The Weymouth and Portland area is littered with shipwrecks, from sailing ships to many wartime wrecks, and combined with an extensive range of scenic reefs and scallop dives, there are dives to suit all interests and abilities.
Grahame Knott, the skipper of "Lamlash" and previously "Weychieftain", records the visibility and dive conditions. Lamlash is available for charter by groups to dive around the Weymouth and Dorset coast and further afield. See further details on his website or click here for availability.
Skipper: Grahame Knott
Boat Name: Lamlash.
Telephone Boat/Mobile: 07966 242460
Telephone Office: 01305 771371
Information below is mainly from "Dive Dorset" by John and Vicki Hinchcliffe and the Weymouth & Portland Borough Council webpages. Also check the Poole & Swanage pages for nearby dive sites. See also Grahame Knott's website and click here for another website with a useful map of wreck sites.
Abbotsbury Reef (about 22-26m; Position: 50 38.1N 002 37.4W) An extensive reef about a mile offshore from Abbotsbury beach, about 3/4 mile wide and extending eastwards for miles with discontinuous rock and reef outcrops separated by areas of gravel and sand. Prolific marine life on the reef, and scallops on the sections in between.
Durdle Door reef (about 7m shorewards, up to about 14m on the offshore side of the reef) is an underwater reef about 100m offshore and parallel to the beach between the famous rock arch of Durdle Door and Bats Head. A shallow site suitable for beginners and interesting for more experienced divers due to prolific marine life.
Mupe Rocks (about 17m depth, reefs up to 10m high; Position: 50 36.9N 002 13.3W). Part of an old cliff-line and now a shallow underwater reef extending eastwards, with rocks rising off a light gravel seabed. Visibility can be good on calm days or when northerly winds blow, but avoid if there is any surge.
Stennis Ledges (about 20-30m; Position: approx 50 35.2N 002 30.2W at shoreward end). A series of ledges with prolific marine life running at right angles to Chesil Beach, starting about half a mile offshore and extending seawards for almost a mile. Good for a drift dive crossing the ledges as the current runs parallel to shore. This can be an exciting yet safe dive, but the site is very exposed in a south or westerly wind above Force 3.
Lulworth Banks (variable, about 9-21m depth, approx. Position: 50 35.7N 002 17.3W). About 2miles offshore, an area covering 4 square miles of rugged underwater scenery, including underwater drop-offs, high rock bluffs with rocky pinnacles, horizontal rock strata, down to the deeper gravelly sandy patches famous for scallops. Many large (5 inch diameter) brass shell-cases have been found dating from the naval gunnery range here in the 1950s. Tides can be strong at times, (westerly-flowing ebb is stronger than the flood) making for a good drift dive, or slack water is about 1hr before HW Dover and 6 hours later.
There are too many Wreck dives to list them all. A small selection, with approximate positions include:
Earl of Abergavenny (about 15m, Position: 50 36.1N 002 24.3W) This ship belonging to the English East India Company had several mishaps on the journey from London to the Far East and narrowly missed being stranded near the Needles before sailing straight onto Shambles Bank. Wind and tide lifted her off the bank, but badly holed and waterlogged, she drifted and finally sank in Weymouth Bay on 5th February 1805. About 350 of the 400 or so passengers and crew perished. The ship was salvaged using "modern" equipment of the day and is currently part of an ongoing archaeological investigation. The wreck remains largely buried as the surrounding seabed is soft and silty, but it is still an interesting dive. The site is sheltered from the SW and west and can be dived when further offshore sites are badly affected by SW winds.
Royal Adelaide (about 12m, approx Position: 50 34.7N 002 28.5W about 40 metres off Chesil Beach) This 1,500 ton iron clad clipper got into trouble in 1872 due to either fog obscuring the light from Portland Lighthouse or because the lighthouse wasn't actually lit. The Adelaide was blown in a gale along the shore and hurled onto Chesil beach, watched by a crowd of about 3000 people. Before she broke up in the surf, all but five on board were rescued. Many were saved by the efforts of the coastguard and locals who put their own lives at risk to save others. As the surf battered the ship, she disgorged her general cargo, including, amongst other things, rum, brandy and gin, particularly an extremely refined Dutch gin called Wolffs Aromatic Snapps. Many locals got extremely drunk on Chesil Beach and died of hypothermia. This wreck is now largely broken up but still an interesting dive with a lot of marine life.
James Fennel (about 15-18m, about 6m high. Position: 50 32.6N 002 27.3W) A steam-driven admiralty trawler wrecked in fog on rocks below the cliffs of Blacknor Fort in 1920. All crew were rescued and the ship sank during attempts to tow her off the rocks. Today, the stern remains intact and detached from the smashed forward end, and there is a boiler and engine towards mid ships.
Aeolean Sky - (30m, 12m high; 14385 ton, Position: 50 30.5N 002 08.4W) The Sky, a Greek container vessel, collided with another vessel in the middle of the English Channel in 1979 and tried to make it to shore but took on water and sank off St Albans Head. The Sky is a very large wreck and is still recognisable after much salvage work and being cleared by explosives to 18m depth. The wreck lies on her port side, decks facing east, relatively intact stern and rear accommodation to north, and the bows to south, about 4m from the main hull. Cargo visible within wreck and strewn across the chalk/limestone rock seabed. Strong tides outside slack water: 2.5hrs before and 3.5hrs after Weymouth HW (LW slack lasts about 30min on springs, 1.5hrs neaps).
Alex van Opstal (about 27m, 7m high; 5965 ton, Position: 50 32.4N 002 16.0W) A Belgian passenger liner build in 1937 and sunk by a mine near the Shambles bank in 1939 en route from New York to Antwerp. A large wreck lying SW/bows NE with intact forward end but damaged salvaged stern on a shifting sand and gravel seabed. Strong currents - essential to dive at slack water.
Binnendijk (about 24-28m, up to 8m high; size: 121m x 16m, about 6873 ton, Position: 50 32.1N 002 20W) Locally known as the Benny, this Dutch steamship was mined in 1939 while in the main shipping channel. The wreck is well broken after heavy salvaging but is still substantial and has white sand in the lower parts although it rests on a coarse stone/rock seabed. The wreck is often diveable when other sites are blown out, as it is sheltered in the relative lea of Portland and inside the Shambles Bank. This can be a good, easy dive but slack water is essential.
Elena R (about 27-30m, 6m high; 370ft long, about 4500 ton, Position: 50 30.2N 002 20.6W) This Greek steamship sank hit a mine and sank on the outside of the Shambles Bank in 1939 and has been well salvaged and broken up. The wreck is constantly being buried and uncovered by the surrounding loose, shifting sandbanks. In good vis this is an excellent dive but slack water is essential, with strong currents flowing at most other times.
Buccaneer (about 44m depth, 10m high, 840 ton, size: 50m x 10m, Approx. position: 50 29.2N 002 41.6W) This Portland armed navy tug was sunk by friendly fire while towing a target and now lies east to west on her port side on shingle. The Buccaneer is a great dive and is easy to swim around in one dive. She was virtually intact in the late 80's but has started to fall apart over the years, though there is still much to see.
Frognor (about 36m, 6m high, 1476 ton, size: 78m x 11m x 6m, Approx. position: 50 32.0N 002 33.0W) This Norwegian steamship sank after being torpedoed in 1918 and has been well salvaged. Most divers love this wreck and often want to return.
HMS M2 (36m, 9m high, top of conning tower at 20m; 296ft long, Approx. position: 50 34.5N 002 33.8W) The M2 was built in 1918 and sank in 1932 killing all the crew. This unique submarine was adapted to carry a small seaplane in a hanger built on to the coning tower, replacing the gun on her forward deck. It is thought that whilst practicing emergency diving the hanger door was not properly closed, quickly flooding the ship and sending her to the bottom. The wreck is classified as a war grave, and now lies upright on a sandy seabed. She is an amazing dive, virtually intact apart from the loss of the crane for aircraft recovery and her propellers.
Pomeranian (36m, about 9m high; 381ft long, 4240 ton, Approx. position: 50 33.5N 002 41.4W) This Canadian Liner was en route from London to Newfoundland when she was torpedoed in 1918 by a German submarine. Only one of the 56 crew survived. Her cargo of government stores apparently included divers helmets, though none have been found. The wreck lies upright in an east- west direction, with the large and relatively intact bow at an angle to the rest.
Salsette (48m, 15m high; about 400ft, 6000ton, Position: 50 29.6N 002 43.1W) A British P & O liner torpedoed in 1917 carrying British Troops, now lying north-south on her port side about 10 miles west of Portland Bill. Distinguishing features include 600 portholes and a gun mounted on her stern. The starboard rail at 34m lies above steeply sloping decks and a largely intact hull with great swim throughs for the experienced diver.
Sidon (about 35m depth, 8m high, 66m long, 900 ton, Position: 50 32.8N 002 38.4W) This British S class submarine sank twice - first in 1955 in Portland Harbour after an explosion and fire, which killed some of the crew. She was salvaged and sunk deliberately in 1957 in her present position as a sonar target. The Sidon now lies upright in a NW / SE direction and although intact there are many holes in her casing, which have attracted much fish life. An excellent dive.
Deep wrecks 50m+ - best dived with mixed gas. Also see Grahame Knott's website.
Avalanche – Max depth 50 metres In 1877 this 1160 ton fully rigged clipper sunk with the loss of 89 lives, made up of passengers, some women and children, and crew after colliding with 'The Forest' 10 to 12 miles off Portland Bill. Sinking immediately, the Avalanche left only 3 people alive. A church in Southwell, Portland has been named the Avalanche Memorial Church in respect for those that died. In 1984 divers located the anchor, and after seeking permission, managed to raise it and donate it to the church. Lying upright but buried to the gunwhale on one side it is important to avoid stirring the bottom as the vis is soon reduced to nil.
Illinois (about 68m, 15m high) This three castle American tanker was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917. Today the wreck lies about 30 miles south of Portland Bill on the edge of a shipping lane, upright on a hard sand/gravel/shingle seabed. She is one of the largest intact wrecks in the area, bar the torpedo damage, with a minimum depth of 55m to the decks. Click here for further details. She is an incredible dive. One of the country’s leading technical divers Jamie Powell rates this wreck as possibly the best in the English Channel.
Merchant Royal (about 57m, 11-15m high, size 126m x 16m, 5008 ton; approx. Position: 50 20N 002 29W) This British cargo steam ship sank in 1946 after a collision and unsuccessful rescue attempts. She is still a recognisable ship, with her centre castle area largely intact. Her bows are broken off and her midships and stern list slightly starboard. Although salvaged, it is worth looking for copper ingots that were missed though care is needed when entering her holds as it is possible to go below seabed depth and reach 60m.
SS Jeanne (about 67m max depth) This is one of those wrecks everyone seems to love and wants to go back to. The Jeanne was blown up with bombs by a boarding crew from a U boat after the ship’s crew had been allowed to take to the boats. The wreck has been identified by the maker’s plate but as yet no bell has been found. Its possible that the boarding crew took the bell to prove the kill.
Warrior II (about 55m depth, up to 5m high, size: 86m x 10m, 1,124 ton; approx. Position: 50 22N 002 23.3W). A luxurious steam yacht built in 1904 and requisitioned in both wars, her luck ran out in 1940. Fitted with just a single gun, she was attacked by over fifty German aircraft and a bomb hit her decks, blowing a hole through her side. Her bow is a fantastic site and she still retains many of her very heavy brass fittings. The swimming pool is recognisable.
The boatlaunch website has details of most launching sites around the country. Zoom in to find slipways in the area where you plan to dive.