Wrecks of the Tay Estuary, Sunday 15th July, 2012

Another attempt at the Bell Rock saw us assemble in high spirits at Arbroath harbour on a trip Izzy had been trying to arrange for what seemed like forever. This time, were we going to be lucky ? To be fair the fact that we were actually gathered at Arbroath was a great improvement and when Neil Pattison, the skipper arrived and we started loading the dive gear aboard the ‘Tern’, things were looking up indeed.

We headed out of Arbroath harbor into rather rough conditions, perhaps Force 3-4 with white caps dotted around and a short swell coming up from the SW that was locally over 2 meters. We all settled down as best we could as we motored across the mouth of the Tay Estuary towards St Andrews bay. With the Bell Rock lighthouse remaining tantalizingly close yet distant on the Eastern horizon we yet again were not going to make it, so we motored instead for our first site across the estuary.

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SM UC-41 was 160 feet long and the wikipedia entry makes for interesting reading , this describes the sub as a mine layer that came to grief on one of it’s own mines breaking in two with the loss of all hands. Salvage started almost immediately to recover the deck gun. quote: “on the 21st August 1917 HMT JACINTH and HMT THOMAS YOUNG sweeping the Tay estuary found a German mine and found their sweep snagged on an underwater object. JACINTH dropped depth charges, oil and air bubbles rose to the surface. HMT CHIKARA then dropped more D/C’s. Two days later after oil was seen to be rising a diver was sent down. UC41 was located resting on the surface. Salvage work started and the boats 3.5 inch (88mm) gun was recovered on 21st September.”

From a dive perspective given the poor visibility encountered due to both the state of the sea and the number of divers on the wreck some of us didn’t see very much! Only small parts of the wreck were identifiable, conning tower, torpedo tubes and a hydro-plane. Not a dive for large parties in poor weather, however having said that it was a very atmospheric dive and although all the plumose anemonies were closed tight, in better conditions it must be spectacular. Colin and I spend ten minutes in zero vis, laying a line which we followed in circles before seeing something ‘upstream’ of the our companions. From observations, the sub had settled in a scour trench with max 2m height in places though most plates were less than 1m. From the more intact parts of the submarine the outer casing had eroded leaving ribs and the inner casing. Peering into the hull, where it had been opened was a very eerie sensation as the dark swirling sediment rose to greet you. Not for the faint of heart. That was it for us, conscious of both remaining air and the bottom time we set off to find the shot which we missed! Some divers did however find it to ascend in style while others, like Colin and I, sent up a DSMB and took the ‘bluewater’ ascent.

Back on board, the waves had got a little larger and had started to take their toll, various people had acquired a somewhat grey pallor. Not good and not much to be done about it! There was some discussion about calling the day, a quick poll was taken and we set a course for the next site, the wreck of HMT Sophron.

The story of the Sophron is linked to UC-41, she was apparently involved in the subs sinking to come to grief four days later on one of UC-41’s mines. She sits upright and is covered in life and usually enjoys better visibility than the sub. With amazing accuracy the shot landed just inside the gunwales providing a perfect descent and an easy reference for the ascent. The stern of the wreck, beautifully scalloped into the sandy bottom was covered in anemonies of cream and pink, these unlike the ones of the mornings dive were out. Moving aft over the deck, we swam over plates and poked our noses into one of the small hatches which was almost entirely silted up before moving on to the sharp bow, encrusted by anemonies. From here we swam around the port side enjoying the marine life that covered everything before returning to the shot and making a slow ascent and a brief deco stop. A very enjoyable dive, certainly the first East coast wreck I’ve done that is recognizable as a ship.

A few fun and games on the pickup before we bounced back to Arbroath. Unloading the boat saw a pony cylinder fall into the harbour which gave another opportunity for a dive. Luckily a short finger tip search found the errant cylinder.

That was it save for the fish super that was enjoyed on the harbour overlooking the marina.

Thanks are due to Izzy for organising this trip, it’s been a long time coming, due to the vagrancies of the East Coast weather but now we have tried it once, the next trip, in hopefully better weather, will be easier and we may yet get out to the Bell Rock!

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