Background

For those readers who’ve got the time and are interested, I thought I’d explain why the
Underwater Curiosity Park exists and why it is where it is.
So, here goes …

In 2016, having moved the Head Office of my company to a refurbished Admiralty office and warehouse block in Castletown the previous year, I decided to embark on a mission to help regenerate the village of Castletown, Portland.  Situated just outside the gates of the once largest man-made harbour in the world, Castletown’s fortunes had plummeted in the 1990s when the Royal Navy, the Admiralty Research Establishment and the Naval Air Station, pulled out with all their supporting infrastructure, with businesses shortly following or closing down.

There was a brief flurry of activity in the early 2000s as scuba divers made the most of both the natural wonders of the ocean around Portland and of the many wrecks in the area.  However, this fizzled out as the Hood (an old scuttled Naval battleship) was closed as a diving attraction for safety reasons. The sinking of ‘the Scilla’ attracted divers to Plymouth and the local facilities on offer to divers in Castletown failed to keep up with 21st century expectations.

The fact remained, however, that Portland  offered arguably the best diving in the UK, with hundreds of wrecks to explore, a vast variety of marine life to see (scalloping being particularly popular) and interesting reefs and hidden coves to discover; all in the heart of the now famous Jurassic Coast.

So, back to my Castletown regeneration initiative which is a multi-faceted project to reinvigorate this lovely and historically significant locality on Portland.

Castletown still had 2 pubs (it used to have 7!), a boatyard, a hotel, a tremendous but under-used Leisure Centre with an Olympic size pool, but little else that wasn’t run down or boarded up.It needed something to attract ‘footfall’, something to offer and that’s what I set about providing.

Castletown now has:

  1. An award winning Museum focusing on D-Day and the months leading up to it and the impact that had on the local community (Castletown was one of the main embarkation points for troops, vehicles equipment and supplies). Go to www.castletownddaycentre.com or click here for more details.
  2. A tea room adjacent to the Museum.
  3. A new holiday apartment block, built in the shape of a ship on Castletown Pier, with tremendous views and fantastic facilities. Go to  www.weymouthandportlandholidays.co.uk or click here for more details.
  4. A Convenience Store
  5. A seasonal Weymouth to Portland ferry.
  6. A Tourist Information Centre
  7. A new ‘pay as you go’ toilet facility.
  8. Additional employment prospects in the leisure and fishing industry, as well as my own company.
  9. A new Underwater Curiosity Park to attract scuba divers back to the area.

I chose Balaclava Bay as, being a diver myself and having dived the area for 30 years, I wanted an area that was largely protected from the elements, no more than 16m deep (to facilitate novice divers), provided reasonable visibility and was relatively close to an existing wreck.  This left 4 choices: somewhere near the wreck of ‘the Countess of Erne’ in Portland Harbour itself; somewhere near the Dredger in Balaclava Bay; somewhere near ‘the Spaniard’ (the Enecuri); or somewhere near the Landing Craft and Bombardon Unit.  The Harbour Master said anywhere near the Sir Tristan (a ship moored in the harbour) or the main harbour entrance was off limits, so that effectively ruled out the Spaniard, the Landing Craft/Bombardon Unit and the Countess.  Anyway, I feared there might be too much silt in those locations.  So, that was that, Bally Bay it was. For those of you who desire even more information please click here for details of the underwater curiosity park within the whole Castletown regeneration project.

Historical Note: The Sir Tristan was a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship (RFA). She and her sister ship, Sir Galahad, were attacked by Argentinian forces in Fitzroy Cove, Falkland Islands, on 8 June 1982.  She was strafed and bombed and 2 crew were killed in the engagement.  She was abandoned but, after the conflict, was towed back to the UK for repairs before returning to service.  She was eventually de-commissioned on 17 December 2005 and moored in Portland Harbour.  She is now used by the Special Boat Service and other elements (whom you wouldn’t want to upset) of the UK’s Special Forces Group. The Sir Galahad was extensively damaged in the same attack as the Sir Tristan and later towed out to sea and sunk.  A total of 48 soldiers and crewmen died on the Sir Galahad and the wreck is now an official war grave.