POSSIBILITY OF GOLD
"The almost unbelievable list of recent finds in Dorset waters includes gold watches and silver purses from the holds of the Kyarra, gold guineas, silver coins and diamonds from the Halsewell site, a gold pointer recovered from waist-deep water at Bowleaze, Spanish silver coins from the privateer Hope, almost £30,000 worth of lead ingots near Swanage, and the remarkable discovery from within the inky blackness of the interior of the great liner Salsette of a gentleman's Victorian watch chain, hallmarked on each link."
That, you will agree, makes a pretty good introduction to any diving guide. A great temptation to dive, it comes from the preface of Dive Dorset, the latest of the Diver Guides to get a complete upgrade.
These editions of the most important British diving guide series are more than just revisions. They contain new information, sites, colour photographs, wrecks and wreck pictures, many of which are published for the first time. They are effectively new books.
The third edition of Dive Dorset is packed with information, even giving divers a sunken Canadian steamer to search for - not a bad target, because in its holds are three tons of silver!
Two hundred and ninety-nine sites are now included. Of these, 183 are located wrecks, which means there are reports on 75 more wreck dives than in any previous edition.
Authors John Hinchcliffe and his wife Vicki have taken a long time to come up with this new edition, but the wait is worth it. They give close detail of shore dives, and have consulted, and thank in print, a mass of Dorset divers who have given priceless offshore wreck info.
It doesn't seem possible that they have overlooked any facet of diving the 110 miles of Dorset coast - they even warn about the strength of the sun on Dorset waters and "strongly advise" the use of a high-factor sun block, so I suspect they are also working for the Dorset Tourist Board, or perhaps a sun-lotion manufacturer!
All joking aside, don't even think of diving anywhere off Dorset without buying a copy of this book.
Dive Dorset by John and Vicki Hinchcliffe. Underwater World Publications (0181 943 4288). Softback, 232pp, £14.95
Anyone wishing to visit the St Abbs and Eyemouth area of Scotland will find Lawson Wood's well-set-out new book a valuable tool. Helping to take some of the headaches out of organising a trip to the area, the dive sites depicted usually contain a diagram and surface or under-water picture, and GPS co-ordinates are usually given. There are also realistic assessments of the diver qualifications needed to complete the dive safely.
The maps and diagrams are clear and easy to follow, and the photographs fit the text well, helping to explain what sort of marine life you can expect to encounter. When, for example, would you expect to find squid eggs in the marine reserve? Should you need to know, this book tells you. You might recognise the pictures of the wolf-fish and anglerfish - they are old favourites.
Descriptions of the dive sites are generally very good, though I did notice in the case of Weasel Loch, Hairy Ness, Divers Hole and Little Leeds Bay at Eyemouth that each site was described individually, even though most divers would take them all in on a single dive. This made the reading a little repetitive, if very informative. Another site, where a Messerschmitt BF 110 aircraft crashed into the sea, gets only a passing mention in the general text to whet the appetite but lacks detailed information.
New divers to the area will benefit the most from this guide, but those who frequently visit will still be interested to learn of the lesser-known sites around Fast Castle and Burnmouth and their stunning marine life.
Dive St Abbs and Eyemouth by Lawson Wood. Underwater World Publications (0181 943 4288). Softback, 120pp, £13.95
A book just released for junior readers, Odious Oceans makes the claim: "You'll never think geography's boring again." If you are considering spending a small fortune on glossy hardbacks to tempt your children to become oceanographers, think again. This little book will have them hooked.
Part of the Horrible Geography series, it is packed with facts, legends, quizzes and stories. Every page has at least one cartoon or line drawing, and the text is well broken up to appeal to younger readers. The facts err on the gruesome or sensational side, but you'll find no anti-shark rants in here (despite the cover). Instead, shark attacks are put into perspective beside those of stonefish, blue-ringed octopus and sea wasps.
I challenge any adult to know even half the facts contained within - your children could outsmart you! Did you know, for example, what a problem modern-day pirates are to shipping? Or that one pirate slipped up by leaving his mobile phone behind on a raid?
The diverse range of topics includes ocean ecology and the history of sea exploration and shipbuilding (including the fateful voyage of the Titanic). The scientific explanations of waves, tides and water pressure are very clear: "In deepest ocean, water pressure is like having 20 elephants sitting on top of you."
Odious Oceans is aimed at a readership of eight-plus, and will probably be of particular interest to boys, with its emphasis on sensationalism. Anyone who has tried to get a boy to read a book will realise that this is a good thing in itself, even if it weren't a subject so close to our hearts. A book to entertain, excite and educate.
Odious Oceans by Anita Ganeri. Scholastic Books (0171 421 9000). Softback, 150pp, £3.99
Big Apple casualties
New York was once the busiest shipping port in the world, and the entry point for millions of immigrants into the New World. Accidents were inevitable as sea traffic increased, and estimates of shipwrecks in the approaches to the great harbour run into their thousands.
Author Bradley Sheard takes us from the period from the War of Independence in the 1770s up to the 1960s. He picks out some of the more interesting wrecks that litter the Long Island and New Jersey coastlines - from His Majesty's frigate Hussar, which went down in 1780 with the redcoat army's pay on board, to the pride of the Italian merchant marine, the Andrea Doria, which sank after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm in 1956.
From wooden warships, paddle steamers, rum runners, passenger liners, sunken submarines and torpedoed tankers to humble lightships, all can be found in this chronicle of New York shipwrecks. The tale of each sinking makes fascinating reading, and the book is full of useful line drawings and photographs to help identify the different parts of the wreck under water.
It is a good illustrated guide but, unfortunately, the book comes to a sudden halt in 1964 with the sinking as a target of the USS Spikefish, the first submarine to log 10,000 dives. Sheard was one of the first to dive the Spikefish. A few paragraphs are tacked on to the final chapter but otherwise we're left to guess what has happened over the past 35 years. With modern US technology, perhaps they don't have accidents any more!
Lost Voyages by Bradley Sheard, AquaPress (01702 462466). Softback, 216pp, £23.99
The golden seabed
The Central America, a great paddle-wheeler, was lost in a storm 200 miles off the coast of Carolina in 1857, and now lies very deep. Down with her went 428 passengers, many of them gold-miners, and 21 tons of gold.
Diver, December 1989, told of the discovery of the wreck just after engineer Tommy Thompson flew an ROV low over the remains in water more than 2400m deep, and saw a seabed carpeted with gold - gold bars, gold coins, gold nuggets and even gold dust!
Now here is the book of the wreck: the complete story with eye-witness accounts of the sinking, right through to the recovery of tons of gold worth millions. This is one thriller that every wreck diver will want to read - even if it is a bit deep for your average diver.
Oddly, there are no photographs of any recoveries.
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. Little, Brown & Co (0171 911 8000). Hardback, £16.99.
A mighty work is the only way to describe Ian Whittaker's simply titled Off Scotland. The sub-title gives you more of an idea of all the research he put in: A Comprehensive Record of Maritime and Aviation Losses in Scottish Waters. The book lists nearly 18,000 losses on 532 A4-size pages.
It won't provide any graphic stories about the sinkings of everything from lowly fishing boats to very large Naval vessels, but it does give you name, date of loss, nationality, type, date built, dimensions, cargo, and reason for sinking.
Doing the same sort of job for Eire and Northern Ireland is the second volume of Edward Bourke's Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast, which adds another 3000 wrecks to the 2500 of Volume 1, and covers more than 1000 years from 932 to 1997. It includes a useful potted history of diving on the Lusitania.
Off Scotland by Ian Whittaker. C-Anne Publishing (0131 467 6266). Hardback, 532pp, £39.95
Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast by Edward Bourke. Edward Bourke, 11 Cypress Drive, Dublin 6W. Softback, 225pp, £11.99
Appeared in DIVER - August 1999