought the viz would be similar, it takes a good week or so of good seas to get the suspension out of the water-table….but you never know! So off we went back down the 303….to the end of the road… and down to the harbour-master’s office in the little pier hut, to pay up for parking and get access
This time we had decided skills were the primary aim if the viz wasn’t up to much, it set the ambition and meant Toots wasn’t expecting too much from the dive to begin with! So, 08th January 1995….back into the sea at Swanage and the log says “Shore Dive – Swanage Pier – Confirmation of Novice Skills _ Mask Clear – Air Share – A ferret about for a while – very little to see though – CBL/AV Finish Viz 0-0.5m ……” So that was two weekends and Alternate Air-Source use (AAS), Controlled Buoyant Lift (CBL) and Artificial Ventilation (AV) completed for Toots, she was chuffed, and a little closer to Sports Diver than she expected and we’ed got a couple of shore dives in too! If nothing else, Swanage had provided a couple of good days out, and a couple of great training opportunities too!