Wednesday 21st October
We gather for breakfast and to watch the weather reports. It is windy and the forecast is for this to stay and then increase further on Thursday. The BBC weather lady points to big white arrows over northern Scotland indicating the strong winds coming our way.
It is calm on the boat whilst in port but the wind would pick up as soon as we leave its shelter. The journey would be lumpier than previous days but the Huskyan could cope. Emily took us through the weather forecast and confirmed the BBC prediction is accurate and it is set to get worse. Thursday’s diving is going to be blown out unless there is a weather miracle.
With everything lashed down we head out into the Flow.
Emily briefs us whilst on the move. Our first dive will be the Markgraf. This is the big, deep, dark one I was too scared to dive last time……
The Markgraf is a Konig class battleship and is almost identical to the Kronprinz Wilhelm. She was launched in 1913 and formed part of the Third Battle Squadron requiring over 1100 men to keep her running. She now rests upside down at a depth of 45 metres with her shallowest depth on the top of the hull at 24 metres.
Displacement 25390 tons
Engine 3 coal/oil turbines which drove 3 propellers
Length 175 metres
Top Speed 21 knots
Emily gives us a brief overview of the wreck so we can decide what we want to do so she can focus the briefing accordingly. The options are:
- The Gun Run
- The Stern
- The Bow
- or for the techy boys all of the above!
The Gun Run – Along the side of the ship at about 39 metres is a row of 5.9 inch guns poking out from under the upturned deck. There are 6 of the original 7 still visible and make a nice dive to try and find them. You need to follow the groove where the 12 inch plate has been blown off. Just below, sticking out of the 10 inch armour plating are the guns. This route requires a good eye and enough bottom time
The Bow – The bow is still intact and makes a nice profile in the water
The Stern – The stern is beautifully curved and still has the two magnificent rudders standing proud in the water. Drop down the side of the wreck, keep the wreck on the right, pass the port holes and stay at about 35m. Round the curve of her beautiful bottom and swim up between the rudders.
We opt for the rudders as my buddy did the gun run last time. We follow the careful instructions down the side of the wreck and find the portholes. Maintaining our depth we follow the line of the hull and round the curve of her stern. The huge rudders are standing proud in front of us in the green gloom but are still impressive. We gradually shallow out following the curve of her underside up to the bottom of the hull at around 25 metres. The hull is covered with brittle stars and we watch the large star fish moving along and all the brittle stars moving hurriedly out of the way! We come back to find the shot and ascend slowly back to the surface.
Yay. I survived!
After lunch Emily drops us off at Lyness museum. The island is sheltered and the sun has come out so it makes a pleasant stroll. This is a lovely museum which is free (donations gratefully received) and has lots of artefacts covering the role of the area in both wars. Outside are some guns and a propeller from HMS Hampshire that have been recovered and the fencing is made out of submarine netting. There is information about the sinking of the Royal Oak with some interesting photos taken when she was last dived as part of the commemorations.
Our allotted time is up so we wander back to Huskyan to ready ourselves for the next dive.
F2 and YC21
Back aboard we make the very short hop across the water to the F2. It is very close to the Pier and some of the other dive boats have already been here as this is a very sheltered spot and Emily has been specifically saving it for a day like today.
The F2 is a second world war escorts vessel and sits in 18 metres of water on her port side. The area from the bow to the bridge is still intact and recognisable but aft of this the wreck is almost destroyed from blasting. Next to the wreck is a sunken barge that was used when salvaging the deck guns. The story is that they tied the barge to the wreck, loaded on the guns and then went ashore for the night only to find that a storm had pulled the barge under and sunk it!
Displacement 790 tons
Engine twin turbines and two propellers.
Length 76 metres
Top speed 26 knots
Emily briefs us on the wrecks. She suggests starting on the wooden barge (YC21) to see the deck guns poking out of the hold. If you then stick your head under the deck you can see a work bench with a vice and some shelving. There is a rope that then leads you from the barge to the F2 so you can continue exploring.
The bow of the F2 is very curved and intact and there are anchor capstans and other bits and bobs to see. We did this dive two years ago and it was one of the best for viz and fish life so we are quite excited about diving it again.
We descend the line and the viz is similar to some of the inland dive lakes we normally frequent at weekends. Similar to homemade pea soup! The barge is already busy with divers so getting in to the hold is going to be tricky so I decide not to bother. The guns are visible and I try and take a couple of pictures but the water quality is such that it’s difficult to get a profile shot. We drop over the side of the wreck and admire the wooden hull that is slowly deteriorating and the massive bolts that hold it all together.
After circling the barge we come across the line that leads over to the F2 so we head over. There is lots of fish life on this wreck as it’s shallower than the others we have dived this week. We follow the deck line to the bow with its sweeping curve and then up over the side of the hull. Feeling chilly we find the line and ascend.
Large mugs of tea and warm ginger bread is waiting for us on our return.
Once everyone is back on board the shop opens. This is the lads’ opportunity to purchase something nice for their loved ones who have agreed to them being on holiday while they are left home alone. Emily has created WAG bags which contain an item of jewellery, some locally produced soap and fudge, all put together in a pretty gift bag. This gives the chaps the ability to buy something nice without leaving the dive boat and hopefully recoup some brownie points when they get home. Perfect!
We order our 1-pint tea mugs and I treat myself to a bracelet which is a very slender female diver – I can dream!
Shopping complete the conversation returns to tomorrow’s weather. There has been no weather miracle so diving is blown out. Emily agrees to recheck in the morning and call if anything changes but I get the impression that there is no chance of any change.
We decide that if we aren’t diving tomorrow we should go for a curry blow out so make plans to head in to Kirkwall for the evening.
Thursday 22nd October
We are woken by the wind and rain battering at the windows. It doesn’t sound very nice out so we plan what to do. The consensus is to head over to Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement which has been preserved underground for thousands of years and was exposed by a storm in 1850.
Walking to the car I am blown along by a huge gust of wind. Definitely not a day to be out in a boat The drive over to Skara Brae is exciting and when we get out of the car it’s a struggle to open the doors against the weather. We go in to pay to be told the village is closed due to the strong winds. Damn. The exhibition and replica house are still open and the ticket includes entry to Skaill House, home to the man who discovered Skara Brae, so we do this instead. There are lots of interactive displays to keep everyone amused and the replica house and talk is very informative. You get the feeling of how snug these buildings are on such a horrid day.
We head over to the Orkney Brewery for some lunch. Hot pot made with their dark ale followed by sticky toffee pudding is a winner and warms us through nicely. Last stop of the day is the Italian chapel which according to the guide book is open daily all year. It is on the next island which is connected via a Churchill Barrier built as part of the closing off of the flow and was constructed with the help of Italian POWs. The wind is gusting and the waves crashing over the road. A helpful sign warns of cross winds and wave action and another sign advises you that you use the road at your own risk! Hmmmm.
As we cross the calm water of the flow is to our left with the angry waves of the open ocean on our right. We cross steadily with wipers going until we reach the other side and the chapel is literally just off to the left.
We park the car sideways on to the wind. I can feel the wind getting underneath and trying to lift it so I re park the car so its head on to the wind hoping this will stop it being flipped. We rattle the chapel door only to find it locked. Damn.
We head back over the barrier and the waves crash over the car. It’s a little bit scary and I am pleased to reach the other side. It is mid-afternoon and the winds aren’t dropping. We check the forecast for Friday and it says it will be less windy so hopefully we will be able to dive.
Friday 23rd October
We wake to a much quieter morning. There is still a breeze and the water in the harbour is choppy but it’s business as usual on Huskyan and Emily is preparing for ropes off at 8.30 as normal.
Emily has saved the Konig battleship until the end of the week as it is a more broken up wreck but it means you can see things you can’t on the other wrecks. She lays in 40 metres of water upside down with her hull at around 20 metres. Assuming the shot line is where it was before the windy weather we should drop down on the turbine which is massive. Emily shows a picture of her swimming into the hole in the centre of the turbine!
You also have the possibility of seeing the citadel wall that is exposed. This was made from 12-inch steel plate that is fitted together using tongue and groove. Amazing.
The base of one of the deck guns is also visible. It is a gigantic smooth hole where the gun used to sit. There is still a single rudder left which is standing proud of the stern but it is damaged which enables you to see the inner workings.
Displacement 25,388 tons
Engine 3 oil/coal fired turbines, her three propellers
Length 175 metres
Top speed 23 knots
The wind is dropping and the waves getting smaller. We jump in and descend the shot line hoping it is in the correct place. There are other divers milling about at the bottom of the shot so I miss the turbine but we easily find the citadel wall. We swim further along the wreckage until we get to the smooth hole for the gun and then try and make our way back to the shot as we haven’t much bottom time left.
Due to the quality of the briefing we manage to identify most of the things Emily has pointed out so we are happy divers as we ascend the line.
Lunch is a warming chilli followed by FAOC which is delicious. F* Awesome Orange Cake – I can confirm it was awesome!
The 3 people who are flying home tomorrow are keen to get back in the water. They are right on the cusp of whether they can squeeze in the last dive and still meet the no fly time limits so Emily begins the final briefing for this trip.
We all enjoyed the Coln earlier in the week so we have decided to make this our last dive of the holiday. Emily briefs us on the bow section that we haven’t dived this trip. We will get the opportunity to try and find the torpedo box, gun and torpedo tube which we didn’t get to last time. From there we need to drop down the deck and follow the wreckage and silt past the salvage damage until reaching the more intact bow. This needs bravery and you have to resist the urge to swim back to the ship deck otherwise you will get lost. You will be rewarded with brass triangles on the deck that supported the machine gun tripods and another bigger deck gun. Continue on to the bow to see the anchor still in place. If you have enough bottom time you can then head to the rudder. Tucked under the rudder is the propeller cone and then slowly up to peer in some holes to find the auxiliary steering gears.
Wow. A lot to see and so little bottom time…. we need to be on our toes (fins)!
We are last to jump in the water. As I reach back to take my camera I can see a black strap flapping in front of my eyes. I grab the camera with one hand, hold my mask with the other and swim for the shot and the help of my buddy. Mask firmly secured, camera clipped on we descend for our last dive at Scapa Flow.
The viz is still really bad with lots of green stuff in the water. It is dark as we get to the wreck but we quickly orientate ourselves and head along the deck line to find the torpedo box. Tick. We cross down the deck to find the gun and torpedo tube and exactly as described I spy a white blob which is the end of the torpedo tube and my buddy spots the gun next to it. Tick.
Now the tricky bit. We want to get to the bow but need to negotiate all the salvage damage so follow the twisted metal and seabed in and out for a few minutes. We are trying to conserve bottom time so are as shallow as we dare be without losing sight of the sea bed. Finally, we come across the mast post and head into the wreck to see the big deck gun and the brass triangles. Tick. Round the bow to see the anchor and onwards, and slightly upwards, to see if we can find the right hole to look in to see the auxiliary steering. We fall at the final test and can’t find the right hole and we are down to 2 minutes bottom time so my buddy signals to deploy our SMB and slowly ascend.
A fantastic dive to finish the week on. Awesome!
With everyone back on board we set back to Stromness and start breaking down our kit and repacking our crates.
The shopping delivery has arrived and WAG bags, t-shirts and hoodies are handed out. Final bills are paid as the boat docks and the handy crane is used to lift everything back off the boat. The only thing left to do now is pack and go down the pub!
It has been a great week of diving and MV Huskyan is a brilliant boat to dive from. It’s a shame the viz has been a little poor but we still got to dive these impressive wrecks and with the help of Emily’s excellent, descriptive briefings we see all the key features.
Thanks to Emily, Ross, MV Huskyan and the OV team for a fantastic week of diving!