Summer Isles – 1.8 – 3.8.14

Posted on Steve’s behalf:

Viewing the weather forecast with some trepidation, Spike, Hamish, Paul, Chris, Bethan & Steve headed for Altandhu for the second 2014 camping & RHIB diving weekend.

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All tents were pitched by 9pm on Friday & the team headed to the pub for a pre-weekend thirst quencher and a meeting with local commercial diver, Andy Holbrow, who had kindly agreed to fill our tanks as well as arranging for ‘Deep Dancer’ (DD) to be kept on a mooring by the Old Dornie slip.

Local knowledge is invaluable when finalising dive plans and the meeting with Andy was enjoyable and very informative with site co-ordinates being clarified as well as learning about intricate site details.

An al fresco Saturday breakfast preceded a speedy launch & loading of our trusty ‘Deep Dancer’ RHIB at Old Dornie and we were soon underway in fine conditions heading to the wreck of the ‘Fairweather V’.

A shot had been prepared but was unnecessary since Andy’s co-ordinates put us on top of a permanent shot mounted amidships on the wreck.
Trailblazers Bethan & Chris led the way to this spectacular wreck of a steel fishing trawler which sank on 4th February 1991 after running aground. As she was being pulled off by a tugboat water rushed into an open hatch to the engine room and she settled upright in 25-30m off the headland at Cairn Dearg.

Steve & Hamish formed the second wave with Spike & Paul the third, the broad grins on everyone’s faces on surfacing all telling a similar story.

All reported superb diving, the wreck being covered in plumose anemones and swarming with fish life in vis around 8m.

Lunch was taken on board DD as we reviewed options for the afternoon dive, our preferred site, the ‘Keyhole’ on the northeast corner of Priest Island being shrouded by white water. After looking at several possibilities we settled for the Sgeirean Glasa reef where all teams reported a site teaming with life with Wrasse, Luing, Pollock and shoals of tiny silvery fish.

With DD safely moored for the night, Steve & Bethan delivered the empty tanks to Andy’s house.

After reviving showers, we enjoyed a few aperitifs prior to well-earned dinners and a few more drinks before making a dash for the tents in pouring rain and gusty winds! Andy delivered full tanks to the camp site so all was set for Sunday.

Unfortunately, Hamish was unable to dive on Sunday; Spike kindly offered to head home with Hamish so the team was now reduced to four.

The bad weather had passed during Saturday night, chinks of sunshine appearing as Bethan & Steve swam to recover DD from her mooring.

Back on plan, we headed to the Sgeir Dubh rocks and adjoining reef. This was another pretty site, but as Chris & Bethan prepared to dive, Bethan’s pony tank quick release system released her pony which promptly disappeared to the sea bed!

15 minutes into the ensuing search and recovery exercise Bethan recovered her errant pony! Another excellent dive followed, spotting 3 dogfish.

Steve & Paul checked out the 30m isobaths during their dive, duly discovering Scallop city; Steve’s goody bag was quickly filled

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Bethan took the helm & we sped to the final dive site of the weekend, the wreck of the ‘Boston Stirling’ lying bows in towards the shore on the southern side of Tannara Beag Island. She sank in 1983, apparently while her crew cooked chips which caused a fire and in the ensuing confusion she hit the rocks! She lies on her starboard side in shallow water & is permanently marked by a green buoy which we tied onto for lunch, then dived in two waves. Again both groups enjoyed relaxing dives in good conditions to round off the weekend.

Quick recovery, kit stowed, we briefly stopped at the camp site to hose DD down prior to heading for Perth.

Unfortunately, DD’s trailer failed about 4 miles short of Ullapool, resulting in a 5 hour delay while we waited & subsequently had DD and her trailer recovered to a garage at Ullapool.

However, we’d all enjoyed an excellent weekend’s diving in fine conditions! DD will be home soon!

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Scapa Flow – the Best of Scottish wreck diving, 31 May to 7 June 2014

Posted on behalf of Steve:

After last year’s exciting trip to Scapa, I had the urge to re-visit and explore further the wrecks of these spectacular First World War German warships.

Time demands, budgetary restrictions & other commitments meant I was the sole representative from Perth but I jumped at the opportunity to join Dave, Simon & Matt from Weston-Super-Mare BSAC for another week aboard the liveaboard, MV Karin. Dave & Simon were on the 2013 trip, with Matt joining up to make a friendly foursome on board under the experienced command of skipper John Thornton.

The group gathered at the comfortable Weigh Inn in Scrabster for a convivial pre-embarkation evening with a bite to eat and a couple of pints. My king sized bed and marble tile lined bathroom were a notable contrast to the functional facilities on board the good ship ‘Karin’.
Simon brought his trusty Transit van up from Somerset and taking this over to Stromness eliminated the need for us to use the Northlink dive trolleys as well as having a vehicle to visit some tourist attractions when the dive day was over, usually about 3pm.

A smooth sail on Saturday morning across the Pentland Firth & past the Old Man of Hoy on the ferry ‘Hamnavoe’ brought us to Stromness and the MV Karin where it became apparent that we were the only divers for this week! Thanks to John for running the trip for only 2 buddy pairs!

Gear quickly stowed & twin sets prepared for diving, we headed out to the SMS Karlsruhe for our Saturday afternoon shakedown dive.
Simon & l slipped down the shot, excitement mounting as the hull came quickly into view at around 12m. Lots of big holes on the superstructure side of this cruiser which is covered in plumose anemones, deadmen’s fingers, starfish, urchins and crustaceans plus shoals of sprat like fish, large Cuckoo & Ballan Wrasse, Luing & Cod, notably more fish life than in 2013 probably the result of us visiting in early summer rather than late spring.

Buoyed up by our first dive we steamed back to Stromness then headed ashore to Scapa Scuba where spending cash on a variety of useful stuff like my new Fourth Element Arctic socks, T-shirts, hoodies & not forgetting a large bottle of lube, always seems easy in the company of their cheery manageress

The joys of ‘Scapa Special’ ale at the Ferry Inn beckoned us afterwards.

After an early night, Sunday morning saw us steaming to dive the battleship the SMS ‘Kronprinz Wilhelm’ lying on her starboard side in about 35m. From the shot we headed towards the stern area amidst plenty of life, large holes enabling us to see into the wreck (especially looking over Simon’s shoulder along the amazingly powerful beam of his ‘Light for me’ torch!). We passed one of the masts still lying on the sea bed, one of the gun turrets & admired the large rudders at the stern itself. We surfaced on Simon’s DSMB, followed by soup & sandwiches on the ‘Karin’ while mulling over the sheer scale of the battleship wrecks.

For the afternoon, we headed to the blockship ‘Tabarka’, lying in fairly shallow water at around 16m & surrounded by a kelpy, rocky bottom. Unfortunately, the tide was running pretty fast with the kelp adopting a horizontal angle as we hunkered down by the hull sheltering from its full force & looking inside through all the gaps alongside. We were unable to enter the wreck since the direction of the current gave us the strong impression that once in we probably wouldn’t be able to get out & despite the amount of gas in our twin sets we didn’t fancy taking a chance on it! The site is pretty photogenic so I had fun taking a short video. Surfacing was more than usually exciting with Simon appearing to fly away in the current when he deployed the DSMB, no way could I keep up!

Monday saw us enjoying two cruiser wreck dives, the SMS ‘Dresden’ in the morning & the SMS ‘Coln’ in the afternoon, lying in about 35m. Both were pretty stunning, the ‘Coln’ having the edge because the vis was at least 4-5m more than at the ‘Dresden’, a bit over 12m! Both sites offered a tremendous variety of life. I preferred the cruiser wrecks because although still large wrecks, they are significantly smaller than the battleships which gives you a better chance of touring most of the vessel & having the satisfaction of returning to the shot!
On returning to Stromness I headed to the Stromness Museum, covering the history of the Orkneys, their strong maritime traditions, Nordic connections, links with local explorers, whaling etc. I particularly enjoyed reading the log of an Orkney born skipper operating a cargo sailing vessel around the world in the mid-19th Century.

Tuesday, we enjoyed a visit to the cruiser SMS ‘Brummer’ another superb wreck dive, lying on her starboard side, from flat calm surface conditions! We passed a couple of guns, glanced through the large holes in her hull, though resisted the temptation to be drawn inside, whilst many large wrasse, Cod & Luing ambled around us!

We were moored at Lyness for the lunch break & took the opportunity to visit the Lyness Visitor Centre which covers the background to and scuttling of the German Grand Fleet comprehensively – a very good place to off gas before your afternoon dive!

After a light lunch we headed for the F2, a German escort vessel captured at the start of WW2 which sank at her moorings in 1946. The forward gun is clearly visible and Simon & I enjoyed a swim through the wreck. There is a line linking the wreck of the F2 to the salvage barge YC-21 which had been involved in salvaging anti-aircraft guns in 1968, but sank during a storm – so this site gives you two wrecks for the price of one dive, with little time restriction lying in only 17m!

Wednesday morning saw us return to the battleship Kronprinz Wilhelm – this second dive we were a bit more able to work out where we were on the wreck (rudders a good giveaway!). Loads of fish life surrounded us again on a relaxing slack water dive.

The wreck of German U-boat UB116 beckoned us after lunch; this was a superb scenic dive around the 30m mark with vis at least 12-14m, shoals of silvery sprat like fish, large Wrasse, Luing and a Conger snoozing quietly in a hole until Simon’s torch beam briefly woke him up with blinding light!! This sub was sunk by mines with the loss of all hands as she entered Scapa on 28th October 1918; rather sad as it appears she may have been looking to surrender just a few days before hostilities ceased on 11th November 1918. She was left until construction of the Flotta oil terminal began in the 1970s with the Royal Navy blowing her & the remains of her torpedoes up in an enormous explosion in 1975 which apparently shattered windows on Flotta!

Thursday took us back to two favourites from earlier in the week – SMS ‘Dresden’ & SMS ‘Brummer’. I played cameraman for another attempt at videoing the ‘Dresden’ but for the afternoon Simon kindly leant me his amazing light (he was flying south on Friday morning so was into the 24 hour no dive pre-flight rest period) – this was staggeringly powerful (might even interest Chris ….!!). We noticed how the deck is coming apart from the hull around the bows of the ‘Brummer’. Clearly 95 years under water is having a seriously deteriorating effect on these huge wrecks.

Late Thursday afternoon the Transit was pressed into use for a touristy tour taking in the Highland Park Distillery, the remarkable Italian Chapel (constructed by Italian prisoners of war in WW2) & the moving memorial to the sinking of HMS ‘Royal Oak’, the battleship sunk by German torpedoes from the U-boat U47 on 14th October 1939. 833 Officers & men died (some only 15 years old) when she sank in about 10 minutes after her ammunition magazine was struck. This war grave is the wreck that Royal Navy divers place a Royal Ensign on at each anniversary of her sinking.

Friday we rounded off a superb week’s diving by returning to the sites of cruisers SMS Coln & Karlsruhe, the final dive obviously popular since it was the only one we had to dodge round divers from boats other than our own MV ‘Karin’.

Another great week, thanks to buddies Simon, Dave & Matt and also of course to John & crew again!!

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Caolasnacon, 27th April 2014

After ascertaining that the weather was far too nice to spend my Sunday plumbing, I sent out emergency texts to potential diving buddies. One of the amazing things about the club is that there is always someone to dive with, and it was Hamish that saved me from having to do DIY.

My original thought was Kintellen, but a bit of internet searching revealed a new site just a few short miles down the road, which naturally Hamish was all for.  The back up plan was Kintellen followed by the picnic site, but when we made it to Caolasnacan, the site looked good.  We checked in with the lady at reception, and she said that they’d had divers in the weekend previous.  Another 4 divers turned up while we were there, and they were regulars at the dive site who also had caravans at the dive site.  They were also to confirm that the site was as described on finstrokes, so we kitted up ready to get in!

The dive site

The wall is a short swim from the entry point, but (after a slight detour) we found it with no difficulty.  It starts at 6m, which the deepest point being about 25m (where there are swimthroughs).  However, we didn’t trouble these depths and stuck to less than 15m.  It might not have been deep (although it was dark), but the dive was absolutely stunning!  The walls were covered in sea loch anemones and peacock worms.  We also spotted a shy pollock, although there wasn’t that much fish life.  It was a cracking dive, and we were both disappointed to turn round at the appointed 15 minute mark.

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Sea loch anemones

The climb back up to the car was a bit punishing – and once there, we decided the dive was so good, we’d do it a second time in the afternoon. So we could have left the tanks down by the water’s edge…

I’d clearly put enough pennies in the weather machine, because the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm if you kept out of the wind.  Plus the view was absolutely stunning.

Surface interval  Surface interval.

For the second dive of the day, we kept a bit shallower, and it was just as enjoyable.  This time we settled on a dive plan of 40 minutes, so we made it to an amazing wall after about the 15 minute mark (plus practise made perfect – we managed to find the start of the wall in 3 minutes flat).  Obviously, with our plan of 15 metres max, we didn’t bother the bottom, but the wall was stunning.  Once again, the 20 minute turn around point came too quickly.  The tide had picked up a bit, but the bay was nice and sheltered – although it did mean that a lot of silt was kicked up if you touched the ground.  Unfortunately, there were 2 novice divers in the other group, but we were in quite a while before them so we only encountered them towards the end of the dive.

My legs just about made it up the slope back to the car – although they let me know that they weren’t particularly happy about it – and it was time for the stunning drive back across the rannoch moor.

Entry point - my poor legs weren't a huge fan of this one!
Entry/exit point – my poor legs weren’t a huge fan of this one!

A lovely dive, with great company.