Friday, 14 September 2007

The Chimps Do Scapa - Part 2

[b]Day 1[/b]
Dive 1: Kronprinz WIlhelm. 36 Metres. 45 minutes Bottom Time. 30 Minutes Deco Time. 18/45 and 50%
Dive 2: F2 and Barge and Bottle Run. 40 Minutes Bottom Time. 5 Minutes Deco Time. 21/10 and Stage of 32%

As usual, I was up and about at 0530, never been one for sleeping in. I went outside to see what the weather was doing at 6am and got quite a surprise. In most of the UK, we fail to recognise how lucky we are with the weather. It can be "a bit rainy", "a little overcast", or in extreme cases, "not very pleasant". In Orkney, when you open the door in the morning, the weather kicks you in the balls and headbuts you as you fall over. It then mocks you as you beg for mercy and stomps away back over the hills with the knowledge of a job well done. The weather here is strange. It can be blowing it's nadgers off one moment, and perfectly calm the next. This was the case this morning. A beautiful sunrise was interspaced with the occasional howling gale.

The skipper arrived at 0730 and we discussed the plan. He told me the weather was looking like a gale force 8. I was disheartened by this, but he assured me that this doesn't really bother the invincible, and the divers would bottle out before the boat would, so the plan was still on to do the Kronprinz. We kitted up as the boat steamed towards the big German Wrecks. No-one managed to leave themselves tied to the boat, but there was one close call, with Wilbo managing to get within 2 feet of the ladder before Fiona whispered that most divers traditionally take their fins with them when they go diving. Whoops. Things were to get no better for Wilbo on the second dive when GLOC told him that although ratio deco required no complicated dive computers, timers and depth gauges were certainly approved in the DIR ethos, and some people actually considered them fairly important to the process of calculating deco.

For those that have not been to Scapa, the Kronprinz is a World War One era battleship, the pride of the German High Seas Fleet. At 28,500 tons in weight and 575 feet in length, she was armed to the teeth with 12" guns and armoured with 12" plating. Due to the weight of her turrets (600 tons a piece) she turned over when she was scuttled and came to rest upside down on the seabed some 38 metres below. There are numerous blast holes in the hull to explore, and one can view the superstructure, main and side armaments and plenty more if you descend to the seabed and swim along the length of the ship.

The Kronprinz blessed us with about 8 metres of Viz, more than enough, especially as we had 1 metre when I dived it last year. This made for a very pleasant dive, although Dave struggled with being underweighted throughout the dive, which added to his stress levels and was noticeable in the amount of gas he consumed during the dive. The wreck is superb, and we got a good view of the 12 inch guns under the plating, on two enormous turrets. Once again, I found the sheer thickness of the armour plating lying around simply staggering, amazing when you compare this with the paper thin materials used in modern warships. These were not modern ships with high tech intelligent weaponry. These were clearly ships designed simply to both give, and absorb, enormous kinetic wallops, until one of them gave up. When compared with the almost flat rubble that makes up many of the wrecks off the South coast, these wrecks, with their 10-15 metres of imposing height above the seabed, are simply stunning.

We had a great dive, and I ran ratio deco for Dave and I. This is simple on the big ships, as you simply swim up the hull and go from 38 metres up to the 21 metre stop - still on the hull of the wreck. By he time we hit 6 metres, we could see the sea rocking and rolling above us with the heavy swell, and I could certainly feel the SMB wanting to get away from me. Because of this, we decided not to dwell too long in the shallows and got up as fast as was safely possible. The boat picked us up nice and quickly as usual. We were first up, due to Dave discomfort during the dive, so we were able to assist everyone else as they got back on the boat. The climb up Invincible's ladder can be a pain when the sea is a bit lively. Today is was a bit lively to the tune of gale force 8.

Diane got back on the boat with a grim look on her face. The neck seal had held well, but the wrist seals were "sub-optimal" - they would be redone later. Adding to the list of failed equipment was a ripped wrist seal for Nick, and a holed suit for Roy. Everyone was getting wet in the cold, but seemed to be grinning and bearing it.

The Tabarka was blown out; the skipper reckoned it would be daft to try it in the force 8 gale that was now blowing. However, the F2 and barge would be fine as it would be a little more sheltered.

The F2 was a German WW2 escort vessel. She was 249 feet in length and weighed 790 tons. She sank near Lyness in 1946. In the 1960's, a barge was being used in the salvage of the F2. Some of the machine guns from the F2 had been transferred when the barge sank right next to the F2 in a storm. Now they make an interesting double wreck, with the advantage of the fact that a diver can drift off the wrecks and onto the bottle run, an area of the flow where countless naval ships had been tied up over two world wars, and as a result the seabed is littered with detritus thrown overboard from these ships.

Dave and I jumped in on a 15 metre dive with full twin sets and a stage as well. We had a great dive, the F2 was absolutely covered in sea life, and we spent nearly half an hour inside the barge ferreting around the machine guns lying around inside. The barge is quite open and makes for a good ferret around. We watched Gareth taking photos and Howard and Wilbo playing hooligans on their scooters for a while, and the decided to leave the wrecks. We then drifted onto the bottle run and spent ages digging around. We found some great bottles to be taken home and cleaned up, and Dave kept finding abandoned dive kit, which he dutifully put in his goodie bag to clear the sea floor. He also picked up a massive lobster and a massive crab, but let them go as we had no real way of cooking them, so there was no point taking them up. We were both giggling away during the dive, having a great time. We ran up a runtime of 90 odd minutes and then called it a day as we were starting to get cold.

Back on the boat, we were the last up this time, so everyone was around to help us bring our swag back on the boat. That evening, there followed a MASSIVE fettling session. Several suits were repaired, various seals were repaired, a torch battery, and various cheaper items! No-one had dropped anything yet, but the kit seemed to be starting to self destruct! Luckily, Stromness has plenty of beer, so half the team got shitfaced whilst the other sorted out the kit and gas for the following day. Sigh.

There were two "dumb shit" moments. GLOC managed to completely bork the deco, and cut the deco two minutes short without realising it. He felt shit about it, but we had a good natter and worked our where the error had been made. Lessons learned. Dianne took the blue ribbon prize for the "dumb shit" award, by leaving a burning candle in a wooden cabin with the curtains fluttering, whilst she went for a shower. Luckily, David wandered past and wondered what the flame was for, and promptly blew it out. Doh. Everyone had a good laugh in the evening.

The plan fore the next day was something I had been waiting for. The Markgraf. We had decided to re-arrange the team for this. Gareth, David and Myself would dive as a 3, and Howard and Wilbo would dive as a 2. In the afternoon, we were planning to dive the Tabarka. This is perhaps my favourite wreck dive, so with the weather forecast suggesting that the wind and rain were going to die down by the morning; this was shaping up to be an interesting day indeed.