Written by Steve, and posted on his behalf:
A few challenges had to be overcome even before we embarked on the freight ferry bound for Stromness …
First, we were short of divers! Bethan, Hamish & Steve quickly signed up but no skipper will run for only 3 divers!
Luckily, John Thornton, skipper of the good ship M.V. Karin, contacted us to advise he had a couple of guys from Weston-Super-Mare, then Bethan applied pro-active marketing techniques to persuade MUSAC pals Mike & Becca to join us, Steve twisted Colin’s arm so he agreed to join us and we had ourselves a very competent dive team!
Then, the ‘Hamnavoe’, the big passenger & vehicle ferry which runs from Scrabster to Stromness broke its crankshaft, Steve’s car spring and shock absorber broke and his dive torch flooded & needed replacing!
Northlink Ferries offered to take us across on their freight ferry, which put us on Orkney about 3 hours earlier than Plan A, Steve’s car was fixed & he took delivery of his new dive torch the day before we left, so problems all sorted!
We were warmly welcomed aboard M. V. Karin by Bill, chief crewman & ace chef; cabins were quickly allocated, luggage stowed and dive kit assembled.
Skipper John Thornton came aboard, introductions were made, engines started and then we headed off for our shakedown dive, the wreck of the SMS ‘Karlsruhe’, lying on her side in about 26m, fairly shallow by Scapa big wreck standards.
Buddy pairs Hamish & Colin, Becca & Mike, Bethan & Steve and our new friends from Weston, David & Simon all 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 but didn’t spot any fish.
Buoyed up by our first dive we steamed back to Stromness, had a reviving shot of Drambuie, then headed ashore for a pint or two at ‘Flaties’ bar.
After an early night, Sunday morning saw us steaming to dive the’ light’ cruiser, the SMS ‘Koln’ lying on her starboard side in about 35m. She seemed huge even though billed as ‘light’ cruiser at 5,620 tons! This is a stunning dive on a nearly intact vessel, with lots of holes into the hull, Bethan & Steve resisting the temptation to be drawn inside without a distance line, but gained satisfaction from returning to the shot just as our no deco bottom time ran out!
After lunch spent in the warm sunshine at Hoy where civil engineer Mike admired the experimental wave electrical generation machines, we headed to the wreck of World War 2 German escort vessel ‘F2’ similar to a destroyer. She’d sunk at her mooring in 1946 following capture early on in the war. Amusingly, a salvage company had removed the ‘F2’s guns and placed them in the barge ‘YC21’ but the barge then sank as well, so you get two wrecks for the price of one, the two vessels being connected by a rope which you follow from one wreck to the other and back again!
A few of us then had a 3rd scenic dive come scallop bash under the gun emplacements at Howton on the Isle of ????? to round off the afternoon.
The more sensible members of the team had an early night but Hamish & Steve after a very pleasant dinner at the ‘Royal’ Hotel were drawn to the delights of Drambuie and swapping diving yarns with Bill before hitting the sack around 0100 ish, hick, hick … !
Hamish was suffering from a leaky dry suit by Monday and dropped his own DUI suit into Scapa Scuba to have a new zip fitted, enabling him to test a loaned neoprene suit for a change, care of Scapa Scuba. The loan suit stayed dry only for a couple of dives, then fortunately Scapa Scuba leant him another one, so Hamish used 3 suits and 4 zips for the week’s diving!!
Hamish modelling drysuit #2
Monday morning saw us on the SMS ‘Brummer’ a 4,308 ton fast mine-laying cruiser which lies in 36m. In vis well above 10m we could see everyone as our dive commenced! John had instructed us all the return up the shot since it was a misty, rainy morning topside, so we put the distance lines into use (thanks, Colin – we did follow yours for most of the dive!). This wreck is huge, the vis making its size very apparent, with lots of large holes and swim throughs. All seriously impressive stuff!
After lunch we headed for the U-boat wreck ‘UB116’ lying in 29m northwest of Quoy Ness on Flotta. She was the last vessel to be sunk in Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War and the only submarine we dived this week. Bethan skilfully operated the distance line from the bottom of the shot; Colin took an impressive video with his ‘Go-Pro’ camera, again in vis well over 10m; a great dive was had by all!!
That evening Steve was drawn to the Scapa Scuba Dive Shop and treated himself to a new Suunto Vyper Air dive computer, having already bent his old Aladdin Pro (air only!) computer while diving on nitrox! Luckily, Simon knew how to set this up since in the absence of an internet connection to download the instructions, Steve remained puzzled as to the intricacies of its operation – thank, Simon!!
A bonus to round off the evening was that Eco Kim & her friend Anna, who were on holiday in Stromness for the Orkney Folk Festival (hope to have you in the Orkney dive team next year, Kim!), joined us aboard M.V.Karin for pre bed time coffee having bumped into the rest of the team at the pub.
Tuesday morning we headed down the shot to SMS ‘Kronprinz Wilhelm’, the first battleship, at 25,388 tons and 575 feet long, an absolutely enormous wreck. After a strong fin to cover as much of the wreck as possible, (no need for the gym this Tuesday!) allied with quality pilotage by Bethan, we passed the shot but with some time still available headed away from it again, then missed it so resorted to the DSMB!
The block ship, ‘’Gobernador Bories’ provided the second dive for Tuesday and Colin’s final dive of his long weekend. This is a slack water site and we had to haul ourselves down the shot against the current to reach the wreck in a rather shallow 17m. Rather pretty dive site with some kelp and lots of life attached to her remains plus some fish to view (at long last!). We checked out the remains of a hold following in the fin strokes of Mike & Becca with a few attractive photographic opportunities thrown in!
Having bid Colin a fond farewell for the journey home to Burnbrae, the joint Perth/MUSAC team headed to the Ferry Inn to enjoy a couple of drinks and try our hand at the fine art of Pool! A good time was had by all; the impression I got was that Mike would have won the gold medal, had this been an Olympic sport!
Wednesday morning we headed down the stern shot line for the light cruiser SMS ’Dresden’, 5,531 tons, lying on her port side, another impressive wreck dive, stunning in its enormity! Initially, we were in pursuit of 40m for some depth progression – but the tide was against us, only finding 37.8m so in the absence of a shovel we carried on exploring the wreck! Bethan spotted the gun and there were lots of large holes but we viewed all from a respectful distance & didn’t head inside. We ended the dive by ascending the bow line and back to the M.V. Karin for 5 star soup and sandwiches from Bill’s galley.
After lunch it was back to the F2 and barge again, this time joined by Mike since Becca was fighting the effects of a cold and elected to sit this one out. Another very enjoyable and relaxing dive at around 15m – Mike spotted an impressive Conger under the bow section of ‘F2’.
Thursday dawned rather stormy with a north west 6 or 7 blowing! Most of the other dive boats stayed tied up for the day, but John was confident he could get us in for a couple of quality dives again! Just 4 of us accepted the fresher conditions today, enjoying another cracking dive on the ‘SMS ‘Brummer’; Bethan & I headed towards the bow between the deck rail & the top row of portholes, running along the distance line to ensure we returned to the shot, essential for the surface conditions. Mike & Becca elected to go for a long swim through beneath us, easy to follow them in the good visibility again.
After Bill’s quality lunch we headed to the SMS ‘Koln’ again, again using the distance line for confidence and a guaranteed return to the shot! Yet another stunning dive, all still below about 3m despite the lively top side near gale!
On Thursday evening we had a very enjoyable dinner at the Stromness Hotel, joined by john the skipper and crew Bill and then Eco Kim & Anna arrived to enjoy the folk music going on in the restaurant too!!
Our final diving day dawned with calm conditions and a change in buddy pairings, Steve joining Hamish and Bethan joining Mike & Becca to plumb the depths and other delights of the SMS ‘Markgraf’. This is another huge battleship, 25,388 tons and 575 feet long! She lies deeper than most of the other German wrecks, so time to enjoy this spectacular wreck is limited. Loads of life clinging to the metal work again with Dahlia Anemones, lots of crabs, deadmen’s fingers but no fish!! This would need several dives to orientate everything and get a good idea which part of the wreck you’re on!
The final dive was back to the SMS ‘Karlsruhe’ again, where we started out on Saturday, now seeming rather shallow at mostly just 20 odd metres. Tried a bit of video – decent vis enable most of the team to be picked off with the camera!
So that was the Scapa week of 2013. We all really enjoyed ourselves, made new friends and laid plans for a re-visit in 2014 with a view to taking in some of the northern Orkneys with more wrecks and scenic walls than in the Flow.