Saturday 17th October
After 2 days, 758 miles and an overnight stop in Inverness we finally arrive in Stromness. The journey has been good and we even saw dolphins on the ferry crossing from Scrabster to Stromness.
We collected the car, left the ferry and drove round to the quayside for our first look at MV Huskyan. We passed Radiant Queen (our dive boat in 2013) on the way and then saw the new boat…….
She is a VERY big boat.
Emily is waiting for us and we are invited on board to start loading our kit. The handy new crane is used to bring all the techy boys’ cylinders and stages on-board. Crates are lowered and spots on the dive deck chosen. We received a quick briefing on what goes where and which lockers are whose. The full briefing will happen in the morning but for now everything is tidied away and we can now go and settle into the accommodation for the week.
The house is very spacious and Emily has got in a few essentials for us to get us settled in. Room-mates are negotiated, bags unpacked so the only thing left to do is relax and find the pub! Which is actually conveniently located directly opposite the house. Perfect!
Sunday 18th October
We gather on the boat at 8.00 am to finish the last bits of faffing and allow those that flew in to set up their kit. At 8.30 sharp Emily gives us the full boat briefing, dive procedures and most importantly the codes for the post dive drinks order. TM – tea with milk, TMS – tea with milk and sugar! All very easy.
9.10 the ropes are cast off and we set out into the Flow………..
Our first dive of the trip is the Dresden. She is a light cruiser launched in April 1917 and went into service in 1918.
Displacement 5,531 tons
Engine 2 coal/oil fired turbines
Length 153 metres
Top speed 28 knots
She was built very close to the end of the war when resources were scarce so was constructed on a bit of a shoe string – no brass or bronze here. She broke down en route to Scapa as a testament to the quality of her build. As a result though, there is very little salvage damage. When the hole was blown in her deck to retrieve the turbines the low quality was discovered and no further salvage was done.
She now rests on her port side at 34 metres and is slowly turning turtle. She is definitely more over than when we saw her 2 years ago.
Emily gives us our first history lesson/briefing. These have been further improved with the use of the Epic Pen! Which means Emily can annotate the wreck drawings and 3D images highlighting exactly what is where. Photographs are then used to show what you are looking for. This is all really useful stuff as the ships are so big, it’s a little dark and you have limited time!
We are to lookout for the deck peeling away from the hull exposing the deck beams, 5.9 inch deck guns and the ship’s crest on the bow.
We dive as a group of 4 as we are the only recreational divers, mostly on single 15 litre cylinders, in the group, which is fine as the cold generally will finish our dives before lack of bottom time. We had a 30% mix so a reasonable stay at depth.
We descend the stern shot and when we hit about 10 metres someone turns the lights out! I don’t remember it being this dark before.
Every time I equalised my ears water ran in to my mask so when I finally find the wreck at 27 metres I can hardly see. I cleared my mask just for it to slowly refill again. Seeing my gauges and computer is a bit of a struggle so adds to the stress levels somewhat. A wriggle of the hood seems to sort the mask out so I settle into the dive a bit more but not enough to use my camera.
We follow the edge of the wreck which is covered in life. We see the large railings of the bridge and then come to where the deck is peeling away showing all the deck beams like ribs. We reach the bow shot with 80 bar so decide to swim forward a little more to see if we can find the crest. The silt has been kicked up a bit so we may well have passed over the crest but it wasn’t visible to us.
We see crabs, wrasse, velvet swimming crabs, loads of star fish of all shapes and sizes and a sea scorpion sitting perfectly still on the hull. A very nice first dive but a little on the dark side.
Everyone safely back on board, lunch is served. It is pasta which is scrumptious and warming followed by ice cream. Baskets of various decorations and sauces are produced so we can create our own toppings. A bit like being a kid again! Yum.
During our surface interval Emily shouts from the wheel house “WHALE”……… we all run up to the bow to see. We wait patiently and sure enough, in the distance there is a spurt of water and then a dorsal fin…… we think it was a minke whale.
Our second dive of the day is the Karlsruhe which is another light cruiser. She was launched in 1916 and built to a higher spec than the Dresden. She lays on her starboard side in 28 metres of water on a slight slope. She is very broken up from the salvage of her engine turbines, condensers, the brass bridge and the cast bronze torpedo tubes.
Engine 2 coal/oil fired turbines
Top speed 28 knots
Length 150.8 metres
During the briefing Emily shares more information about the salvaging of the ships and points out the areas of interest. 5.9 inch guns, anchor capstan and the conning tower. She draws on the maps her suggested route and what to look out for……. fabulous.
We descend the line in our buddy two for this dive. The viz is much better and you could make out the dark shape of the wreck as you descended. I decide to try and get some pictures on this dive. The use of the strobe is still new to me so hopefully by the end of the week I should have some half decent pictures.
We see the 3 deck guns and one of the brass plates has been rubbed clean so it shines. We pass round the conning tower, pass the lifeboat davits on the sea bed and along to the capstans. Again we see loads of star fish, crabs, and lots of fish life.
A lovely dive and a great first day.
Monday 19th October 2015
We gather promptly at 8.00 again ready for ropes off at 8.30. There is a slight breeze today so not the flat calm waters we enjoyed yesterday but the Huskyan is still a very smooth sail. It was easy to forget you were on a boat as it’s so spacious and comfortable.
There is some debate on what to dive. The Kronprinz is an option or the Coln. The decider is that the Valkyrie dive boat has got to the Kronprinz first so we decide to dive the Coln.
The Coln is a light cruiser launched in October 1916. She lays in 35 metres of water on her starboard side, her topside at 20 metres with her bow tip clear of the sea bed. She is still in relatively good condition and has an almost complete range finder still in place on the conning tower.
Engine 2 sets of coal/oil fired turbines and twin propellers
Length 155.5 metres
Top Speed 29 knots
Emily once again gives us a very comprehensive briefing. The shot line is tied around a piece of the bridge mid ship and the recommendation is to head to the bow. Following the centre line of the deck there is the bridge structure, conning tower, two gun mounts left after the guns were salvaged, anchor capstans, the hawse chain hole and then over the top to follow the line of the deck back to the shot. If you have enough time and air then forward of the shot is the torpedo box (the only complete one left in Scapa) and diagonally down from there is a smallish gun.
We descend the line in our buddy 2 again and the viz is good. The Coln is a lovely wreck which I enjoyed very much last time we were here. We follow the briefing instructions and head along the centre line of the ship keeping the deck on our left shoulder. The conning tower is huge! The gap between the range finder and the tower top is quite small so having seen the photos during the briefing really helps us identify what we were looking at. The ship is covered in brittle stars….. Everywhere seems to wriggle and writhe with legs, shoals of fish, anemones and more starfish….. Lots of life on these monsters of destruction!
Back aboard another fantastic feast is waiting. Jacket spud, beans and cheese. My favourite! Pudding today is warm ginger cake which is gorgeous.
Warmed up and refuelled we headed to Burra Sound to see one of the block ships. These ships were sunk on purpose to block some of the entrances and exits to Scapa Flow. The main entrances were blocked with chain link metal curtains pulled across by boats but the small gaps were filled with sunken boats or had roads built between them to close the gaps.
We would be diving Gobernador Bories wich was a 2,332 ton steamer that worked as a whaling ship in Chile, Argentina and the Falklands. She was bought by the British Admiralty to sink at Scapa Flow but this didn’t run smoothly and she sank in the wrong place. She now lies on her port side between 13 – 17 metres.
We have to wait for slack water as this area is tidal and we have strict instructions to be ready to jump at 1.55. We could have anything up to an hour in the water before the current starts to run again back out to the Atlantic. The briefing is brief as this is only a small, broken up wreck sitting at about 16 metres but the viz should be excellent. There will be kelp, lots of fish and an intact propeller.
We busy ourselves with kitting up and are obediently ready at 1.55, sitting at on the benches waiting for orders.
Finally, the signal to jump is given and we drop in to the water, swim for the shot and descend. You can see the sea bed coming into view quite quickly and the green clears to beautiful clear water. The wreck structure is visible but very broken up and there is plenty of fish and crabs. The water feels definitely cooler than this morning. A chilly 11 degrees. Brrrrrr.
We swim slowly towards the stern, picking our way through the kelp, watching the fish and crabs going about their business. I spy 2 butterfish having a fight, trying to bite lumps out of each other. The current is starting to pick up so we peer round the stern to see the propeller and rudder and then retrace our fin kicks to the bow.
Cold getting the better of us we inflate the SMB and gradually make our way to the surface.
A huge mug of tea and cheesy puffs are waiting for us and we then head back to Stromness.
Tuesday 20th October
Today we will start with the Kronprinz Wilhelm
Displacement 25,388 tons
Engine 46,000 horsepower turbines, 3 propellers
Length 175 metres
Top Speed 23 knots
The Kronprinz was a Konig class battleship and sits virtually upturned on the sea bed, resting on her starboard deck at about 38 metres. Her super structure is buried in the seabed but there is a lip that can be swum under to see two of the 10 inch guns, upside down on the sea bed. They are huge. It took 75 men to operate one of these guns and the shells were nearly a ton in weight.
Emily clearly explains the layout and how to find the guns – just follow the shot all the way to the seabed. Head towards the stern and you will find the huge rudders sticking up. There is a lot of salvage damage. The engines, the 5 torpedo tubes and the armoured plating from along the hull edge have all been blown off the ship. So once passed the rudders bear right to follow the line of the hull up to about 15 metres to avoid getting lost in the salvage damage.
I’m sure I we can manage that!
We wait patiently for the techy boys to kit up, clip on their different stages and jump in the water. The boat circles round again and we jump in the water. As instructed we follow the line all the way down, past where it is tied into the wreck down towards the sea bed. We peer under the lip and can see the metal sides of the guns. Another diver is heading towards me and as I turn I realise I have inadvertently swum under the lip down the side of the ship. Eek. It is dark and the viz not at its best so making out what is what is a little tricky even after a fantastic briefing.
We follow the deck line to the stern and are greeted by the huge rudders. Aahh, I remember these! They are still just as impressive even in the limited light that we have. We swim between these huge structures up on to the hull which is covered in white plumose anemones and allows us to shallow out the dive to about 18 metres to properly enjoy the white carpet beneath us. Starting to feeling cold we send up the SMB after 30 minutes and slowly ascend.
Lunch today is a lovely beef curry followed by a choice of banana cake or lemon drizzle cake. Yum. Weight will need to be removed from my BC at this rate!
Displacement 4,308 tons
Engine twin turbine
Length 139 metres
Top Speed 34 knots
The Brummer was a fast mine layer launched in 1915. As a mine layer she was constructed longer, thinner and lighter than the cruisers and could carry 360 mines. The mines were rolled off the back of the ship in trolleys which became the mine’s anchor and the mine itself would then float up and become operational. She was armed but not as heavily as the other ships as she was never intended to be in the thick of fighting. More a nip in, drop mines, nip out kinda boat. She was also a sneaky ship with a mast that could be lowered to mimic the silhouette of the Aurora, a British ship – I remember this from the briefing 2 years ago.
Her lighter construction means she has deteriorated more than some of the other wrecks. She now rests on her starboard side at 36m with the side of her hull at 24m. The deck is slowly peeling away and only held in place by the capstans on the bow. The key things to look out for are a deck gun, the bridge structure, the conning tower upside down on the sea bed and an iris from the large flash lights used to open and close the light for signalling – I also remember we found this by chance last time.
We kit up and wait patiently again for the techy boys to attach all their bits and bobs. I sit marvelling at the amount of kit one diver can carry and pondered whether it is worth all that extra faff. Finally it is our buddy 3’s turn and we wait for the shout to giant stride in to the water. Splash. Splash. Splash….. Followed by furious paddling back again to collect my camera being passed down to me. By the time I get to the shot line I am out of puff.
We are a buddy three as another buddy pair had a couple of problems with their ascents on the last dive so one of our divers is taking a well-earned rest. We descend the line slowly, stopping to check our new buddy’s cuff dump is now working correctly and then continue down the line.
Dark, dark, dark!
We are about 1.5 – 2 metres above the wreck before we can see it. We can see the techy boys’ torches flicking around below us. We follow the deck line with the wreck on our right looking for the gun. Fin. Fin. Fin. We must have missed it. Eventually we turn back towards the shot and the bridge structure. Just as we are getting low on bottom time the iris comes in to view. I try to take a couple of rushed pictures and then we head up trying to shallow the dive. The edge of the deck is at about 25 metres so didn’t help overly with buying back some bottom time. We hit 2 mins remaining so signal to ascend.
Back on board there is cheese and biscuits waiting with some rather tasty local cheeses.
As we sail back to Stromness the conversation turns to the weather. We are due to have some bad weather but the forecast keeps moving when it will arrive. It is now looking like Thursday could be at risk from the weather gods. Emily says she will keep us informed as things can change very quickly up here.
We will have to wait and see……