Filey divers explore hundreds of submerged wrecks

Walking along the clifftops, you encounter many other walkers, enjoying the fresh air and scenery.

Most are dressed in multiple layers, carrying small backpacks, binoculars, sticks and cameras.

None of them - usually - are wearing diving suits and carrying fins, masks, snorkels and air cylinders.

Yet this is what you might see if you should happen to encounter members of Filey Brigg Dive Club as they make their way from their cars to the sea via the fields in between - as they are often wont to do. They cut a strange sight as they approach the sea and prepare to take the plunge.

That’s mostly in the warmer months, when they dive the hundreds of wrecks - mostly WW1 steamers, cargo ships and the odd submarine - which litter the seabed along the Yorkshire coast.

They marvel at the abundant aquatic wildlife including porpoise, dolphins, octopus and sharks.

“It’s a fantastic world out there and it’s on our doorstep”, says Gary Yorke, one of three open-water instructors at the club, which he joined 10 years ago.

Wreck-dives are restricted to summer. In winter, members only enter the sea for snorkel practice on Sunday mornings, and only in the shallows when the sea is calm.

On Tuesdays, at 8pm, they run try-dives at the swimming pool in the Bay leisure centre, which opened five years ago. It costs £15, everyone is welcome and the only thing you need to take is swimming gear.

First, you are shown the equipment, on the poolside. Then you get in, stand up and put it on. Spitting on the inside of the mask stops it misting up.

The compressed-air cylinder, with a set of regulators to breathe through, is fitted to your back. It can feel a bit heavy to begin with but you quickly adjust to the weight. You put the regulator in your mouth and drop below the surface to get the hang of breathing through it. The snorkel is used when you’re swimming on the surface, so you aren't using valuable air from the cylinders.

To the uninitiated, one of the trickiest bits is putting fins on when you’re in the water.

You take it a step at a time, with three simple hand signals to indicate to an instructor whether you’re happy, not sure or want to return to the surface immediately.

Then you’re off, accompanied by the instructor. I slowly swam a few lengths, hugging the pool floor, getting the hang of the breathing and using only my legs to move forward. It was exhilarating.

Divers always swim in pairs, using the buddy system. “Your lives can depend on each other”, Gary explains.

The club is one of hundreds affiliated to the Sub-Aqua Association. “We use their training methods and standards”, Gary says.

Then we were off to the pub. The pool is behind the John Paul Jones, named after the commander of the area’s best-known wreck, the US warship Bonhomme Richard, sunk off Flamborough Head in 1779.

It’s quite a social club, running two diving trips abroad a year. Members normally meet at the Belle Vue pub in Filey on Fridays, at 9pm. Trainees arrive an hour earlier, for a lecture.

It’s a small club, with 24 members, 15 of whom are active divers. They are from Filey, Scarborough and Bridlington. About two thirds are men.

The club was formed in 1963 by former members of Scarborough Sub-Aqua Club (which also offers try-dives, at the new swimming pool).

Members’ ages vary quite a bit. The youngest is 10-year-old AnnaSophia Cuthbertson-Noonan. The oldest is chairman and founder member Chris Baker, 73, who has dived what he believed to the crumbling remains of the Bonhomme Richard, before it became a protected site.

The purpose of the club is “to explore marine life on the east coast and encourage people to join”, Gary says.

The club has two boats which take club members over wrecks. The furthest divers have been offshore is about 20 miles. Some members don’t like diving to the seabed and stay on or close to the surface. Inevitably, some get sea sick. Divers usually wear dry-suits; the coldest the water gets is about 8°C.

Discarded fishing lines and similar detritus can be a hazard so divers carry a knife to cut free if they get tangled up. The club often conducts underwater litter-picks, collecting plastic bags, tin cans, fishing lines, etc.

Club member Chris Robinson runs a small underwater archeology unit.

For 23 years, he and his colleagues have been exploring and researching an ancient pier which projected from the south side of Filey Brigg, in an area called Spittal Rocks.

The pier was about 600m long and at low tide stood eight metres above the seabed, Chris says. About 100m remains today, visible at low tide. A smaller pier, about 130m long, stuck out of the end of the brigg, forming a basin about the same size as Scarborough’s inner harbour, he adds. “We believe it could be Roman”, Chris says.

* The Bay leisure centre is a couple of miles south of Filey. From Filey, take the next left after Primrose Valley. The postcode is YO14 9QL.

* The club has a Facebook page which is easy to find.