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Scuba Diving Southwest Coast of England, UK, Europe
Dive Site: Persier
Location: 50°17.115N; 03°58.13W (Bigbury Bay, Devon)
Description: 5832 ton Belgian Steamer
Depth: 28 metres (92 feet)
Visibility: 5 - 8 metres (15 - 25 feet)
A nice little wreck dive, this was done in March with dry suits on a calm day. A descent of about 25m down a shot line will lead you to the wreck or nearby reef (hopefully!). There is lots of life to be found on both the reefs and on the wreck, including snap and fan corals, urchins, starfish, crabs and assorted fish.
Jenny Pickles, BSAC Dive Leader
Previously known as the War Buffalo, the S.S. Persier is a sad tale, one of the many tragedies of WWII. A large Belgian freighter of some 5800 tons, it was torpedoed like many other ships. In short, the crew abandoned ship but the propellers started again and chewed one of the lifeboats. Later the ship was seen floating off into the night, disappearing forever out of history until the 1960's when divers discovered the wreck. It has now become one of the most popular wreck dives along this coastline, whether your boat has come from Salcombe or Plymouth. When many other dive sites are blown out, Bigbury Bay can provide some shelter and generally the visibility on the wreck is very good. I have seen bad visibility only on one occasion but perhaps we've been lucky. On many occasions the visibility can reach 10-15m, and it's probably due to the location, depth and the bottom composition of bright white sand.
The wreck is a tangled heap of wreckage, or so it seems, however the more it is dived the more becomes recognisable and the more you appreciate just how good this wreck site is. Resting on the seabed at 28-30m, depending on tide usually a skipper will shot near the two large boilers, standing some 6m proud. The dive is ideal on Nitrox (32%, at ppO2 1.5), giving a generous bottom time for those good on gas consumption, but if diving on air it is limited to about 16-18minutes. Diving on air or diving on Nitrox will allow the diver completely different views of the wreck. On air, as time is limited, only small amounts of the wreck can be safely navigated whereas on Nitrox it is possible to see much of the wreck - and appreciate its finer qualities.
As mentioned previously, the wreckage although strewn is in a logical ship fashion, but hull plates have fractured and collapsed inwards and some outwards. These now form many 'caves' for masses of poor cod and bib which congregate in the shadows. Starting at the boilers, the stern is a good place to aim for by locating the position of the fire holes, which are in the opposite direction to the stern. It is easy to pick up the propeller shaft, which can clearly be seen - a long cylindrical shape going off in to the distance. Following this direction much hull plating is passed over which contains hundreds of rare pink sea fans, veritable fields of them. These horizontal plates are covered in what looks like crystallised sand. Dogfish and their egg sacks can be seen amongst them.
A dark tunnel area can be seen ahead and here the prop-shaft tunnel is picked up. With care, this can be entered and swam through in single file. It's about 10m long after which the large stern hull rises up several metres off the seabed. Nearby the large rudder and pins rests on the seabed and heads up to the rocks. The rocks are not without interest with many small bright white deadman's fingers. It is here the diver finds very large solitary pollack. Going around the stern a large 'cave' area can be seen and the steering quadrant, nearby a strange looking piece of machinery, more like a pendulum affair. On its reverse side is a small colony of red deadman's fingers. This side of the wreck, as the dive continues back to the boilers, passes many recognisable features like two sets of winches and the large main mast as well as a box like structure which is the remains of a gun mount.
Near the twin large boilers a small donkey boiler and the remains of the engine/crankshaft are clearly present, all gearing and stuff. Much wreckage is present to the bow, which remains in one piece. Along the length of the wreckage colourful cuckoo wrasse can be spotted as can the odd greater pipefish. Congers are everywhere and both crabs and spiny starfish alike seemed to have taken on a rusty hue. By this time it's a good idea to launch the delayed SMB and ascend as it's a long haul up to the surface.
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