Last time I was diving Scapa Flow it was August 2009 and of course as much as I had promised to return that didn’t happened until November 2013. This time though it was much much easier! 🙂
Unlike last time I had not had to endure the endless drive from London to Scrabster but only travel from Aberdeen to Scrabster and from there take the ferry to the Orkneys!
A small panic with batteries aside and the usual madness of packing CCR diving gear for a weeklong trip on Thursday evening everything went to plan. On Friday I finished with work early and went back home to finalize preparations. Steve arrived after a very long drive from London and since the common consensus was Breakfast at McDs we decided to skip the pub (very much unlike us!) and have an early night (even more unlike us!) since the alarm was set for about 04:30!!!
Saturday 2 November 2013 – The trip to Scapa
Well before the first rays of light showed in the sky we started loading the car, which obviously contained already a significant amount of kit, and set off to meet the rest of the team at the Backsburn roundabout from where we would form a convoy to drive to Scrabster.
We arrived at the known junk food restaurant first and proceeded to place orders. Much to Steve’s disappointment the IT system had gone down and they had to reboot the system before they could not take any orders. In the meantime the team started to gather and more and more, just woken up, divers started to appear. A couple more attempts to order the much needed now breakfast were met with the same response “System is down. Waiting to reboot” and at about that time we noticed A LOT of smoke coming from the galley and a few panicked people running around! At that point we had already been there for more than half an hour and if anything was coming that would be a fire engine than our breakfast!!!
Disappointed and hungry we started our journey with an EPIC MacDonalds FAIL. Fortunately just before Elgin, Steve spotted the “Golden Gates” and stopped for a high quality (not) breakfast prepared by the greatest junk food producing establishment in the world!!!
I was compensated for that traumatic experience though at Scrabster, where on arrival we had tea, bacon baps and cakes at Scrabster’s Cups tea room. Cakes were great and I was rather upset that I had to leave before I got to try ALL cakes in the menu!!!
Steve was really excited about this Cafe!
At about that time the whole of the group had made it to the North Link Ferries Terminal in Scrabster and we were ready to start boarding.
Boarding can be done in two ways
- Straightforward: drive the car to the ferry. Get out of the car and walk up to the bar
- Fuffing: Offload the car. Load the trolley. Take the trolley to the ferry. Walk up to the bar.
Steve opted for option i) as option ii) did not seem pleasant or fun.
Aboard the MV HAMNAVOE and after the necessary introductions the whole team assembled for a first drink!
The Scapa Nov 2013 crew: Steve, Cam, Chris (the drinking one), Chris (the one with loads of hair), Ian, Paul, Angela, Don, Mike, Alison (without lube on her hair), Bjorn & of course me!!!,
The trip was short and on arrival to Scrabster we boarded MV Valkyrie which would be home to us for the following week!
MV Valkyrie (photo courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
Once on the boat and having got our cabins Hazel showed us around and briefed us on how things would work for the rest of the week. The briefing included facilities, food, gas, time schedules and other stuff to ensure that everyone knew what was going on and what the expectations / requirements were.
Highlight of the briefing was the clear “No Take” policy of MV Valkyrie that I am particularly fond of. Sadly I have been aboard diving vessels where the skipper, not only did not explicitly discouraged looting of wrecks but, effectively promoted it! Salvaging anything that could identify the wreck is acceptable provided that the formal procedure is followed, for further details read the MCA guidelines on the subject here and there. Salvaging anything else after that so that it can be sold to recover the diving trip costs is a pathetic, pikey attitude unfortunately very common amongst certain diving communities.
Of course there are divers that recover “pretty” things to fill their garage, garden shed or even living room and although this is not as bad as salvaging wrecks to sell them (see pikey) it still deprives future divers from enjoying their dives, apart from the fact that it is usually illegal and stealing along with looting which are not agreeable activities in my books.
Skippers have a role to play and they should be promoting responsible diving as in the end the only one hurt will be themselves. No one wants to dive a barren broken-up featureless wreck. Features like bells, compass, lights, telegraphs etc make a dive interesting, removing them makes for boring dives. I am aware of divers that will avoid booking with certain skippers because they won’t allow them to bring up “spidge” but for how long are they going to be able to sustain that?
With the briefing out of the way we started loading our kit on the boat. That proved to be a bit of a challenge, as the boat was quite low or to be more precise the tide was low!!! Kit was lowered into the boat either by hand, rope or just thrown down (had a couple of near misses there!!!) and apart from a rubbish bag (which was recovered) we didn’t drop anything else!!!
Once everything was sorted, and after a fair bit of dive kit fuffing (a theme that would continue throughout the week) we made our way to the Ferry Inn for a couple of drinks and dinner. Apparently the scallops portions left a few divers hungry but generally the dinner was great and so fed and watered we made our way to the boat in very very heavy rain!!!
To be continued…
Sunday 3 Nov 2013 – Day 1 of Diving
The weather forecast was never favourable for this week and by last night’s rain we knew that it was going to be an ugly Sunday morning. None the less we were all excited and determined to go diving. Hazel was quite confident that we would manage a dive. So at 8o clock we cast the ropes and headed out of port. Howling winds and a very wet deck by the sea splash / spray and continuous rain made even the bravest of us to realize that this was not a diving day!!! more like a “I think I want to go back to bed please” day but we pushed forward…
Shortly after leaving the harbour Helen called us at the lounge for the first of many excellent dive briefings. The first dive was going to be a shake-down dive to make sure that all was working before we go ahead diving more adventurous stuff later in the week.
Once on site Rob informed us that it was too exposed
and we would make our way to the F2 which is more sheltered and our only chance to dive today.
On arrival to the F2 & the YC21 Barge the conditions were, not exactly tropical, but safe to dive and as we were already kitted up we decided to go for the first dive of the trip.
F2 Briefing Sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
A video of the F2 dive by Chris Smith can be found here. As this was a shallow wreck I decided not to take my 100m long reel. The down side of that was that I was too light, as my reel makes part of my “integrated weight system”.
🙂 “Hindsight is the Superpower I would love to have most!” 🙂
Back on the boat and before we even got out of our kit Rob announced that the conditions were too bad for another dive today and we would head back to post. A decision that was welcomed by everyone as a few green faces had started to appear!!!
Helen had prepared Lunch (Soup, Rolls, Meats, Cheese & Salad) and by the time we made it back to port the weather was getting better. It turns out that not many diving boats made it out on Sunday altogether!
Dinners on the Valkyrie are epic. Really. Our dinner tonight was made up of: Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese, Shepherds Pie & Strawberries & Cream for dessert!!! yammy!!! And the quantities could only compare to being at home AND being fed by mum!!! AWESOME!
After dinner we retired to the lounge / saloon to watch Star Trek. Not the most social activity I hear you say? Well maybe, but if you had what we had for dinner you wouldn’t be able to do an awful lot more!!!
Monday 4 November 2013 – Day 2 of Diving
After breakfast we left port to dive the SMS Brummer. 30 min prior to reaching the dive site Helen summoned us to the lounge for the diving briefing which included a sketch of the wreck and detailed instructions as to how to descent, all the interesting features available for us to see and how not to miss The Guns. Halfway during the briefing I found myself thinking “I really want to dive this wreck and see all these awesome features, Masts, capstans, bathtubs, Guns, the bridge, Guns, The battle bridge and did I say Guns?”.
On surfacing Rob was waiting for us to refill cylinders (for the gas guzzling twinsets – NOT ME! 🙂 and with cups of tea and coffee. Soon lunch was ready and we proceeded to the galley for an epic Fry-up.
By the time we finished lunch Helen was preparing the briefing for the next dive!
SMS Karlshrue briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
Odd features at either quarter of the Stern (potentially mine laying chutes) looked intriguing but sadly my knowledge of WWI warship Naval Architecture is rather limited so could not possibly comment…
After the dive and while Rob was filling cylinders we set course to the port of Stromness. On arrival and after a bit of fuffing about with diving kit we made our way to Julia’s Café for another round of cakes (as if we weren’t getting enough food aboard the MV Valkyrie!?). While enjoying our Mocha with Marshmallows and other unhealthy chocolaty stuff we bumped onto the Deeside SAC divers that were visiting Scapa at the same time with us! Brian, Mike, Simon, Gar et al were all in Scapa diving on the Club’s annual pilgrimage to Scapa Flow organized traditionally by Lorne.
Right on time we headed back to get fed by Helen who had prepared: Sweet Potato Soup, Chicken Curry & Pineapple Upside Down Cake for dessert!!!
Although watching films was entertaining enough we decided to give Cards Against Humanity a chance as it seemed amusing enough and we were advised that it a suitably offensive cards game to play.
Sadly the US version of the game didn’t prove to be as offensive or amusing as expected although I am sure that the UK version would make up for it!!!
Subsequently we progressed to play “The Hat Game” a kind of cards game (probably conceived by Steve altogether) and by that time the combined effect of alcohol (which surely one has to have to accompany such team activities) and comments about “Charismatic Leaders” and “Comic Heroes – see Mumm-Ra” led a couple of non-Political Correct but thoroughly entertaining miming games!!!
I am pretty sure I am NOT going to be playing the “Hat Game” in any family gatherings that is for sure!!!
To be continued…
Tuesday 5 November 2013 – Day 3 of Diving
The time to start diving the “more” exciting wrecks of Scapa had come! Today the weather was better and the first dive of the day was going to be the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm.
For a virtual 3D dive on the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm visit Scapa Flow Wrecks and here. Apart from being the massive wreck of a battleship the Krownprinz was the only of the Koning class Battleships to take part in the Battle of Jutland and escaped without damage!
Back on the boat Rob was filling cylinders and Helen was filling divers with Burger, Chips & Salad!!! (No. Before you ask. No. There was no demand for salad!)
The afternoon dive was a quite unique dive. Submarine UB 116 was the last submarine to be sunk at the Great War. She was lost with all hands on deck when a whole minefield was detonated around her! 😮 Sadly further salvage efforts and an (unsuccessful) attempt to make safe of her 10 remaining torpedoes resulted in a wreck site that looks nothing like a submarine. For further info on the story of the UB116 see the UBoat Net and Wikipedia’s entry on UB-116 here.
After that and back on port we gathered in the galley for Helen had prepared for us Garlic Bread, Lasagne & Apple Crumble (Growing fat at this point!!!)
Once more having had a great dinner we retired to the lounge to have a quiet drink and relax for the remaining of the night. Relaxing didn’t really last very long because SPACE TEAM was introduced and quickly got loads of dedicated fans. SPACE TEAM is a mobile phone game and as it works on any smart phone quite quickly it spread amongst all (well almost) all members of the crew. Won’t go into the details other than it is addictive and it definitely is a team game!!!
Wednesday 6 November 2013 – Day 4 of Diving
The first dive on Wednesday was the SMS MARKGRAF another Konig class battleship and sister ship to the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm we dived yesterday. Interestingly enough the SMS MARKGRAF is named after the royal family of Baden (see Wikipedia here). The SMS Baden was was the largest and most powerfully armed battleship built by the Imperial Navy (see Wikipedia here). Sadly the Baden lies at the Hurd’s deep at about 170 to 180 msw which is slightly outside recreational diving limits 😉 And if the depth is not enough to put divers off it is also worth mentioning that (due to the depth) it was considered to be an appropriate location for damping Chemical and radioactive waste from mid 40s to mid 70s…
Having seen guns of all sizes and dimensions we decided to get back to Helen for Chilli Con Carne!!! Awesome diving and awesome food!!!
Diving the V83 as the second dive of the day had to be a shallow dive (in-line with good PADI diving practices – Avoiding reverse profiles) we are good like that 😉 The V83 was a Torpedo boat destroyer that was used by Ernest Cox of Cox & Danks Shipbreaking Co. to salvage the High Seas Fleet. There is an excellent book about the story of Ernest Cox called The Man Who Bought A Navy and I strongly recommend reading it to all divers and engineers!!!
V83 briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
Not a dive I enjoyed as I was having buoyancy issues and poor communication issues.
At some point I pulled out my reel so that we could reel out to the Concordia Boiler unfortunately (poor communication) Steve thinking that I was preparing to deploy my DSMB for ascent he started to prepare his DSMB for deployment and ascent!!! Luckily neither of us was having a ball on that dive so it didn’t really spoiled anyone’s dive! On the plus side we managed to see the Gun and the officers quarters! You can see Chris’s Smith V83 Video of the dive here .
On arrival to port we decided to break the common theme of fuffing about with diving kit and killing time until dinner and decided to pay a visit to the Highland Park distillery a rather dangerous activity as divers are known to be partial to alcohol…
The highland park distillery is located near Kirkwall in a very impressive complex of traditional buildings. Sadly by the time we got there it was too late to join for the last distillery tour but we had plenty of time to look around the fine collection of bottles and invest in some quality whiskey.
We had to make sure we are back in time for dinner as we did not want to upset Hazel (nor miss dinner)!!! so quickly we finished with all whiskey purchases and after a quick stop by LIDL (to buy cheap booze) we headed back to the boat where Hazel had prepared for us Chorizo & Mushroom Quiche, Stuffed Chicken & Banoffee Pie!!!
And after that in a rather sluggish – slow motion style (see eating loads of great food above) we made our way to the pub for a couple of drinks…
To be continued…
Thursday 7 November 2013 – Day 5 of Diving
With the weather looking good we left port to dive the SMS Dresden II a Coln class light cruiser that was commissioned late on the war and din not see any action. Although during the dive briefing Helen pointed out at the Shield with the Dresden crest at the starboard Bow I managed to miss it during the dive and needless to say I was quite disappointed about it, but I suppose that makes for a good excuse to go back no???
Guns, The Armoured Control and the bathtub at the Officers Quarters made for a very enjoyable dive and as by now we were getting the hang of it Ascents Descents and DSMB deployments were getting better and better.
SMS Dresden II briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
Back on the boat and after the customary cup of tea the team now addicted to SPACE TEAM and having set up a WiFi network on the boat returned to the popular activity of screaming and shouting to each other!!!! The only break came when Helen sounded the Bell and we moved to the galley for Sausage Pasta Bake. During lunch the conversation was around the many different chilli sauces that Helen had collected that rated from regular Tabasco to Hot – Super Hot – Stupidly Hot and Dangerously Hot!!! Some of them even came with warning labels:
“Not to come to direct contact with the skin!!!” OMFG!!!
Of course you would think that everyone would stay clear of the particular Uber-Hot ones rather than go on and smear it all over their faces, but hey we are talking about divers here!!!
The second dive of the day was SMS Coln II a sister ship of the Dresden II that we dived that morning. Along with her sister came too late in the war to get to see any action. Although sister ship to the Dresden II it is impressive to note the differences between warships based on the same design but built on different shipyards. Sometimes it feels like Designs are like a pirate code “more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules” which is a bit disturbing for engineers like me…
SMS Coln II briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)
For dinner Helen had prepared Red Onion & Cheese Puffs, Stew and Chocolate Cheesecake!!!
After dinner and as folk was lying in their cabins a certain known mischievous diver thought that it would be funny to replicate the known scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow is trying to Rock the Boat!
Friday 8 November 2013 – Last of Diving / Return
The last day of the trip is always a bit depressing. I had a great time and did not really wanted to think about leaving or going back sadly the boat was booked by another group of divers after us 😦
The first dive would be the same with the last one the SMS Coln II. It is really amazing how the more you dive the better you get and more comfortable you feel. Closing to the end of the week the dives feel so much easier and more fun!
After Lunch (Jacket Potatoes) I started with tidying up staff and helping other divers getting kitted up for the last dive of the trip. I was not too keen to dive the F2 again and Steve’s dry suit was leaking so opted not to dive that get wet again. Once every one was back on the boat the deck was full of activity and divers packing loads and loads of diving gear (where did all that came from???)
By the time we had finished packing it was time to load the car and the trailer that the rest of the team would use to transfer their stuff on the ferry on Saturday morning. Surprisingly(?) we managed to finish loading right in time for dinner: Stuffed Peppers, Chicken & Brocolli Pie and THE BEST Sticky Toffee Pudding I HAVE EVER HAD. No seriously. It was awesome 🙂 And a real struggle not to go for more!!!
After the dinner we loaded the car and waved bye bye to the team starting our trip to Kirkwall.
Boarding the Ferry at Kirkwall was seamless but a bit all over the shop. We were directed to an empty car park and told to wait there. Time for boarding came and passed but we were still there waiting. No one was around to give any instructions or information. About half an hour after the scheduled departure time, the woman from the kiosk cam and signalled to all the cars to start boarding.
Once started, boarding was straight forward and quick. We soon found ourselves checking-in and got our cabin and fall asleep.
Saturday 9 November 2013 – Back in Aberdeen
The trip was good and did not woke up until the ferry was entering Aberdeen. Awesome! Has to be my favourite way of travelling!!!Sleep at departure. Wake up at Destination!!!
Google maps extract showing (about) the 2013 journey
What a great trip! This Scapa was expected to be a great and it did deliver. The weather, the wrecks, the boat, the food and the team were all excellent and could not have asked for more, really really looking forward to 2019 to go back!!!
A great trip and looking forward to go back!!!
Many thanks to:
- Steve for being a great dive buddy
- Cam for organizing the trip
- Hazel, for being a great skipper and her absolutely 1st class dive briefings
- Helen an awesome Cook
- Rob, the always helpful Crew!
- Alison (with lube on her hair), Paul, Angela, Donald, Michael, Christopher S, Chris P, Ian & Bjorn for being great buddies!