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The Persier

History of the Persier
The story of the Persier is a long one. The 5382-ton Belgian steamer was launched at Newcastle in 1918 by the name of War Buffalo. On 8th February 1945 she left the south of Wales to take food to liberated Belgians with 63 people onboard. As part of Convoy BTC65 the Persier was passing between the Eddystone and the shore when one of her escorts raised an alarm - a periscope had been spotted.

Torpedoed by UB-1017 in 1945
Shortly after this a premature torpedo explosion shot a column of water into the air, another torpedo whizzing past the port side. At precisely 17:25 hours another torpedo this time struck the port side opposite hold No 2 on the port side, just forward of the bridge.
The Persiers cargo of food supplier (powdered egg, baby food, meat and blankets) began to swell with the flooding water weighing the ship over onto her side. The call to abandon ship was given but sadly this went dramatically wrong. Lifeboat No 1 with 11 crew members launched successfully, but the heavy Force 7 seas unhooked the boat at the bow and left it handing by the stern spilling everyone into the sea. Lifeboat No 3 was pulled into the Persiers propeller and shredded. A nearby smaller cargo ship, the Birker Force, came alongside and managed to rescue 44 members of the crew; after which the Persier was last seen drifting into the night with her stern high and her bow low in the water. Silent and unseen she sank in the dark.
It was not until 1969 that the Plymouth Sound BSAC found her after being told by a local fisherman that he would always snag his lines in the area - 20km northeast of the Persiers last known position. The Plymouth Sound BSAC dived the site and found her with her 4.7-inch gun and two sets of Oerlikon guns still intact; and bought her for £300 and still own her today.

Dive Guide
The Persier is off the mouth of the River Erme with her bows to the south-west. Resting on the seabed at approx 28m with her highest point being the bow about 18m deep. On her port side and broken up amidships, she is stretched over rocky outcrops. The Persier will take more than one or two dives to be fully explored as she is scattered over a site of 122m by 30m. Although she stands about 7 metres proud of the seabed it is not always simple to drop a shot-line on her as all of her superstructure has broken away.
The boilers are the most prominent area of the wreck which lie 23m deep at the highest point. Dropping onto these first and then making your way to the stern of the ship is the best direction as this is less scattered / flattened. Here you can swim through the prop shaft tunnel and over masts, rigging, winches, etc. Once at the stern you will find the rudder still attached to the stern section and is the deepest part of the wreck at 28m. Head back towards the boilers along the port side for some excellent swim throughs until you reach the No1 and No2 holds on bow side of the boilers. Looking under the metal pates and rigging can be rewarded with some large crabs, lobsters and conger eels.
A usual dive around the Persier will take approx 20 minutes although there is still much, much more to see on your next dive. This is certainly a wreck you will never bore of diving. Things to see are her three boilers and nearby an 8ft anchor.

General Info

Tides: Tides shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the Persier unless there are southerly winds where the trip out may be rather uncomfortable. The time taken to get to the wreck from Fort Bovisand will approx 20 mins in a RIB.
Getting there:
Take the M5 and then the A38 towards Plymouth. Bear left onto the A381 to Totnes, Kingsbridge and Salcombe. To get to Hope Cove, take a sharp right at Malborough village just before reaching Salcombe.
Boat rides & Air fills: The following provide boats out to the Persier but not all can provide air - check beforehand.
  • A&A Diving; contact 01752 262871, 0411 276850 or 0802 157664
  • Cee King; contact 01752 663247
  • Fort Bovisand Underwater Centre; contact 01752 408021
  • Katrina Thomsen; contact 01548 821537
  • Maid Maggie; contact 01752 491544
  • Mount Batten Diving; contact 01752 405403
  • Sound Diving; contact 01752 670674
  • Storm Diving; contact 01752 492232
  • UK National; contact 01752 863545
Launching: The nearest launch site is Challaborough, although it can easily be reached from Hope Cove. Get to Challaborough via the A379, turning off onto the B3392 heading towards Bigbury. At the Pickwick Inn turn right for Challaborough - beware - the road is steep, narrow and twisting. At high tide launching from Challaborough is easy but keep clear of the submerged rocks to the west of the beach.
Hope Cove is approached from the A381 Kingsbridge to Salcombe road - which clearly signposts you to Hope Cove. An arrangement has been made with the Harbour Master for divers to use the Inner Hope slip - DO NOT use the Outer Hope slip unless you wish to cause trouble with the locals The slip at Hope Cove (Inner Hope) has a reasonable launch fee and is wet for just an hour or two either side of high tide. When the slip is dry there is a firm, sandy beach suitable for launching with a 4x4.
Accommodation: There are many hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the area. Contact Tourist Information on 01548 843927.
Qualifications: Reasonably experienced sport divers and above. It is NOT a dive for novices or newly qualified divers.
Further information: Admiralty Chart 1613, Eddystone Rocks to Berry Head. Ordnance Survey map 202; Torbay and South Dartmoor area. Dive South Devon by Kendall McDonald; The Wreckers Guide to South Devon Vol 2, by Peter Mitchel.
Pros: Spectacular wreck and not too deep (28m to the sea bed).
Cons: There may be fishing nets/lines around the wreck.
How to find it:
GPS 50.17.00N, 3.58.09W.

The Persier is easy to find from transits.

  1. Approach the wreck from a northwesterly direction and look out for a village on the coastline ahead. Find a house with two chimneys and align the right-hand chimney with the gap in a long hedge on the horizon behind the house. When you've done this you are on the right bearing.
  2. Towards the mouth of the River Erme look for two white coastguard cottages. When these have nearly been obscured by the headland you should be over the wrecks boilers.
  3. As a final check, look behind towards Burgh Island. On the horizon there will be a church; align the spire with the bottom corner of the top field.

Copyright © 2007 Chippenham Diving Club - BSAC1622