Dive on the wrecks of the SS Willowpool and Conway / Walker – 6th August 2022
After a number of planned trips falling through due to different reason, I was extremely eager to get out on my first dive with the club. I departed for Sea Palling at 05:45 for a 08:00 meet at the carpark.
On arrival at around 07:30 I noticed that I was far from the first to arrive, I meet up with Joe, Clive, Simon and Malcolm who was Cox, all have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they were happy to share. They made me feel very welcome from the start and which helped remove any concerns I had about the dive. We prepared the Rhib and the kit ready to be launched by the local farmer at 09:00. Once launched we jumped on board and made our way out to the first dive site the SS Willowpool.
The trip out wasn’t as bumpy as I had thought it would be and certainly wasn’t as hot as I had expected. I had spent the previous night panicking that I would be boiled to death in my drysuit on the way out to the dive site, then frozen by the arctic UK waters on my arrival. This had pushed me to rethink my underlays and go for a lightweight approach. This was a good move as it was quite comfortable on the way out to sea (19 degrees C) and the water was much warmer than I had expected (21 degrees C according to my dive computer). Having only dived in the UK three time in a drysuit, twice in a lake in March and once very shallow in the sea in June, I didn’t have much experience to go off.
We arrived at the site and managed to get a grapple on the wreck for about 09:50 then there was the wait for slack water to kick in. I was buddied up with Simon who was happy to give me a few tips and pointers along the way, one being to ditch my 5mm thick gloves which I did. Joe and Clive headed off first with the plan that they would send up the grapple if we had missed the wreck. After 5 minutes or so it was obvious we were on target, so we carried out our buddy check and off we went.
We made our way round the bow of the Rhib and down the grapple line, at that point the tide seemed to still be running a bit strong and the vis wasn’t great, as we descended it cleared and the drag subsided. Suddenly there it was sitting in the sand at around 20m, it was very impressive much better preserved than I had expected and teaming with sea life. First thing was to send up the grapple up to the surface, so Simon got on with that while I tried to get to grips with my kit at 20m. The dropping of the under suit and the addition of a pony had left me rather over weighted, which took a little getting used to. The weight became more apparent when trying to ascend the bow of the wreck and noticing I wasn’t really getting anywhere. A few adjustments and a bit more air and we were off.
The wreck was covered in a variety of sponges and anemones with the odd lobsters (all too small or out of reach). There were pouting, cod, pollock, wrasse and bass in and around the structure, I was surprised to see that the pouting looked to be stripy at that depth rather than the plane wight fish look they have on the surface. We spotted a couple of seals on the surface one of which came down for a visit, I totally missed it as I was too busy looking in a hole for lobsters.
The wreck sat upright on the sand with the bow clear and visible with the anchors rusted in place on either side. The steam engine was easy to make out with the small cylinders visible and a large winching system in the mid-section of the wreck. We didn’t make it to the stern of the wreck like Clive and Joe, mainly due to extravagant us of air. Joe and Clive did manage to get some pictures of the 12lb QF gun and ammunition on the stern deck.
We made our way back to Sea Pauling for a spot of lunch then headed back out to do the second dive, this time the water had become a bit choppier and the wind was a bit stronger. We prepped for the second dive in the shelter of the new coastal defences before heading out on a bumpy trip to the second site the known as the Conway or Walkure when it sunk.
The conditions on the way out meant we arrived later than anticipated, therefore we were right at the end of slack water by time we had managed to get a grip on the wreck. Rather than waste an opportunity Joe and Clive went ahead with the plan that they would once again send the grapple up if the tide was running too fast. This was the case, so it was decided that we would dive to the north of the wreck and drift over the sandbar.
Once we were in the water and descending the current didn’t seem to be running overly fast and the vis was pretty good. The only issue was the lack of interesting things to look at. We notice a couple of hermit crabs and a scallop shell or two but that was about it. With less weight than my previous dive and very little to bump into it was a good opportunity to get comfortable with my kit at depth, this didn’t really reduce my air consumption and we were back at the surface within 30mins.One the way back the wind seemed to have dropped a fair bit and trip back seemed to take a fraction of the time the trip out had taken.
The dive on the Willowpool can only really be described as outstanding, it certainly surpassed my expectation and would recommend if you haven’t already been. Through the day I learned a few things that I will certainly take away for future dives.
I can’t wait for another opportunity get out with the club and explore more UK sites.
For more information about the SS Willowpool click the following link Willowpool SS (norfolkwreckresearch.co.uk)