Dive Ilfracombe and discover seals and shipwrecks!

Ilfracombe is a haven for divers and North Devon Sub Aqua club have been exploring our part of the Bristol channel and Lundy for over 60 years and it remains as fascinating as ever.  We live in an extraordinary part of the world, both on land and under the sea. Our landscape is dramatic and diverse and attracts people for many reasons. Our underwater landscape is just as amazing

The Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world which changes by up to ten metres between low and high tide. This means that the water is always moving, bringing nutrients, attracting wildlife, and creating a diverse habitat. For divers, big tides mean good dive planning, early starts and often long days at sea.

Many people are attracted to diving and snorkelling by clear, tropical seas with abundant and visible wildlife. You might not expect the same here in North Devon. However the water off our coast as far as Hartland and Lundy is just as abundant and colourful. Lower visibility, stronger currents and colder water can make diving more of a challenge, but there is still plenty to see. Seals, dolphins and porpoises, sunfish, crustaceans, anemones, sponges, fish, jellyfish, nudibranchs, even corals…there is plenty of wildlife to encounter.

Many divers and snorkellers are attracted to Lundy’s Atlantic grey seals. Seals are playful and like to tease divers by pulling on their fins. Their speed and the way they turn up from nowhere remind you that this is their environment, and we are only visitors. Another common sight is the spider crab, which divers see on most dives and are usually solitary creatures. Some of our members have been fortunate to see an aggregation when hundreds of spider crabs come together to protect each other when they moult. Crustaceans can only grow by moulting their shell and growing a new one. This leaves them soft and vulnerable until the new shell hardens. During an aggregation the seabed heaves with crabs.

This area also has plenty of shipwrecks to explore and wrecks come with stories. SS Carare was a banana boat owned by Elders and Fyffes. It was en-route from Avonmouth to Jamaica with passengers in May 1940 when it hit a magnetic mine and was sunk off the North Devon Coast. The wreck was subsequently found by Ilfracombe and North Devon Sub Aqua Club who researched it and had contact with the last surviving passenger, who, as a small child, had survived underneath an upturned lifeboat in the water.

SS Carare

Photos were captured by crew of the Rhodora II, a super yacht which was requisitioned by the War department and converted to an anti-submarine patrol vessel.  In May 1940 she was close to SS Carare when she was hit by a German mine off Lynmouth and rapidly sank and they assisted survivors.  On 7th September 1940 HMY Rhodora II collided with SS Ngatira in fog and sank in between Lundy and Barnstaple Bay.  The wreck was finally identified as the Rhodora in 2015 by divers from Ilfracombe SAC and Clifton SAC.

There are also military wrecks in our area. HMS Montagu, a newly fitted out Duncan Class battleship, ran aground off Lundy in thick fog in 1906. Poor navigation and bad decision making led to the ship becoming a wreck, and also led to the Captain and Navigation Officer being court marshalled and dismissed from the service. HMS Montague was salvaged for many years and what remains was granted protected status by the Government on advice of Historic England, as part of the nation’s naval history.

If this whets your appetite to find out more or learn to dive  then do get in touch with the Ilfracombe Dive Club.  They are open for visitors every Wednesday evening from 8.00pm at their clubhouse in Ropery Road or call on a Wednesday on 01271 855652.  You can also contact them through Facebook – just look for Ilfracombe Dive Club.

Another option is to choose Easy Divers who offer seal encounter dive trips from Ilfracombe harbour to Lundy where you can swim, snorkel or dive with these fascinating creatures.    Check out our website for details of trips and experiences on offer   visitilfracombe/diving

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