Friday, 14 September 2007

The Chimps Do Scapa - Part 3

[b]Day 2[/b]

Dive 3: SMS Markgraf. 44 Metres. 44 minutes Bottom Time. 45 Minutes Deco Time. 18/45 and 50%
Dive 4: Tabarka. 15 metres, 40 Minutes Bottom Time. 5 Minutes Deco Time. 21/10

We gassed up with 18/45 and 50% for the Markgraf Dive. Wilbo was feeling a little off colour this morning, so decided not to do the Markgraf, but Dave, Gareth, Howard and I were good to go. I kept pretty much to myself whilst getting ready, as I wasn't really in the mood for any banter, just wanting to get the wreck out of the way. I was defintiely a little tense, but did not feel unduly stressed or worked out, so decided to go ahead with the dive. We jumped in and rocketed down the shot line at 20M per minute, forming up as a four when everyone had arrived. We checked gas and time, and then decided over the hull to the seabed. We swam along the wreck, which was in good visibility but very dark, until we reached the stern, with the massive rudder still in place and very impressive. I wanted to find the hole I had swam into the previous year, which was up at the bows at the opposite side of the wreck, so we got into line and boogied along the entire length of the wreck, going through some really cool swim -throughs on the way and passing other dives, including Roy and Mary, who whose lights could be seen deep inside the wreck. They were obviously enjoying themselves :)

Reaching the bows, we stopped for a few minutes whilst Gareth took some great pictures, and the bows were a great sight disappearing into the gloom. The bows on the Markgraf are probably the best preserved of the three battleships at scapa. We lingered for only a few minutes, as I was really keen to find the hole. And find it we did. We swam along the side of the wreck and after about 2 minutes I saw a massive opening. I signalled to Dave to hold position whilst I investigated. There was an overlap of plates, so you could swim "along" the wreck, but actually just inside it, for nearly 7-8 metres, before the hole went black and became a solid wall. Just before the end of this passageway, there was an opening that led into the wreck which just opened into a massive space. I could see immediately that I had been here fore. The hole "in" must have been where I managed to swim deeper into the wreck in my panic to get out. Of course, in decent visibility, it was all too obvious how JW and I had done what we did - anyone could have. I wanted to investigate the deeper hole further, but decided that today was not the day for lining into this hole, as I had discussed this in advance with the team, and we were nearing the planned end of the bottom time. I had satisfied myself that I had put my demons to rest and the wreck no longer held any nervousness for me, so I put this down as a great dive. The plan would be to come back later in the week at which point I would line into this hole and investigate it, as on trimix it looked really interesting rather than frightening!.

When I came out of the hole and greeted the team, we were a minute or so away from calling the dive anyway, so I thumbed it. We broke into two teams of 2, with GLOC calculating the deco for one team and me running the numbers for the other team. There was a smooth ascent to 21, at which point a bag went up from either team and then we began the 30 minutes of deco. We hit the surface, at which point Howard announced he wasn't surprised people get lost in there, as it was bloody massive and dark. I went great. I had faced my demons, and the Markgraf had turned from something I had been somewhat apprehensive of, into one of my favourite wreck dives. I couldn't wait to go back later in the week.

In addition to TFT, everyone on the boat had a successful dive. Roy and Mary had spent much of their time actually inside the Markgraf, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Once everyone was back safely on board, we steamed off towards the Tabarka, as the wind, as promised by the skipper, had indeed died down, and conditions were improving. We did make one change to the planned week, with a decision to dive outside the flow for just one day. With the weather being so changeable, we didn't fancy risking two days being blown out, so agreed with the skipper to dive the Freesia and Tommeline, at 40 and 30 metres respectively.

The plan for the afternoon was the Tabarka.

The Tabarka was a 2624 ton steamer sunk in Burra sound as a block ship. Today, all the planking has rotten away, but the structure of the ship remains - making for a fascinating dive. Added to the open structure, the area is reknowned for it's good visibility as the flow washes the wreck through and keeps the area mercifully free of silt. This is a stunning wreck in good viz. Last year we were unfortunately forced to dive it in almost nil visibility, which removed much of the grandeur of this amazing swim through, so we really had no idea what to expect this time. This is a negative entry dive as you don't have time to mince about the surface unless you fancy diving in the shipping lanes. Or the Atlantic Ocean. So it's suck the air out of you wing, deflate your suit, and then jump in as a 12. Then get down as fast as you can to the wreck before the current takes you past it and you slam into the Doyle like wile. e. coyote. This time, when we jumped in, we could see the wreck from the surface 13 metres below us. niceeeeee. When we got down to the wreck, I immediately found an opening, and then barrelled into the wreck to get out of the current. The rest of Team Clone followed inside and we then separated into a team of two and a team of three and began exploring the wreck. The visibility was about 20-25 metres on the horizontal, and the wreck was as stunning as usual. It was a little diver soup at the beginning, but soon thinned out as people found holes to explore. I managed to weasel myself into the propeller shaft and swam along it, which was great fun. There was one part I struggled to get through, until Dave came up behind me and basically shoved me into the hole. For those that have not dived the Tabarka, this has to be one of the best wrecks in the UK. It is essentially one massive swim through, where you can see sunlight filtering through the ribs of the wreck, enormous boilers and engine room with easy access. It's basically wreck penetration for dummies, as everything is well open and accessible. It's tremendous fun, and always a highlight of a week in scapa.

Everyone had a great time, and after about 30 minutes of slack things started to pick up so we canned it. I bagged up for Dave and I and we did a nice slow ascent, covering a massive amount of ground in the ever increasing pace of the current. You could see everyone had had a great time by the smiles on the boat when everyone was dekitting. A very successful day. The next day, we were due to go out of the flow, so after a fairly pleasant meal unfortunately served by the dimmest and least experienced waitress in the universe, we decided to call it a night and head back to the boat. Howard surprised me with a cigar and malt whisky to celebrate our diving the Markgraf, which was very civilised, and then we analysed the gases and assembled out kit before calling it s night.