Friday, 14 September 2007

The Chimps Do Scapa - Part 7

Dive 11. The James Barrie. 43 Metres. Bottom Gas 20/20. Decompression Gases 50% and 100%
Dive 12. The Brummer. 36 Metres. Bottom Gas 32%. Decompression Gas 100%

The morning got off to a ropy start when we ran out of coffee. David immediately experienced a fit from too low a partial pressure of caffeine in his blood system. Luckily, we were able to nab some from another location. Once everyone had calmed down, Gareth and Wilbo sat down to assist David with his planning. This was proving something of a consternation, as David's flavour of dive planning consists of "Point me in the general direction and push me off the wreck, we'll talk about the deco later". Once all the planning was done, Diane announced that she had finally figured out what Garf stands for. This intrigued me as I wasn't aware that it stood for anything. Apparently it stands for Grumpy and Really Fucked-off.

On to the dive. We kitted up and jumped in. I was diving with Howard and Wilbo but ascending alone, as we had struggled to obtain enough Helium and Oxygen the night before, so were all diving unique bizarre-o-mixes. To my delight, I could see the wreck at 20 metres, meaning there was at least 15 metres of vertical viz. Once on the wreck, I was amazed to see that the viz was limited by the ambient light, rather than particulate in the water.

The James Barrie was a 666 Icelandic Steam Trawler that foundered in Hoxa sound in 1969 following running aground in the Pentland Firth on her way to Hull. She now lies on her side in 43 metres of water, and makes for a stunning wreck as the water flooding into Scapa Flow flushes the area clear of silt. It also seems to stop some of the marine life from forming on the wreck, so the remains are remarkably well preserved.

If the Tabarka was the most atmospheric dive of the week, the James Barrie was the most fun. It's only a small wreck, and with 12 divers on it, including a photographer and three scooters, it was just a riot. Top moment was Howard Payne, doing a barrel roll, and messing it up, ending up on his back pinned to the seabed, with half a dozen divers laughing their heads off at him in the stunning viz. Scootering through the holds was amazing, as thy are well open, and, a first for me, the wreck was well lit with ambient light. I managed to get myself tied up in monofilament, but the guys told me to stop and unwrapped me with no dramas. It was just stunning, and everyone had a great time. All too soon, the time came to leave the wreck. Because I was on weird-o-mix, I had decided to take two deco bottles with me, so I ascended next to Gareth, Howard and Wilbo, so that they could watch me through the gas switches at 21 metres and 6 metres. This all went through with no issues, and the lads started playing around at 6 metres to relieve the boredom.

During the Surface Interval, the skipper tied up at Lyness, the Naval base for both WW1 and WW2. Being a military history buff, I always find this place amazing, incredibly atmospheric. The place is eerily quiet and deserted, but you can still hear echoes of the life the large base had during two world wars. Abandoned and rotting military gear lies around all over the place, and there is a small museum to be explored. At the museum is an interesting exhibition on the Royal Oak, a complex and interesting story in its own right, but enough in this context to say it brought the realities of Scapa Flow back to me.

After a couple of hours of SI and a hearty breakfast, we roped off to head back into the flow to dive the Brummer. Howard and Wilbo had decided to bin the final dive, as they had had enough, and wanted to get warmed up and packed. This left Gareth and I to do the final dive. The first moment of drama happened when Diane jumped in first, and experienced a massive suit flood. She waved frantically, and the boat came about for us to haul her out of the water. The second bit of drama happened when Gareth's twin set leaped off the shelving, shearing off the right post cleanly. Ooops. Luckily, it was just a two minute job to get Gareth out of his own kit, and into Wilbo's. And so off we jumped into the water to dive the Brummer. This is another small cruiser, and I remember it being fairly broken up. It appears that it has degraded even further in the last year. Although there are still many fantastic swim throughs, much of the plating is finely balanced on girders that look really shaky. We were lining into the wreck, and I decided that this was not the wreck to push too far, so we turned it and had a gentle 40 minute bimble, in and out of the wreck. There are still some stunning sights, with 5.9 inch guns a plenty, huge ventilator grills and winches on display. The wreck is covered in life, and is a really peaceful dive. All too soon it was time to leave the wreck. We were carrying Oxygen, so a relatively fast ascent was done up to 6 metres for the gas switch, and time to contemplate the week's diving.

Back on the boat, most people had begun packing away their kit, so Gareth and I dekitted and packed away our stuff as well. Once we had packed up the containers, we headed down the flattie bar for a few jars, and then off to the Royal Hotel for a meal. The group presented me with a brass replica of a sign for the officer's mess on the Markgraf, which came as a complete and very pleasant surprise, and then we all called it a night.