Ouessant Subaqua an experience of 20 years on the Ouessant seabed
It is the most westward dive centre in France and assuredly one of the sportiest! These mythical shoal areas are choked up with reefs, crossed by impetuous currents and battered by wild winds. Diving there is not meant for inexperienced divers and leaves no room for improvisation. Paul Marec, the centre manager, has a rich experience of the tormented waters of the Iroise Sea and ensures that the thrilling dives take place in all safety. Initially a leisure diver at this club launched by two youngsters in 1991, Paul Marec later took the centre in hand and ensured its survival. The instructor has been diving around the island for 20 years but he is still not tired of sharing his knowledge with curious and passionate divers. The centre is open between April and November and welcomes some 600 divers each year.
A diverse seabed and unique biodiversity
Ouessant is a rocky island with steep slopes that are constantly battered by the waves of the Iroise Sea. The island is surrounded by an over 50m deep seabed on the border between the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel where two waters meet and water rises from the deep. With such geographical and geological characteristics, it is not surprising for divers to find such a peculiar seabed.
Good visibility and endemic species
First of all, they are agreeably surprised by the clear waters of the seabed and the good visibility, partly due to the very strong currents and the mixing sea waters. The large biodiversity and the difference in size between certain species are also a consequence of the interaction of these phenomena. The kelp is the most compelling evidence: a 10m difference in size exists at the level of the layer of water where they grow compared with other sites compared to other sites in the region. The most popular rare species in Ouessant is the yellow coral (Dendrophylla cornigera) and one frequently comes across various species that can be observed rarely or not at all in the waters of Northern Brittany.
A self-taught scientific approach
The centre’s team enjoys the best location at a site which boasts a rich and unique biodiversity and has launched a rigorous scientific process to list the greatest number of sites possible per zone and thus chart these zones for the first time.
The club operates in autarky and has voluntarily decided not maintain any links with other scientific bodies. Scientific missions are undertaken by passionate divers who spend their holidays on the island. The day starts early and the divers have to check the mission assigned to each one of them: for instance, observing a specific rocky formation at a specific depth and with a specific orientation. All team members must note down their observations on a submersible board and take photos to illustrate the data recorded.
A debriefing worthy of the name
An impressive debriefing session takes place in the lecture room of the centre. The team members give an individual account of their mission and it often happens that the debriefing session lasts the entire afternoon! The display of a slideshow of the photos taken is accompanied with comments which enable each diver, depending on their level of knowledge in biology, to hone their observation skills: fan worms, crinoids, leopard-spotted gobies, sea urchins, spider crabs, white sea fans, yellow cluster anemones, brush and crater sponges, basses, pollocks and wrasses by the hundreds. These images show the remarkable concentration of fauna and flora all around the island. Each group of divers not only focuses on identifying the species encountered but also to sketch the topography of the site and spot the association of species in order to accurately describe the reef landscapes of Ouessant.
Discovering shipwrecks in Ouessant
The surroundings of Ouessant are exposed to very strong winds and currents, misty and choked up with reefs, and have been the scene of several shipwrecks. Hence the proverb, ‘Qui voit Ouessant voit son sang’ (Whoever sees Ouessant also sees his blood). Before the first lighthouses were built, various shipwrecks marked the history of the island and of its inhabitants, who distinguished themselves by saving the passengers.
Nowadays, divers travel long distances to discover the wrecks of the Peter Sif, the Île d’Ouessant, the Teucer or the Vesper in the clear waters of Ouessant. A total of not fewer than 50 shipwrecks have been recorded and 25 contemporary wrecks are regularly visited by aquanauts. The Ouessant Subaqua team is always pleased to tell the story of each one of them. Some of them smashed on the rocks while others were stranded on a sand bed. Besides the discovery of the shipwrecks, divers will be amazed by the fauna and flora that has colonised them, creating a very harmonious and colourful ensemble.
Paul Marec discovered the vestiges of a 17th or 18th century boat while looking for new sites. He also found two anchors, six cannons and several briquettes trapped in a fault. The discovery of the wreck has been reported to the department of maritime affairs of Brest and to the French government’s underwater archaeology department (DRASSM). A scientific assessment will probably help in uncovering a new page of the maritime history of Ouessant.
Major shipwrecks in Ouessant
The Drummond Castle
This English cruise liner sunk off the coasts of Molène on 16 June 1896. Only two sailors and a passenger survived the shipwreck. To express her gratitude to the people of Ouessant for their endeavours to rescue the passengers, Queen Victoria offered them a bell tower for the church that was under construction on the island.
The wreck of this small English steamer took place in 1903 and gave the opportunity to Rose Héré, a heroic Ouessant woman to rise to fame by saving 14 crew men.
The Martin Gust
This Scandinavian sailboat was stranded at rising tide at the Pern Point in 1918 after losing its mast. It had on board an important shipment of rum, which was a bonanza that lasted months for the inhabitants of Ouessant.
This Greek steamship sunk in January 1918 and nowadays lies at a depth of 15 to 20 metres.
The Île d’Ouessant
This wreck lies at 45 m deep on the white sand of the bay of Lampaul. The boat was sailing towards the La Jument lighthouse in favourable weather on 6 June 1924 when it was lifted up by a swell and stranded on a rock. The 40 passengers and 7 crew members were all saved by the Eugène Potron, a steamship of the lighthouses and beacons department.
This Greek cargo ship sunk in 1935 in one of the island’s inlets. It had on board a shipment of white rams whose genes later contributed to produce the famous Ouessant black sheep, which are unique in the world.
This Italian cargo ship was stranded in 1955. Its wreck lies on its port side at 17 m deep. The wreck has been ripped open due to the currents and shallow waters and now houses numerous poutings and pollocks.