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HMS Hood

Note - HMS Hood is now closed to divers

Scuppered across an entrance to Portland Harbour as a defence mechanism in World War One, this wreck landed upside-down and now makes an interesting dive for all abilities.

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The usual starting point for a dive on the Hood is a buoy outside the harbour entrance, a little to the south. The buoy is out of the current and makes an easy entry point to descend to the blocks at the foundation of the breakwater (1). From here, a guide rope leads between boulders and scraps of wreckage to a post on the port side of the wreck (2).

Turning aft, a few metres' swim brings you to the slope of stone blocks leading back to the breakwater wall, and a U-shaped piece of debris from the propeller shaft cover (3). Above the deck (from a diver's point of view) some large plates have broken free, giving easy access to the inside (4).As the ship is upside-down, heavy battleship machinery originally attached to the decks is now suspended from the "ceiling". The weight of this machinery and that of the hull from time to time causes parts of the wreck to collapse inwards, particularly towards the centre of the wreck near the engine room.

Although it is unstable, few divers can resist dipping quickly inside and popping out again a few metres further forward where some more plates have broken loose (5). But do take care. If you decide to go in, remember to look up and make sure you are not venturing beneath anything that could be about to squash you. Also beware of going too far. It is easy to get drawn in by going just a little bit further, then a little bit further, until a quick look has turned into a major wreck penetration that you might not be equipped or trained for. Back on the outside, moving forwards, the superstructure is buried up to the base of a secondary gun turret (6). Next to the turret base a large hatchway (7) provides access to the space behind the secondary armament.

An empty gun port (8) provides similar access to the interior of the wreck. A few metres above the seabed, a metal grating sticks out perpendicular to the hull (9). This used to be a walkway along the side of the armoured citadel. Although the gun ports lower down are more interesting, above the walkway there are quite a few small holes in the hull and gaps left where portholes have been removed (10). Checking carefully in nooks and crannies can often reveal tompot blennies and the occasional small scorpionfish. Another secondary turret base (11) is followed by a gap in the armour where plates have broken loose (12) and a 1m-long girder frame which may have been part of a hoist.

Interesting features along the edge of the deck include a hoist and pulley, a huge pair of bollards and similarly sized deck cleats. Under the bows the armoured deck has separated from a huge circular turret base that supports the wreck above the seabed (13). If the tide is running, a large shoal of bib will probably be holding position here against the current that surges through beneath the wreck. The tip of the bow has been broken to leave a square hole filled with broken and crumpled steel plate (14). Close to the seabed is a battleship sized anchor chute. Swimming up above the keel, the first few metres are intact, but you will soon come to a break where plates have collapsed and the entire line of the keel has sagged inwards several metres (15). This break goes most of the way to the stern and is full of the jumbled remains of the battleship's machinery. Over the last winter, the engine room (16) has noticeably collapsed inwards.

The ends of boilers and huge cranks and gear wheels are particularly impressive aft of the engine room, follow a valley between the port prop shaft and the keel (17). Missing plates on the sides of the keel provide a view through the wreck. The end of the prop shaft (18) has broken from one of its mounts where the hull has collapsed and folded, leaving it attached by a solid steel wing to the keel just forward of the rudder (19). More stone blocks rest against the hull, filling the gap between the stern and the breakwater. From here it is easy to navigate back to the post to which the guide rope is attached and follow the rope back up to the buoy. On the way, keep an eye out for unusual marine life. This is a good area to spot black-faced blennies, cuttlefish and octopus. Last time I dived the Hood one of the other divers even saw a John Dory close to the breakwater wall.


RELUCTANT TO GO QUIETLY

"A bitch to the last!" was one Royal Navy captain's verdict on HMS Hood, writes Kendall McDonald. She had just capsized as they were scuttling her across the southern entrance to Portland Harbour in 1914. Perhaps the Hood didn't deserve that epitaph, but since her launch in 1891, the 14,150 ton armoured monster had become known throughout the fleet as a good looker, but a lousy sailer.

She was weighed down with heavily armoured turrets which the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Hood, had insisted were installed to house her big guns. This extra weight lowered her freeboard so that she needed dead calm to proceed at speed, otherwise great green seas came aboard and the whole ship was covered in clouds of spray, making gunnery impossible. So it is not surprising that shortly after her completion in 1893, the 380ft-long warship was sent to the calmer waters of the Mediterranean.

She stayed there for nine years, was put on reserve duties and then transferred to Portland as a target for torpedo practices. Her guns were taken out - they had never once fired a shot in anger. Shortly after the outbreak of World War One, on 4 November, 1914, the Hood was sunk across the southern entrance to Portland to stop any crafty U-boat commander firing torpedoes into the anchored Channel Fleet. But she didn't go quietly. Once she was towed into position, the seacocks were opened so that she would sink gracefully and upright. However, it took so long that the tide turned and started to pull her out of place. Explosives were hurriedly used to blow a hole in her side, she filled too quickly, did a port roll, and crashed completely upside down into the seabed.

HOW TO FIND HER:

The Hood lies directly across the southern entrance to Portland Harbour at 50.34.08N, 2.25.12W (degrees, minutes and seconds). Local dive centres maintain a small buoy just south of the wreck about 5m outside the harbour wall.


 

 

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