I can not remember the first time I got to hear about the wrecks of Malin Head but I do remember that I first booked to dive them in 2013. The Aug 2013 trip to Malin Head (see blog post here) was a great success but we didn’t dive the wrecks of Malin Head! The weather was not favourable and ended up diving the Irish Sea around the Isle of Man.
A group of very good friends (Andris, Nick, Aileen, Laura & Geoff) went back to Malin Head in 2016, sadly I could not join them because I had signed up for a 26 mile walk (wearing a kilt !!!).
Having had great time Andris decided to go back exactly the same week a year later and of course I signed up as soon I was invited (was not going to miss out on diving for walking – again!!!)
The trip started on Friday 02/06/2017 with me travelling to Cairnryan near Stranraer to get the ferry to Belfast.
The big advantage of driving (opposed to flying) to a diving destination is that it is much easier to load all you need to the car without the stress of complying with airlines weight / volume limitations and I love it!!!
The ferry to Belfast was busy but a very pleasant journey and after a few more hours of driving I made it to Mevagh dive Centre in Carrigaart where after checking in with Donald I got into preparing my gear for diving.
Shortly after that I got to meet the rest of the group who were already there and just like me (very excited) were making ready for a week of diving.
Admittedly I was more excited as this was my first time and going by last years reports and past years photos the expectations were high!
Not before long, by mate Andris and Matt with Danni arrived.
I was so excited that I would get to dive with my regular diving buddies Andris and Matt once again since I 2013!!!.
Saturday morning we made our way to the marina and boarded the Laura Dean.
The Laura Dean is a pretty awesome boat with loads of space and quite quickly we settled in our stations that we would keep for the rest of the week
The first dive of the trip was the U-89 (see links in Wikipedia, U-Boat Net and Wrecksite).
This was my first dive in Malin Head and excited as I was nothing had prepared me for the awesomeness of that dive. Visibility was great (albeit a bit dark) and she was very much ship shape (or submarine shape I should say).
Although I did spent most of my time around the conning tower did managed to visit the bows and the stern.
The next dive was on the wreck of the SS Justicia one of the Malin Head Celebrity wrecks and one I have been looking forward to dive.
The next dive was one of the most famous of the Malin Head Classics because it is one of the most photogenic wrecks that I know of.
The wreck of the SS Empire Heritage is known because of the American Sherman Tanks that was carrying when attacked and sunk by U-482.
Having started our diving week with epic wrecks like that the expectations were high and indeed Malin Head did not let us down. Monday we set out to dive the HMS Audacious.
I made an attempt to head to the stern but proved to far and decided to leave it for another day!!! Had to go back!
At this point I was a very happy bunny because I had achieved the main objective of my trip which was to dive the Malin Head Classics and from now on anything would be a bonus!!!
The SS Rosscommon was a cargo ship torpedoed by SM U-53 and sunk. The cargo was crockery and made for a very impressive dive!!!
And finally the last dive of the trip was a return visit to the wreck of the stern section of the HMS Audacious.
Although the photos are pretty amazing seeing these wrecks in person was absolutely awesome and I loved every minute of it.
Overall we did 6 dives and about 12 hrs in the water which was pretty impressive considering that the weather out there can (and does) get wild!!!
Other than diving Donald was absolutely amazing looking after us from preparing breakfast to filling cylinders at the end of the day for the next dive to dropping and recovering the shot line and trapeze and making tea for us on the boat, NOT to mention the George Foreman Sandwich Toaster aboard the Laura – Dean!!! (Which should be included as a mandatory bit of kit an ALL UK Diving boats!!!)
Apart from diving we had the chance to go for walks around Carrigart and enjoy the stunning scenery and a number of pubs / restaurants to have dinner (including Carigaart Hotel and the Singing Pub) out of which, I have to say, my favourite was the Logue’s Bar with the epic Black n Blue pizza!!!
Overall an absolutely great trip organised by Barry and Delivered by Donald. Really looking forward to go back and do it all over again next year!!!
Many thanks to the team for being excellent company throughout the trip
CM Ó Braonáin
My buddies for looking after me
and of course
Barry McGill for organising it and
Donald Cullen and Dean Cullen for making it happen
Or else crossing Europe, Asia and the Pacific to dive Battleships and Aircraft Carriers with Sharks in Bikini Atoll (Remote Deserted / Uninhabited Islands, Whales, Tokyo Style Ramen, Thermo-Nuclear Weapon Testing Bunkers, Barbecues Gin n’ Tonic, and Extreme Fishing included!)
Back in 2004 I found myself (a young and enthusiastic PADI Open Water Diver) reading an article in Encarta Encyclopaedia about scuba diving in the Bikini Atoll. The article described how, despite the multiple atomic weapon tests, the sea (marine life and all) had recovered and how great it was to dive the Wrecks of Operation Crossroads. By the time I finished reading the article I was well impressed and rather sad. As awesome as it sounded it was way too far away for me to have any chance to ever dive it…
Fast Forward to June 2012 when a group of very good friends returned to London after a trip in Bikini (Tools on tour) and their reports made it sound not only as exciting as the encyclopaedia article but even better!!! And of course they were so excited about it that they started planning the return trip to the Bikini Atoll (Tools on Tour 2)!!!
Indeed a couple of months later a “Tools on Tour 2” trip was organised and spaces were going fast. By December 2012 and while on my way to the Red Sea to dive RedTek Dec 2012 I found out that there was only one space available and of course I signed up!!!
You may think that booking a holiday 18 months in advance is excessive BUT bear in mind where the Bikini Atoll is:
Before you exclaim: “That is Too far away!!!” consider this:
If you were going to detonate Twenty Three (yes 23) Thermo-Nuclear devices where would you choose to do it?
well, Not in my backyard !!!
Well indeed the Bikini Atoll was chosen specifically because of it’s location
The Bikini Atoll is part of Marshall Islands that are located in central Pacific Ocean. From the UK you can either travel West to the States and go via Honolulu or go East (kinda) via Japan. Bikini is so far away that it makes practically no difference whichever way you choose.
Our outgoing trip was 16,000 km and took 56 hrs to get from Aberdeen to Kwajalein. Had we gone via Orlando it would have been about 60 hrs (for the LHR to KWA leg) and the total distance would be 18,000km. No difference really although I can’t help thinking that I would like to do both next time, ie go one way and come back the other, then maybe I can do my first round trip around the world???!!!
We opted to go via Guam and Japan and the trip went as follows:
Wed 11/06/2014: Day 1 – Outbound Journey
The Aberdeen (ABZ) to Heathrow (LHR) flight was short (645 km) and only about 1.5hrs long. On arrival to LHR I finished my travelling preparations by buying USA dollars, that I would need for the stop in Guam (GUM) and to pay the boat expenses and tips. Mike had been upgraded to Business so we made it to the lounge as he was confident that I would be let in as well. Although I do not understand what made him so confident, indeed I was let into the Business lounge as I was upgraded to business class for the flight to Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) on arrival to the lounge!!! Celebratory Gin Tonics were due as Aileen and Andris joined us.
Having my own bed was an added bonus (no doubt!) but getting to sit next to my diving buddy Andris and spending the whole of the flight talking about diving had and diving planned made the flight feel much sorter.
This was by far the longest single flight (9,614 km – 11 hrs) I have ever flown and strangely enough it didn’t feel that bad 🙂 Another first was the daylight for the whole of the flight!!! We left LHR at 12:00 of Wednesday and arrived in NRT at 09:00 Thursday morning but somehow (see flying over the Arctic) resulted in a long daylight flight. Only down side was the clouds so we couldn’t enjoy the view 😦
Thu 12/06/2014: Day 2 – Outbound Journey
We arrived to Tokyo Narita airport (NRT) at 09:00 in the morning. Annoyingly enough and because we were flying with different airlines we had to collect our baggage, go through immigration and change terminal before we could check-in to our Guam (GUM) flights. Lesson learnt in the future try to book the whole flight with the same airline (if possible).
Staff at the United Airlines check-in was really very helpful and the whole affair was over quickly and we made our way to the NRT business lounge.
The NRT business lounge left a lot to be desired (food/sushi was pretty boring and drinks options were rather limited) especially when compared to the LHR business lounge but free beer and wifi made it all the better! By that time Nick and Ramo had joined us so the Tools on Tour 2 banter was slowly building up!
Eventually the time came to board our flight to GUM. United Airlines was a new experience! I particularly enjoyed the dramatic music that accompanied the safety briefing (you know the “how to do your lifejacket and safety belt” etc video). The level of the (annoying) soundtrack was increasing all the time up to the end making it almost impossible to listen to the instructions!!! And for some bizarre reason the stewards were just standing still and did not bothered to point to the nearest emergency exit!!! Which made me wonder why did they had to stand altogether…
On arrival to GUM (2,508 km – 04:45 hrs later) we had to go through USA immigration which I wasn’t looking forward to. Surprisingly the whole thing was pretty straight forward and went without a glitch helping us make it to our hotel at a very reasonable time. Getting out of the airport the first thing to notice has Heat & Humidity. Big time. As it was night we couldn’t see an awful lot and although Mike was keen to go out for a wonder he got over it as soon as he stood out of the hotel (and the Air conditioning) and realised that going out was a bad idea!!!
Fri 13/06/2014: Day 3 – Outbound Journey
In the last two days we had completed the greatest part of the route (12,769 km). The remaining (3,315 km) was going to take as much time!!!
After breakfast (US of A sized) we made our way to Guam airport. We were already checked-ina nd went straight to security which took a little longer than expected as they had to search everything!!! Guam airport is not a very interesting place and just as well I had my trusty Kindle with me to keep me company as Mike had to go back out and help David with his dry suit inflation cylinder that wouldn’t go past security unless they removed the valve! Needless to say the rest of the team were at the United Airlines business lounge drinking champaigne! (yes at 08:30 in the morning!)
The rest of the day involved repeat flights. First to Guam, then to Truck then to Pohnpei from there to Kosrae and eventually to Kwajalein Atoll. Because the plane was landing and passengers embarked / disembarked we had to take our luggage from the overhead lockers so that the “Agents” would inspect it. As I was expecting Agent Smith I was disappointed when the only “Agents” that boarded the plane were the cleaning crew…
Apart from the “Agents” passengers dressed with flower huka hoops on their necks and heads boarded the plane which was, if nothing else, picturesque.
The punishment of having to listen to the horrible briefing with the “thriller-like” soundtrack continued until we disembarked the airplane.
Kwajalein airport is on Kwajalein Island of Kwajalein Atoll. As much as Kwajalein Atoll belongs to Marshall Islands the island itself is a United States Army missile base.
“The U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) is home to the Reagan Test Site. Located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, Kwajalein is the world’s largest coral atoll surrounding the world’s largest lagoon. Eleven of the 100 islands comprising the Atoll are leased by the United States from the RMI government. Radar, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment on eight islands provide instrumentation for ballistic missile and missile interceptor testing and space operations support.” as the USAKA website reliably informs us 🙂
At this point we had the first and only Heartache of the trip. We were all concerned as to how much (if any) of our diving gear would eventually make it to Bikini after all this travelling, flying, inspection by USA customs and multiple flights. On disembarking from the plane we were casually joking about it when the time came to collect our luggage that had been offloaded from our plane and as it turned out Nick’s rebreather was missing.
At that point we were not quite sure where the rebreather was. The options were: Australia, Alaska or Arkansas (and these are just some of the destinations starting with the letter A!) Considering how far we had flown and the number of changes the unit could have been anywhere in the world!!!
Nick at that point was obviously gutted but held well under pressure (I think if that was me I would have broken down in tears at the prospect of diving OC – although in the end I did end up diving OC – irony!!!).
The best case scenario was that the unit was still onboard our plane and had just taken off to go to Hawaii, Not a bad place for a rebreather to go at all. But no good for Nick. 😦
At that point there was not much we could do other than wait for the plane to come back (Saturday morning) from Hawaii and hope the unit is still aboard.
After the necessary passport etc controls we were escorted to the Jetty where we boarded a United States Army Ferry Boat that took us to the jetty of Ebeye.
Loading the kit onto the ferry was fun but after that the journey from Kwajalein to Ebeye is around 15 minutes and is a good opportunity to enjoy the view and get acclimatised to the hot and humid weather 🙂
The tender of MV Winward was waiting for us and as soon as the ferry left Ebeye to return to Kwajalein they were next to the jetty, we boarded and headed to the boat.
By that time the sun had set and after a great dinner (the first of many) aboard MV Winward, Pete, Simon and the skipper and the gave us a tour of the boat and a brief so that everyone knew what we will be doing the next couple of days (diving, diving and some more diving!!!). At about that point Pete mentioned that our vessel doesn’t have holding tanks. At the time that went un-noticed but it wouldn’t be long before I understood what that meant 🙂
Sat 14/06/2014: Day 4 – Prince Eugen
While the rest of us were preparing our kit Nick was anxiously looking at the sky waiting for the plane from Hawaii with his rebreather. The plane was sighted on time as expected and a rescue party was dispatched promptly. Along with Nick, Pete went with a very big bag of tissues – just in case.
Soon after we saw the plane departing the tender appeared and from distance we could see a very aggitaded Nick holding (and lifting above his head!!!) a very big case!!! Success 🙂
I am not sure what was more impressive. That the unit made it to Bikini after all. Or seeing grumpy Nick in a good mood !!!
Having had enough of flying and travelling (and now with all of our gear with us) we decided to have a break and go diving instead of starting the 30hr crossing of the Pacific Ocean to Bikini Atoll.
The first dive of the trip was going to be the Prince Eugen a German Heavy Cruiser launched in 1938 of 19,000t displacement and 200m long armed with eight 8 inch guns. For reference and as a comparison the SMS Konig (a battleship scuttled in Scapa Flow) was built in 1911 and of 29,000t was 175m long and had ten 12 inch guns. Prince Eugen along with the Bismark took part in the Battle of the Denmark Strait where she engaged the HMS Hood and the HMS Prince of Wales.
After the end of the War the Eugen was allocated to Operation Crossroads as a target ship. She survived both the Able and the Baker Nuclear Weapon detonations and was taken to Kwajalein for decontamination from radioactive waste. As the decontamination failed she was abandoned in Kwajalein where she eventually capsided and sunk.
Seeing this topsides it was pretty obvious that this was no regular shake-down dive. Not often we get the chance to dive a 170m Heavy cruiser even less as a first dive of the trip!!! This was awesome and things were only going to get better!!!
Although the props are above the water because of her size (175m) the top of the bows is at 30m of water! and sure enough there is scope for penetration and ferreting 🙂
After the dive we were treated to second breakfast and then lunch before we got back in the water for our second dive in the Eugen!!! At the end of the day and having seen enough of the Eugen to really want to go back and penetrate deepen another day we had dinner and our boat started the long sail to Bikini Atoll.
Sun 15/06/2014: Day 5 – Crossing the Pacific
We were lucky with the weather and the sea was flat calm during the crossing to the Bikini Atoll making it far much much easier and enjoyable. I spent most of my time reading my book and enjoying the endless ocean around us. From that point onwards we were outside Mobile phone network coverage zone, no TV no internet. No other vessels at sea or planes. No land in any direction of the horizon! After a brief stop for a quick swim (at that point the chart was showing a mere 5,000m to the sea bed!!!).
Mon 16/06/2014: Day 6 – Diving the Sara
USS Saratoga was an aircraft carrier launched in 1925 of 43,000t and 270m length. After the end of the war she was found to be surplus to requirements and allocated to Operation Crossroads. She was located 2,265 yards away from ground zero of the Able and Baker tests. She survived the Able lightly damaged and sunk after the Baker test.
As she is a very big vessel and there is loads to see both outside, around and inside the wreck the plan was to dive the Sara both times for the first day and then as a second dive on subsequent days.
The beauty of the Sara just as all the other wrecks of Bikini is that unlike wrecks in UK waters that have been battered by storms and souvenir hunters they are intact both on the outside and the inside.
Tue 17/06/2014: Day 7 – Nagato
The Nagato is one of the biggest battleships ever made. Her 16 inch guns include her in a very short list of 17 battleships ever made armed with 16″ guns and only 2 more ever built with 18″ guns. But that is not the only reason I wanted to dive the Nagato. The Nagato is a very special wreck because she was the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and led the 7th of December 1941 attack to Pearl Harbour.
Underwater the guns look equally impressive and she is a massive wreck too!
The Nagato makes for an awesome dive and being 215m there is loads to explore and many reasons to go back again and again and again!!!
Once back on the boat we had the second breakfast and a nap or in my case continue reading my book until the time came to dive the Sara again.
This time the plan was to go and visit the machinery room. Pete guided us (myself and Andris) to the entrance of the machinery room and off we were…
Lathes, Vertical drills and all sorts of serious tools were inside a rather small room 🙂
Loads of toys to look at but pretty tight space and easy to silt out. After diving we resumed our usual activities Gin n Tonic, Beer and reading. Life is good 🙂
Wed 18/06/2014: Day 8 – USS Arkanas
The Arkansas was a battleship laid down at 1910 and served both in the First and Second World Wars. She is 171m long and her main armament was a substantial twelve 12″ guns !!! (6 turrets with 2 guns each).
Arkansas survived the Able test but she sunk during the Baker test. The monumental photo below shows the shadow of what used to be the Arkansas which lifted vertically and crashed to the bottom capsized.
Underwater of course she was equally as impressive!
Following a 142min dive we decided to surface and go for second breakfast 🙂 That is the second breakfast before lunch and a nap and another dive to the Sara!!! Between dives the fishing rods were out…
and occasionally we would catch fish!!!
Although the fish we caught didn’t always made it to dinner…
Brian took us to see even more torpedoes and the planes at the aft end of the Sara.
After a very modest 85 min dive we surfaced for more Gin n’ Tonic, dinner and the sunset 🙂
Brian was very confident that there were Tiger sharks and he was desperate to see / dive with them so he decided to go for a night dive and take Edward with him.
Edward was very confident that there were Tiger sharks and was desperate NOT to see / dive with them so he didn’t really wanted to go for a dive with Brian (or anyone else for that matter)!
In the end Brian convinced Edward and they both reluctantly entered the water. Neither of them had a camera (so no photos) but Edward had a very big stick with him!!!
From the boat waching the diver’s lights was very impressive and could not help notice repeatedly 360 degree turns scanning the surrounding for Sharks. At some point we noticed the two lights separate and wondered if they got separated but considering the great vis it is more likely that Brian wanted to get away from Edwards big stick!!!
Much to Brian’s dissapointment and to Edwards delight there were no Tiger shark sightings…
Thu 19/06/2014: Day 9 – Lamson
After first breakfast the boat moved to the location of todays first dive which was going to be the Lamson.
A 100m long destroyer located 720 yards away from ground zero of the Able test where she was was sunk.
I like the Lamson because she is upright. and she is very much ship – shape. She is also considerably smaller than the other wrecks (half the length of the Nagato) which makes for easy navigation.
The dive run time was a very sensible 124 minutes after which we headed back for second breakfast and lunch. During the surface interval our cook was preparing lunch lunch we Mango filleting the tuna we caught earlier (fishing) while preparing lunch (sushi). As it turns out. What was left over from the filleting process was disposed by throwing it overboard…
The second dive of the day was the Sara. The plan this time was to dive the main line. We jumped in the water and headed to the entry of the main line. The main line is a single passage that effectively crosses the whole length of the aircraft carrier.
That was a dive I certainly enjoyed. It was a deep penetration inside a wreck that went without a glitch. And what was even better is that if anyone had followed us they wouldn’t be able to tell that we had ever been there. Talk about Trim and Buoyancy control 🙂
Two hours later back on the boat time for beer, Gin n Tonic and relaxing 🙂
After dinner and as it was late enough to do anything else we decided to do a bit of stargazing. As we were in the middle of nowhere and quite close to nothing there was no light pollution and the view was spectacular. My favourite part was seeing for the first time ever the Southern Cross.
Since Brian and Edward came back safe and in one piece without seeing any Tiger sharks a few more brave (but not as brave as Brian and Edward!) divers went back in the water for a night dive. the rest of us stayed on the boat drinking beer G n’ T end enjoying the spectacular light show of the diver’s torches!!!
Now don’t get me wrong.
I love diving,
I love night diving.
I love Wrecks.
I love diving wrecks.
I love diving wrecks at night
I love sharks
I love diving sharks
Just not convinced about night diving with sharks…
not yet …
Fri 20/06/2014: Day 10 – Anderson
The USS Anderson was a Simms Class destroyer with a very impressive record. She took part in a number of operations not least of all The Battle of Midway where she recovered 203 men of the by then fatally wounded USS Yorktown. She is 100 m long
Underwater Anderson lies on her Port side relatively intact.
Sadly this was not a great dive for me as I had to abort mission due to a rebreather failure. On the surface and after a fair bit of troubleshooting it was confirmed that CCR diving was over for me for the remaining of the trip and Open Circuit was the way to go!!!
I spent most of the surface interval cannibalising my rebreather so that I can put together a twinset and continue diving the result was quite impressive.
As I had to match the dive times of rebreather divers I had to make sure that I had enough gas with me 🙂 As this was my first OC dive after a while I decided to take it easy and buddy up with Aileen who decided she would go CCR diving in a bikini! (and as it turns out we DO have photos of that!). We went to see the planes and on the way back while looking around the “island” (Aircraft carrier control tower) we found a bugle!
On return to the boat we made our way to Bikini for the first of the two visits to the Bikini Island. We decided to opt for the scenic route rather than take the truck to the “Dive Centre” and so found ourselves walking in an incredible beach …
The location for the bbq and drinks was the old beach bar by the dive centre. Back in 1998 the island was thought to be safe to live. A dive centre opened and facilities (accommodation and a bar) for the divers too. In 2008 it was decided that the long term exposure to the residual radiation was too high for the residents so the island was abandoned minus a small team of people that are rotated for a period of time so that they can look after the place.
There was a lot of eating and even more (as you would expect from a group of well behaved divers) drinking.
And we came across new species (well new to us) this Coconut Crab. This one was a small fella (they grow up to 1m!!!) and their claws can crack open coconuts!!! It is considered to be a delicacy and an aphrodisiac (source: wikipedia)
A funny thing too a couple of us decided to take the morning off …
Sat 21/06/2014: Day 11 – Nagato
As the Nagato, due to its enormous size, is a beast of a dive, this time we were dropped off around midships and headed back to the massive props and rudder
Then once back on the boat (and after second breakfast and lunch!) we wnet back in the water for the second dive of the day the USS Apogon an almost 100m long submarine. I like diving submarines because although there is no scope for penetration they usually are ship shape enough and when intact make for very picturesque dives.
Back on the boat for more reading, eating and drinking 🙂
Sun 22/06/2014: Day 12 – Anderson
The morning dive was a return trip to the Anderson which I didn’t got to see much of last time!
Between dives we entertained ourselves with a bit of tombstoning (well more like boatstoning it was) . I failed repeatedly NOT to pinch my nose which above all was rather embarrassing…
For the second dive we went back to the Sara only that this time Pete let Andris take his scooter so Andris kindly gave us a lift to the airplane that lies at the seabed off the stern with a machine gun lying on top of the “starboard” wing.
Having had a a great time during our last visit to Bikini we decided to do it again and go for another bbq 🙂 This time instead of going for a beach walk we decided to take the tourist bus and go to explore the Island.
Mon 23/06/2014: Day 13 – Nagato
The penultimate day’s diving was going to be a final visit to the battleship Nagato. I made it to the broken part of the stern which further aft from the props and the massive rudders has parted from the wreck and lies on the sea bed.
During the second dive Pete took me to the Dentist’s which is a level below the main line in the sick bay area.
As much as the dive to the dentist’s was awesome I can not say t was my favourite dive. I am still struggling to stay still and in the confined space of a wrecked aircraft carrier that can be problematic. Maybe next time…
Tue 24/06/2014: Day 14 – The Sara
With Barry, DLK and Gary all out in a search and recovery mission to find and bring back Gary’s Go Pro that Gary very carefully dropped the day before myself and Mike got ready and went for a final dive to the Sara.
Once out of the water we started preparations for the long journey back. Washing and hanging kit to try and some packing.
We were very very lucky with the weather and that welped with the drying of the kit!
Once everything was safely away we waved bye bye to Bikini and started our 30 hour journey back.
Wed 25/06/2014: Day 15 – Sail back to Kwajalein
The sail back could not have been any easier with virtually no wind and the Pacific being flat like a lake. Wale watch at the bridge spotted a few sperm whales but they were too shy and did not care for our company. Simon and Pete juped in the water and went for a long swim but as it looked like they got a little bit closer the wales dived and by the time they surfaced they were well further away.
On arrival to Kawajalein Atoll and still a way away from Ebeye we stopped for a swim and a visit to a tropical, deserted, uninhabited island in the middle of thepacific. Not often I find myself standing in an island all alone and all to myself!.
At that point we came across the saddest and loneliest Island on the planet! You do not want to find yourself shipwrecked here!!!
Eventually at the evening we arrived to Ebeye, finished packing had dinner and after a few more drinks we decided to pass the proposed visit to Ebeye and instead went to bed…
Thu 26/06/2014: Day 16 – Fly to Guam
After saying goodbye to Pete who was on a later (much much later as it turned out because it was delayed by a couple of days!) flight we left MV Winward and headed for the jetty in Ebeye where the crew great as ever offloaded our kit and soon we boarded the ferry for the quick journey to Kawajalein. As a military airport the Kawajalein departures lounge is rather basic. Once more security was friendly and efficient and more than happy to deal with a multinational collection of retrobates like us!!!
As time was going by I decided I needed something to quench my thirst and (not sure what posessed me) opted for a Fanta! I do not generally do soft drinks. And that Fanta was not the Fanta I was looking for!
As it turns out (look at wikipedia for the different Fantas distributed in different parts of the world #WTF!) the have a red Fanta. Sweet and horrible. Yikes. Like Big time yikes. Straight to the bin
A little bit dissapointed by my Fanta I opted for an Ice Tea. Now for the whole of the week I have been drinking copious amounts of Aloha Ice Tea. Awesome!
So I went back to the lady at the bar and got an Ice Tea. Now I didn’t ask for a Sweetened Ice Tea because Ice Tea is by definition sweet. If it is not sweet then it is just Cold Tea. And I am not a great fan of Cold Tea.
Well. Ice Tea to the Bin. By that time I was running out of change, patience and I was also getting thirsty!
The last Failed experiment (before giving up and reverting to water) was Hershey’s
All I am going to say is that if ever you find yourself wanting chocolate and see a Hersey’s in front of you in a vending machine just go for the SPAM
Yes the same vending machine could dispach SPAM as well and although I refused to have SPAM it could not have been much worst that the chocolate…
Eventually we made it to the United Airlines plane and the painful memory of that horrible safety video with the irritating thriller like soundtrack came back. On the plus side we got better fed this time as although we had one less landing and take off (no stop an Pohnpei) we got more ham and mayo sandwiches!!!
On arrival to Guam and considering how Christians the Americans are I was surprised the statue of Goddess of Life outside the airport terminal.
Once I got over my excitement at seeing a Pagan statue at the we made our way back to our hotels for a quick shower and getting ready for drinks.
Apart from Simon and Gary who were already on their way home we met up at the Hard Rock Cafe in Guam for celebratory drinks.
Having had enough we left to go back to our hotel taking Nick and Ramo with us whom (after a lot of effort) we managed to convince that sleeping in our room would be better than sleeping at the airport!!!
Fri 27/06/2014: Day 17 – Guam to Tokyo
Friday morning I had to check-in my luggage again as United Airlines were (a little bit) retarded and did not checked in my luggage directly to Tokyo although they did for almost everyone else in our group…
Guam airport is not a very exciting place having completed the necessary visit to the tourist shop to buy tacky stuff and I found out that the also sell cold tea. Like make tea (you know with a bit of milk) put it in a bottle and then in the freezer #wtf.
Bought some sweetened tea this time( I had learned my lesson) and made my way to the departure gate.
On arrival to Tokyo and after checkiing-in at the hotel we went to for a quick drink at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (yes the famous one from Lost in Translation) where Andris was staying for a drink at the roof bar (yes the famous one from Lost in Translation).
After that (and a brief tour in Andris Mahoosive Room and pretty impressive minibar too!!!
We headed out for dinner. We decided to opt for Korean. Now that was a cultural experience. Especially as we left Andris (with his limited Japanes) to order
Andris did a spectacular job at ordering pretty awesome cuts that we grilled ourselves in our little table-sized grill. All I have to say is that Korean food is Awesome (sake too!)
Sat 28/06/2014: Day 18 – Tokyo
The weather in Tokyo was rather grim and me being, well, me I decided that I do not need an umbrella despite the thick grey / black clouds and the dense fog in the horizon, Aillen was great she came with me to the tube station to show me how to use the Tokyo tube ticket issuing machines and from then onwards it was a doddle. Got the Tube (Marunouchi Line) from Nishinjuku to Otemachi which is next to the Imperial Palace Gardens.
By the time I got out of the tube station it was torrential rain and as I was umbrella-less I opted to hide in the first Starbucks that I found. Ordering was pretty straight forward despite my limited Japanese 🙂
The amusing part was WiFi. Apparently that Starbucks had free WiFi. All you had to do is register and then you get a confirmation e-mail with your password. Well that didn’t work! Of course as I could not connect I could not get the e-mail with the password. Very very interested to find out what Starbucks management were thinking!!!
After I had my coffee and read a fair bit more of Joseph T. Ward’s Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam which is highly addictive I decided I felt brave enough to go ahead with my visit to the Imperial Palace Gardens. Free entrance was a bonus but it was a bit of a shame that because it was weekend parts were closed and no guided tours were available. None the less I went ahead (see stubborn Greek).
Named after Mt Fuji which could be seen from here and from where Shogun enjoyed the views of fireworks at Ryogoku and Tokyo bay!!!
After I got thoroughly soaked and had enough of trying to avoid the rain I decided to hide in the tourist shop which much to my delight sold (yes you guessed correct!) Umbrellas!!! Having had my umbrella I went out again to find those faountains!!!
I was about to give up when Andris insisted that they were only just around the corner from the Palace! Which explained a lot! If the fountains were just around the corner then I would not find them inside the palace gardens (which is where I have been searching!!! (DOH)
After the short visit to the fountains (fountains stopped as soon as I got the photos!) I headed back to the hotel for a shower and dry clothes. I mean my clothes were dry by now but having been wet and then dry it was all rather unpleasant.
Time for lunch and this was definitely a new experience. Aileen seemed to know what she is doing so I (reluctantly) followed. As it turns out the plan for today was to have Ramen for lunch.
As a true and believer of the Church of the FSM and devoted to his Noodly Appendage this was an oportunity I could not miss!!!
Now silly me, I was expecting to walk into a restaurant. A waitress to show us to our table. Let us sit and then come to take our order.
Well it looks like things don’t work like that in tokyo noodle/ramen bars instead Aileen headed to the wall with a bizare device.
Suppose it was good news. As I don’t speak Japanese, the waitress didn’t speak English and I hadn’t had a clue what was I going to order. So pointed at an icon and ordered.
Apparently I ordered Ramen.
By ordering Ramen this is what I was expecting:
instead this is what I got:
Not only it looked different but it tasted different too! By far the richest soup I have ever had!!!
I have reasons to believe (strong fishy taste) that it was Miso Ramen but I am no Ramen expert…
After that gastronomic experience I decided to have another local delicacy
Another acuired taste. Don’t think I will find it in Aberdeen but that’s no great loss either…
Following a short walk through Shinjoku and past the all famous Japan Robot Restaurant we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap before we go out again for drinks and dinner 🙂
A fine collection indeed. Quite clearly that Japanese are into their Whiskey. We had cocktails. Don’t aske me what. the menu was in japanese so I don’t know. It was nice though and I wanted more!!!
Once we had enough drinks and got hungry enough we decided it was time for Sushi!
Sushi was awesome and no surprises there so definitely enjoyed that!!!
As I had an early start I had to have an early night and I was a bit dissapointed the Shinjoku Robot Restaurant was booked and I wouldn’t get to see it but on the plus side Aileen and Andris had tickets to go on sunday!
Looks awesome and want to go back!!!
Domo Arigato Japan! It was awesome and looking forward to going back!!!
Sun 29/06/2014: Day 19 – Return Journey
Sunday morning I left the hotel and headed to the airport with the Airport limousine. Now before we get all too excited by limousine in Japan they mean Coach. A coach that takes you from the hotel to the airport. Pretty awesome but not quite a limousine!!!
Sadly I was not upgraded to business this time and I had to suffer premium economy. Not bad at all. Did spend the whole of the flight reading James M. Tabor’s Blind Descent a book I can not recommend enough. Caves are scary. Like very seriously scary.
I finally made it back to ‘deen (aka the Granite City) early in the evening and headed home surprisingly relaxed and despite expecting to be tired after the 2 days of flying and travelling I found myself thrilled and with a very very big smile in my face!!!
All divers in the group were diving rebreathers. Considering that we are talking about deep penetrations at 50+ m I do not think that OC is a good idea. Other than that the water temperature was a balmy 28 deg C so any thin wetsuit will do. Full length and covered as much as possible as the wrecks are as sharp as it gets. you get cut only by looking at them let alone touching them…
Take as many spares / consumables and specialist tools as you need because you will be in the middle of nowhere and if anything brakes you have to fix it yourself and of course a big torch (and a backup one and a spare one) as most of the diving was inside the wrecks.
Without going in to too much detail I have included a breakdown of costs. Nick’s write-up in CCR Explorers is also excellent reference and includes a good guide to help budgeting and planning with this trip.
Upgrade Fee – Business Class
Upgrade Fee – Economy Plus
Second Checked luggage
Guam – Hilton
Guam taxi – hotel to airport
Lust 4 Rust – Gas, Lime etc
Lust 4 Rust
Taxi from Airport to Tokyo Hilton Hotel
NRT Baggage Storage
Tokyo Coach to Airport
Tokyo – Hilton
So far I have managed to track expenses to £8,200 so I guess a £9k would be fairly accurate
I went to Bikini having very high expectations and not only my expectations were met but were repeatedly exceeded!!! Yes there is no doubt the diving was awesome and better than anywhere else I have ever dived before but Bikini is a lot more that that:
it is the journey to get there,
the company of people
the remoteness of the location,
The lack of communication with the outside world
The remoteness and the uninhabited islands
being in a place that less people visit than those that climb the top of mount Everest
made for a unique feeling of adventure that I had not felt before and many many new firsts and personal best.
None of that would have happened without the team that made the Bikini Atoll – June 2014 trip so special
or else the Deeside SAC diving trip where 5 cars and 3 boats went out and 4 cars and 2 boats made it back…
The time for the club’s first diving trip of the year had come at last! After a lot of anticipation and even more planning (by Simon) 10 divers were ready to set off from Aberdeen to go to the West Coast for a weekend of RHIB diving. The plan (meticulously prepared by Simon) required a relatively early start after work from Aberdeen, drive to the Oban dive Saturday and Sunday (2 dives each day) and come back late in Sunday evening.
Friday 21/03/2014 – The Journey
The day started with unbelievably good weather. Clear blue skies and sunshine. I loaded the kit to the car and drove to work. On arrival I regretted not having taken my sunglasses with me as it made it difficult for driving and I would so definitely need them for the weekend!
As usual prior to dive trips the day seems to be dragging on forever but at last the clock ticked 14:45 the time to shut down my computer and get out of the office!
Met with Simon at the car park and moved my gear to his car. managed to fit just about everything including rebreather spares, consumables, food and a pineapple!?
After pumping the tires up to the optimum pressure (following Diving officers pre-dive checklist) we started our trip. Although at the South end of the city and right on the perfect spot to start our journey we decided to head North into the city Centre and the Friday afternoon traffic as we had to go to the Bridge of Dee and pick-up Aberdeen Universities RHIB which we were to deliver to OBAN. The traffic turned out to be not as bad as expected and after hitching the boat we started on our trip to the West Coast this time following the Northern route via Fort William.
2 cool blokes
in a fast car
towing a boat
and the Miami Vice soundtrack playing at the background
life is good!!!
A couple of stops to check that the boat and the trailer were ok and about 2 hrs before Fort William we noticed the weather changing.
At the same time Si’s fast car Turbo was dying on us. An intermittent fault that resulted in loosing Turbo meant that we were in for a long long trip.Luckily the remedy turned out to be relatively straight forward. Quick stop the car. Turn the engine off. Start again!
As it was getting dark we didn’t really paid much attention to it and continued driving. About 1.5 hrs before Fort William we were inside a blizzard! A couple of inches of snow all around us and more snow falling!!! At about that time I caught myself thinking “doesn’t look like I will be needing those sunglasses now.!” and that was probably the wrong time to realize that I had no jacket!!!
Rather surprised by the change of weather we decided to check on the other divers how they were progressing. I texted Brian who had started earlier that us and shortly after I got a response by Dave (odd I thought). Brian’s car had died. They were stuck in the blizzard waiting for road assistance! OUPS!
Indeed before long we came across their stranded truck and boat trailer. It was just after the first road assistance truck had arrived and they were loading the truck never to be seen again…
The second road assistance truck hitched the boat and although at that point in time it did not felt very much like Mimi Vice we all continued our eventful trip to Oban.
After a quick stop for dinner Chinese (crystal Palace in Oban) everything looked better and after a short drive we made it to Tralee Bay Holidays and checked in to our Lodge “The Rondo” non the less!!!
Keith and Quentin were also there as Keith had picked up Quentin from the “incident scene” and soon after Mike and Gar arrived and the road assistance truck delivered Brian, Dave and most importantly The boat!!! J
By the time Kathleen, Jenny and Phillipe arrived we were on our 3rd (or fourth) WELL DESERVED drink!!!
Saturday 22/03/2014 – Diving Day 1
Saturday morning I woke up by the smell of frying bacon which (as am not a morning person) is by far the best way to wake up in the morning!!! Simon and Quentin were already preparing a fry up and after breakfast we started preparing our kit and the boats to launch.
The weather was on our side for the morning and the launching of the boats but turned soon after we left Tralee Bay and made for a rather unpleasant ride until we got shelter at the Heather Island.
After the dive we moved back to Dunstaffnage marina (www.dunstaffnagemarina.co.uk) where Mike keeps the boat and I spent most of the surface interval in the toilet.
With a hand hair dryer…
drying my undersuit that was soaked as my right hand cuff seals were leaking
After a light lunch (sandwiches prepared during breakfast) we went in for the second dive of the day.
The dive went to plan with me and Brian diving and surfacing together which was a challenge considering that visibility was really poor. Much to my surprise I could see a halocline in the water which I did not expect as I thought the Breeda was too far from the coast for that but as it turns out she is not! Also my cuff seals held and had a dry and very pleasant dive!!! We even managed to find the shot line and ascent on the same line we descended. I still find it amazing how much your navigation skills improve when you (or Brian in this case) clip a £300 strobe light on the shot light…
the weather conditions had improved significantly and while on the boat waiting to recover divers I found myself thinking this is a good day to be out diving!!!
On returning to the lodges and after a little bit of diver / rebreather fuff myself and Si went to deliver (at a WWII Nuclear Bunker!!!) the Aberdeen University SAC RHIB and afterwards buy more food from the supermarket!!!
Back at the lodges Quentin and Gar had been busy making Dinner. A most excellent Chili con Carne which we washed down with copious amounts of Gar’s Kopparberg cider!!! Steve and Sue had also popped in to say hay and Steve was coming diving with us tomorrow!!!
After dinner we continued drinking and talking diving nonsense until late… (as diver do)
Sunday 23/03/2014 – Diving and the Journey Back
As you probably guesses I woke up by the smell of frying bacon, sausages and breakfast being prepared!!! After a bit of diving / kit / rebreather fuf / TLC
Mike had an accident doing DIY on his boat and decided he wouldn’t dive but was absolutely great helping us launch the boats (apart from when he dropped the yellow boat. No that was not excellent.)
Eventually we launched all 3 boats as Steve had joined us with his boat and headed out to dive the “Haunted House” which was meant to be a drift dive, had the current made an appearance, but turned out to be shy and those that went in had some fining to do!
Myself and Brian were meant to be on the second wave but as the reports were not exactly promising, awe-inspiring diving we decided to pass.
Heading back we stopped at the Breeda for one more dive. Myself and Brian went in and although visibility had not improved much (or at all) we still enjoyed penetrating the wreck and found the way back (without a £300 strobe attached to the line you will be surprised to hear!). I was delighted I managed that dive as my right hand cuff seal developed a tear earlier that morning so I didn’t thought I was going to go diving until I had a light-bulb moment and decided to use my dry gloves and that worked!!!
Gar and Quentin went in as soon as we were back on the boat but managed to miss the wreck.
They managed to miss the wreck that Simon found.
Although they saw Simon heading to the wreck.
They thought they shouldn’t follow him. They new better.
So they dived lobster posts instead…
Divers sometimes make me wonder…
Back to the Lodges we recovered the boats and after tidying up we started our trip back to Aberdeen. Not before long we had to stop because the trailer had no breaks. Luckily we were close to Steve’s place who kindly offered help, tools and a jack! In the meantime while Simon and Steve were working to fix the trailer brakes I was enjoying a nice cup of tea in the sunshine. Am good like that!
Eventually we decided to leave the garden and the sunshine and start driving back home. The trip was generally uneventful minus a few stops for the Turbo to recover and the trailer bearings that were heating up. After the customary stop at the Comrie Fish and Chip Shop (http://www.comrie.org.uk/business-directory/2790/the-comrie-fish-and-chip-shop/) (courtesy of Mr BJB/Carlos) we continued to the boat shed were a rather tired Dave had been waiting for the last couple of hours!!!
We offloaded the kit from the boat and Simon’s car (including the pineapple) and headed home. Washing kit would have to wait for tomorrow…
Many Many thanks go to:
Simon for organizing the trip (and bringing a pineapple along in a diving weekend)
Carlos (BJB) for being a great dive buddy
Quentin and Gar (not many people manage to miss the most dived, permanently buoyed, wreck in the West Coast!!!)
Keith, Dave, Kathleen, Phil, Jenny and Mike for making it a great weekend
Steve and Sue for all their help and company
Looking forward to see you and dive with you all soon
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!
After a bit more of fuffing and a look around the local diving shops Scapa Scuba and Dive Scapa Flow (which would make a theme for the rest of the week) we returned to Hazel to get fed again!
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)
Alternatively if you want more information on the SMS Karlshrue or indeed any other of the Scapa Flow wrecks you can get Rod McDonalds excellent book Dive Scapa Flow.
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!!!
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.
I could not resist buying a bottle of HP 15 yo whiskey and a bottle of DRAKKAR to take to Greece and drink celebrating meeting with my brother after 2 years!!!
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!
So it was that time of the year! My annual pilgrimage to the south coast and diving out of France. In the past it was the most challenging trip of the year (logistics wise) as I had to get myself prepared for 3-4 days of repetitive gas diving without any access to O2 (Oxygen) or He (Helium) fills.
The plan was simple get the boat Steve Johnsons Channel Diver from Brighton Marina and head out to France. Mid Channel dive a wreck and continue to France after the dive. Arrive in France go for dinner and then the next day head out of FeCamp and dive a wreck in the coast of Normandy. After the dive return to France for more croissants, baguettes and smelly cheese! Finally on the third day Leave escargos and fromage and head back home with a dive on the way back.
Now that sounds simple right?
Yes but there is a twist. The boat does not have O2 or He. So if you are an open circuit diver you need to take with you enough gas for the whole of the trip. For someone like me who likes breathing (A LOT) that means about 3 twinsets and 4 stages minimum. Now that is a lot of gear!!! (I know – I ‘ve done it twice now!!!)
Fortunately I have recently moved to the Dark Side and got my self a “breather” or a rebreather (for those not initiated into the tek-diving slang) and with my gas logistics issues resolved I should be all good to go right?
Well not quite. See in the mean time I moved from London (very close to Brighton) to Aberdeen (nowhere near Brighton) so this year’s trip it was still a challenge because although gas management was not an issue driving was!!!
And of course typical of me a week before the trip I changed jobs so had to give back my company and only car I had!!!
Google Maps extract showing Start of trip Aberdeen, Brighton and FeCamp
So having hired a car I loaded my kit and headed south. An early start at 05:00 helped missing traffic and soon I was on the M26 heading down. The trip was boring but uneventful and I was very pleased at that!!!
On arrival to Brighton it felt like I was already on holidays in a different country as the heatwave had girls in bikinis lying in the beach or the park!!! Success! I was definitely on holiday mood.
I checked in to my hotel with a grumpy and miserable receptionist (see review I posted) and headed out to the beach for lunch and a well deserved drink!!!
Tuesday morning I checked out and headed to the marina to board Channel Diver and meet the rest of the crew.
My mate Andris Nestors was already there loading his gear on the boat and I followed promptly. As soon as I made my way to the boat I was greeting by friendly faces! Broady and Nicola were there, of course Steve (our skipper) and Nigel Ingram and Tommy with whom I had done similar trips in the past! Excellent 🙂
All gear was loaded we headed off to France. The weather was simply stunning. Hard to believe we were about to go diving la Manche
The first dive was the HMHS Lanfranc.
Photo of RMS Lanfranc before her requisition as a hospital ship in 1915
HMHS Lanfranc was a hospital ship (6287 grt) torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat UB-40 on 17 April 1917. 17 British and 17 German patients were lost Some 570 survivors were picked up by the destroyers HMS Badger and HMS Jackal aided by HMS P 47 and the French patrol boat Roitelet, and taken to Portsmouth. For further info see: the Wreck Site
The first dive wasn’t exactly a great success. I jumped in with Andris but early in the dive I realised that both of my computers were set to the wrong gas. 😦 I managed to successfully communicate it to Andris but somewhere in the fuf we got separated and at that point decided to ascent. Once on the surface Steve picked me up, I updated the gas on both computers and soon I was back in the water descending the line to Lanfranc. As I was on my own and the current was picking up I kept the dive short and headed back up not before long.
After the dive we continued our journey crossing the channel until we made it to Fecamp. On arrival to the marina we checked in to the hotel Grand Pavois which Steve had booked us. After checking-in (which took a while – but then again we were a big group) and a quick shower (still impressed with the ranch-style bathroom door, the double sink and the lack of curtains) we made our way to the local restaurant for beer and steak-frites!!!
Wednesday morning we decided to have a look at the hotel’s breakfast which was not included in the price and as I do have a soft spot for salmon, brie and baguettes the call was made to stay at the hotel for breakfast! YeY!!! 🙂
After breakfast we made our way back to the marina where Steve was waiting for us to go diving! The plan was to dive an unknown mark that Steve had picked up on a previous trip. On arrival to site and after the shot line went in, myself and Andris descend to the wreck. Initially it was a bit confusing but after a while it became evident that although this wreck was a man made structure it was not a ship. It turns out it was some sort of a platform or maybe a Mulberry Harbour?
Loads of life and some dinosaur sized lobsters!!! a pair of fishermans? (longjohn style) trousers at the bottom and a MASSIVE buoy inside the wreck kept us amused and resulted in a total runtime dive of 100 min! 🙂
Although we had not discovered a Spanish galleon loaded with gold doubloons, our unknown wreck proved to be equally amusing and enjoyable!!!
Back to Fecamp and after the obligatory “cheeky half” at the La Fregate of the Hotel de la mer and a shower (in the bathroom with the ranch door and without shower curtains) we headed to the La Grillade
for my Chateaubriand and Nigel and Tommy’s share of humongous plate of meat!
Thursday morning after another excellent breakfast (smoked salmon and brie with fresh baguettes and croisants) we checked out and started our return journey. Halfway we stopped at the HMHS Lanfranc for one more dive and (unlike the Tuesday dive) everything went to plan and dived all the way from the bows to the stern!!! 🙂
In the evening we off loaded the boat, said our goodbyes and loaded the cars for the next part of the trip. Me and Andris were heading to Eastborne to dive with David Ronnan and Sylvia (Dive 125).
and headed to the restaurant for beers and a well deserved dinner! As the load time was a very civilised 11:15 we left all the fuffing for Friday morning.
Friday morning after a full English breakfast (brie, salmon, baguettes and croissant are good but…) he headed to the Sovereign Marina to meet with Matt Speed (the third member of the A-Team) was going to join us to dive Caleb Sprague!!!
Once we loaded the boat and out of nowhere Chris Hall appeared! It is nice being back in the south Coast and diving with Friends!!!
On January 31st, 1944, the British steamship Caleb Sprague (1813 grt) was torpedoed and sunk by German motor torpedo boats , S.E. of Beachy Head on a voyage from London to Newport.
Twenty-two of her crew of 27 and three of her four gunners were lost. (information from the wrecksite)
The Caleb Sprague (Source – Divernet: WRECKTOUR 118)
Myself, Andris and Matt descended to the wreck which kept us busy for around 40 minutes (and that was excluding the Lobster hunting time!!!). Once we had enough (to see and dinner) we made our way up and surfaced at the planned 2 hr runtime.
Sadly that was the last dive of the trip. Back on the beach we unloaded the boat said our goodbyes and I headed back to the Hotel for my last night south (by that time it was too late to start the return journey).
Saturday morning I started the long journey back, which ended even longer as the stupid sat-nav sent me via the M1 (YIKES!!!) and ended up back in Aberdeen about 17:00 in the evening. Knackered! But what a great week!!! Great dives! Great catching up with friends! Awesome weather!!! What more could anyone ask for!!!
Many thanks go to:
My favourite dive buddy Andris Nestors
Matt Speed, Broady and Nicola, Steve Johnson, David Ronnan and Sylvia Pryer
Great to see you, excellent diving with you and looking forward to see you all again soon!!!
The diving trip to Malin Head that didn’t happened!
Last September Mike Ferguson from my local branch of the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) the Deeside Sub Aqua Club (DSAC) organized a trip to Malin Head out of Al Wright’s MV Salutay. Read more about Al here and on IANTD’s Operation Pedestal page. I was invited to join but kindly declined as although qualified to dive I would be the only Open Circuit diver on the boat and that would
make it hard to buddy with any CCR diver
make gas logistics a nightmare
make for a very expensive gas bill!!!
The trip was a success although visibility was not great because of an out-of season Plankton Bloom.
This was highly unusual and unlike anything like what was expected according to my diving buddy’s video of Malin Head (Diving Malin Head, Ireland 2010 by Geoff Davies https://vimeo.com/14388873) and photos:
iconic Shipwrecks lying off Malin Head, Ireland – taken by fourth element team diver Steve Jones:
Therefore it didn’t take long for Mike to start organizing the next trip to Malin Head and I was invited to join the group. This time as a proud owner of a newly acquired AP Inspiration Classic I agreed to join and needless to say I was really very excited at the prospect of diving the HMS Audacious, SS Justicia and the SS Empire Heritage.
Considering that all three (Audacious, Justicia and Empire Heritage) lie at a depth of around 70m of water this makes it for a tech only trip with not much scope for recreational / non-deco diving!!! Ideally for suitably experienced divers.
As much as I do consider myself to have some understanding in the lore of scuba diving I felt I had to get myself ready and “dived-up” for a trip like that and therefore embarked in a race to get as many deco and simulated deco dives as possible to make sure that I am ready for Malin Head.
After a fair bit of diving and a lot of waiting August the 31st arrived and I packed my gear and Saturday morning headed off to meet Lorne Thomson and start our drive to Stranraer. It is amazing how much kit just the two of us had!!! One would imagine that a Range Rover would be enough for 2 (yes two) divers? Well just!
By the time we had loaded, rebreathers, stage bottles, Lorne’s scooter, tool boxes, dry suits and other random stuff there was hardly any space left for us!!!
The drive was pretty easy and uneventful and we made it to Stranraer in time to load the boat.
After the expected fuff of setting up gear, selecting cabins etc we (orderly) made our way to the local Chinese restaurant for a curry, beers and raising a pint to diving buddies that unfortunately didn’t made it to this trip.
Sadly by that time it was confirmed that the weather was too bad to make it to Malin Head and dive the wrecks of Plan A and therefore we had to dive Plan B!!!
Google Maps extract showing the waypoints of the trip we had originally planned (Dive Malin Head Wrecks)
Google Maps extract showing what we actually dived (Diving IOM wrecks – Plan B)
Sunday morning after a hearty fry-up prepared by Freda we sailed from Stranraer to dive the first wreck of the trip
“SS Tiberia, built by Northumberland Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Newcastle in 1913 and owned at the time of her loss by Anchor Line (Henderson Bros.), Ltd., Glasgow, was a British steamer of 4880 tons.
On February 26th, 1918, Tiberia, on a voyage from Glasgow to New York with general cargo, was sunk by the German submarine U-19 (Johannes Spieß), 1.5 mles east of Black Head, Belfast Lough. There were no casualties.” Source: the Wreck site.
Video of the wreck of SS Tiberia on YouTube here. On the way out we got to see Samson and Goliath the two giagantic cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding (the one that built RMS Titanic? – Yes! that one!!!)
The sea was a bit choppy so the decision was made to not take any scooters much to the boys disappointment. Luckily for me that meant I would get a buddy! Myself and Lorne were getting ready until Lorne started having “Cell” issues. For those of you into closed circuit rebreathers you know what that means for the rest of you not familiar with the AP Cells drama all I will say is that Cells is a critical bit of the rebreather and going diving with any warnings on them is a bad idea.
Lorne attempted to replace the cell but then it didn’t work and I buddied up with Brian and Simon and went for a dive. Vis was not exactly excellent but considering that we managed a 100 minute runtime dive that probably implies that we quite enjoyed in!!!
Back on the boat we got fed by Freda and headed out to shore.
Dessert was at least epic! (photo courtesy of MV Salutay)
On arrival to Portavogie we engaged in our favourite activity of messing around with kit. Power drills etc came into play while Al was filling our cylinders.
A scouting party was sent out to find a pub but returned empty handed as Portavogie ( which according to wikipedia comes from Irish: Port a’ Bhogaigh meaning “harbour of the bog”) is a small fishing village with a 95.9% Protestant background!!! (source: Census day 29 April 2001- wikipedia)
Monday morning after a our breakfast and a casual walk by the marina we headed out to dive the Romeo
SS Romeo was a British passenger / cargo ship (1730 grt) travelling to Liverpool from Scapa Flow. On the 03/03/1918 she was tricked into giving her position away by U-102 and was sunk by a torpedo with only one survivor of the 37 aboard (from the Wreck site).
During the dive me and Lorne stayed close to the bows and headed midships but we had to ascent before we made it to the stern to make the 90 min runtime requested by our skipper.
Back on the boat we followed the same routine. Lunch. messing around with kit and dinner on our arrival at Peel, IOM. Easy life! Just the way I like it!!!
Tuesday morning we headed out to dive the Stern part of the Romeo again as we hadn’t seen it in the last dive. Once again the conditions topsides were not great so we left the scooters on the boat and dived to see the stern of the wreck while the rest of the company as “wannabe” wreck detectives were digging into the wreck / sand / debris trying to find souvenirs!!!
And needless to say back on the boat for more food, more messing around with diving gear and then to the pub, where Brian demonstrated his hagling skills by buying two bottles of wine from the local pub. After a couple of drinks we headed back to the boat for some more food (surely one has to have dinner right?!!!)
Wednesday morning we left the Port St Mary, IOM to dive SS Liverpool. This was almost my favourite dive of the trip. I love good visibility and ambient light. The wreck was less intact but the vis was awesome!!! 15-20 m easily!!! It was almost like diving abroad 🙂 well apart from the not so tropical temperature (although one cannot complain when the water temperature is 14 deg C) and the strong currents in the area, which is why we had to limit our run time to 90 min (much to my disappointment)!!!
Thursday morning having been fed and watered we headed out to dive the SS Inkosi. Being very excited after the SS Liverpool dive there was a unanimous 2hr response when Al asked what our planned runtime was going to be, despite both Al and Mike predicting that vis wouldn’t be that great.
Soon on the descent visibility deteriorated and by the time we made it to 30 m depth it was pretty dark but fortunately the water was clearing up!!! On the wreck despite the lack of ambient light visibility was great and we busied ourselves by looking into the holds and the loads of crockery. Heading to the stern Lorne spotted an abandoned dive / fishing boat anchor which we decided to leave in situ!
Apart from the wreck and the cargo there were loads of life especially Lobsters Crabs and Conger Eels some of the later ones were big enough to count as “scary”.
We were definitely enjoying ourselves because by the time we decided to end the dive and head up the current had picked up and we had more than an hour to surface!!!
After recovering all divers Freda served lunch and we started our long steam back. The weather got worst and we ended up heading to Stranaer where we spent the last night.
After arrival Freda served dinner and then we went back to messing around with our kit.
The last dive of the trip was to be the SS Rowan on Friday. The story of the sinking of the Rowan is anything between unbelievable and impossible.
SS Rowan was a passenger ship (1493 grt) on a voyage from Glasgow to Dublin. In thick fog she collided with the American steam ship Camak (5721 grt). Although the damage was not too bad it resulted in her stopping and then a second collision with the Clan Malcom (5994 grt) which resulted in SS Rowan sinking quickly with the loss of 13 crew members and 3 passengers. Two more of the survivors died later of the injuries (from the Wrecksite).
Al seemed worried about tides and recommended us “not to blow the arse of it” and by that we assume he meant stay to runtimes of about 90 minutes. Which we did (more or less). Sadly visibility was poor and of course dark as dark gets!
After surfacing he headed back to Stranraer loaded our gear into the cars said our goodbyes to Al and Freda and started our journey back.
Overall I enjoyed this trip very much. I got to dive every day, on some pretty cool wrecks, log 10 more hours on my unit and enjoy the excellent company I was in. We didn’t got to dive the wrecks of Malin Head but…
…well I suppose that is a good reason to book another diving trip right?! 🙂
A number of videos were filmed and I will update the links below as the videos are published.
So here I am, back in the office after a trip on the West Coast of Scotland only a week after the last one but this time with a different company!
Usually work gets in the way and spoils the fun. So when I first heard about this trip and much to my disappointment, I could not go because of work. Work circumstances changed and I was free to go diving only that by that time (as luck would have it) the trip was fully booked!
Luckily (for me) a space came up on the Wednesday and as I was on the reserve list I was only too happy to oblige:)
The trip was organised by Gar a good friend who, apart from being an avid rebreather diver and great source of information regarding rebreathers, has a long experience of organising successful diving trips.
The plan was to meet Friday afternoon at the local Dive shop Aberdeen Watersports Limited (or you can find them at their facebook page) to sort out hire kit and last minute fills. Once all (and there was quite a lot of it) the kit was loaded on the van the minibus and the van started on a convoy our long journey to Lochaline!
Michael (well part of) next to our van loaded with 4 twinsets, 6 rebreathers and an assortment of single cylinders, stages, weights, toolboxes and most importantly Cider!!!
After a few hours of listening to hard rock and heavy metal we made it to the ferry, much to Michael’s delight who was sitting between me and Greg and had to listen to our nonsensical discussions about recreational rebreathers, bail-outs, Decompression algorithms etc etc!!!
Divers stretching their legs while waiting for the ferry (photo courtesy of Laure Mora)
Our group waiting for the Corran – Ardgour ferry and not long after that we made it to the Lochaline Dive Centre where after the usual mad rush to sort out diving kit we had a great curry prepared by Annabel and the girls!!!
Saturday morning after a hearty breakfast our boat the “Sound Diver” arrived and we started loading the our gear on the boat.
Loading the kit to the boat (photo courtesy of Laure Mora)
The first dive was “The Rondo” a wreck I really wanted to dive after I read about it at Rod Macdonald’s “Into The Abyss” and is quite unique because it is vertical!!!
After the dive we went to picturesque Tobermoray for our surface interval, before the second dive of the day “The Hispania“. Alan (our skipper) got the slack water spot on and we got in the water with minimal current.
After a successful days diving we were happy and all of us looking forward to return to the Dive Centre where we knew that Annabel had prepared a roast for the (very) hungry divers – us that is!!!
Gar preparing his unit (Photo courtesy of Laure Mora)
After the dinner Annabel gave us a presentation on the SMART project she is leading, an initiative to sink a decommissioned Royal Navy Cumberland Class Destroyer in the Sound of Mull to create an artificial reef in order to help sustain the local biodiversity and boost the local economy.
Sunday morning and after a good night’s sleep (for those of us far far away from Paul’s room and his snoring) we headed out to dive the “SS Thesis“. A bit of me running late, a current running fast and the end result was a very quick (2 min) dive!!! Oh well these things do happen! As the weather was turning for the worst I was only to happy to be returning to the Dive Centre for a fully Loaded Scottish Breakfast and back to diving!!!
The weather on Sunday was at least changeable! (photos courtesy of Michael Allan)
After the breakfast we headed out to dive the “Shuna” the last dive of our trip before we start our long journey back to Aberdeen.
On the way back conditions deteriorated so he decided to leave the Boat to the hands of an expert!
Laure in charge! (photo courtesy of Michael Allan)
The journy back would have been uneventful if I had tied up my unit (properly)!!! Instead:
embarrassing… (photo courtesy of Michael Allan)
A few hours later a van loaded with diving gear and a mini bus full of sleepy divers returned back to Aberdeen Watersports Limited having had a great weekend of eating, drinking and some diving too!!!
Overall it was a great trip that I very much enjoyed! The unit behaved fantastically, my diving wasn’t too bad (he says!) food was great and company too and I got to dive 3 wrecks of the list that I have compiled while reading Rod Macdonald’s books!!! Yey!!!
So many thanks to:
Gar for organising the trip and the driving
Greg for the driving
Michael for tolerating Rammstein and my conversations on CCR with Greg
Annabel for the excellent food
Alan our skipper
Michael, Laure and Simon for photos and the video
and everyone else that made it a successful diving trip
Easter Monday and I am back at work today after a pretty awesome weekend diving the west coast of Scotland. A rather last minute trip that turned out very well!
Thursday night I showed up at the club night and when I asked if anyone is going diving I was told that Mike and Brian were planning to go to the west coast of Scotland to dive off Mike’s Boat the Irish Mist.
At that point I could not resist self-inviting myself and shortly afterwards I left the pub and went back home to start preparing my gear. About 02:00 Friday morning I was ready to go!!!
After work Brian came by my place and we started our journey. 180 miles later we were at the marina! After a few drinks we went back to the boat to sleep. The next morning and after we loaded all our gear onto the boat we went for a hard core full Scottish breakfast and made our way to Oban for refuelling.
View of the Marina on Saturday morning
After refuelling (a rather costly affair!) and while on our way to dive the Shuna we went past the Duart Castle a very picturesque castle that appeared in 1999 Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones Entrapment film!
Not looking very inteligent (and a tiny Castle behind me)
A close up of the castle (Camera’s zoom not great)
Our discussion about decompression algorithms, gradient factors and bubble models kept Jake’s interest irreducible!
Blue skies and a flat calm sea made us think that we were in the Med but the temperature (had to wear jacket, gloves and a woolly hat) brought us back to the reality!!!
Jake was looking out for dolphins but sadly none were around this time
Unfortunately Mike’s unit was not cooperating and after failing the negative test Mike decided to abort and not dive. By that time Al was also getting cold and opted to stay on the boat instead, leaving me and Brian to go for a very pleasant 50 minute dive in rather limited visibility 3-4 m but plenty of ambient light, which is always a bonus !!!. Much to our delight on surfacing Mike was waiting for us with freshly baked pizza!!! How cool is that now!!! Once we got everything sorted we headed to Tobermory for drinks and dinner.
Colorful houses of Tobermory
Having decided that we didn’t want to pay £20 for mooring on the berth we anchored at the bay and took the dingy to go ashore!!! four reasonably big men and a dog!!!
A few drinks later and with the dingy lower on the water (a bit of a leak there) we returned to the boat!!! Surprisingly we made it back safe and after a last drink, a glass of Irish Mist, the whiskey after which the boat is named, we went to bed!
Sunday we decided to dive the Breda. A cargo ship that lies upright in about 30 m of water. On the way out Brian made breakfast (bacon rolls) a luxury that RHIB divers cannot afford!
Myself and Brian splashed first and by the time we came up Mike’s unit could pass positive and negative tests and was getting ready for a dive. Brian went up the boat so that we had at least someone on the boat as Al was already in the water and a few minutes later Mike joined me at the anchor line and we headed for a quick dive to test Mike’s new JJ back mounted counter lungs. All seemed fine (minus a few leaks here and there) and twenty minutes later we surfaced and started our way back.
Once back in the Dunstaffnage marina we offloaded the boat and started our 180 mile journey back. The return trip was much more pleasant and most of it in daylight as the clocks had moved an hour forward and after the customary stop for Fish and Chips we made it back to Aberdeen for a very respectable 22:00.
Overall a very busy weekend but was well worth it !!!! I got 2 sea dives in UK waters and I really enjoyed them too!!! My unit worked and my dry suit / undersuit also!!!
Many thanks to Brian Burnett for driving and diving with me, to Mike Ferguson and Alex Powel for letting us stay on their boat!!!
Disclaimer: As much as I tried to keep this post shorter than the Mexico one (see here) it is still long enough, if anything too long, and to make things worst it is quite technical with technical scuba diving terminology used throughout. I can only apologise but as other posts have covered the fun part of redtec trips and the excellent service by Blue O two I decided to go for something more hardcore (and less touristy) on this post. For more information of RedTec and Blue O two read “I are Diver“‘s blog which is much shorter and funnier too!!! On the plus side if you choose to go ahead and read this post you will get the chance to read about me getting into trouble again and again!!! So redtec December 2012!!! Following last redtec’s phenomenal success (read more about it on I Are Diver’s excellent blog)
Paul Toomer from Diving Matrix decided to organise another redtec. Somehow I missed the announcement and I only picked it up in September when I was visiting London to celebrate my mates Maxim’s wedding! As the conversation was around diving I found out about the trip and most importantly that a group of very good friends had already signed up for it! David and Aidan (who were also on the last redtec) and Aileen as well. At the time my diving buddy Andris was contemplating joining. Having had a few drinks it was very easy for me to declare that if Andris decided to go I would go as well. There has not been known a single case in the history of mankind where Andris has said no to a diving trip ever in his life, he agreed and so did I!!! As soon as I was back in Aberdeen all the paperwork was done and we were good to go! Good to go…
Well not quite…
You see back in August I did something really very stupid. I bought a rebreather. For those of you who do not know what a rebreather is I will just say that it is one more diving related shiny toy. In particular mine is not shiny but bright yellow!!!
Photo of a “Box Standard” APD Inspiration rebreather (photo courtesy of Ambient Pressure Diving) Now them things rebreathers are known to be really very clever but on the downside they are not forgiving. They have a reputation for killing divers 😦 This reputation is rather unfair because most accidents are attributed to human error rather than equipment failure but the reality is that they require special training. When I signed up for the trip I had bought the rebreather and I had planned and booked a course.
Sadly due to work commitments and other unforeseen circumstances (helicopter reliability issues, bad weather, leaking dry suits a flue etc) I did not managed to finish my course on time (see MOD1 blog post). This was pretty bad because I did not want to go to the Red Sea and dive open circuit. I mean I have done that before and it is very cool and great fun but I had a new toy and I wanted to go out and play with my rebreather!!!
A panic call to Mr Toomer and all was good. Toomer agreed to take over the course from my instructor and help me finish it off with him in the Red Sea!!!
Fast forward a couple of months to the much anticipated 6th of December. I finished work and my and my rebreather got the plane to Gatwick. The usual panic of trying to fit 50kg+ of diving gear into a 40kg allowance made for a stressful couple of nights before but in the end everything was distributed nicely amongst two hold luggage bags and one hand luggage. The Morning of the 7th we made our way to Gatwick to meet Paul, David, Aidan, Myself, Roger, John, Valerie and Andy, (all members of the last redtec), Sam, Andy, Aileen, Arthour, David and Julius. Sadly Andris could not make it because of work commitments. After a short flight to Hurghada we arrived at the airport where Blue O Two reps were waiting for us and got us to the marina by coach. Easy. Efficient, Trouble Free, Nice – Just the way I like it!!!
As soon as we arrived at the marina the mad panic of loading the boat started and with only a quick break for dinner most of the equipment was set up and we were on our way… …to the local shisha bar (surely when in Egypt!!!!) After a few (well it was probably more than just a few) drinks and shisha accompanied by susbstantial amounts of local Lupin Beans we made our way back to the boat to get some sleep before we start our journey.
Day 1 – Saturday 08/12/2012
It was almost mid day by the time preparations were completed, coastguard checked our documents and we were ready to set sail for Poseidon Reef for our check dive and skill circuit. Last time I was on a redtec I watched those on the skill circuit for about five minutes, laughed at them and left for a 1 hour long solo dive around the reef. Bliss! This time I was one of those in a course and as a matter of fact I was about to do two courses!!! To start with I was going to finish off my MOD 1. Luckily all I had to do was a DSMB deployment and a bail-out for 20m. During this dive I did practiced these skills and also high and low ppO2 drills, shutdown drills, bailouts and running the unit on manual. Fun Fun Fun!!! – NOT
After the check out dive we made our way Abu Nuhas to dive Giannis D, a very atmospheric wreck lying at 21m of water making it an excellent dive for the first day. Because of our late departure we arrived at the site near dusk and pretty much it was a night dive as soon as we descended.
Getting ready to splash (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)
The dingy was there to pick us up in pitch darkness which made it feel like some great adventure but in reality it was not! Back on the boat and for food and to meet the rest of the group, which was made up of Jim Dowling who was with us on the last redtec and it was great to see again, Dinky a JJ instructor with a Mohican and loads of tattoos, Marko a professional diver, reporter, author and photographer and Analeesa flying all the way from South Africa!!!
Our guides / instructors Jim and Dinky (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)
Day 2 Sunday 09/12/2012
The plan for the second day was to dive the iconic wreck of Thistlegorm, and probably the most famous wreck in the Red Sea. As we were ready to jump in the water for the first dive, the hose feeding my Oxygen Manual Addition Valve (MAV) pulled out the steel fitting of the valve leaving me with not only a leak in the loop but a spectacular free flow of O2!!! Having fully opened the oxygen cylinder was probably not such a great idea as it took me ages to close it and lost substantial amount of oxygen. Luckily the fitting had just become loose rather than shred the valve and quickly I fitted it back and joined the rest of the team for the dive!!!
SS Thistlegorm stern gun (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)
In order to complete my MOD 1 course I was budded up with Paul for the first dive. Having been into the holds with the motorbikes and trucks we made our way back and Paul signalled me to bail out, ie get off the loop, grab my bail out cylinder regulator stick it in my mouth and ascent as I would normally do on open circuit. Having successfully completed my bail out ascent we surfaced and went straight up to the sun deck for some sunbathing!!! Nice 🙂 For the second dive I budded up with Jim Dowling and Analeesa. This time Jim decided to go out and investigate the debris field, the steam engines either side of the wreck and the bows anchor, which was massive and very much anchor admiralty shaped.
Day 3 Monday 10/12/2012
Last time we were in the area we decided that there is not much point in diving the wreck and ventured to dive the reef instead. Some say our guide got lost, others say that The Lara actually moved from its last known location. You can choose whichever version you like, but the result was that I didn’t got to dive The Lara.
Myself, Marko and Aidan at the mast of The Lata (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)
We all splashed together and Jim guided us to the wreck. At the mast and myself, Marko and Analeesa hovered happily taking photos while the others descended below us. Getting borred at 45m I popped down to 50m which on was not such a great idea especially considering that I had not switched my set point to high (1.3). Quickly I moved up to 45m and joined the rest of my team before anyone noticed 🙂
Myself behind a coral (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
The rest of the dive was uneventful with the current taking us by the reef and deco at the little cove at the north end of the reef.
Day 4 Tuesday 11/12/2012 Tuesday
Back in Thomas Canyon. I really enjoyed diving Thomas Canyon last time and I was looking forward to dive it again. Being a canyon the entry is hard to locate and to make sure we didn’t miss it we decided to jump in the water all together and follow Jim (this is a plan that worked well last time too!).
Myself in Thomas Canyon (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
The dingy took us from the boat to the entry point and we started our descent following Jim. As soon as we saw the canyon below us we split to buddy pairs as per the plan some to stay shallow, some go deep and a few others to go seriously deep!!! Jim hovered at the entrance of the canyon before the first arch to watch (like a hawk) those about to break their depth limits or fail their rebreathers!
Myself and Marko spent most of the time under the first arch taking photos and while we were approaching the second arc we bumped into a group of divers that had turned their dive and were heading out of the canyon. As we were not allowed more than 15 min of deco it was almost a good time to turn our dive. Jim had already got to the group of divers that had turned because of a failed rebreather and a rather unexpected bailout failure but that is someone else’s story to tell… We, for our part, followed on the way up and once on the reef I decided to let the current take us and do a drift dive as the situation seemed to be under control and enough rescuers were involved.
Sam ascending by the wall (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
Our second dive was uneventful with me and Marko staying by the first arch to take more photos as agreed. When we had enough we turned the dive and headed to the reef without going as far as the second arch or indeed the deep end of the canyon. This time on the reef we headed the opposite way to a known shark observatory and we did spotted a Reef shark (most likely) lying and enjoying his time quietly. Not impressed by our approach he moved away from the annoying intruders.
Day 5 Wednesday 12/12/2012
Crossing the straights of Tiran has never been fun and this time it wasn’t easy although it did seemed to me that it was better than last time. Maybe the drinks and shisha combination had something to do with it or maybe not! Yes Paul found out that the crew had a shisha on the boat (brought for their own amusement) and he got them to make us a shisha every night 🙂 That was definitely an added bonus to the last trip and I believe that Blue O two should make shishas mandatory equipment on all Blue O two boats!!!
Once safely on anchorage we all went to bed exhausted and excited about diving the Rosalind Moller the next day. For both dives I budded up with Marko and Toomer as I was going to complete my ART course for my rebreather. The wreck was absolutely full of life and we were diving surrounded by fish. I found it hard to believe how often I lost contact with my buddies because of the wall of fish!!! The dives went to plan and we managed to get some stunning photos over the iconic broken funnel and the galley illuminated by the skylights, the glasses of which were still in place!!!
Stunning photo of the Rosalind Moller galley with the sky light glass still in place (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
Dave Lau Kee behind (A lot of) fish on the Rosalind Moller (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
As everyone was excited with todays dive it was decided to spend the night moored on Rosalin Moller and dive her again the morning after.
Day 6 Thursday 13/12/2012
The captain wanted to leave the wreck by 09:00 the latest so not being a morning person and being limited to 15 minutes of deco me and Marco agreed to be ready to jump in the water for 07:50. The rest of the group which was allowed to do longer dives got up much much earlier for the 3 hr plus runtime dives!!!
Apart from a minor incident (me diving with my O2 reg partly fitted, ie: pretty serious O2 leak). The dive was more of a photo session with Marko the photographer and me a “wanna be” photo model with very poor buoyancy skills!!!
Me at the stern or the Rosalind Moller (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
Hovering over the iconic funnel (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)
When our Time To Surface (TTS) reached the agreed 15 minutes we made our way back to the shot line and started our ascent. On our way to the shot line I heard a distinct noise the one I had heard before when a High Pressure hose fails and I was immediately looking around me for the familiar Jacuzzi effect that it creates. Surprisingly there was nothing to be seen. Arriving to the shot line I could see that the winch we had attached the end of the shot line was being lifted and then dropped again. That was a sign that conditions topsides had deteriorated and we were in for a rough ride!!! As we were ascending we noticed a couple of things: a. folk at the 6m were hanging to the shot line for dear life b. On our descent there was a bow line and a stern line to the shot line now there was only one and a lot of broken line, which explained the loud noise! The stern line had snapped!!!
After 15 minutes of holding to the shot line and being tossed around by the current that was changing directions and banging against other divers me and Marko signalled to each other that it was time to surface. On the way up I realised that we were going up the bows shot line but decide to keep going, thinking that a surface swim to the stern under a rocking boat was less dangerous that a swim under the boat on my unit in very strong current which could result in over excersion and potentially carbon dioxide poisoning. Finally we made it back to the boat and after the customary hot chocolate I started to wash and take my kit apart to dry. A rather unpleasant process as it signifies the end of the holiday and the beginning of the return trip to home. Back at the marina I got my kit out of the boat and along with Paul, David and Aileen we made our way to the hotel where I hang my stuff to dry, had a long shower and headed out to meet the rest of the team for dinner and end of trip shenanigans!!! We started drinking at our local shisha bar and we soon made our way to the new Hurghada Marina and the PAPAS Bar where se had dinner. Not a life changing experience but hearty divers food.
This time unlike last time the place was really very busy and there was a stage hinting that we were going to get live music too!!! It was more down to my bad taste of music rather than the alcohol in me but I enjoyed the and was well pleased with how busy this place was. Sadly the program came to an end and despite all of my efforts I could not get Toomer and company to join me to PAPAS Beach Club Instead we headed to the cafe next door for one last shisha before making our way back to the hotel. Photo of the team before we head to the bar for some serious drinking!
Day 7 Friday 14/12/2012
I woke up well late and not looking too rosy after all that drinking and sisha. I headed down to the restaurant for breakfast which left a lot to be desired. The rest of the day was spent around the swimming pool until the time came to get back on the coach to take us to the airport and eventually back to Aberdeen.
I have been talking about getting a rebreather for a while now. Probably the first conversations started with Paul Toomer and Andris Nestors back in 2008 during a Diving Leisure London Icebreaker in Vobster Quay drinking copious amounts of DOOM BAR and talking Diving!!! It was a bit too early for me at the time to get the rebreather didn’t had the experience and more importantly the money!!!
Time passed and the subject of rebreathers was coming up more frequently primarily on diving trips with Andris Nestors when more often than not I found myself being the minority and quite often the only OC diver on the boat!!! During one of our drive trips one of the regulars on the boat mentioned that he knew of someone who could sell his unit for a very reasonable price. That was the closest I got to buying a rebreather but then unfortunately he decided to keep his unit and I went ahead and did my Trimix course on OC in Malta instead.
The main driver for me getting a rebreather has been Gas Management. Open Circuit (OC) diving gas management on day diving trips is a bit of a fuff but easy to deal with. Most dive centres / filling stations expect at least a day to fill a trimix twinset. They want to have the time to begin the process by filling with Oxygen, then let it settle, add helium (He) and finally top it up with Air. So if I was planning to go diving for the weekend I had to drop off my stuff to get filled at least a couple of days earlier. There is nothing difficult about that but things do not always go to plan. Sometimes the scheduled dive was cancelled then I was left with a mix that was in no way good for next weeks diving and therefor I had to empty my twinset and fill it with another mix. Now considering the price of He no one does that so I would save the mix on my twinset and borrow another to fill with a different mix. Now if that dive got cancelled things got even more complicated because I had to return the borrowed twinset to the rightful owner who was kind enough to let me use it because he (or she) needed it.
So you can see how it gets complicated.
Gas Management & Logistics become further complicated when I was planning sequential mixed gas dives. In that case as I would be diving Saturday and Sunday therefore I had no time to get my cylinders filled even if I could!!! Most of the times I could not get He fills anyway (the boats didn’t had and by the time we got to the marina no dive shop was open to fill cylinders). It all turned out too stresfull and not much fun. There was one certain trip where I ended up borrowing 2 twinsets futher to mine and 4 more stages further to my 2 stages!!! In one word: Ridiculous!!!
To make things worst trying to fill a twinset with rich trimix (so that when I air topped it I could still get a half descent mix) cost a fortune and were not very good mixes to dive on (for example 20/60 – a stupid mix). And of course to add salt to the wounds the rebreather folk would always go on about reminding me how their gas bill was about 1/8 of mine…
It looks like though the time had come for me to go CCR. After an epic weekend of diving which was saved only by Paul Haynes being VERY WELL PREPARED for all eventualities and fed up with OC, while on a club night Mike Ferguson exclaimed: “I have a solution to your problem!!!” “I have to units right now and as much as it hurts me it looks like I will have to part with one”!!!. needless to say before the end of the month I had bought the unit, I had booked a course, booked leave and I was ready to go CCR.
Photo of a box standard APD Inspiration CCR (photo courtesy of http://www.aquamaniacs.co.uk/ccr_rebreathers.html)
For an OC diver rebreathers are intimidating. Way too complicated with OC equipment. All sorts of screens flashing, lights blipping here and there and to make things more complicated Cells, Scrubbers and stuff!!! Overwhelmed.
I had booked the course with Paul Haynes a well known CCR diver Instructor Trainer and we decided to go with BSAC primarily because the quality of the student pack was half decent compared to the rest available.
We started the course by going through a lot of theory, history of rebreathers, different types (oxygen rebreathers, SCR, CCR, mCCR, eCCR etc) The theory part of the course involved a fair bit of physiology, dive planning and maintenance etc. Along with the theoretical stuff we had a couple of practical session were we went through the actual unit, took it apart and discussed each and every component. Must admit that after all that I was feeling a lot better about my unit compared to the shear fear that the “Black Box” (well yellow in this case) had inflicted. Understanding what component performs what function and taking into bits to see what it is made of definitely helped A LOT.
All this time Paul Haynes was very patiently answering all sort of stupid questions that I was coming up with!!!
After a couple of days of intense theory, practical sessions and dry runs the time came for me to try this thing in the water!!!
Monday 10/09/2012 – Day 1, Stonehaven
The Plan was to start early on Monday 10/09/2012 morning and make the most of the day. Well the early start didn’t really happened because my flight back from London only arrived in Aberdeen around 10:00!!! I had nearly everything ready, loaded the car and off I went to Stonheaven marina where Paul Haynes was already there waiting for me. Setting up my rebreather for the first time in anger it was an interesting experience and it did took a lot longer that I had expected it to!!!
Aerial photo of Stoneheaven Marina (photo courtesy of https://marinas.com/view/marina/11999_Stonehaven_Harbour_SC)
Fortunately Haynes is a strong believer of Checklists and he had gave me one to follow which I helped things out A LOT. Trying to do the same without it would have been seriously stressful!!!
Eventually sometime early in the afternoon we managed to get in the water and of course took it easy very easy. From a gentle swim in the surface to my first dive at about 3m depth? or maybe less!? Ironically enough during that dive it all felt well because there was no expectation of me to hover so all I had to do was pretty much lay at the sea bed or drag myself at the bottom of the sea. Easy.
The second dive was actually a boat dive. Rod Macdonald was around and was kind enough to take us on the boat around to a cave known to the locals as “Angela’s Crack”!!! We jumped out of the boat into the water outside Angela’s Crack. this time visibility was a bit better but far from great. Haynes deployed a DSMB and I was holding to the line as visibility was less than 2 m !!!
Back at Hayne’s place we took the unit apart, cleaned it and decided to go to the local quarry for Tuesday which would probably be a bit colder but at least we could see each other during the skills and drills!!!
Tuesday 11/09/2012 – Day 2, Boddam Quarry
Tuesday morning we met up at Hayne’s place and after cup of tea I started preparing my rebreather. We then left Stoneheaven and headed North to just outside Boddam where an abandoned, flooded quarry is used for training purposes from local dive schools and all divers who want to brush up their skills.
No surprise there was no one else around which is what we were expecting for a cold Tuesday morning anyway. Once I got ready we entered the water. Having been diving without gloves in Stonehaven I assumed that it would be fine to do the same in the Quarry. I was wrong! The temperature in the quarry being fresh water was substantially lower and very quickly I realised my mistake.
Visibility was half decent and the dive went well executing mask clearing drills, clearing a partly and fully flooded loop, dil flushes and shut downs. Once we had enough of that (and got cold enough) we decided to end the dive. I ascended holding (tight) to the fixed shot line and after 68 minutes we surfaced.
During the surface interval we had lunch and discussed how to further improve on the skills and twick my gear.
The second dive was equally uneventful with more practice on the same skills and more work on my buoyancy. At that point I was well aware of my buoyancy being really very fragile.
By the end of the second dive it was getting late and by the time I got back home I was too cold and tired to want to do anything else so an early night followed. I was quite surprised by how tired I felt I mean in the end of the day all I did was two dives. But I guess the cold weather and the cold water, the trip back and forth to the quarry and the mental stress of trying to perform the skills take their toll.
Wednesday 12/09/2012 – Day 3, Boddam Quarry
The plan for Wednesday was pretty similar. Head out to Paul’s and from there we went off to Boddam. The water in the quarry was cold and I decided to use my KUBI dry gloves. Just before I enter the water the outer ring locking o-ring was dislocated and considering that it only holds the outer ring in place I decided to dive with out it.
It turned out that it wasn’t such a great idea as the dry gloves were leaking and therefore were not that dry after all!!! As if that was not enough I was trying desperately to control my buoyancy exclusively using my dry-suit and I was (most likely) overweighted. This was a pretty bad combination that resulted in me having a rather unpleasant dive struggling to hold buoyancy with loads and loads of gas in my dry suit.
To make things worst my rockboot laces got undone and I was having problems to fin or hold buoyancy. Also with the rockboot displaced more air was moving to the dry suit socks making things even more difficult.
Again and under not so favourable conditions I did managed to complete partial and full flooded loop clearing, and practice on a number of scenarios like high and low ppO2, lost electronics and bail out. By setting the set point to 0.7 I had to maintain set point to 1.0 my manually adding O2 which was fun!!! Suppose this is how it feels to dive an mCCR?
One of the most enjoying parts of the dive was when Haynes asked me to perform a mask clearing mid water. In theory this should be a doddle. nothing challenging in performing a mask clearing for an experienced diver like me eh? Well it turned out to be not that easy. So I got the signal to perform a mask clearing and off I went. Now partly because of my contact lenses, partly because of the cold water I do close my eyes when mask clearing. So I closed my eyes. Flooded my mask. Cleared the mask and opened my eyes. No one was around and I was struggling to breath!!! What happened??? I immediately reached for my manual inflation valve and added dil to the loop. Panic over now I can breath. Still where is Haynes??? Yes you guessed well J I looked up and Haynes was still hovering a few meters above me just where he was when I had closed my eyes before I flood my mask!! It didn’t took me long to pick up what happened. With my mask flooded I blew air (hard) to clear it. Too hard actually so on one hand yes I did cleared the mask but on the other hand I pretty much blew substantial loop volume too. my buoyancy reduced I descended and of course I had less volume in the loop to breathe and this is why I was out of breath!!! Lesson learned I will remember that next time I have to do a mask clearing.
After 71 minutes of fun and games I grub holded the shot line rope and started my ascent!
During the surface interval I made a couple of knots at the end of the rockboot laces so that even if they got undone in the future they would be easy to redo again underwater. And needless to say I did tied them up. Really Well. Sadly because of the problem oring I ended up loosing my KUBI dry glove outer ring altogether which was rather annoying.
The second dive was better in the sense that the rockboots stayed in place (kinda) and I was mentally prepared for the dry gloves leaking so it was not a great surprise!!!. Managed to get a few more skills and decided to call it after 50 minutes because it felt like the water was getting even colder!!!
An unpleasant surprise was Haynes brand new pick up truck would not start as the battery was flat!!! Assistance was called and that allowed us further time to search for my missing dry glove ring but with no luck. Assistance arrived and the battery was revived! On the way back a quick stop to Aberdeen Watersports (AWL) to get cylinders filled for Thursday and then back home. because with the whole thing we were running late Haynes did invited to join him for a curry but I was cold and tired and wanted to go home. Come to think about it a curry would have been better J
Thursday 13/09/2012 – Day 4, Rosehearty
The plan for Thursday was very ambitious. We would go to Rosehearty to dive the open sea. Rosehearty is a small village further up north from Aberdeen. Very picturesque as it turned out!!!.
Again we met up at Hayne’s place in Stonehaven, had a cup of tea, loaded the truck and off we went to Rosehearty. The weather was pretty bad and it didn’t look like any diving was going to be happening but Haynes was positive Rosehearty will be fine. Once we made it to the lighthouse by the beach and although the view was stunning and the sea nearly flat calm a dreadful feeling of gloom and despair took over. The entry to the water was a long walk over sharp, uneven and pretty uninviting rocks. I have never been good at walking at uneven surfaces let alone climbing over rocks like that in full diving gear, CCR and a stage!!! That was not going to be fun.
What I mean by “never been good” is NEVER like 15 years old going on holidays with my parents and grandparents to the remotest of places and I would always be the last to make it there. Maybe because I am tall and my centre of gravity is higher, maybe because I am inherently unbalanced (both mentally and physically) maybe because I was born clumsy. Don’t know. But I am not good at this.
Photos of Rosehearty beach (photos courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahara13/)
The left photo is the actual entry point the right should give you an idea of what it was like climbing to the entry point
Back to the present and my Rosehearty dive. Haynes took his stage to the entry point and I followed very very slowly and carefully. made it there and back without incidents. We got kitted up and made our way to the entry point. It was a long an painful trip that I did not enjoy. Much to my surprise I only had minute slips but didn’t made it to trip and fall!!! At last at the entry. Giant stride entry and off we go!
Immediately things changed. As I said earlier the sea was pretty calm and visibility was phenomenal!!! Never before had I seen anything like that in the UK!!! Bar the grey and cloudy sky that didn’t left much space for light visibility was endless!!! I could have well been diving in Malta, Egypt or Greece (in a cold winter day!!!). The rocks around us made for a pretty nice scenery with loads of crevices and a fair bit of life, crabs lobsters etc. But the viz!!! The viz was something breathtaking especially for UK standards!!!
As much as I was enjoying the dive that much i was growing concerned about my buoyancy, I could dive around and look at things but hovering was just not happening. I was having problems venting air from my suit and although I was OK when moving hovering still was proving to be a challenge. Haynes left me to settle and have an enjoyable trouble free dive for the first part before we could go to skills.
When we tried to do some skills I was struggling to complete them because of my buoyancy. Probably a bad combination of venting air problems, overweight and having to manage the buoyancy of the loop. surprisingly and under these conditions we did managed to complete a 91 minute dive and perform a controlled ascent. Now for this controlled ascent a lot of effort and hard work were required. Me holding to rocks and underwater vegetation (I know not very good for the vegetation) and Haynes taking the lead and forcing me to perform an “Excess air in the dry suit” drill which was something I had not done for more that 4 years and in all honesty I had completely forgotten about….
All’s well that end’s well!!! And we did made it back to the surface after a painful yet immensely enjoyable dive (I am not a masochist) an I myself am still struggling to understand how did I got to enjoy such dive full of problems!!! But the viz was GREAT!!!
After that the painful walk through the rocks took me ages to complete. Haynes in the mean time must have had got changed and had at least a cup of coffee if not two!!! But as I said earlier am not good at this sort of stuff.
A few bruises and cuts more and skills sort (with all this happening we left stuff like DSMB deployments for another time) we made our way back to Aberdeen. this was the last day of leave I had to complete this course because I was flying offshore the day after.
If it wasn’t for the entry I would love to go back to Rosehearty and from what i hear the wreck of the Fram is around there so hopefully I may get to dive again next time we take the boat up there!!!
Wednesday 03/10/2012 – Day 5, Boddam Quarry
The next time that I was available we decided to go to Boddam as the entry / exit to Rosehearty are not really ideal for courses and it is quite a long way to go for a day trip from Aberdeen.
I have been having problems with my dry suits neck seal pretty much since I got my dry suit. It has always been too big and leaking badly. I got it shortened a bit but not enough. For a long period of time I was diving with a bio-seal. This is an additional seal that can be used in cases like that to save a dive. They are not meant to be a permanent feature and I have been diving it as such. Sadly in my last dive, an OC dive to 65m it leaked pretty bad and I had to cut the dive short and ascent because I was freezing and flooding and they are both equally bad.
so when I got back I sent my suit to a local guy that I was told that he is good with repairing suits. He probably was and so far I have no problems with the alteration he did but he didn’t had the suit ready for me when I needed it!!! So I called Haynes and told him that I haven’t got a dry suit and we would have to cancel the dive. Haynes being at AWL at the time came up with a great plan. Lets hire one from AWL!!! I do not believe that you will find many CCR divers diving or training on hired dry suits but my options were limited. I went to AWL tried a few dry suits, selected one and I was ready to go diving!!!
On Wednesday morning again we met up at Haynes place and had a cup of tea prepared the equipment and made our way. On arrival we did our pre dive checks and jumped in the water. Immediately I noticed that there was a slight leak from my hired dry suit’s left cuff seal but decided to go ahead with it anyhow.
During the dive we practised further Bail Out drills, loop clearing, mask clearing, dil flushes, shutdowns, hovering and swimming about which was the easiest.
When we had enough of cold water we surfaced after a nice and slow ascent by the shot line. During the 6m stop I din an O2 flush and 67 min after we entered the water we surfaced and for once I was quite happy with my dive!!!
Sadly and much to Paul’s disappointment I could not do the second dive as I was soaked and really cold so we decided to call it a day and head back to Aberdeen.
Further to that and because of work commitments we didn’t got the time to arrange the final and qualifying dive before I left to go to Egypt for Paul Toomer’s RedTek…