Flow Trip Report 2009
was on the phone with Jerry at ISC and he asked me if I was interested in going
to Scapa Flow Scotland with him and a few other meg instructors for some really
cool wreck diving. “Of course” I said “when do we go?”. When
Jerry told me we had to be on the boat the following Monday I was a quite
dubious that I could get everything together on such short notice. First
obstacle was my work boss. Despite making lots of gripes and groans he managed
to juggle schedules and give me the nod. Next obstacle was the BIG boss. She
begrudges me little but this was asking a lot of her since I know she really
wants to go to Scotland too. It seems she was OK with it now flight bookings. When I
plan a trip I usually go online well in advance and search out the bargains. I
had no such luxury this time but decided if I could get a flight for under $2000
I would go. Well
I found a flight in my price range but it was a 28hr milk run that would take me
to Paris and Amsterdam before I reached my final flight destination of
Humberside England. It turns out if you are going to have an eight-hour layover
you could pick worse places than Amsterdam. The train to downtown is about 6euro
and it leaves from the lower level of Schipol airport and takes you right
arrived in Humberside, as tired as can be expected and was met by Jerry, who had
arrived a day earlier and Dennis Vessey who was our host for this trip. I also
met Oded Shaprut, a meg instructor from Eilat Israel. We of course had to stop
by the pub on the way to Dennis’ where I was relieved to finally stretch my
legs out and get refreshed. The next morning we awoke at 4am to commence the
long drive to Scrabster Scotland to catch a ferry to the Orkney Islands. The
long ten hour drive was actually quite enjoyable since Scotland is blessed with
some breathtaking scenery and we even found a Castle to stop at for a quick tour
and “birds of prey” show put on by the local falconer.
finally arrived at the ferry dock and embarked on a two hour ferry ride. The MV
Hamnavoe is about the size our own BC ferries but quite a bit more luxurious.
One of the highlights of the ferry crossing was when we passed near the Isle of Hoy and
saw the massive stone column known as the “Old Man of Hoy”
after passing Hoy we arrived in Stromness, which is a beautiful quaint Scottish
town with a long
and rich history.
Orkneys were probably first inhabited by humans during the last ice age who
walked over on ice from Norway. The archaeological discoveries on these islands
are amazing. We visited a Stonehenge like structure and a dig site that they
believe will be the largest manmade building discovered from the Neolithic age.
also toured a museum and a distillery, which was interesting even if I’m not
much of a scotch drinker the rolling fields of heather make for luxurious peat
bogs that abound in the Orkneys and is a key ingredient for making Highland Park
so enough of the other stuff now down to business. For those who don’t know
one of the more significant events that occurred in the Orkneys was the
scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet which was at anchor in Scapa Flow as
part of the disarmament treaty which was being hashed out in Versailles in 1919.
For several months 78 German ships await news of their fate when Rear-Admiral
Ludwig von Reuter gave the order for the German ships to scuttle their vessel
rather than have them fall into the control of the Royal Navy. Shortly after the
scuttling the Royal Navy salvage team began refloating and salvaging the shallow
water vessels but left those ships that were more than a few fathoms deep as
being too difficult to salvage. I was not until 1923 that the Scapa Flow Salvage
and Shipbreaking company purchased the rights to salvage the remaining vessels
that a massive operation that would last until 1939 resulted in the raising and
salvage of all but 7 of the German ships. The remaining ships were massive
battle ships and cruisers and proved to be too large and too deep to make
years later the advent of recreational scuba diving brought a whole new aspect
to tourism at Scapa Flow. We arrived at the dock at Stromness and were greeted by
Emily Turton, owner and skipper of the
converted fishing trawler has been completely remodeled and equipped for scuba
diving in the rugged conditions of the North Sea. The ladder is rigged mid-ships
and is long enough and at just the right slant to allow a fully rigged diver to
easily climb out in the liveliest of sea states.
Emily managed the boat handling
chores as well as any skipper I have ever seen and on top of that blends nitrox
and fills cylinder, gives the most detailed and complete dive briefings I have
ever had and to top it off cooks the meals which includes home baked deserts as
well as yummy main courses. During the week one of the divers celebrated his 40th birthday
and Emily ensured the event was commemorated with a delicious chocolate dipped
week of diving commenced with a dive on the SMS Koln, a 491ft light cruiser
was a perfect shakedown dive as the wreck lies in 100fsw and is fairly intact so
we had an enjoyable 82 minute dive swimming around the outside of this massive
wreck. I was impressed to see several of the 5.9inch guns sticking out from
under the upsidedown hull. I was quite surprised at how warm the water was and
even though the visability was not as clear as many tropical dives I had done
was certainly better than expected for such a northerly destination
second dive of the day took us to the SMS Brummer
although these 2 ships looked massive to me they were soon dwarfed by what was
to follow. I did see my first conger eel peering out of the breech of a 5.9inch
gun near the stern. This dive I logged a max depth of 115fsw and a total run
time of 77 minutes
two of the trip began with a dive to the SMS Dresden, another light cruiser
photo shows the white flag which was the signal used by Adm von Reuter to
commence the scuttling of the High Seas Fleet.
dive was to a max depth of 120fsw and lasted 81 minutes.
the pre-dive briefing for the second dive of the day, SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm,
Emily commented that we should pay particular attention to the stern of this
ship. She pointed out it had the cutest little bum and if it could fart…. Well
it’s hard to describe but she certainly painted a descriptive picture of a
mighty German battleship with a tiny little bum that was every bit as cute as
described. It should be noted that battle cruisers were designed to be maneuverable
and to fight on the move while battle ships were designed to fight from a
reasonably stationary position mostly used for shore bombardment from their
massive 12inch guns
a result the rudders on a cruiser are quite large in relation to those found on
a battleship, which is quite a bit larger ship.
dive on the Kronprinz Wilhelm was to a max depth of 117fsw and lasted a whopping
96 minutes (not bad for these northern waters)
three took us to the deepest of the German Fleet wrecks, the Markgraf. This
massive battleship has a length of 575ft and a beam of 96ft.
The visibility on this dive was less than we had seen on previous dives and the
enormous size of the wreck made it easy to get lost swimming over the huge
expanses of twisted jagged steel. Most of these ships have had parts and
material salvaged off of them mostly using explosives to
access the interior of the wreck. On this ship an area of the ship known as the
citadel which is an area found on many warships consisting of a protected inner
core where the ship can continue to fight and operate in spite of exterior
damage. We found an exposed area of the citadel on this wreck that showed the
sheer mass of a 12inch thick interior bulkhead, which ran though a major portion
of the ship. Another interesting feature of this wreck was the enormous steam
turbine engines. We found one to be quite intact and I was able to swim inside
the turbine, not the casing but inside the turbine rotor itself for a photo op.
dive was to a max depth of 132 fsw and lasted for a total of 54 minutes. Up
until this point all of our dives were mandatory decompression dives with deco
lasting anywhere from 10-30 minutes.
our second dive this day we went to a WWII blockship called the Tabarka.
Blockships were intentionally sunk to make it difficult for U-boats to enter
Scapa Flow and launch attacks on Royal Navy ships operating out of the port.
This area is on the outer portion of the Flow and is very tide dependant as the
tides rip though there except for a brief period of a tide change. We sat geared
up waiting patiently for the order from the bridge to “Go, Go. Go!”. Twelve
divers hit the water at the right moment with instructions to swim directly down
and let the current draw you to the wreck. If you miss the wreck you are to
surface immediately and Emily would pick you up for a second chance of making
the narrow tide window to dive this wreck. The Tabarka was a 2600-ton freighter.
The water was gin clear and the wreck abounded with marine life. One of the more
notable features of the wreck were the triple expansion steam engine and the
three scotch marine boilers that had fallen away from their mounts in the now
upside-down wreck. I did find a rather large Atlantic lobster on this wreck but
he was too fast to be an honoured dinner guest. Shortly after entering the water
for this dive I noticed a trickle of water entering my drysuit on my right upper
thigh. This leak was quite annoying and soon was making me feel rather cold.
After about 35minutes of this I had enough cold water in my suit that I decided
I was done. I exited the wreck though a hole in the hull and inflated my smb for
the short drift to the surface. A surface marker is essential on this dive
especially when diving with a rebreather since I soon drifted quite a distance
from the wreck the Radiant Queen looked rather small in the distance as Emily
was helping other divers board her boat. She soon spotted our group and we gave
her the agreed upon signal to identify us as her divers since there were two
other boats making use of the slack tide to dive in the area.
on the boat I found my suit completely flooded and I was soaked from my chest to
my toes. Luckily for me the operator of a shop called Scapa Scuba makes and
repairs drysuits and offers quick turnaround drysuit repairs at a reasonable
price. I was able to have my suit repaired and pressure tested and sitting on
the boat the following morning. This is a very valuable service for such a
remote location where diving is what it’s all about for many of us.
day four we descended on the battleship SMS Konig which the first of the class
of battleship of the same name and like the SMS Markgraf is an enormous
structure. One of the notable features of this wreck is the ship is on its side
and the weight of the superstructure has caused the forward end of the upper
deck to fold over itself and the massive gun turrets and anchor capstans sit on
top of each other . This dive was to a max depth of 118fsw and was 83minutes in
second dive of day four was the Karlsruhe which was the third large battleship
of the group but as well as being the shallowest was also the most heavily
damaged by salvage operations. This leaves the wreck quite open and we were able
explore areas of the wreck which we were unable to see on other ships of its
kind without extreme wreck penetration procedures.
scanned image shows how open the hull of this upside-down wreck actually is.
dive on this wreck was to 88fsw for 86 minutes. There was almost no
decompression required due to the shallow depth so almost all the time was spent
on the bottom.
the fourth day Emily had looked at the weather forecast and decided the weather
on Friday would not be very good and we could either do a third dive on Thursday
or we could get an early start on Friday and get at least one good dive in
before the high winds made diving impossible. We opted to board the boat at 7am
and we headed out to the SMS Koln for a second dive. On our way out the gusting
wind was whipping the tops off the whitecaps and it was obvious the seas were
building rapidly. We made our way to the Koln but I was soon to discover my
rebreather buddies were not going to be diving today. Luckily for me Chris, (the
birthday boy) was in need of a buddy as his wife Ellie had stayed ashore today.
Although Chris was diving open circuit he made a very well executed survey of
the wreck. He led me to the stern where we penetrated the second deck and swam
through to the centre of the ship where the hull was opened up. We then swam
forward to the bow where we could see the full length of the bow lying on its
side. Chris then slipped though a hull plate that was peeled back slightly and
we were soon inside the second deck which ran the full length of the forward end
where we emerged at the opened mid-section and made our ascent. Even though I
had been on this wreck once before Chris showed me a whole different perspective
of this ship and it became clear to me I will have to do many more dives on these
wrecks before I will even start to understand the structure and construction of
these relics of history
we emerged from our last dive it was obvious the weather was deteriorating
rapidly. The wave height was a good 3-4ft and the wind was whipping them into a
white foamy sea. Emily spotted our bright orange SMB and soon placed the boat
upwind of us for us to board in the in the relative calm of the boat’s lee. I
can`t say enough about how impressed I was with the professionalism displayed by
Emily and her charter operation. As a professional mariner myself I have rarely
seen such precise boat handling especially an old single screw former trawler
such as the Radiant Queen. You can be sure I will be returning to Scapa Flow for
some more diving and I will certainly engage the services of the Radiant Queen
for my next trip.