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Chesil Cove

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Address
Chiswell
Portland
Dorset


United Kingdom


You’ll be amazed at what you will see underwater at Chesil Cove. Whether you’re into environment and nature, history and wrecks or video and photos, Chesil guarantees some amazing diving day and night as one of the most popular shore dives on the South Coast. An abundance of flora and fauna is complemented by the remains of many vessels that have struck this beach and broken up in furious storms – now all natural shelters for life. Easy access and depths ranging from 6 to 18 metres and minimal tidal influence makes Chesil ideal for any level of diving all year round. This is the first in a series of virtual guides we are preparing and publishing under PB Portland. – Remember you can follow our Daily Chesil Cove Updates online.

[tabs] [tab title=”The Chesil ‘Dive Site’ “] The southernmost edge of Chesil Beach, where it joins the western cliff of Portland, is the location of one of the most popular shore dives on the South Coast. Chesil Cove is part of a storm beach and the pebbles slope steeply down towards the water, leading to rocks, reefs and sandbed. The Cove can be dived in any state of tide as currents are weak or almost absent. The site is sheltered from most North and East winds but anything above a Force 3 from the South or West creates a swell – making entry, but more importantly exit, somewhat difficult or impossible. Visibility in the Cove can range anywhere between 1 to a spectacular 15 metres depending on season and swell, with average visibility being in the range of 3-6 metres. Please note: The height of swell/waves reaching the shore and the almost sudden depth increase on entry need to be taken under consideration. NOTE: A list of risks and recommendations have been given for your convenience and safety.

Highlights

Sand, pebbles, rock, reefs, small and large chunks of wreckage and kelp forests. Sandeels over the sand beds. Over patches of sand beds between the reefs and rocks, watch the larger sandeels and fish feeding on smaller schools of sandeels. Watch thousands of sandeels swimming at the same time, ducking in and out of the sand. Depending on season, observe cuttlefish laying eggs or on the hunt both over sand and rocks. See dogfish, crabs, lobsters, snakelock anemone, giant wrasse, bass and even john dory and triggerfish in their natural environment. Under the larger boulders in the shallows and on patches of red algae, observe the seasonal reproductive chains of seahare. Look close enough and you’ll be amazed at the micro life including many types of nudibranch. And so much more! (Just take a look at some of our Youtube Videos…)

Entry & Exit

While divers can enter the water anywhere on the Cove, both the Council and locals strongly advise diving entry be made down the ramp to the right of the storm gate. This rule, is emphasised by a permanent sign on the wall of the esplanade. Once down on the pebbles and off the ramp the easiest way to get in the water is to walk in with your BC inflated and then put your fins on (though some prefer to sit on the bank and then slowly crawl in or walk in backwards). If it’s slightly choppy entry may be difficult due to swell and undertow. Because the beach drops off immediately, it is possible to lose a foothold in a couple of steps, especially when on high water so an inflated BC on entry is highly recommended. Only a few yards from the shore, depth will range between 3-6m but if there is a lot of undertow or swell, it may be prudent to swim out slightly more and then drop deeper.

[/tab] [tab title=”Underwater Routes’ “]The best area to dive in the Cove with depths ranging from 6 to 18 metres maximum are between the disused sewer pipeline (which starts more or less in front of Quiddles cafe) and the area which falls across the famous Cove House Inn – where pebbles give way to sand patches and eventually the rocks of Portland. The best scenery, undoubtedly, is found in the 8-14 metre range among the rocks, pebbles and various wreckage which shelter an abundance of sealife – which happens to be right in front of the ramp entry point described above. Therefore the first dive we suggest is directly down from the ramp.

Chesil Cove has numerous underwater “trails” but can easily be dived straight in-and-out like any other beach. Rule of thumb in the Cove is Out Is West, In is East. If you ever get confused, just head East or 90 degrees and you are sure to come ashore somewhere! Chesil Cove goes down steep on entry and then in steps from 3 metres on as it eventually bottoms out at around 12-14 metres, though depths can exceed 18m further out. From shallow to deep, the beach is made up of small to larger pebbles with rocks scattered here and then, then rocky reefs and rock outcrops which give way to patches of flat sand and eventually a sandy bottom further West and North West. Depending on season the area up to the sandy bottom can be covered in seaweed and/or kelp whereas there is a more expansive kelp forest towards the South end of the beach (see below).

Assuming you are going straight down the “diver’s entry ramp” from the main road and entering the water, the quick sketch above gives you an idea of possible routes and what you could see. Slightly to your “left” will be a wreck. To the far left will be the kelp forest and pipe. Straight ahead you will have rock outcrops and reefs. To your right (1 o’clock) will be rocks leading to sandy seabed.

See our current videos below on this page or watch a selection of our videos on our Youtube Project Channel.

(The Trails described below are approximates and assume Entry Point being the shore in front of the top of the ramp)

TRAIL 1- STRAIGHT IN & OUT (Easy Route)

From above entry point if you swim out 270 degrees, after a few large rocks and reef you will come upon a sandbank at a depth of 12-15m. If you follow the reef to either side, you can navigate back to the point you left the ‘track’. This “in and out” direct route is the simplest way to start exploring Chesil Beach if you are looking to avoid swell in the shallows. A visual line of direction will allow divers to branch off and return to the “trail”. Once you descend, you could also take a look to the left side (south) at about 6-8 metres and see the wreckage of what is believed to be the Preveza, which broke up on Chesil during a storm in 1920. This route is ideal during the season to spot John Dory and Cuttlefish as well as Wrasse, Crabs and Lobsters.

TRAIL 2 – THE KELP FOREST (Easy Route)

The Pipe-Kelp Forest trail (to the left/south) can either be linked to another route or done independently. Keeping to a depth of about 6-8 metres (depending on the state of tide) divers can follow the shoreline where pebbles blend into rocks until arriving at patches of kelp which eventually become a full blown kelp forest around the disused sewer pipe. This can be an immersing experience particularly when the kelp forest is dense. There is much to see both in the kelp beds and around the pipe (but watch out for fishing lines and torn nets). This is a great dive which takes the diver over the wreckage of the Preveza and rocks.

TRAIL 3 – ROCKY REEF

Upon doing the entry described in Trail 1, if you stick to a bearing of 270 degrees for about 1/2 a mile crossing large areas of rock and sandy patches, you will finally come to the edge of the rock reef marked initially by some large (2-3 metre high) rocks. Depths here may reach or exceed 18 metres. Heading out you can explore the edge of the reef with the rocks on your left and sandbed to your right or do the opposite on an inward trip. This route (approximately 50-60 minutes) requires quite a long underwater swim so close monitoring of pressure gauge (or a large volume cylinder) is recommended. Depths here average 15-18 metres.

TRAIL 4 – BEYOND ROCKY REEF (NW Route)

As above, if you are fairly confident about your consumption, enter the water and on reaching 8-9 metres depth take a bearing of 300 degrees – hence we’ve dubbed this the North West route. After 10-15 minutes depending on your finning speed you will come to the edge of the rocky reef and see a sand bank stretching ahead. Turn left while keeping the sand to your right and follow the reef outwards to a depth of about 16-17 metres. You will come across a large piece of wreckage on the sand itself (an area which also attracts triggerfish). Further on and a metre or so deeper follow the reef on the left until you come across more wreckage which appears to be a winch off an old vessel and crusted.

Look at the “rocks” closely here as some may surprise you (being encrusted wreckage). The area is covered in various sizes of encrusted metal objects, most of which came from the ships that have been grounded on Chesil and broken up. Maximum depth can reach 19 metres on this trail  and due to the distance involved, close monitoring of pressure gauge is highly recommended.[/tab] [tab title=”Conditions & Risks”]

Surface concerns: Always do your own field risk assessment on the day of your dive. Surface risks on Chesil Beach are not special and include the common trip hazards (walking over loose pebbles, debris, nets and fishing line washed in by the sea) and cut hazards (broken glass, discarded hooks, metal etc). Because of the way the beach slopes down on entry and up on exit especially after spring tides, these hazards require extra care.

Tidal concerns: Chesil Beach can be dived on any state of the tide although slack water on this side of the island is 4 hours after HW Portland. Tides run parallel to the beach here and don’t restrict divers even during the highest of springs. Incoming tide moves to the South East (left as you look at the sea) and outgoing vice verse. Which also means divers need to adjust their underwater navigation accordingly and compensate. Take into account that even on a direct bearing out, tidal influence will be slowly moving you off course. This also means divers can surface a long way from point of entry if not careful. It’s not uncommon to hear jokes about divers going in at “the Cove end” and coming up in front of the Cove House Inn pub down the beach. (If this ever happens, you can walk back to point of entry or do a slow surface swim).

Swell concerns: 
Strong South, Southwest and Northwest winds will come onshore while the beach (due to its high banks) is extremely well protected against East and Northeast winds even when its blowing strong. The rule of thumb is not to dive if there is a swell over 2ft as exit could be incredibly difficult if not impossible. Swell and exit up a steep pebble slope make for hard work. There can also be a strong undertow at such times which means being pulled and pushed against the beach while underwater and immediately on exit. If the beach is to be dived under such conditions (and particularly if cameras etc. are being used) someone for surface support is highly recommended. We’ve actually seen dives where a rope has been required to get the divers out of the water.

Anglers and Entanglement: Do keep in mind that Chesil Cove/Beach is a popular shore angling site and visited by tens of anglers every week. Rule of thumb is to dive out of their way if they are already “in position” and to let it be known you are “down below” for new arrivals. The use of an SMB is highly recommended if you want to avoid a weight-and-hook episode because no one knew you were down there. (There are true accounts of divers being accidentally hooked!) If you are diving without a surface marker, the responsibility is yours only. The amount of angling that takes place off the cove (especially summer-time hunts for bass and mackerel where feathers are used) leaves behind an amount of tackle (line, weights, hooks) underwater and sometimes on the surface too. There are entanglement points around the old sewage pipe in front of Quiddles (where most line seems to accumulate at the base of the pipe but is therefore also clearly visible) but most others are scattered around the seabed, here and there. We strongly advise divers to be equipped with a proper cutting tool that would work on fishing line and to keep an eye out while swimming.

Boat traffic: As above the use of a surface marker buoy is highly recommended. There is no heavy boat traffic on Chesil but for the occasional yacht or powerboat “tucking in” and anchoring for a break and a number of small fishing boats that operate directly off the beach (with outboard engines). Again, if they can’t see you, they won’t know you are below so letting them know by means of a surface marker buoy makes diving safer for everyone.[/tab] [/tabs]

Content created & originated: 2013 © Izzy @ Underwater Explorers Ltd.

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