Swansea Channel Drift Dive
Swansea Bridge to Thomas Humphreys Reserve Boat Ramps
And vice versa.
The drift dives have also been known as the “whasat” dives. The main reason for this strange name is due to the fact that the diver uses a natural phenomenon such as a current to move through the water. And also using this current, the diver rarely gets to view in detail what they have just swum over.
This drift dive takes place in the region between the boat ramps at Thomas Humphreys Reserve and theSwansea Bridge.
This dive, in comparison to the other drift dive (Granny’s pool to Swansea Bridge), can be done on either the incoming or outgoing tides. As there is no major worry about missing the exit point and drifting out to sea.
Proceed along Channel St until it veers around to the left and take the only right hand turn into Dobinson Dr. This is easy to find as there is a metal sign advertising the Swansea Gardens Caravan Park along the fence of the caravan park. Proceed
along until you can turn right and follow this along. You should now have driven past the first of the two boat ramps (beach ramp), as there are normally quite a few boat trailers in the vicinity. As well as the smaller concreted ramp further along.
Anywhere past here is a common area to park when you’re about to enter for a drift dive.
Ample parking can often be found in the area of the trees in the above picture.
Parking can also be found to the right hand side of the boat ramp when looking at this view. The only caution one should adhere to when parking here is when fisherpersons are cleaning their catch, pelicans are known to gather and wait for some feed. If parking near the power poles, one may find a new coat of paint on their vehicle.
The most common form of trouble with the drift dives is “how am I going to get back?”.
Easy, the best method, tried and true, is to organise for the amount of transportation required to move the divers, with their gear, to the entry point and have the remainder of the available transportation left at the exit points.
Ensure that the vehicles left at the exit points have all the diver’s personals, as well as don’t forget to pick up the driver/s of these vehicles.
Once the divers have surfaced and exited the water from the drift dive, they have the chance to dry off and hop into some dry clothes before being dropped back to their vehicles left behind at the entry point.
The other method is to take a nice stroll back along the pathway and reminisce about the dive with your buddy. The pathway is sealed and is also a shared cycle way, so caution should be adhered to.
When to dive:
The two main times to experience this drift dive is either on the incoming tide or else on the outgoing tide.
These both depend, for visibility sakes, on what the weather has been like or else what the sizes of the ocean swells are like outside the channel.
The drift in normally commences at the boat ramp entry point (common entry point for the bridge dive, on the south western corner of theSwansea Bridge). See below.
Or else if one is feeling a little adventurous one may enter the water at several locations on the southeastern side of the Swansea Bridge near the Swansea RSL (also popular as a second or third dive depending on your diving activities for the day, known as a “schooner” or a “middy” dive).
Along here, in front of the Swansea RSL are three areas that one may decide to start the drift at. These can also be used if diving the bridge before the stop of the tide.
The furthest entry point to the east, just before Black Ned’s Bay is a small wharf commonly used by members of the fishing community as well as commercial fishing boats dropping off or picking up paying passengers. The entry here is via a giant stride and one must ensure that there is plenty of air in their bcd’s as the depths around here can be quite shallow.
The second entry point is off a game fishing weigh station about ten metres to the west of the wharf in the picture above. The weigh station entry, again requires plenty of air as it is only two metres deep directly at the base below the weigh station. Watch out for the local youth as there is a small rope swing attached here.
What to see:
My personal preference with this dive is to do the drift out.
Entering at the concrete boat ramp sticking to the right hand side as to avoid upsetting the boating community. Place your fins on where the concrete drops away (caution: visibility in this area can easily diminish quite rapidly so be careful to not drop any objects here) and slowly snorkel/walk out to about a metre or two away from the confines of the ramp. Right now you should be feeling the current pushing you slightly along.
When ready, descend and try to make haste to the bottom (depth is about two to three metres at the starting here) to avoid any possible boating traffic.
At first it may be a little bit slow (in comparison to the Granny’s drift, this drift dive picks up speed much faster) so some fin strokes at the start never hurts.
The best plan of attack is to keep the border of where the sand meets the reef/growth a slight bit to your right. This way one should not have to worry too much about snagging themselves on any rocks along the way.
The drift will take you past many interesting sights starting off with the usual bottles and broken crockery, the occasional bed head and the common car tyre. As along here used to be a dumping ground in the past.
About half way down one may come across wreckage of a vessel of some description. There is not much to verify what exactly it was but there is plenty of evidence of ribs commonly found on vessels. (History of this vessel is unknown at this stage)
At sand level under the wreckage is the home of some resident Pineapple fish, this location is great for the photographer as pineapple fish like to hide under ledges and as the ledge only has an overhang of about one and a half feet, this makes life easier to achieve great photos.
On land this wreck site can be found near the intersection of Forbes and Channel St exactly below the three “She Oaks” on the edge of the pathway.
About ten metres away, heading in the direction of the SwanseaBridge, is another piece of wreckage easily recognised as being that of a small boat trailer.
One will easily recognise the tyres, axle, chassis and even the rollers on the main bar which connects to the back of the towing vehicle. Pineapple Fish have also been found hiding under the chassis.
Along the drift, there are a few sections where eddies have formed so some gentle stokes are all that’s required to exit from these. As well as what I like to refer to as the “roller coasters”, these are just where the sand has banked up to form mounds on the sea floor and when the diver drifts over these it is normally a slow rise to the apex of the mound before being pushed along like being shot out of a cannon. If you do wear a computer that has an auditory alarm, the rapid rise may trigger the alarm off.
Less than halfway between the “She Oaks” and the SwanseaBridge used to be the deepest point along the whole drift dive. The depth reached @ fourteen (14) metres, now a days it is @ ten (10) metres.
We have reason to believe the difference of depth has been caused by the recent work that has taken place under theSwanseaBridge. But we cannot verify this fact.
At around this point the two wooden poles that are visible above the water line are easily spotted due to the raised sand levels.
Option 1: At this point here the diver may decide to veer off the path and explore the shallows. The depth is an average of about five (5) metres deep. The poles sticking out from the water opposite the Swansea swimming pool can locate this area above water. In this area, many small marine creatures can be found inhabiting around the rocks and wire baskets. The bottom here is a silty/muddy area so do be careful not to stir up to much especially for the photographer amongst your group. These wire baskets are the exact same type of basket found just in front of the Swansea RSL.
If the diver wishes to stay in the shallows for the duration of the dive, the diver will after leaving this area will now come across a region of rocks where there is little plant growth to be found. The main interesting items to be found here are the remains of what was the Swansea ferry wharf. All that is left are a few timber stumps standing upright about one to one and a half foot off the rocky bottom.
Upon leaving this area, the diver will notice an area of sea grass, do stop to have a look
around as there is always an interesting find to be found here.
Followed by an area of open sand with some rocks here and there. By now you’re at the corner of the channel directly opposite Josephson St.
Continuing on from here, in the shallows, the plant life re-emerges on mass to provide the diver with a final encore before the completion of the drift dive.
Option 2: If the diver has decided to stay at depth then diver will drift past other stumps from the ferry wharf and drift upon an area where shopping trolleys over the years have decided to come to rest. Around these trolleys, various fish have decided to take up residence. These trolleys are a great indicator to warn you that you are close to the end of your dive.
Moving on from here, the abundant plant life as described a little earlier is evident as it comes to within a metre from the sand/rock border.
Just before the exit is a long rectangular shaped rock, in the past this rock has been exposed quite thoroughly to show its true size, but due to strong tidal movements and shifting sands in the area the sand has moved back into its original position. The change of the level of sand around here at that stage could not be constituted to the work-taking place on the Swansea Bridge.
The exit point is easily recognizable as it is where the wall that the diver has been following, past the shopping trolleys, veers up to the right into the shallows exposing a sandy area.
If you’ve missed this or didn’t recognise it, just passed the exit point along the wall at sand level are two very small artificial reefs that have been constructed. The first is known as “pushy” (pushbikes) reef and the second is known as “trolley” reef.
If you’ve spotted these you can either immediately veer up the wall to the shallows, but do be careful as the currents in this area are quite strong and you might find yourself wrapped around one of the shallow pylons or rocks that are covered in oysters. Or else continue along (if during the day) count two dark spots then exit.
But my personal preference is to continue past the two artificial reefs, past the bridge and exit down past the second wharf (closest to Black Ned’s Bay). This is because the currents here aren’t as strong as those near the Swansea Bridge and have started to run down the channel.
When exiting here do be careful of the oysters, rocks that one has to climb over as well as the boating traffic in the area.
Another option that is one of my favourites is if you have planned a day where you intend to do a double dive in Swansea, i.e. a drift dive and then the bridge dive. Instead of diving the Swansea Bridge, take the opportunity to go and thoroughly explore the area that you just drifted across. This will now allow for the photographer/s in the group to get those photos that they couldn’t get before.
Dangers: As this drift dive takes place right next to the channel, both the power boats and yachts are a major hazard for the diver so it is advisable that if you have to surface for what ever reason DO NOT surface directly up from your location on the sea floor but rather follow the contours of the sea floor up the wall and to the surface. This will avoid any nasty headaches.
Always keep an eye on where you are traveling, as there are many obstacles on the bottom such as boulders, wreckage and small pylons that a diver can run into if not watching where they are going. Sea urchins, oysters in the shallows, the odd fishing line, Numb Rays like to hide in the sand so do be careful when going past the “roller coasters”, Blue Ringed Octopus are found in the shallows.
A divers flag is NOT advisable due to the distance that vessels need to keep clear off the flag will very likely place the vessel in danger of being in shallow water or for the diver towing the flag may find the flag may become entangled on fishing line or the old ferry poles or the Swansea Bridge pylons and it is not easy to swim against this current.
“These two artificial reef structures are found in the shallows below the Swansea Bridge boat ramp”
“This photo of one of the wire baskets in front of the Swansea RSL shows the true strength of the currents that flow through the channel”
When facing front on to the current, while holding on to the baskets, it was like being in the middle of a water pipe with the water streaming towards you. Now and then was a slight lull before another onslaught that was trying to pull my mask off.
As mentioned previously Pineapple fish, Numb Rays, Stingarees, Octopii, Moray Eels, Striped Catfish, Estuary Catfish, Pipefish, Seahorses, Cuttlefish, Flathead are quite a few of the various fish found along the channel wall here as well as the author has spotted a Black Painted Anglerfish and also a turtle has been spotted on several occasions by myself and several other divers.
Authors note: due to constantly changing currents some objects may not be visible
Article and photographs by Paul Wilson.